Unit 3: “Fertility Rights” Reading Response

Get the discussion on this article started by posting your reading response here. Please remember that you will need to post your response and then read other students' responses and post  a reply.


The academic world can often seem quite convoluted.  Anti-intellectual groups take issue with the specificity of some scientific research as a waste of money and resources.  And yet Jon Cohen says in this essay that "profound insights time and again come from asking simple questions that, once raised, seem abundantly obvious" (45).

Start off the discussion by contemplating this:  Are there any stupid scientific questions?  Is there an aspect of scientific research that goes beyond the scope of useful information and discovery?

Write your in a comment to this page.

39 thoughts on “Unit 3: “Fertility Rights” Reading Response

  1. Matthew Wetherington

    This was a rather weird essay, I strongly believe this query pushes the bounds on what is a useful scientific question. In my opinion, when we are busy asking, and trying to find answers; like what makes chimpanzee sperm more successful than human’s, I am not sure its the best utilization of available scientific resources. My first counter to this particular pursuit is; could we not be furthering other parts of science, such as cancer research, or maybe finding ways to make vehicles powered on alternative energies? My second question is, how useful is the answer to this question? I think as scientists we have to be careful when using limited resources, we must first know the usefulness of our answer; before just jumping on the bandwagon of finding this answer. I mean, say we do find out what makes the chimp sperm better, how can we use that knowledge to make sure human sperm is up to par? When its all said and done, and we know what sugars make the difference, and we have made some shot you can get to bring your human sperm up to par, what could we have gained in all that time and energy researching? Could we have found ways to keep the humans we have alive; instead of just producing more humans, that will contract the same diseases and die?

    1. virginia blake

      I most certainly agree with your point on the time wasted for the sperm where as we could have been trying to say human lives and putting more energy to that. This reading didn’t even have a real end result and i cant imagine all the money spent to train the chimps and the fact he knew on cue how to release his sperm. In the end they are just animals whereas we are the humans.

    2. Cassandra Lane

      After reading through several posts, I see that a lot of us have come up with roughly the same though, “could we not be furthering other parts of science, such as cancer research…” You went further on that though about finding ways to make vehicles powered on alternative energies. I think that this is a big one and maybe more important than getting a chimpanzee to masturbate in the name of science. What world are we going to leave those children that don’t end up in miscarriage if this study is successful? It may be polluted beyond repair and there won’t be much of a world left. I think that they may find ways to prevent miscarriage eventually, though I have mostly come to terms with my own miscarriage, but we will still have the same issues of cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases.

  2. Emily J. Nerbonne

    “Does sperm sometimes have components that undermine its ability to fertilize an egg? Perhaps the difference between chimp and human sperm can help explain why humans miscarry nearly 50 percent of all conceptions, while chimps seem rarely to lose an embryo or fetus.” Pg. #42

    I have to say, this essay was definitely something different than anything else I’ve every read. It was an intriguing read, but it was a different one. This essay posed a great question for scientist to research. Why do we lose about 50 percent of conceptions, while chimpanzees are ably to rarely lose an embryo or fetus? It may seem weird to look at chimps to try to understand this issue with humans, but in this research, chimps may very well be the key to knowing more about sperm fertilization. Sometimes questions can seem ridiculous, and people would wonder why you would ever want to learn more about that subject. You can have crazy, wild questions, but I don’t think you could every have stupid questions. The crazy questions make you think and want to understand more. Without the ridiculous questions, where would the scientific world be right now? Many people thought that Galileo’s question of whether the solar system truly did rotated around the sun, instead of the earth, was a crazy question, but it brought us closer to realizing what was around us. The point is that without asking crazy questions and wanting to learn more, we wouldn’t nearly know as much as we do today. But, people have to be careful on how far they go with their questions. The questions have to be of benefit to society. If we start to research a subject and it doesn’t bring any benefit to humanity, what is the point of keeping it going? If the research is just going to impose more costs to us then benefits, then why keep going on the trail that leads nowhere. We need to know that the things we research and want to discover more about will help us on earth and be beneficial to those in need. We need to have our priorities straight when we start down a road of research. Is this the best way to do this? Is this research going to benefit society, or is it just a waste of money? Is there something more worthwhile that will come from we learning more about this subject? We need to be smart about where we put out time and efforts. We love to know more and learn more, but we have to be wise in our decisions about what is actually going to benefit humanity and not cost us.

    1. Sara Church

      I love your point about Galileo. During his timer period many people assumed it was the earth at the center of the universe because of God. But he wanted to learn more so with his homemade telescope he stared at the stars and realized that the sun was the center of the universe.

  3. Cassandra Lane

    I found this essay, “Fertility Rites,” by Jon Cohen to be, quite frankly, disturbing. It just does not seem right to collect chimpanzee in this way to study it. I had a challenging time getting through this essay. I don’t know if it was just the way that the essay was written or just the fact that I didn’t agree with the essay, but it was a rough read for me this week. It was incredibly disturbing when he wrote the description of how it was collected and then further when he quoted Rachel Borman on page 43 as saying, “It’s fun for the chimps to do this. They love it.”
    I was also wondering about his facts. On page 42, he mentions that “humans miscarry nearly 50 percent of all conceptions, while chimps seem rarely to lose an embryo or fetus.” Speaking as someone who has miscarried once before, I am wondering if there are specific facts to back up his claim because I don’t remember it being that high. I think that his claim is exaggerated to try and justify the research of chimpanzee sperm.
    With all of that being said, I do not believe there to be any “stupid” scientific questions. Maybe morally questionable, but not stupid. I do find myself asking why this question even made it to research stage? Aren’t there more important scientific questions out there to be solved rather than solving a question that will add to the overpopulation of earth? Solving something such as cancer could arguably also contribute to the worlds overpopulation as well because people would theoretically live longer, but it just seems like there are more productive and useful things to research than this.
    Then there was the smuggling of chimpanzee sperm onto an airplane. That whole section made me cringe. What if he had attempted to take it through security and claim that the vials were filled with hair conditioner? Aren’t there regulations about specimens such as chimpanzee sperm? The way that he worded that section makes it seem like he is illegally transporting the chimpanzee sperm to be tested at a lab.

    1. Angelina Lund

      I thought that this author might have exaggereated as well when he mentioned that humans miscarry nearly 50% of all conceptions. I realize that miscarriages happen but I dont think they happen nearly that much and I too would like to know where he got his facts. And going as far as collecting sperm from the chimp to try and figure out human fertilization issues seems a little extreme to me.

    2. Jessica Mathews

      I agree with you this weeks reading was far beyond disturbing for me, and all over the place. the part about smuggling it into the airport- well if this a real study there would be other ways around this or precautions to take without issues you would assume, all seems to sketchy for me. Cancer would definitely be a more productive researched topic, with as many types of cancers there are now a days and with how many people are effected that would be money well spent as well as a better thought out process. I do not feel we are benefiting anything from finding out about chimpanzees sperm. Interested to see what next weeks read is about!

    3. Brooke Mattice

      I thought that it was odd when Borman mentioned ” they love it.” I did not enjoy the article really, at all. I thought that it was mostly just a bad story with little scientific worth.

  4. virginia blake

    This article was an interesting read. I am glad we read the other article about Tilikum before this one. I think we often spend times researching and wasting funds on things that might not be much needed. I understand chimpanzees are comparted to be most human like but to have a chimpanzee know when to perform is a bit over the edge. This reminds me of pushing Tilikum or other animals a bit too far. Then people wonder why these animals snap and kill people. None of this is there actual culture of their species. I agree with another classmate I think more studies and research should be on more diseases or conditions we have in the world such as cancer, syndromes, and many others. I understand scientist have learned a lot from animals and they test certain things on animals before humans. However, we are the humans and I think the product should be tested on humans to a point. Overall, we push these animals to far and I don’t blame them for eventually attacking and/or killing people. There basically being held captive and constantly bothered.
    All that time and energy they spent into getting the sperm didn’t even solve anything. At the end, it was just left as a “possibility”.

    I’m big on no question is a stupid question. We don’t learn without questions. Even though science is not my favorite I have to say there isn’t a stupid science question however not all questions or ideas need to be acted up. Ultimately these are animals, not humans.

    1. Janelle

      Virginia, I would have to agree with your response 100%. If scientists are trying to find human results than test should be done on humans (to a certain extent). I really like your point “Overall, we push these animals too far and I don’t blame them for eventually attacking and/or killing people.” The most disturbing thing is that the animals that are being held captive for scientific research/testing do not have a say in whether they are involved or not. Humans are able to communicate and can be rewarded and have consent to be tested on. Animals are innocent and are being forced to do something they probably don’t want to do all for the benefit of the human race.

    2. Angelica Kougl

      I am also glad we read “Killer in the Pool” before this article, because it was a reminder to think about the chimps side of the situation. I find it odd that they are trying to inform us on how closely related humans and chimps are in this read, and at the same time keeping them in captivity. It is almost as if the writers do not see the irony, or see how twisted it kind of is.

  5. Angelina Lund

    I am honestly not sure how to feel about this read. I understand that there are quite a few similarities between humans and chimpanzees but how do we go as far as testing their sperm to see the difference between their sperm and human sperm? To me scientific research could spend more time and effort on looking for cures for diseases that are killing people everyday like cancer or aids instead of gathering sperm from a chimpanzee, testing it, finding the difference and then doing nothing with these results. I too believe that there are crazy and unusual scientific questions but not stupid questions. Questions lead to discovery. Without these crazy questions, there would be so much that we would not know or understand.
    Having multiple miscarriages can be a very sad and difficult thing to deal with and if this research could help decrease the number of miscarriages humans have, I think that would be beneficial but Im not sure I agree with how they went about collecting it. Hearing of any animals being locked up and tested on for human experiments is heartwrenching but we also have to realize that some experiements with animals have helped us discover cures and treatments.

  6. Janelle

    I don’t believe there are any stupid scientific questions. So long as these questions can be answered with the intent of making a discovery or realization of a common issue humans face in society. “it may just lead to an inobvious explanation for one of the more vexing problems that modern humans face.” (Jon Cohen).
    I agree with the consensus of the class that this article was a bit disturbing and a waste of time because it did not result in any answer to questions.
    I am also not a fan of animal testing to get results for humans, it is very cruel. Although I understand scientists need to test things on animals that don’t necessarily harm them in any way. It goes back to the question from last weeks reading on Tilikum, when do you say enough is enough?
    As long as questions can be answered without putting a human or animals life on the line and can be justified with a useful hypothesis then scientists may invest time and money.

    1. Chris Chapman

      Hi Janelle,

      I agree with your statement about the animal testing. As I wrote in my comment, it can mess up the very human like intelligence and emotions. Hopefully this can have some positive impact on science instead of it being a “waste of time,” as you loosely stated.

  7. Angelica Kougl

    I do not think that there are “stupid” scientific questions. I think that most questions could result in a conclusion worthy of some level of value. However, I think this question regarding fertility is an important one, although the scientific research may seem “stupid” in the beginning. Although they are conducting serious and valuable research on the similarities and differences between chimp and human sperm, the narratives in this writing have a light-hearted and humorous feel. When Borman said she was “going to go in there with these other guys to make him jealous”, I could not help but giggle (43). They are getting valuable information, but what is funny is the tricks they use to get the samples they need. I found it particularly funny when Borman praised Shahee for producing sperm with an M&M. Maybe I am being immature about it, but there is no denying that this study plays on a topic of taboo for the average American. It is exciting mostly in the sense that it is abnormal. Jokes aside, I found this to be another attention-grabbing read (not only because it was about chimp sperm, which is not something I read about everyday, but also because I was genuinely interested in the topic). I never thought about how different humans are for having difficulty with a successful conception compared to similar animals. Humans try for years and years before being able to conceive, and it can be a devastating journey. Alternatively, as this article informed us, “chimps seem rarely lose an embryo or fetus” (42). Therefore, I think this question of fertility in humans is deserving of such research. Learning information on how meat and dairy products may be affecting human fertility could allow us to alter our diets accordingly for more successful conception. I am curious as to why we have lost the ability to synthesize Neu5Gc over time while chimps have not. I would like to know what factors play into the evolution theory in this instance.

    1. Tarean Allen

      I was also wondering how long it to her to develop the relationship with Shahee to make him jealous. I also thought that Borman was lucky that Shahee just spit on him and didn’t throw feces at him. I am also curious to find out why humans are not producing Neu5Gc. It would be nice if it were something as simple as changing our diet.

    2. Emily Nerbonne

      I am very much with you in saying that this essay was also a bit amusing. For me, it was mainly amusing because I started to read it aloud to my mother while she was working on something. I didn’t know what the essay was about when I started reading it to her. It was a different experience reading about chimpanzee sperm and chimpanzees masturbating for M&M with your mom. Though, after it was done, we both were really interested in the fact of how humans have somehow lost Neu5Gc over time. I even brought up the essay with a couple of friends, and we got into a great discussion about how humans lose about 50 percent of conceptions and how humans don’t have the Neu5Gc silica acid anymore. I am also very curious about why we lost the ability to synthesize it over time. It’s funky that the differences in diet can affect if you have it or not.

  8. Tarean Allen

    I believe there are numerous stupid scientific questions. You can google search stupid scientific questions and view many of them. Unfortunately, some people are ignorant and do not know the answers. I do believe that there is some scientific research that goes beyond the scope of useful information as it applies to me. The research may not be valid now but maybe useful as some point in the future or the people funding the research believed it was important. I would not support spending my dollars toward research that does not affect me or bring betterment to the world.
    I understand the significance of the experiment with the chimpanzees. Considering how closely we are genetically related and they have a low rate of infertility and miscarriages. I find it interesting to see what differences present in the fertilization sequence. If it is as simple as giving humans an artificial enzyme to help sperm fertilize an egg, then that would help many couples unable to conceive. The method of gathering is not something I would like to do as my job, nor would I like to be the transporter.

    1. Hunter Young

      Yes, I agree with the hope that this might give individuals who have trouble conceiving. I know artificial insemination can tend to be SUPER expensive and also sometimes just not work and take to someone’s body. If a little enzyme, that could possibly be given in pill or injection form, was able to help someone conceive, that would be absolutely amazing.

  9. Jessica Mathews

    That was a very strange read, not sure how I feel after that. I get that humans believe chimpanzees and humans are alike in many instances which I would agree with, but not everyone. As we are taught in school no question is stupid, but of course there is stupid scientific questions as there is stupid questions in general. I think with this study they have gone to far, forcing the chimps to master bate to be able to get the sperm for them to study. What good is this going to teach us? Sure I find it interesting that a chimpanzee has fewer miscarriages than a human but we are not gaining any specific research that we need by finding this out. They already knew they were able to have the chimps do what ever they needed due to positive reinforcement all he needed was an M&M when he was done, and he was happy. Makes you think about “The Killer in the Pool” last week and how the Killer Whales were treated in closed captivity and how they were always rewarded with fish, this is a similar situation, these chimps are kept captive and used as the ginny pigs of science anything and everything the scientists want they get. This is not fair to the chimps they are animals and do not deserve to be treated this way.

  10. Thomas Vorderbruggen

    I don’t believe there’s such a thing “stupid” scientific questions, but there are questions that are impossible to answer with our current scope of understanding. Given the example in the book, its not a stupid question, but a weird question. Its a dirty job that might end up holding significant knowledge and importance. I find it similar to the fact that some of the dirtiest and least-coveted jobs in our society, garbage collection, waste disposal, etc, are also some of the most important jobs our civilization would crumble without. It can be uncomfortable or something some would rather not think about, but in the end, it makes a difference. Dealing with the weird and dirty of the scientific community might hold answers towards some of our worst problems, like the fertility problem they’re tackling in the read. Personally I liked the reference to Iiya Ivanovich, i thought that was a hoot and a half.

    1. Michael Williams

      I personally am very glad for the researchers who do the “dirty jobs” because I certainly would not want to have to masterbate a chimp. As an aspiring wildlife biologist I live in a constant fear of having such a job. I think researchers like these are the unsung heroes of the scientific world. Their gross work sometimes leads to incredible benefits for all society to enjoy!

  11. Sara Church

    This weeks article was a very interesting read for me, but reading through some of my classmates discussions many felt the author over exaggerated about human miscarriage rate. Finding this number is vary hard due to many women don’t even report or even know they had a miscarriage. Also trying to even find an article that talks about the rates that isn’t Wikipedia is proving difficult. So far I have been able to find reports that miscarriage rate in humans is around 15% to 20% in women who know they are pregnant. Though as many as half of all fertilized eggs may spontaneously abort.(https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/pregnancyloss/conditioninfo/Pages/risk.aspx) I don’t think that the author was completely exaggerating the facts but I really wish he would give sources to his findings.
    Now to the discussion question, no I don’t think there is a stupid scientific question. A lot of my fellow classmates argue that it is wasted time that can be used to study on more important issues, but my argue that some of these wild questions could lead to answers for other important question. For example, one of the biggest finds in medical history was the discovery of penicillin. Now the discovery of penicillin was a complete accident. Alexander Fleming was studying the properties of staphylococci when one of his petri dishes was contaminated with a mold. The fungus had surrounded the staphylococci and any colonies close to the mold were destroyed but the colonies that were farther away were growing as normal. This is how the greatest find in medical history was accidentally found through other research. So I don’t think there are really an questions that should not be researched. You never know what you can learn.

    1. Rebekah Melchior-Waldron

      Hi Sara,
      I like that you did extra research on the author’s miscarriage statistics. I too tried to find his sources and went back to The Atlantic website but it seems the only way to find the sources listed would be in the print issue but it was from Oct. 2010 edition. Also, I really like the relation you made between research and unintended findings with your penicillin example.

    2. Emily J. Nerbonne

      I also tried to find more about the statistics of miscarriages. The only site I found that had percentages close to the authors was https://www.hopexchange.com/Statistics.htm . I really wish we knew more about the facts he used to write this article. It was very interesting to learn that he said that we lose 50 percent of miscarriages. I was thinking that that didn’t include only fetuses, but that it included conceptions that didn’t happen. That right there would bring up the percentage of miscarriages, because a lot of people try forever to get pregnant and never can. The lacking silica acid could explain why people just sometimes never seem to be able to get pregnant. Anyway, I wish we knew a little more about the science behind the essay. Also, I appreciate you looking more into it also.

  12. Rebekah Melchior-Waldron

    There are no stupid scientific questions. If you’re asking a question it is out of curiosity, in which case good for you. In in the end even stupid questions lead to progress, such as the common question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”. At face value if seems silly but really it’s about the bigger picture and leads into the theory of evolution. Sometimes, I will hear about current research being done and I wonder, what is the point of that? A specific example was a few years ago, I had a biology class with an instructor that did his thesis on some certain species of butterfly. It seemed like such useless research including the time and funding required for it. However, he explained everything is tied in, they’re a part of the food web, the population reduction of butterflies in a specific area would have a profoundly negative effect on other plant and animal species in that area, including extinction. This essay “Fertility rights” can relate back to that idea, that this small bit of research relates back to a bigger picture. As interesting as this article was, it did not mention that chimpanzee sperm research is only a fraction of the research Pascal Gagneux is doing. According to the UC San Diego website, Gagneux’s lab studies the roles of glycans in reproduction and infection. Their research has relations to human infertility as well as viruses and bacterias using glycans to their advantage. Gagneux’s research involving chimpanzee sperm is a sort of model for a broader scope of research. Overall, this essay fits the theme of the BASN book, because it takes something disturbing or uninteresting to some but writes it in a humourous way. I enjoyed the bit about his anxiety bringing the sperm samples through airport security. Who wouldn’t have that thought in the moment? I think this article did the best it could of relaying scientific research to the general public.


    1. Roger Vang

      I agree with you. Gagneux was thinking about the big picture, 50% of miscarriages in women. He asked a small question that will only lead to a larger answer. Chimpanzees were a great model because they physiology is similar to ours. Although some of his methods seemed disturbing to us, he did what he needed to.

  13. Chris Chapman

    This was not what I thought I was going to be reading first off. I do not think that there are such things as “stupid” science questions. I do however feel that asking some of these questions you do have to think outside the box and become extremely devoted and interested in the question at hand. The usefulness of this experiment could be useful for men that have a lower sperm count. If the experiment turned out to be that having men eat less meat could help them improve their sperm count then it would be a very useful scientific experiment. Even if it did turn out that Cohens theory wasn’t correct it could still be a step towards helping those with this problem. Although I do see a animal rights activist having an issue with messing with the Chimps intelligence and emotional status with this experiments.

  14. Michael Williams

    To answer this question head on, no I don’t believe there are any stupid questions in science. My reasoning is simple. If we do not know the answer to a question then we most certainly do not know if the answer will be “stupid” or not. The simple phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know” really encapsulates my whole argument. As was stated in the text, “profound insights time and again come from asking simple questions that, once raised, seem abundantly obvious” (Roach, 45) which stems from the fact that studying only the questions that are asked by all the other scientist will inevitably only get the same answers, with little if any, new knowledge gained. A great example of this is the discovery of the electron. In the early 1900’s would have undoubtably seemed like a foolish waste of scientific resources and time too many outside observers but eventually lead to the incredibly useful things like the microwave oven. Ever eaten a hot pocket? Well you can thank scientist who asked “stupid questions”.

    1. Kristopher Dunkle

      I really like this comment, both for the phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know” which neatly sums up the core reasoning about the topic question, and for pointing out both how and why simply piling more researchers onto the same question, no matter how popular or pressing the question is, isn’t the best use of resources after a certain point. It’s the law of diminishing returns and it sucks, but it goes a long way towards explaining why researchers study the questions they do, rather than all of them working on, say, cancer cures.

  15. Roger Vang

    Pascal Gagneux understood that humans and chimpanzees have many physical similarities, so he questions, why do humans only have 50% fertility rate, but chimpanzees rarely lose an embryo or fetus? As Gagneux observed the exterior surfaces of each species sperm cells, he noticed that humans lost the ability to produce one sialic acid, Neu5Gc, which chimpanzees have maintained. Neu5Gc is hypothesized to assist in fertilization of the ovum. Gagneux’s research may seem impractical to society, but it is a little piece of a bigger picture, to reduce human falling fertility rates.

    I believe there is no such thing as a dumb question in science, although there are immoral questions. Any information we discover will be useful to someone. Without researchers asking “dumb” scientific questions and making mistakes, we may not have penicillin or Viagra. Some questions only seem stupid if the answer is commonly known or if the answer is unfathomable. Science is about discovering the unknown, pursuing a hypothesis and understanding that any results will be a discovery.

  16. Brooke Mattice

    I do not believe there is such thing as a “stupid question.” I do believe that there are better questions to be answered before we answer questions like: “what is the difference in human and chimpanzee sperm?” Maybe a question like: “what is the cure for cancer?” To me there are far better things that could be researched with the time and money spent on a project like the on in “Fertility Rights.”

    I may be wrong though.There have been many scientific studies that have resulted in a completely different outcome than originally predicted. This could be the study that helps us push to diminish infertility, or completely discover something else. We will not know until the research is done or a “break through” has been made.

    I think that we use animals to test things too much. If we are curious a people the research should done on us. I feel like there is just a lot of morally questionable tests/research or collecting of data done, when we are primarily working with animals. The animals cannot communicate, if they are miserable or not. It made me uncomfortable, when Borman said “it’s fun for the chimps to do this,” and “they love it.” It was not necessary to put that in the essay. it was already an awkward and uncomfortable read. I personally did not really get very much out of it. I thought that it did not do a good job of really bringing anything to the table in a scientific way.

    There was not discovery made. They briefly spoke about what the result of the research were, and the fact that they had not made a break through discovery since starting this project. The majority of the essay was about the devices they made for the chimps to master-bate with and the fact that th sperm had to be snuck on to the airplane. I did not enjoy this read.

    1. Amanda Carr

      Brooke, I agree with what you said about using “animals to test things too much”. I also had a hard time with this but for some reason did not write about it in my own response. Especially after reading “The Killer In The Pool”, how do we know what these animals are thinking or feeling? The animals may hate all of it, but just think they have to do these things to survive.

  17. Kristopher Dunkle

    I knew there were some “dirty” jobs out there, but this reading gave the term a whole new meaning to me. Aside from being funny in a bizarre and irreverent way, I like how the article showed that not all scientific research is glamorous, clean, or successful. With everyone’s attention as focused as it is upon “shocking new results” and finding solutions for the world’s most high-profile, immediate problems, science like this is glossed over or ignored. It makes me wonder how skewed our perception of what scientific research actually entails is. How much of it is like what we see on the news or in documentaries, and how much of it is more like that in “Fertility Rites”: unsavory, thankless work with no guarantee of worthwhile results? I don’t doubt that collecting and analyzing chimpanzee semen is a stand-out case, but I’d expect that it’s closer to the norm than people typically think.

    When I put aside the shock factor of their methods that the article highlights though, their underlying question about the difference in miscarriage rates seems pretty reasonable and the possibility of improving the rate in humans seems like a worthy goal. It’s easy to condemn their project just for lack of results, but that’s the nature of research; like Michael Williams said above me, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Ideally there are educated guesses guiding things, but the outcome ultimately can’t be known ahead of time. Sometimes the results are useful, sometimes not, but that has no bearing on whether the question is worth investigating. This principle applies to any area where there is uncertainty.

    1. Erin Dodds

      I like how you pointed out that typical research work is most likely similar to what we read in this story. Most is probably not very glamorous work! And I appreciate the fact that you think questions still need to be investigated, despite peoples opinions on the outcomes. I think the same way, but sometimes we need to put practical restraints on things.

  18. Erin Dodds

    Jon Cohen’s story begins with a research scientist masturbating, (or just encouraging?), a chimpanzee so Cohen can transport the live chimp sperm to be studied by Pascal Gagneux. Now, many people reading this or hearing about collecting chimp sperm would question the necessity for such a thing. Why would anyone need to study chimp sperm? Don’t we already know plenty about chimpanzees by now??
    Yeah. These are reasonable reactions. But when the explanation is given for the study, I feel like the data collection process is justified. As well as the need to spend tax money on this kind of study. I mean, plenty of people would support a study if it was called a “fertility study” to discover the differences between human and chimp sperm.
    I think regular people who read news article stories, (or even just titles), are misled in many ways. Depending on the news source, the tone of the article could be agreeable or disapproving. Therefore, the average person, not being educated in being skeptical, would perhaps believe the news at face value. Besides, the study may find some important revelations about the human genome that would have many more applications besides fertility! It seems like that is actually quite common, at least whenever I read historic scientific studies, the researchers find some important information by accident.
    THEN AGAIN it does seem like a lot of effort and expense to be spent on something as trivial as discovering sugars on the outside of chimp sperm. After all, how imperative is this study anyway? Will discovering more about the chimp genome really make any impact on human infertility discoveries? And does human infertility even matter in a time when overpopulation of the planet is imminent? When we eventually will not have enough resources on earth to sustain the human population?
    Okay, after pointing out those last few arguments, I think I am convinced that the study is not worth the money spent on it. You could always argue, “what if they find the cure for cancer or something crazy?!”, but hyperbole is not a great argument anyway

  19. Amanda Carr

    I started a new job 2 years ago, and when starting a new job it always seems as though someone is there to remind you “There are no stupid questions”.
    But there you are on your third day at work wanting to ask what feels like the millionth question and it is not even noon. The ironic/painful part of it all is that the exact person that told you on your first day “ There are no stupid questions” is the most impatient and irritated when asked a question, but of course that individual is the only person in the office that can answer the question, which will then allow you to move on to the next task.

    The point of this story is that everyone has questions and my opinion is there are truly no stupid questions. The only way to learn new things is by watching, doing or asking. Everyone will not have this same opinion and that is all right, but in the science world if no one ever tried to figure something out for the first time or never tried a new experiment, where would we be… cave man times??? How would we be able to move on to that next task if the question wasn’t answered in some way.
    So many lives have been saved since the “simple discovery” of washing hands with soap and water? Who knows what discoveries can be made from learning more about chimp sperm?

  20. Hunter Young

    I’m so confused after reading this. I actually did not like the format it was written in. I think it’s interesting how this crossed the line (for me, at least) of being almost too informal for a scientific piece. It seemed like his intro and his conclusion paragraphs seemed to be really helpful, but he lost me in the middle. It felt like he was almost embarrassed of what he had to do.
    I do think the ending of this was kind of interesting. If we were able to solve the problem of miscarriages (which would be absolutely amazing if we did) by examining this sperm and comparing it to ours, that would be nice. Although, as close as we are the chimpanzees, I do think it would take much much more research to transfer this product into our biological makeup.
    Interesting read, one might say.

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