William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Ask A Scientific Ethicist: Baby Making, Auto Mishap, ISIS Attacks

The Scientific Ethicist, PhD

The Scientific Ethicist, PhD

This was supposed to run this morning. No idea why it didn’t.

This week, three letters from concerned readers.

Too many babies

Dear Scientific Ethicist,

Hopefully this subject matter isn’t too technical for your audience.

In a recent discussion with my boss, I claimed that it was impossible for nine women to make a baby in one month. My boss claimed that with proper planning, nine women could indeed have a baby a month for nine months.

Which one of us is correct? No pressure intended, but I think my job might be dependent on your answer.

Thanks,

Milton

Dear Milton,

Your boss is right. Nine (biological) women could, with appropriate planning, have one baby each, one per month spaced equally over nine months.

And you’re wrong. Nine women could indeed make one baby in one month. As long as they had access to an egg from any one of them, certain male genetic material, which Science shows can be had any old place, and some rather sophisticated medical equipment (made by Science!). The baby could be made—and in well under one month, at that—and implanted in any of the women. This isn’t the best, safest, surest, or recommended method—it’s too easy to kill the baby because creation and implantation—but the thing can be done.

Of course, Science tells us that baby would take approximately nine months to emerge from its mother. But that’s birth, and not the making of it.

Unfortunately, Science disagrees with you. But if it’s any consolation, Science disagrees with a lot of people!

The Scientific Ethicist

Automotive mishap

Dear Scientific Ethicist,

I was driving down the road and saw a car crash into a parked car, then drive away without leaving a note. There was just a little damage on the parked car. I took down the the licence plate number of the car that drove off, but it was being driven by a young ethnic woman, and I don’t want to be a racist. What should I do in this situation?

[Name Withheld], Atlanta, GA

Dear [Name Withheld],

The force between an average car going at typical speeds (in the neighborhood of 30 MPH) hitting a stationary average car is easily calculated. We call this momentum, the mass of the car multiplied by its velocity. In many cases, we can speak of the momentum as a single variable instead of trying to keep track of multiple measures.

If both cars were moving, then depending on the directions both cars were traveling, there could have been at the time of contact anything from very little momentum, to something quite high. But since one car was not moving, the momentum probably wasn’t large.

Low momentum impacts produce notably less damage than high momentum impacts. That you say “just a little damage” indicates that this was probably a low momentum impact.

Once again, Science gives the answer!

The Scientific Ethicist

Take that man

Dear Scientific Ethicist,

I live in Al Bukamal, Syria. The Islamic State is practically out the back door. They’re beheading non-Muslims, burying children alive for not being Muslims, and many other terrible things. And they’re boasting of it! Oosting pictures of it on the web. The terror endless. I’m starting to panic. What should I do to stay calm?

Billy, San Francisco

Dear Billy,

Only the consolations of Science can have any effect. I usually recommend reading Introduction to Topology by Bert Mendelson, or Inorganic Chemistry by Gary Wulfsberg. Though in your case, nothing is better suited than Brian Greene’s The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos.

In that book, Greene highlights the Science of the multiverse. The gist is that there are an infinite number of other universes where you also exist and where the Islamic State is benign. Why, there’s even a universe in which each member of ISIS is a Good Humor man handing out free ice cream to children over-heated by the desert! In none of these other happy universes would you feel terror.

Science can calm the most troubled soul!

The Scientific Ethicist

Send in your questions to the Scientific Ethicist today! Or read his previous columns.

3 Comments

  1. Sylvain Allard

    17 August 2014 at 2:08 am

    A problem with your first premise:

    Fecundation doesn’t lead to babies even when it is the desire of the parents like it happened to friends of mine.

    Birth is what makes a baby. A foetus becomes a person once it gains conscience that is alive which happens at the first breath. The first breath might just as well be the moment it is ensouled.

  2. Conception. Maybe even before that. Food sense says that a really fine meal begins with early morning shopping. Life begins with Conception. Food sense says that when a woman knows she’s pregnant she generally eats accordingly… As if that precious thing inside – life – were alive. Alive… But not yet breathing (or bragging).

  3. Dear Scientific Ethicist

    My dad says the evolution of mankind started with a singularity 13.5 bn years ago. Does this mean I am old enough to drink in bars?

    Thanks

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