Category Archives: Pandora’s Box

Pandora’s Box (part 6)

Later that day, the Dean of Student Affairs took Corey to the central administrative offices before dinner. Part of the student council watched them go, but for the most part the student body saw nothing unusual as they headed to the dining halls for dinner. Mealtime conversations drifted away from genomics and back to the chatter that occupied the daily lives of Roosevelt’s students.

Jay, Leo, Jinx, Erica, and Derek chose to eat in the conference room, their minds still occupied by the events of the day. For a while, they ate in silence, punctuated by the occasional, “pass a napkin” or “who has the hot sauce?” Finally, Erica turned to Derek.

“You’re not curious at all?” she asked him. Everyone else looked up.

Derek shrugged. “Not really,” he answered. “Part of me wants to know, but most of me doesn’t think it’s worth everyone else’s trouble. Besides, I figure it would only tell me something I already knew, and what’s the point in that?”

Jinx paused, a forkful of food halfway to her mouth. “Do you think we did the right thing? Protecting everyone’s feelings but in a way hindering science?”

“Science is headed into dangerous territory anyway,” commented Leo. “When we unravel the secrets of our genes, what’s left? It’ll tear apart all our social structures as people call for genetic equality — which, if we allow to happen, would mean the reversal of millions of years of evolution. How close can we get without ruining life as we know it?”

“That’s awfully grim,” said Jay. “But knowing what might make intelligence — isn’t that important?”

“Of course it is,” Erica affirmed. “But think about it this way: we live in a world that wants to believe that all men are created equal. Equal how? In our genes, it’s clear that each of us is different, for better or for worse. To say gene in particular makes a person smart — a trait we like in today’s society — would destroy our version of equality. That’s what Leo’s saying — it would lead to a crisis in our social structure. But you have a point. We’re curious by nature, and we’re curious about nature. We want to know everything. Maybe one day we will figure out how genes affect our intelligence. I just don’t think society is ready for it yet.”

“Society wasn’t ready for the atomic bomb, either,” commented Jinx. “Not that I’m saying this is good or bad.”

“Well that proves my point,” said Erica. “Science created something that society wasn’t ready for. We used it to end a war, then we locked it up and tried to enforce ethical limitations on the use of that technology. So now what? We’re left in a Cold War that supposedly ended decades ago, but we’re all just sitting on nuclear warheads wondering if it’s safe to get rid of them or if society will demand that we use them again one day.”

“It’s a Pandora’s box,” said Leo thoughtfully. “We’re curious as to what’s inside, but we’re afraid of opening it and letting loose terrible things into the world.”

They all ate in silence following this thought.

“Why do we need proof of our intelligence?” asked Derek of no one in particular. “Isn’t the fact that we’ve been at this school for three years proof enough?”

A/N Continue reading →

Pandora’s Box (part 5)

They decided only two of them should talk to Corey, at least at first. So Erica and Derek went to Corey’s dorm room while the rest of them waited for news in the conference room, although Khonen left to report to school administration.

“What do you think we should say?” asked Erica as they entered the main dorm complex.

“Uh, why did you do it?” answered Derek, a tinge of sarcasm lacing his words.

She shook her head. “We’ll have to approach him with a little more diplomacy than that. I say we explain why it can’t go through, convince him if he needs convincing, then ask him out of curiosity.”

“Sure, if you can keep me from strangling him for causing so much trouble…”

They found his room easily enough. They’d given him enough time to finish practice and shower, so hopefully he was still in his room. Erica hesitated. Derek nodded, and she knocked.

“Yeah?” came Corey’s voice from inside.

“Corey? It’s Derek Tasalis.” said Derek. “We need to talk.”

Corey opened the door, looking both a little surprised and little disappointed to find two members of the student council waiting there. “Hi. Derek. Erica,” he said, acknowledging them both.

Erica held up a printout of the email that started it all. “Was this your doing?” she asked.

He looked from one of them to the other. “Maybe? Yes?”

“Corey, the student council has been talking since this morning. We need to ask you not to present your findings.”

Corey sighed, looking resigned. “I figured this would happen. That’s why I sent out the email anonymously.”

Derek watched him carefully. “You know why we’re asking this, right?”

Shrugging, Corey turned back to his room to putter around among his things. “Controversial stuff, right? To say our intelligence is linked to unchangeable patterns in our genetic code…”

“I’m glad you realize that,” said Erica. “But it’s more than just the controversy. The publication of your work would leave genetic information of all Roosevelt students open for analysis, allowing the administration to potentially discriminate against students on the basis of their genetic information.”

Corey looked scornful. “I’d strip the data, of course. It’s standard protocol for genetic research.”

“But your work was limited to specific group of identifiable students,” argued Erica. “It would take one of our programming students less than five minutes to cross-index your data with the Roosevelt Student Network and link up every set of genetic information with a name.”

Looking struck, Corey paused over his computer keyboard. “I didn’t realize…”

Fed up with the logical discussion, Derek interrupted. “Not to mention you violated the privacy of every student you genotyped.”

Erica grimaced. “Yes, if it weren’t for that, you probably could have avoided punishment. As it is though, the administration will probably have something to say on the matter.”

“Why’d you do it?” asked Derek. “You knew it was controversial, so why go through with it anyway?”

Corey stared at him and said, “Tell me you aren’t curious. You’d want to know. I had the funding and resources to do a genome-wide association study, and my sponsors set up most of the analysis for me. Why not? If it were easy enough for you to find out, wouldn’t you want to know too? Wouldn’t you want to know why you had to struggle for some things when others didn’t? Why some subjects were easy? Why you’re here while your best friend from middle school isn’t? Wouldn’t you want to know?”

Derek looked him dead in the face. “No,” was all he said.

Pandora’s Box (part 4)

After sixth period, they all gathered again in the conference room. Erica sat at the head of the table, frowning as she watched them filter in — they were all looking grim or thoughtful. This day had forced so many of them to reevaluate themselves in ways they hadn’t considered in months. There remained so many questions for all of them, and more to consider if they couldn’t stop this from going public. When the last person arrived, Derek caught her eye and she sat forward.

“What have we got?” she asked, looking around the table.

Leo volunteered to talk first. “Overall, everyone’s worried, confused, and curious. We’ve all learned more about genetics in the past day than the rest of our lives combined, and it’s a lot to take in. Of course, most want to know about genetics and intelligence — can it really be linked together? I’ve heard conversations about upbringing versus innate intelligence all over campus. As far as I can tell, no one’s completely ambivalent about the situation, but most people don’t care or don’t realize how things could go wrong.”

Blair chimed in. “Even if things do go wrong though, I don’t think many people are too worried about themselves — maybe because they don’t realize what might happen. I’m sure the administration has a better sense of how genetic discrimination would affect our student body, but the student body itself doesn’t seem to understand that. We do, and it’s our responsibility to protect everyone else.”

Leo ran a hand through his hair as he sighed. “It’s a bit of a stretch to say we have a responsibility to stop this, but I don’t think anyone in this room is opposed to stopping this presentation. I’ve seen so much flagging confidence today that’s completely unmerited.” He and Jay avoided eye contact. “If all this experiment did was to make us doubt ourselves, then that alone is reason to make it go away.” His words were met with nods of agreement from around the table.

From the opposite end from Erica, Derek stretched in his seat and sat forward. “Okay, so we know what the student body’s thinking. What else?”

Kerri raised a hand as she frowned at her computer screen. “Khonen talked to the Science Department, who gave him the most ghetto piece of digital data I have ever seen. I’ve been trying to reorganize and clean it up. We’ve got a list of students and their research interests based on their project proposals from the last two semesters. Somewhere in here there’s also a list of corporate and university research sponsors, mostly based on internships from last summer. Khonen made a separate database of genetic technology companies with the capability to do this kind of experiment, but basically we’ve got a ton of data and nothing to do with it… Damn it — who uses comma-delimited inputs?”

Most of the group blinked at her blankly at the last comment, but Derek waved it off. “Any luck with email tracing?”

Leo shook his head. “Nope. Kerri and I tried every trick up our sleeves, but so did whoever sent that. They must’ve known someone wouldn’t like this whole thing.”

Jinx added, “Sorry to bring more bad news, but the administration would let us get access to the surveillance videos either.”

At her comment, Jay perked up. “Wait, I did hear a couple people mention some guys acting weird and picking things out of trash cans. Kerri, can I see that list of science students?”

Kerri shook her head. “It’s a long list. Unless you want to scan two hundred names, we need to narrow it down first.”

“Wait,” said Erica. “Kerri, you said database security could be compromised if we cross-indexed the study’s database with the Roosevelt Student Network, right?” Kerri nodded. “So what if we used Khonen’s list of companies, matched it up with the corporate research sponsors and the students that have worked with them?”

Before Erica was even finished talking, Kerri had started typing away madly. “Give me a few minutes,” Kerri said, coding up a whirlwind. “I’ll throw in any students with the same surnames as principal investigators and corporate researchers…” Within minutes, she opened a generated text file with a short list of names. “Any of these look familiar?” she asked Jay.

He squinted at the screen. “Corey Westmont,” he said slowly. “Marie and Davis said they saw him grabbing things after people threw them away. Marie said she thought he was just being obsessive about recycling.”

Erica and Derek exchanged a glance.

“He’s on the swim team,” offered Jinx. “They should be wrapping up practice in twenty minutes.”

Pandora’s Box (part 3 dialogue 5)

(A/N: last of part 3)

Derek caught Erica outside their first class after lunch.

“Hey,” he greeted her, taking her arm to keep her from going in. “Did Kerri find you before lunch ended?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I’m guessing Leo talked to you.”

He nodded. “What have you heard around campus?”

“Mixed reactions,” she answered. “Most people wouldn’t purposely hack the database except to get their own information, but only a quarter of our class could actually do it, so everyone else would go looking for them.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “Besides that, can you imagine the kind of crisis we’d have if all our genetic information was released to the public?”

“Never mind the public,” she said, dismissing his question. “The Roosevelt administration would jump on that faster than hyenas to a kill.”

He smothered a laugh. “You really picked hyenas for that simile?”

Erica did her best to ignore him, but he saw her expression and started laughing. “No but seriously,” she said, hitting his shoulder just hard enough to get him to stop. “If the administration gets a hold of this study, and our genetic information, all of us are in trouble — not just the few that might not have the smart gene. Most of us are on financial aid, and there are plenty on the Academy’s healthcare plan. If they use any genetic conditions as grounds to take away any of that, we’re screwed.”

Derek frowned. “Not to mention the next generation of prospective Roosevelt students will have a hard time if the admissions office starts doing genetic screening of applicants.”

“Aren’t there patient protection laws in place to prevent genetic discrimination as far as jobs and health insurance go?” asked Erica, glancing into the classroom — they still had a few minutes before class started.

“I’m pretty sure there are, but what politician cares enough to protect student admissions at a high school level, especially when they can’t even vote for four years?”

She considered the thought. “You’ve heard of eugenics, right?” she asked.

“What, discrimination on the basis of genetics and heritage, like the Nazis did?” asked Derek, brow furrowed.

“Sort of yes,” she answered. “Eugenics doesn’t have to be as extreme as Nazi Germany — they euthanized people of ‘sub-par’ genetics there — but there was a eugenics movement in the United States, too.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, there were involuntary-sterilization laws in most states until the 80’s and 90’s. Doctors would castrate patients deemed insane, along with a lot of people with conditions like alcoholism and epilepsy. They were ‘unfit’ for society, so they weren’t allowed to reproduce.”

Derek eyed her skeptically. “Why are you bringing this up?”

“Because if there really is a ‘smart gene’ and society figures that out, there would probably be a resurgence of eugenics. Kids with the gene would get better educational opportunities; kids without it might even get aborted during pregnancy.”

“Oh God,” he murmured. “I don’t think I could ever abort a child for being dumb.”

Biting her lip in thought, Erica added, “Of course, no one would want to group themselves in the same ideology as the Nazis, but I think secretly we’re all elitist and think we smart people are better and need to procreate.”

Wiggling his eyebrows at her suggestively, he asked, “Are you saying…?”

“Good God, Derek. Keep your pants on.”

Pandora’s Box (part 3 dialogue 4)

Lunch found Erica and Jay in their history classroom, peer editing each other’s papers. As he waited for Erica to finish reading his paper, Jay fiddled around in silence until a thought he’d been considering all day came to mind.

“You know,” he said, making Erica look up from his last body paragraph. “If the study results came out, especially if we play up the fact that we didn’t give consent, we could probably find out for sure if we had the smart gene or not.”

“Would you really want to know?” she asked around the pen cap in her mouth as she added another comment in the margin.

“I…” he hesitated. “I’m not sure. Part of me is scared that I don’t have it, and part of me doesn’t want to worry about it. I guess I also wonder, what does it mean if I don’t have it?”

Erica shrugged. “Potentially nothing. Who knows if the study is valid anyway?”

Frowning, he turned his head to look at her skeptically. “You’re saying these things like you know for sure that we’re going to stop this before it goes off. But I think secretly, you’re scared, too.”

She scoffed and recapped her pen, flipping his paper back to the first page. “Of course I’m scared,” she admitted. “You and I both know I still doubt whether I have what it takes to be here. But most of the time, I’m over it. Am I really going to let one variation in my genetic code to take over my self-confidence level? No, I’d rather not. And honestly, I don’t think you should let it either.”

Jay sighed and leaned his head on one hand as he twirled his pen idly in the other. “I guess I just want some sort of assurance.”

“But what if you don’t have it?” Erica suggested. “Knowing you, you’d probably just use it as an excuse for your perceived shortcomings.” He didn’t reply, so she pushed him in the shoulder. “How’s this for assurance? I think you’re smart. Good enough?”

“No,” he muttered, rolling his eyes. “It also bothers me that Khonen marches around acting like he assumes he has the gene — not a care in the world.”

“Well statistically speaking, a majority of us probably do have the gene, considering the study used us as the smart group. Khonen has every right to assume he has it.” Jay didn’t look convinced. “Besides,” she added, “we’ve always wished he had a little more humility.”

A girl from the next table over joined the conversation. “Why does it matter so much to you? Like Erica said, almost all of us probably have it.”

“Yeah,” added her peer editing partner. “Besides, having the gene isn’t everything. Just because you’re born a certain way doesn’t mean you can’t change.”

“Ha,” laughed another student, “that’s such an American way of thinking — that you can change from what you’re born into.”

“What, you don’t think it’s true?”

Erica interrupted, trying to steer the conversation into slightly more neutral territory. “I’m more concerned with the fact that someone has our entire genotype. They can find out pretty much anything from that alone.”

The first girl to join them asked, “If they’d tell us if we have the smart gene, what else would they tell us about our genome? I’d be more concerned about that stuff — there’s a high probability that each of us has the smart gene, but not so high for diseases and things. It’s like…” She paused, formulating an example. “Okay, if I have a family history of cystic fibrosis, I can pretty much assume that I’m a carrier since I don’t have the disease itself. But if one of the genetic screens for cystic fibrosis also happens to tell me that I’ll get a certain cancer in the next twenty years, then I’m getting this dire information that I never even asked for in the first place. At that point, why would I take the cystic fibrosis test, since I can guess the result of that anyway?”

At that point, the door swung open and they all looked over to find Kerri standing there. “Hey Erica, Jay,” she greeted them. “Leo and I realized something just now.”

“What’s that?” asked Erica.

“If they publish the data from the study, it wouldn’t be hard to connect a person with genetic information just using some cross-indexing with the Roosevelt student network. There’s pretty much no way for us to protect ourselves, except maybe the honor code…”

Jay bit his lip. “So we’d be able to get our own genotypes?”

“Yeah,” muttered Erica, thinking hard. “And everyone else’s, along with all the study results and any other published SNP connections.”

Kerri glanced at the clock. “Listen, I need to go, but we should probably get everyone together after sixth period.”

“Yeah, we’ll see you then.”