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NEWSROOM for May 3, 2001

Aired May 3, 2001 - 04:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: Seen in classrooms the world over, this is CNN NEWSROOM.

RUDI BAKHTIAR, CO-HOST: Hello. NEWSROOM has made its way into Thursday. That means science is the focus of the day -- first up: a look at today's rundown.

We start with the debate over the origins of life and an examination of the possibilities for the future. Up next, in "Science Desk," we check out some high-tech homes. Then we'll discuss the science of cloning in "Worldview." And finally, we "Chronicle" the writer's role.

The science of life is complicated and controversial. Developments in the field of genetics are coming so fast and furious that those who study ethics are desperately trying to keep up. The new millennium holds the promise of fantastic developments in medicine that could improve life for everyone -- but at what cost?

Just where are we going and do we really want to go there?

Our Joel Hochmuth tackles these questions in our special segment: "Voyage of Life."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations.

JOEL HOCHMUTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is, by all accounts, an extraordinary scientific breakthrough.

ERIC LANDER, GENETIC RESEARCHER: The text is filled with long- sought answers, some amazing surprises, puzzling mysteries and lots of useful information for medicine.

HOCHMUTH: This winter, two rival groups of researchers announced they had decoded the billions of chemical combinations that make up who we are: the human genome. The developments hold the promise of improving human life in ways that, until now, doctors could only dream about.

LANDER: And I think it means that we will now be able to try to track down the actual causes of disease. With a parts list, I think the next decade will see us nail down the causes. And while causes don't guarantee that we're going to have cures, they sure beat ignorance when we're trying to tackle disease.

HOCHMUTH: In many ways, the future is here. Doctors can already examine the genetic makeup of human embryos before pregnancy during the in vitro fertilization process. Researchers have already identified genetic markers for more than a dozen diseases, including types of hemophilia, cystic fibrosis and Huntington's disease. Couples can choose to implant only embryos that appear to be free of these abnormalities and discard the rest. But this raises a major ethical question.

RICH RUFFALO, PARALYMPIC ATHLETE: Who's to say which imperfection deserves to live and which imperfection is too heinous or too difficult to enjoy the right to life?

HOCHMUTH: Rich Ruffalo is a Paralympic athlete from New Jersey, who has won dozens of track and field medals both nationally and internationally.

RUFFALO: Hit another one?


RUFFALO: Give me another one.

HOCHMUTH: He's been blind for nearly 20 years now, after gradually losing his sight to a degenerative disease called retinitis pigmentosa or RP. Turns out, RP is one of those diseases that doctors can now find in an embryo before it's implanted.

RUFFALO: If my parents, way back in 1950, when my mom was pregnant and I was circling for a landing, if you will -- if somebody asked her, "Mrs. Ruffalo, you know, we've done some screening. We found out your son, when he's born, one day he'll go blind," boy, I'm awful glad she wasn't posed with that question, although I think, knowing my mom, I'd still be here.

HOCHMUTH: Ruffalo and his wife, Diane (ph), have not had their daughter Sarah tested for RP. Of course, they really don't need to. Although Sarah is a carrier of the disease, due to genetic factors, it's highly improbable she'd ever develop it. Still, Ruffalo hopes she can learn from his example.

RUFFALO: Yes, there is life after blindness. There's life after adversity. There's life after disease. And it's what you make of it. It's not the quantity of your life; it's the quality of it. And we could all make a difference for other people. And that enhances the quality of everyone's life.

HOCHMUTH (on camera): It's clear genetic research will pose even more ethical questions in the future. On the distant horizon is gene therapy, which would let doctors fix defective genes rather than simply identify them. In theory, couples wouldn't have to make the difficult choice between which embryos live and which ones die.

But if doctors can manipulate genes to prevent disease, couldn't they also manipulate genes to make people smarter, better looking or live longer?

(voice-over): Hollywood has had a field day with that scenario.


ETHAN HAWKE, ACTOR: Like most other parents of their day, they were determined that their next child would be brought into the world in what has become the natural way.


HOCHMUTH: "Gattaca," a movie released four years ago, depicts a society deeply divided by class: those who have been genetically engineered and those who haven't.


BLAIR UNDERWOOD, ACTOR: After screening, we are left, as you see, with two healthy boys and two very healthy girls -- naturally, no critical predispositions to any of the major inheritable diseases. All that remains is to select the most compatible candidate.


HOCHMUTH: Could it happen?

DR. HILTON KORT, FERTILITY SPECIALIST: I don't think that will ever happen in our lifetime, because I think the technology will not be available. But, more importantly, I think when that technology does become available, we will have the appropriate controls, whether it be legislation or whether it be controls.

And I think, in -- certainly, in our society, I can never see that happening.

HOCHMUTH: Still, just the idea of genetic engineering makes ethicists nervous. Already, it's possible to screen embryos for gender, so couples can choose to have a boy or a girl.

TIMOTHY JACKSON, PROF. OF CHRISTIAN ETHICS, EMORY UNIV.: We really make life a product rather than seeing life as a gift of God that is due reverence. We see life as a product of human manipulation that, especially if it's still in the embryonic stage, that can be manipulated for social utility.

HOCHMUTH: Perhaps there are two ways of looking at genetic engineering. To some, it's simply parents choosing the best for their children. To others, it's parents choosing the best children for themselves.


UNDERWOOD: Keep in mind, this child is still you -- simply the best of you.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JACKSON: Why not try to rationalize the process to make newer and better future generations rather than leaving it to chance? Here I know only to say that it raises the fundamental question: What is the origin of life? What is the source of life?


BAKHTIAR: Well, now that we've seen where life could be headed, let's take a look at where it's been.

As controversial as genetic engineering is, the study of our origins is perhaps even more volatile. The issue's been burning between theologians, scientists and a host of others for decades.

As our Joel Hochmuth reports, now a new school of thought is adding fuel to the fire.


HOCHMUTH (voice-over): The debate is as old as life itself: Why are we here and how did we come to be? Ever since Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands and then published his "Origin of Species," evolution through natural selection has been the prevailing scientific theory. But are there cracks in that long-held consensus?

According to 19-year-old Joe Baker, the answer is a resounding yes.

JOE BAKER, HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR: I believed in evolution for a long time, eighth grade through ninth grade. And, as someone presented to me the facts of science, I began to question what I believed.

HOCHMUTH: The high school senior from Perkasie, Pennsylvania, is on a personal crusade. He claims many examples of Darwinian evolution in his school's biology textbooks are simply wrong and wants his school board to put labels in those books warning students about the alleged errors.

BAKER: This isn't about typos. These are the main icons that are used to teach evolutionary theory. Many of them are fraud.

I think the remedy for all of this is having people like me stand up and say, you know, this is wrong, at least in their classes. And maybe, if they get really radical, go up and stand against the school board.

HOCHMUTH: So far, at least, it seems he isn't getting very far.

STERLING: There is misinformation in textbooks. We do not have control of publishing companies.

BAKER: Well, these aren't...


BAKER: These aren't small errors.

STERLING: ... am not -- I understand that they're not small issues. And we don't deal with any small issues here.

If it was just talking about the errors in textbooks, we believe that we have a staff that can handle that. When you start moving off the science-based theories and into the religious-based theories, you're moving into areas that don't belong in the biology classroom.

BAKER: I personally am not asking for any of these to be taught or brought in -- anything that I believe to be brought into the science curriculum, but for the evidence that they have to be taught honestly.

Could everyone here who supports me please stand up?

HOCHMUTH: While Joe's crusade is personal, he is not alone. He raises questions voiced by a growing minority of scientists and scholars in an emerging field called intelligent design. They question some of the basic tenants of traditional Darwinism and propose life on Earth is here by design rather than chance.

Among them is Jonathan Wells, who holds Ph.D.s in both theology and biology.

DR. JONATHAN WELLS, AUTHOR, "ICONS OF EVOLUTION": As I looked more and more and dug a little bit deeper, I found many misrepresentations in the biology textbooks and, at that point, became convinced that even the general pattern of Darwinian evolution was false -- or at least it distorts the evidence to make itself look truer than it is.

HOCHMUTH: One of the most glaring examples, says Wells, are illustrations of vertebrate embryos still found in some textbooks. It turns out they're based on drawings faked more than a hundred years ago to make them look more similar than they really are and to make a stronger case for common descent.

Another example is the peppered moth, used for decades by evolutionists as evidence of natural selection. Studies have shown that, after the Industrial Revolution, darker varieties predominated -- the conclusion: that darker moths were better camouflaged on trees blackened by pollution and harder for predatory birds to find, an example of survival of the fittest. But there's a problem.

WELLS: When biologists looked more closely, they realized that they couldn't even show that peppered moths rest on tree trunks in the wild. And it turns out that these textbook photos showing them on tree trunks have all been staged. And I think that's bad science.

HOCHMUTH: The mainstream scientific community is firing back at Wells' objections. Jerry Coyne is an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago studying genetics and the origin of new species.

JERRY COYNE, EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: The problems with the examples that Wells point out, like the pepper moth, were not discovered by Jonathan Wells; they were discovered by other scientists, including myself. And we have published these problems in the scientific literature. So Wells is merely dredging them up again and pretending that, you know, he found them.

WELLS: But the textbooks still teach them as though there were nothing wrong with them.

HOCHMUTH: Still, Coyne argues that traditional Darwinism doesn't depend on the examples that Wells points out. He says there are plenty of other examples, like the fossil record. But here again, Wells raises questions.

WELLS: There is quite a bit of disagreement over how these various fossils fit into some sort of progression. The disagreement is rampant in the field. And the people who studied these fossils admit to it freely, at least in the professional literature. So they themselves use the word myth to refer to this story of ape-to-human evolution.

COYNE: You don't have to know the common ancestry in order to know that evolution occurred. All you have to do is be able to see a sequence in the fossil record of organisms that change over time. And that's exactly what we have in the human fossil record. The theory of evolution has been confirmed with so much evidence over the 150 years since it's been suggested that no serious scientist calls it into question anymore.

HOCHMUTH (on camera): That Darwinism should come under attack is nothing new. Ever since the theory gained widespread acceptance back in the 19th century, it's faced critics both inside and outside science. What's new about the so-called "intelligent design" movement is that, in a sense, it claims to have found God.

MICHAEL BEHE, BIOCHEMIST, LEHIGH UNIVERSITY: In the nucleus, you've just got all this DNA.

HOCHMUTH: Michael Behe is a biochemist at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. His research has convinced him that some molecular systems are so irreducibly complex, they must have been designed. Take, for example, the flagella that propels certain types of bacteria.

BEHE: Maybe it looks like it was designed because it was designed. So just like trying to put together a mousetrap from random parts in your garage, it's very difficult to envision how different pieces that weren't already adjusted to each other could come together and form something as complex as a bacterial flagellum.

EUGENIA SCOTT, ANTHROPOLOGIST: In science, you never really say, you know, this is a mystery that we can't explain and, you know, stop there. In science, you always keep looking for that natural explanation, which is why most of us consider intelligent design to be not a very good science, because it's basically giving up and saying: We can't explain this; therefore, God did it.

HOCHMUTH: Eugenia Scott is an anthropologist by training and a committed evolutionist. She's concerned the intelligent design movement may have ulterior motives.

SCOTT: The literature of the intelligent design people is very clear: They don't like evolution. They don't like common ancestry. They want God to be intervening at regular intervals to bring about the diversity of modern living things. That's a religious statement; that's not a scientific statement.

BEHE: Let me just say, I disagree. All sorts of scientific theories have religious implications. Darwin's theory has religious implications.

HOCHMUTH: Behe is a Roman Catholic, but says he does not interpret the biblical creation account literally. Within the intelligent design movement, some scientists do and some don't. But all have doubts about the Darwinian notion that life evolved through totally natural processes.

BEHE: At root, Darwinism says that life is the result of chance: chance processes, you know, with natural selection, but chance, nonetheless. Nobody intended human beings to be here. Nobody intended anything to be here. It just sort of happened. It'll go away someday.

WELLS: The ultimate question here is: Is God real? I mean, is there a God that we are answerable to who created us and gave purpose to our existence or not?

COYNE: People don't like the idea that humans are part of the evolutionary process and that they, in particular, are the sort of random blind products of this process called natural selection, and that they're not -- we're not the special products of any creative process.

And people don't like that because it -- they think it deprives them of having a purpose in a universe and it makes them feel alone. You know, I'm perfectly content, myself, to live with that.

HOCHMUTH: Which brings us back to Joe Baker and what he believes. He freely admits he accepts that God created the world as described in the Bible and, that in turn, God created him.

ROBERTA RECENES, PARENT: I admire him. I admire his faith. But I think he's going about it the wrong way and he's trying to impress his faith on my student and my community.

HOCHMUTH: Joe responds to such criticism by arguing his crusade is not just about faith, but facts.

BAKER: I think that students should be able to think for themselves and just test the evidence for themselves, not necessary read this in the book, but look at the -- look at the -- look at the fossils, study the different layers of the Earth, study the rocks and study science, the empirical tests of science and then come to their own conclusions.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BAKHTIAR: There's no doubt that we live in the age of technology. From remote controls and cell phones to laptop computers, it's all about making life easier. Of course, some of us are a little more tech happy than others, so we dedicate our next story to you tech freaks.

Natalie Pawelski is going to take us through the new American home to uncover some technological treasures. And here's the best part. She explains how you can put the technology in your own home on a budget.


NATALIE PAWELSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So where do you even start?

GEORGE IDE, VICE PRESIDENT, DIGITAL INTERIORS: Well, probably the first thing you want to do is access what kind of needs you have. You know, what kind of entertainment systems do you want to have? Do you want a local area network for your PCs? Do you want to do lighting controls? Do you want to do heating and air conditioning environmental controls?

For the basic wiring systems, they cost anywhere from $1,000 and up just to put the wiring in. And then we have systems starting as low as $2,000 to put in some lighting, and heating, and air conditioning, and security controls. This box, then, is the security and automation control. This box right here connects to the keypad at the front door, there, where we can arm and disarm the security system and turn the lights on and off.

PAWELSKI: And this is your climate control, too?

IDE: And this also does the climate control. It connects through a wire to each of the thermostats in the house.

It also connects to the local area network, which is the laptop or the computer in the home office, now can control things by communicating with this box.

PAWELSKI: So what does this little gadget do?

IDE: This little gadget, right here, is a compact pocket PC. And on here we have it connected wireless to the in-house Web site. And I can press the little control function button, and now it gives me a list of all light throughout the home. For instance, I can turn the kitchen lights here. I can turn them off. If I go on vacation, I can press the vacation mode, and what it's going to do, it's going to turn off all the lights off for me.

And you can hear the beep in the background because it's arming the system for me. So, as I'm driving out I can press vacation mode so it will turn off all the lights, arm the security system, and automatically set my thermostats back to my set-back temperature while I'm gone.

The things that we're showing here today and that we're demonstrating -- being able to do the lighting and the heating and the air conditioning and the security -- that all exists today. And that can all be done right now at a very reasonable cost.



KIMBERLY WALTERS, PORTLAND, OREGON: My name is Kimberly Walters, I'm from Portland, Oregon. And my question is: Why do yawns seem to be contagious?

RHONDA ROWLAND, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Boredom and drowsiness are often associated with yawning, yet there is no sound scientific answer as to why we yawn, let alone why it seems to be contagious.

Explanations run the gamut. Some say yawns synchronize sleep among group-living animals. Others say it prevents a loss of lung compliance during normal breathing. More recently, some scientists speculate it is an involuntary reaction to a rise in carbon dioxide: We yawn to get more oxygen. It has even been said that yawning has no physiological function at all.

What we do know is that a yawn seems to be contagious. If you believe in the theory that we yawn to get more oxygen, seeing someone else yawn may be a trigger for you too to yawn, to test if there is too much carbon dioxide.

So the jury is still out on exactly why we yawn. But I bet that even hearing about it -- just the suggestion -- makes you want to yawn.


BAKHTIAR: We've got more science for you now as we head into "Worldview." We turn from technology and evolution to a scientific revolution called cloning. It's an idea and a technique that is controversial and complex.

Our story begins in Italy.

SHELLEY WALCOTT, CO-HOST: On to Italy, a country in Southern Europe: Italy is located on a peninsula that jets out into the Mediterranean Sea. The country is best known for its cultural heritage. Italian museums are filled with priceless art collections, works by famous groundbreaking artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.

Now a group of Italians say they're ready to break new ground in another area -- this time the world of science. A fertility doctor and his partner say they are ready to clone a human being. Human cloning is the process of creating another human being, not through the usual reproductive means, but by using human cells in a laboratory to create a genetic duplicate.

Jim Bittermann has more on this very controversial topic. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The controversial Italian fertility doctor and his American partner repeated a boast they made two months ago in the United States: they are ready to clone a human being within the coming year.

At a research conference in Rome, they discounted concerns by some scientists that cloning experiments done on animals have had high failure rates, which would suggest a high probability of deformed human births.

DR. PANAYIOTIS ZAVOS, AMERICAN FERTILITY SPECIALIST: Trust me, the high risks will be taken care of, because we know what we are doing. That's what we need to do, and we emphasize that, that we are very much aware of that, and we are going to develop the proper criteria in order to overcome those.

BITTERMANN: The Italian of the team, Severino Antinori, said he has withered hundreds of volunteers down to the list of 10 couples suitable to take part in the experiments. Dr. Antinori generated much controversy and publicity seven years ago by successfully implanting a fertilized human egg into a 62-year-old woman, who then gave birth. For that, he was reprimanded by Italian medical authorities, and government health officials sounded ready to act again.

Like others involved in human cloning research in other parts of the world, Dr. Antinori would not provide specifics about exactly when or where his human cloning might take place.

The Vatican had no immediate reaction to the human cloning news, but recently, the Pope called on scientists to respect the dignity of human beings, and Vatican officials said before Antinori's latest announcement, that -- quote -- "As in the case of the atomic bomb, just going ahead with scientific development is not always the best choice for humanity."

(on camera): While it seems doubtful the researchers will be deterred by religious or moral arguments, they did say that they will obey the law. But, in Italy, just as in many other parts of the world, laws on human cloning have lagged far behind the research.

Jim Bittermann, CNN, Rome.


ANNOUNCER: Teachers, make the most of CNN NEWSROOM with our free daily classroom guide to the program. There you'll find a rundown of each day's show so you choose just the program segment that fits your lesson plan. Plus, there are discussion questions and activities and the guide highlights key people, places and news terms.

Each day, find hot links to other online resources and previews of upcoming "Desk" segments. It's all at this Web address where you can also sign up to have the guide automatically e-mailed directly to you each day. It's easy. It's free. It's your curriculum connection to the news. After all, the news never stops and neither does learning.

BAKHTIAR: Representatives for Hollywood screenwriters and producers are back at the bargaining table. Negotiations resumed Wednesday, about 12 hours after the writers contract for television and movie work expired.

Writers want more money throughout the life of a show, including international syndication and potential future airings on the Internet.

As Garrick Utley reports, if a deal isn't reached soon, Hollywood may be at a loss for words.


GARRICK UTLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Those who make movies or television programs may not want to admit it, but, in the beginning was the word.







UTLEY: And it took a writer to come up with this.


LAURENCE OLIVIER, ACTOR: To be or not to be.


UTLEY: And this.

(on camera): Writers have long complained that they are treated like the stepchildren of the movie and television business. Although, unlike children, they are supposed to be heard and not seen. Yet, if movies and television are primarily about seeing, what is the role of the writer?

(voice-over): From its beginnings, Hollywood has hired some of the most illustrious talents of American literature, including William Faulkner and Raymond Chandler, to create characters and dialogue that go deeper than the flat surface of the screen.


LAUREN BACALL, ACTRESS: I don't like your manners. HUMPHREY BOGART, ACTOR: I don't mind if you don't like my matters. I don't like them myself. They're pretty bad. I grieve over them long winter evenings, and I don't mind your retching, your drinking your lunch out of a bottle.


UTLEY: The influence of screenwriters was recognized in Washington back in 1947, when they were among the 10 Hollywood figures who refused to answer a Congressional committee's questions about their possible Communist activities.

They were blacklisted by the movie industry. Today, it isn't politics that threatens screenwriters but a business that is changing.

DOUGLAS MCGRATH, SCREENWRITER: Hollywood now counts on a large part of the rest of the world as its audience, that's part of its audience, a large part of its audience. And those people are more likely to see a movie that is easy to look at and not so hard to listen to.

UTLEY: And so, while we all know the stars and often the directors who get the public accolades, the writers remain unseen and unknown, although they are not unpaid.

(on camera): Commercially successful screenwriters can name their seven-figure price. Still, even the best face new competition from words that no one has written.

(voice-over): The television reality shows which have attitude, but no written script, and live news events which develop their own story line.

MCGRATH: It doesn't put any writers out of business. There will always be the Elian Gonzalez TV movie. There will be five Monica Lewinsky movies. It is actually is good for everybody, except the people whose lives, you know, are ruined by having the tragedy happen to them.

UTLEY: However unappreciated screenwriters may feel there is the Hollywood truism that, until the writers have done their job, no one else, actor or director, has a job, although there are some who might like to rewrite that.


WILLEM DAFOE, ACTOR: I don't think we need the writer any longer.


UTLEY: Garrick Utley, CNN, New York.


BAKHTIAR: Today, CNN NEWSROOM commemorates World Asthma Day. An estimated 17 million people in the United States are affected by this chronic disease. Asthma is considered a growing epidemic, killing about 5,500 Americans every day. If you or someone you know wants to know more about it, check out our classroom guide for today.

And on a related topic, coming up next Tuesday: allergies. My own ongoing struggles with allergies prompted me to do some research on it. And I'll tell you what I learned.

And that wraps it up for now. Have a great day.

ANNOUNCER: CNN NEWSROOM is here for you 12 months a year. And it's free. Educators need to enroll once a year. And it's easy. In the U.S., call 1-800-344-6219; outside the U.S., 44207-637-6912; or on the Internet at

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