Earlier this year, Doctor Lars Jurgenson's announcement of a self-replicating
cell created from inorganic chemicals under carefully monitored laboratory
conditions shocked the scientific community. For the first time, it looked
like nature's most carefully kept secret--the secret of life itself--was
finally within our grasp. Stocks soared and plummeted as speculators tried to
guess which companies would be the winners and losers when artificial life
became big business. Every source of research funding from the National
Institute of Health to the Ralph and Cindy Beckett Memorial Scholarship Fund
started receiving more grant requests each week than they normally saw in six
months; the number of college students listing their major as biochemistry
increased thirty percent. Artificial life had captured the the public
imagination in a way that nothing had since the world watched Neil Armstrong
first set foot on the moon.
Not, of course, that a discovery of this magnitude could take place without
a few unfortunate side effects--there were many vocal television ministers who
declaimed it as the work of Satan, as man trying to usurp the throne of God.
Doctor Jurgenson received numerous death threats and decided to go into hiding
after someone calling himself "The Guardian of Truth" blew up Jurgenson's
Volvo with seven sticks of TNT.
Grants were issued, governments tried to out-do each other in research funding,
each hoping to make the new strides in artificial life before the others did.
After three months of frenzied effort, researchers world-wide turned
up...nothing. The initial enthusiasm began to falter, t-shirt sales dropped,
new grants were put on hold, and the public eye turned to more pressing issues
such as taxes, the weather, and whether Saturday morning cartoon characters
should be allowed to show cleavage.
The final blow came when, after six months during which no other laboratory had
been able to duplicate Jurgenson's results, and the Nobel prize comittee was due
to begin its meetings in only two weeks, Doctor Jurgenson confessed that his
claimed results were fraudulent; he had simply made the whole thing up. We can
only hope that the credibility of the scientific community as a whole will not
suffer from the revelation that a prominent biologist faked an organism.