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faux artificial life

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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.

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