The researcher who reportedly created the first gene-edited babies might be afflicted with a form of ethical Dunning-Kruger syndrome — ignorance of one's own ignorance. In interviews and a promotional YouTube video, He Jiankui telegraphed faith that his experiment will be remembered as a pioneering feat and a landmark in medical progress.

The field as a whole condemned this use of gene editing as unethical and criminally negligent. But even so, the episode should prompt scientists to take a good hard look in the mirror.

The drive to be a pioneer is part of scientific culture. Being first is rewarded with glory, fame, prizes and authority. People listen to you, whether or not you possess a modicum of good judgment. Rule-breaking gets conflated with independent thinking and innovation.