Thursday, October 26, 2006

The lies about 'stem cells'

Mary L. Davenport, MD, writing at The American Thinker, lays out, clearly and succinctly, what 'stem cell' controversies come down to. The folks trying to wheedle lots of tax money for their own ends apparently assume you're both stupid and ignorant. I know you're not stupid. Please don't be ignorant. Read the Davenport piece. It's not long, and it says better than I can something that needs saying.

Hat tip: Bookworm Room


Maxine said...

The issue of stem cell research has become ludicrously politicised. I can't agree with you about the post you link to -- it is politics, not science -- any more than I agree with people, celebs or no -- who hype what research can do.

Stem cell research is basic research. Politicians and celebs would do better to keep out of it. Scientists are subject to ethical committees and watchdogs, believe me. No problem.

Who knows what will come out of this or any research? We never will know, if politicians insist on meddling, or the media inflate the conflict for their own purposes.

PS I am qualified to comment on this issue -- I am a scientific editor of Nature.

Kathryn Judson said...

Maxine, My grandfather was one of the lead scientists for the Manhattan Project. He was astonished when somebody actually wanted to use the bomb he helped develop on a populated area. (He shouldn't have been surprised, probably, but he was, and he was floored.) He spent the rest of his life trying to drill it into the heads of his college students that scientists need to look at the moral implications of what they were doing and that it was inexcusable, in light of experience, to pursue a line of research just because it could be done. There was the question of whether it should be done in light of how it might be used or misused. In other words, he and his buddies had thought they could hide behind the 'basic research' idea, and leave the consequences to others to worry about, but he changed his mind. I have to agree with him on this, at least up to a point.

I find it troubling that you don't seem to separate the types of stem cell research into different columns? I can't share your 'no problem' attitude when some of those ethics committees and watchdogs have managed to find it OK to treat human embryos like some variety of soybean or something. I don't mind in the least if they want to use adult stem cells, or that from cord blood, but destroying embryos is something else again. Isn't it? Shouldn't it be?

I do agree the situation has become ludicrously politicized. But is there any hope of it not being that, as long as researchers go ballistic when they don't get taxpayer funding? They are not entitled to it, for crying out loud.

And don't get me started on media coverage. I hope at Nature you manage to make clear from the get-go on any article which type of stem cells you're writing about, and what the differences are, both in sources and successes so far? That so many 'reporters' don't bother suggests to me that they're backing a horse in the race instead of being objective observers.

As for the article to which I linked. Is her science off? Don't the different types of stem cells behave differently? Aren't there reasons for that?

Maxine said...

Hi Kathryn

Please note, I said there are ethical committees. I agree that science or anything needs checks and balances. Quite a bit of what you say at the start of your reply to my does not apply to my comment, because I did not say that people should be allowed to pursue a line of research just becuase it can be done, or anything like that.

Biology is not the Manhattenn project, and much has changed about the way that science is administered and regulated since those days.

The MP was also a project undertaken in times when the politicians of the day felt that the West needed this kind of power/"protection". (Politicians in the case of the MP being on the other side of the fence from the view you've linked to about stem cell research.)

I agree with you that there are always people who are naive about the use to which their work might be put, not just scientists.

Through my work at nature I am very well aware of how stem cells has become such a politicised issue, divorced from the science. I don't suppose the person whose post you linked to is a stem cell researcher, or even a researcher, is she? (although she puts MD after her name). I just don't find her view reasoned, it is polarised. You coudl find equally reasoned arguments in favour of research, without hyping the research, eg in various Nature articles.

I think researchers would be just as likely to go ballistic when they don't get funded, whether or not it is for stem cell research!

If you like I can dig out some articles on the topic and send you them after the weekend, when I am at work, if you are interested.

Of course Nature publishes original research as well as news&comment, on stem cells as well as all other areas of basic research. These are peer-reviewed articles and would indeed carry all the methodological details. (nature didn't publish the Hwang studies, please note-- well, we did publish his cloned dog but that has stood up.)

all best

Kathryn Judson said...

Maxine, Thank you for taking the time to discuss this with me. I'll be happy to read whatever articles you send me links for.

My objection is to research, any research, that uses human beings as guinea pigs without fully informed consent (which takes unborn individuals off the table, obviously) - especially that which results in death of the guinea pig. I understand that there are some methods being developed that might produce embryonic-like (pluripotent?) stem cells, or otherwise produce 'embryonic' stem cells without harming, much less killing, a human embryo. Hey, fine with me. Study away in that case. I simply cannot stand by quietly while an innocent human life is categorized as stuff and used accordingly.

As for the ethics committees, I guess I've become a bit jaundiced because so many 'bioethicists' seem to be of the Peter Singer stripe, and that's not very useful, is it? I don't think they have any right to sit around drawing up definitions of who gets to be considered human, or deciding whose life is worthy of protection under the law. I don't trust these guys. Their view of things scares me. That so many people in the press (and some judges) seem to love them really scares me.

As for the funding, I'd like to make clear that I draw a distinction between private funding and public funding. Those who ask for or accept public funding by definition are making whatever they're doing a political issue, I think.

Again, thanks for taking the time.

Maxine said...

Hi Kathryn, sorry to take so long to get back to you -- I lost your post and couldn't find it.

Here is a link to a collection of articles about stem cell research:

Here are the two papers that first reported mouse stem cells 25 years ago, and related articles:

Here are some methodological articles:

and here is an excellent summary and round-up about these cells:

Hope some of these are of interest.

Next year, Nature will be launching an online resource called Nature Reports -- Stem Cells (or similar) which will feature articles, news stories and other features.

Kathryn Judson said...

Maxine, Thanks for all your time and trouble.

I'm battling something between a cold and the flu at the moment, but I'll read these after the fever breaks and my mind feels usable again and my patience isn't feeling stretched. (Ugh. Winter bugs are sooo fun. Not.)

Again, thanks for being willing to discuss this in a civilized fashion.