July 10, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

How many scientist bloggers does it take to change a light bulb?

Stem Cell BloggersOne question I am frequently asked by readers and colleagues is “what other stem cell blogs or bloggers can you recommend that are written by a stem cell scientist and updated on a regular basis?”

The simple but surprising answer: there are none. It’s lonely out here in cyberspace! (2020 update: The good news today is that there are many stem cell blogs out there in total, but unfortunately some are by stem cells clinics or their advocates and not really active ones by academic stem cell scientists).

This week marks the 1 year anniversary of the death of the only other stem cell blog out there written by scientists, The Niche from Nature. The loss of that blog was painful.

As it stands now, our blog would appear to be the only one in the world about stem cells written by a stem cell faculty-level scientist.

This is not bragging, but rather more like complaining on my part. Where the heck are the rest of you? My guess is that most stem cell scientists are too afraid to blog. It’s true I have stumbled across an occasional landmine or two as an assistant professor blogging on stem cell research, but I remain mostly unscathed. Our audience grows and seems to have some actual influence with the ‘bigwigs’ out there.

As the only scientist blogging on stem cells, I’m an easy target for opponents of stem cell research. If you Google “stem cell blog” my lab’s home website, and this blog you are currently reading consistently rank in the top 5-10 hits.  If you look at the top 100 hits, none are written by scientists.

Nonetheless there are some excellent blogs out there on stem cells. I would recommend Don C. Reed’s Stem Cell Battles. Also Amy Adam’s Research Blog over at CIRM is outstanding. Ben’s Stem Cell News is good and updated frequently, but does not allow for comments and does not state opinions. California Stem Cell Report has the latest on CIRM, focusing on policy issues. Webicina has a list of stem cell blogs including Cell News that provides up-to-date postings on stem cells, cloning, bioethics, and genetics. The blog of the Stem Cell Network, a blog team written (updated once or twice a month) mostly by grad students and at least one postdoc in Canada, is very good. Most of the writers are trainees in the Rudnicki lab. Cheers to you guys!

The consequences of there only being 1 stem cell blog written by a stem cell scientist goes beyond me having a bulls eye on my forehead. In addition, what it means is that stem cell scientists have very little collective voice on the internet. I know of at least a couple dozen anti-stem cell blogs out there, for example, that frequently are at or near the top of Google searches. Add in the newspaper columnists voicing strident anti-stem cell opinions (e.g., embryonic stem cell research supporters are baby killers and Nazis), and you have a formidable enemy of science.

Primarily during the Reagan Administration, HIV/AIDS activists used the slogan ‘silence = death’. The point was that it is not enough to quietly support a medical cause with the importance of HIV/AIDS. If you care about something and it is important, you need to communicate that.

Yes, there is risk in speaking (blogging) one’s opinions on controversial topics such as stem cells, but I think ‘silence=death’ also applies to embryonic stem cell research and scientists have been too quiet, for too long. If embryonic stem cell research falls apart in the U.S., it will mean the death and suffering of countless patients who could have otherwise been helped.

If you do not speak, you hand the agenda to the opponents of science and we have seen what harm they can do. They are organized, have a lot of $, and are not afraid of taking extreme positions that draw attention.

So time for scientists to talk and blog about why we need stem cell research and embryonic stem cell research, set the record straight on the propaganda of the other side, and basically fight for what you believe in.

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