NY Times goes tabloid: hit piece on stem cell research and researchers

The Science section of the NY times is one of my favorite reads, but today they published a piece that is just terrible. Nicholas Wade, who frequently writes good stuff about science in The NY Times, has an article on stem cells today in the Science section that is utterly wrong about just about everything. You can read it here.

Mr. Wade’s premise for the article is that funding of science is akin to investing in stocks.

He argues that NIH and NSF have an approach of ‘buying everything’ in the market and according to him the few spectacular winners ‘make up for all disasters’. What the heck? Mr. Wade is 100% wrong.

NIH is incredibly strict and deliberate in what it funds. NIH funds approximately only the top 10-15% of all grant applications after thorough peer review, which is an extremely low percentage. This hardly reflects ‘buying everything’, but rather is just the opposite. If Mr. Wade had bothered to get his facts straight or talk to any scientists applying for federal funding for any kind of research, he would have quickly realized how wrong he was.

Mr. Wade then goes on to discuss funding by CIRM and makes serious missteps here too. Clearly he knows very little about CIRM and about stem cell research. He makes the argument that because CIRM only funds research in ‘a single field’ that chances are high that Californians will lose out. First, he is wrong that CIRM only funds one field. The breadth of research funded by CIRM spans a few dozen fields from cancer biology to neurological disorders, to heart disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, etc. Second, Mr. Wade ignores the substantial accomplishments that CIRM has already made in just its first few years.

Mr. Wade then ramps up his attack. He attacks embryonic stem cell research and researchers. He says that us scientists have ‘created an illusion of progress’ with our claims and that a ‘notable fraction of these claims have turned out to be wrong or fraudulent’. Wow. Can you please give me some facts to support such aggressive claims?

The NY Times has allowed Mr. Wade to publish in essence an opinion piece smearing stem cell researchers in their Science section.

Finally, Mr. Wade says that researchers have a small window of time to ‘strike it lucky’ during their careers and ‘become a lab chief’. In Mr. Wade’s way of thinking us scientists are like gamblers in Las Vegas hoping for some random luck?

Mr. Wade’s article is a total train wreck and a hit piece on stem cell research. I’m very disappointed that the NY Times published such nonsense.