The Anti-Stem Cell Propaganda Machine

Someone once said that in any war there is going to be propaganda.

The same seems to be true for war that extreme right-wing conservatives are waging against stem cell research and researchers.

A prime example is an article today in the National Review by David Klinghoffer entitled “The Stem-Cell War”.  I would call it propaganda.

Klinghoffer starts his article by identifying the name of the first patient in a clinical trial for spinal cord injury. It’s unclear if this patient voluntarily released his identity to the media or was “out-ed” by the Washington Post without permission.  Klinghoffer uses this patient to make the point that this is the first patient being treated using human embryonic stem cells. In contrast, he says, gazillions of people have been treated using adult cells. His conclusion is that embryonic stem cell research must be flawed.

One problem here with this logic is that adult stem cell research has been around for decades, while human embryonic stem (ES) cells were only discovered about a decade ago. Klinghoffer gets his facts totally wrong when he says that human ES cell research has been ongoing for 30 years and been “lavished” with funded.  That is a totally bogus statement.  Mouse ES cells were discovered much earlier than human ES cells, but they of course are not the same thing. In addition, by no stretch of the imagination has human ES cell research been “lavished” with funded. What a loaded word to use.

The only scientist that Mr. Klinghoffer quotes, surprise-surprise, is Dr. Theresa Deisher, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the federal government to shut down federal funding of ES cell research.

Why no quotes from any other scientists? Perhaps Klinghoffer couldn’t find another scientist who would say what he wanted to quote in his article?

In any technological field, there are going to be advances along the way. Human embryonic stem cells represent such a new advance that has come along decades after adult stem cell research began with bone marrow transplantation studies around 5 decades ago. Human embryonic stem cells are relatively so new that there simply has not been time for them to advance as far as adult research. The milestones of the first clinic trials using human ES cells beginning in 2010 are exciting developments and in their limited number do not reflect anything more than the newness of the field. In any new technological field should new technologies be abandoned simply because they are new and hence do not have as much of a track record yet? Of course not.

Most stem cell scientists study both adult stem cells and ES cells. Many, like my lab, study those as well as iPS cells too. Our goal is to advance research on all possible fronts to help millions of actual living human beings who are suffering from serious illnesses that doctors today do not have the tools to cure. Many of these are simply not treatable by adult stem cells. The reality is that we have many questions to answer about stem cell research because which types of stem cell types are best for which diseases. Do we shut the door on any of the three most powerful tools (adult, ES, and IPS cells) without knowing the answers?  In so doing we would eliminate the hope of millions of people. Foes of ES cell research such as Klinghoffer, don’t want us to have the funding to get the answers we need because all they are interested in is a political agenda.

Paul

9 Comments


  1. Thanks, Amy!

    I submitted a comment on the National Review Article in question and interestingly, they did post my comment. Out of 32, it is a very lonely comment while the others are perhaps not surprisingly virulent anti-ES cell comments, often containing misinformation.

    Paul


  2. I read the comments over on the National Review website and, wow, they represent only a very narrow segment of Americans. It scares me, as a scientist, to think there are these people out there believing that we study ES cells simply due to greed to make ourselves money. Do they really believe that?


  3. As a subscriber to National Review I am disapointed in the article, but then I am far more concerned with the poor governance of this country and the ruinous debt load we are under, an issue with which I agree whole heartedly with the NR’s point of view.

    The issue of embryonic stem cell use that they appear to be struggling with, and which grows out of the pro-life point of view, is what do you define as a human being? Conservatives tend to be, well, conservative on this matter, some more than others.

    Some define it as any viable fertilized egg.

    Now if you put yourself in that frame of mind, that any viable fertalized egg is a human being then where does that leave your thougtht process about using said egg for research. It doesn’t leave you much leeway. You are against it.

    I am not that conservative, yet I can understand why they have misgivings given their point of view.

    And with regards to the comments on the article, they appear to be all over the place. Some in support of the article, some bringing up disagreements, some with well laid out responses.

    And with regards to @Bono, this is not a narrow segment of the population of this country. Don’t kid yourself.


  4. Greg,
    You make some good points.
    As to the question of what fraction of Americans support embryonic stem cell research, that depends on who does the poll and how the question is phrased, but it seems like at least 50%.


  5. NO matter what that National Review writer says in his article, I still think many Republican leaders and Tea Partiers are anti-science. Anti-data. I have Republican friends who are very logical, pragmatic, and don’t like B.S. ….what I’m talking about are Republican leaders.


  6. @Elmo The tea party platform has no stance on science it is purely and only focused on the fiscal mess we are in. All other sterotyping attempts is pure demegoguery.

    And as to republicans, well in our two party system what you end up with is psuedo multi-party coalitions. And for me there isn’t a party to settle on. I’d sure like a fiscally competent, strong foreign policy, free market, liberal social issue, strong science support party. But there ain’t one of those. So I pick my most important issues, the economy and foriegn policy, and have to hold my nose to the rest.

    You get Democrats to stop believing in “Social Justice” and “Fair Share” and I might be interested.


  7. @Greg Maybe you are right about the tunnel vision of the tea party on fiscal issues, but there definitely is a perception out there that Democrats are more pro-science.
    Also on your two main issues, Greg, our blogger Paul here has been arguing that the economy and foreign policy/defense/national security depend on adequately funding scientific research. It’s not stem cell specific.
    I think he’s right. Think about how dependent some of our biggest companies are on science and technology. Same goes for the military. The most scientifically advanced armed forces will dominate the world. To keep that up you need a lot of research funding from the government.


  8. @Greg O’Byrne
    I would not call the anti-stem cell research view “conservative”. The whole concept that procreation occurs through fertilization of the egg is relatively recent. Conservative religious beliefs in other religions such as Judaism or Islam consider the embryo at 40 days or even 4 months. Thus, I find the “pro-life” point of view rather radical.

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