After my post 2 months ago about the pressure I have received to stop doing this stem cell blog, I have been flooded with positive feedback (including by some of the top bigwigs in the stem cell field who chose to remain anonymous) and I have been inundated with questions.
They had many different comments, but most asked the same two questions:
Who wants to shut down your stem cell blog and why?
Because of the sensitive nature of this situation, I have chosen not to name the specific people who are pushing either (A) to end this blog or (B) make it as bland and uninteresting as vanilla pudding. But I will say they are mostly in the stem cell community in one way or another.
In terms of “why?”, the general sense I have gotten is that their reasoning falls into a few categories that shed light on the stem cell field and the scientific community. They are also sending me some clear messages that make me worry a bit but also are interesting when viewed from a distance.
First, one message I have gotten loud and clear is the following: do not say anything even remotely negative about iPS cells.
Interestingly, for some folks, only good news and positive perspectives on iPS cells are allowed.
Let’s get real. Science is about data and we need to know the realities of iPS cells, but these folks are putting their emotions first when it comes to iPS cells. They literally get mad when people, for example, raise issues related to the safety of iPS cells. They seem almost desperate to downplay any possible concerns about iPS cells. What I say to them is that pretending that challenges do not exist helps no one. Let’s face the challenges head on and direct your energy that way instead of getting mad at me.
I myself am extremely excited about iPS cells and my lab is doing a lot of work on them, but like anything else, these cells are not perfect. By accepting that we can more effectively make them better!
Second, critics are telling me do not discuss specific papers.
One of the areas that I have gotten the most positive feedback on and posts that got the most hits (often above 500) is discussions of specific papers in the stem cell field, but this also makes a few people angry. I try to keep it very balanced and I always err on the side of being positive, but I also want to keep it real and tell you generally what I think about what is going on in the stem cell field. However, some folks really get upset about this. What I say to them is that whether anyone likes it or not, the Internet has and will continue to change science, and one inevitable change is going to be that papers are going to be discussed, evaluated, and maybe even criticized on-line in real time. In the long run this change may very well be a positive for science.
Third, do not discuss funding agencies, unless you are going to say something positive and even then you probably shouldn’t do it. The implicit and sometimes blunt meaning here is that if I do blog posts on funding agencies, I may end up with less funding. This is a tough one because to do science, you need funding and even an implicit threat about funding has to be taken seriously. However, I do not believe that funding agencies take things personally. In my view they are looking for new ways to improve their systems and to enhance their impact on science. In fact, I have gotten direct feedback from a variety of funding agencies and they like the blog. They recognize the posts as constructive.
Fourth and final, do not blog at all. Scientists should not do blogs, I’ve been told. Some say they are worried about my career and me because blogging is not something I should be doing as an academic scientist.
“Real” scientists do not expend time and effort on blogging as they are too busy with other “important” matters.
“Real” scientists are not patient advocates.
I guess it all depends on your definition of a “real” scientist.
This stem cell blog will continue. Most people seem to like it and find its directness refreshing.