Lessons from getting attacked by ESC research opponents

Monday I did a post in response to an item that appeared in the Secondhand Smoke Blog by Wesley J. Smith where he invoked the opponents of ESC research favorite term to contrast so-called adult stem cell research with ESC research.

Knoepfler lab H1 human embryonic stem cell culture, ESC
Knoepfler lab H1 human embryonic stem cell culture.

In addition, he implied that George W. Bush deserved some of the credit for advances in non-ESC research such as iPS cell work. I found this an astonishing argument.

In response to Mr. Smith’s piece, I registered a comment on it to voice my disagreement in a respectful way and put up a post of my own about questions related to who defines ethical research and also his claim about GW.

In response, Mr. Smith launched a massive barrage of personal attacks against me directly including a litany of negative adjectives and phrases to describe me and my piece:

touchy, pathetic, ludicrous, nonsense, get a grip, ignorant.

Luckily I have a thick skin at least in part from all the grant critiques I have read over the last 5 years.

In the past I have advised scientists and patient advocates to largely avoid making comments on anti-ESC research articles as it can be an unpleasant, unhelpful experience. But perhaps positively, this initial exchange produced a lively dialogue of comments on my post with interesting points made by both sides.  I don’t think anyone involved in the 20+-comment exchange will have their mind changed significantly, but the dialogue was largely civilized and did not involve name-calling or negative epithets.

What have I learned from this experience?

There is still a big distance between proponents and opponents of ESC research, but even these two sides can have a civilized dialogue under certain circumstances.

On the other hand, scientists who publicly express their opinions in this area better be prepared for a strongly negative and even personal attack in response.

Despite this reality, scientists need to publicly voice their opinions more often. I believe that scientists are a much tougher bunch than they give themselves credit for and in the biomedical/stem cell field they truly care about helping patients so should be willing to go out on a limb now and then….or should I say out on a stem?

4 thoughts on “Lessons from getting attacked by ESC research opponents”

  1. Your comments were well stated and general. I read your posting before following the link and did not realize that it was Smith who had written the original blog you were commenting on. Your characterization of the form of arguments that opponents use was completely correct. The long, personal attack against you was totally uncalled for in this situation. To me it is evidence that people like Smith know they are wrong in the factual sense and think they can convince everyone they are right by “shouting” louder than anyone else. This approach is far to common these days.

  2. You assume that Wesley made moral judgments (like ESC supporters are bad people and going to hell on a rollercoaster) when he has never even made any such statement. He rightfully gets upset that you are putting words in his mouth and then you claim he is the one personally attacking you. Wesley kept his arguments to statements you made in your piece (he did not question your credentials for example which would be a real ad hominem attack.) You made false projections about his moral beliefs and his opinions of others. If anyone was “personally” attacked, I believe it was him.

    1. That makes no sense. Paul challenges ideas presented in that piece and includes in the discussion the larger issue of how scientists and patient advocates have been told they are immoral (maybe not by Smith directly) and that is a personal attack? But Smith using all those mean-spirited words is not? It’s through the looking glass all over again. Up is down.

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