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.
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?