Nicholas Wade of the New York Times again Misses the Stem Cell Boat

human cloning, Nicholas Wade
Nicholas Wade on stem cells and cloning.

In late 2010, Nicholas Wade, then a frequent science writer for the New York Times, wrote a frankly nasty piece on the stem cell field that was insulting and oversimplistic.

Now today we have yet another piece in the NYT by Wade on stem cells, and he mostly makes a mess of it again, with one exception.

Starting with the good news, Wade’s perspectives on the difficulty of science reporting on changeable, emotional issues like stem cells and cloning are insightful and valuable. I enjoyed that.

However, his historical perspectives on the stem cell field are overly simplistic, extreme, wrong and in some cases dismissive.

Here’s a comment I posted on the newer Nicholas Wade piece at the NYT website:

This “rearview” commentary is interesting in some ways, but also did not work in others.

I find it fascinating how Wade opens up about the difficult challenges of reporting on important, but emotionally-laden issues like cloning and stem cells. That is helpful and important insight provided. Thank you.

However, to me as a stem cell scientist who follows the field closely, it seems that the historical views given of cloning and stem cells are very narrow and extreme in some ways in this article.

The author’s statements, for example, seem oddly dismissive to the field in general too: Yamanaka “guessed” on the 4 factors (Noble Shmobel), ES cells are just going to be so much flotsam in the history of the stem cell field (Advanced Cell Technology might cure blindness via ES cells? no big deal), cloning Dolly wasn’t really at all important, people unnecessarily got overly emotional about stem cell issues, etc.

These statements sound more like just one guy’s narrow perspectives, rather than a useful overall historical narrative on stem cells that could have been powerful & helpful. Anyway, that’s this one guy’s view of it.

Paul Knoepfler
Associate Professor
UC Davis

What do you think?

Update: on the topic of human cloning, you might enjoy this newer piece on why cloning could produce someone other you.

4 thoughts on “Nicholas Wade of the New York Times again Misses the Stem Cell Boat”

  1. Paul, thanks for the review.
    It seems that it would be best not to assume that Nicholas Wade is a reporter learned in the established traditions of professional journalism. I personally classify him a few notches down, something like a kid in grammar school.

  2. Sorry, I don’t agree that:
    “Wade opens up about the difficult challenges of reporting on important, but emotionally-laden issues like cloning and stem cells.”

    Wade has produced a rambling, scatter-brained cop out. Wade does not even start to address the bronze age mentality driving these hysterical outbursts of “emotion”. The same outrageous mentality has only 14% of Americans accepting a scientifically credible evolutionary model for the origin and development of our species (Gallup Poll 2008).

    Unless scientists develop the balls to say it like it is, we are headed straight towards the demise of reason and a return to “the demon-haunted world”.

    The NY Times has gone to the dogs. Bah, humbug!

  3. Dear Paul,
    I found your reply very well written and sound. But it seems you highlighted very well a problem that we as scientists are facing: we are just terribly bad (most of us) in public outreach and we let misconceptions about the field flourishing around like wild grass.
    I just have been in the stem cell research field for two years but it is amazing how such field is rapidly emerging and bubbling. I believe M. Wade got it wrong to mention that embryonic stem cells (hESCs) are in a dead-end, because you have to be in the field to understand it the implications.
    If you want to improve current protocols for iPSCs, you have to understand the nuts and bolts of hESCs, because they are capable to better differentiation than the derivated counterparts.
    If you want to understand cancer, you have to understand the nuts and bolts of hESCs, because it is a living example of evolution and if you want to understand cancer, you have to understand why the cells are trying to reverse the clock and what make a difference between a cancer stem cells versus a physiological one.
    If Jamie Thompson (Please pardon my lack of respect) would not have his work funded, he would never have been published his seminal work in Science. If Shinya Yamanaka did not published his “recipe” for iPSCs, maybe Palmer Yu work would have been non-existent at the time I am writing here and like Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future” I would myself disappear from the picture.
    I am grasping my hands for a first time in my research field (blood-brain barrier research), the possibility to design and model a “tailored” a cellular system that let us understand how a tiny protein in a membrane that is mutated can have severe outcomes on a patients life, a thing that no one was able to do or only after the patient died and has his whole brain mashed up and digested.
    I would be very happy to invite M. Wade here in Madison, Wisconsin to show him how the seminal work of Jamie set foundation to a vivid community here with lots of innovative research on using stem cells and their applications for better understanding a disease to better find a treatment and eventually replace injured tissue.
    Please keep doing your outreach mission because there is still a lot of misconception at large, and having a “scientific” journalist comparing cloning and stem cells as same is just urticating.

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