Stem Cell Fairy Tale
In a effort to "educate" regarding the upcoming California Stem Cell Initiative
that will be on the November Ballot, we will be devoting several of the e-mails
in coming weeks to the topic of stem cell research. This weeks article comes
from Wesley Smith, who will be speaking at a conference at St. Mary's Cathedral
in San Francisco on Saturday September 11, 2004. (Further information on the
event will be forthcoming in a future e-mail and our "monthly" newsletter.)
Cecelia M. Cody
California Right to Life Education Fund
Of Stem Cells and Fairy Tales
Scientists who have been telling Nancy Reagan that embryonic stem cell research
could cure Alzheimer's now admit that it isn't true.
by Wesley J. Smith
06/10/2004 3:00:00 PM
"PEOPLE NEED A FAIRY TALE," Ronald D.G. McKay, a stem cell researcher at the
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, told Washington Post
reporter Rick Weiss, explaining why scientists have allowed society to believe
wrongly that stem cells are likely to effectively treat Alzheimer's disease.
"Maybe that's unfair, but they need a story line that's relatively simple to
Or maybe Big Biotech needs access to taxpayer dollars to fund embryonic stem
cell and cloning research--private investors generally give companies engaged
in these endeavors a cold shoulder--and they are using famous grief stricken
families like the Reagans to do their political lifting. If true, it demonstrates
a depth of insincerity and disingenuousness that is as cruel as it is unjustifiable.
Here's the story: Researchers have apparently known for some time that embryonic
stem cells will not be an effective treatment for Alzheimer's, because as two
researchers told a Senate subcommittee in May, it is a "whole brain disease,"
rather than a cellular disorder (such as Parkinson's). This has generally been
kept out of the news. But now, Washington Post correspondent Rick Weiss, has
blown the lid off of the scam, reporting that while useful abstract information
might be gleaned about Alzheimer's through embryonic stem cell research, "stem
cell experts confess . . . that of all the diseases that may be someday cured
by embryonic stem cell treatments, Alzheimer's is among the least likely to
But people like Nancy Reagan have been allowed to believe otherwise, "a distortion"
Weiss writes that "is not being aggressively corrected by scientists." Why?
The false story line helps generate public support for the biotech political
agenda. As Weiss noted, "It [Nancy Reagan's statement in support of ESCR] is
the kind of advocacy that researchers have craved for years, and none wants
to slow its momentum." This is a scandal. Misrepresentation by omission corrupts
one of the primary purposes of science, which is to provide society objective
information about the state of scientific knowledge without regard to the political
consequences. Such data then serves as a foundation for crucial moral analysis
about whether and how controversial fields of scientific inquiry should be regulated,
a debate in which all are entitled to participate. But we can't do so intelligently
if we are not told the truth.
Some scientists have become alarmed by how politicized science has become.
As Roger Pielke, Jr., Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy
Research at the University of Colorado warned two years ago in the prestigious
science journal Nature, "Many scientists [now] willingly adopt tactics of demagoguery
and character assassination as well as, or even instead of, reasoned argument,"
in promoting their views. This politicization of science, he worried, has led
some scientists, "not to mention lawyers and those with commercial interests,"
to "manipulate 'facts' to support" their advocacy, "undermining the scientific
community's ability to advise policy makers." Consequently, he warned, science
"is becoming yet another playing field for power politics, complete with the
trappings of political spin and a win-at-all-costs attitude."
Political science has gotten so bad that a few biotech advocates have resorted
to outright misrepresentation. One of the most notorious of these cases occurred
in Australia where Alan Trounson, a leading stem cell researcher (as reported
by the Australian on August 27, 2002) admitted that he released a misleading
video to "win over politicians" during that country's Parliamentary debate over
embryonic stem cell research. The video depicted a disabled rat regaining the
ability to walk after being injected with embryonic stem cells--or so Trounson
claimed. In actuality, the experiment used cadaveric fetal tissue from five-to-nine-week
old aborted human fetuses, an altogether different approach that was irrelevant
to the embryonic stem cell debate. Parliamentarians were furious, forcing a
highly embarrassed Trounson to apologize abjectly.
If biotechnology advocates would allow a grieving widow to believe cruel untruths
about the potential for stem cells to cure Alzheimer's, what other fairy tales
are they telling us--or allowing us to believe--to win the political debate?
This is a crucial question, given that the decisions we make today will have
a tremendous impact on the morality of the twenty-first century. The time has
more than passed for the media to do some serious digging.
Wesley J. Smith, is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special
consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. His next book, Consumer's
Guide to a Brave New World will be published in the fall.