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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

My Private Little War with Ales Rarus: The Final Conflict

I tried to respond to some of the counterarguments you've offered.

"I forgot a point. Go to post-haste and educate yourself."

I did check out that site and I found it to be a kind of propaganda. I'm not saying that the catholics who make up the founding members don't have a right to spout propaganda or that propaganda in itself is a bad thing (In fact, that's what I like about the net is that I have a much better sense of the biases of the authors.), but these are people who will stick to their position no matter what the evidence says. And again, and I hate to repeat this, we do the research to find out things. There may be a way to do embyronic stem cell research without violating the "sanctity" of the embyro. And if you were rational about this your immediate response would be "great". But it wasn't, and so I presume that you're not making your case based on reason and evidence but religious sophistry, ever so circular and ever so arcane.

I feel that the site is on a par with what tobacco companies say about the cigarette/cancer link or how polluters feel about global warming.

I suppose I choose to get my information here at the Union of Concerned Scientists, or from the Henry Waxman website. I might note that I have nothing against adult stem cells. In fact, I probably have a lot more adult stem cells than I do embryonic stem cells. I simply think that the research is very exciting. We could cure many a disease, perhaps even figure out our genetic workings. I think these things should be done.

"This is neither relevant nor true. If I find the time I'll dig into my archives and find a link to an excellent shredding of common myths regarding Galileo. Besides, that's a guilt-by-association argument and blatantly fallacious. It's also a red herring."

Actually, it's both relevant and true. On the other hand, please invite me to your dissertation talk when you tell all those perfessors about how well Galileo was treated by the church. ( I know that the church burned some scientists at the that your standard? "Welluh, at least we didn't burn him at the stake...") More on relevancy later.

War against science?!? I guess you haven't read my autobio. I'm a scientist in training. I do a lot of work in computational aspects of biophysics and proteomics. Going around calling people fundamentalist theocrats might make you feel better, but it doesn't put you on the moral high ground, nor does it advance serious discussions on the ethical issues at hand. Also, not that it really matters, I'm not a fundamentalist. Nor do I believe in premillenial theology. Get your religious insults straight.

And later is now. Keep in mind that I've been following this debate for about five years. I was actually alerted to the Leon Kass problem by notorious right winger Virginia Postrel (who once openly advocated, in my interpretation, beating up anti-war protesters).

Here's how Postrel characterized the pro death (or as I call them the Die on Time crowd 'cause God wants it that way) Kass Crew:

After all, no respectable public figure is pro-death. Right?

Wrong. A pro-death coalition has been building for several years, crossing the traditional left-right divide. Its advocates aren't primarily interested in abortion or euthanasia, the traditional life-and-death political issues. They don't focus on the gray areas of personhood. They oppose the extension of healthy, active human life beyond its current limits. They are, quite literally, pro-death. Their viewpoint got some exposure recently, when the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania and the John F. Templeton Foundation gathered scientists, bioethicists and theologians for a conference called "Extended Life/Eternal Life."

Both Kass and Callahan have been arguing for years that open-ended medical progress is an affront to nature and humanity. Both promote static, closed definitions of medicine and health. Both find markets, technology and scientific research far too subservient to the individual desire for life, health and biological self-determination.

In his 1998 book False Hopes, Callahan laments that the spirit of contemporary medicine "is that of unlimited horizons, of infinite possibilities of ameliorating the human condition." He wants "sustainable" medicine that has "embraced finite and steady-state health goals and has limited aspirations for progress and technological innovation."

Yeah, let's stop that horrible option of "unlimited horizons". Sounds just awful.

The other point here is that the Bush stem policy, the notorious 60 lines policy, came from folks who do seem to look at their science in a religious way. Most of the people who serve on the Kass bioethics commission aren't scientists. So, while you yourself may not be a fundie, the site that you quote and the policy you approve seems to be driven by religious fundies, whom, I must contend, find a future of controlled self evolution to be very threatening. And for good reason.

We do, however, know that adult stem cells have shown promise. Isn't a sure thing preferrable to a shot in the dark? Who's operating by faith now? God has nothing to do with seeing that ESCR is all talk and no substance. There is no logical reason for scientists to shun ASCR.

I actually thought Chris Mooney, arguably the best online science writer out there (He actually talks to real scientists and has a ton of them as sources. I'm jealous.) sort of addressed not only the argument between emybronic vs. adult, but the whole "framing" propaganda aspect to the argument.

Boston, Mass.: It seems that adult stem cells have been more fruitful in healing diseases. Why shouldn't billions of dollars be spent of research that works rather than use it for research in embyroic work that still remains immoral and fruitless.

Chris Mooney: Alas, the fact that I'm getting this question--and the fact that John Kerry himself got a similar question in the second presidential debate--attests to the vast amount of questionable scientific information that's floating around out there on this issue. The truth is that all the leading research scientists in this field will tell you the same thing: 1) both "adult" and embryonic stem cells have research promise; 2) at this point it's impossible to say which is "better," and in fact, future cures may well draw upon both types of cells; 3) given this, it would be foolish to cut off either line of research. Don't just take my word for this. Here's a June 2004 letter (PDF) from the star studded International Society for Stem Cell Research to President Bush. "Research on all types of stem cells warrants increased federal funding," it reads. "These include stem cells found in fetal and adult tissues and pluripotent stem cells isolated from blastocysts or derived by nuclear transfer." Furthermore, scientists have been studying human adult stem cells--and particularly hematopoietic stem cells--far longer than they've been studying embryonic ones. So it's no surprise that in some respects, research in this area may be further along. However, we need to be very cautious about claims for adult or embryonic stem cell therapies that haven't been proven safe and effective in clinical trials. Unfortunately there's a lot of this kind of stuff out there.

What's more important, profit or ethics? Even if ESCR could be done ethically, there should be serious discussion before proceeding. Not everyone shares your love of progress for its own sake. You accuse those against ESCR as advocating a theocracy. Has it ever occured to you that those supporting it are advocating a technocracy?

No to the last question. I actually write for a site called Better Humans that's very much concerned with making sure that everybody has access to these new technologies. I've always thought, like William Gibson, that the open anarchic structure of the Internet was just a lucky strike. I personally want genetic research to go forward because I'm of the firm belief that we'll have to reengineer ourselves in order to go into space. (Anyone remember the Guardians of the Galaxy? All the heroes were genetically engineered...)

I also think that the payoffs are beneficial to mankind. I think that the cures for illness, organ engineering and expanded lifespans are worth the cost. I don't define embryos as people with rights. Women throw 85 percent of their own embryos...Is god or nature a "baby-killer"? Perhaps we should firebomb a church to show our displeasure at these policies.

We do, however, know that adult stem cells have shown promise. Isn't a sure thing preferrable to a shot in the dark? Who's operating by faith now? God has nothing to do with seeing that ESCR is all talk and no substance. There is no logical reason for scientists to shun ASCR.

Please read the aforestated Chris Mooney quotes. I never said anything about shunning research. I support research into adult stem cells. I support research into embyronic stem cells and I might note that the president's directive doesn't stop private companies from doing whatever they want. I support your research into AI. Please use whatever tools to advance science. I won't tell you that you can't get ideas from Wolfram because my savior Satan thinks it's a bad idea.

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