Defensive Ideologues Dig In

Posted by Jesse Reynolds November 30, 2007
Biopolitical Times
Isaac Newton, responsible for some other great scientific advances in human history

In the wake of last week's development of patient-specific, pluripotent stem cell lines, I've read much pontification and punditry. Some is thoughtful, plenty is glib, and the occasional nugget is simply ridiculous. Here are three examples of the latter, all from entrenched embryonic stem cell research ideologues - with financial interests in the field - who are resorting to defensive posturing.

Leading the pack is Michael Werner, lobbyist for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, who laments that these "scientific discoveries are being politicized." Yet his job is to do precisely that: He spins scientific developments in ways that encourage politicians and other policy makers to enact policies friendly towards the industry that signs his paycheck.

Next up is Geron CEO Thomas Okarma, who said: "Most of the people who are doing this work and make the claim that this is going to change the therapeutic field really know nothing about cell therapy." This sentence clearly points to the actual researchers who developed the new techniques, including James Thomson. So to Okarma, whose repeated promises of clinical trials for embryonic stem cell therapies make them seem as imminent as Chinese Democracy, the very scientist who first isolated human embryonic stem cells "really know[s] nothing about cell therapy?"

Finally, in an attempt to downplay the new methods of deriving stem cells without embryos, Okarma's BFF Hans Keirstead said that embryonic stem cells (i.e., the type on which he holds patents) are "are the greatest single scientific advance in human history." I'll let that statement speak for itself. (HT to Wesley Smith on Keirstead)