Posts tagged with: stem cells

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, October 23, 2008
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Although many scientists cultivate the popular image of the benevolent, detached savant toiling away for the betterment of mankind, the fact remains that Ph.D.s in physics or genetics are subject to the same weaknesses as the rest of us. The image has some currency because there is an element of truth in it: scientists in many fields have contributed in remarkable ways to the material progress of humanity. That contribution should not be underappreciated.

Yet scientists are not immune to temptations to exaggerate, distort, and deceive. And the field of politics, containing as it does the promise of access to power and funding, is the near occasion of sin par excellence.

Various PowerBloggers have detailed the problematic fusing of politics and science in the area of climate change. In the latest issue of First Things, Joseph Bottum and Ryan T. Anderson do the same for the subject of stem cell research (currently accessible online by subscription only). It’s an outstanding summary of the relatively brief history of the debate, with special attention to the not-usually-praiseworthy role that researchers played in the political arena. “We need to remember the events from 2001 to 2007,” the authors assert, “for the history of the stem-cell debate forms a classic study of what happens when politics and science find each other useful.”

Two morsels from the essay:

Still, before we commiserate too much with America’s stem-cell researchers, so badly taken advantage of, it’s worth remembering that they didn’t just let themselves be used. They rushed to be used. Offered a public platform, they begged to be exploited, and the politicians, newspapers, and television talk shows merely obliged them.

In the small demagogueries of a political season, the science of stem-cell research became susceptible to the easy lie and the useful exaggeration. A little shading of truth, a little twisting of facts—yes, the politics corrupted the science, but the scientists willingly aided the corruption. And with this history in mind, who will believe America’s scientists the next time they tell us something that bears on an election? We have learned something over these years: When science looks like politics, that’s because it is.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
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The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in the UK has given generic approval allowing “human-animal embryos to be created and used for research.” According to a Christian Science Monitor report, Evan Harris, “a lawmaker on a parliamentary committee that has oversight in this field,” says that “No scientist I have found has provided scientific reasons as opposed to religiously based ethical reasons for not proceeding,” he adds, even though his committee “looked high and low for such scientists.”

Typically the case that secular scientists make for such research is based on the necessity of the measure for their all-important research: “Stem-cell researchers say they desperately need the animal matter because not enough human eggs are available. Britain has adopted an accommodating attitude toward stem-cell science, fostering a favorable environment that scientists argue would be undermined if this latest experimentation is rejected.”

“We pride ourselves here on working in a pro-science environment,” says Stephen Minger, director of stem-cell biology at King’s College London, one of two scientists who have applied for the HFEA license. “It would be viewed as a depressing turn of events” if the application were turned down.

Anything not clearly “pro-science” in such a narrow way, like any ethic with religious foundations, is similarly understood to be archaic, obsolete, irrelevant, and reactionary.

For some such “religiously based” arguments, see my series on chimeras in five parts.

For more on how scientists and religious leaders dialogue in the public square, see Thomas M. Lessl, “The Priestly Voice,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 75, no. 2 (1989): 183-97; and this 2005 interview on science and rhetoric.

Update: Reformation21 provides a link to the “Linacre Centre Submission to the Science and Technology Committee Inquiry into Government Proposals for the Regulation of Hybrid and Chimera Embryos” (PDF). The Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics is a bioethics research institute under the trusteeship of the Catholic Trust for England and Wales.

Tim Townsend, of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, reports:

ST. LOUIS — Rock singer Sheryl Crow was coming home to Missouri this weekend to sing her polished, roots-rock songs at the Fox Theater to help raise money for children with cancer.

But St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke was not interested in Crow’s altruism. He was interested in her activism — specifically her support for embryonic stem cell research, which the Roman Catholic church believes is akin to abortion. On Wednesday, Burke said Crow “promotes moral evils.”

Burke felt so strongly that Crow’s performance supporting the Bob Costas Cancer Center at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center would be wrong that he resigned from the hospital foundation’s board earlier this week. He believes Catholics — even those who have already bought tickets to the show — should think hard before attending.

For the archbishop, the matter was simple. He had a moral responsibility to avoid the appearance of entangling church teaching and the views of a public figure who supports abortion rights. Burke said he could not allow someone who “publicly espouses the mass destruction of innocent human beings” to raise money for a Catholic hospital.

What if, for instance, there were someone appearing who we discovered was openly racist and who made statements and took actions to promote racism?” he said at his first news conference in years. “Do you think that I would let that go on?”

Read the full story here.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, January 3, 2007
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A professor at MIT has been denied tenure and he claims that the reason is his opposition to embyonic stem cell research (his specialty is adult stem cell research). It is always impossible to know exactly what the motives are in these tenure battles unless one is personally involved, but it would not be surprising if his claim were accurate, given the high stakes (e.g., funding) inherent in this field. In any case, for many professors, “ideology” and “scholarship” are linked—their protestations notwithstanding—so efforts to determine whether decisions are made purely on the basis of scholarship or are influenced by worldview differences are often futile.

Anecdotally, I recently had a conversation with a seminary professor of moral theology who is collaborating with researchers at a first-rate scientific institution. The scientists are curious about the theologian’s moral arguments against embryonic stem cell research—but they are already focused on adult stem cell research, because they have concluded that that avenue shows much more promise for actual therapeutic results.

For a look at the morality of embryo treatment from a Reformed perspective, see this commentary by Acton’s Stephen Grabill.

For a basic but helpful summary of the Catholic Church’s view, see this Q&A from the USCCB.

The clash between scientists and moralists that Jordan highlights below is displayed also in reaction to the recent comments by Cardinal Alfonso Trujillo of the Pontifical Council for the Family concerning excommunication of those involved in embryonic stem cell research.

The comments are reported here, and scientists’ reactions here.

Meanwhile, the Church wholeheartedly supports the use of adult stem cells (which has already proven effective), as indicated by this story about a Missouri priest.