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Questions our fathers never asked: The national debate on bioethics

The President delivered his annual State of the Union address Tuesday night to a packed house at the Capitol and a television audience of nearly 42 million. Naturally enough, the commentary the next morning zeroed in on the speech's big points: progress in the fight against tyranny and terrorism, the economy, the future of Social Security, America's dependence on oil. Headline grabbers, all.

But one paragraph of the text didn't get as much attention as it deserved.

"A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners," the President said, "and that recognize the matchless value of every life. Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research: human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids, and buying, selling, or patenting human embryos. Human life is a gift from our Creator -- and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale."

He didn't use the word, but what the President was talking about is called bioethics. In the broadest possible terms, bioethics is study of the ethical questions that arise from medicine, medical research and the biological sciences. Put another way, bioethics is where science and philosophy meet.

Bioethics is not a new discipline. Ever since the practice of modern medicine began in the 19th century, physicians have debated the ethics of providing care. When scientists first learned that our bodies, and in many ways our minds, are determined by the structure of our genes in the mid-20th century, the implications of that discovery escaped no one. Even modern bioethics has been around for more than three decades; the authoritative work on the subject, Van Rensselaer Potter's Bioethics: Bridge to the Future, was published in 1971.

But in recent years, advances in science have thrown bioethics into the spotlight as never before. Stem-cell research, cloning and prenatal screening all bring with them serious ethical questions that have yet to be debated extensively, much less settled.

Is it ethical to create a fetus solely for the purpose of harvesting its stem cells? Is it ethical to terminate the pregnancy of a mother whose baby is at high risk for a birth or developmental defect? Is it ethical to choose the sex of your child? What about the hair color? Is it okay to select for height, attractiveness or intelligence? Should prospective employers be able to screen candidates for susceptibility to drug addiction or alcoholism? Should insurance companies be able to set a customer's premiums -- or even deny care altogether -- based on your family history or DNA?

This isn't science fiction. These are all questions that are already being discussed in the hallowed halls of our nation's most respected institutions. And the pace of scientific advancement will only continue to accelerate.


Human beings have 23 pairs of chromosomes in our cells. Sometimes, due to an error in cell replication, a person can be born with an extra 21st chromosome. This condition is called trisomy 21. One of the effects of having an extra 21st chromosome is the family of birth and developmental defects known as Down syndrome.

In the June 2005 issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, five doctors from King's College Hospital in London published the results of a study in which they found that a particular test was 90 percent accurate in identifying instances of trisomy 21 in the first trimester of pregnancy.

In other words, we now have a test that can accurately predict whether a child will be born with Down syndrome early enough that, in the event of a positive result, the parents may opt to have an abortion.


This President's interest in bioethics is nothing new. In November 2001, less than a year into his first term, President Bush issued Executive Order 13237 creating the President's Council on Bioethics. The Council, made up currently of fifteen doctors, scientists, lawyers and philosophers from around the nation, advises the President on issues of medical and scientific ethics. Since its formation, the Council has released seven reports on such hot-button subjects such as cloning, assisted reproduction and stem-cell research.

But the concerns of the Council on Bioethics go far beyond such relatively narrow topics and delve into basic questions of political and social philosophy. As we learn more about the mechanisms of life, bioethics wiggles its fingers into every aspect of our society.

Even criminal procedure must take its cue from bioethics. How do we define the crime of murder when the legal definition of "person" is thrown into doubt? In 2004 the Unborn Victims of Violence Act defined a violent attack against a pregnant woman as two separate and distinct crimes: one against the woman and one against her unborn child. Our law has always held that an insane person cannot be held criminally responsible for his actions, but as we understand more about how the chemistry of our brains affects our behavior, the definition of "insane" is changing.

Ironically, the more we learn about ourselves and our bodies, the less clear the distinctions become: born and unborn, alive and dead, sane and insane.


In the 1992 New York murder case People v. Weinstein, the defendant was accused of strangling his wife and throwing her body from the window of their twelfth-floor apartment. Though Weinstein had never been treated for any mental disease and had no history of diagnosed mental illness, his defense entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. During the trial, the defense introduced medical evidence that showed a defect on Weinstein's brain called an arachnoid cyst, and argued that the defendant's brain had not been functioning normally when he committed the crime.

In the face of such persuasive evidence, the prosecution stopped the trial and let Weinstein plead guilty to manslaughter.

There is no evidence whatsoever, either clinical or correlative, that links arachnoid cysts to violent or criminal behavior.


The Bush administration has taken intense criticism over the past five years for what has been widely described as a negative or dismissive attitude toward science. Last February, the Associated Press characterized statements made at the American Association for the Advancement of Science thusly: "The voice of science is being stifled in the Bush administration, with fewer scientists heard in policy discussions and money for research and advanced training being cut." In particular, the President has been widely rebuked for his refusal to allow federal funding of embyronic stem-cell research, despite being the first President in history to provide federal funding for other forms of stem-cell research.

In fact, the Bush administration, through its support of adult stem-cell research funding and the establishment of the Council on Bioethics, has been remarkably forward-thinking in its attitude toward science and research. But the administration's focus on the ethical advancement of science angers those who think advancement should be unhindered by concerns of conscience. University of California lecturer Dale Carrico wrote last September about what he called "the devastating debasement of consensus science under the Bush administration." Carrico and other self-described "techno-progressivists" show no reluctance in expressing their disapproval of the current trend toward ethical advancement rather than advancement for its own sake.

Sometimes that disapproval is sincere and honest; this week it was scornful mockery. Jonathan S. Reiling, a designer from Arlington, Va., framed his comment on the President's position on bioethics in that uniquely American form: the tee shirt. "I have little doubt that the use of [the phrase 'human-animal hybrids'], so carefully wedged between two long standing public issues, was a scare tactic," Reiling wrote on his Web site this week. "Three choice words and Bush does what it is he does so well: distills complex issues into overly simplified statements that appeal to the base emotions."

Reiling's mockery is of course understandable. Human-animal hybrids are the stuff of bad B-movie science fiction, just another telling of the Dr. Moreau cautionary tale. Nobody would actually create such chimeras, right?

Right?


Ian Wilmut, head of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, has filed a request with the UK's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority for permission to create cloned human-rabbit hybrids. The professor intends to use the hybrid embryos in the study of motor neurone diseases. "It gives a way to study the development of the disease which you could not do in any other way," Wilmut wrote.

Wilmut, while hardly a household name, was featured prominently in the news ten years ago. In 1996, he led the team that cloned the first mammal, a sheep named Dolly.


The advances made by medical and biological science in the past fifty years have been awe-inspiring. The human genome, the blueprint of everything we are, has been identified, understood and sequenced. We are now capable of manipulating ourselves on the molecular level, creating and destroying life with significantly less work than goes into baking a loaf of bread. We stand on the threshold of a new era, an age of medical technology beyond even our most ambitious dreams.

But it's that breakneck pace of advancement that should give us pause right now. We should take a minute, catch our collective breath, and ask ourselves some hard questions about life, about individual rights and about ethics before it's too late. This President deserves credit for using his bully pulpit to advance the national debate on bioethics.

Jeff Harrell blogs at The Shape of Days.


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Comments (30)

Hmmm.WHat bothers ... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmm.

WHat bothers me most about animal-human hybrids is that it might offer purely animal diseases a mechanism to jump the species barriers to mutate to infect humans. The enormous variety of diseases to come out of China over the centuries were almost entirely due to the Chinese traditional agriculture that involves raising ducks, pigs and fish in close proximity. What this results in is that waterfowl diseases infect the pigs and the pigs, which are genetically close to humans, incubate the disease until it's able to jump the species barriers.

At that point the disease, often a variant of influenza, is able to infect both waterfowl and humans and then uses waterfowl to spread the disease all over the world.

The concept that this is hugely dangerous is inescapable. Personally I would accept this sort of research only with the guarantee that the researchers will be held criminally liable in case of a human infectable disease is created from this process.

In which case I'd suggest the punishment would be death.

I would point out that thou... (Below threshold)
Mark:

I would point out that though the human genome has been sequenced, our 'understanding' of it has turned out to be hugely less than advertised. Studying it is great, but despite all the 'we know how things work' comments from scientists, it's turned out that we know squat about how this mess actually works.

And when people who privately admit they don't understand it continue to publicly say "We know!" and mess with it, we have problems.

There's a real easy questio... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

There's a real easy question I ask to test the understanding of medical science. When scientists sart making grandiose claims about what they understand I just ask, "what causes hemorrhoids." The answer is invariably, "we don't know", to which I respond with something like "you really don't know shit then."

The point is that grandiose claims about scientific understanding are based on theories, many of which are unproven and likely wrong or incomplete. Medical science has a long way to go, and it's going to costs billions upon billions in the coming years. The best way to keep tax and foundation dollars flowing is to keep up the ruse that marvelous new medical treatments are just around the corner.

My attention was caught wit... (Below threshold)

My attention was caught with the mice with human brains reports.

"The centaur has left the barn more than people realize,"says Stanford University law professor and bioethicist Henry Greely.
[...]"The big concern is, could you give the mouse some sort of human consciousness or intelligence?"
"All of us are aware of the concern that we're going to have a human brain in a mouse with a person saying, 'Let me out,'" Prof. Rowley told the President's Council on Bioethics when it discussed chimeras in March.
To take no chances, scientists could kill the mice before birth to see if the brain is developing mouse-y structures such as "whisker barrels," which receive signals from the whiskers. If so, it's a mouse. If it is developing a large and complex visual cortex, it's too human. "If you saw something weird, you'd stop," says Prof. Greely. "If not, let the next ones be born, and examine them at different ages to be sure they're still fully mouse."
To reduce the chance that today's chimeras will be as monstrous as the Greeks' were, the U.S. patent office last year rejected an application to patent a human-chimp chimera, or "humanzee." But that, of course, just keeps someone from patenting one -- not making one.
There is something particularly creepy about flirting with creating Stuart Little with the assurance of "but of course, the first sign of consciousness we will kill it."

Hmmmm.Or a Planet ... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmmm.

Or a Planet of the Apes.

As crazy as this sounds, there's a distinct possibility of it happening at some point in the future.

Humanity is divorced from "Personhood".

This is an outgrowth of the Schivao situation where simply having the genetics of a human being doesn't automatically confer humanity or "personhood". In a PotA (Planet of the Apes) scenario an ape is cross-engineered with human brain cells and becomes sufficiently sentient for industrialised work.

There would be a massive amount of demand for such a biological robot. Since they aren't human beings, sending them into dangerous situations would be easily done. Their developed brains could be removed and hooked into advanced circuitry for use in weapons and such mundane things as automated control systems for automobiles. So what if their lifespan is only a few years.

They aren't human after all.

Sure it's a goofy scenario. Certainly sounds fairly idiotic. But there is a vast disparity between modern science and it's ethical standards. And relying on scientists to not investigate the science that could result in a $100 billion dollar industry is rather asking too much evidently.

And that doesn't even cover the potential hazards from cross-species infections.

Don't forget growing organs... (Below threshold)
Bryan Humphries:

Don't forget growing organs for transplant in animals. Wonderful idea, but it shifts the grey area just a bit, doesn't it?

Mac Lorry is on to somethin... (Below threshold)
DaveD:

Mac Lorry is on to something. It seems that the actual, real-life applications of such great promises as gene therapy and cloning always seem to fall some to many degrees short of the scientists' original imaginations. So, everything looks good in theory until trial and error sobers one up to the realities of the limits of practical application. I am always worried what transpires as free rein is given to investigate these so called "universal answers to mans' problems".

Hmmmm.Mac... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmmm.

Mac Lorry is on to something.

He certainly is. As an example one unexpected problem with embryonic stem cells, vs. adult stem cells, is that they're so versatile and flexible that they'll turn into just about anything anywhere they're applied.

One animal test subject had to be put down because it had *teeth* growing in it's brain from an injection of embryonic stem cells.

Jeff,You bring up ... (Below threshold)
kbiel:

Jeff,

You bring up a good point, but you did not state what the problem is: The secular humanists refuse to let us have the debate over bioethics. In a microcosm, this happens quite often in the blogosphere. The main reason I stopped reading anything written by Bill Ardolino and the Commisar is that they get down right nasty when you question whether we should research things like embryonic stem cells. Even Dean Esmay can get into a snit when discussing abortion. They tend to link ethical questions with religion and then project their anger or disgust with religion onto the debate.

This happens on the national scale too, which is why the Dems and many others who support embryonic stem cell research consistently mischaracterize the Bush administration position on embryonic stem cell research. They constantly blame Bush for "banning" embryonic stem cell research when all he did was limit federal grant money to research that used existing stem cell lines. Private funding can still be used to research stem cells from newly created lines, whether they be from embryos created in-vitro and then destroyed or they come from aborted embryos and fetuses. Nobody banned anything, but you wouldn't know that if you listened to the rabid secular humanists.

"As crazy as this sounds, t... (Below threshold)
Ken:

"As crazy as this sounds, there's a distinct possibility of it happening at some point in the future.

Humanity is divorced from "Personhood"."

That train left the station a long time ago. Lots of things have human DNA but are not people. My left hand is one. An embryo is another.

Basically, if there's no human brain, it ain't a person.

(A human/animal hybrid brain? Who the hell knows? No doubt such things existed in the early days of humanity (i.e., during the incremental evolutionary process that eventually produced human brains)... but they eventually died out, perhaps at the hand of humans)

"He certainly is. As an example one unexpected problem with embryonic stem cells, vs. adult stem cells, is that they're so versatile and flexible that they'll turn into just about anything anywhere they're applied.

One animal test subject had to be put down because it had *teeth* growing in it's brain from an injection of embryonic stem cells."

That's why we test things. Now we know that there's more work to be done, and what that more work has to address, and we're in a better position to do it.

"This is an outgrowth of the Schivao situation where simply having the genetics of a human being doesn't automatically confer humanity or "personhood". In a PotA (Planet of the Apes) scenario an ape is cross-engineered with human brain cells and becomes sufficiently sentient for industrialised work.

There would be a massive amount of demand for such a biological robot. Since they aren't human beings, sending them into dangerous situations would be easily done. Their developed brains could be removed and hooked into advanced circuitry for use in weapons and such mundane things as automated control systems for automobiles. So what if their lifespan is only a few years."

For that matter, why not take an actual human brain and hook it to advanced circuitry? And why would they have a lifespan of only a few years? Surely if you've got all that advanced circuitry around, you can do a little thing called "remote control" and keep the human out of harm's way.

While we're at it, how about growing a clone that has everything except a brain, force it to grow to maturity, and transplant a brain into it? That'll cure just about everything that goes wrong as a person ages.

"And when people who privately admit they don't understand it continue to publicly say "We know!" and mess with it, we have problems."

Of course the way to progress to a state where we do know how it all works is... to mess with it!

"Basically, if there's no h... (Below threshold)
Synova:

"Basically, if there's no human brain, it ain't a person."

Seriously... if the pro-choice side of the abortion argument was willing to go with a definition of "brain activity" I'd be dancing in the street. It always seemed like a logical balance to the idea of "brain death."

"Of course the way to progress to a state where we do know how it all works is... to mess with it!"

I'd perscribe a heavy dose of science fiction. Bujold is rather insightful about bioethical situations. In fact, any and all of her SF directly addresses the issue. To think that it's necessary to "mess with it" is a sort of arrogance all it's own. It's been "messed with" in SF starting with Shelley's Frankenstein and from there into the "Golden Age" of SF in the 50's and on until now.

Incidentally... write a book where *our* society creates half-humans or semi-sentient animals to do the hard dangerous work *today* and you wouldn't be able to sell it... unless you sold it to the literary market where the audience doesn't know that it's not new and daring and can't be supported by the reality of our culture.

We really don't have a problem with defining animals *up.* We have a problem with defining humans *down*. Argue the production of premarin to the same audience as embryonic stem cells and see what happens.

Whats the benefit for Right... (Below threshold)
CorporateLeech:

Whats the benefit for Right Wingers to continue their war on Science?
I don't get it.

Mark,I would po... (Below threshold)
mantis:

Mark,

I would point out that though the human genome has been sequenced, our 'understanding' of it has turned out to be hugely less than advertised. Studying it is great, but despite all the 'we know how things work' comments from scientists, it's turned out that we know squat about how this mess actually works.

What understanding was advertised, exactly, and where? That as soon as the genome is sequenced, we will instantly understand everything there is to know about genetics? The genome project was a first step, a tremendous first step, towards complete understanding of human genetics. There is a lot of work to be done, and it is being done.

And when people who privately admit they don't understand it continue to publicly say "We know!" and mess with it, we have problems.

You've just publicly admitted you don't understand it, though unintentionally. So please, shut the hell up.

Mac,

The point is that grandiose claims about scientific understanding are based on theories, many of which are unproven and likely wrong or incomplete.

What grandiose claims, and what theories are likely wrong? Based on what? It's clear you don't have a clue about what a scientific theory is. A theory is not presented as fact or infallible, it is an explanation based on evidence. A theory is falsifiable, and if disproved it is disregarded. But please, explain to us which theories are wrong, based on what empirical data?

DaveD

It seems that the actual, real-life applications of such great promises as gene therapy and cloning always seem to fall some to many degrees short of the scientists' original imaginations.

Oh this crap again. Stop reading magazines and read some scientific studies and find out what outrageous claims scientists are making.

kbiel,

You bring up a good point, but you did not state what the problem is: The secular humanists refuse to let us have the debate over bioethics.

Really, O'Reilly? How do they stop this debate? Are your viewpoints on bioethics being muzzled? Has it not been debated in Congress? Are you just making shit up based on the fact that some bloggers don't want to put up with some people's idiocy on their own blogs?

To think that it's necessary to "mess with it" is a sort of arrogance all it's own. It's been "messed with" in SF starting with Shelley's Frankenstein and from there into the "Golden Age" of SF in the 50's and on until now.

Ah, good. Sci-fi. I'm a big fan too, but I think to propose that we stop performing scientific experiments because novelists have already considered them is ridiculous. Novelists had considered the implications of trips to the moon and Mars before we went there, but we still went, didn't we? And hey, we weren't eaten by little green men!

Uh, Mantis, thank you for y... (Below threshold)
DaveD:

Uh, Mantis, thank you for your recomendations but I already read Nature, Science, PNAS, Cell, etc. regularly. It's actually part of my job ....in science. Let me explain further. When the technique for knockout mice was developed it was going to be boon to understanding genetic disease in people. If you know what defective gene causes a disease in humans then render it nonfunctional (or "knock it out" in a line of mice and you now have an animal model for the disease. Unfortunately, the mutants created in mice this way rarely mimic the disease as it occurs in humans.
Gene therapy was going to be the means to cure disease in man caused by defective genes. As science now realizes this is easier to conceive than achieve and not all diseases - Alzheimer's for example - will be able to be treated this way.
Embryonic stem cells? In some mouse models it has caused an exacerbation of disease signs.
In my earlier post I was not trying to be cynical about science. But there is a trend (it seems to me) to expect too much early on from these highly technical advances. Scientists themselves are human and subject to a learning curve when working with new technologies.
I re-read my post. I never used the term outrageous claims. And upon re-reading it it was not even implied.

"Ah, good. Sci-fi. I'm a bi... (Below threshold)
Synova:

"Ah, good. Sci-fi. I'm a big fan too, but I think to propose that we stop performing scientific experiments because novelists have already considered them is ridiculous."

I thought we were talking about bioethics.

For the record, I see no problem at all with cloning humans... so long as we consider them human at every step of the process. I *do* have a problem with abortion. I don't have a problem with renting out your womb for cash. I do have a problem with creating an embryo, or fetus, or body without a brain, with the intent of harvesting or killing it.

The quote about killing the mice the moment their brains get too advanced was nearly... surreal. I suspect that the scientist considered it an impossible scenario and was making stuff up to calm the ignorant.

In theory I don't have a problem with true chimera... just as long as the various attempts aren't considered expendable.

I suppose you could say that I have no problem with human experimentation at all, so long as it's clear that the subjects are *human* and treated as such... all the way back to the "viable mass of cells" stage. If it dies, it dies. But you don't *kill* it, even if you screw up.

This President deserves ... (Below threshold)
mantis:

This President deserves credit for using his bully pulpit to advance the national debate on bioethics.

No, he doesn't. He deserves credit for pandering to his right-to-life base. President Bush and his administration has been hostile to science and scientists from the beginning. Consider, a few things. For one, check out this recent Time article

But in the past two years, the Union of Concerned Scientists has collected the signatures of more than 8,000 scientists--including 49 Nobel laureates, 63 National Medal of Science recipients and 171 members of the National Academies--who accuse the Administration of an unprecedented level of political intrusion into their world. "There have always been isolated incidents where people have played politics with science," says Francesca Grifo, director of the group's Scientific Integrity Program. "What's new is its pervasive and systemic nature. We get calls every week from federal scientists reporting stuff to us."

...

Dr. Gerald Keusch, former director of the Fogarty International Center at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), says he saw a marked change in its operations as the government moved from the Clinton to the Bush administrations. Under Clinton, Keusch says, he never encountered resistance in appointing experts to the advisory board that conducted peer reviews of grant proposals to the center, which focuses on international health issues, particularly in developing countries. He made seven nominations, and all were approved by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) within three weeks. Under Bush, his first four nominations were quickly endorsed by NIH but then, says Keusch, "it's 10 months before I hear from HHS, rejecting three of the four, including a Nobel laureate, with no reasons given." In return, HHS sent him the résumés of other people, many of whom had no expertise in infectious diseases or developing countries.

And we have this weeks revelation, 24 year old journalism degree holders telling NASA what is science and what's not.

And let's not forget Bush's endorsement of teaching the "intelligent design" brand of creationism in science classrooms, the changing of scientific reports on climate change by political operatives, rendering the EPA impotent to enact or enforce any sort of pollution restrictions, and the list goes on and on.

In essence, President Bush has, since taking office, done everything he could to appoint people who would always side with corporate interests or pro-life/anti-contraception/anti-education interests and completely ignore, distort, or outright lie about the science involved. His babble about bioethics during the SOTU was just more of the same.

Sorry, Dave, I was lumping ... (Below threshold)
mantis:

Sorry, Dave, I was lumping you in with someone else there and shouldn't have. And while I admit that sometimes scientists can be a bit overzealous in the possible outcomes for their studies, it seems to me that this is to be expected considering the accomplishments in science and technology over that past century. But let me respond directly:

When the technique for knockout mice was developed it was going to be boon to understanding genetic disease in people. If you know what defective gene causes a disease in humans then render it nonfunctional (or "knock it out" in a line of mice and you now have an animal model for the disease. Unfortunately, the mutants created in mice this way rarely mimic the disease as it occurs in humans.

So if the diseases in these mutants had closely mimicked those in humans, than such research would have been very helpful in controlling or preventing human disease. However, they did not. I would like a reference to a study where the authors claimed that the diseases in mutated animals would with certainty mimic those in humans. If they express some doubt about the outcome in this regard, then are they really predicting something, or are they just persuing an avenue of inquiry that has the possibility of being fruitful?

Gene therapy was going to be the means to cure disease in man caused by defective genes. As science now realizes this is easier to conceive than achieve and not all diseases - Alzheimer's for example - will be able to be treated this way.

So you start with the premise that gene therapy was supposed to rid us of all disease, but was it? Who said it would do that? Even if some did make that claim, and were wrong, does it mean that such research should be abandoned simply because it isn't a panacea? I know that's not really what you're saying, but what is the point?

But there is a trend (it seems to me) to expect too much early on from these highly technical advances. Scientists themselves are human and subject to a learning curve when working with new technologies.

I see that trend too, but much more in popular magazines and other reporting than in scientific journals.

I re-read my post. I never used the term outrageous claims. And upon re-reading it it was not even implied.

You're right. I was projecting. Sorry about that.

mantis,Wh... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

mantis,

What grandiose claims, and what theories are likely wrong? Based on what? It's clear you don't have a clue about what a scientific theory is. A theory is not presented as fact or infallible, it is an explanation based on evidence. A theory is falsifiable, and if disproved it is disregarded. But please, explain to us which theories are wrong, based on what empirical data?

For example, the grandiose claims about stem cell research are that it can be used to treat many conditions such as Alzheimer's, spinal cord injury, diabetes and a host of other diseases. What medical condition is now being treated with stem cells, or is seeking FDA approval? Obviously, then the claims must be based on theories rather than proven facts or we would already have the treatments. Apparently I know a lot more about what a scientific theory is than you do.

My main point is that grandiose claims are used as a funding ruse, to dupe the public into spending billions upon billions for research. This ruse has been used for over forty years for things like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer's, yet these diseases still kill, maim and cause the suffering of millions of Americans.

I understand the enthusiasm of scientists and I support the research, but making claims about what that research will lead to and in what time frame gives the public unrealistic expectations. For example there's a resurgence of AIDS in parts of this country simply because some feel science will soon find a cure for it, and so they take risks. In that case the ruse kills.

What medical condition i... (Below threshold)
mantis:

What medical condition is now being treated with stem cells, or is seeking FDA approval? Obviously, then the claims must be based on theories rather than proven facts or we would already have the treatments. Apparently I know a lot more about what a scientific theory is than you do.

Sure you do. What theory is it that states if medical treatments based on new research are not developed immediately, they cannot be and the science is wrong?

My main point is that grandiose claims are used as a funding ruse, to dupe the public into spending billions upon billions for research. This ruse has been used for over forty years for things like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer's, yet these diseases still kill, maim and cause the suffering of millions of Americans.

Science has not cured all known diseases therefore it is a farce!

I understand the enthusiasm of scientists and I support the research

Bullshit.

but making claims about what that research will lead to and in what time frame gives the public unrealistic expectations.

What time frames. Please do cite something, anything.

For example there's a resurgence of AIDS in parts of this country simply because some feel science will soon find a cure for it, and so they take risks. In that case the ruse kills.

And this is based upon what? You have been able to pinpoint the cause for the what resurgence in what parts of the country, based upon what evidence? Cite something.

Three words: Brave New ... (Below threshold)

Three words: Brave New World.

And if you google Brave New... (Below threshold)
Synova:

And if you google Brave New World you'll find at least one group moaning and groaning about how if it weren't for That Book stifling the advance of science we might actually get some Progress on making life better for everyone.

There are still people who see eugenics (the good kind, *obviously*, rather than the bad kind) as the doorway to a bright tomorrow. A work of science fiction, the classic cautionary distopia, explored the question. It's interesting that in the eugenics dialog of the day, Wells also raised a cautionary voice. Science fiction is very much about "what if?" GATTACA asked the question... what if it was *you* who had the faulty genes? Bujold gives us the planets of Jackson's Whole, Athos, Cetaganda... Her short novella "Mountains of Mourning" may still be available in the Baen free library on Baen.com.

Mantis, Just got back here.... (Below threshold)
DaveD:

Mantis, Just got back here. No problem. Appreciate your follow up.
DaveD

mantis,Su... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

mantis,

Sure you do. What theory is it that states if medical treatments based on new research are not developed immediately, they cannot be and the science is wrong?

I was hoping you could at least be intellectually honest, but that's not your style. Many of the grandiose claims have been repeated publicly for forty years. Where's that cure for the common cold science has been working on since as long as I can remember?

Science has not cured all known diseases therefore it is a farce!

This is your standard response when you can't answer a point. You just set up a straw man argument your limited intellect can handle.

What time frames. Please do cite something, anything.

Obviously you live in a cave somewhere and don't have access to the news. Others will remember the hearings on Capital Hill about stem cell research where the witness list included celebrities like Michael J. Fox and the late Christopher Reeves. Where do you think these celebrities got their information about the miracle medical therapies they hoped would benefit them in their own lifetimes? One place might be the National Institutes of Health. One phrase on their FAQ web page reads (I'm claiming fair use for these limited quotes of copyrighted materials):

Pluripotent stem cells offer the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat a myriad of diseases, conditions, and disabilities including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Do you think the word "possibility" is pure speculation or is it based on theory as I have stated? If it were based on proven facts the words "the possibility of" would be missing from the sentence. Read that sentence without those three words and you now have something real, based on fact, and something we all hope becomes the case.

As for the time frame; well if you heard Christopher Reeves's testimony he was expecting results that would benefit his own condition. Obviously, he couldn't have known how little time he had, but he sure didn't think it would take forty years either.

Here's another interesting sentence from the National Institutes of Health's FAQ web page:

Moreover, federal funds to support hESC research have only been available since August 9, 2001, when President Bush announced his decision on federal funding for hESC research.

You can check the National Institutes of Health website for yourself, you might actually learn something.

http://stemcells.nih.gov/

And this is based upon what? You have been able to pinpoint the cause for the what resurgence in what parts of the country, based upon what evidence? Cite something.

How about a 2001 UN/WHO Report that found increasing infection rates of AIDS in 1st world countries. A news article by David Johnson on the InfoPlease website reporting on the 2001 UN/WHO Report says "The use of new drugs to prolong the life of AIDS patients has fostered a sense of complacence in the west."

That complacence is based on expectations that a cure is coming in the timeframe of how long AIDS patients can now live with the disease.

I've cited several sources to support my point that medical science makes unrealistic claims about what and when real medical therapies will be available for a plethora of nasty conditions and diseases. This is done to gain funding from the government and foundations as well as from the general public. The actual researches might not be involved in this ruse, but the university administrators certainly are.

mantis, all you do is criticize others' points without offering anything original of your own. Make your point and cite examples to back it up, or are you a hypocrite too. It's time for you to put up or shut up.

I was hoping you could a... (Below threshold)
mantis:

I was hoping you could at least be intellectually honest, but that's not your style. Many of the grandiose claims have been repeated publicly for forty years. Where's that cure for the common cold science has been working on since as long as I can remember?

I'm the one being dishonest? When did scientists claim their line of research would definitely cure the common cold? I'm only 30, so maybe I missed all of those studies, but as far as I can remember medical science has found viruses to be pretty tricky, and has said so.

This is your standard response when you can't answer a point. You just set up a straw man argument your limited intellect can handle.

It was your strawman that since science has not cured all known diseases, it is therefore a ruse.

thers will remember the hearings on Capital Hill about stem cell research where the witness list included celebrities like Michael J. Fox and the late Christopher Reeves. Where do you think these celebrities got their information about the miracle medical therapies they hoped would benefit them in their own lifetimes?

Celebrities? Are you serious? Stop getting your scientific news from People magazine.

Where do you think these celebrities got their information about the miracle medical therapies they hoped would benefit them in their own lifetimes? One place might be the National Institutes of Health. One phrase on their FAQ web page reads (I'm claiming fair use for these limited quotes of copyrighted materials):

I'll ignore the fact that you don't understand copyright for the moment. Your quote from NIH (which I'm quite familiar with, thank you) just proves my point.

Do you think the word "possibility" is pure speculation or is it based on theory as I have stated? If it were based on proven facts the words "the possibility of" would be missing from the sentence. Read that sentence without those three words and you now have something real, based on fact, and something we all hope becomes the case.

The word possibility means they don't know if the research will definitely provide them with the means to make and use replacement cells in humans. But here is where you still don't understand what a theory means. All science is based on theories. Gravity is just a theory, but that has not stopped them from using that theory to send people and satellites into space, now has it? Ask folks from Hiroshima if they think atomic theory is just a ruse.

As for the time frame; well if you heard Christopher Reeves's testimony he was expecting results that would benefit his own condition. Obviously, he couldn't have known how little time he had, but he sure didn't think it would take forty years either.

Celebrities again. So you point to a dying man's hope as evidence that scientists are fooling us all. Whatever.

Moreover, federal funds to support hESC research have only been available since August 9, 2001, when President Bush announced his decision on federal funding for hESC research.

You apparently missed the sentences before and after that one:

Scientists have only been able to do experiments with human embryonic stem cells (hESC) since 1998, when a group led by Dr. James Thomson at the University of Wisconsin developed a technique to isolate and grow the cells.

Thus, although hESC are thought to offer potential cures and therapies for many devastating diseases, research using them is still in its early stages.

It's in the early stages, but it hasn't cured everything, so it's all bullshit, right? On to AIDS:

That complacence is based on expectations that a cure is coming in the timeframe of how long AIDS patients can now live with the disease.

That's not what Johnson or the report says. You're just speculating. In any case what stupid people believe doesn't matter much to me, you claimed they believe these things because science promised them. Point to somewhere where the AIDS cure was promised on a certain time frame, and I'll believe that medical science is fooling people into risky behavior.

I've cited several sources to support my point that medical science makes unrealistic claims about what and when real medical therapies will be available for a plethora of nasty conditions and diseases.

You have not cited one single unrealistic claim. You did mention some celebrities, but didn't even tell us what they claimed, as if it matters.

mantis, all you do is criticize others' points without offering anything original of your own. Make your point and cite examples to back it up, or are you a hypocrite too. It's time for you to put up or shut up.

I think my point has been made. As far as offering something original of my own, do you expect that I'm doing gene therapy research and I'll present my findings here or something? Well, I'm not; it's not my field.

Anyway, I'll post again with some examples of realistic scientific studies in gene therapy that have shown positive results in humans. It may take me a moment since evolutionary development is the area of biology I'm familiar with, not gene therapy. I won't even need to use celebrities.

Btw it was quite dishonest ... (Below threshold)
mantis:

Btw it was quite dishonest of you to quote this line from NIH:

"The use of new drugs to prolong the life of AIDS patients has fostered a sense of complacence in the west."

to support your contention that "there's a resurgence of AIDS in parts of this country", when the sentence immediately prior to the one you quoted is:

The report predicted a resurgence of AIDS cases in wealthy nations unless renewed public health campaigns are undertaken.

What resurgence? Oh, a predicted resurgence.

This entire debate about th... (Below threshold)

This entire debate about the "bioethics" of stem cell research and potential hybrid creation sounds as abstract as scholasticists debating how many angels can dance on the tip of a pin when you compare it with the ongoing mistreatment of premature babies in today's intensive care nurseries. The doctors there still withhold life-saving oxygen from those babies who need it most, following their doctrine which was established 50 years ago through a research fraud by crypto-eugenic researchers who wanted to weed out the "defective germ plasm" which they believed responsible for an epidemic of baby-blinding.

This bogus research was never replicated but the doctrine based on it still dominates intensive care nurseries around the world, despite the alleged self-correcting mechanisms in science. Meanwhile, the blinding continues because the overbright fluorescent nursery lamps destroy the babies' retinae, and another rigged study, published in 1998, tried to hush that up with another research fraud.

You will find a detailed documentation of this still ongoing American euthanasia program and baby-blinding at my site www.retinopathyofprematurity.org. I respectfully submit that the very word "bioethics" remains an oxymoron as long as this kind of gross abuses is allowed to continue, with the complicity and blessings of so-called "bioethicists".

mantis,It... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

mantis,

It was your strawman that since science has not cured all known diseases, it is therefore a ruse.

Liar! Reprint my text where I said that and I'll apologize. Otherwise, the label sticks.

I see you like to ask for citations, but offer none yourself; hypocrite.

Here are citations that support my main point if you can remember what that was.

From CMAJ titled Do the print media "hype" genetic research? A comparison of newspaper stories and peer-reviewed research papers.

Excerpt: "Our study also highlights an overemphasis on benefits and under-representation of risks in both scientific and newspaper articles."

URL: http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/full/170/9/1399

-------------------------------

From BBC titled Research claims 'exaggerated'

Excerpt: "Press coverage at this early stage may leave the public with the false impression that the data are in fact mature, the methods valid, and the findings widely accepted."

URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/2024427.stm

Before you start with your usual "that's not what scientists think" rant, I want to make it clear that my point is that the public (not scientists) are being given exaggerated information in order to gain public support, and thus, public funding for research. Michael J. Fox and the late Christopher Reeves are two well known members of the public who's testimony supports my point. I don't have time to dispel your ignorance, so go look it up yourself if you want to know what they said. I saw it live on CNN.

Then we get into outright scientific fraud. The most recent example is South Korean scientist Dr. Hwang Woo Suk. This guy went overboard, but must have thought that the scientific culture would let him get away with his lies. Google returned over 14 million hits for "scientific fraud", which isn't really surprising give the profession is replete with liars like Hwang Woo Suk and mantis.

Liar! Reprint my text wh... (Below threshold)
mantis:

Liar! Reprint my text where I said that and I'll apologize. Otherwise, the label sticks.

I couldn't care less what labels you apply, but here is your text:

My main point is that grandiose claims are used as a funding ruse, to dupe the public into spending billions upon billions for research. This ruse has been used for over forty years for things like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer's, yet these diseases still kill, maim and cause the suffering of millions of Americans.

Since you say the claims are made to secure funding, you must mean that those claims are made by researchers and not by the press. And let's look at how you back that up. You quote two studies that find that the print media overhype scientific studies, in one case by exaggerating the studies themselves, in another by reporting about studies in progress as if they had been successfully performed. I have not argued here that the press does not misrepresent science, actually I have said that it does (in fact my master's thesis was about journalism's failure to present science accurately). If your point were that the press exaggerates, I would not have disagreed. However you also claim scientists are trying to dupe the public to get funding, and you've not been able to back that up with anything except for the remembered statements of a couple of actors.

As far as fraud goes, so what? I never claimed all scientists are honest people.

Anyway, since you're the one making claims I requested citations to back them up. I'm not sure what you think I needed to back up thus far, but here are some citations for you.

In a Globe and Mail rebuttal to the CMAJ study:

In an April 27 article, Papers are getting it right on science, Andr Picard wrote that contrary to the widely held belief among scientists and members of the public that stories are twisted and hyped to sell more newspapers, the reporting of scientific research in daily papers is actually pretty accurate, according to a new study.

Scientists have long been critical of news reports dealing with science, to the point where many do not talk to reporters at all. In fact, the reporting on that "new study" was distorted to make newspaper reporting look better than it is.

Or how about this study on exaggerated claims by pharmaceutical companies. Wow, companies lying in marketing to sell their products. What a shock.

Businesses such as newspapers and drug companies exaggerate their claims to sell their products. Scientific studies tend to be very careful in the claims they make. This is not to say that scientists do not also write about the possible benefits of their research, otherwise why would they be doing it? If you can produce a study that shows evidence of scientists exaggerating their own research (i.e. stating with certainty that they will arrive at these results, achieve these benefits, etc), please do so. On the matter of the press we have no disagreement.

I couldn't care le... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
I couldn't care less what labels you apply, but here is your text:
My main point is that grandiose claims are used as a funding ruse, to dupe the public into spending billions upon billions for research. This ruse has been used for over forty years for things like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer's, yet these diseases still kill, maim and cause the suffering of millions of Americans.

And the following is how you recast my point:

Science has not cured all known diseases therefore it is a farce!

...and again as follows:

It was your strawman that since science has not cured all known diseases, it is therefore a ruse.

As anyone can see I never said "all known diseases" and I didn't say "therefore it is a farce!" That's your strawman argument, not my words. It's not just my labeling of you as a liar, it's the plain and public facts that you have no answer for and are too proud to apologize for.

You cite what you label as a "rebuttal to the CMAJ study", but that actual source never says or even infers it's a rebuttal to the CMAJ study. Why can't you accurately characterize other people's comments and sources you cite? Does you ego overpower your honesty in your profession too? In fact, your source criticizes the "Globe and Mail" for miss-characterizing the CMJA study. You should have read the source you cite as it then goes on to say the following:

In her CMAJ Commentary, Celeste Condit tries to cut the media some slack, emphasizing that the research itself, or the researchers when interviewed, may tend to exaggerate the importance of the work and the significance of its findings, and that may be the case. Its entirely possible that researchers will exaggerate the importance or significance of a given study for a variety of reasons. But one must ask, is it not the job of the science writer to be skeptical, and to seek out independent commentary from those who may be more dubious about the importance of a given study?

The point being made is that the "science writer [needs] to be skeptical" because "the research itself, or the researchers when interviewed, may tend to exaggerate the importance of the work and the significance of its findings," The source of the exaggerate claims is "the research itself, or the researchers" themselves.

mantis, your own source backs up my point that scientists are the source of the exaggerated claims. Not the only source, but a significant source.

All science is based on theories.

I agree, and so it's fair to say that all scientific understanding is based on theories.

A theory is not presented as fact or infallible, it is an explanation based on evidence. A theory is falsifiable, and if disproved it is disregarded.
I agree, and so it's fair to say that "...grandiose claims about scientific understanding are based on theories, many of which are unproven and likely wrong or incomplete." Which was in my first post on this topic, yet I got the following bullshit from you in response to that statement:
It's clear you don't have a clue about what a scientific theory is.

It's clear you're an intellectual fraud who lurks in the background waiting to criticize people making a contribution to a topic, yet offer nothing of your own. You recast other's points into phony strawman arguments, and become purposely stupid when it's obviously to everyone else that you lost the argument.

mantis,Bt... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

mantis,

Btw it was quite dishonest of you to quote this line from NIH:
"The use of new drugs to prolong the life of AIDS patients has fostered a sense of complacence in the west."

to support your contention that "there's a resurgence of AIDS in parts of this country", when the sentence immediately prior to the one you quoted is:

"The report predicted a resurgence of AIDS cases in wealthy nations unless renewed public health campaigns are undertaken."

What resurgence? Oh, a predicted resurgence.

Not at all dishonest because I actually know something about what I write. Here's a source closer to the WHO report than the news story I cited before.

The number of people living with HIV in North America, Western and Central Europe rose to 1.9 million in 2005, with approximately 65,000 people having acquired HIV in the past year.

Wide availability of antiretroviral therapy has helped keep AIDS deaths comparatively low, at about 30,000 in 2005.

Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS

Not just a "predicted resurgence", but a real increase just as I stated.




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