Stem Cells--A Fairy Tale?

Before Nancy Reagan gets too far in her campaign for stem cell research I hope she read this Washington Post article. It turns out that stem cells offer no hope for curing a "whole brain disease" like Alzheimer's, as researchers told Congress in May, according to the Post's Rick Weiss.

So why the Alzheimer's - stem cell connection.

Here's what one expert told Weiss.

"To start with, people need a fairy tale," said Ronald D.G. McKay, a stem cell researcher at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "Maybe that's unfair, but they need a story line that's relatively simple to understand."

The problem is that many stem cell advocates and reporters have bought the fairy tale. Instead of asking hard questions about the challenges involved in stem cell research (as Scientific American did)

I think the Weekly Standard has the implications of this "fairy tale" science right:

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.

After President' Reagan's death, newspaper editorials around the US started advocating for loosening the restrictions on stem cells research, based on the assumption that they could help cure Alzheimer's. The Kaiser Health Care network put together a collection of them. Most were like this one from the Providence Journal Bulletin.

Stem-cell research could bring relief from dozens of devastating diseases besides Alzheimer's -- among them diabetes, Parkinson's, AIDS, leukemia and heart disease. While ethical guidelines should govern its use, such research should not be held hostage to politics

If this claim about Alzheimer's turns out to "fairy tale" science, maybe that will prompt newspapers and magazines to take a sharper look at the claims of stem cell researchers.

Setting aside ethical questions (like the moral status of human embyros) for one minute -- shouldn't we at least have some clear-eyed, fair, and hardnosed reporting on stem cell research before we jump into it with both feet? And shouldn't a decision to support stem cells be made on something more substantial than a fairy tale?


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