Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Stem-cell funding a symbolic gesture to those whose sacrament is abortion

Obama's grand announcement that he was lifting the restrictions on federal funding of research on (possibly) newly available lines of embryonic stem cells was a gesture to those who believe in abortion in a manner that approaches the way evangelicals and what Andrew Sullivan calls "Christianists" believe in their version of religion. As this Register editorial notes, the issue was made moot from a scientific perspective around November 2007, when scientists at UCLA and in Hawaii discovered a way through genetic manipulation to give adult skin (!) cells almost all the pluripotent (able to be transaformed into almost any other kind of cell) qualities of embryonic stem cells. Since than an even simpler method has been discovered.

The idea that Bush's "ban" on federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells deterred progress toward a cure for Parkinsons and Alzheimers by eight years is wrong on several counts. He didn't ban all federal funding, but limited it to existing lines of stem cells. He didn't ban state or private research, which he (still) didn't have the power to do. California famously passed a law allowing state government-funded stem cell research, but the program has mainly been tied up in bureaucratic wrangling and turf battles. That brings us to the most egregious fallacy: that government funding is the key to progress in scientific endeavors. More often it is a deterrent to progress.

Years ago (late 1970s) when I was an aide to Bob Bauman in the House, some of us came up with a proposal to have a congressional veto on National Science Foundation, and it actually passed the House so I had to do a lot of research in preparation for Senate testimony. The short version is that the government is most likely to fund "safe" projects that promise measurable, minor, integral results, and it ties these in miles of red tape. The real innovators are almost always despised and on their own until they make a breakthrough that is widely recognized, whereupon they tend to become respectable and tamed (neutered?). Grant masters tend to be the least innovative scientists. The whole process is poison for real scientific innovation.

1 comment:

Hannah said...

The lifting of ban would ensure that new remedies would be achieved to the relief of many people. Would this move lead to more breakthroughs? Would it lead to a better tomorrow? Share your views with us at