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« Thinking Responsibly | Main | Thinking Christianly »

August 02, 2006


"Overall, it's a very good article - until the last line: "When it comes to such an impossibly complicated matter as stem cells, the best role for legislators and Presidents may be neither to steer the science nor to stall it but to stand aside and let it breathe." The irony, as Scott Klusendorf pointed out to me, is that that is the governmental policy now - it neither funds nor restricts."

This simply isn't true. I would urge everyone, especially those who wish to comment, to actually read the article.

From the article:

"The presidential lines, scientists say, are wasting money as well as time. Larry Goldstein's lab at the University of California at San Diego is a life-size game of connect the dots. Each machine, cell dish, chemical and pretty much every major tool bears a colored dot, signaling to lab workers whether they can use the item for experiments that the government won't pay for. Goldstein's team is working on a cancer experiment that relies on a $200,000 piece of equipment. They can use either an approved cell line that will yield a less reliable result or a freshly created line that would require the purchase of another machine with private funds. "It's a ball and chain," Goldstein says. "It's goofy. Imagine if your kitchen was a mixture like that, where you can't use those pots with that soup."

So the government can't put regulations on how the instruments they purchased are used? If they were truly restricting the research they wouldn't allow it to be done even with private funding. Would Goldstein rather they not have purchased the $200,000 instrument at all? I work in a scientific research lab and virtually all funding (private and federal) comes with stipulations. That's what happens when someone gives you money, they get to say how it's used. Rather than complain that the government is segregating the pots they bought for his kitchen maybe he should get someone else to buy his pots for him from now on.

I think you missed my point becca. Read the quote from Melinda's post and then the quote from the article. They contradict each other and you seem to agree. For the record, I believe the restrictions are foolish and the President should have signed the bill and eliminated the waste.

Alan, how about you point out the contradiction. I don't know see one.

Hi Joe, Melinda quotes Scott as saying there are no restrictions and the article (as well as our friend Becca) clearly indicates that there are.

Hi Alan,
Actually, Melinda quotes the article itself to make the point that the article asserts there should be no restrictions (which is only elaborated upon by Klussendorf). Secondly, the quote you provided portrays the thoughts and opinions of an interviewed scientist (Goldstein), whereas Melinda's quote is of the writer's own opinion. As with many so-called textual contradictions, yours is easily resolved by looking closer at the text.

Sorry Arron, read it again, Scott is quoted as saying that " that is the governmental policy now - it neither funds nor restricts."

The scientist quoted in the article isn't giving his opinion when he describes the actual practices in his lab, and the practices are the result of the very restrictions that Scott and Melinda claim don't exist.

Okay, I see what you're saying - Melinda does seem to be claiming that this is the actual governmental policy now (which seems to be too big of a jump without supporting evidence, and is indeed contrary to the evidence given in the article). I thought you were saying the view of the writer of the article was misrepresented and in conflict with your quoted portion. My apologies - I think we're on the same page here.

What I found interesting in that article is that there seems to be a contradiction contained within it. It states "since only embryonic cells posess the power to replecate indefinitely" in one paragraph and several paragraphs later it says about the 21 available stem cell lines that "They are old, so they don't grow very well." Now which is true? Can they or can't they replicate indefinitely? It seems that this is just another example of political sleight-of-hand to fool the public into funding what is obviously unethical research. I think we are well rid of the substandard scientists(actually politicans) that populate this field by letting them depart for the UK and work to keep the good ones in the states.

I actually think that the last paragraph of Melinda's post is the most important:

"The problem with letting science "breathe" is that science can only tell us what can be done, not what should be done. We don't have the luxury of standing aside and letting science proceed unchecked. It comes back to one ethical question: What is it? Perhaps the embryo is a full human being that we should protect, perhaps it isn't and we can do whatever we want with it. But we have to have that ethical debate and let it guide science."

Until the moral question of ESCR is resolved, the debate over funding and regulation is a secondary concern.

It seems to me that the federal government is involved in funding some ESCR now and that it does place some restrictions on how that research can be conducted.

I am not sure why Melinda and Scott say that it is "the governmental policy now - it neither funds nor restricts." I think that they may have been trying to make the point that the federal goverment has not outlawed (restricted) ESCR (private research is free to proceed) and that it has yet to fully authorize expenditure of federal money on ESCR.

I may be mistaken but Scott could have been referring to the collection of embryonic stem cells via the destruction of human embryos or research on embryonic stem cell lines created after 2001. Though this research is legal - our government won't fund it - which is the reason some scientists who used federal funds to purchase certain forms of equipment can't do certain things on those pieces of equipment.

Hi William and Jivin, i'm going to be kind here, but "restrict" has a meaning in the English language and those in leadership positions have an obligation to closely read and understand that on which they write. There is only one way to take the sentence to which I referred and it is wrong on the facts. The restrictions (which do exist) are wrong and wasteful.

Alan said:

"The restrictions (which do exist) are wrong and wasteful."

So just what do you mean by wrong?

Actually Alan I am not sure your intention can be considered kind since your implication is that if Melinda and Scott are not irresponsible than they are lying to manipulate opinion!
Is that your intention?

If you insist on interpreting Melinda & Scott strictly then I might agree that they are wrong on the facts. But this assumes that your interpretation is what they actually meant. I guess that they would have to clarify. You would also have to trust that they are sincere!

"The irony, as Scott Klusendorf pointed out to me, is that that is the governmental policy now - it neither funds nor restricts."

I thought it was clear what Scott and Melinda meant. They're simply saying that the government isn't stopping scientists from researching other stem cell lines (i.e. it's not illegal). They're just not supporting it with government funding. I thought this was clear by the very contrast between the word "funds" and the word "restricts."

Am I missing something here?

Which restrictions? Embryonic stem cell research isn't "restricted" at all. Certain types of embryonic stem cell research aren't federally funded but that doesn't mean they're "restricted."

What type of "restrictions" are you talking about? The only way you can use restricted this way is if the meaning of restricted is "not being fully funded by the federal government." One would hope you would try to hold yourself up to the same standard you're trying to hold Melinda and Scott up to.

The federal government doesn't provide me with the funds to buy a gun, does that mean I'm "restricted" from buying a gun.

Red Loser,

I appreciate your clarification. Thanks!

I think the confusion for me came,in part, because Bush has authorized federal funding on stem cell lines that have already been developed from embryos. So this could be said to constitute ESCR funding. He also, in limiting the funding to just these existing lines, restricted federal funding for ESCR.

Guys, if you have a $200,000 piece of equipment and you can't use it because of federal restrictions, that's a significant restriction on that particular institution. If the only way you can use the equipment is to use an outdated cell line, that's a restriction too.

If a lab doesn't need to use a piece of equipment that was purchased with federal funds there obviously aren't restrictions, however that is a matter of chance.

This research roulette is obviously inefficient and wasteful. You can't have read the story and come away with the idea that there are no restrictions when the story makes it plain that there are.

Now perhaps Scott hadn't read the story and he didn't fully understand what the present regulations restrict. I know I didn't understand how the use of previously purchased equipment was involved until recently.

All this means is that we have to be careful about declaritive statements made by folks who aren't actually in a particular field.
That is why I read PZ's blog for the science not the religion.

alan, what outdated cell lines? According to the article: "since only embryonic cells posess the power to replecate indefinitely", you have no outdated cell lines. You can't have it both ways. Either the cell lines are always viable or they are not. If they are not and you make a statement like the one above, it is time to start questioning your motives for making that statement to start with.

Louis, Louis, Louis, please re-read the article - closely this time.

"Today there are only 21 viable lines, which limits genetic diversity. They are old, so they don't grow very well, and were cultured using methods that are outdated. What's more, the chromosomes undergo subtle changes over time, compromising the cells' ability to remain "normal." Back in the late '90s, when the lines were created, "we didn't know much about growing stem cells," says Kevin Eggan, principal faculty member at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. "They can't do what the newer cell lines can do." Curt Civin, a cancer researcher at Johns Hopkins, has spent the past several years trying to differentiate the presidential lines into blood cells that could be used to treat leukemias and other blood-based cancers. But the age and quality of the cells have been a constant hindrance. "We want to study normal cells," he says. "We're working with Version 1.0. I'd like Version 3.3."

You are choosing the premesis you like and discarding those you don't, and wonder of wonder, you get the answer you want. Please consider that your interpretation of "replicate indefinitely" implies perpetual motion, something that is impossible and the possibility of which no scientist would assert.

That something has the potential for X may well be but while doing X it is in a real environment which means it is impinged upon by Y and Z.

Stem cells don't exist in a vacuum and at any point their viability will be influenced by the technology du jour and the random cell processes that, among other things, make evolution possible and death inevitable.

Alan,Alan,Alan, I know what the article is getting at, but the phrase "replicate indefinitely" admits no restrictions. Yet, as it is clearly pointed out in your response, "What's more, the chromosomes undergo subtle changes over time, compromising the cells' ability to remain 'normal.' " It would seem that our thinking has gone through some subtle changes over time compromising our unrestricted exuberant claims that they can "replicate indefinitely." There seems to be a tendency of scientists, who are in the forefront of new research, to get overly emotionally excited over the prospects of their new discoveries to the extent that they make wild and as yet unsubstantiated claims which they must later retract. Where is the professional dispassionate scientific objectivity that is claimed to be the core of the scientific community and the scoentific method? With this kind of careless wording in their claims, is it any wonder that we question their dedication to the ideals they "say" they hold dear?

Louis, this article may help:

I think you may be confusing
"indefinitely" with "infinitely".

I can set a definite number of years that they all will fail to reproduce. I place it at 150 definite years. Not one of them will be capable of reproducing after that period of time. That definite enough?

Thank you Louis, now we all know how serious you are. Let all bear in mind that Louis probably votes.

You are again asserting that not providing federal funds for whatever scientists want is equivalent to some kind of restriction. If they want to use the equipment whenever they want, they shouldn't purchase it using federal tax dollars. Not giving researchers federal funds for whatever they want isn't a restriction if you're using the word "restriction" in a realistic sense.

Scientists and universities can freely purchase equipment with their own dime - nothing restricts them from doing that.

Again, I am restricted from target practice because the federal government won't pay for my gun?

Jivin, I don't think you quite get it. If a lab has an existing piece of equipment that has been already purchased with NIH money it can't be used for ESCR even though the lab already has it. As federal grant money usually has overhead provisions - utilities, maintenance - even using buildings in which federally funded research takes place may be problematic. As the equipment has already been purchased, this is a de facto restriction. Science is usually done by multiple researchers in many places. Institutions with small projects won't be able to contribute.

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