Dishonesty In Political Commentary

The more extreme protesters of embyronic stem cell research are at least honest in their motivations for restricting research that will save lives. Not so Eric Cohen, who in a piece at the National Review, uses a variety of extremely dishonest arguments, half-truths, outright lies, omissions, and obfuscations to defend government policies that are causing great harm to our future health, life span, and well being by restricting vital medical research.

Chris Mooney notes the obvious one (and has a few more things to say besides):

Another Complaint about this Eric Cohen National Review Online piece. As the title--"Inflated Promises, Distorted Facts"--makes clear, part of Cohen's argument is that research advocates have been hyping the medical potential of embryonic stem cells in the absence of hard proof of what they're capable of.

This is a highly convenient argument, given that limitations on stem cell research have prevented scientists from learning more about their potential. In other words, the idea seems to be a) you clamp down on research, and then b) you accuse the research of not going anywhere in order to justify not loosening the restrictions. What a crock.

This is a particularly common politicial trick - seen in "deregulation" for example. Get in there and mess things up so that you can justify more intervention later. That doesn't mean we should let them get away with it, of course.

Another problem is this notion of the number of stem cell lines and how it matters. Firstly, Cohen is flat out wrong - and probably deliberately so - in what he says about the number that are available.

Here's the key bit of info that Cohen conveniently omits: the NIH itself has said that under the "best case scenario," only 23 lines will ever be available under Bush's policy. Here (PDF) is where this information was first revealed; it has since been widely reported in the media (see here for the Washington Post's story).

Now, I'm sure Cohen knows about the 23 line limit; he seems well versed in the details of stem cell policy. But he simply leaves out this crucial fact, happily writing as if the number 19 will just continue to grow and grow and grow, when in fact we're quickly approaching a wall. And then Cohen has the gall to accuse stem cell research proponents of being "disingenuous." Pot kettle, anyone?

Secondly, as I've said before, focusing whether 10, 20, or 60 lines are available obscures the fact that hundreds or thousands of lines are required worldwide for serious research to proceed apace. While government restrictions keep the number of lines low, researchers are proceeding at a comparative slow pace. This state of affairs has a high cost in suffering, disease, and death attached to it - it is a willful blocking of attempts to save lives and find cures.

Lastly, we most certainly do have hard proof of embryonic stem cell capabilities, and their superiority over adult stem cells. It's not hard proof in humans, but in animal subjects - good enough for me to justify my support for large-scale research to establish human therapies. Take a look at this report, for example:

Embryonic stem cells transplanted within a 3D scaffold have been shown to regenerate damaged heart muscle in mice. The achievement, by Theo Kofidis and colleagues at Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, California, overcomes several problems that have hindered previous attempts to regenerate damaged heart muscle.


The researchers had been working with bone marrow stem cells but found that they were not able to become heart muscle cells and regenerate the heart.


When the researchers used embryonic stem cells, however, they were able to improve heart function.


"In our most recent studies we showed that mouse and human embryonic stem cells improved heart function, had superior survival within the heart - weeks later we still saw improved heart function - and had definitely differentiated into heart muscle cells," says Kofidis. "We inserted a bioluminescent marker (what causes fireflies to luminesce) into our stem cells and were able to see that they engrafted in the living organ."

In summary, dishonesty - and especially that of the oily variety practiced by Eric Cohen in this stem cell article of his - bothers me greatly. I would direct Cohen to the Michael Kinsley piece of the other day, which ends:

A difficult issue is one in which you hold two or more conflicting values. Stem cells are not a difficult issue: either you think a microscopic embryo has the same human rights as you and I, or you don't. Do you believe that a woman who gets an abortion should be prosecuted for murder, just like a mother who hires a professional killer to off her teenage son? Are you picketing around fertility clinics, which kill hundreds of thousands of unborn children - if that's what you believe a 5-day-old embryo to be - just like abortion clinics do? If so, you are entitled to oppose stem-cell research. If not, please get out of the way.


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