So Much Noise, So Little Accomplished

US stem cell politics casts its pall across the land and requires me to write on the topic rather than on something more constructive and directly related to longevity research. Let me start by saying that, in my cynical, libertarian eyes, little of use was accomplished by politicians yesterday - as on any other day. Sure, the US House of Representatives passed a few bills on stem cell research amidst much posturing and grandstanding:

The US House of Representatives has voted to increase government funding for embryonic stem cell research. The vote sets up a confrontation with President Bush, who has vowed to veto the bill if it passes the Senate. The bill was passed by 238-194 votes - short of the two-thirds majority required to override Mr Bush's veto.

The senate has sat on stem cell legislation of varying sorts - good, bad and ugly - without a vote for two years now; it is quite possible there will be no further vote on this latest legislation. Even if there was, and even if the President declines to follow through with the threat of a veto, will this bill mitigate or stop threatened anti-research legislation that has scared away private funding for years in the US? Would it prevent politicians and other parasites from holding back research, pinning down the engines of progress beneath a mountain of regulation and unnecessary costs?

One can suppose that a degree of my cynicism on this issue is triggered by policitians yet again donning the robe of savior to "fix" a problem of their own creation. Without overreaching politicians and an overpowered state, we would simply have freedom of research and rapid progress. Past history should teach us that true progress is made despite politics, not because of it.

Here is an interesting comparison: look at the size and funding of the Korean team that made two noteworthy breakthroughs in embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning in the past two years:

... their research got less than 200,000 US dollars a year in funds mainly from the government.

Two years is around the length of time that Advanced Cell Technology - a formerly high profile private company and one of the original forerunners in stem cell research - has been languishing for lack of private investment as a result of the hostile US political environment. From October 2004:

Due to a dearth of funding, Lanza said his company has been unable to follow up on promising results in animals and carry out experiments that could lead to life-saving therapies for humans. The financial situation is so dire, the company has at times been unable to afford basic office supplies."

Another interesting comparison: the concrete philanthropic donation of $50 million to stem cell research - including embryonic research and therapeutic cloning - from the Starr Foundation was announced this week. A search for "Starr Foundation" on Google News will net you a bare 22 hits as of the time of writing. Compare that with the barrels of ink spilled on the worthless posturing of politicians yesterday ... the denizens of our society appear to have serious problems relating to values, what is important and a general grasp on reality.

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