The politics of stem cell research are underway in earnest once more in the US, for what it's worth.
With just days to go before the Senate is scheduled to vote on a hotly anticipated bill that would loosen President Bush's restrictions on [Federal public funding for] human embryonic stem cell research, both sides of the scientifically and ethically charged issue have ramped up their publicity machines and attacks on each other.
At least they're largely fighting over what to do with taxed dollars, rather than fighting over whether to ban these very promising medical technologies. That's a step up in the sense of falling into a pit versus falling into a pit with spikes at the bottom.
Given my leanings, I'd rather see a world with much more research funding that has not been taxed and wasted by government before it gets to the laboratories; a world in which funding research is a matter of personal choice and spontaneous organizations such as the Methuselah Foundation. This is conceivable, workable, but it'd take a lot to get there.
As for many other large, desirable changes for the future, my first things first pragmatism leads me to help longevity research - and research likely to lead to cures for age-related conditions - prior to helping found a more libertarian society. Or indeed helping any of the other causes I consider worthy. First things first: it's hard to help when you're suffering or dead, and little will have a greater effect upon the degree of suffering and death in the world than success in healthy life extension research.
But back to the ostensible subject of this post. One of the many line items in this morass of politics that I find so distasteful is the outright lying on scientific topics. There are any number of people out there willing to misrepresent the state of present day stem cell science until blue in the face, just to gain some meaningless advantage in debate, or to make themselves feel better. This usually takes the form of denigrating embryonic stem cell research, or overhyping adult stem cell research - but the lies are pretty baldfaced these days.
"Prentice not only misrepresents existing adult stem cell treatments but also frequently distorts the nature and content of the references he cites," wrote Shane Smith of the Children's Neurobiological Solutions Foundation in Santa Barbara, Calif.; William B. Neaves of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo.; and Steven Teitelbaum of Washington University in St. Louis.
For example, they wrote, a study cited by Prentice as evidence that adult stem cells can help patients with testicular cancer is in fact a study that evaluates methods of isolating adult stem cells.
Similarly, a published report that Prentice cites as evidence that adult stem cells can help patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma does not address the medical value of those cells but rather describes the best way to isolate cells from lymphoma patients and grow them in laboratory dishes, the letter said.
And Prentice's reference to the usefulness of adult stem cells for patients with Sandhoff disease -- a rare nerve disorder -- is "a layperson's statement in a newspaper article," the scientists reported.
All told, the scientists concluded, there are only nine diseases that have been proved to respond to treatment with adult stem cells.
"By promoting the falsehood that adult stem cell treatments are already in general use for 65 diseases and injuries, Prentice and those who repeat his claims mislead laypeople and cruelly deceive patients," the scientists wrote.
A look back in the Fight Aging! archives turns up a good overview as to why embryonic stem cell research is essential. I'm not sure why it is that these folk feel it is better to lie about science than to simply debate on grounds of belief and preferences - but it's pretty despicable. This is what the tragedy of the commons does to people. The commons in this case being that pool of taxed dollars; dignity, responsibility, accountability, common human decency and self-respect are the first to fall to the mud beneath this great trough.