It's pleasant to see that the fine art of the snooty anti-science piece is being kept alive even in this age of research breakthroughs and new knowledge every other week. No sense in moving forward - or advancing your own personal store of knowledge on a topic - when you can pad out a few thousand words with cheap shots and an exhortation upon the limits of what you know. On this theme, I thought I'd point out a couple of articles.
This first one is a determined defense of avoiding the opportunity to extend an enjoyable, healthy life via calorie restriction (CR). I'll say this for the somewhat snarky NYM piece last month - at least the author got out there, did the research, and tried the practice of CR. You'll have a watch a brief advertisement to read this Salon piece:
A distorted sense of self-satisfaction, while on the whole a cheerier disorder than outsized self-loathing, can still be troubling, especially when it is the result of having forsaken eating habits that many people would love to be able to enjoy. When Matt Lauer introduced "Today's" CR segment by dramatically asking, "Could food itself be the problem?" it was hard not to wonder how insane we've become to devote airtime (larded with food commercials, no less) to demonizing something that people all over the world do not have enough of. Is it so that people who can afford organic scallops can live to be 150 while everybody else dies their regularly scheduled death?
As I said, cheap shots, either calculated or ignorant; some people seem to make a fair living by turning out that sort of thing, however. It takes a certain distasteful point of view to stand behind the idea that only the rich are capable of putting in a little effort to plan their diet, and that CR is therefore some hitherto unseen form of class warfare. Equally distasteful: that simple reporting from the world of science has context based on your preferences for socioeconomic organization. But enough of that.
On the plus side, there are plenty of resources online that people can use to learn about calorie restriction and the research backing it. There really is no such thing as bad publicity in an era of search engines, and the calorie restriction community is a gateway to other communities and initiatives aimed at the development of more effective means to extend healthy life span. If you're interesting in calorie restriction, you should also be interested in the Longevity Dividend project, SENS, the Methuselah Foundation, and so forth.
The more the merrier, and even dumb articles mean that more folk will come to realize that aging is not set in stone. From that realization will come the support and understanding needed to grow the healthy life extension community and build a larger funding base for serious research aimed at putting a halt to aging.
The second article I wanted to link to today concerns the state and future of stem cell science, and is a touch more subtle in its attack. You'll always see articles of this nature as the first wave of research and commercialization in a new field fades into the second wave. Most of the early companies fail or dramatically reduce their stated goals - this is very much par for the course in biotechnology and medical research, or indeed any other field. The early investors take a high risk, but the potential rewards are great indeed, so in they dive. Equally par for the course are the solomn analysts come to pronounce on the corpse; most such dirges look pretty silly a decade later.
In short, yes, stem cells do have the potential to turn into more specialized cells (that is what we mean by a stem cell). But after eight years of trial and error, scientists have not yet shown that they know how to nudge or coax or direct any given cell in a desired direction -- for example, into the dopamine producing cells that are needed to combat Parkinson's disease.
"It looks hard to me, so we'll never make the progress we'd like!" If I had a dime for every time I've seen some variety of that sentiment ... well, I'd have a fair-sized pile of dimes. Meanwhile, progress continues: tools become cheaper, capability per dollar increases.
Tune up your nonsense filters; these sorts of things come in cycles, and it looks like it's that time again.