Pet Peeve: “All Stem Cell Research is the Same”

It drives me nuts when I see the media referring to both adult and embryonic stem cell research under a single title. One of the uphill battles the prolife movement is currently fighting is making that distinction obvious to non-scientists. Those who support ESCR have done a terrific job of making people believe that opposition to ESCR is unscientific and medieval. They’ve done this by removing distinction between adult and embryonic stem cells. Their propaganda dupes people into thinking that those who oppose ESCR oppose all SCR.

Unfortunately, sometimes those opposed to ESCR play right into their opponents’ hands by playing their name game. This has to stop. If we want to change peoples’ minds and stop the frankensteinian field of ESCR, we need to educate the public. Let’s start by calling things by their proper names.

Comments 10

  1. theomorph wrote:

    Just because a thing can be done, does not mean it should be done.

    Nor does it mean that it should not be done.

    Tax money should not fund everything every person may think it needs to.

    But should private money also not fund things that every person does not agree with?

    It is one thing to oppose taxes that support ESCR, and something else entirely to support laws that make ESCR illegal regardless of funding.

    … it is in the interest of groups supporting ESCR to lump it together with ASCR for the purpose of getting the positive association with a technology that has proven to be effective.

    That is not necessarily true. ESCR might be better supported or promoted by other means that do not involve terminological muddiness.

    Scientists have not proven themselves to be universally full of the milk of human kindness and bright and polished intentions.

    Neither have non-scientists.

    Some of the worst and most diabolical exploitations of the last century have been perpetrated at the hands of scientists.

    Some of the worst and most diabolical exploitations of the last century have also been perpetrated at the hands of non-scientists. As well, most scientists do not commit “diabolical exploitations,” and most non-scientists do not commit “diabolical exploitations.” Therefore, no positive correlation or causal link exists between scientists and “diabolical exploitations.”

    Not everything is understood by examining it in a microscope.

    No, but refusing to look in the microscope cannot increase your understanding.

    Posted 04 May 2005 at 3:24 am
  2. theomorph wrote:

    Howdy sibert. :-)

    Regarding scientists and knowledge progressing and “harvesting embryos” (interesting terminology, by the way–it’s loaded with potentially misleading connotations), I think you’re conflating two issues to make your argument:

    (1) Scientific progress can be scary. (No doubt about that!)

    (2) You are morally opposed to scientific progress that involves destroying embryos.

    The second one is stronger than the first one. I think just about everybody finds scientific progress scary (even me), because it almost always means changing either the role or the definition of humanity, and that’s just creepy sometimes, eh? But the scariness of scientific progress is not the same as moral opposition to the means of scientific progress. When you put the two together, you’re attaching an almost universal sentiment to a not-so-universal moral stance, which both dilutes your moral stance and takes advantage of (or even abuses) the appearance of an unrelated sentiment in those who do not already share your moral stance. That is, you have not won them over by reason, but by argumentative trickery. (Not that I’m accusing you of any intentional or crafted deceit–the kind of argument you’re making is pretty common and most people don’t even think about it.)

    As for other means of promoting ESCR that don’t involve misleading terminology, I don’t know. My point was simply that if the proponents of ESCR really think they’re onto something exciting, potentially useful, and morally acceptable, then they don’t need to use misleading terminology, do they? People who are confident about their ideas should always strive for transparency, because if their ideas are really that good, they won’t need any propagandistic boosts.

    As for why the proponents of ESCR have used misleading terminology, I don’t know. As I commented above, I am not sure there has been any intentional deceit. Or, if there has been, I suspect it is not because the proponents of ESCR don’t believe in what they’re doing, but because they don’t believe in the ability of the general public to understand what they’re doing–which is a problem in many areas, not just this one.

    Posted 04 May 2005 at 9:56 pm
  3. alektra wrote:

    I concur that there are different types of research, and while this uninformed battle goes on, millions down the road will suffer.

    I pray that we see what will help everyone best in this situation, children and the ill alike.

    Posted 03 May 2005 at 7:00 pm
  4. theomorph wrote:

    I don’t know if “calling things by their proper names” will do nearly so much as you hope. Plenty of people (like me) just don’t have an intuitive negative emotional reaction to research on human embryonic stem cells.

    And speaking of terminology, isn’t calling ESCR a “frankensteinian field” a bit propagandistic, too?

    Posted 03 May 2005 at 5:38 am
  5. sibert wrote:

    I was not intending to intimate a causal link between scientists and exploitations, diabolical or otherwise. I was, in that instance, simply trying to illustrate the fact that scientists can have, and have had, flawed motivations, lack of judgement, and even evil intentions in the past. You agreed and added that so have non-scientists. I agree and further add that that so have pseudo- and quasi-scientists. We cannot simply say “You might be able to do what? That would be fabulous!!! Go right ahead and here, take our first-born and 33% of our hard-earned money!!”

    In certain instances, this certainly being one, our society should take a step back and consider. This might even mean making a specific route to knowledge illegal. So be it. The cat cannot be put back into the bag by legislation. By this I mean that knowledge will still progress, but embryos will not be harvested to advance it. This may slow advance along certain paths, but necessity is the mother of invention someone once said. I think it may indeed be necessary to curtail ESCR to a certain degree.

    Please expound on what other means, barring misleading (intentional or otherwise) terminology, ESCR might use, in your view, to further its development. I find your take on things fascinating. Thanks in advance.

    Posted 04 May 2005 at 3:52 am
  6. sibert wrote:

    Just because a thing can be done, does not mean it should be done. I agree with Mr. Dung (LOL) and his assertion that a distinction between these two types of research should be consistantly made.

    Tax money should not fund everything every peron may think it needs to. This is especially critical in the realm of government grants for controversial medical research. ESCR is odious to a great many tax paying citizens becasue many of them regard embryos as human life. They have not been proven wrong, my friends. Until they are, should we err on the side of caution or proceed in arrogance and pride? Is it moral for the rest of the nation to disregard their concerns and simply use the tax dollars they provide to fund this research? At what point will people feel like the principle is worth taking a forceful stand?

    I think, in response to Theomorph’s last post, that it is in the interest of groups supporting ESCR to lump it together with ASCR for the purpose of getting the positive association with a technology that has proven to be effective. Scientists have not proven themselves to be universally full of the milk of human kindness and bright and polished intentions. Some of the worst and most diabolical exploitations of the last century have been perpetrated at the hands of scientists. As well-read as you all are I’ll not even bother to include a short list, as numerous examples will no doubt spring to mind. Not everything is understood by examining it in a microscope.

    Posted 04 May 2005 at 2:56 am
  7. Funky Dung wrote:

    Theo, a name change might not affect you, but I’d be willing to bet it would affect lots of average Americans. At the very least, it would make the debate clearer in their eyes. Right now, it’s as though ESCR proponents having taken ASCR hostage and using it as a living shield to avoid being shot.

    Posted 03 May 2005 at 1:36 pm
  8. Funky Dung wrote:

    There’s a difference between opinions expressed as such and carefully crafted lies designed to masquerade as the truth for the purpose of deceiving and convincing people.

    Posted 03 May 2005 at 1:32 pm
  9. theomorph wrote:

    This is tricky:

    carefully crafted lies designed to masquerade as the truth for the purpose of deceiving and convincing people

    It’s one thing to be annoyed at terminological messiness (and I’m with you 100% on that one, even though I disagree with you on your material claims about embryos), but that accusation assumes both the nature (“carefully crafted”) and the purpose (“deceiving”) of the problem, both of which are difficult, if not impossible, to prove.

    I think you would be on much surer footing to simply insist that clear and specific words be used. Having seen plenty of articles about stem cell research in newspapers and magazines, I have not gotten any sense of crafted deceit, although, as with almost all science journalism, I have noticed that the authors of these articles are not good at presenting the facts transparently. Whether that stems (ha ha) from any intention to deceive, and furthermore whether that intention, if it exists, has led them to “carefully craft” their alleged deceit, is not so clear.

    Yes, everyone who speaks or writes about stem cell research (of any kind) should be straight about facts and terminology, regardless of what they’re advocating, but it’s not quite fair to accuse them of deceit. If you accuse someone of having their facts wrong, they can counter by proving that their facts are correct. But if you accuse someone of being intentionally deceitful, they have no way of proving that their intentions are not what you claim they are. I.e., your accusation is unfalsifiable, which just ain’t nice. :-)

    Also, another part of the problem is the inability of the general public to differentiate between scientific facts and the hopes, dreams, and intentions scientists derive from those facts to develop their future research. (Thank you very much, shoddy educational system that is a political and ideological battleground instead of a place to teach facts, logic, and critical thinking.) No, ESCR has not cured any diseases, but the idea that it might is clearly enough to excite plenty of scientists, who would like funding to conduct their research. Scientists get excited about vague possibilities just like anybody else, but too often their fervor is presented to the public as fact.

    Posted 03 May 2005 at 10:06 pm
  10. Jerry Nora wrote:

    Well, Theo, given that Eric thinks that ESCR is a deep corruption of science, and that is it’s his opinion on his blog, I’m not sure how that qualifies as propaganda. Maybe it’d be different if he was setting a curriculum requirement for school, but not in this domain.

    Posted 03 May 2005 at 12:28 pm

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  1. From Ales Rarus - A Rare Bird, A Strange Duck, One Funky Blog » Stem Cell Research: Myths and Realities on 14 Feb 2006 at 10:21 am

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