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.

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About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

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

  1. theomorph

    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.

  2. theomorph

    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.

  3. alektra

    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.

  4. theomorph

    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?

  5. sibert

    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.

  6. sibert

    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.

  7. Funky Dung

    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.

  8. Funky Dung

    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.

  9. theomorph

    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.

  10. Jerry Nora

    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.

  11. Pingback: Ales Rarus - A Rare Bird, A Strange Duck, One Funky Blog » Stem Cell Research: Myths and Realities

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