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Friday, August 25, 2006


Stem Cell Research

Here is a good rundown of Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESCR). For those for or against, it's a good explanation of why we need it and why the President is very wrong on the issue. It's stolen from

A Wooden Anniversary for a Blockhead President

Fri Aug 25, 2006 at 03:26:56 AM PDT

Anniversaries abound, tragic, bloody commemorations are right around the corner. But today I want to talk about another anniversary, another milestone in the litany of failure and misery foisted on a trusting nation by the incompetent clowns who have turned the term conservative into a curse word. It went by with nary a media mention.

In August of 2001, a new President addressed the nation to explain, or rather to sell, his harebrained policy on Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESCR). Chris Mooney summed it up this way in The Republican War on Science:

Lacking a permanent science adviser at the time--and not bothering to consult with acting science adviser Rosina Bierbaum, a Clinton administration holdover--Bush went on national television and announced to Americans, roughly a third of whom had
tuned in to his August 9 speech, a policy based on science fiction ...

The President claimed there were over sixty existing stem cell lines and that he would allow federal funding using only those. Perhaps Bush was grossly misled, or maybe he knowingly spun the facts to reflect well on himself, or more likely, he didn't have the foggiest notion what he was talking about. Regardless, it was the first visible, major attack on science and truth for an administration that has since made attacking and corrupting science a mainstay in their political arsenal like no other White House in living memory.

The President either intentionally or accidentally confused embryonic stem cell lines with derivations. There were never sixty independent lines, there were at best a dozen or so. We know now those lines are contaminated to the point of being virtually useless. And those lines represent mostly white, affluent, Americans; material discarded from IVF clinics. They hardly reflect the genetic diversity of our nation.

Much has been written about the potential treatments that could flow from ESCR, but one possible use which receives little mention is the developmental aspect. By using ESC cultures, researchers could study genetic disease in the earliest stages and observe how those defective or unwanted genes are turned on and off leading to a specific pathology in the growing tissue. Want to understand the mechanism by which cystic fibrosis, or sickle-cell--or any thousands of genetic disorders and cancers--manifest themselves? Culture and study those stem cell lines with those genes present, and directly observe the genetic defects unfold in the blastocyst. Learn what triggers the condition; maybe learn how to stop it. Aside from the inevitable serendipitous results, theoretically, this could lead to treatments for some of those debilitating conditions. We might be able to shut down some genetic diseases in developing embryos, or learn to inhibit cancer, before they could even get started.  Isn't that worth at least looking into?

Five years ... let's put that in technological perspective: Are you reading this post on the same computer you had five years ago? Does your business use the same routers, hubs, software, and servers you used five years ago, with no upgrades or replacements? Now extend that analogy to stem cell research and you get the idea of where we could be. For half a decade, this precious research has been frozen in time, placed in suspended animation at the expense of the sick and dying, to benefit the already rich and the powerful while enabling the incompetent.

I can't get past the loss of time, the science that could have ensued, the insights into the marvelous bio-molecular devices we each carry by the trillions in our bodies crafted by four billion years of evolution. And there's something else, something that truly makes my blood boil: Five years is a reasonable estimate on the time it might have taken to go from the lab, through clinical trials, to the doctor's office, with the first, early treatments using embryonic stem cell therapy.

Since that initial August press conference in 2001, the White House and the neocon knuckle-draggers have elevated anti-science and pseudo-science to a bureaucratic art form worthy of praise from the ghosts of Stalin and Mussolini. In a manner now nauseatingly familiar to every legal scholar in America, the thin language of the Data Quality Act (DQA) was 'reinterpreted' to give Bush and Company, along with their corporate allies and conservative anti-science minions, enormous leverage over regulatory bodies like the EPA, the FDA, or the NOAA. Under their definition, the act allows any group to legally challenge any tax-supported regulatory or scientific body's deliberations, even before the results are published, at the first mention of a scientific study that a multinational corporation or consortium doesn't like. And the corporate-conservative masters can do so with so with the full legal firepower that Fortune 500 America can muster.

Moreover, in the subsequent years, the extremist wing of the GOP has stacked advisory boards with industry shills and fundamentalist conservative zealots. The entire caucus then went on and attempted to further usurp the DQA to create a fake peer review process that supersedes the legitimate scientific version and in which they, the neocons and lobbyists, get to decide what level of evidence a specific scientific finding must meet before it can even be considered a part of the policy forming process. If they like the 'science', it would sail right through the fake peer review and straight into public policy. Inconvenient truths on the other hand, could be held up indefinitely.

It's an absurd calculus employed by the President's neoright-wing followers to justify the ban on fed funding and one that's illustrative of their overall astonishing, brazen analytical dishonesty: ESCR, we're assured, is speculative, it involves destroying children; spending a few million dollars and in essence providing a 'stay of execution' by diverting a few blastocysts into research--when they're on their way to a medical incinerator--is somehow 'destroying the little tykes' for no immediate and obvious gain. Life is sacred you see. But often these same troglodytes will assure us that spending billions, dropping thousands of bombs, cutting men, women, and children in half with high powered depleted uranium rounds, and burning the living skin off of civilians with white phosphorus in Iraq is 'worth the sacrifice,' and we must 'stay the course', because of some vague, never-fully-stated, fuzzy benefit that might, some how, some way, at some unknown time, come to pass years or decades down the road.

The President's rationale in pictures: Left an Iraqi girl, one of the thousands of living human beings BushCo considers worth sacrificing for an unknown benefit, maybe, at an unknown future date, perhaps, in some unknown way. Right: A human embryonic stem cell magnified thousands of times; a life too precious to risk destroying no matter what the potential benefit. Image courtesy of Biomedical Awards Gallery 2006

And when, finally, the polling trends showed that conservatives and progressives alike had had enough with the stem cell decision, that even pro-life evangelical Christians were split over the President's opinion, the Congress and the Senate were dragged, in some cases kicking and screaming, into overriding the President's decree. Then and only then, did Bush get out his dusty pen and strike down with a single signature the will of the people in the first and only veto of his miserable tenure. So I close with the eloquent advice of Chris Mooney, whose new updated, paper-back version of The Republican War on Science I relied on heavily for this post:

[I]f we care about science and believe that it should play a crucial role in decisions about our future, we must steadfastly oppose further political gains by the modern Right. This political movement has patently demonstrated that it will not defend the integrity of science in any case in which science runs afoul of its core political constituencies. In doing so, it has ceded the right to govern a technologically advanced and sophisticated nation. Our future relies on intelligence but today's Right--failing to grasp this fact in virtually every political situation in which it really matters, and nourishing disturbing, anti-intellectual tendencies--cannot deliver us there successfully or safely. If it will not come to its senses, we must cast it aside.

8:52 AM - 0 Comments - 0 Kudos - Add Comment

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