“This is why you fail.”

OK, so I’ve been back for a week and really busy. I mean REALLY busy, hammering away at some big assignments and trying to get caught up and forget that just 8 days ago, I was here:

Calgon, take me away...

I really don’t have time to blog, but then I stumbled on something of dazzling stupidity – a singularity of offensive pseudo-scientific blather on CNN.com, and I just have to stop what I’m doing. I almost don’t want to link to it, but it’s by Matt Bowman, an attorney with the evangelical legal organization Alliance Defense Fund (co-launched by the estimable Dr. James Dobson!), and co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the ongoing debacle regarding Dickey-Wicker prohibition of embryonic stem cell research, entitled: “Embryonic stem cells: Outmoded science”

Well, say! Surely we can look forward to some top-notch scientific analysis with a not-at-all hyperbolic (or ludicrous) title like that! But please, Mr. Bowman – proceed.

As you install your $79 Blu-ray player, what if Uncle Sam was paying millions to develop Betamax videotapes? This kind of government waste is what embryonic stem cell researchers are demanding even when science itself, according to scientists such as former NIH Director Bernadine Healy, has made embryonic stem cell research obsolete.

Wow, that’s a pretty quick funeral for a field that’s only about 10 years old. But I guess we should thank Bowman for saving us the trouble of pouring so much money into the Betamax of cell biology. Although Healy is also noted for her role as Poster Child for Mainstream Respectability among the anti-vaccine crowd, and may therefore not be an ideal representative of champions of the scientific method. But these are mere quibbles! Tell us, just what makes these cells such a waste of time?

Adult stem cells have grown new corneas and tracheas, restoring sight and speech. Adult stem cells placed into children have repaired damage from fatal genetic skin diseases… Meanwhile, embryonic stem cell researchers have produced no treatments at all. Their own technology dates back to the Stone Age in today’s pace of science, whereas this year’s prestigious Balzan Prize for biology recently went to iPSC pioneer Shinya Yamanaka.

OK – we’ve got a lot going on here, so let’s just go slow. First of all, I think it’s safe to say that virtually nobody in stem cell research would want to pull the plug on adult stem cell work in favor of ESC-only research; to suggest that this is seriously an either/or argument is a truly lame straw-man.

Second, yes, ESCs have given us no cures yet – most likely because the field is brand spanking new. Oh, and by the way, maybe the fact that researchers have been laboring under ridiculous and Byzantine legal restrictions and often forced to make use of sub-standard cell lines in order to receive federal funding may have slowed the gears of progress somewhat? Want to talk Stone Age science? Let’s talk about the politicians who kept it there.

Third of all – ESC research is not just about pumping people full of cells for transplant purposes. It’s about understanding the process of human development. It’s about finding new ways to test drug candidates, recapitulate the function of complex organs and understand biological processes in an experimental setting. It’s about all sorts of things that are much harder to do with adult stem cells, which have already been at least partially committed to a developmental course – and many scientifically interesting tissues and cell types can’t be derived from known adult stem cells.

And finally, yes, iPSCs rock. I sure love ’em. But they rock BECAUSE THEY’RE SIMILAR TO ESCS. You can’t have it both ways – by your argument, if ESCs are useless compared to adult stem cells, then so are iPSCs. iPSCs are primarily valuable to the extent that they can replicate at least a portion of the awesomeness that is potentially achievable with ESCs. And by the way, it’s still very much an open question whether they are sufficiently identical to be safe or useful as surrogates; to be sure of that, we need to keep doing comparative studies with – yep, you guessed it – ESCs.

For some, “virtually identical” is just not enough.

Damn straight, sparky – “almost” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and not in cell therapy. And let’s leave that analysis to the scientists rather than the lawyers, shall we?

Sweet jeebus, I really wish they would just be honest and play the religion card straight out. This whole ‘friend to science’ act is really appalling, especially when it’s so poorly executed and ill-informed.

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