"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Friday, May 12, 2006

NY Times Deflects Meaning of Embryonic Stem Cell Research Fraud

Dedicated readers of this site will be well aware of the fact that adult stem cells—cells taken from people, placentas, umbilical cords, etc.—have been used in a great variety of ways to effect cures in medicine in the past couple of decades, and have proven their value. Embryonic stem cells (those taken from unborn, developing human beings that have been killed), on the other hand, while receiving the bulk of the research money, have proven useless in curing ills. Readers will also recall that the most celebrated case allegedly establishing the value of embryonic stem cells, that of South Korean scientist Hwang Woo Suk, was proven to be a fraud.

The New York Times article on the subject reported it as follows:

Reconfirming the earlier findings by Hwang's school, Seoul National University, Mr. Lee said that Hwang had never cloned embryonic stem cells from patients. Mr. Hwang's now-discredited claim had raised hopes that doctors one day would grow genetically matching tissues from embryonic stem cells to repair damaged organs or treat diseases like Alzheimer's.

Hwang was indicted for fraud and embezzlement today in Seoul, along with five of his associates.

Given that the alleged evidence behind Hwang's findings has already been proven phony in the scientific realm, it is certainly correct to describe Hwang as a scientific fraud. The appropriate, full term, then, should be something along the lines of disgraced stem cell researcher Hwang.

Better yet, for further accuracy, he should best be described as disgraced embryonic stem cell researcher Hwang.

And how did the Times story describe him?

Disgraced cloning expert.

Um, excuse me, New York Times, but his disgrace was not over cloning, even though your story inaccurately claims, in its early paragraphs, that Hwang's research was about cloning stem cells. It was not. In fact, your story admits this, a few paragraphs down the page (in case anybody should get that far):

The scandal raised doubt about the feasibility and ethics of one of science's most cutting-edge research fields: cloning human embryos and then destroying them to extract stem cells.

So he's not a disgraced cloning expert.

He's a disgraced embryonic stem cell researcher.

Let's all try to remember that, OK?


Addendum: Alex Avery of the Center for Global Food Issues informs me that Woo Suk successfully (and verifiably) cloned dogs, creating Snuppy. So cloning was in fact his only certified success—which in fact strengthens the point I was making.

9 comments:

James Elliott said...

Well, he is a cloning expert: He and his team created the first cloned dog. I can see how you'd want to point out where his disgrace stems from, but the term is accurate (if nitpicky).

Hey, I made a punny.

S. T. Karnick said...

I received a separate message about this and placed a notice of it in an addendum to the original post. It actually reinforces my point, as you'll see.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I guess "natural law" sometimes is just a vibe.

Here in California, we(?) authorized a major bond (billions) to further embryonic stem cell research, even though all other forms of non-human-life-destructive stem cell research (adult, umbilical cord) are so far much more promising, and the cannibalization of embryos has yielded zilch, or as we like to say here, nada.

Man can thumb his nose at that cosmic vibe, and we did, I think, for reasons I think more related to abortion than scientific progress.

Man plans, God laughs.

Now, I don't expect that embryonic stem cell research will prove to be fruitless, in fact the contrary: God has always let man have his way, to prove to him that his way, in defiance of natural law, is ugly.

I do not doubt that some day the rich developed world will harvest the bodies of the undeveloped world's undeveloped preborn.

We had our warning, and our divine guidance, now, when it mattered. Horrors await.

You thought global capitalism and exploitation were bad? That was just the first wave, man. Next we're going to eat somebody else's children.

Tlaloc said...

"Embryonic stem cells (those taken from unborn, developing human beings that have been killed), on the other hand, while receiving the bulk of the research money, have proven useless in curing ills."

Gosh that can't be because of they have been admantly opposed by the religious right, could it? I mean sure all the scientists agree thst ESC are far more useful than ASC but they can't use them simply because the government won't fund the research.



"He's a disgraced embryonic stem cell researcher."

Sure, but who cares? His ethical lapses are his, not the fields'.

tbmbuzz said...

Gosh that can't be because of they have been admantly opposed by the religious right, could it? I mean sure all the scientists agree thst ESC are far more useful than ASC but they can't use them simply because the government won't fund the research.

So you're saying that in today's world, science research cannot be done unless it's funded by the U.S. federal government. How absurd! (Never mind the funding for ESS research from private sources, and some states and foreign countries). In addition, you say that no results have been forthcoming from ESS research because of religious right opposition. How even more absurd!

It seems to me that both the extreme Right and extreme Left positions in this thread are absurd.

Tlaloc said...

"So you're saying that in today's world, science research cannot be done unless it's funded by the U.S. federal government. How absurd!"

Have you ever worked in a research area? Yeah major research without government support is basically non-existent. Who is it you think fronts the large amounts of money for these things otherwise?



"In addition, you say that no results have been forthcoming from ESS research because of religious right opposition. How even more absurd!"

How so? When you cut off all money to something yeah the result is that that ceases to be a useable line of research.



"(Never mind the funding for ESS research from private sources, and some states and foreign countries)."

Nice but it's not enough, not nearly enough. California has been doing some, and a number of other countries of course have their own biotechnology programs. One of the major arguments has been that the US is losing it's position precisely because our scientific priorities are being dictated by religious dogma.

So yes in lthe long run even if we continue to starve biotechnology research ESCs will come into their own. But without the US economic might it will be much slower and will of course come at our expense instead of benefit.

tbmbuzz said...

Have you ever worked in a research area? Yeah major research without government support is basically non-existent. Who is it you think fronts the large amounts of money for these things otherwise?

Yes I have, both in academics and OUTSIDE academics. Most applied science, in fact, is done in the private sector. Check out the oil industry, for instance. Most of the advances in oil industry technology worldwide for the past century have been accomplished by hard working Americans from Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana who do not work for the government or a university. Countless other examples in other industries abound. Furthermore, much academic research is also supported by the private sector.

How so? When you cut off all money to something yeah the result is that that ceases to be a useable line of research.

Except that all money has not been cut off. If the research is "useful" it will be done somewhere or other.



One of the major arguments has been that the US is losing it's position precisely because our scientific priorities are being dictated by religious dogma.

Bull. Who in the world is overtaking the U.S.? The ESS controversy, with which I happen to disagree with the religious Right, is a minor insignificant flea in the universe of science and research. If ESS advances are discovered elsewhere in the world, the U.S. will still benefit, just as all of mankind benefits from scientific discovery.

Tlaloc said...

"Yes I have, both in academics and OUTSIDE academics. Most applied science, in fact, is done in the private sector."

Of course it is but applied science is the last step in the chain. Raw research is the first step and it is the part that needs government funding because the corporations as a whole aren't interested.

Look I work in a semiconductor lab for a fortune 50 company. We spend more on research every year than our nearest competitor's entire budget. And you know who makes the fastest transistors every year? Not us. It's almost always a university lab. We actually managed to be first one year and it was a huge coup for us.

We spend over a billion dollars a year on research and design and we are behind the universities when it comes to the raw research. Of course we kick their butts in applied science because that's our whole business. But when it comes to the basic research... un-uh.



"Except that all money has not been cut off. If the research is "useful" it will be done somewhere or other."

Duh. It is being done. In South Korea. And Japan. And China. And Europe. It just won't be us who figures it out which means it won't be us who benefit.

Remember that whole technological edge? Didn't we want to maintain that whenever possible?



"Bull. Who in the world is overtaking the U.S.?"

Uh EVERYONE who is doing research on ESCs is overtaking us because we aren't doing any. Simple math equation: some>none.



" The ESS controversy, with which I happen to disagree with the religious Right, is a minor insignificant flea in the universe of science and research."

You can't say that. The way science works means that any given development can produce a slew of eventual payoffs. The techniques as well as the specific knowledge used in one field can end up making a huge impact on others.

You really think anyone had MRIs in mind when they did basic research into quantum mechanics? Of course not. The raw research proivdes a base and out of that the applied develops all kinds of actual uses.



"If ESS advances are discovered elsewhere in the world, the U.S. will still benefit, just as all of mankind benefits from scientific discovery."

Yes in a very high overview sense the US will benefit. The difference is that whoever does the research will benefit faster and more directly. There is a reason the US spends so much on R&D. It is to our great benefit to be the ones who make the discoveries first. Then we get the patents. We get first shot at the technology. We get to leap frog off the advances while others are studying what we've already done.

S. T. Karnick said...

The essential point to remember is that embryonic stem cell research has achieved exactly nothing, in the United States or elsewhere. To blame the U.S. religious right for the failures of researchers into embryonic stem cells worldwide is as sensible as blaming the religious right for the failure of alchemists to turn lead into gold. The researchers are solely responsible for the consequences of their dogged pursuit of something that doesn't work, when there is an easily available alternative that does.