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August 04, 2005


btw, the 'influence on stem cell position' data suggests that when you have personal experience with the issue, you tend to support the research. 16% of supporters do so from personal experience, whereas only 9% of opponents do so from personal experience. Since supporters outnumber opponents, the math favors experience as a factor in stem cell research support.

That's not a winnable issue for the stem cell oppponents. You can't demonize personal experience the way you can the media, or even those pointy headed intellectuals (like Frist).

I suspect it's not so much that evangelicals know who Christopher Reeves is (they do, but that's not personal). I suspect you'd find that a demographically significant subset of fundies have family members whose lives have been devastated by a disease that stem cells may be able to relieve. Even just the numbers for diabetes and Parkinsons in this country get you to a significant chunk of the population, right?

Ha! We cross-posted the same point, I think. The numbers of people who love someone who could be helped by stem cells is large and growing.

great minds and all that... ;-0

I wonder if the public opinion will move any since Frist supports the legislation now, or if he's such a nonentity they won't care. I also wonder if Nancy Reagan has been a big factor.

Nancy Reagan has been huge. She's legitimized the issue for the moderate repubs who support the research. You can't attack an icon.

Frist;s support is more short-term gain; without his support, Bush wouldn't be in the veto spotlight. Nothing like clarifying for Americans that he doesn't agree with your values.

Glad to see movement in what is for me positive direction in people's views on this.

I can perfectly well understand how religious faith or education could bring someone to oppose stem-cell research. I don't agree with those who have arrived at such a conclusion, but it's no stretch to comprehend how they did so. Just as it's no stretch to understand how personal experience with a spouse or sibling or patient could lead one to want to testify before Congress in favor of such research.

But I was rather astonished by this: ...whereas only 9% of opponents do so from personal experience.

I have tried and tried to imagine what that could mean. Some of that 9% "know" or have an embryo or several in some freezer somewhere? Some of that 9% know someone who has Parkinson's or Alzheimer's or a spinal cord injury but don't want them potentially helped by stem-cell research? Some of that 9% have lived in an alternate nightmare dimension where totalitarians have used stem cells to create clone armies?

Can somebody help me with this? What personal experience could lead one to think that embryonic stem-cell research should be prohibited?

Maybe it means they've had fertility issues and had to decide what to do with unwanted embroyos? Maybe it means they know someone who adopted one, or saw it on '700 Club'?

Hard to figure. It's an intriguing question. I'm going to write to Pew and ask them.

Good news in the numbers, but when I try to read this I can't help but feel dismay in my heart. While today they're trending in our favor, the inescapable bottom line is that public opinion polls should not be directing science. That is an awful path to go down, and it will kill our progress in science if we continue on it.

Obviously, as long as most science in the country is paid for by government funds, politics and science will remain entangled. The best we can do is to build a strong wall between politicans and the lab bench.

The NIH has been that wall; it would be good to see it stand up and intervene on these topics. In its failure, the National Academy has had to fill the vacuum - but it is not a funding agency, so while it has enormous credibility and intellectual authority we also need leadership from NIH.

I'm aware of the desire of government to oversee the ethical conduct of scientists, and the broad distrust of scientists' ability to look down the road a few decades and envision the moral implications of their work, with nuclear weapons often cited as an example. Of course, nuclear weaponry was about the most closely government-supervised and government-led project in history -- if anything, it is an example of how awful it is to put politics in charge of science.

One question to ask in this area would be, do you think academic scientists working behind a wall shielding them from government interference would have invented the nuclear bomb on their own? To the contrary, I think scientists are already the best-qualified to assess the implications of their own work -- and if you doubt it, you should train us to do it better; don't have some armchair bioethicist (and religio-political puppet) who doesn't know one end of a pipetman from the other tell us what to work on.

And don't Pew-survey it to us either.

[side note - DemFromCT, tried sending you email at dKos-listed address re: this morning's flu segment on cspan. does that email work?]

I had the same reaction as Meteor Blades, wondering what was covered under the rubric of "personal experience" on both sides. Obviously knowing someone with a disease that could potentially be helped. In vitro fertilization is the other obvious thing. I read recently about what couples who have IVF do with the leftover eggs. Many think they want to donate them to other couples, but then never do. I guess these are the "snowflake" babies. Most just leave them in a freezer, as if paralyzed about what to do. Occasionally there is litigation when the couple breaks up. But would this cover so many of the sample?

Maybe some people are including experience with abortion, such as regrets about having done so, or something like that, or working with anti-abortion groups or some other experience that convinces them that life begins at conception and is sacred. In other words, it is not necessarily experience with stem cells or disease or embryos per se.

You can't keep politics out of science completely. Funding issues guarantee that.

As to NIH, I agree. The politicization of that and CDC may kill us all.

The other big, topical contradiction in the religion/culture of life debate is torture. Hard to square with considering every life sacred, let alone a belief in loving thy neighbor as thyself and turning the other cheek. See here.

I know this is not original or really timely any longer (perhaps), but having called it 'embryonic stem cell research' is such a head-start for the fundies. I'm glad it's tending to be shorted these days to just 'stem cells' (as DemfromCT has done), but the 'embryonic' never goes completely away (newscasters routinely still use it). People more/less know what an 'embryo' is; not so a 'blastocyst'. Obviously, for the 'life beings at conception' crowd, the distinction doesn't matter, but they aren't persuadable anyway.

jonnybutter: I see your point, but embryonic stem cells are what they're called. It is galling to have to obscure the science to suit public opinion, like the famous story of trying to legislate pi to equal 3.2.

On the other hand, years ago some astute marketer changed the name of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to get rid of that pesky "nuclear." NMR and MRI are the same thing, but NMR has come to be the preferred term for molecular work & MRI the preferred term for biomedical work. And I can't say anyone has really suffered.

Shortening it to just "stem cell research" is problematic because it confounds embryonic stem cells, which are controversial, and adult stem cells, which are not, at the benefit of one and detriment of the other. And general confusion.

There are lots of words that start with the letter E, and use of any of them would be as clear as embryonic (and in scientific jargon they're always referred to just as ES cells anyway). "Early stem cells," "emergent stem cells" (too loaded?), "egopotent stem cells," (just kidding) whatever, would work fine.

DemFromCT, ideally I would imagine setting up NIH something like social security (however that works) -- with its funding and rules left as insulated from the political world as possible. Obviously soc. sec. is anything but removed from politics; but at least so far the meddlers have mostly failed. And it creates a sense in the public mind, especially as years go by, that it is wisely separated from gov't and should not be the subject of public opinion polls or legislation. (I'd also like to see it made a federal crime to purposely censor or distort the findings of publicly-funded government research.)

random side note: I woke up this morning, strangely, thinking about stem cells. I had one of those flashes of insight that seem insightful only when you're half-asleep: we could bring everyone over to our side if we just sell stem cell research as being authorized in the Bible -- after all, Eve was grown from the (by definition) stem cells of Adam's rib, right?

emptypockets - you mean like IRS is supposed to be. And as far as stem cells, they are what they are. That's what folks call it, that's what they be. You can't legislate calling it the NY Zoologic Society. It's the Bronx Zoo, regardless.

Folks trying to split stem cells into this one and that one, pre-2001 and post-2001, come off as all the more pompous and ridiculous. I fully understand the distinctions, but this time, they've got the wrong frame and we've got the right one. KISS.

I sometimes wish we could spin the terminology, too.
"Culture of Life" should be "Culture of Emasculation", and "Pro-Abortion" should be "Culture of Personal Choice".
The "life" people aren't so much pro-life as they are anti-choice -- they are emasculating people because they don't want people to make their own decisions on issues like abortion, euthenasia, stem cells, etc. -(and yes, I picked the word 'emasculate' on purpose because there is no word that would scare the male leaders of the 'life' group more than this one.)
In a Culture of Personal Choice, anyone who disagrees with stem cell research is perfectly free to not accept a cure for their disease if the cure was developed through stem cell research, just as anyone who disagrees with abortion is perfectly free not to have one. They just don't get to make other people's choices for them.

The other big, topical contradiction in the religion/culture of life debate is torture.

Not just torture, though you're right about it. It's also the death penalty. Conservative repubs hate abortion and love the death penalty.

Folks trying to split stem cells into this one and that one, pre-2001 and post-2001, come off as all the more pompous and ridiculous.

This reads as a response to embryonic vs. adult stem cells, but I don't think that's what you meant. The 2001 distinction is of course Bush's and it is a political not a scientific distinction; the same way one Antarctic ice cube belongs to Argentina and the one next to it doesn't. The embryonic-adult distinction as I know you know is a real (read: scientific) difference.

There's a temptation to be sloppy with this because the rising waters are on our side of the levy (um, or their side of the levy. Is rising water good or bad?)

But sloppiness on this one is a squandered opportunity -- if we have public opinion on our side this time, the better to run with it. It will be harder to make the same runs next time when we're going uphill.

Unfortunately I have no idea what to do with any of my thoughts on the topic other than post them on some blog, which gets to the heart of the problem... I guess I could, what, write to my senator or something?

Folks trying to split stem cells into this one and that one, pre-2001 and post-2001, come off as all the more pompous and ridiculous.

This reads as a response to embryonic vs. adult stem cells, but I don't think that's what you meant.

Actually it could mean that, though I well understand the difference. Half the country isn't paying attention at all to stem cell discussions. That half woudn't know the distinction between being for stem cells, stem cell research, government-funded stem cell research, government-funded stem cell research involving pre-2001 cell lines, etc.

I'm for stem cell research and Bush is against it. Details available on request.

(sigh)... I think I've just dragged us into the practical politics/self-indulgent politics divide again. Just because half the population can't tell human feces from peanut butter, we ought to feed them shit sandwiches? If it gets us the votes, and we have faith our way is the right way, I guess that's poltiics for you... It still leaves a (excuse me for this one) bad taste in my mouth.

on this one, they ain't never gonna understand it like you do... ;-)

I wasn't suggesting calling it 'Blastocyst Stem Cell Research', but zombies in the news media do need to be trained to call it just 'stem cell research'. Calling it 'Embryonic' is kind of like calling the Estate Tax the 'Death Tax' - political spin. Calling a blastocyst an 'early embryo' is almost like calling a clump of grass in a cow's stomach an 'early glass of milk' - or, by rhetorical extention, calling contraceptives 'chemical abortion', etc. An embryo is an embryo and a blastocyst is a blastocyst.

a clump of grass in a cow's stomach an 'early glass of milk'

very good.

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