Are Republicans Against Stem Cell Research?
    By Hank Campbell | July 6th 2011 10:28 AM | 18 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    A Democratic president banned the use of federal money for human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research, a Republican president restricted federal hESC funding to existing lines and a Democratic president continues to limit federal money for hESC research.   Who is regarded as anti-science on this issue? Republicans.

    I know, I know, Democrats are anti-science on plenty of other things - animal research, agriculture, vaccines and a whole list of others - but this is just about hESC research and there it is clearly just a Republican issue.   The mainstream media and science bloggers say so.   

    Yet, it's not as clear cut as they want you to believe.  Instead, Republicans may have been victims of a smear campaign rather than being called out for objective science fact.    I did a survey of 67,692 news releases about studies over the last 4 years and found 178 releases on adult stem cell research while embryonic stem cells were the subject of 460 releases - 2.6 times as many releases about hESCs as there were adult stem cells.

    Yet the titles tell a different story.  Only 20 percent of titles mentioned when the stem cells were adult - adult being a cell that can aid in repair of the tissue it came from (brain,heart, etc.) whereas embryonic stem cells are still being researched but can differentiate into potentially any kind of cell - despite the fact that adult stem cells have been researched and improving lives for over 50 years.   No Republican campaign platform has objected to bone marrow transplants, after all, but if Republicans were anti-science or anti-stem-cells, they certainly would have.  In contrast to adult stem cell studies, a majority of titles about hESC potential mentioned it specifically.  Intentionally or not, adult stem cell research was being lumped in with hESC research, making it seem like hESC research was already helping to cure people despite the restriction.

    And then there is that word 'restriction'.   You don't see it much in regards to former President Bush, instead you see the word 'ban', which is a subtle way of making Republicans seem anti-science.  A Google search for 'Republicans stem cell research ban' has 2.5 million hits while a search replacing 'ban' with 'restriction' only has 983,000 hits. How do the media and science bloggers get an obvious fact, a restriction on one avenue of funding versus an outright federal ban, so wrong?   And why don't they hold both sides more accountable?

    Today, 50 percent of Americans approve the use of therapeutic cloning - nuclear transfer of a patient's own genes - though the Obama administration bans (not simply limits) it, yet how many in science academia call President Obama anti-science?     

     The public sees through the partisan spin.    A 2007 USA Today/Gallup Poll showed that 60 percent of Americans were in favor of easing restrictions and a recent analysis in Nature Biotechnology called "U.S. attitudes toward human embryonic stem cell research" shows those numbers are growing higher among both Republicans and Democrats, yet Republicans still lag.   Republicans who disagree have no objections about serious issues, like heart attacks and cancer, but don't think federal research money should be spent on cosmetic applied science like face lifts, hardly the same as being anti-science.    Republicans don't think much of shrimp on treadmills either but only 15 percent of Americans object to stem cell research overall.  That's darn good.

    Conflating adult stem cell research with human embryonic stem cell research has simply added to the public confusion about what stem cell research is and the benefits it has now and will have in the future.   Instead of this spin doctoring making more people endorse hESCs it has caused fewer to accept all stem cell research; 20 years ago there were virtually no objections to stem cell research.  

    If researchers want to remain trusted guides for the public on complex science issues that will need a thoughtful science policy, scientists in academia need to make sure they are not 'framing' issues the way politicians do and to hold Democrats accountable for anti-science positions the same way they do Republicans.


    I don't see .... when Obama banned stem cells? In 2009 he did the opposite.

    No, he didn't.   Like Guantanamo Bay, he instead issued a placebo to voters - new guidelines replacing the old guidelines stating that researchers could use hESCs derived from embryos created for in vitro fertilization for reproductive purposes and no longer needed which, regardless, was in violation of the law Clinton signed and was initially stopped in court - as Obama knew it would be.   It was still a 'ban' if Bush issued a 'ban', though if you voted for one and not the other you are simply inclined to read it more favorably and call it a 'guideline' or a maybe a 'restriction'.   'Ban' is limited to Bush, though he had guidelines and restrictions, which is an unfortunate aspect of scientists letting their political actions taint their objectivity.   
    There is a very big difference between a "ban" and a "restriction" in my dictionary. A"ban" is a total denial. A "restriction" allows the activity but places limits on it.

    An assertion that these are equivalent to each other seems foolish at best and disingenuous at worst.

    Obama is a conservative. If you stop listening to the pretty speeches (and the shrieking heads of the Fox News propaganda organ) and look at his actions, he's functionally been a Republican almost 100% right down the line. He's upheld and even expanded most of Bush's core policies.

    The whole idea of some sort of left wing media conspiracy is a total sham. The media are owned by giant multinational corporations which are favored by Republican policies just like any other corporation. The key to right wing demagoguery for the last 20 years, at least, has been to shift the Overton window further to the right by calling anything left of the extreme right "leftist", to the point where a corporatist shill like Obama gets called a "socialist" (as if!) Nowadays anything that fails to actively kowtow to the right is accused of "liberal bias". There is no mainstream liberal movement in this country today, and there's certainly not anyone pulling some sort of strings to make Republicans look bad in America today except for the Republicans.

    President Obama in early March gave his EO opening up the NIH to ALL forms of hESC stem cell lines. At that press conference the President asked for law makers to bring him a bill to sign. The Democrates wasted a Super Majority and NEVER gave him a bill to sign. Now almost 3 yrs later we are looking to Degette to finally get a bill to a vote.
    Investors have footed the bill and are solely responsible for the ONLY two FDA trials on humans using hESC.

    I disagree with just about everything in this article.

    I would argue that scientists have to be far more aggressive advocates for their research, whether it is on stem cells or anything else.

    As a stem cell scientist myself, I see no problem with scientists, when acting as advocates, framing issues the way politicians do. If we do not communicate in a manner that ordinary Americans can understand and that does not resonate with politicians, then our agenda will lose out.

    I also do not buy the argument that Democrats are anywhere remotely "anti-science" or "anti-stem cells", the way that Republicans (as a group) are.

    For example Republicans wanted to gut the NIH budget for 2011 and put that in their actual budget, while Democrats including Obama fought that. Of course there are important, individual exceptions (e.g. Republican U.S. Rep Dent), but as a rule, Democrats are far more pro-science and pro-stem cells.

    As others have pointed out, you are also flat out wrong that Obama banned federal funding of ES cell research. As someone who has worked on hESC for years, I know directly that Obama did nothing of the sort.


    The creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes is banned under Obama's executive order the same as it was for Bush - I've read the executive order and posted a snippet above but I assume most scientists have not, and simply take it on faith it must be unrestricted because it is a Democrat.   I get that your heart is in this and, as I noted, the majority of the public agrees with funding this science (as do I) but it is unfair to gloss over a Democrat doing something and vilify a Republican for doing it and it takes scientists out of the policy discourse if they are simply policy shills.   

    Obama, in 2008, also had the anti-science position that vaccines may cause autism and put a guy on his transition team who thinks girls can't do math - but I heard very little about that because most scientists are Democrats so they don't want to see him as being in any way as anti-science as Bush (who, by the way, doubled NIH funding, after it dropped 5% during the Clinton years).
    I absolutely agree with you, Hank, that regardless of whether a leader is a Democrat or Republican, if they take actions that are anti-science, then we should call them out on it.

    I just happen to believe there is a clear pattern of Republicans taking anti-stem cell and perhaps even more generally anti-science actions far more often than Democrats. But I try to call it like I see it no matter who the politician is. For example, I was critical of Obama on my blog for not publicly supporting ES cell research last year when the court case went against federal funding of such research.


    I think we have more in common than it might seem at first blush.   I support this research, as does the bulk of the public, but the perception is that only Republicans are against it - which is not the case.  It may be that other anti-science actions of Republicans taint perception (global warming, etc.) but anti-science Democrats (anti-research,-GMO,-vaccine) get washed over because scientists have to vote for someone.   

    Obviously you have never read me before so this is a microcosm but my general stance has been that scientists should not be in the bag for Democrats - and that is what it is when militant bloggers flip out about Republicans and ignore Democrats (you are a refreshing change of pace there) when it comes to anti-science stances - scientists can become a powerful voting bloc by selling their votes as dearly as other special interests do.   If Republicans see that any position they take makes no difference in votes among scientists, whereas Democrats see the same, it leaves Democrats free to embrace anti-science positions that cater to part of the base they want to attract where Republicans will not try at all.  
    Gerhard Adam
    As a stem cell scientist myself, I see no problem with scientists, when acting as advocates, framing issues the way politicians do. If we do not communicate in a manner that ordinary Americans can understand and that does not resonate with politicians, then our agenda will lose out.
    While I believe I understand the intent of your statement, I am also disappointed in it.  Such a position places scientists in the untenable position of having to move with popular opinion.  The only result of this will be that scientists will be equated with their political agendas, and science will simply lose out.  It will no longer be based on ideas, or merit, but on whichever political agenda gets marketed in the best way.

    If you truly believe in that sentiment, then don't be shocked if one day, they offer degrees in "creation science" because that happens to be a winning political agenda.  It's a sorry state of affairs and your position simply plays into an increasingly skeptical public mind.  You've basically admitted that you aren't to be trusted.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I do not advocate that scientists move with popular opinion. Quite the opposite--I think scientists need to be advocates for their own opinions and for science more generally, and whether anyone likes it or not, this means communicating with politicians in a way that they can understand. It also means being willing to take the risk of publicly stating opinions, which many scientists avoid.
    If scientists do not fight for science and speak out, then science loses out and America loses because the opponents of science have shown they are quite willing to fight against science and bend the facts, something I am not willing to do.

    Gerhard Adam
    I understand, especially within the context of ensuring that the science is fairly represented and that it is understood.  However, you framed your comments within the context of political agendas and that simply isn't acceptable. 

    You know as well as I, that popularizing science is an important aspect of public understanding, and yet this is also an area that can be readily abused by those that strive for marketing or sensationalism.  Science has suffered significant hits on its credibility precisely because scientists have tried to engage in public debate, rather than doing the science.  I'm not suggesting that scientists shouldn't advocate their disciplines and ensure that accurate information is being conveyed, but when you enter the political arena, you are making a Faustian bargain that science cannot win.

    For better or worse, science is perceived as being one of the last areas of "objectivity" within our society.  When that is lost, then science is lost.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Count the votes on the stem cell research enhancement act (both versions), and you will find Republicans ten to one opposed it.

    In the 2009 renewal, Democrats had a bulletproof majority and a Democratic president and the best they intended to do was a tepid easing of restrictions - so the change was going to pass without any interest from Republicans.

    Conversely, how many votes would Republicans have gotten from scientists for supporting any changes?   None, scientists vote Democrat even if the positions are anti-science, which goes to my point.   Scientists are in the bag for Democrats even if Democrats are anti-science and Republicans are pro-science.   That means the interests of science will never be properly competed for by politicians.   There is 20% of the middle that politicians compete for - like campaigning in California, campaigning for academia is a perfunctory gesture and nothing seriously done by either party because it is known in advance, regardless of platform, where the votes will come down.
    Obama and his democrats are devote Christians, so what do we expect? Of course they are anti-science.

    If you want future directed, secular, peaceful leadership that supports Science, Hu Jintao is the first scientist politician who made science the leading ideology via the Scientific Development Concept toward a harmonious society. Hu established "Follow Science, discard Ignorance!" as the third of his Eight Honors and Disgraces.

    If you ever asked yourself why China is about to steamroll the US into the religious mud of anti-scientific ignorance, bulk incarceration of innocents, and mutual race hating that it is in, science is the answer, like it always is.
    Gerhard Adam
    Americans still largely subscribe to the idea of Manifest Destiny and many are absolutely committed to "proving" that the U.S. is founded on Christian principles rather than maintaining any illusion of freedom.

    Americans love the idea of freedom, but hate freedom itself, since the latter requires actually having to put up with people that you disagree with.  As a result, we see all manner of legislative madness for no purpose other than to deprive one group or another of the "rights" we profess to believe in.   At the same time, most of the citizens in the U.S. still have this parochial view that other nations consist of oppressed people and tyrants. 

    Unfortunately much of the U.S. attitude stems from symptoms similar to those that inherit wealth.  Much of the greatness wasn't earned, but was simply available due to an abundance of untapped resources and an unbridled ability to grow.   As a result, this nation never actually had to learn how to manage itself, being able to exploit its own internal resources with impunity.

    Now that it is becoming clear that such abundance of resources no longer exists, and the reality that our political/economic system has essentially destroyed any internal industry that once existed, it's becoming problematic to consider how this society is going to sustain itself in the future.  While our politicians are trying to shout each other down about solutions, and our economists are scratching their heads, it should be clear that the problems are directly related to the simple fact that we produce nothing any more.  The U.S. is living in an economic fantasy where they think that they can simply make money by playing money games with it.  While that may work for a few people, in the end, the rest of the world is simply sitting back and hoping that when it implodes it doesn't take them down with it.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I wish I had the command of the English language you do - I should tap you for proof reading some of my drafts I try to publish - how much would that cost me?
    "it's becoming problematic to consider how this society is going to sustain itself in the future"
    As it was always good at racism and imperialism and the number of its wars is increasing (open ones and hidden throwing oil into the flames of all kinds of conflicts and wars on terror and Drugs etc), this question is what concerns. Tyrants are very bad losers; they never leave the scene quietly. It is sad, really sad to say this, but although I despise military and anything to do with it, one cannot seriously demand that the PRC reduces its military spending while US battle ships patrol the China coast like it is their own. One Bush/Palin/Bachman or whatever nut-job comes next, and it might give a big bang, "for freedom" of course.
    Gerhard Adam
    I wish I had the command of the English language you do - I should tap you for proof reading some of my drafts I try to publish - how much would that cost me?
    Well, I appreciate the compliment.  If you're serious about proof-reading, I'd be happy to do it, if I can help in any way.  Although, in truth, you do pretty well for yourself in most of the things I've read.

    I do wish there were a way for me to gain some of that intellect you possess :) ...
    Mundus vult decipi