Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Rest of the Story

Or the rest of the quote.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has released the transcript of the press interviews with James Thomson and Junying Yu. A quote I've seen over and over again from the media is Thomson claiming "the political controversy set the field back about 4-5 years." This quote is on page 15 of 24 in the transcript. From the interview context and the question that was asked, it's obvious that Thomson is referring to the embryonic stem cell research field, not work on reprogramming adult cells into pluripotent stem cells as some individuals (like Jonathan Moreno and Ellen Goodman) have unfortunately attempted to claim. But what's really interesting is the rest of the quote which I haven't seen anywhere (and you'll know why when you read it). Here's the entire answer to a question about whether the U.S. policy on embryonic stem cells forces researchers out of the country:
My feeling is that the political controversy set the field back about 4 – 5 years. And if you look at funding, from 1998 – 2001, there is no federal funding for this work in the United States. So there were 3 lost years where essentially nobody could do this work. And then the stigma associated with it, I really do think young investigators avoided getting into this field, and so talent just did not join the field. So from one positive point of view from the Bush decision, federal funding was allowed for this work starting in late 2001. It still represented very bad public policy as the primary concern, it did get the ball rolling. But I do believe because of the restrictions, and I do believe because of the political controversy the field is much slower taking off than it would have been otherwise.
Question: Why do all the individuals citing this 4-5 year claim say Bush is responsible for the 4-5 years when Thomson indicates directly that a couple of those years were before Bush ever took office? Why is no one saying Bill Clinton slowed down embryonic stem cell research?

Answer:Because they're biased individuals who feel the need to stick to the Bush-is-to-blame storyline regardless of how true it is.

The New York Times also joins the blame Bush crew with this op-ed quote,
Dr. Thomson estimated that the political controversy and the President’s restrictions on federal funding have actually set the field back four to five years, mostly because the stigma discouraged scientists from working on embryonic stem cells.
Note how they fail to mention the political controversy started long before Bush became president.

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