It was easier to appreciate from this side of the Iron Curtain, but the Communists had some pretty amusing habits. One of them was lying. Josef Stalin, for example, was famous for having people erased from photographs.
The musings about Stalin's erasures of history occurred to me while I was skimming the EurekaAlert website
. EurekaAlert is the news aggregator for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). It's basically a clickable list of news releases from academic, government, and private scientific laboratories around the world. It's amazing what you can find there on any given day. For example, Penn engineers
have developed a polymer from sunflower seeds that may turn out to be useful as a highly specific drug delivery system. Cool, eh?
But it's also amazing what you don't
Do you remember the HUGE controversy over embryonic stem cells? It was all over the evening news and plastered across every newspaper in America. MIchael J Fox was pleading on television for a cure for Parkinson's disease. And even poor old Christopher Reeve was trotted out (no pun intended) to claim that George Boosh and the Republicans were blocking his chance to walk again
If you had the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) involved and everybody working together, I am positive in 10 years I'd be on my feet ... I would not be sitting here in a wheelchair," Reeve said.
In short, WE MUST HAVE THE MONEY RIGHT NOW!!!! CAN'T YOU SEE CRIPPLED PEOPLE ARE SUFFERING?
Because, if you recall, it was never about "legalizing" stem cell research. Oh, I know that's what they said. But the research was going on all around the world at the time. In fact, at the very moment Christopher Reeve was pleading for deliverance, "pioneering stem cell scientist" Hwang Woo-suk was busy fabricating his data
in a Korean embryonic stem cell laboratory. No, the entire controversy was about legalizing the release of billions of dollars in Federal funding
Now let me ask you a question: when was the last time you read a breathless article about the promise of embryonic stem cells? It's probably been a while, hasn't it? And that's all the more odd, given (1) that embryonic stem cell research has been perfectly legal in most of the world for decades, (2) US federal dollars began to flow into embryonic stem cell research the very moment President Beaux Zeaux, our "science" President, was inaugurated, and (3) breakthroughs were supposedly "right around the corner".
Don't you think we would have heard something by now? The least we could expect after all this spending was that somebody would have been raised from the dead or something. Right?
But the important question for today is not whether a lack of news means that the embryonic stem cell research people have been abducted en masse
by aliens and the government doesn't want us to know. No, the important question for today is whether the words "embryonic stem cell" have even entered your consciousness since the election. Because those words were all the rage. The list of diseases slated to succumb to the magic of embryonic stem cells was impressive: Parkinson's, cancer, heart disease, spinal cord injuries, blindness, and diabetes are but a partial list. Funding had the "fierce urgency of now
". People were dying. Stem cell research was on everyone's lips.
So it's interesting that we have heard nothing about breakthroughs, but it's even more interesting that the whole burning issue has simply dropped into a memory hole.
I understand how that can happen to young people. They don't know anything. But there are a lot of us around who've been through this before. Remember interferon
? The "silver bullet" for cancer and viral diseases? No? Don't remember interferon on the cover of Time
? Down the memory hole. That whole brouhaha was about funding, too. And after all the hype, interferon turned out to be just another useful adjunct to existing therapies.
Remember monoclonal antibodies? "[Monoclonal antibodies were] hailed
as the prototypical magic bullet..." But, sadly,
Despite their enormous potential as therapeutic agents, monoclonal antibodies of nonhuman origin have performed poorly in clinical trials as a result of immunogenicity, poor pharmacokinetic properties, and inefficiency in recruiting effector functions.
They were flogging monoclonal antibodies to gin up funding for recombinant DNA research.
The hype and hullabaloo about embryonic stem cells, interferon, and monoclonal antibodies was at its zenith during the Administrations of two Presidents, Reagan and G.W. Bush. Neither President Reagan nor Bush was inclined to dump taxpayers' money down a dry, and possibly dangerous, hole. And, frankly, there was no need. Does anyone in their right mind really think that the tier one scientific staffs of the giant pharma companies would pass up an opportunity to develop a "silver bullet"? Such a compound or biologic would put the word "blockbuster" to shame. It would be a "supernova".
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="168"]
teratoma with teeth[/caption]
But I said dangerous. Both Presidents had convened impressive and philosophically diverse boards of bioethicists to ponder the wisdom of human genetic manipulation. Here's what they said in the refereed journal Nature,
for Pete's sake:
The ability of embryonic stem cells to form noncancerous tumours called teratomas is one of their defining traits. It is also a frightening one...
Teratoma. Look that up. I don't remember hearing about teratomas on MSNBC. But the Left is weird, isn't it? They will swoon upon the fainting sofa at the very mention of eating beef fed with genetically engineered corn, but apparently have no problem with puttering about in the human gene pool.
I think most people feel a bit uncomfortable with the notion of mucking around in human DNA, using fetal tissue for medical purposes, and human cloning. We've had a bit of experience with medical research that went badly off the rails when Dr Mengele was running the lab at Auschwitz. He wasn't a one-off, you know. So it's easy to see how genetic technologies could turn out to be unspeakably evil. These things need to be pondered deeply.
But when billions of taxpayer dollars are at stake, the politicians get involved. And some of them are notorious liars. Just this morning, I read a quote from a black professor of English literature, Gerald Early, that "It really doesn't matter if [Barack Obama] made up stuff" in the tissue of lies (Dreams From My Father)
that was marketed as an "autobiography", because they're "his lies". Well, Sir, it may be true that they are "his lies" but they are not just
"his lies", anymore than John Kerry's autobiographical lies were just "his lies", or James Frey's autobiographical lies were just "his lies". The only difference among those three was that James Frey
, bestselling author, was publicly humiliated on Oprah Winfrey's show, abandoned by his agent, and dropped by his publisher. Because when Mr Frey published "his lies" in the public square, "his lies" became our lies. And Frey richly deserved the calumny he received.
The reason you haven't thought about embryonic stem cells in a long time is because the whole controversy was a ginned-up lie. The "imminent breakthroughs" storyline was a lie, the "silver bullet" storyline was a lie, and the politicians were lying about the lack of funding.
And now that the maw of the political press has been fed with your money...
Well, we can just forget about the whole thing. And we do. The shade of Josef Stalin must be green with envy.