Today we have a special occasion: a guest post! This post is by my friend who chooses to go by Boku-Chan; she is a college senior majoring in computer science who plans to go to graduate school in Indiana next year. She’s also a chinchilla owner, magnificently angry feminist, and a generally fascinating personage. Her post today is on a subject near and dear to my heart, but one I don’t get to write about very frequently: science.
I’ve been having some private rage issues in the last two days, but it’s gotten a lot better since I’ve decided on a grad school and gotten some thesis work done and actually talked to my advisor. But today something perked up my latent rage: science.
Not rage about science, of course, as science is a wonderful thing, but someone’s misunderstanding of the purpose of scientific research. This blog, while it seems to be generally an okay feminist blog, has a post about stem-cell therapy entitled “If it’s already broke, don’t break it more”. The author’s thesis for the post is that stem cell therapy is complete bunk and people should stop trying already, it’s not working. It appears that she really only means for neurological disorders, which may not be working but certainly has potential, and in some cases appears to actually work in humans without causing cancer (2008). And that’s only neurological applications. What about muscular? What about all those other kinds of tissue? I’m only a layperson, only read the abstracts, only looked through Google Scholar, and only for a little while, though I tried to select for recent articles that have been cited many times, so maybe all of the articles I linked are dregs, but somehow I doubt it.
So, I call bullshit on that post and would appreciate it if she could do at least as much research as I did before declaring an emerging field worthless. I suspect she got her information from the news (whatever source) rather than actual scientific articles. I’m not saying that scientific articles are easy to read, or not boring to read, but if one wants to write about science with any modicum of believability or truth, one has to read the primary literature. At least the abstracts, anyway.
The main reason this causes me rage, however, is not her wrongness or her use of news media instead of primary literature. It is that she assumes that, because a field of science is not producing effective results RIGHT NOW, people should stop wasting their time (and money, though she didn’t say that). This misrepresents the purpose, goals, and process of scientific research. If all science could produce effective results RIGHT NOW, that would be great! Problems solved! Now we can live in the utopia that we’ve always wanted and dreamed of!
But it doesn’t work that way. Scientific research is all about discovering:
1) The driving forces behind observable phenomena,
2) Ways to stop bad observable phenomena from happening
3) The truth,
4)Ways to make good observable phenomena happen all the time, and
X) Anything I’ve foolishly missed here.
All of these things are worthy purposes and goals. The process is also part of it, and this is something the author of F-Words appears to misunderstand. Scientific progress does not happen all at once, as much as we would like it to, and it’s often a very long process. Stem cell research, embryonic or not, is worthy of consideration simply because it’s (legitimate) science, reasons 1 and 3, and because there are compelling reasons to believe it is capable of 2 and 4. Knowledge, except in cases involving sex and my parents, is never a bad thing. Even if stem cells do not lead to a health care revolution, having a greater understanding of the human body, and biology in general, is a great boon.
Limiting scientific pursuits for ideological reasons is stupid beyond stupid, and I am pleased that it was a big issue in the 2006 election (if in fact it was; I’m a pretty oblivious dork most of the time). A politician who understands what science is for and why it’s important is a politician I’d vote for. Politicians that want to limit science because they’re ignorant fetus fetishists (term courtesy this lovely blog) who hate people and science, I would not vote for. I, and I’m sure many others, consider science to be a very important issue. I’m extremely pleased that President Obama has reversed Bush’s idiotic ban. He gets science:
Ultimately, I cannot guarantee that we will find the treatments and cures we seek. No president can promise that.
But I can promise that we will seek them actively, responsibly, and with the urgency required to make up for lost
ground. Not just by opening up this new frontier of research today, but by supporting promising research of all
kinds, including groundbreaking work to convert ordinary human cells into ones that resemble embryonic stem cells.
As a side note, it’s a little annoying that he ends the eminently scientific decision with “God bless you, and may God bless America”, which is probably what Bush thought he was putting forth when he banned it, but I suppose it’s just habit. There’s more to say about the text of that executive order, but I don’t feel like it.
So in conclusion, No, author of F-Words, stem cell research is not worthless, and stop talking out of your ass. And, Go Team Science!