Blogging the biotechnology revolution

Systems Biology is changing the way biology is done. Is it a fad or is it effective? This blog tracks current happenings and helps you stay on top of the field. You can find a list of relevant papers at systems biology paper watch Have you heard a talk or read a paper in bioinformatics / systems biology you would like to tell other people about? Email: and get the word out!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

PSB 2006
Eric Meslin, "The Moral Status of U.S. Science and Science Policy: Lessons from the Stem Cell Research Wars"

The scheduling of this talk was actually quite lucky considering things going on in Korea right now over the faked papers. They are now saying that all papers concerning human stem cells by Hwang Woo-suk were faked. However, Dr. Meslin really skirted this subject besides pretty much saying that it was unethical. It would have been a lot more interesting to me if he had speculated on the effect this would have on international stem cell policy.
The talk really focused on the similarities between the stem cell policies of the Bush and Clinton administrations. Dr. Meslin was the head of the Bioethics committee appointed by Clinton, so he spoke from firsthand experience. The Clinton administration came out and said that they do not support cloning within two days of the Thompson 1998 Science paper (overview here).
The Bush administration has maintained the same position as Clinton, and that's where we have stayed. The lesson he points to from this is that stem cells are not a party issue but rather a conservative and liberal issue. And even beyond this it's almost out of the hands of the public at large. Polling suggests that 54% of people in the US support pursuing stem cell research. Why this disparity?
He points to failures in government organization. For example, the advisors for science policy are spread out over many departments (can you believe this: The defense department has the most committees concerning national scientific policy!) and this leads to leadership without responsibility. Also, he points out that policy is driven by the budget, and when budgets are done year by year there is no consistency in what is getting funded.

Interestingly, he also said that in other countries the stem cell position is fickle. In Spain all it took was a train bombing, and with the resulting regime change came a change in the national position on stem cell research.
All in all this was an interesting talk. It had nothing to do with bioinformatics, but it was interesting to hear about the possible future of stem cell research in our own country.


Anonymous Sam said...

"The Bush administration has maintained the same position as Clinton. . . The lesson he points to from this is that stem cells are not a party issue but rather a conservative and liberal issue."

Are you trying to say that Bush and Clinton are on the same side of the conservative/liberal divide? because that would be wrong. I think that the issue really is that science wants money for cloning and has sufficiently (and innacurately) marketed it to the public to sway public opinion.

9:07 AM  
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12:38 PM  

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