October 17, 2005

Bad Ethics + Boring Science = Nature Publication

Shame on Nature for publishing two papers that do not deserve to be in such a prestigious journal. The research that was announced yesterday showing the possibility of supposedly more ethical alternatives to stem cell research is a lot less substance than hype. Neither result is really very surprising (at least in mice). The knockout mouse experiment demonstrates that a gene does pretty much what we thought it does (in mice). And the other experiment shows that cells separated at an early stage of development can do pretty much what we already knew they could do. So why is anyone paying attention to this research? It seems to get its cache not from its scientific merit, but from its political and ethical import. But the ethics behind this are actually far weaker than people realize. Thoughtful opponents of stem cell research are just as likely to oppose this research as they are to oppose somatic cell nuclear transfer. All produce embryos or embryo-like constructs that are extremely unlikely to develop even if we attempted to create a baby. However, for none is it impossible (at least for future technologies if not present ones) that a child might (however improbably) be produced. If ectogenesis became a possibility, the fact that a genetically engineered embryo does not produce placental tissue could in principle be overcome as an obstacle. We do not yet know for certain if a cell broken off from the blastocyst could sometimes become a “twin”. These are actually bad arguments and it is dangerous for science to go down this road—what is the principle? If the goal becomes pursuing science that is unopposed by a minority, then no embryonic stem cell research should be conducted. If we reject that principle (which we should) then this research really doesn’t do much for the research.
- David Magnus [Link to AP Story]

View blog reactions

| More