Spinal Confusion

...an attempt to clarify confusing and innacurate information in science articles

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

William F. Buckley, Jr. Gets It Wrong

In a piece appearing on Yahoo News, William F. Buckley, Jr. aims to clear up the confusion surrounding the stem cell debate. Sadly, he failed.

Let's take a look at what he says:
In the matter of the stem cells, we are asked to focus on two completely different things. There are the so-called adult stem cells, which derive from cells that would never develop in a human being. To take such stem cells and do nuclear transfer research is OK. Nobody is arguing that what you are doing is snuffing out a human life.
So far, so good.
By contrast, embryonic stem cells harbor life unborn, so that to take these and experiment with them is seen as experimentation with human beings. The ideal is to authorize the first kind of stem cell research but to forbid the second -- or, at least, to restrain it.
Embryonic stem cells themselves do not harbor life. Rather, embryonic stem cells are components of blastocysts.

A strong argument could be (and is) made that a blastocyst is a life or harbors life, but to argue that an embryonic stem cell harbors a "life unborn" is completely false.

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At August 07, 2005 12:35 AM, Blogger jordan said...

I was really surprised when I read that gross error as well. An embryonic stem cell is truly just a cell. It is the SOURCE of the embryonic stem cell that presents the problem. IF we can't keep our terms straight and our science correct, there is no way we will be able to battle with the pro-embryonic destructive research crowd.

At August 08, 2005 12:02 PM, Anonymous Kristen said...

Love the blog Steven. Re: the first graf you've excerpted from Buckley, I'm not so sure that one's accurate either. "To take (adult) stem cells and do nuclear transfer research is OK. Nobody is arguing that what you are doing is snuffing out a human life." Nuclear transfer is cloning. Cloning could create a human life, which would be destroyed to extract stem cells... so he's OK with that?

At August 08, 2005 2:17 PM, Blogger Steven said...

Jordan, it was definitely shocking. Dobson butchered the description on Friday while defending his Nazi comments, too. I really wish anti-embryo destructive leaders would consistently use proper descriptions so we could have a serious debate on the issue.

Kristen, nuclear transfer is just a general technology where the nucleus of one cell is transplanted into an enucleated cell... not necessarily an egg. I think Buckley is saying that cloning is okay (e.g., tissue cloning, ASC cloning), but cloning to create embryos is not.

It would be good to see Buckley come out with a column explaining the difference between the two. The first sentence could be "I support cloning." That would make for some interesting news coverage.

At August 08, 2005 3:02 PM, Anonymous Kristen said...

According to every scientific definition I can find, nuclear transfer (http://www.pnas.org/misc/classics4.shtml) is synonymous with cloning... or at least the first step in the cloning process. Other types of cloning in biology, such as genetic cloning, don't involve nuclear transfer. Buckley deserves to be called on this one.

At August 08, 2005 7:00 PM, Blogger Steven said...

Um... I must admit that I am a bit stumped. I cannot (yet) find a paper to support my definition, but I feel strongly that I am correct. If I felt Buckley deserved to be called on it, I would not hesitate.

I will attempt to find a paper supporting my definition by the end of the week.


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