Saturday, May 05, 2007

When Scientists Bully Anti-ESCR/Cloning Scientists

I have mentioned before that scientists with heterodox views in the areas of cloning/ESCR (as well as in other contentious areas beyond the subjects dealt with here at SHS) are bullied, attacked, ridiculed, threatened with loss of job, or if tenured, forced to teach "punishment" classes, and otherwise have their professional trajectories interfered with when they become viewed as, shall we say, heretics or apostates.

A small example of this phenomenon was recently on display, courtesy of the professional science journal Nature Neuroscience. A friend of mine, Dr. Maureen Condic, associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine, wrote a column for First Things in which she criticized scientists for hyping the curative potential of embryonic stem cell research. It is a long article, which you can read for yourselves at the link above, but here is a good summarizing paragraph of Condic's perspective:

The hubris of scientists in the field of embryonic stem cell research who confidently asserted "Give us a few years of unrestricted funding and we will solve these serious scientific problems and deliver miraculous stem cell cures" was evident in 2002, and it is even more evident today. For the past five years, researchers have had completely unrestricted funding to conduct research on animal embryonic stem cells, and yet the serious scientific problems remain. They have had every conceivable tool of modern molecular research available to them for use in animal models, and yet the serious scientific problems remain. Millions of dollars have been consumed, and hundreds of scientific papers published, and yet the problems still remain. The promised miraculous cures have not materialized even for mice, much less for men.
This bit of accurate ego puncturing was too much for Nature Neuroscience, which editorialized against Condic (and the White House) in the April 2007 edition. While admitting that, as Condic reported, "there are formidable hurdles to overcome before HEScs might serve therapeutic purposes," the editorial argued that "these hurdles are no reason to abandon stem cell research for stem cell therapies."

The editorial's conclusion was fair enough, although I didn't read Condic as urging that ESCR be abandoned. But the personal attacks against Condic of "trying to spin science...for an anti-science purpose," and strongly implying a religious motive--merely because she dared to express the state of the science accurately, along with a heterodox opinion with which the journal disagreed--is a tiny sample of the intense pressures scientists are placed under to keep them from stepping outside the party line.

At the very least, Condic, having been personally attacked as somehow being an anti-science scientist, should have been given the right to defend herself. Indeed, she tried to do that, but the editor, Sandra Aamodt, Ph.D., refused to permit her the courtesy of a reply in the journal itself, sniffing that there wasn't enough space, and anyway, she could post a rebuttal on the journal's blog.

Not good enough. The stature of being in print matters, given that the attack was in print, and given that Condic would want the same people who read the editorial to also be able to see her defense. Moreover, the personal nature of the editorial seems designed to harm Condic in her professional life. One can imagine an academic symposium being organized and Condic's name coming up as a possible presenter. "Oh, no," the head organizer sniffs. "I heard she's anti-science based on religion. Can't have any of her kind here."

And they still laugh at the Catholic Church for stifling Galileo. But who are the stiflers now?



At May 06, 2007 , Blogger said...

Thanks for this information, Wesley. I blogged on this last week, and sent a letter to the editors.

Where's the science in demanding science funding any way?

At May 06, 2007 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

Nice we can agree, LifeEthics.

At May 06, 2007 , Blogger Royale said...

Was there anything in the critcism that was more serious or mean than just saying so and so has a non-science agenda?

If so, you might convince me there is actual "bullying"

If not, then I'll just have to roll my eyes.

At May 06, 2007 , Blogger Lydia McGrew said...

I hadn't tumbled to the fact that Condic is a working scientist, though I've read several of her articles. Royale, you wait and see if that lady still has some promotions to come or tenure to get. I wouldn't be at all surprised if such an editorial went into her file and were used to deny her such promotions. That's how the university culture works. _And_ it's a falsehood anyway. Plus not allowing her the space to reply is a fairly unscientific approach. I hate to say it, but the mean-spiritedness there has a sort of "feminine" quality. I'm not saying a male editor wouldn't have done it, but somehow I can't help thinking a female editor was more likely to do it to a fellow female scientist than a male would have been.

At May 06, 2007 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

Royale: You be personally attacked in a professional journal in your field and be denied a chance to defend yourself and roll your eyes. It isn't that the journal had a different perspective, but it called her anti science--the worst epithet to call a working scientist in these hyper-politicized times. And then didn't give her a chance to show she isn't. Not playing Cricket.

At May 06, 2007 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

Lydia: SCIENCE had a personal hit piece against my friend David Prentice, by supporters of Amendment 2, and wouldn't give him a right of reply for months--until after the election regarding Amendment 2 in fact. No coincidence. And the editor is male.

At May 12, 2007 , Blogger T E Fine said...

Wesley -

"And they still laugh at the Catholic Church for stifling Galileo. But who are the stiflers now?"

I'm sorry, I keep seeing this line used over and over and I can't really sit still and let it keep going.

Originally, the view of the Universe was that the Throne of God was in the metaphysical center of the universe, Hell was at the physical center, and Earth was a dumping ground where everything came to die (you can look this up in old Platonic and Aristotilian philosophical essays, and the same view was held by the Hebrews of the time).

Galileo's suggestion that the Earth revolved around the sun actually enhanced our station, raising us up from a metaphysical sink-hole to a body that reflected the sun's glory.

When the Church didn't immediately recognize Galileo's achievement, Ol' Gal wrote a nasty essay that mocked Pope Urban the whatever-he-was (I think this was about 1630 - you can look up the actual essay).

His punishment was he got public censured for yacking off the Pope in the essay, was put under a sort of house arrest, and died happily in his own bed, and he still got paid his pension regularly from the Church.

The Catholic Church "stifled" Galileo for making fun of the Pope publicly.

Which is a hell of a lot more reasonable behavior than the way ESCR types are treating ASCR types.


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