An item by John Lundberg, who describes himself as a poet, teacher and a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford, said the use of “language considered sacred by most opponents of stem cell research in order to promote the research is, well, provocative.”
Lundberg's item drew a wide range of comments from readers. One said the $3 billion stem cell agency was “cowardly” for pulling the offending poem and apologizing. Another said,
“Embryonic stem-cell research requires the destruction of a human embryo - a living being that, if not destroyed, becomes a human being. Fact, not opinion.”Last week, The Associated Press also picked up the story. The news service reaches into news outlets internationally, although it is not clear whether the story was distributed that widely. Accounts of the flap have also appeared elsewhere on the Internet, mainly on sites devoted to opposition to hESC rsearch.
Is this affair a plus or minus for the stem cell agency? The controversy has raised somewhat the visibility of the stem cell agency. However, generally the agency is more inclined to seek favorable mention of its research efforts, which this poem and subsequent publicity do not. The agency's action actually energizes opponents, who see it as a validation of their hostile views of CIRM. If the agency has slipped below the horizon of some opponents, it reminds them they still have a significant foe lurking out there who needs to be dealt with. The pluses, if any, are neglible.
Don Gibbons, chief communications officer for CIRM and one of the judges of the poetry contest, took issue last week with our characterization that the poetry contest was not worth the effort under any circumstances. He pointed to articles on the Los Angeles Times and USA Today Web site that were published prior to the controversy as worthwhile mentions of CIRM. Gibbons faulted us for not mentioning them.
Last week, the public sessions of the external review of CIRM highlighted, however, the need for the agency to focus on its higher priorities. Reviewers said more than once that they were concerned about the “bandwidth” and size of staff at CIRM compared to its ambitious goals.
Our take: Handing out prizes for poetry probably is not one of the essential tasks for CIRM's small staff.