Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Grand Goals and Record Speed; Hype and Human Biology

 An ad from 2004 ballot campaign that created the California stem cell agency. 

An article in the Los Angeles Times today took on scientific research and "grand goals and grander ambitions, all to be achieved with record speed."

The piece was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning Times columnist and author Michael Hiltzik. He was not writing about the California stem cell program. 

But, as readers know, the stem cell agency hopes voters will approve a $5.5 billion bond measure this fall to allow it to continue its own ambitious pursuit of stem cell cures. 

Hiltzik, author of "Big Science" and the just-published "Iron Empires," wrote about the Trump Administration and its "warp speed" therapies for Covid-19. But he also mentioned the Golden State's stem cell effort. Here is the text of what Hiltzik had to say:

"Hype has become an inextricable part of science because it can generate millions of dollars of support. Consider the 2004 campaign to pass Proposition 71, which created the $3-billion California stem cell program (known formally as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, or CIRM).

"As I’ve reported before, the measure 'was sold to a gullible public via candy-coated images of Christopher Reeve walking again and Michael J. Fox cured of Parkinson’s.'

"The hype got the proposition passed, but CIRM has struggled ever since to live up to promises that it has been unable to deliver. That could be a burden this election season, when CIRM is seeking an additional $5.5 billion from voters and will have to explain why all the cures it predicted haven’t materialized. 

"'That still might be a worthwhile public investment,' (Leigh) Turner (of the University of Minnesota) observes, adding that the research actually funded by CIRM has been conducted along responsible scientific lines. 'But you have this disconnect between what’s used to float the entire enterprise, and what the actual results are.'"

Turner, who is a bioethicist, was also quoted as saying, 

“In human biology often as you proceed with your research, as you think you’re getting closer and closer to the finish line, you begin to discover it’s more and more distant. You become increasingly aware of the complexity you’re dealing with.”

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