Pittsburgh Tech Archive


(Animated Gif from Tom Moody)







I tried to respond to some of the counterarguments you've offered.

"I forgot a point. Go to http://www.stemcellresearch.org/ post-haste and educate yourself."

I did check out that site and I found it to be a kind of propaganda. I'm not saying that the catholics who make up the founding members don't have a right to spout propaganda or that propaganda in itself is a bad thing (In fact, that's what I like about the net is that I have a much better sense of the biases of the authors.), but these are people who will stick to their position no matter what the evidence says. And again, and I hate to repeat this, we do the research to find out things. There may be a way to do embyronic stem cell research without violating the "sanctity" of the embyro. And if you were rational about this your immediate response would be "great". But it wasn't, and so I presume that you're not making your case based on reason and evidence but religious sophistry, ever so circular and ever so arcane.

I feel that the site is on a par with what tobacco companies say about the cigarette/cancer link or how polluters feel about global warming.

I suppose I choose to get my information here at the Union of Concerned Scientists, or from the Henry Waxman website. I might note that I have nothing against adult stem cells. In fact, I probably have a lot more adult stem cells than I do embryonic stem cells. I simply think that the research is very exciting. We could cure many a disease, perhaps even figure out our genetic workings. I think these things should be done.

"This is neither relevant nor true. If I find the time I'll dig into my archives and find a link to an excellent shredding of common myths regarding Galileo. Besides, that's a guilt-by-association argument and blatantly fallacious. It's also a red herring."

Actually, it's both relevant and true. On the other hand, please invite me to your dissertation talk when you tell all those perfessors about how well Galileo was treated by the church. ( I know that the church burned some scientists at the stake...is that your standard? "Welluh, at least we didn't burn him at the stake...") More on relevancy later.

War against science?!? I guess you haven't read my autobio. I'm a scientist in training. I do a lot of work in computational aspects of biophysics and proteomics. Going around calling people fundamentalist theocrats might make you feel better, but it doesn't put you on the moral high ground, nor does it advance serious discussions on the ethical issues at hand. Also, not that it really matters, I'm not a fundamentalist. Nor do I believe in premillenial theology. Get your religious insults straight.

And later is now. Keep in mind that I've been following this debate for about five years. I was actually alerted to the Leon Kass problem by notorious right winger Virginia Postrel (who once openly advocated, in my interpretation, beating up anti-war protesters).

Here's how Postrel characterized the pro death (or as I call them the Die on Time crowd 'cause God wants it that way) Kass Crew:

After all, no respectable public figure is pro-death. Right?

Wrong. A pro-death coalition has been building for several years, crossing the traditional left-right divide. Its advocates aren't primarily interested in abortion or euthanasia, the traditional life-and-death political issues. They don't focus on the gray areas of personhood. They oppose the extension of healthy, active human life beyond its current limits. They are, quite literally, pro-death. Their viewpoint got some exposure recently, when the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania and the John F. Templeton Foundation gathered scientists, bioethicists and theologians for a conference called "Extended Life/Eternal Life."

Both Kass and Callahan have been arguing for years that open-ended medical progress is an affront to nature and humanity. Both promote static, closed definitions of medicine and health. Both find markets, technology and scientific research far too subservient to the individual desire for life, health and biological self-determination.

In his 1998 book False Hopes, Callahan laments that the spirit of contemporary medicine "is that of unlimited horizons, of infinite possibilities of ameliorating the human condition." He wants "sustainable" medicine that has "embraced finite and steady-state health goals and has limited aspirations for progress and technological innovation."

Yeah, let's stop that horrible option of "unlimited horizons". Sounds just awful.

The other point here is that the Bush stem policy, the notorious 60 lines policy, came from folks who do seem to look at their science in a religious way. Most of the people who serve on the Kass bioethics commission aren't scientists. So, while you yourself may not be a fundie, the site that you quote and the policy you approve seems to be driven by religious fundies, whom, I must contend, find a future of controlled self evolution to be very threatening. And for good reason.

We do, however, know that adult stem cells have shown promise. Isn't a sure thing preferrable to a shot in the dark? Who's operating by faith now? God has nothing to do with seeing that ESCR is all talk and no substance. There is no logical reason for scientists to shun ASCR.

I actually thought Chris Mooney, arguably the best online science writer out there (He actually talks to real scientists and has a ton of them as sources. I'm jealous.) sort of addressed not only the argument between emybronic vs. adult, but the whole "framing" propaganda aspect to the argument.

Boston, Mass.: It seems that adult stem cells have been more fruitful in healing diseases. Why shouldn't billions of dollars be spent of research that works rather than use it for research in embyroic work that still remains immoral and fruitless.

Chris Mooney: Alas, the fact that I'm getting this question--and the fact that John Kerry himself got a similar question in the second presidential debate--attests to the vast amount of questionable scientific information that's floating around out there on this issue. The truth is that all the leading research scientists in this field will tell you the same thing: 1) both "adult" and embryonic stem cells have research promise; 2) at this point it's impossible to say which is "better," and in fact, future cures may well draw upon both types of cells; 3) given this, it would be foolish to cut off either line of research. Don't just take my word for this. Here's a June 2004 letter (PDF) from the star studded International Society for Stem Cell Research to President Bush. "Research on all types of stem cells warrants increased federal funding," it reads. "These include stem cells found in fetal and adult tissues and pluripotent stem cells isolated from blastocysts or derived by nuclear transfer." Furthermore, scientists have been studying human adult stem cells--and particularly hematopoietic stem cells--far longer than they've been studying embryonic ones. So it's no surprise that in some respects, research in this area may be further along. However, we need to be very cautious about claims for adult or embryonic stem cell therapies that haven't been proven safe and effective in clinical trials. Unfortunately there's a lot of this kind of stuff out there.

What's more important, profit or ethics? Even if ESCR could be done ethically, there should be serious discussion before proceeding. Not everyone shares your love of progress for its own sake. You accuse those against ESCR as advocating a theocracy. Has it ever occured to you that those supporting it are advocating a technocracy?

No to the last question. I actually write for a site called Better Humans that's very much concerned with making sure that everybody has access to these new technologies. I've always thought, like William Gibson, that the open anarchic structure of the Internet was just a lucky strike. I personally want genetic research to go forward because I'm of the firm belief that we'll have to reengineer ourselves in order to go into space. (Anyone remember the Guardians of the Galaxy? All the heroes were genetically engineered...)

I also think that the payoffs are beneficial to mankind. I think that the cures for illness, organ engineering and expanded lifespans are worth the cost. I don't define embryos as people with rights. Women throw 85 percent of their own embryos...Is god or nature a "baby-killer"? Perhaps we should firebomb a church to show our displeasure at these policies.

We do, however, know that adult stem cells have shown promise. Isn't a sure thing preferrable to a shot in the dark? Who's operating by faith now? God has nothing to do with seeing that ESCR is all talk and no substance. There is no logical reason for scientists to shun ASCR.

Please read the aforestated Chris Mooney quotes. I never said anything about shunning research. I support research into adult stem cells. I support research into embyronic stem cells and I might note that the president's directive doesn't stop private companies from doing whatever they want. I support your research into AI. Please use whatever tools to advance science. I won't tell you that you can't get ideas from Wolfram because my savior Satan thinks it's a bad idea.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Ales Rarus Taps Outs. Deletes me from comments section....

I actually posted my rebuttal in the comments section of Ales Rarus' site. And like all good fundamentalists if he sees something he doesn't like he stamps it out. I mean, he is the PH D candidate, what is he afraid of...? Perhaps they'll be restored...

Update: The comments reappeared again hours later! It's a miracle of the Lord...Slaughter the Red Cow at once! Or, I should have refreshed the comments in Haloscan, a notoriously clunky comments function. Consider an apology forwarded, not that I haven't been banned by many a decent and some not so decent people...

Take That Ales Rarus...N' That, N' That! Tap out!

First, excellent rebuttal. It's always good to debate somebody who actually knows something. I'm also not sure if I can win since I made such a horrible mistake on getting the South Korean story mixed up with other promising results regarding embryonic stem cells. Then again, I am the guardedly optimistic atheist who expects his vote for democrats to actually be counted...Into the breach...

1) Embryonic stem cells have done nothing noteworthy. Adult stem cells have.

One: That's actually not true. There have been promising embryonic research results here, here and here. (I read them carefully this time! One of the problems with starting a paper all by yourself is that you're usually in a rush...!) This also skips over the point of basic research. We do research because some of us aren't in the common everyday communion with Our God Jehovah Cthulu or the Great Pumpkin. We do research because we wish to find out. That should be left up to Scientists by the way and not the same clergymen who tortured Galileo.

2) Umbilical cord stem cells are categorized under "adult" because they are not from embryos.

Two: You're right. I made a mistake and got it wrong. Let's move on. I'm sure you would do the same if science proved that your Sunday wine didn't turn into Christ's blood or DNA extracts from the Turin Shroud proved Christ was just another guy (with kids, you can trace genetic heritage don't you know) or that the pope was fallible, especially during the holocaust. Of course, that's the great thing about science: you can admit your mistakes and your worldview doesn't crumble around you like so much dust.

3) The federal government hasn't banned privately-funded ESCR. If it's really the market that matters to you and not the science, why care about government involvement? The government didn't drive the microchip revolution.

Three: Actually, the government drove both the microchip revolution and the development of the Internet by way of the space program's need for miniaturization and the military's need for a robust communications system that would survive nuclear attack. Government funding determines which markets will thrive in the future. That's why it would be nice if we had an administration that was pro progress. And again, stop being parochial. We're competing against other countries for what could conceivably be the most important market ever: The Better Health/Short Term Immortality Market.

4) Given #1, why would you want the government to invest in a less promising line of research? Do you like wasteful spending?

Four: Because the argument you make in one is incorrect. We just don't know. Again, some of us don't talk to God on a first name basis.We have to explore and research things to truly know something. By the way, the fate of those donated stem cells is the trash can. And as Futurepundit has pointed out we may have a way of doing the research without harming the "sanctity" of the embryo.

5) Just because other countries are doing something doesn't mean we should. If other countries were making lots of dough by continuing Josef Mengele work, should we follow suit? How about genocide? I bet that has some hefty financial rewards.

Five: Let us agree to disagree. I don't think that this kind of research is the equal of the experiment s done by Mengele. And if you follow the Futurepundit prescription no harm would be done to the embyro, that you would eventually throw away, anyway. Any pro lifers willing to accept implantation to make sure these "people" reach their potential? I'll hold my breath...By not addressing this point by the way you get to the heart of the matter. Your war against science is a war against the future. It's a war you can't win, unless you can get fundamentalist theocratic tribes to initiate nuclear strikes and set back progress by centuries. You might get your wish. I'm hoping I'll be off planet by then. Think of it as a voluntary rapture.

6) Not publicly funding ESCR makes Americans dumb and stupid? Huh? Show me a connection between stupidity in America and ESCR.

Six: If you base your scientific research based on myth or fairy tale or make believe (religion), then, yes, that is a kind of gross stupidity. American preeminence is based upon science, not prayer. Everything can be weaponized. What you don't know can definitely hurt you. You learn things not just for your own self awareness and improvement but because your enemies can use your ignorance against you.

7) Theocratic rule? What?!? You've obviously been listening to too many conspiracy theories. There are lots of people who object to ESCR from non-religious standpoints. I read that Futurepundit link. Begged questions, myths, and lies were abundant. This comment really cracked me up: "Religion offers endless conflict,where as science offers a world without conflict." Riiiiiight.

Seven: Is Osama Bin Laden a secular humanist? Or Jerry Falwell? I would never kill you because of your religion because I find such beliefs to be meaningless. By the way, Futurepundit does trend libertarian. I don't agree with him about the war though. It's not right and certainly not Christian to slaughter 100000 Iraqis for their oil. And if the choice is between science or religion, then I choose science. I don't need or want the bliss stations that religion offers. Or to quote Woody Allen: "If the choice is between air conditioning and the pope, then I'll take air conditioning".

To Jerry: Again, let's do the research. Perhaps you think Jesus or Santa Claus or Krishna is opposed to terabyte storage memory on a keychain. That's great. But let's do the science anyway and find out. And what happened in South Korea was a miracle. I'll take that and air conditioning over prayer any day of the week...




The new issue of Wired is very impressive. It features a big cover article about Richard Branson,  the man who might bring private space flight to the world. While I usually find privatization schemes to be of questionable merit, this is one that I can get behind. Anything that improves competition and choice is usually a good thing. The question is: will the American government let them go into space. And if he took his plans to Britain, then would they let them do it? I no longer know what my Evil Country will do.
There's also a very good profile on the guy who invented Bittorrent, which is where I download all my perfectly legal files and/or porn really quickly. The story makes it sound like a brand new broadcasting medium. I always thought that you needed something like perfect compression to do that (allowing broadband downloads allowable through dialup using better math or something), but I guess Torrent is close enough. I can attest that it is faster and all the files I've downloaded seem to work, something I couldn't claim with Emule, for example. There's also a story about something called the Shadow Internet. Boy, did William Gibson call it...

There's also a story that hits closer to home in the Wired Magazine archives about Intelligent Design, or, as the title of the story states, The Plot to Kill Evolution. There's a lawsuit by some crazy parents here in Pennsylvania that apparently want their kids taught science and not faith. Our own 12th Century Senator Rick Santorum has already ghosted a piece in support of ID. (No wonder he wants to homeschool. You wouldn't want any harmful science to get in the way of learnin'.) Chris Mooney, probably the best science blogger out there, has commented on this. And so has the worldclass blogger at Pittsblog. Good for them.

Quantum teleportation doesn't mean teleportation of people, but it could mean quantum communication--which could lead to the teleportation of people. Just have to build that quantum communication receiver...

The Steam Engine Car

Tiny Biofueled Cars...One Day They Will Eat People

How Craigslist Takes Away Ad Revenue From Newspapers (I used to have something up called five dollar classifieds but why bother...? Can't say I would lose any sleep if corporate media newspapers went under. Any press that allows fascist governments to rule unquestioned and unchallenged deserve to die...)

Cory Doctorow Reams Out Wired Management. No comment from Boing Boing Poster and Wired staffer Xeni Jardin (who's hot!).
Best Line:


posted by Philip Shropshire at 6:02 PM 0 comments