Infertile Minds: Behold the voices of “science”
By: Daniel Clark
The way that the media define our national debate over embryonic stem cell research is that one side represents science, while the other, by default, is anti-scientific. Some liberals have even used the issue to accuse pro-life conservatives of waging a “war on science.” The irony is that so many of those who identify themselves as scientific talk as if they wouldn’t know a beaker from a B-52.
During an appearance on the Tonight show, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann criticized the president’s opposition to destructive research on human embryos, on the basis that “they’re never going to be fertilized.” It should, but sadly doesn’t, go without saying that fertilization is necessary to the creation of an embryo. Even a cloned embryo is fertilized, albeit artificially. President Bush may not be able to say the word “nucleus,” but evidently, he knows more about its contents than Olbermann
Perhaps Olbermann has been misinformed by activist “fact sheets.” According to a fundraising website called FreeTheStemcells.com, authored by an associate director of a group called StemPAC, “Embryos used for research are not fertilized, nor are they ever implanted within a woman for the purpose of reproduction.” This claim is doubly wrong, because the fact that they are fertilized means that reproduction has already taken place.
Nevertheless, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R, Utah), a leading proponent of embryonic stem cell research, agrees. In a 2001 letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, Hatch wrote, “To me, a frozen embryo is more akin to a frozen unfertilized egg or frozen sperm than to a fetus naturally developing in the body of a mother.” Note the subtle qualifier. This way, a pre-implantation embryo doesn’t have to factually be like an unfertilized egg. It only has to be that way in the senator’s mind.
Even the scientists themselves have gotten into the act. Dr. Michael West is the president and CEO of Advanced Cell Technology, the biotech company that cloned a human embryo five years ago. At the time, he told U.S. News & World Report that early human embryos “are just a few reproductive cells, not much different than eggs or sperm.”
Dr. West didn’t get where he is without understanding the substantive difference between a live human embryo and an unfertilized egg. That knowledge is prerequisite to having an intelligent discussion about destructive embryonic research, let alone conducting it. If there’s really not much difference between the two, then West and his colleagues should explain why they don’t just experiment on the eggs, and avoid the controversy altogether.
If advocates of embryonic stem cell research truly spoke for science, you’d think they’d be a little more precise in their terminology, to better contrast themselves with the flat-earth knuckle-draggers they portray their opponents to be. Instead, they speak in such broad generalities as to prevent any serious scientific analysis. An egg is tiny and round, and starts with the letter “e.” Those things are also true of an embryo. Hence, they’re the same. You can’t argue with science.
Whereas Olbermann may have come by his misconception honestly, there are obviously people who know better, and are deliberately making false and misleading statements in order to muddy the water. By confusing the most rudimentary facts of the matter, they create the impression that the issue is beyond most people’s comprehension, thereby enhancing their own illusion of expertise.
If they didn’t have the overwhelming support of the media, those who profess to speak for science would be repeatedly challenged to back up that claim. Instead, they’ve been allowed to go virtually unquestioned, by marginalizing opposing viewpoints as anti-scientific. Take, for example, celebrity activist Michael J. Fox, who in a statement aired on Good Morning America ridiculed Bush’s policy as “a choice to protect millions of cells that are going to be destroyed.” Describing embryos as “cells” is, in a manner of speaking, correct, but only insofar as it is also accurate to refer to a new Cadillac as “auto parts.”
Fox never had to answer for this odd remark, because rather than interview him live, GMA allowed him to broadcast an uninterrupted, two-minute recording. There was no room for any journalistic skepticism, let alone a two-minute response from someone on the other side of the issue. As far as the media are concerned, there is no legitimate other side. So little regard do they have for us opponents of embryonic stem cell research, that there are probably some “pro-science” people who are starting to wonder whether we’re even fertilized.
Daniel Clark is a Staff Writer for the New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.
Daniel Clark is a writer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is the author and editor of a web publication called The Shinbone: The Frontier of the Free Press, where he also publishes a seasonal sports digest as The College Football Czar.