Bad Astronomy

Stem cell research FTW!

There’s been a lot of bad news on the science front lately, but we finally have some good stuff: it looks like that on Monday, President Obama will sign an Executive Order overturning the ban on federal funding of stem cell research!


In one of his first moves in office 8 years ago, Bush made it illegal to spend federal money on stem cell research, and then proceeded to spin – some might say lie – about it over the rest of his Administration, vetoing attempts to overturn the ban not once but twice. Chris Mooney has had plenty to say about that.

But those days, it seems, are over. With the EO, Obama will make it possible for medical researchers to have access to far more lines of stem cells, allowing them the freedom to see just how valuable these cells can be. Stem cell research is very promising in opening up our understanding of – and finding potential cures for – such diseases as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, diabetes, and even cancer. We’re a long way from there, of course, but now researchers will get their chance to find these and other medical breakthroughs.

You can read about the stem cell controversy if you’d like – I’m sure it will come up on the talking head shows, and I’m sure many of them will be spinning like pulsars trying to make this seem bad. But while I suspect a lot of the heads will talk about the destruction of human embryos for stem cell research, they won’t mention that these embryos – really just a tiny blob of cells numbering less than 150 in total – would have been destroyed anyway, since they were created for in vitro fertilization but wound up not being needed. Yet they never seem to protest the fertilization technique itself. It’s baffling. I’ll be very curious to see what will be said about all this on the blogs and in the news.

Still, this is a victory for science, and one that makes me hopeful for this new Administration’s view toward science. We have a long, long way to go to fix the wrongs over the past decade, but this is an excellent step in the right direction.