Keeping politicians out of the research lab

Here’s something that probably won’t make things easier for academic researchers. Republican Party members of the Michigan legislature have inserted a provision into a piece of legislation that will force the state’s universities to report regularly on how they are using stem cells in research. This is how the measure was explained by its chief sponsor, Bob Genetski:

‘We want to know exactly what’s going on with stem cells. It’s still a pretty big issue. We can at least keep a grip on what’s going on.’

With the greatest of respect to Rep Genetski, ‘keeping a grip’ on such issues is one thing politicians should not be doing. Stem cell research raises complex issues, some of them ethical, but these are not best handled as part of a political debate. They need to be addressed by ethics committees or watchdogs that include real experts in the field; political point scoring is not a good context for such discussions.

In fact, stem cell research is probably not well understood by the general public, who as voters may as a result seek to stifle procedures that have become vital in the quest for effective treatments of some quite appalling conditions. Some more public outreach to a wider public on this topic should help society to understand what it is and why it has such huge potential.

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7 Comments on “Keeping politicians out of the research lab”

  1. anna notaro Says:

    Gene-tski? Appropriate name for the task!🙂

    • anna notaro Says:

      also there is an interesting thread which connects the issue raised in this post with the ones discussed yesterday, one only needs to replace (Galileo’s) astronomy with biology or life sciences to appreciate today’s reactions from politicians and religious leaders alike with regards to the ethics of research in areas such as stem cell/cloning/assisted fecondation etc. The lessons to be drawn from Galileo’s story are still worth reflecting upon..


  2. […] “Here’s something that probably won’t make things easier for academic researchers. Republican Party members of the Michigan legislature have inserted a provision into a piece of legislation that will force the state’s universities to report regularly on how they are using stem cells in research …” (more) […]

  3. Vincent Says:

    While virtually anything a Republican says about anything will rise hackles these days. On this subject though he has a valid point.
    Your position is that beyond a committee of the great and good this subject should be closed. Which is the nuclear power argument. Or the argument for specialist jury for cases of complex fraud.
    I’ll bet if the general public had sight of the plans for the reactor on Japan they would have insisted on the Scram Rods lowering themselves from mechanical cradles rather than being held up by electrical clamps. In a country that issues it’s kids school chairs with hard hats and where the national saviour from the Great Khan was a tidal wave. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MokoShurai.jpg You just know things. And for an Atlantic Rim example, think flat roofs. No one in their correct minds would put a flat roof on a building without a short time limit in mind. Normally counted in days. But this doesn’t prevent the architectural community selling their wares and convincing people that acres of flat roofing is a good notion.
    And you’d have to say that those committees are what has run the the english speaking economies into the ground these last years.

  4. jfryar Says:

    I love this kind of story because it illustrates the perception versus reality of scientific research. Every one of those stem-cell researchers in the US had to apply for funding, probably through public agencies, and had to write project proposals. Those proposals are almost certainly available to the public, media, and senators from the appropriate agencies. The papers those researchers will publish are available to the public, media, and senators. They probably had to go through ethics committees and are being internally monitored by such boards. The guidelines are available to the public, media, and senators.

    But, no. It suits politicians at various stages to perpetuate a myth that those scientists are operating in some isolated labs with no external monitoring and no guidelines. ‘What ARE they up to?’ the senators will ask, while being too lazy to bother looking at the vast documentation already explaining it.

  5. Mary B Says:

    Perhaps they could develop a sort of symbiosis or co-reporting on each others’ activities, whereby researchers could monitor the politicians… no more claims for ‘duck moats’ or having your aunt’s broom cupboard as your main residence!


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