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Conduct Unbecoming: Fumento and the Atala Stem Cell Paper

| 46 Comments

Here on Winds of Change.NET, one of the important things our commenters do is error checking. Andy X did just that when he looked at a statement Michael Fumento made in "New York Times Stem Cell Coverup". Here's what Fumento said:

"Wade is flat-out wrong. Although I have read the full paper, you need go no further than the online abstract at PubMed to read that the amniotic stem cells were differentiated "into cell types representing each embryonic germ layer, including cells of adipogenic, osteogenic, myogenic, endothelial, neuronal and hepatic lineages." Translation: The amniotic cells carry the same potential as embryonic stem cells to become each of the 220 cell types in the human body."

Why does this matter? Because the AFS cells in question were not harvested from a fetus, but from routine amniocentisis tests. If Fumento's characterization is true, the practical rationale for allowing fetal harvesting in future would be gravely damaged. Andy X, however, replied that Fumento was deliberately misrepresenting "Isolation of amniotic stem cell lines with potential for therapy" by Atala et. al., a paper that had received notable media coverage of late (though Fumento is correct, not in the New York Times). Andy X also upheld standards here, and went one step further - he brought evidence to that effect.

If true, that's a very serious charge to make against a science writer, whose credibility in faithfully and accurately reporting scientific developments must remain untarnished. I now have a copy of the full research paper that Fumento says he read, and so we can take a look at Andy X's charge.

Bottom line: what Fumento did certainly looks like misrepresentation to me. Here's why...

Fumento, one more time:

"...you need go no further than the online abstract at PubMed to read that the amniotic stem cells were differentiated "into cell types representing each embryonic germ layer, including cells of adipogenic, osteogenic, myogenic, endothelial, neuronal and hepatic lineages." Translation: The amniotic cells carry the same potential as embryonic stem cells to become each of the 220 cell types in the human body."

There isn't much ambiguity in that last statement. Problem: here's Paragraph #1 of the research paper Fumento says he read in full, and which is NOT publicly accessible for most readers to check:

"Amniotic fluid is known to contain multiple cell types derived from the developing fetus1,2. Cells within this heterogeneous population can give rise to diverse differentiated cells including those of adipose, muscle, bone and neuronal lineages3-6. We now describe lines of broadly multipotent AFS cells, and use retroviral marking to verify that clonal human AFS cells can give rise to adipogenic, osteogenic, myogenic, endothelial, neurogenic and hepatic lineages, inclusive of all embryonic germ layers. In this respect, they meet a commonly accepted criterion for pluripotent stem cells, without implying that they can generate every adult tissue. (emphasis mine)"

Case. Open. Shut. Later in the paper, there's this:

"....Despite sharing expression of c-Kit, AFS cells appear clearly distinct from ES cells, germline stem cells and certain adult stem cell populations, such as hematopoietic stem cells, on the basis of differences both in a variety of cell surface markers and in gene expression patterns assessed by transcriptional profiling37. Thus, the role of AFS cells in ontogeny is not yet clear.

AFS cells can serve as precursors to a broad spectrum of differentiated cell types. We used retroviral marking of AFS cell clones to rigorously assess their multipotent character. Cells from a marked clone were induced to differentiate along six distinct lineages (adipogenic, osteogenic, myogenic, endothelial, neurogenic and hepatic).... Human AFS cells can therefore yield differentiated cells corresponding to each of the three embryonic germ layers. The full range of adult somatic cells to which AFS cells can give rise remains to be determined (emphases mine)."

So Fumento is transparently, provably wrong, and that alone must dent his credibility as a science writer. The public can't read most of the research papers to which his subscriptions et. al. give him access, which means they have to trust his characterizations. What this episode demonstrates is that they can't.

Andy X, meanwhile, is dead-on with his characterization in comment #1:

"So it is misleading, you see, to say that these cells carry the same potential as [Embryonic Stem] cells, which can give rise to all somatic and germ cell types, because this has not yet been determined. What you can say is that they potentially have the potential, but this won't be known until it is tested. Clearly this is a much weaker, but more accurate, statement which does not serve the purposes of your post nearly as well."

Recall Fumento's email:

"I have brought to you the experience of 18 years of accurate science and health writing..."

It may have been. In future, however, a question mark should hang over his words. The only questions left are:

  1. Does Fumento still have a point re: the potential of AFS cells?
  2. Did he lie? (and questions 1&2 are connected)

1. Does Fumento still have a point re: the potential of AFS cells?

Yes, I believe he's on strong ground there. Here's a couple more excerpts from the paper by Atala et. al., which discusses the potential upsides of amniotic fluid-derived stem (AFS) cells. The paper also describes successful attempts to grow nerve and bone tissue from those cells, and verify those clonal cells as the source:

"We have demonstrated that stem cells can be obtained routinely from human amniotic fluid, using backup cells from amniocentesis specimens that would otherwise be discarded. The AFS cells grow easily in culture and appear phenotypically and genetically stable. They are capable of extensive self-renewal, a defining property of stem cells. The absence of senescence and maintenance of long telomeres for over 250 p.d. far exceeds the typical ‘Hayflick limit’ of about 50 p.d. for many post-embryonic cells, which generally is attributed to the progressive shortening of telomeres30.... Unlike ES [JK: embryonic stem] cells, AFS cells do not form tumors in vivo. A low risk of tumorigenicity would be advantageous for eventual therapeutic applications.

....AFS cells are able to differentiate along adipogenic, osteogenic, myogenic, endothelial, neurogenic and hepatic pathways. We show the acquisition of lineage-specific functionality by AFS cells differentiated in vitro toward neurons, osteoblasts and hepatocytes....

We conclude that AFS cells are pluripotent stem cells capable of giving rise to multiple lineages including representatives of all three embryonic germ layers. AFS cells hold potential for a variety of therapeutic applications. They are obtained from routine clinical amniocentesis specimens. We have isolated similar stem cell populations from prenatal chorionic villus biopsies and from placental biopsies obtained after full-term pregnancies. In the future, banking of these stem cells may provide a convenient source both for autologous therapy in later life and for matching of histocompatible donor cells with recipients."

That's very good performance, and strongly suggests a broad range of uses. Now, here's an excerpt from Medical News Today's January 7, 2007 coverage of this research paper:

"AFS cells have many advantages:

-- They are easily obtainable

-- As they double every 36 hours they may be grown in large quantities

-- 'Feeders' are not needed to guide them

-- They do not produce tumors

-- Specialized cells generated from AFS cells include all 3 types of cells that exist in the developing embryo - ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm

-- As with embryonic stem cells, AFS cells have the potential of generating every type of adult cell

Atala added that the full range of cells that AFS cells can eventually create remains to be determined. He said his team have managed to produce every cell type they have attempted to, so far (emphasis mine)."

See also the Washington Post's January 8, 2007 article "Scientists See Potential In Amniotic Stem Cells: They Are Highly Versatile And Readily Available", which talks about both the successes to date and some of the caveats. A more in-depth discussion of those caveats is provided over at StemCellPatents.com, whose article notes that:

"This finding, which is supported by previous experimental data, indicates that amniotic fluid may be an ideal source of stem cells for therapeutic purposes. Unfortunately, the number of cells extracted from amniotic fluid is relatively small and not only requires expansion ex vivo, but also tissue matching, which limits availability. Don't be surprised if an industry springs up around "amniotic stem cell harvesting" in the same way that it did around cord blood."

Fumento, from his article, and this time he's on stronger ground:

"Almost six years ago, scientists at Anthrogenesis Corporation announced they'd discovered stem cells that were readily harvestable in great numbers from placenta and convertible into all germ layers. PubMed now lists over 500 articles concerning "placenta" and "stem cells," indicating that a tremendous number of scientists find amniotic/placenta cells to be of tremendous interest even if Nicholas Wade and The New York Times do not."

So, are there alternatives to embryonic stem cells? Clearly, yes. Have they all been explored? Clearly, no. Have these alternatives generated treatments to date, and is their potential apparently growing? Yes.

Does Fumento have a point re: AFS cells and their potential, therefore, even if proper qualifications are added to his work? Yes. It's not a debate-ending point, but there is a real history of success here. As for the Atala paper, the field is not new but the results are an important success, and they definitely add to the strength of the anti-embryonic stem cell position.

On a larger canvas, the core argument pairs the obvious ethical risks of fetal tissues as a commodity with the point that other options are showing success, and should at the very least be fully explored before we turn to such an ethically risky (ES) alternative. Does the Atala paper strengthen this argument? Not to a debate-ending level, but yes it does and it would be foolish or dishonest to deny that.

2. Did Fumento Lie?

So, Fumento's enthusiasm for AFS was based on some solid ground. Which nevertheless brings us to the linked question - did Michael Fumento intentionally misrepresent the article, i.e. did he lie to his readers? Andy X offers his take in comment #2, after spending his first comment noting quotes in the research paper that contradicted Fumento's characterization:

"So, you either 1) Didn't read the full article, but said you did anyway (i.e., LIE), or 2) Read it but conveniently ignored, missed or purposefully left out the more detailed explanation that didn't support your claim (i.e, LIED). I'm open to credible alternative interpretations...if you (or anyone else) have the ability to provide any."

Andy X is dead wrong here on a critical point - there's a huge difference between conveniently ignoring or purposefully leaving out contradictory material (which amounts to the same thing and is lying), as opposed to simply missing something, or seeing other material in the article that led him to his conclusion.

Now, missing something so fundamental, that appears multiple times in a paper, is itself very damaging to a professional science writer. But it is misleading, you see, to say that this constitutes lying. What you can say with certainty is that Fumento is wrong, and is potentially lying, but this is difficult to know. Clearly this is a much weaker, but more accurate, statement which does not serve the purposes of Andy's comment #2 nearly as well.

It is possible that the additional materials I've pointed to re: the method's record of success (note Atala's quote above re: the cells working for everything they've tried thus far), plus the use of the term "pluripotent" in the research paper's concluding paragraph rather than "multipotent," could lead an ideologically-invested individual to genuinely miss the paper's qualifications and make the statement Fumento made.

Using a "reasonable doubt" standard, I believe Fumento would be absolved of the charge of deliberate misrepresentation (i.e. lying).

The thing is, Fumento is an experienced science writer with, as he reminds us, many articles and books to his credit. What he said is about major, fundamental point in the debate, and his characterization is easily disproven with little effort... IF one has access to the research article itself, which is not publicly available. Furthermore, his bombastic refusal to engage with Andy X's evidence-based points makes one justifiably suspicious. By Fumento's own standards, as (correctly) applied to the New York Times in his work, his writing was dishonest - reflecting his agenda first and the truth second or not at all. If one uses a "balance of probabilities" standard, I believe he's guilty of dishonesty as charged.

For Mr. Fumento, however, it's worse than that. Working life isn't a "reasonable doubt" place. Or even a "balance of probabilities" place. Rather the reverse - if Fumento raises reasonable doubts concerning his credibility, that can and should be reflected in a reduced ability to get himself published in and invited to respected magazines, journals, and forums. A field that lives for The Habit of Truth as its foremost ideal - despite the flawed humanity of its participants, and the rising level of politically-motivated lying one wades through these days.

Fumento has spent a number of years going after some of that lying, and done us all a service thereby. A common regard for fact is necessary if we hope to have the debate and discussions we all need to have - in all debates, but especially so in science-related debates.

Unfortunately, I believe that the evidence adduced above leads to the conclusion that Fumento has now raised a reasonable doubt and more concerning his own credibility, honesty, and accuracy as a science reporter.

That's always a sad thing - but it would be sadder still were we to let it pass.

Additional Readings

  • "Isolation of amniotic stem cell lines with potential for therapy" by Paolo De Coppi, Georg Bartsch Jr, M Minhaj Siddiqui, Tao Xu, Cesar C Santos, Laura Perin, Gustavo Mostoslavsky, Angeline C Serre, Evan Y Snyder, James J Yoo, Mark E Furth, Shay Soker & Anthony Atala. January 2007 issue of Nature Biotechnology, Vol. 25, pp. 100-106 doi:10.1038/nbt1274. Note: the full article requires purchase.
  • Fumento.com - "Boo hoo, poor me!" [paraphrased, as he claims dishonesty] Pretty rich from a guy who lacks the honesty, or the guts, to link to the piece he complains about as it criticizes his work. To me, that's the gold-plated sign of a fake.

46 Comments

I didn't know it was Tuesday already.

We run the server on GMT...

A.L.

This was a lot of work, and it was necessary. Good for you.

Without belittling the importance of the individual's act in this case, it might be worth looking at the type of the apparent error with respect to the habits of the general class, reporter.

Consider the nature of misrepresentation: The general direction of implication from the published paper is stated more or less accurately. What's incorrect is that the certainty of a connection to viable therapies is overstated, thereby exaggerating the immediate implications of the paper, and its salience to a reader who cares anything about the state of stem cell research at this point in time.

That's attention getting behavior, as commonly practiced in the mass media, and it may be nearly an automatic impulse. I'm not at all arguing for its integrity, or its viability in an age of transparent media. But this may be one case in which one can say 'they all do it' and have a basis of fact. It's one of the reasons I've dumped all my subscriptions to 'science' periodicals in which the writing is done by reporters, not practitioners. (Do you hear me, 'Scientific' American?)

Fumento is a known liar who has no credibility on anything. He has lied before about adult stem cell successes as being 62-80 when after 50 years there are actually 9 and none for Parkinson's disease as he claims. I have Parkinson's disease and know for a fact that he is a congenital liar. Dr. Atala himself sent a letter to HR3's sponsors stating that stem cells derived from amnniotic fluid are not substitutes for embryonic stem cells. Fumento has a "hate mail" file he publishes from time to time because he has so much of it. You don't want to get in a pissing match with him, he is also vicious and cruel.

No question that my assertion that Demento...er, Fumento, was lying cannot be proven.

I disagree, however, that it was the purpose of my post to claim this. I was merely firing back aggressively in an attempt to put Furmento...er, Fumento, back on his heels, and encourage a reply.

And I must say, it was worth the wait and effort!

Even after reading your very fair and balanced (not gonna go there, don't worry) analysis of the exchange, however, it remains very difficult for me to believe that Fumento did not purposely try to mislead the readers of the post at some level.

What you failed to consider is that he may have lied about reading the full article in the first place.

If he did not (and given the ease with which both you and I found a number of clearly contradictory statements to the one he made in the original article, it seems plausible), then his comment about (to paraphrase) the unlimited pleuripotency of amniotic stem cells would not be technically a lie, because he never held contradictory information that he would then have needed to purposefully ignore or suppress in order to make his claim.

Finally, your comment

"It is possible that the additional materials I've pointed to re: the method's record of success (note Atala's quote above re: the cells working for everything they've tried thus far), plus the use of the term "pluripotent" in the research paper's concluding paragraph rather than "multipotent," could lead an ideologically-invested individual to genuinely miss the paper's qualifications and make the statement Fumento made."

I think is very generous, especially to someone who showed such naked contempt for this site, its proprieters and contributors, and people with whom he disagrees everywhere. Far, far too generous, in my opinion.

But the real point that I think bears repeating is regarding the tendency (or proclivity) of "ideologically-invested" individuals to have colored perceptions of data/reality. Amen, brother.

Because, ironically, it is precisely this same accusation that I have often leveled at you and others on this site....

If you have any doubts as to Fumento's dishonesty, well, read this

Andy X,

The generosity is not inherent in me, but in the standard of proof I set as the bar. Note that when I moved the bar to 'balance of probabilities' levels, the conclusion changed. But it's an important distinction, especially when you're trying to make a case for something like dishonesty in one specific case and cannot see into the mind of your subject. For that same reason, I simply accepted his statement that he had read the article.

The fact that Mr. Fumento "showed such naked contempt for this site, its proprieters and contributors, and people with whom he disagrees everywhere" doesn't change any of that. I've done my bit by exposing it, however, and noted it as a factor if/when proof levels are less stringent. Which they generally are and should be, in real life.

"Because, ironically, it is precisely this same accusation that I have often leveled at you and others on this site...."

And had leveled right back at you.

RE: the tendency of "ideologically-invested individuals to have colored perceptions of data/reality," hey brother, welcome to the human race. We were doing so well with the lemuridae and lorisidae; but then those monkeys started showing up and flinging feces and stuff... and man, there went the neighbourhood.

#6 from Andy X: "But the real point that I think bears repeating is regarding the tendency (or proclivity) of "ideologically-invested" individuals to have colored perceptions of data/reality. Amen, brother.

Because, ironically, it is precisely this same accusation that I have often leveled at you and others on this site...."

I think your real point there bears contradicting.

First let's spell out the bias you have in mind.

#1 from Andy X at 8:03 pm on Jan 20, 2007: "So in the end you've only succeeded in illustrating the political bias that taints the thinking of people who are opposed to ES cell research. Or, should I extend this further to stay it illustrates how easily ideologues (like yourself) find it to ignore data/reality when it conflicts with their non-scientific politically or religiously-motivated belief system?" (link)

Taking this debate seriously, as a matter of human life and death, can lead to a need for accurate, authoritative, unbiased data and interpretation of facts and probabilities.

Treating the facts in this controversy as raw material for another shock bang story, as raw materials for what Tim Oren in comment #4 reasonably calls normal, common attention-getting behavior is unserious.

That Michael Fumento may have been showboating like Ann Coulter and therefore liable to carelessness does not mean all serious pro-lifers should be discounted.

I have now read the paper and the Supplementary material (at link at end of post). Joe--my hat is off to you, this post offers a reasoned and balanced interpretation of the de Coppi et al. paper from Atala's group.

A couple of technical addenda.

"[AFS cells] meet a commonly accepted criterion for pluripotent stem cells, without implying that they can generate every adult tissue.

It's worth emphasizing that this is not just boilerplate or false modesty on the part of the authors. The Atala paper is broad-ranging and is very well done; I would be proud to have been an author. That said, I picked up a few mistakes that are worth detailing, not because they invalidate the paper, but because they show why the sorts of disclaimers that Joe bolded are truly merited.

1. Differentiation of AFS cells to bone: Cultured cells can be tricky; if you grow them with steroids, some will overproduce an enzyme called alkaline phosphatase. Put a source of phosphate in the culture medium, and A.P. will promote the deposition of a mineral/collagen mix. Bone cells (osteoblasts) thusly grown will produce mineral--but so will some other cells. It's much harder to coax non-bone cells to make mineral when implanted in a mouse, which is why Atala went that extra step. However... while Figure 6 shows mineral for matrix-plus-AFS-cells and not for matrix alone, the matrix-plus-AFS-cells had first been cultured for a week before implantation. Thus, experimental matrix-plus-AFS-cells went in with mineral "seeds" and the controls did not.

  • Is it the implanted AFS cells or the mouse's own bone cells that are responsible for the observed bone? I can't say.

2. Differentiation of AFS cells to neurons: Atala used a standard method of neurogenic differentiation developed in 2000 (ref. 46, not 44 (a typo)). Unfortunately, that method was claimed in 2004 to probably only mimic certain aspects of neuronal differentiation. (Atala's patch-clamp data may be better; I can't understand Figure 4, which shows in vivo results).

  • Does the culture data convincingly show that AFS cells can form neurons? In my opinion, no.

To re-emphasize, this is a good paper. The authors have drawn from a lot of areas to try and tell an overarching story about stem cell differentiation. However, as the two examples I have listed show, this first comprehensive effort to put AFS cells through their paces does fall short in some areas.

  • Does this paper prove that AFS cells are as versatile as embryonic stem cells in differentiating to form all possible tissue types? No.
  • Are AFS cells as versatile as embryonic stem cells in differentiating to form all possible tissue types? We just can't tell, yet.

To return to the original point of the original Winds post: Were the LA Times and the Washington Post clearly right to highlight this paper's findings, while the NYT was clearly wrong in failing to do so? With the benefit of hindsight, I would vote with the LAT and the WaPo, but I can see NYT reporter Wade as making a reasonable judgment call in not doing so.

Jesus to meet me. After all that, anybody who wants my stem cells can just come and have them. Bring a cup.

Since I have no idea what my stem cells might do to somebody - or for that matter, what they have already done to me - I can't promise that they will cure Parkinson's, or even help you evaluate the bewildering variety of claims being made about stem cells.

All I know for sure is that when Science is in bed with two different types of Politics at the same time, there's going to be trouble. Furthermore, there seems to be a war between adult and embryonic cells, which makes no scientific or medical sense.

Glen #11,

I am no fan of the NYT's seeming view of its mission as influencing political choices by slanting its news reporting. However, it's a big institution, and as far as I know, its coverage of foreign exchange rates and stock prices is untainted. As far as stem cells, the evidence for bias is thus far underwhelming.

> a war between adult and embryonic cells... makes no scientific or medical sense.

Well said. I acknowledge the ethical concerns of some concerning ES cells, but that doesn't make the data 'better' or 'worse.'

Not to put to fine a point on it but the data in the paper supports Fumento not Andy X. Atlata points out what the group has not yet done. They have not yet grown every cell, just every cell type. Andy X is trying to use a reasonable descripition of what has been done for a description of what can not be done. Atlata states that by common definition they have isolated a pluripotent stem cell. Fumento did not lie, unless not the definition of lie includes not interpreting facts in the same way as someone else. Remember absence of proff is not proof of absence and ebery one is entitled to thier own opinions, just not there own facts. Here there is absence of proof regarding every possible cell line but no proof that the cells can not differentiate into every cell line. Fumento's descripition is accurate and supported by the evidence. One can disagree with his interpretation but that doesn't make it a lie.

MD JD #13 --

Fumento said:

Translation: The amniotic cells carry the same potential as embryonic stem cells to become each of the 220 cell types in the human body."

For the reasons discussed, this is not an accurate statement.

Re: motive, Joe said in the body of this post:

Using a "reasonable doubt" standard, I believe Fumento would be absolved of the charge of deliberate misrepresentation (i.e. lying).

Joe K:

"For that same reason, I simply accepted his statement that he had read the article."

That's your choice. I would argue that his comments, however, cast doubt on this.

Which raises an interesting point. Now that we've both arrived at the same unsurprising conclusion the ideology can cloud perception, be aware that it can work both ways; i.e., in your pursuit of Virtue (noble, certainly), you are perhaps putting too much faith in the notion that Fumento was telling the truth when he said he read the article. It may seem hard to believe that someone would lie about such a "little" thing, but you must admit that one interpretation of his comments is that he did not read the article. To me, this is not an unlikely possibility.

So, is it allright for ideology to alter perception when it is generally considered to be morally benign or beneficial? What about in the case when an individual believes strongly in the righteousness of their ideology, regardless of whether it is widely accepted? Do they become less culpable for their biased views? Does this reduce "lies" to "simple inaccuracies"?

In this case, I'm less convinced that Fumento's ideology derives from deeply held convictions or principles (which I asked him to explain) than by the dishonest and vituperative manner in which he chooses to argue his points; favoring, once again, the notion that he was lying, but recognizing that it is not possible to prove. Then again, this isn't civil court, is it?

Side points to be sure, but of interesting relevance to the larger political whirlpool (cesspool?) we find ourselves currently in....and perhaps worth keeping in mind as we listen to the State of the Union and Dem Response speeches tonight...

Joe K's exegesis is good, but you guys should've known that this is not the first time that Fumento has selectively elided essential parts from a quote. Whether he does this by willful misrepresentation or sloppy incompetence is unclear; what's clear is that one cannot trust what he writes to be an accurate representation of the articles he cites. For someone who claims to be a debunker of junk science, that's a deal killer.

So, in a larger sense, a more important question for the WoC community is: why was Fumento given the keys to the front door in the first place? It seems to me that your original problem with Fumento was the level of his civility, not the factual accuracy of his representations. It's always good to maintain a standard for civil discourse but if Fumento had been civil would you ever have uncovered his manipulations?

AC, yes, his manipulations would have been uncovered, and that's a near-certainty. Largely because we have one of those comments sections Fumento so disdains, populated by (as you can see) some folks with real chops in the field.

As a wise geek once said: to a million eyes, all bugs are shallow. Throw in some of Clay Shirky's thinking re: communities and primary vs. secondary stakeholders, plus some Innkeeping in Cyberspace principles to ensure that you can attract and keep the right kind of people, and you can really have something. We're not up to the standards at, say, Belmont Club in our comments section, and Totten probably has an edge as well - but I'd say we're in the top 5 %ile and overall I'm proud of what we've accomplished.

Fumento was given the keys for two reasons. One was his first-person reporting from dangerous places in Iraq, rather than some Baghdad hotel. The other was his work in the scientific area, which has produced useful and valuable debunkings in the past. Those were sufficient to earn him the keys.

But Winds of Change.NET has other standards as well - like civility, basic standards of honesty, et. al. - and in the end, Fumento was able to earn those keys but not to keep them.

Do not mistake the tone of Marc's email and mine for softness; if 2 of your supervisors saw fit to try and help you with some recent issues they had noticed in your work, I dare say the implicit message would be crystal clear.

I'm relatively new to this debate having just read this post and the previous ones and I'd like to add a little context. While I agree that Fumento's characterization of the article as described above is innaccurate, I don't really consider that some horrible crime, even if he was doing it based on personal biases or however people want to label it. There's a term in psychology called confirmation bias that affects everyone and is one of the primary reasons the scientific method is so important. It's natural for people to see and place importance on data that confirms their own bias and "miss" or downplay data that does not. While there is a semantic component at play here, I can't say with certainty that Fumento was guilty of anything more than confirmation bias.

In any event, the real issue, in my view, should not be a mistake in Fumento's essay, but in his failure to address a critic who pointed the mistake out. If Fumento would have had a debate with Andy X we might all be smarter because of it, but for whatever reason, Fumento refused to discuss that particular criticism. Like the scientific method, criticism and the debate and defense of one's ideas is essential to further scientific understanding and knowledge. It's one reason why papers are subject to peer review and why PhD candidates must defend their thesis. The fact that Fumento refused to engage in such a debate says a lot more than the arguments taking place in this thread. If one is unwilling to defend one's ideas against criticism then I think those ideas and the credibility of that person become damaged. If you're going to criticise Fumento for something, that is what it should be in my opinion.

Andy (#18) is correct that refusal to engage in debate over matters that can be settled by fact - and characterization of a scientific paper is such a debate - should count against the refusing party when evaluating credibility.

It's one of the reasons why I published Fumento's email response yesterday.

Andy X, comment #15 is linked to your own issues with civility here, which led to yesterday's warning from Robin. You're missing some key principles, and they're really important.

"So, is it allright for ideology to alter perception when it is generally considered to be morally benign or beneficial? What about in the case when an individual believes strongly in the righteousness of their ideology, regardless of whether it is widely accepted? Do they become less culpable for their biased views? Does this reduce "lies" to "simple inaccuracies"?"

Yes, it does; indeed, it had damn well better do so.

The entire system you live under, and the historically unusual domestic peace you enjoy, are predicated on this belief.

A person who is wrong, is wrong. You address their arguments in public debate, under the shelter of a constitution and rule of law that are designed to make it difficult for such people to impose their views by force rather than persuasion. In debate, you can point out that they are wrong and explain why. You can point out that they are idiots and explain why. And if a pattern of behaviour emerges over time, you can point that out too. That pattern may be an ugly pattern, but one is discussing the pattern. Within that framework (plus a couple of other requirements), it is possible to have discussion and debate that mean something.

If a person is deliberately lying to you, however, they have violated that basic compact in a very fundamental way. There can be no discussion with such an individual. Which means they can only be defeated. The logical endpoint of dealings with such people is not argument, therefore - it is war.

Those who do not see that key difference, or who refuse to see it, have taken a large step toward a war mentality with respect to all of their opponents - a mentality that can and has led to violence and armed civil strife. Which is why those who practice it reveal a deep and dangerous ignorance of history and basic civics, in addition to a lack of manners.

That history is recent, aqs well as ancient. Communists and fascists often spoke and speak in such terms. Enemies are not just wrong, they are malign and must be punished - which may include forced "re-education." This is justified through the criminalization of their culpability for being wrong, in ways that are extended throughout everyday life. Hence the 20th century's death toll of 70 million in war, vs. 160 million murdered by their governments, a crystalizing static that reveals the depth of their war against their own populations.

Islam as a religion also shares much of this mentality, vid. the practice of dhimmitude, the routine lack of equal justice for non-Muslims under Islamic rule, and the consistent extirpation over time of non-Muslim populations within its sphere as part and parcel of jihad's praxis. Christianity once shared many aspects of this as well, but it also had some important alternate concepts embedded into it (like G-d vs. Ceasar) and we beat the rest of the tendency out of them (more accurately, they beat it out of each other and science finished the job).

None of these examples are folks or trends that a sensible individual wishes to emulate.

But your persistent comments, and expressions of belief that Fumento's views should remove him from basic considerations of fairness and civility, and/or entitle youy to read his mind (he said he read the article, you can't possibly prove he didn't, but you pursue the issue as a serious argument rather than as a simple putdown).... all show a serious lack of understanding. The comments re: Fumento's sexuality that got you dinged by Robin look to be all of a piece here, I'm afraid.

There are situations, of course, in which a state may legitimately criminalize active opposition, and the nature of those situations is revealing. It happens in times of war. Joe Kennedy was a fan of fascism, and he was not alone. Once war was declared, however, expressing support for the Axis in public forums tended to have swift and real consequences. See also World War 1, Civil War, et. al.

But note the circumstance: war.

There are a number of "firewalls" against this dynamic in a healthy society, and more still in a free society. The most basic, however, is civility and a sense of limits. When they crumble, many of the other firewalls are undermined... and we live in time wherein many of those other firewalls have been weakened.

These limits I discuss do not preclude vigorous debate, as a cursory glance at even American history will reveal. One's opponent may be a supporter of the vile Confederate slavocracy, who would trample the constitution underfoot and bring the entire nation into unpardonable sin against God. Or a consistent apologist for tyrant and terrorists, whose only enemy that can rouse him to serious opposition is America and for whom American defeat is a positive goal. Or an enemy of the working class who aims at their impoverishment, and whose policies and goals reveal him. These are strong contentions with moral weight - but they are subject to argument, debate, and counter.

Andy X's characterizations of Fumento, very frequently, are not. That alone is a problem. The deep lack of understanding that often lies beneath that attitudes, however, is an even bigger problem.

Huh - missed this whole Fumento thing - I usually wait before I comment on new posters, and even then, I usually comment on people who are "participating" in a conversation - which usually Totten, Fumento are not, as they have their own sites which keep them busy.

Myself, Fumento's "prickness" - as Kevin Drum mentions - isn't much of a concern to me - as a liberal who liberally cusses up a storm, I could givea rat's a$$ about that civility thing. Myself, I simply would tell Fumento to f**k off. YES, that is not a civil thing to do, I'm playing in the shallow end of the civility pool, I admit it. (Thanks to all and sundry for allowing me to still comment here.) Though, as a slight defense I do attempt to restrict my name-calling to ACTIVITIES of a person, rather than calling the person something. (Example - "that is such a bulls**t argument", as opposed to "YOU are a s**t")

Still, I respect the commitment to scientific truth seen here. The thing I AM committed to is "calling B.S", both in myself (first) and in others. In THAT sense, I'm interested in truth beyond propaganda and my biases, my own and others. And it is that sense of wanting truth in all three spheres - the CONTENT of the truth, the CONTEXT in which a particular truth arises, and the IMPORTANCE of the truth, in relation with other truths. (Thus my continual insistence on cherrypicking examples here.)

For Fumento, over at the Washington Monthly, this comment is appropriate"

I've been attacked by Fumento, myself. He's insanely unhinged by people who disagree with him, but he's surprisingly similiar to people who agree with him, too. He's gotten very pissy at TCS, for instance, because they ocassionally published a libertarian writer with an actually appropriate background who challenged one of his pet causes. It was a medical issue, and he had the audacity to tell a nurse/journalist that she had no qualifications to comment while he did. Even more amusing, though, were his efforts to pump up reviews for one of his books on Amazon. He'd go on this magnificant tirades about how brilliant he was, post them on his book and books which offered a differing view, all while pretending it wasn't him. Frankly, his tone and style is always a dead-giveaway. Amazon eventually scrubbed all of his fake posts. Alas, he's not an important enough person for this to have resulted in a scandal (nor was it an issue that his usual critics spend much time on), but its a shame he wasn't more publicly humiliated for that debacle.

Joe, I understand the 'principle of charity' in argumentation, but Andy X has a point. I suppose it's just possible that Fumento was so excited by a potential argument against ESC research, that he missed all of the caveats in the paper itself when he read [skimmed? ran his hand over??] it. But the nature of his 'reply' to Andy X and his further correspondence with you makes me think that the charity is misplaced. His attempt to drown out criticism with assertions of his own self-importance makes me think something more like recklessness, egomania, or deliberate distortion is involved in his errors.

The entire issue regarding differentiation ability of Atala's amniotic stem cells comes down to this: Did Atala succeed in converting them into all three germ layers that form all the cells of the body?" Here's a quote from Atala from PBS's Online Newshour at: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/health/jan-june07/cell_01-08.html.

"And, therefore, we have been able to drive the cell to what we call all three germ layers, which basically means all three major classes of tissues available in the body, from which all cells come from."

We therefore have Joe Katzman saying that Atala (and by derivation, Fumento) is lying about Atala's paper. Personally -- and call me crazy -- I'm going to go ahead and side with Atala.

And by the way, it took me less than 10 seconds to Google that quote. Mr. Katzman needs to learn how to use a search engine.

Oh, and regarding his statement that all of his advertising does is cover the cost of his website: Anybody who has a website, self included, knows what it costs and knows he's full of it. This is a profit-making site, which is why Katzman will do anything to drive traffic to it including indulging idiots like Andy X.

Now what about that challenge to go to Ramadi? All I hear is a bunch of chickenhawk squawking. Bawk! Bawk! Bawk!

Joe K wrote:
.bq Fumento was given the keys for two reasons. One was his first-person reporting from dangerous places in Iraq, rather than some Baghdad hotel. The other was his work in the scientific area, which has produced useful and valuable debunkings in the past. Those were sufficient to earn him the keys.

Useful and valuable debunkings, perhaps -- but now, in retrospect, can we be sure they were accurate?

My concern is that the keys were handed over based more on (perceived?) usefulness than on accuracy. As it now stands, if I read something by Fumento on stem cells (or on Iraq mortality estimates, or on malaria control, or on the number of flavors at Baskin-Robbins) how can I trust his information? And, those are areas where it's possible to double-check. If Fumento is unreliable on topics where it is possible to check, can he have been completely reliable in areas where it is impossible to do so?

His issues with civil discourse made things worse (and helped to reveal his errors more quickly) but the underlying problem is that his track record was both known and knowable. He should never have been offered the keys.

Michael Fumento #23 --

In comment #11 above, I walked through some technical reasons why I reached conclusions different from your own. Namely:

  • The Atala paper has not proven that AFS cells are as versatile as embryonic stem cells in differentiating to form all possible tissue types.
  • As of today, it is not possible to state that AFS cells are as versatile as embryonic stem cells in differentiating to form all possible tissue types. We just don't know yet.

AJL,

Maybe so. This is a kind of psycho-analysis I usually hate - but I'd be interested to see if Fumento's slide and his embed in a combat zone are related in time. I've been getting a few "this guy has really changed" back-channel emails on the subject, and it makes me wonder. My wife said the guy has a lot of markers that fit an adrenalin junkie, and the 'tude's attendant drama is certainly one way to keep the juice going when you're not on the firing line.

Yes, M. Simon, you told us so. But since I can't see into his head and have almost no evidence to back up this wild hunch, let's keep the medical PTSD stuff out of the stem cell thread (heck, post ONE link to a good exposition, for those who are interested - but then duty is done and back to the subject at hand).

Now, in the matter of argument.

It's possible as a matter of probability that Andy X is right, and Fumento didn't read the paper. But here's the thing... it's unprovable and hence undebatable.

Fumento says "I did"! Andy X says "you didn't!" Now what?

What would be legit is for Fumento to say "I did" and Andy X to reply "You couldn't have/ Really? So how's that lawsuit against your English teachers going?/ I hear there are mail-order colleges that can help you with this problem" ...or whatever. That's a putdown, either after or as a prelude to evidence backing it up. When it's done, it's done. One can also question whether Fumento understood what he read. That's 100% legit, and a point I did address to some extent.

As a matter of factual provenance, however, one must simply accept Fumento's assertion that he read the article, and handle the implications from there. Doesn't matter that Fumento's an ass (understatement). Wouldn't matter if he walked up and down Broadway wearing an "I love Osama" sign.

I don't do it because Fumento deserves it or doesn't. I do it because it's impossible to prove otherwise.

If Fumento himself wants to come back and say, "Yeah, I screwed up, I said I read it and I didn't, and that's why I was off-base," well, that's one thing. But he's the only one who can know - and unless he does, I must accept his assertions about his own actions before he wrote that piece.

A mindset that argues the point instead, and treats it as a provable assertion, is way into the rocky shoals of dangerous argumentative and thinking postures.

Let me stress something here as an aside re: Andy X...

Andy X did some very good work here, and his evidence-based challenge opened the discussion in a very useful and appropriate way. Dude, I'm not trying to pick on you or say you're a terrible person. But I am saying that there are very problematic thought processes involved in the lack of a mistaken/liar distinction. There are also other mental time-bombs that CAN (but may or may not be in this case) associated with some of the other conduct displayed. Some of the stuff that seems minor may not be so minor at its root, and it's stuff we all need to be careful of.

Final point... why didn't I go for the putdown, especially after Fumento made me that angry? Because it was about something bigger than my anger, and that anger would only be in my way. Yes, I could have inserted a "he couldn't have read it" put-down as a one-off. To what end?

I wanted, and want, to make it very clear, even to folks otherwise inclined to sympathize with his positions, that a completely fair and generous treatment of Fumento's actions still shows him crossing some big and important professional lines.

I can let go of my anger and do that effectively, in a manner that remains completely true to the ideals I ding Fumento for failing. Or I can get angry, and have the piece seen as a reaction out of anger. Choose... and I chose.

As I've noted before in other contexts, don't confuse civility with softness.

Fumento's behaviour isn't new. Back in 2003 he accused Reason editor Nick Gillespie of lying, based only on Fumeno's paranoia. Gillespie responded:

"I intend this to be my last few words on this matter. As a journalist and especially as an editor-in-chief, I'm used to being on the receiving end of all manner of wild, odd, and totally false accusations. However, Mike Fumento has set a new standard by calling me--the editor who just published a feature-length article by him and defended that article in a public letter--a liar.

"In insisting that Reason ran Gary Taubes' reply to "Big Fat Fake" because of threatened legal action, Fumento throws together an unconvincing case of conjecture that surely fails to convince anyone of anything other than Fumento's own rather sad self-absorption. Why he cannot accept the simple truth in this issue is beyond me. On Feb. 20, Taubes contacted me after reading the article and told me he wanted to reply. I told him to go ahead and he sent me his response on Feb. 25. We posted it, along with a final response by Fumento, on Reason Online on March 4. Taubes and I never discussed anything of a legal matter. As I stated previously (quoting from a Feb. 27 email to Fumento), I decided to run Taubes' reply at the length at which he submitted it because we could do so easily on the Web and because I thought the length and content of the reply helped Fumento's case substantially.

"Fumento's bizarre behavior does not particularly interest me, even as a pathetic tragicomic spectacle, except insofar as it attempts to slag my reputation and that of Reason's. We don't cave in to nuisance writers--even, alas, when they have written for Reason--any more than we cave into "nuisance lawsuits," real or imagined.

"When properly edited and restrained from indulging in the sort of baseless invective he has displayed regarding this matter, Fumento is capable of producing good stuff, including "Big Fat Fake" in the March issue of Reason. Sadly, these days he seems more interested in spinning out e-mail accusations that have no basis in fact and only redound negatively to his own reputation. I wish him well in his new line of work."

Those who allege Fumento's various shortcomings were obvious - and that therefore his invitation to post here was done for a variety of unworthy motives - are missing an important point, I think.

Joe referred to a 'slide'. That strikes me as right. I mentioned in a previous thread his earlier association with the Hudson Institute. That's an organization for which I have respect, although it went through ups and downs after Herman Kahn's death. The Institute has been, among other things, home to Claudia Rossett whose investigation of the Oil for Food program at the UN has been detailed, professional and highly regarded. Its current roster of scholars and fellows includes some heavy hitters across a wider spectrum of political beliefs than some might imagine.

Whatever his current issues and whatever the cause for his small behavior here and elsewhere of late, I take his earlier association with the Hudson Institute to suggest he has done valuable work in the past. Worth keeping in mind.

Mr. Fumento claims in comment #23:

"The entire issue regarding differentiation ability of Atala's amniotic stem cells comes down to this: Did Atala succeed in converting them into all three germ layers that form all the cells of the body?"

No. That is NOT what you said. Perhaps you SHOULD sue your high-school English teachers, because you can't even read what you yourself wrote. Shall I remind you?

"Translation: The amniotic cells carry the same potential as embryonic stem cells to become each of the 220 cell types in the human body."

That is (a) not at all the same claim; and (b) wrong. Transparently wrong, in fact, to anyone reading a paper that specifically denies this exact claim.

But Michael Fumento still can't understand the difference, or read the paper. Now, perhaps he didn't do very well in school, and is going to end up in some dead-end place as a result - no, I was actually thinking of John Kerry's senatorial office. Anyway, that would be OK and he could then make any claims he liked about the paper - because then he wouldn't be pretending to be a professional science writer.

Finally, I too am aware of what a site like this with a dedicated server, a few external monitoring tools, and some tech support help costs to run. I am also rather painfully aware of what our ads bring in, and what some of our planned improvements to the site will cost. Winds has been worth the expense to Marc, and myself, and a number of other contributors who have chipped in. Having said that, folks, if you have any tips re: well-paying ad services and other blog options out there, please share.

Mr. Fumento... when you're no longer seen as a credible science reporter - and the way you're going that will be rather soon - you may want to think twice about shifting your beat to business or finance.

Andrew, if this imminent deployment ends up taking your guys near Ramadi, you might want to think twice about ever agreeing to have Mr. Fumento tag along on your battalion's ops.

Though you'd probably already gathered that. A few very invested parents, recent vets, and military instructors who write here have probably gathered that, too.

Mr. Fumento, you aren't doing yourself any favours with this crap.

Robin Burk wrote:
bq. Those who allege Fumento's various shortcomings were obvious - and that therefore his invitation to post here was done for a variety of unworthy motives - are missing an important point, I think.

Um, I think you're talkin' to me. (As in: "You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talking... you talking to me?")

Just for the record, I wasn't implying unworthy motives. I was implying worthy motives but poor judgement. Right now -- and for a little while, too -- anything Fumento writes has needed double-checking. Joe and Marc and whoever else should have noticed this before handing over the keys, because this was absolutely forseeable.

Perhaps so. However, hindsight is also often 20-20, and my point is that there was a time when his association with a respected organization suggested he himself was credible. When that eroded visibly can no doubt be reconstructed but it's not obvious to me that A.L. and Joe showed poor judgement in giving him a chance here, even if he blew that chance badly and very visibly.

And may I (very gently) suggest that those who are quick to criticize A.L. and Joe for giving Fumento a forum here also spend a few moments asking themselves whether that critique isn't informed by a bit of schadenfreude aimed at someone whose positions (as opposed to delivery and sloppy thought) are unwelcome? Not to defend Fumento, but rather in a spirit of recognition that one of the valuable characteristics about Winds of Change is the willingness to hear a wide variety of opinions with some seriousness. If we err, I hope it will generally be on the side of tolerance rather than heavy filtering -- so long as that tolerance is neither taken advantage of nor detrimental to the tone of the discussion here.

Okay, this whole Fumento business has been entertaining... but I remember back to a simpler time, a more civil time. Specifically, I remember back to April 24, 2005 when one P. Lukasiak was given a tender send-off with our best efforts at a good-bye rap.

I recall having suggested that next time, we go for haiku.

Ahem.

Misplaced hopes, oh no!
Shoddy snark is what we got.
Goodbye, silly man.

-Boo

AC [#31],

Everyone makes mistakes --- you, me, JK & AL, even MF. The important thing, as we have seen, is to have processes in place to detect mistakes, and then for the people who made them to analyze them and correct them.

This is what makes science work. Plenty of working scientists have made mistakes, and their careers go on just fine, as long as they analyze them, understand them, admit them, and correct them. Those who conceal their mistakes, or dissemble when confronted, lose all professional credibility and are out of the field.

Blogging isn't science, but the discourse at WoC shares some of its good characteristics. JK & AL have handled an unfortunate situation pretty well. It's no fun, of course, but it had to be done, and they did it.

The fatal flaw for MF, and whatever remains of his career as a science journalist, is that he seems to have lost the humility to prefer the truth over personal desires that you need to be a scientist. ("Mother Nature doesn't care how much you want something to be true.") He has demonstrated, evidently many times, that he can't or won't confront and correct his own mistakes.

BooPear,

OK, we'll take your haiku as official for this one.

Fumento might do well as a business/finance writer. There seems to be an inverse proportion between exposure and quality in the field. But I’m starting to wonder if Andy X wasn’t on to something more than snark: the obsession with bodily functions, the unprovoked slam at a large-breasted woman, the need to shut critics up so he doesn’t have to hear them…

Everyone makes mistakes --- you, me, JK & AL, even MF. The important thing, as we have seen, is to have processes in place to detect mistakes, and then for the people who made them to analyze them and correct them.

This is what makes science work.

Y'up.

As Andy X demonstrates in comment #6 (and prior on-notice warning from Robin), WoC needs to be as diligent in maintaining civility on all sides of debate.

However much Mr. Fumento caused himself to be disinvited from posting, using personal invective and insult as taunt and gloating after the fact does your site no credit. Two wrongs don't make a right, etc.

You stress that Fumento may have mischaracterized the conclusiveness of the study, but note that the study itself nevertheless holds great promise that amniotic stem cells may eventually do all that we would wish that stem cells can do (thus precluding the need to harvest embryonic cells). In this you do well.

Indeed, Fumento's failure was in choosing to ignore, to shun debate, and to react with insult when confronted. But note my first paragraph, Andy X certainly crossed the line as well.

Now, you've expended a fair amount of pixels in exposing the complete controversy in exhaustive detail.

Are we really any the wiser on the science? How many comments on Fumento, his character, credibility, and how much on the underlying points of contention in the science itself?

dadmanly, I've tried to focus my comments on the science...

What is it about this page that attracts vicious liars?

Rayilyn Brown, in claiming that I am "a known liar who has no credibility on anything. He has lied before about adult stem cell successes as being 62-80 when after 50 years there are actually 9 and none for Parkinson's disease as he claims."

Excuse me, but every stem cell piece I have ever written is listed at fumento.com. Please find the one that says there are human treatments for Parkinson's. All I ever wrote on the subject is "Further, Do No Harm lists about 100 non-embryonic stem cell experiments on animals that have shown success against every disease [Charles] Krauthammer names, including Parkinson's, diabetes, Alzheimer's, paralysis, and many more. Lab animal physiology isn't so different from our own as to assume that many of these results won't translate into results for humans."

Animals, Rayilyn, animals. Such as this study from last year: "Transplantation of human neural stem cells exerts neuroprotection in a rat model of Parkinson's disease." Kind of speaks for itself, doesn't it?

Regarding the number of human diseases treatable or curable with ASCs, I wrote a whole article on that at:

http://www.fumento.com/biotech/stem-cell-scam.html

Read it. It shows the figure of nine is pure ESC-researcher agit-prop. See also, the letter "Treating diseases with adult stem cells" in the Jan. 19, 2007 issue of science in which the authors aptly defend use of the 72 figure. The "almost 80" figure that I've used comes from: http://www.corcell.com/expectant/diseases_treated.html#current

It lists 76, but hasn't been updated in years. On the other hand, the researcher who came up with the lower 72 figure says he's using a stricter burden of evidence. Doesn't it also say something that there are almost 1,200 ASC human clinical trials (either recruiting or no longer recruiting) listed at clinicaltrials.gov? That would seem to indicate a very advanced level of progress with these cells as opposed to the zero clinical trials involving ESCs.

Atala's assertion about ES cells is also something I've written about. Because so many researchers are beholden to the NIH for grant money, there's tremendous pressure for ASC researchers to always say, "But still, this doesn't mean there may not be uses for ESCs" even when they darned well know better.

It's clear that those who post comments on this blog are as mean and prejudiced as the greedy site owner and some of his bloggers. Good sites attract good readers; bad sites attract the dregs. I will post no more counter-comments here. If you care about the truth, check out attacks against me versus what's truly on my website, learn how to use Google, and learn how to use PubMed. Or stay blissfully -- and meanly -- ignorant.

"What is it about this page that attracts vicious liars?"

Good question, Fumento. What brought you here?

Although I would say that you're rather well beyond the point of rescuing your reputation here, and will certainly claim indifference to this (even though your comments in #40 suggest otherwise), I don't see any reason not to give you another chance to address a key issue related to your commentary.

Let me lay it out as succinctly as possible.

Your accusations of bias in the media are meaningless if you cannot convince others that you are not equally biased. Partisanship and propaganda are easy to dismiss.

So, here are the questions, again, that cut to the core of this issue:

(1) Are you against using human ES cells for research purposes?

(2) Are you against the rederivation of more lines than are currently available?

Explain your views on human ES cell usage or give it up. Excuse me if I'm not already fully informed of your views and you have to repeat them again here. View it as an opportunity to educate, not excoriate.

AX

Fumento;

Perhaps there is no need to respond to me. Your previous message provides enough clues to glean your general position on human ES stem cells. You're a PRO-LIFER.

The tell was your citation of a group known as "Do No Harm".

Here it is:

Further, Do No Harm lists about 100 non-embryonic stem cell experiments on animals that have shown success against every disease [Charles] Krauthammer names, including Parkinson's, diabetes, Alzheimer's, paralysis, and many more.

However, if you go to the website for this group, you find out that they're PRO-LIFERS TOO! How interesting!

This is the mission statement from this group:

Stem cell research promises great good and is a worthy scientific priority as long as we pursue it ethically. Obtaining stem cells from people without seriously harming people in the process can be ethical. However, obtaining stem cells from human embryos cannot be ethical because it necessarily involves destroying those embryos.

Human embryonic stem cell research violates existing law and policy

State: Homicide laws of all 50 states protect human life and the dignity of every human being--especially the vulnerable; laws of many states already specifically protect vulnerable embryonic human beings outside the womb; most prohibit destructive human embryo and human fetal research.
National: The present Congressional ban on federally-funded human embryo research explicitly excludes "research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death"; existing laws requiring separation between the death of an unborn child in abortion and research objectives using the unborn child's tissues preclude the destruction of human embryos as a means of achieving research objectives.
International: Documents such as the Nuremburg Code, the World Medical Association's Declaration of Helsinki, and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights reject the use of human beings in experimental research without their informed consent and permit research on incompetent subjects only if there is a legal surrogate, minimal risk, and therapeutic benefit for the human subject.

Human embryonic stem cell research is unethical:

Recent history provides tragic examples of attempts to justify gross violations of the rights of human beings in medical research on the utilitarian basis of "social and medical benefit": the Tuskegee experiments on African Americans, U.S. government-sponsored radiation research, the Nazi medical war crimes, etc.
Good ends (e.g., health) do not justify the use of unethical means (e.g., killing human beings).

(This is my favorite part coming up...

Scientifically, the international consensus of embryologists is that human beings begin at fertilization (or cloning)--i.e., when their genetic code is complete and operative; even before implantation they are far more than a "bunch of cells" or merely " potential human beings."

BULLCRAP

Human embryonic stem cell research is scientifically unnecessary:

Other research methods which use stem cells from adults to develop treatments for many diseases have recently been successful; in fact, the British Medical Journal (1999) has concluded that, in medical research, human embryonic stem cells "may soon be eclipsed by the more readily available and less controversial adult stem cells. "
The use of a patient's own stem cells is even preferable to using embryonic stem cells because it avoids the problem of the body rejecting cells other than its own.
Other new methods such as somatic cell gene therapy are increasingly successful in tissue regeneration and otherwise treating disease.

Necessary Next Steps:

Congress should maintain the existing ban on harmful federally-funded human embryo research and make explicit its application to embryonic stem cell research.
Congress should provide federal funding for the development of alternative treatments which do not require the destruction of embryonic human beings.

Michael Fumento #40 --

Doesn't it also say something that there are almost 1,200 ASC human clinical trials (either recruiting or no longer recruiting) listed at clinicaltrials.gov? That would seem to indicate a very advanced level of progress with these cells as opposed to the zero clinical trials involving ESCs.

I looked at stem cell trials at clinicaltrials.gov a few days ago. One gets many hundreds of results searching for "stem cells" or "stem cell transplantation." The number of studies returned is dependent on the exact search strategy used.

However, that number doesn't mean what the casual reader may think it means. The vast majority of stem cell trials concern the use of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) to treat blood disorders such as leukemia. As I've noted elsewhere in these comments, HSCs are the specialty adult stem cells that are responsible for regenerating blood elements--red and white blood cells, platelets, and macrophages.

HSC transplantation is the accepted therapeutic approach for many leukemias, lymphmas, myelomas, and related cancers. The philosophy is to destroy the blood cancer with high-dose radiation or chemotherapy, and then repopulate the bone marrow with donated HSCs.

Thus, it's no surprise that the vast majority of stem cell trials listed are HSC trials, and that the vast majority of these are "tweaks" to therapies that are already in use. For example, a typical trial listed under "stem cell transplantation" might explore the use of a new chemotherapeutic agent in the attack on the cancer that precedes HSC infusion. It's "new," but it's not new in any meaningful way as regards broad approaches to stem cell therapies.

That said, there are some dozens of clinical trial underway that are novel, and they all (to my knowledge) involve adult or fetal (not embryonic) stem cells. Three general categories there:

  • Trying to exploit HSC "transdifferentiation" to promote regeneration of solid organs, most notably the heart muscle.
  • Trying to use stem cells (usually HSCs) to treat rare diseases that are due to inborn errors of metabolism.
  • Trying to use other stem cells to promote solid organ regeneration or to modulate immune disorders. IIRC, cell types are mesenchymal stem cells, fetal neural stem cells, and muscle-derived stem cells.

I think that offering a line like "almost 1,200 ASC human clinical trials" without providing this sort of background may have the effect of misleading readers.

AMac (#43) - Yes, Fumento's numerical cite would mislead readers without additional background. Thanks for clarifying.

All of which remains irrelevant to what the paper Fumento cites actually said. He may claim anything he wishes regarding the broader stem cell issue, and be subject to debate - but he MUST be accurate and factual in reporting what other people are saying, in ways that do NOT provoke debate, if he wishes to be a professional science reporter.

He didn't.

Dadmanly (#38) - We're about both the science and Fumento's own credibility on this one - because both are equally important.

The science, yes, which is why I outlined exactly what the paper said on key subjects and brought in the supplementary material via links. If all you had read was Fumento's article then yes, you'd be ahead on the science. I am warmed by AMac's professional assessment in this regard (#10).

Fumento's credibility, refusal to debate, et. al. are also significant issues for 3 reasons:

{1} The ethic of science, which he transgressed with both his refusal to discuss evidence-based charges of factual shortcomings in his work [vid. the email we printed], and with his flawed-to-put-it-kindly portrayal of a paper that most of his readers couldn't get their hands on (vid. this piece). They need to be addressed, and the ethic explained and reinforced.

{2} Fumento is a public figure and a professional writer. His attitudes toward factual accuracy and toward many of the people in his audience are relevant material in a reputation-based field.

{3} Winds of Change.NET has its own standards for decorum, civility, and conduct. When they are very visibly breached, as they were here, it's important for people to understand why and how.

This helps maintain those standards. It's also a useful firewall against later inventions by someone who doesn't seem overly concerned about truth, since the entire dispute has now been flayed and left for public view. Fumento's subsequent conduct on his own blog re: this dispute would seem to indicate the wisdom of such measures. This IS a reputation-based field, and as one of the site's caretakers it's my responsibility to see that we suffer only for things we actually DO.

AndyX (#41-42) - Still seeing the same argumentation problems.

As a matter of basic logic, Fumento could be against stem cell research, and still have a credible case of bias against the New York Times or anyone else. His own biases do NOT negate his ability to make a case for bias in others. Believing they do is the very definition of an ad hominem argument - an argument against the man and NOT the case.

Go back to my comment #20, and read it again carefully... this is the same problematic mentality, in another form.

Having said that, it is reasonable to be publicly cautious of the case that someone with known biases makes regarding his opponents, and hold their evidence in question until it is examined in more detail. Fumento certainly showed that he requires such treatment.

I do happen to think that despite Fumento's other flaws in this piece, he was on reasonably strong ground with his characterization of the NYT. It's an important study even with its limited conclusions, coverage elsewhere was extensive, and the NYT itself has a long tradition of blatant bias and bent or elided news coverage in the service of those biases. If you wish to go after Fumento's charges of media bias, those are the issues you must address.

FYI, I happen to be a lot closer to the moral views of the group you cite on the stem cell issue than I am to yours. You still have to address my arguments (and so does Fumento, if he can) - and his as well. Which you finally did, when you pointed out that this is not a scientific position:

"Scientifically, the international consensus of embryologists is that human beings begin at fertilization (or cloning)--i.e., when their genetic code is complete and operative; even before implantation they are far more than a "bunch of cells" or merely " potential human beings."

BULLCRAP"

Yes - though the moral position itself may nonetheless be right. That, however, is a separate argument. They would have been on firmer ground, too, if they had limited the claim and simply said:

"Scientifically, the international consensus of embryologists is that human beings begin at fertilization (or cloning)--i.e., when their genetic code is complete and operative."

One can address this by noting that the issue with fetal stem cells is not a scientific one of genetics but a moral one of personhood - but at least you'd be addressing an argument that isn't dishonest on its face.

What is inarguable, is that defending a moral position in argument via dishonesty is self-defeating. Paragraphs like the one you cite fit this description, and certainly help make the case that Fumento and other members of this group are sources to be treated with caution.

But you, like Fumento, take reasonable claims too far and thus stray into dangerous territory.

The AP had a story on Dec. 11, 2006 about a fetal stem cell therapy being attempted on a child with a rare, incurable, inherited neurological disorder known as Batten Disease. These neural stem cells are derived from aborted fetuses. They are not ES cells, but thus carry their own controversy. "Child Stem Cell Recipient Heads Home" is cached at Google.

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