Andrew, the Elizabeth Blackburn story is, to put it mildly, not as she tells it. I was a member of the bioethics council staff at the time, so I certainly don’t speak with a great deal of distance from the controversy, though I do speak with knowledge of it. But you don’t need anything beyond the public record to refute Blackburn’s telling of the tale. The Council’s discussion of the stem cell debate—in its reports on cloning, on stem cell research, and on the potential for alternative sources of embryonic-like cells; and in its many hours of discussion (transcripts of which are online) should make it perfectly clear that Blackburn’s accusations are simply unfounded. The continuing service of members who disagree with President Bush on stem cell research (including new members, appointed after Blackburn) also help show that diversity of opinion was always an intentional element of the Council’s design (unlike, for instance, its Clinton administration predecessor). And the fact that members with such views didn’t leave in protest when Blackburn’s appointment was not renewed should at least make you wonder about her side of the story.
Unfortunately, Dr. Blackburn was never willing to see past her own agenda on the Council. She didn’t attend meetings, she would raise complaints about published documents in public which she had never raised when participating in their preparation, and she made it very difficult for other members and for staff to work with her. The story is complicated, and there is no need to get into it here, but let’s just say her comments on the subject in the NY Times this week bear little resemblance to anything I ever saw.