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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Teaching Stem Cell Scientists How to Hype



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Never has so much hype been shoveled than the CURES! CURES! CURES! propaganda that sold embryonic stem cell research to the American public.

That hasn’t worked out so well in actual practice, but the white elephant that is the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine–with a renewal election coming up next year–has spent some of our (Californians’) borrowed money to teach stem cell scientists how to hype the product. From the San Francisco Chronicle story:

The best way to talk about stem cells may be to not talk about stem cells. Instead, scientists are probably better off glossing over the details and avoiding terms like “embryonic” and “pluripotent” stem cells, and focusing instead on what they’re trying to accomplish and who they hope to help someday. Stem cells, after all, are complicated stuff.

That’s one of the lessons gleaned from an exercise Wednesday aimed at helping scientists learn how to sell their research to an unscientific public with a short attention span. The state’s stem cell funding agency hosted an informal contest during which nearly 60 scientists gave video “elevator pitches” – super-fast presentations that are supposed to grab a listener’s attention in just 30 seconds.

That’s the way to avoid the ethical issues. Hype!  

That may mean pulling on people’s heartstrings and talking about devastating diseases like Alzheimer’s or Huntington’s, neither of which has a cure, and both of which are being heavily studied by stem-cell scientists. Trounson and other stem cells experts draw people into their research by talking about real-life implications first, and the lab work later…

And there were some unexpected darlings in the contest. A young researcher from UC San Diego won laughter and the undivided attention of judges for coughing and panting his way through a pitch about his work in repairing and regenerating lung tissue. “Even though no one can live forever, everyone deserves to breathe,” Dr. Asaf Presente said at the conclusion of his pitch, to applause from the judges.

It’s critical that stem cell scientists learn how to talk clearly and engagingly about their work, because their careers – and the field as a whole – depends on public support, Trounson said.

This, from an agency that has been mismanaged and rife with conflicts of interest. But it wants billions more on our credit card, and CURES! CURES! CURES! will be needed again, so now’s the time to teach “the scientists” how to shill like Mad Men



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