Human Exceptionalism

SF Chronicle Turns Against CA Stem Cell Agency

In 2004, California voters passed Proposition 71 under an avalanche of mendacious CURES! CURES! CURES! hype: Children would get out of wheelchairs! Diabetes would be conquered! Mendacity, mendacity, all was mendacity.

Ten years later and the spin has spun. Now, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine will need voters to renew its borrow-and-spend mandate. That will be a tough sell since the hype won’t work again.

Showing which way the wind may be blowing, the San Francisco Chronicle–a very enthusiastic cheer leader for Proposition 71 in its editorials and reporting–has sent a strong message in an editorial that the public spigot should be turned off. From, “Stem Cell Agency Hasn’t Lived Up to its Hype:”

As far as the public is concerned, nagging questions remain: Has the institute been effective enough? How good should California taxpayers feel about the institute’s use of their $3 billion?

The answer is a decidedly mixed one. Part of the problem is that California taxpayers had outsize expectations when they passed Prop. 71. Looking back at the advertisements for Prop. 71, we see that research advocates and celebrities promised that lives would be saved by its passage.

That’s putting it mildly. Proponents lied to voters to create that misimpression. And too much of the anti-Bush and disdaining of pro-lifers media–seen as the primary opponents of 71–went happily along.

And here’s an ironic assertion dripping of the old anti-pro-life bias and reeking of blatantly revisionist history:

The good news is that scientists since have discovered that “adult” stem cells may be tremendously powerful for cures (thereby neutralizing the antiabortion crowd). The bad news is that all of the research is taking scientists much longer than the public had hoped.

“Neutralizing the antiabortion crowd”–as if pro-lifers oppose adult stem cells? To the contrary: Pro-lifers and other opponents were the ones screaming throughout the campaign that adult stem cell research–rather than the “only hope” embryonic–showed the greatest promise! They were right.

Here’s the Chronicle’s bottom line:

Prop. 71 was an initiative passed based on the politics of the time. It’s difficult to call it a total failure, especially during a time when U.S. public investment in scientific research is so low.

But stem cell research has finally gotten off the ground all over the country, and the institute’s operations over the past decade haven’t inspired the confidence California voters would need to offer the agency more money. The agency will need to rely on private investment if it’s to continue its mission.

Folks, that mildly worded last sentence is an atom bomb. If a newspaper that in the past has been such a huge booster of CIRM believes that CIRM’s time has passed, I am hopeful that the mismanaged agency may actually be shown the door.

Turn out the lights as you leave. We’ll be paying your debts for decades to come. 

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