I have mentioned before that scientists with heterodox views in the areas of cloning/ESCR (as well as in other contentious areas beyond the subjects dealt with here at SHS) are bullied, attacked, ridiculed, threatened with loss of job, or if tenured, forced to teach “punishment” classes, and otherwise have their professional trajectories interfered with when they become viewed as, shall we say, heretics or apostates.
A small example of this phenomenon was recently on display, courtesy of the professional science journal Nature Neuroscience. A friend of mine, Dr. Maureen Condic, associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine, wrote a column for First Things in which she criticized scientists for hyping the curative potential of embryonic stem cell research. It is a long article, which you can read for yourselves at the link above, but here is a good summarizing paragraph of Condic’s perspective:
The hubris of scientists in the field of embryonic stem cell research who confidently asserted “Give us a few years of unrestricted funding and we will solve these serious scientific problems and deliver miraculous stem cell cures” was evident in 2002, and it is even more evident today. For the past five years, researchers have had completely unrestricted funding to conduct research on animal embryonic stem cells, and yet the serious scientific problems remain. They have had every conceivable tool of modern molecular research available to them for use in animal models, and yet the serious scientific problems remain. Millions of dollars have been consumed, and hundreds of scientific papers published, and yet the problems still remain. The promised miraculous cures have not materialized even for mice, much less for men.
This bit of accurate ego puncturing was too much for Nature Neuroscience, which editorialized against Condic (and the White House) in the April 2007 edition. While admitting that, as Condic reported, “there are formidable hurdles to overcome before HEScs might serve therapeutic purposes,” the editorial argued that “these hurdles are no reason to abandon stem cell research for stem cell therapies.”
The editorial’s conclusion was fair enough, although I didn’t read Condic as urging that ESCR be abandoned. But the personal attacks against Condic of “trying to spin science…for an anti-science purpose,” and strongly implying a religious motive–merely because she dared to express the state of the science accurately, along with a heterodox opinion with which the journal disagreed–is a tiny sample of the intense pressures scientists are placed under to keep them from stepping outside the party line.
At the very least, Condic, having been personally attacked as somehow being an anti-science scientist, should have been given the right to defend herself. Indeed, she tried to do that, but the editor, Sandra Aamodt, Ph.D., refused to permit her the courtesy of a reply in the journal itself, sniffing that there wasn’t enough space, and anyway, she could post a rebuttal on the journal’s blog.
Not good enough. The stature of being in print matters, given that the attack was in print, and given that Condic would want the same people who read the editorial to also be able to see her defense. Moreover, the personal nature of the editorial seems designed to harm Condic in her professional life. One can imagine an academic symposium being organized and Condic’s name coming up as a possible presenter. “Oh, no,” the head organizer sniffs. “I heard she’s anti-science based on religion. Can’t have any of her kind here.”
And they still laugh at the Catholic Church for stifling Galileo. But who are the stiflers now?