Comments: Weissman Plays "Religion" Card; Scare Tactics With Russian "Ghosts"

Irving News Comments
Copyright July 2, 2005
Reproduced with Permission

In the startling article below (although we should be used to them now), Irving Weissman - like Cuomo, Neaves, West and others - once again plays the "Religion Card". That is, religion trumps - and destroys -- science. Opposition to human cloning (which now includes "human embryonic stem cell research"), is nothing more than religious sentiment - "faith" gone wild (not that some "religious" and political opposition doesn't use bogus science of its own, including that identified in the article by Weissman). This "Religion Card" is always accompanied, of course, with false Biology 101 "science" to boost the evolving Stem Cell Fairy Tale. However, most religions to which Weissman refers simply acknowledge the accurate scientific facts (opposed by Weissman) that "therapeutic cloning" is indeed human cloning, and that the immediate product of both sexual and asexual human reproduction is indeed a single-cell human being, a human organism, a human embryo, a human individual. [See Irving, "What Human Embryo? Funniest Mental Gymnastics from Medicine and Research" (Oct. 14, 2004), at:; and "Analysis: Stearns' Congressional Human Cloning Fairy Tale 'Ban'; New Age and Transhumanist Legislation for 'Converging Technologies'?" (Sept. 8, 2004), at:].

Now Weissman - an M.D. physician whose background is in immunology - gets even more irrational by audaciously playing the "Russian Card". Those "religious zealots" who oppose his research are now like Stalin's misguided communists of old - stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the "new" Darwinian reality because their "ideology" got in the way. Do these people not recognize their own misguided "ideology", and the path of destruction of good science and medicine - and government -- that lay in its wake? Is Weissman simply creating a "new" but fake race with Russia for his own benefit - this time a race for "stem cell research superiority"?

Note too Weissman's mention of voluntary regulations for scientists created by scientists on then-new recombinant DNA gene transfer technology in the United States. This technology - like all technologies - can be used for good or bad. It can also be used for human germ line cell genetic engineering - aka, eugenics. Weissman's mentor, Nobel Prize physicist Dr. Paul Berg, shepherded the global controversy on recombinant DNA technology decades ago at the Asilomar Conferences - also in California. Berg recently came out of his "retirement" long enough to be named as a defendant in a law suit concerning the false science used in promoting California's Proposition 71. The judge in that case ruled against Berg et al, allowing the accurate science to be acknowledged after sworn testimony by genuine scientific experts. [See Irving, "California court rejects false science in Proposition 71" (Nov. 1, 2004), at:].

So the gist of the article is clearly to undermine good science and medicine - and government -- by trying to debunk the scientific credibility of those who oppose his research by playing the "Religion Card", to scare the public - and the Russians - with Ghosts of Stalin and the arms race, and to promote the same voluntary regulations as those achieved at Asilomar by his old Nobel mentor Paul Berg. In other words, fake the science, destroy the credibility of your opponents, fool the public, and shove their Freedom of Scientific Inquiry down their democratic and pluralistic throats. Big BioTech uber alles!

(emphases added)
June 27, 2005

The Ghost of Lysenko

Biologist Irving Weissman warns of the cost of irrational restrictions

By Irving Weissman

By many measures, the US leads the world in biomedical discoveries, technologies and therapies. Recombinant DNA technologies for genetic manipulation were born in America and have produced a multitude of drugs and diagnostic devices by means of a new commercial entity, the biotech startup.

At a critical stage in US history, federal and local governments nearly banned recombinant DNA technology. But instead new regulations required academic and commercial research entities to submit their plans for approval to national and local advisory committees--and research prospered. This kind of regulation, which preserves the essence of unfettered research with the least intrusive bureaucracy and meaningfully protects scientists and society, could be called the American way. Pioneering research moves forward while society continually monitors and receives the benefits by translating discoveries into patient care

History shows the folly of more oppressive interventions. Trofim Lysenko was a maverick biologist who convinced Josef Stalin in the 1920s that the Darwinian view of natural selection was wrong. Darwinian genetics consequently had no home in Russia for decades, while American agriculture and medicine prospered, very significantly aided by migrant Russian geneticists. The Russian way, then, held that ideology trumps science, leading to the loss of good science for generations.

The spectre of Lysenkoism haunts the US debate over stem cells. Because the isolation of stem cells from an embryo ends the possibility that it could be implanted in a uterus, people who feel any biological entity beyond fertilisation is human think this research is immoral. That view underlies the bills by Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas and Representative Dave Weldon of Florida that criminalise this practice.

As part of the administration's current policy that restricts federally funded use of stem cell lines to those made before August 2001, President Bush included a funding ban on production of pluripotent stem cells derived by nuclear transfer, which some call therapeutic cloning. The Weldon/Brownback bills would criminalise that practice, effectively limiting such research to non-US science. Thus, ideology has severely curtailed a foundation technology critical for rapid advances in human developmental biology, an understanding of the causes of human disease and development of potential human therapies. (The Weldon/Brownback bills are not law because a bipartisan coalition in the Senate has blocked their passage.)

Who loses from this federal ban? Not just life science research; not just the young scientists who wish to spend their lives pushing scientific frontiers for knowledge and for therapies. Most of all, it is the tens of thousands of patients who might have been helped. Which is the higher moral ground: saving the world from "therapeutic cloning" or saving the lives of the sick?

Fortunately, consistent with its constitutional right, in 2002 California passed bills to encourage and regulate embryonic stem cell and therapeutic cloning research. In November 2004 the state passed, by a 59 to 41 margin, a $3bn initiative to fund this research over 10 or more years. California has taken on the task of funding mainly basic research in these areas. The timelines to therapies are essentially what should be expected if the National Institutes of Health had funded this research.

While many people think it is a serious problem to substitute state for federal funding of science, I am not among them. I hope that this current intrusion of religion and ideology into federal research is only a transient aberration, but the lessons from the Lysenko experience tell us this situation could last a long time.

Irving Weissman is professor of pathology and developmental biology at Stanford University, director of the university's Institute for Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine, and a co-founder of StemCells, Inc., and Cellerant, Inc, both in Palo Alto, California.