Ideas, Linked; Ideals, Inked.

Stem Cell Absurdists: Edison’s Invention of Light Bulb Must Be Impossible

Absurdist Argument: the current embryonic stem cell lines have not shown any promise yet, so we need not research them. Thus, we might as well continue the ban which makes research into their promise nearly impossible.

If research is highly restricted, of course the lines will be less promising. Especially in a cutting-edge, emerging field. Like the electric car, it’s a question of will, not capability. Science, society, indeed, life is based on pushing the envelope of understanding, research, biology, and discovering new solutions. Just because there were 2,000 failed attempts at the light bulb does not mean Edison failed. If he gave up after a couple years, after trying three different approaches, then he would have failed.

Here are some arguments that use the same logic as the absurdists…

1) I am only allowed to have one sip of water, and I’m still dehydrated. Water, therefore, cannot have any usefulness in solving dehydration, so I might as well not demand more than one sip.

2) Science hasn’t solved the greenhouse gas problem, so I might as well produce cars which emit more of them.

3) US Gov’t, 1942: Nuclear weapons research (while theoretically possible) has not produced a single nuclear weapon. Thus, I might as well continue to not invest in research.

4) Crick, 1949: While there is likely a chemical basis for inheritance, very limited research hasn’t found it yet. Thus, I might as well not try to put more research into effect.

5) USA, 1859: Efforts to end slavery have failed, so we need not continue to try. Thus, we might as well continue enslaving people.

Others? Comment comment.

EDITS (29 Nov 2006, 13:22): Links added.


Filed under: Culture, Philosophy, Politics, Science

7 Responses

  1. Darmok says:

    I agree: given the degree to which stem-cell research has been restricted, it has been very difficult to show any practical benefits. Perhaps with a change in political leadership, this will change.

  2. Peter N says:

    Sadly, religion and science have never mixed very well. Ever since Galileo was executed for claiming the earth was not flat, clerics have been at odds with modern research.

  3. reportcard says:

    I must disagree with the presumptions in your article. Although well written, some facts are (most likely unintentionally) incomplete or ignored.

    Research has not been highly restricted. Government funding has been restricted to embryonic stem cell research and the production of more embryonic lines. This leaves the door open for private funding into said research, and the research of stem cells that are not collected through the destruction of the human embryo. Additionally, research continues on the embryonic stem cell lines that are already in existence.

    This leads to an interesting question. If stem cell research is so promising, why then are private investors not tripping over each other with their checkbooks out, hoping to cash in when treatments are developed? The answer is simple: Stem cell research has not shown much promise. Not in America, and not in Europe (where stem cell research has continued unabated for years).

    As for the examples given:

    Edison invented the light bulb using private funds, not public money. The same can be done with stem cell research if private funding can be found.

    1) There has never been a morality issue over someone taking a drink of water. Whereas you personally may not have a morality issue when it comes to destroying embryos, some do; and their tax dollars would go toward funding it as well.

    2) Stem Cell research hasn’t yet cured anything, so let’s go ahead and destroy more embryos and waste more public money…just in case.

    3) Nuclear Weapons development was seen throughout World War II as the technology that could eventually decide it. It was the most promising cure for the problem. Stem Cell research has not shown to be the most promising cure for anything; methods such as gene therapy have proven much more promising. Gene therapy, by the way, is where most of the private money is invested for finding cures to multiple ailments.

    4) There was likely a chemical base for inheritance. That’s why the research continued, because it was likely. Stem Cell research has not proven to be a likely cure for anything. Again, no researcher in any country (including those who allow uninhibited stem cell research) has found convincing evidence to the contrary.

    5) In order to end slavery, 618,000 people died. The cost of the war was $20 billion – in 1864 dollars. A big price, but for a worthy cause. How many embryos must be destroyed, and exactly how much money would you suggest we throw at stem cell research before we can finally say “okay, so that didn’t work” and move on?

  4. Sieg's Daddy says:

    reportcard, I’d reply more by I am tired and its time for bed. A quick comment though:

    Research has not been highly restricted. Government funding has been restricted to embryonic stem cell research and the production of more embryonic lines. This leaves the door open for private funding into said research, and the research of stem cells that are not collected through the destruction of the human embryo.

    The big problem with the restriction of government funding is not that the National Science Foundation cannot give out grants for stem cell research, but that no government funding can go to an institution that does stem cell research*.

    Most research is done at universities and many of the most talented bio-medical researchers are faculty at universities, even if much research is partially or fully sponsored by grants from private industry. Because of the stem cell research ban however, if a university lab was to do even privately funded research on stem cells* the university as a whole would loose ALL federal funding — I believe even including student work-study grants and other programs. As even private universities rely heavily on various government subsidies for everything from student tuition aid, literature research fellowships, and hundreds of other grants, university stem cell research* is effectively banned no matter how much money is ponied up by private sources.

    * The existing stem-cell lines simply do not have the availability and genetic diversity to do the wide range of experimentation necessary to develop therapeutic treatments.

  5. vijtable says:


    Following what Sieg’s Daddy says, no institution may take any US government funding if it conducts research on new stem cell lines. There are, if I remember correctly, 70 existing stem cell lines in the US, many of which are considered no longer useful due to being over-used. Given that nearly all medical research done in the US is done at universities, which depend on things as simple as Stafford Loans, this means the universities don’t have any reason, nor any resources, to actually conduct therapeutic stem cell research.

    You also miss an important aspect to the debate. With in vitro fertilization, thousands of embryos are frozen and put into storage yearly. After a set amount of time, unused embryos are discarded because the are no longer viable for implantation. These embryos, while not capable of becoming human, are still capable as cells which divide and differentiate into any cell in the human body (the definition of stem cell).


    Nuclear Weapons development was seen throughout World War II as the technology that could eventually decide it. It was the most promising cure for the problem.

    Thank you. You prove my point perfectly. Nuclear fission (and also fusion) were theoretically possible, but had never actually been proven to work. Nature had proved (through radioactivity and the sun) that it can work, but humans hadn’t yet harnessed the power. It took the best minds and significant government investment to succeed.

    Stem cell therapies are seen as the most promising cure for Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, repairing nerve damage, and other degenerative disorders. The possibility of cloning one’s own organ for immune-safe and effective transplantation also exists.

    The question is, if the embryos are discarded, why are we wasting them altogether instead of working toward therapies?

  6. reportcard says:

    Seig’s Daddy & vijtable,

    Thank you for the well written responses and explanations.

    Perhaps there is room for compromise between the two sides of this issue by only using those embryos that “are no longer viable for implantation”. There will still be some cries from extreme right wing nut jobs on the issue of allowing in vitro fertilization at all, but the “no longer viable for implantation” standard, I believe, would capture a large majority.

    As to the Nuclear Weapons comment: I thought I read that gene therapy is far more promising in developing a cure for Alzheimer’s disease when compared to stem cells. Turns out I read it wrong, it is only promising in slowing the progression of the disease. Sorry for the mistake (some conservatives can admit when they’re wrong).

    When you get a chance, please follow with answers to the lack of developments in unabated stem cell research in Europe as well as your thoughts on how much money you believe is appropriate before possible abandonment of the project should we continue to see no results. I’m anxious to hear your thoughts.

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