Doctor who? Scientists are treated as objective arbiters in the cloning debate. But most have serious skin in the game.THERE'S HARDLY AN ISSUE MORE difficult to untangle--or more important to the future of science and medicine--than that of human cloning Although genes are recognized as influencing behavior and cognition, "genetically identical" does not mean altogether identical; identical twins, despite being natural human clones with near identical DNA, are separate people, with separate experiences and not altogether and stem cells stem cells, unspecialized human or animal cells that can produce mature specialized body cells and at the same time replicate themselves. Embryonic stem cells are derived from a blastocyst (the blastula typical of placental mammals; see embryo), which is very young . But for reporters charged with covering the debate, sorting out the questions involved is as difficult as explaining the science behind them.
There's one argument over whether the government should ban researchers from using embryos that are going to get thrown away at fertility clinics, on the claim that they are human lives even if they're going to be destroyed anyway. There's another, slightly different argument, over whether scientists should be allowed to clone adult cells to produce embryos, from which scientists can then extract embryonic stem cells--cells which could, in theory, be transplanted back into the original adult patient for different forms of therapy. There's still another dispute over whether adult stem cells Adult stem cells are undifferentiated cells found throughout the body that divide to replenish dying cells and regenerate damaged tissues. Also known as somatic (from Greek Σωματικóς, of the body are even viable alternatives in the event that use of embryonic stem cells Embryonic stem cells (ES cells) are stem cells derived from the inner cell mass of an early stage embryo known as a blastocyst. Human embryos reach the blastocyst stage 4-5 days post fertilization, at which time they consist of 50-150 cells.
ES cells are pluripotent. is outlawed.
When covering these debates, reporters often try to use university scientists as objective arbiters. Politicians and interest groups may be motivated by ideology, but the scientists--they presume--are sticking to the facts. But the funny thing is, scientists don't necessarily agree about the facts. For instance, David Prentice, a biologist at Indiana State University Indiana State University, main campus at Terre Haute; coeducational; est. 1865 as a normal school, became Indiana State Teachers College in 1929, gained university status in 1965. There is also a campus at Evansville (opened 1965). , has been quoted in dozens of newspaper articles as an advocate for the position that you can limit the use of embryonic stem cells without hurting scientific research. And then there's somebody like Irving Weisman, a Stanford scientist and past chair of a prestigious panel on cloning at the National Academy of Sciences, who's been quoted in over 160 newspaper articles in recent years defending the opposite position--that embryonic stem cells are essential to future advances in medical science and technology.
Part of the explanation, of course, is simply an honest difference of opinion among scientists grappling with difficult emerging questions. But there's a deeper problem at work which journalists overwhelmingly ignore: These supposedly objective scientists have business interests that overlap with their scientific views. For instance, Prentice specializes in studying stem cells taken from adults, not embryos, and has sought a federal grant from the National Institutes of Health for his work; federal curbs on embryo research would "obviously" free more funds for his approach, he says, and if his research pans out, Prentice will market the resulting procedures via a biotech company--a company which would have better prospects were embryo-cell cloning outlawed by the government. By the same token, Weissman has already made millions of dollars through three companies he's founded--Systemix Inc., Celltrans Inc., and StemCells Inc., the last two of which he still helps manage--which use stem-cell technology. When President Bush announced last August that he would give narrow support to such technology, the market value of the StemCells Inc. briefly shot up by 45 percent.
But these two scientists aren't the problem. Both Weissman and Prentice are entirely candid regarding their financial and business interest in the debate over cloning. Rather, the problem lies with the press, which almost never informs its readers that these supposedly disinterested scientists have great financial stakes in the debate. Prentice is invariably in·var·i·a·ble
Not changing or subject to change; constant.
in·vari·a·bil cited as an "Indiana State University biologist"; Weissman nearly always as "a professor at Stanford." And the same goes for dozens of other scientists who mix business and academia, substantially affecting the cloning debate in America and even abroad.
The Doctor Is In
Today, many university scientists are neither teachers nor disinterested experts, but a hybrid--part executive and part researcher--pursuing new and little-understood business strategies. Like most academics, they have university affiliations and spend most of their time performing research. But unlike, say, English professors, their research generates promising new medical patents and technologies, on which scientists can capitalize by launching their own off-campus biotech companies. These companies rarely sell therapies directly to patients. Instead they usually sell the fruits of their research--such as a gene-analysis device or a special type of laboratory animal--to large, established firms. Those larger firms buy their patented research in the hope they can be drawn upon to produce products or therapies for the consumer market. The research performed by academic entrepreneurs thus acts as a kind of catalyst on the broader field of biotechnology, which means that everyone involved--the entrepreneurs, universities, investors, and the firms who license patented technologies--prefer that it be as unrestricted as possible. In this context, stem-cell cloning is especially valuable, both as a commercial technique in and of itself and as a tool that can accelerate research into a myriad of human conditions, from male-pattern baldness to Lou Gehrig's disease Lou Geh·rig's disease
See amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. .
By keeping one foot in business and one in the university, these scientist-businessmen get the best from both worlds. As academics, they get plaudits from their peers, the approval of colleagues serving on federal grant-review boards, and early access to hot new discoveries--not to mention federally subsidized laboratory space and an endless supply of underpaid un·der·paid
Past tense and past participle of underpay.
not paid as much as the job deserves
underpaid adj → graduate students eager to help develop the next cutting-edge idea. As entrepreneurs, they get access to wealth and the investment capital needed to launch a first, second, or third company.
These academic entrepreneurs are not exotic creatures, but rather the model of what university science is rapidly becoming. Since 1980, according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. the Association of University Technology Managers The Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) is an organization devoted to promoting technology transfer between universities and colleges and private enterprise and/or the government. , American universities have spun-off more than 3,000 companies. From 1999 to 2000 alone, universities' revenues from spin-off companies, licensing deals, and outside investment shot up from $862 million to $1.26 billion.
But reporters almost always fail to identify the conflicts of interest that such a business environment spawns, especially when it comes to the cloning debate. Take Harvard's Doug Melton mel·ton
A heavy woolen cloth used chiefly for making overcoats and hunting jackets.
[After Melton Mowbray, an urban district of central England.] , who has founded two biotech companies, including Curis Inc., where he is the chief scientist overseeing the development of stem-cell products, including potential therapies that could use embryo cloning. Not surprisingly, Melton is an outspoken advocate of federal support for embryonic stem-cell research Noun 1. embryonic stem-cell research - biological research on stem cells derived from embryos and on their use in medicine
stem-cell research - research on stem cells and their use in medicine , and was one of three experts invited by the White House to brief President Bush last year on the merits on the merits adj. referring to a judgment, decision or ruling of a court based upon the facts presented in evidence and the law applied to that evidence. A judge decides a case "on the merits" when he/she bases the decision on the fundamental issues and considers of such research. But in 35 out of 36 articles published since January 2000 citing Meltons support for embryonic stem-cell research, reporters described him only as a Harvard professor; not a single article on Lexis-Nexis cited his work at Cuffs, other than one I wrote for the National Journal.
In one July 2001 Washington Post article, the paper's chief science writer, Rick Weiss, quoted Melton saying "it would be very ill-advised to close the door on the production of new [stem-]cell lines" But Weiss described Melton only as "chairman of molecular and cellular biology cellular biology
The study of the molecular or chemical interactions of biological phenomena. at Harvard University Harvard University, mainly at Cambridge, Mass., including Harvard College, the oldest American college. Harvard College
Harvard College, originally for men, was founded in 1636 with a grant from the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. " There was no mention of Curis, even though if Bush had chosen to come out against embryonic stem-cell research, Meltons firm would have had great difficulty raising investment capital. Weiss denies it's a problem. "Melton has a son who has diabetes," he says. "Should I mention in every story that he has a son with diabetes? I don't think so, but that's certainly one of his motivations, and for all I know, it is a greater motivation than profit from his membership of the board of Curis."
The Washington Times has made similar omissions. In nine articles during 2000 and 2001, reporter August Gribbin quoted Lawrence Goldstein, whom he described as a professor at the University of California The University of California has a combined student body of more than 191,000 students, over 1,340,000 living alumni, and a combined systemwide and campus endowment of just over $7.3 billion (8th largest in the United States). at San Diego San Diego (săn dēā`gō), city (1990 pop. 1,110,549), seat of San Diego co., S Calif., on San Diego Bay; inc. 1850. San Diego includes the unincorporated communities of La Jolla and Spring Valley. Coronado is across the bay. . In an August 2001 article, Goldstein defended cloning for therapies, and wondered whether a ban might violate the Constitution. "Does the government really have the constitutional ability," he asked Gribbin, "to prohibit across the board something that has no obvious harm to people, but could benefit those who are ill?" This is, of course, a perfectly defensible position. But readers might rightly question Goldstein's motives for offering it if they knew of his role as co-founder of Cytokinetics Inc., a biotech firm in San Diego, or his role as a lobbyist on behalf of the American Society for Cell Biology Cell biology
The study of the activities, functions, properties, and structures of cells. Cells were discovered in the middle of the seventeenth century after the microscope was invented. . Why do these connections matter? Cytokinetics examines human cells for features that could be developed into drugs and therapies for pharmaceutical firms, and so relies on a high pace of discoveries in the field of human cells-discoveries that advocates believe can be accelerated through wide laboratory use of stem cells. The ASCB ASCB American Society for Cell Biology
ASCB Avionics Standard Communication Bus
ASCB Address Space Control Block (MVS)
ASCB Arbitrarily-Shaped Conducting Body , which promotes public policies favored by scientists based in companies and universities, favors stem-cell research Noun 1. stem-cell research - research on stem cells and their use in medicine
biological research - scientific research conducted by biologists
embryonic stem-cell research - biological research on stem cells derived from embryos and on their use in medicine for similar reasons. But when I asked Gribbin why, he explained that "it was not a business story" and that "I was writing about the news of the day ... there was no time or intent to [include his financial interests]." Gribbin is not alone. Only one out of 76 articles in various papers quoting Goldstein mentions his business ties.
Conversely, in another article, The Washington Times quoted Indiana State's David Prentice as an opponent of embryonic cloning, but without disclosing his financial interest in banning embryonic cloning techniques. When asked, Victor Morton, an editor at the Times, said the paper doesn't have a policy regarding university scientist's business ties, and usually reprinted wire-service copy as is.
Many scientists also have financial interests in the extension or revocation of patents held by their academic competitors on lucrative procedures or products. Harvard's medical school and related institutions, for instance, generated almost $20 million in 2001 from such biotech patents. But this is another area in which reporters are less than conscientious. For example, two top stem-cell researchers, James Thomson James Thomson may be
v. a·bort·ed, a·bort·ing, a·borts
1. To give birth prematurely or before term; miscarry.
2. To cease growth before full development or maturation.
3. fetuses. The revenue from those patents goes both to the two inventors and to their universities' deans, department chiefs, and many others. Should Congress decided to curb the use of Thomson and Gearhart's method, all of them stand to lose millions of dollars.
Yet when the Chicago Tribune Chicago Tribune
Daily newspaper published in Chicago. The Tribune is one of the leading U.S. newspapers and long has been the dominant voice of the Midwest. Founded in 1847, it was bought in 1855 by six partners, including Joseph Medill (1823–99), who made the paper ran a profile of Thomson in December 2001, reporters Ronald Kotulak and Peter Gorner depicted Thomson only as "a young, untenured veterinarian veterinarian /vet·er·i·nar·i·an/ (vet?er-i-nar´e-an) a person trained and authorized to practice veterinary medicine and surgery; a doctor of veterinary medicine.
n. and Ph.D. molecular biologist ... in his lab at the University of Wisconsin," and then quoted him as saying "I think stem cells can revolutionize human medicine, but it's going to be a long, drawn-out process." This prediction is certainly plausible, and contains the appropriate caveat. But readers should also have been told that Thomson and his colleagues stand to make millions of dollars from their patent should embryonic stem-cell cloning come into wide use.
Gorner says he did not include Thomson's business interests because Thomson "is kind of an innocent" about the financial stakes in the debate. Gorner says he tries hard to include the financial aspects in his science stories, and has written a long piece detailing the finances of the medical center which holds Thomson's patent. In the Tribune, Gorner says, "we go to great lengths [to get the financial data because] it is just assumed that everyone in the [science] business is on the take, and they are shameless shame·less
1. Feeling no shame; impervious to disgrace.
2. Marked by a lack of shame: a shameless lie. about it." But he concedes that most of the media's science reporters are very reluctant to question scientists about their financial interests, partly because such questions would threaten the reporters' access to cutting-edge science news. "My colleagues are suckers [for university-based entrepreneurs]. I don't give an inch."
One of the clearest of these kinds of mistakes was made by The New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of Times' Nicholas Wade Nicholas Wade is a British-born scientific reporter, editor and author who currently writes for the Science Times section of The New York Times.
Wade was born in Aylesbury, England and educated at Eton College and King's College, Cambridge. in an article on the discovery of a versatile new type of stem cell stem cell
In living organisms, an undifferentiated cell that can produce other cells that eventually make up specialized tissues and organs. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. found in adults, known as "Multipotent Adult Progenitor Cells." Previously unknown, these cells can be mass-produced for researchers, and may prove very useful for disease therapies. Wade described their discovery by Catherine Verfaillie Catherine Verfaillie (b. Ypres, 1957) is a Belgian molecular biologist and professor at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Leuven, Belgium). Education
She obtained an M.D. , a professor at the University of Minnesota (body, education) University of Minnesota - The home of Gopher.
Address: Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. , as a significant advance, and then included comments from Stanford's Weissman and another scientist, Fred Gage Fred "Rusty" Gage is a professor in the Laboratory of Genetics at the Salk Institute, and has concentrated on the adult central nervous system and the unexpected plasticity and adaptability that remains throughout the life of all mammals. of the Salk Institute, which is part of the University of California in San Diego. Both were skeptical of Verfaillie's discovery, although Weissman did say it could be "very important" if other scientists--himself included--were given some of the cells to verify her claims. But Wade neglected to mention these scientists' rival interests. Whereas Gage and Weissman are co-founders of Stemcells Inc., which develops techniques for using adult stem cells, Verfaillie's patented "MAPC MAPC Metropolitan Area Planning Council (Massachusetts)
MAPC Multipotent Adult Progenitor Cell
MAPC Moms Against Popular Culture (Grand Theft Auto Vice City)
MAPC Mid-Atlantic Placement Conference " stem cells could steal market share from Stemcells Inc.--and dilute the marketplace value of Weissman's professional expertise.
When I asked him, however, Wade said that there was no need to mention the rival business interests because they are routine among scientists, and because they pose less of a problem than that caused by the scientists' professional rivalries. Besides which, "my own feeling is that the reader is not interested," he said, and the column inches are better used to communicate other information. When I called Cornelia Dean, editor of science news at The New York Times, she responded that "we try to include in our articles all the information people need to make sense of what is going on." The Times' policy, she said, is to cite the commercial sponsors of newsworthy medical studies, and to ask quoted scientists about "financial ties." But she was very reluctant to discuss the problem any further, and seemed particularly surprised when I mentioned that Times op-ed contributor Jerome Groopman Jerome Groopman has been a staff writer in medicine and biology for The New Yorker since 1998. He is also the Dina and Raphael Recanati Chair of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Chief of Experimental Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and author of four , a noted supporter of unfettered stem-cell and cloning research, is not just "a professor of medicine at Harvard" (as the Times op-ed cutlines describe him), but is also a board member of Advanced Tissue Sciences Inc., a biotech company in La Jolla La Jolla (lə hoi`yə), on the Pacific Ocean, S Calif., an uninc. district within the confines of San Diego; founded 1869. The beautiful ocean beaches, in particular La Jolla shores and Black's Beach, and sea-washed caves attract visitors and , Calif. "The issue you are talking about is very important ... [and] you should not assume deficiencies are intentional," she said as she ended the conversation.
Why are journalists so lax in describing these businesses and conflicts of interest? For one thing, the academic entrepreneurs do generate many lifesaving or useful discoveries. Also, the traditional titles--scientist, professor, or dean--are technically correct, and editors in general are inclined to avoid extensive identification information about sources. And there's a good reason why: Stories would quickly become unreadable if bogged down by long descriptions of every scientist's business interests, like warning labels so long that consumers ignore them. Moreover, to say that a conflict of interest exists is not to say that scientists are being dishonest. Many scientists oppose cloning bans in part simply because it is a regulation on their profession, just as coal-mine executives oppose any new regulations on mining, no matter how minor. But many of these oft-quoted scientists do possess, and come from universities and research centers that do possess, a financial interest in one side or the other of the biotech debate. The problem is that the media's conception of scientists--as objective academics cocooned in the ivory tower--keeps reporters from informing readers of financial interests that may motivate scientists' advocacy.
It would be closer to the truth to describe scientists who have management or advisory duties in at least one company as what they are: "academic entrepreneurs," not scientists. Similarly, academic scientists who do not have direct financial stakes in companies, but who still receive income from companies that license their patents, should be described as such: "the recipient of patent royalties." If quoted scientists are linked to institutions, reporters should note whether those institutions are funded in whole or in part by firms with a stake in what's being written about. And when quoting university deans and executives, reporters need to check the university's "technology transfer" programs, whose task is to maximize revenue generation from the sale or licensing of the university's discoveries to industry. Gorner, at The Chicago Tribune, says one remedy would be a new type of beat that includes some aspect of his science beat, and some aspects of a traditional business beat, overseen by an editor who understands the role of money in biotech. "The rules are different in the two fields, and we need to synthesize them."
This proposal to better link university-based scientists with their financial interests puts the scientists on an equal plane with other entrepreneurs who stand to gain or lose from Washington's political debates. Voters already know that arms manufacturers will likely gain if Congress increases the defense budget, that oil executives will likely gain if Congress eases environmental laws, and that automakers will likely gain if federal safety standards Safety standards are standards designed to ensure the safety of products, activities or processes, etc. They may be advisory or compulsory and are normally laid down by an advisory or regulatory body that may be either voluntary or statutory. are lowered. This understanding allows voters to judge better the credibility of industry claims whenever the industry is embroiled em·broil
tr.v. em·broiled, em·broil·ing, em·broils
1. To involve in argument, contention, or hostile actions: "Avoid . . . in a national debate. "We probably should [cite business interests] whenever it appears to be relevant," says Washington Post executive editor Len Downie. "And it appears that we are not doing enough"
Neil Munro (b. 1947) is a Canadian director, actor and playwright.
Born in Musselburgh, Scotland, Munro moved to Toronto at an early age. covers the politics tithe tithe
Contribution of a tenth of one's income for religious purposes. The practice of tithing was established in the Hebrew scriptures and was adopted by the Western Christian church. technology business for National Journal.