The overconfidence of stem-cell liberals.
Between the lunch and the forum, Zoloth engaged me in a lovely chat. She explained the moral issues she wants to put on table, which are very different from the ones Bush and Hurlbut want to discuss. She's an egalitarian. Two of the diseases targeted by embryonic stem-cell research—diabetes and spinal cord injuries—are particularly hard on poor people because insulin, wheelchairs, and ventilators are expensive. That's one reason why she and other liberals have counterattacked critics of the research so fiercely. The other reason, she said, is that freedom of thought means freedom to research.
I'd like to believe that. I'd like to trust Zoloth's air of authority, just as I'd like to trust the Bible's or the pope's. We all want answers. But then you ask a question, and the authority fails you. At lunch, Zoloth said the idea behind ANT—knocking out a gene called Cdx2 to prevent development of an implantable embryo—wouldn't reliably succeed because gene knockouts produce a range of outcomes. I asked for her evidence that a range of implantation outcomes would occur with Cdx2 deletion. That's how it works, she assured me. But as I write this, I'm looking at the published report on the ANT experiment. It says "none of the Cdx2[-deleted] nuclear transfer blastocysts formed visible implantation sites (0 out of 40)." There goes my faith.
It's not that Zoloth deceived me; I'm sure she didn't. She just thought she knew more than she did. We all do that sometimes. It's part of being human. That's why I like to put my faith in questions rather than authority, even when my liberal friends don't.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.