October 5, 2005

Nicholas Wade of the NYT

Perhaps the single most important figure in the United States in the spread of realism about human genetic biodiversity is the New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade. Here's an interview with him. Nothing too exciting in it, but here's one exchange:

Wade: Another thing that is very difficult for science reporters to tackle is the fact that most scientific research ends nowhere. People can be very enthusiastic about what they are doing, but just as most drugs fail in clinical trials, many advances that seem very promising don't lead anywhere. So after you have been mistaken a certain number of times, you tend to be a little cautious. Of course, it's then very easy to become far more skeptical than one should be.

Gene therapy, for example, is a field that many thought had promise. It had some successes and some spectacular failures.

That's a field that's been going on for about 15 years. And almost all the coverage throughout the first ten years kept saying gene therapy is great. But in retrospect, it was quite wrong—it wasn't great at all. There were technical obstacles that have still not been overcome. I think the lesson for reporters is that they should not get too caught up in scientists' enthusiasm. It's fine to report that scientists are enthused about some new finding or project, but reporters should remain detached about whether or not it will succeed.

Stem cells are a case in point. The hidden premise of proposals for stem cell therapy is that we needn't understand exactly what is going on because if you just put the cells in the right place they will know what to do. My fear is that we need to understand the total cell circuitry to get stem cells to do anything useful, and that won't happen for years.

That's been my vague impression of stem cells, too, which is one reason I've had so little to say about this big controversy.

A reader writes:

I helped a student do her term paper on embryonic stem cell research, especially as it relates to finding treatments for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. We did a Lexis-Nexis search of all articles in the last 12 months and found practically nothing reporting any advances. All the action was in other areas.

They had better come up with something for the three billion of the California taxpayers dollars that Gov. Ah-nold is handing out to stem cell researchers.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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