I’m on day 10 or so of conference lectures. Today it’s Stem Cell Culture Secrets and Patent Issues (which combine into quite the quagmire in the hESC field). Yesterday I only attended one talk, that of Gary Robbins, the Science Dude at the Orange County Register. Gary’s blog about local science news gets a lot of traffic. I picked up some good tips.
This week he is running two polls. One is about whether or not it will demean a trained elephant to temporarily encapsulate it in a giant bubble as part of a stunt at the Discovery Science Center (371 respondents said no; 353 said yes as of 6:42 am this morning). The other is called “Is Science Sinful?” It asks about a senior Catholic cleric’s declaration that certain types of scientific research (including genetic manipulation of human embryos) are sinful. This poll only got 68 responses: 43 disagreed with the cleric, 7 agreed and 18 said the question was too vague.
If these polls are to be taken seriously—and I’m not sure they are—more Orange County Register readers care about the temporary fate of a trained elephant than care about a prominent theologian’s opinion about what it means to be human.
Gary and I have emailed back and forth a couple times in regard to his coverage of local hESC news. It was good to meet him in person. He’s appropriately kinetic, and gave a current events talk about the impact of the Internet on the news business. He also handed each of us a dime to demonstrate how hESC scientists ought to talk to the press about their work. He said that when he talks to people about hESCs, he uses a dime to demonstrate that the 8-celled blastocysts destroyed in the research are the size of President Roosevelt’s eye on the coin. His was a lecture about educating a busy public about science rather than one about how hESC scientists can avoid being misquoted or manipulated by unscrupulous or untrained reporters.
After the lecture, I attended a party at the hotel where the students are staying. We sat together in a dark room on the 18th floor and watched the fireworks over Disney Land. I was asked my opinion of The Secret and will be researching that today for a lovely, accomplished scientist from another part of the world. She doesn’t want to buy into The Secret’s message if it is inconsistent with Christian faith.
I also heard last night that Hans Keirstead is being shadowed by an HBO film crew and that he’s toned down his rhetoric, which, if true, is good for everybody.
Tomorrow, the NIH course wraps with an all-day symposium on stem cell treatment for pediatric diseases. Then I’m off to Santa Cruz to meet a faithful blogging friend in person. While I’m there, I’m going to worship at Vintage Faith Church where my new friend Dan Kimball pastors. After that, I’ll be spoiling my family for a bit and getting down to some serious writing work.
Update: I was thinking more about Gary’s polls. There are other possibilities for the divergent interest. First, Gary said his readers respond more to local science news than national or international news. Second, perhaps readers rightly discern that the temporary fate of a trained elephant is trivial enough for a 2-second opinion poll, whereas contemplating what it means to be human requires a bit more thought.
Update 2 (3/15/08): The Bubble/Elephant stunt at the Discovery Science Center has been canceled after an outpouring of public protest.