ScienceSkepticism

From Stem to Skin and Back Again

Two things:

1) People from the state of Michigan are called “Michiganders”.

and

2) Science kicks ass.

Now, I’ve lived in the United States my entire life, and aside from a few months at the very beginning when I favored cooing noises and little baby clicks and grunts, I’ve spoken fairly decent English. Plus, I pay what I feel is adequate attention to things going on around me. Yet, until today, I didn’t know that residents of Michigan are called Michiganders.

Well, I’m glad to be in that loop now. And what an encouraging article in which to discover the little nugget.

Seems stem cell research proponents in Michigan are mounting a strong campaign this election cycle to have the stem cell research ban lifted in their state. A group called CureMichigan submitted 570,000 signatures on July 7, 2008 to put such a proposal on the ballot. That’s about 200,000 more than needed.

It’s exciting to see so many more people getting past the moralizing that has bogged this issue down for the last decade or so. But it’s even more fascinated to note that coming to moral terms with stem cell research may not be necessary anymore, which brings me to the second thing I wanted to mention — science kicks ass.

I just love science. I love science so much, I want to read it poetry at sunset. I want to rub scented oils on it. I want to sleep with it at night, and call it “Baby”.

You see, most of the stem cell ado has come in the form of moral objections about the source of the stem cells. Stem cells can be used to morph into any other kind of human cell, which could lead to cures and applications for a variety of medical anomalies, but the cells must be extracted from unborn fetuses. And therein lies the problem.

A lot of folks tend to get twitchy about taking things from fetuses. Arguments about abortion and playing god arise, and the twitchiest among us go out of their way to keep stem cell research from progressing. Just look at the Bush administration’s take on the issue.

But here’s why I love science:

Scientists, in two separate studies in November of last year, were able to cause ordinary human skin cells to behave like stem cells. And one of the researchers has even improved on the process.

In other words, they’ve engineered skin cells to morph into other types of cells, just like stem cells do. The difference being, skin cells are plentiful, and everyone has them. There is no need to harvest them from fetuses, thereby negating any moral arguments against the research.

Not only that, but researchers in Ontario and California are now partnering on a project to make it easier to turn cutting-edge stem cell research into medical breakthroughs, including pumping a million dollars into “skin cell to stem cell” advances.

Folks, science is nothing if not a master at overcoming problems, even if those problems are the intellectual shortsightedness of the moral minority and people in power. Lie in its path, and science will build a bridge right over you.

How could anyone not love it?

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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16 Comments

  1. I just wanted to be the first to say: “What’s good for the Michigoose is good for the Michigander.”

    Aaahhhhh . . . . . I almost used that line in the post.

    When I decided not to, I took the over on it appearing by comment number 4. You blew it for me.

  2. As a life long Michigander, I can say that I’ve never heard ‘Michigonian’.

    Also, not to burst your happy science bubble Sam, but the lift on the stem cell ban is hightly motivated by money. Michigan’s economy is just plain bad and getting worse. The proponets of lifting the ban want to attract more ‘high tech’ jobs/research to Michigan…curing a few diseases along the way would be nice too.

  3. Also, not to burst your happy science bubble Sam, but the lift on the stem cell ban is hightly motivated by money.

    No worries. Money is at issue so much of the time, my bubble is impervious to it. Whatever it takes to let good science progress unfettered.

  4. Actually, what’s really annoying about the whole stem cell debate is that, as long as it has been going on, it was been possible to get stem cells from the umbilical cords and placenta of full-term, happily screaming, alive babies, as well as fetuses and embryos. But no, Mr. Bush can’t read the whole wikipedia article on stem cell research before deciding, it just ain’t right.
    Also, why care if Michiganders want stem cell research to create jobs, why not if they’re doing cool things like curing diabetes and growing new organs

  5. ru_seriously: “As a life long Michigander, I can say that I’ve never heard ‘Michigonian’.”

    I’ve heard people from Michigan use it to describe themselves. I have no idea how common the term is.

    Of course, I’m originally from Ohio, so I am geographically required to refer to people from Michigan as “those blue scumbags”, thus rendering the whole Michgander/Michigonian debate moot for me.

  6. Is “unborn fetus” good English though? Aren’t all fetuses “unborn”?
    And once they’ve been removed, they’re aborted (and dead), so there’s no real need to specify their born or unborn status? Or is there?

    (Hey, if you’re going to start nitpicking language …)

  7. I always preferred “Michiganian”, thats with an “A”. I remember the same newspaper cited in this post (Detroit Free Press) once ran a debate and reader poll to determine which term they would use. Unfortunately, Michigander won over Michiganian.

    President Gerald Ford once rejected the term Michigander, saying that he was not a male goose. In fact, it was another President, Abraham Lincoln who actually coined the term, using it as an insult against Michiganian Lewis Cass in a debate.

  8. Correction: I just looked it up to refresh my memory. It wasn’t in a debate. Lincoln was in Congress (as a Whig) and he made a speech against Cass, former territorial governor of Michigan, who was running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

  9. Is “unborn fetus” good English though? Aren’t all fetuses “unborn”?
    And once they’ve been removed, they’re aborted (and dead), so there’s no real need to specify their born or unborn status? Or is there?

    Of course it’s proper English. There are several categories of fetuses — unborn fetuses, aborted fetuses, nascent fetuses, adolescent fetuses, even adult fetuses. I can only hope I live long enough to retire to an old fetuses home someday.

  10. We residents of Bellingham often refer to our selves as Bellinghamsters. Haven’t noticed anyone running around in large plastic balls however.

    Perhaps some in the Michigan legislature would have preferred to only allow stem cell research on dead unborn gay fetuses??

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