Many of you may not be aware of my silent fatwa against James Sherley. I guess because I’m generally silent about it, but no more. I’ve been pissed off one too many times. The history: First strike against Sherley is the way he presents his science at meetings. He has this totally provocative model about DNA segragation during stem cell divisions. Which is fine. Except that his data is very circumstantial and he has only been able to weakly test his hypotheses in very artificial systems. So when he has trouble publishing the data in good journals and when it is greeted with skepticism, he probably shouldn’t take that as a personal attack, should he? Well, James Sherley is a big guy. And he’s black. And he’s convinced that this is why he has trouble publishing his dodgy science. You know, because he’s a victim and all. But it didn’t stop with publishing. A few years ago, he was up for tenure at MIT. And, well, he didn’t have many papers, certainly nothing that was high impact, and he really didn’t have many students, and didn’t mentor many postdocs. Oh, but if he doesn’t get tenure, it must be because he’s black, right? Oh, and lots of his colleagues hate him because he’s a rabid anti-abortionist who routinely criticizes the work of people in his field, you know, the ones doing stem cell work in real organisms where every now and then a ball of cells has to be disaggregated. He had the nerve to go to the media with his sob story, and of course they ate it up. I mean, MIT doesn’t have very many black tenured profs, so why shouldn’t he have tenure? MAYBE BECAUSE HE’S A USELESS ANNOYING LUDDITE EMU!!! [Boston Globe backstory here. Both MIT and Harvard have deficiencies in minority and female hiring, but there is a strong case that Sherley did not have the requisite record for tenure on many levels, none of which had anything to do with his race or body type- Pinko]
Anyway that’s the background of my fatwa. His ugly anti-choice voice keeps surfacing in the media because he’s one of the few ‘stem cell biologists’ out there that will always have something negative to say about doing human embryonic stem cell work. And after all, it’s the media’s job to present both sides of every story, regardless of how absurd one of those sides may be, and they love it when one of our own turns against us. Recently, Harvard finally gave the final approval to two groups to proceed with their efforts to do therapeutic cloning in humans. This is pretty significant, given the fiasco surrounding the Korean group, who fabricated initial succesful reports. The guys doing the work, Kevin Eggan, Doug Melton, and George Daley are pretty stand-up guys, and they’ve been working towards this goal for a few years now. The ethical standards are exceptionally high and the public support is very high right now.
Enter James Sherley and his anti-therapeutic cloning editorial in Monday’s Boston Globe. [Registration required (free, sorry), or try the ol' firstname.lastname@example.org pword dailykos trick]
Here are some of my favourite quotes from the article:
They [Harvard scientists] promise that cloned embryos will allow determination of the cause of a person’s illness by analysis of embryonic stem cells derived from the person’s own cloned embryos. They pronounce that this research is too important to not do.
However, they fail to disclose that pigs will grow wings and fly before this approach leads to successful medical therapies.
Bravo James Sherley! The pigs will grow wings counter-argument has been successful for generations. Well played. Oh, maybe he elaborates on why he thinks these approaches will be scientifically unfeasible later in the article. Searching ……. not found.
About halfway into the article, we get to the real meat of the matter. Sherley opposes any thing that leads to the destruction of human embryos no matter what. Rape, incest, health, suffering. He doesn’t care. After all, embryos are people too, right? Here’s how much he seems to believe that embryos are fully functioning organisms that deserve full rights:
If the hands of members of the Harvard review board were sensitive enough, they could come to know human embryos better. They could feel that the smallest such embryos, like us, are warm to the touch, that they move as they grow, and they breathe just as surely as we do.
Are you fucking kidding me? We’re talking about blastocysts in a tissue culture plate here. Human beings are warm to the touch because we have an advanced cardiovascular system that maintains endothermy and a constant 37 degree temperature. Blastocysts are too small to be touched, but are only at 37 degrees because that is the temperature of the tissue culture incuabator we place the dishes in. They have no intrinsic thermogenic character. Blastocysts will move a little as they grow, simply because of the morphogenetic movements associated with their cell divisions. It is not locomotion. In fact, if left in tissue culture too long, the blastocysts will cease growth and development unless transferred to a womb. Breathing? We breathe using lungs. Blastocysts do not have lungs. They exchange gases through a buffered media that is kept in a humidifed incubator that we keep pumping in CO2 to keep the pH uniform. This is not breathing. This is passive diffusion. Dear god. My head hurts too much thinking about this. James Sherley, I don’t think that the Harvard board could possibly get to know human embryos better. You talk to them and they don’t answer. THEY ARE NAMELESS BALLS OF CELLS. What do they say to you?