The groan is almost audible

groan2coverTime had one of the more embarrassing stories on President Barack Obama's decision to use taxpayer dollars to fund stem cell research that destroys embryos. Alice Park's gushy mash note to Obama and his decision is just not up to snuff. I mean, with lines such as "The sigh of relief in labs across the country was almost audible," you should know you're not dealing with journalism:

The President's decision does much more than expand funding for stem-cell research. It heralds a shift in the government's view of science, ushering in an era in which it promises to defend science -- and the pursuit of useful treatments -- against ideology.

I wonder why Alice Park is not presenting Obama's decision more fairly. Here's another choice line:

It has been a long eight years for stem-cell researchers as the ugly stepchildren of science.

Get out the smelling salts! Also, when talking about stem cell research, it's important to distinguish research that doesn't destroy embryos and research that does. Everyone loves stem cell research. Not everyone loves the stem cell research that destroys embryos. I should note that the media have actually improved a great deal over a few years ago on just this point. It was downright common to see them portray pro-lifers as opposed to "stem cell research" rather than opposed to experiments that destroy embryos. That is much less common now, although journalists still slip on the distinction quite a bit.

The bulk of Park's story -- about how difficult it was for stem cell research to separate their work that was funded by the Bush-era federal government from their research on embryos that was not -- is interesting. But it's so dramatically one-sided as to be difficult to read without heavy discounting.

And the one group that is completely pushed out of this story -- as is the case with far, far too many stories about embryonic stem cell research -- are the humans in question, those at the earliest point of their existence. It's as if they don't exist.

One final bit from the piece, which actually mentions that you can do promising stem cell research without destroying embryos:

As welcome as the reversal is, some researchers grumble that it is too little, too late. Since, and in spite of, the ban, scientists have achieved remarkable advances in stem-cell science, which may one day obviate the need for embryos altogether. New techniques in generating stem cells from skin cells may prove in coming years more efficient and reliable than using embryonic stem cells.

But Monday's executive order is less about pitting the promise of one type of stem cell against another's. It is more about re-establishing the authority of science, of ensuring that any and every potentially useful avenue of research will be pursued to its end. As the President himself noted, the new policy will not guarantee stem-cell treatments for diabetes, Parkinson's or Lou Gehrig's disease. But it does guarantee a commitment to the kind of promising research that this Administration -- and many in the scientific community -- believe must be followed.

Okay, first off, there was never a ban. Never a ban. Got that? Scientists were free to destroy as many embryos as they wanted for any reason they wanted. States and private individuals could throw as much money at it as they wanted. There wasn't even a ban on federal funding of this. It was limited, but it wasn't banned.

Second, what the heck is that "in spite of" line about? It could at the very least be argued that scientists achieved remarkable advances in non-embryonic destroying stem cell research precisely because federal funds were off limits for the research that destroys embryos. I have no idea if that's true and I don't know if anyone does. But at the very least, it's a reasonable argument. If there's one thing I know about my scientist friends -- all funded by the federal government -- it's that they follow the money. They even joke about how to make their projects have a link to whatever the hot-button funding area of the movement is.

Next, if your "journalism" could easily be confused for a White House press release or blog post from Matthew Yglesias, you should be concerned.

Finally, and most importantly, there is something of a "pitting the promise of one type of stem cell against another's." The media just completely failed -- and I mean, completely failed -- to cover it.

In the very same executive order that the media gushed over like school girls at a Hannah Montana concert, there was that final line. Right after revoking President Bush's August 9, 2001 Executive Order limiting federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells came this:

Executive Order 13435 of June 20, 2007, which supplements the August 9, 2001, statement on human embryonic stem cell research, is revoked.

What was Executive Order 13435? How did it supplement the other executive order? Well, it explicitly required funding for stem cell research that doesn't cause harm to embryos. That's not supplemental, necessarily. I assume it needed to be dealt with because it included this language in the directive:

(b) it is critical to establish moral and ethical boundaries to allow the Nation to move forward vigorously with medical research, while also maintaining the highest ethical standards and respecting human life and human dignity; (c) the destruction of nascent life for research violates the principle that no life should be used as a mere means for achieving the medical benefit of another; (d) human embryos and fetuses, as living members of the human species, are not raw materials to be exploited or commodities to be bought and sold;

Again, the Executive Order required funding for alternative stem cell research. Why didn't President Obama just delete this language and keep the funding order? What is the future of federal funding for stem cell research that doesn't destroy embryos?

I don't know what Obama's thinking was. And for that reason, I wish the mainstream media would have taken a few minutes from their embarrassing regurgitation of White House talking points about science devotion to have asked. Just journalistically speaking, it would be very interesting to ask Obama which parts of the above Obama disagreed with and why.

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