Tuesday, July 8, 2008

How to Write a Professional Editorial for the Detroit Free Press [Serge]

I must admit a large amount of frustration when I read misleading and wrong writing from so-called professionals in the mainstream media. Lets take a deep breath and try to get through this editorial in the Detroit Free Press. Since it was written by the editorial board, maybe the inclusion of more than one individual will help its accuracy. These guys are professionals, after all:

End the stem cell ban
Wow, that didn't take long. There is no "stem cell ban". There is no ban on ESCR in Michigan. There is no law on the books that mentions ESCR at all. ESCR is being performed right now at the University of Michigan. The title itself has already included a huge falsehood.

It will be a good thing if Michiganders can vote in November to end the state's troglodytic ban on stem cell research.
I've never been to journalism school, but I'm pretty sure that claiming your opponents come from caves does nothing to increase the likelihood of your false claim becoming true.

The ban puts Michigan at a decisive competitive disadvantage with states that permit embryonic stem cell research; firms that want to do stem cell research just have another reason to stay away from here, and our universities have a harder time attracting and retaining top researchers.
Oh yeah, all those researchers presently flocking to California to get a piece of that 2 billion dollar pie will gladly buy some winter gear and flock to Ann Arbor because they can now kill their own embryos. Good plan.

And it doesn't save "life,' as some of its proponents have long argued. The embryos subject to research are generally extras leftover from couples involved in artificial insemination; clinics usually discard them anyway.
The fact that some human organisms are unwanted does not give us license to cut them apart for their cells.

But the biggest reason the ban makes no sense is more principled than practical.
Great. I love principles.

The ban is about allowing moral and religious objections to restrict public and scientific policy about an area of exciting and promising discovery, rather than letting science take the lead in figuring out what works, and why.
OK, I think I get it. Your point is that we should always allow science to take the lead over any moral or religious objections. I have much to say about this (see Tuskegee Syphilis study), but I'll let you complete your argument.

The danger there is manifest. No one's saying morality ought not guide scientific exploration, or set important guardrails against abuse or, in rare cases, evil.
Oh, I guess that's... not your point. Now morality should guide us and set important guardrails against abuse or evil. Now I'm confused.

But in this case, the moralizing has gone much further. It has taken a minority view.
Uh, now I guess morality should provide guiderails against abuse and evil as long as it is a majority view.

one that equates embryos with viable human life
By all definitions, human embryos cut apart for research are living, human organisms. Its not that we believe embryos are equivalent with "viable human life", its that embryos are "viable human life".

and used it to preclude an entire realm of research that could yield far-reaching benefits for humanity.
The present laws don't preclude researching embryonic stem cells. It only means you cannot destroy human embryos in order to do so. The "far-reaching benefits" are faith-based beliefs, not any based in science.

That's just awful policy-making.
Nope, just awful writing by these "professionals".

Last year, another scientific breakthrough with mature cells, rather than stem cells, suggested that they might be used as readily to cure disease as stem cells, giving new voice to those who oppose stem cell research in Michigan.
How about "giving a new voice for those who believe we should not be killing human embryos when we can get the same cells without killing them." See, this writing thing isn't so difficult!

But Dr. Robert Kelch, executive vice president for medical affairs at the University of Michigan and CEO of U-M Health System, wrote in the Free Press that “several problems need to be overcome” before such cells become useful for new disease treatments.

“Scientists need to show that the cells are stable over time," he said. "

They need to learn whether the new type of stem cell really possesses the powerful traits of embryonic stem cells, which can become any type of cell in the body. Scientists also need to find different ways to reprogram the human skin cells to become stem cells … At this early stage in stem cell exploration, it makes no sense to abandon any avenue of research, especially if that would delay the life-changing therapies for which people are waiting.
Oh, well if Bob, the CEO of the organization which stands to financially benefit from a "kill our own" embryo program says so, we should simply be quiet and trust him. The problems that
IPS cells have to overcome pale in comparison to those that ESCRs have to overcome.

Specifically, the Michigan proposal doesn't mention SCNT or human cloning unlike other past proposals in the legislature. How does Bob plan on creating cell based therapies that will get around that old immune rejection problem? This is a problem that IPS cells do not have, because they come from the host.

Here again, the debate ought to be shaped by science - to fully explore both paths to see which is superios [sic] - rather than solely by the moral view that stem cell research is somehow unacceptable.
As Jay well knows, I am not beyond making some spelling errors. Of course, this blog isn't exactly a major newspaper. Now I guess were back to science being the sole arbiter of what should be done. I'm getting dizzy.

Michigan should join the scientific 21st century, and leave the stem cell ban behind.
Hey, I'm getting this "journalism" thing. When you begin an editorial by calling your opponents cave dwellers and making a grossly false statement - you should end it in a similar way!

In all seriousness, if my home-schooled son or daughter submitted this paper to me as an example of an argumentative essay, I'm not sure that I would pass them. Basing your main argument on a falsehood, using ad hominem descriptions of your opponents arguments, and not being logically consistent would preclude a good grade.

Then again I probably would give them a C-. After all, they are only 8. I should expect a few more years before they are more skilled than the folks at the Freep.


  1. Wow. That is insane. Great commentary, Rich.

  2. Sarcastic, witty, biting, and holding professional journalists to a higher standard? I had to check this post twice to make sure I did not write it!

    That was funny stuff! Too bad that it is centered on an actual editorial board article. I honestly and truly believe these people post articles on stem cells and abortion when they have a deadline and they can not come up with anything based on actual news or current events. It has to be the false assumption that these positions are based on pure opinion so they can say whatever stupid things they want without fear of fact checking or rational objection.

    At least I hope that is the case, because otherwise our national media is largely frighteningly dense on this subject but running their trap regardless.

  3. Serge, this was stellar! And hilarious to boot! What a great take-down of the sloppy thinking of the pro-ESCR folks.

  4. By the editorial's own logic, since minority views on morality don't hold, we should bury the gay marriage argument.


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