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Optimistic Stem Cell Quotes

How does the press cover stem cell work? You probably already know the answer to that one, but here’s proof: this paper examines the media coverage from 2010 to 2013, and finds that “highly optimistic” timelines for translation to the clinic are the rule. Unfortunately, they also find that quotes from scientists are the main source for this sort of thing, too. My belief is that some journalists are just predisposed to go with whatever sounds good and exciting, so whomever gives the most hopeful prediction is the person that gets quoted.
The whole translation-to-a-real-therapy process, though, is terribly underestimated by the general public (and by some people who really should know better, too). That’s one of the roots of the the NIH Fallacy, the idea that drugs are all discovered with NIH money and that drug companies just reach in and pluck those delicious fruits once they’re good and ripe. You can only believe that if you don’t know how much work it takes to go from a discovery to a drug, and how many, many things can go wrong along the way.
There’s a related fallacy, the idea that there are all sorts of cures sitting on shelves (of both drug companies and universities) that no one has bothered to dust off. While it would not surprise me if there were, indeed, great ideas sitting around waiting for someone to rediscover them, they are surely surrounded by masses of not-so-great ideas. And figuring out the difference between those involves the piles of money and time that go into drug development – we haven’t figured out any other way to do it.

21 comments on “Optimistic Stem Cell Quotes”

  1. cancer_man says:

    My prediction in 1999 was that the first true stem cell cure will happen in 2015. I told non science friends, “this takes time.”
    In 2009 or so, NPR had a show where they interviewed a science writer from Newsweek, and she said how disappointing stem cell research has been and that everyone thought there would be many cures by now.
    (eye roll) No, not “everyone” thought their would be cures a decade later.
    They are doing science, not magic.

  2. johnnyboy says:

    While you’re on fallacies, how about the nugget (not to say dangleberry) that there’s all sorts of natural remedies that could cure everything but evil Big Pharma is conspiring to keep all that under wraps ?

  3. Sili says:

    whomever

    srsly?

  4. Askasiliquestion says:

    Yes, whomever. You quote him/her not he/she and thus whomever (rather than whoever) is correct. Also you would appear to have lost all the vowels from the word ‘seriously’ 😉

  5. matt says:

    Same as the 100-mpg-carburetor ideas that Big Oil and Big Auto bought up and suppressed, right? That’s what happens when all those Popular Mechanics super optimistic predictions don’t make it in reality: some people choose to continue believing the hype, and invent conspiracy to explain why it didn’t happen.
    When you are outside a field, it’s too easy to assume that its practitioners are idiots, because you can read from the Hype-O-Media the breathless beginnings of the Next Great Thing, and then it disappears into the boring slog of reality whose coverage is only seen by insiders, and it never comes back out. Must be the idiots in the slog screwing things up again, right?
    Not sure there’s a solution, though, because sometimes only the silly over-optimistic fools who won’t see what could go wrong have the tireless energy to keep fighting to keep their idea alive. There’s your endless supply to feed the Hype-O-Media.

  6. sgcox says:

    “so whomever gives the most hopeful prediction is the person that gets quoted.”
    I think Silly is right and Askasiliquestion is wrong. The hypothetical answer here is “he gives the most hopeful prediction” so “whoever” is right. I am not a native speaker so please don’t jump on me.

  7. Hap says:

    I think “who” applies to a phrase attached to the subject of a verb and “whom” applies to a phrase attached to the object of a verb. Assuming that whoever” and “whomever” behave correspondingly, since the person giving the prediction is the subject, it should probably be “whoever”. I wouldn’t bet any substantial part of my salary on it, though.

  8. Anonymous says:

    However, if it was like “Press will quote whomever gives the most helpful prediction”, Askasiliquestion would be right as the answer is “Him!!”

  9. johnnyboy says:

    Lane Simonian or grammar pedants: who’s the boringest ?

  10. bhip says:

    re: johnnyboy @ 10- it’s a horse race but I have to give it to Lane…

  11. sgcox says:

    Lane wins hands down. But discuss – what fits better: Mohammed Ali boxing style or jockeys letting horse free? Or even that incredible Bolt hundred meters finish?

  12. bank says:

    It should probably have been “whomsoever”, srsly.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Whatever

  14. Anonymous says:

    wtvr?

  15. gippgig says:

    There were certainly a lot of antibiotics that were reported back in the old days and never heard from again. It might be worthwhile to go back and properly characterize them (assuming the producing organism is still around) now that it’s almost trivial to determine structures etc. There are probably a few novel structural classes lurking in there and the criteria for deciding what is worth pursuing has undoubtedly improved greatly since then.

  16. steve says:

    As a stem cell researcher, the problem is the definition of “breakthrough”. A breakthrough in an academic setting – say, the ability to induce ES cells or iPS cells to differentiate into islets – does not correspond to a breakthrough in clinical application. Even though you can make islets from ES cells they are still allogeneic so you now need to find a way to protect them from the immune system. iPS cells can get around the allogeneic problem but there is still the question of how to protect them from immune attack in Type 1 diabetes patients. For both approaches you need to prove safety and rule out potential tumorigenicity. Then you have to figure out how to deliver the cells in quantities sufficient to replace pancreatic function. Then you can begin clinical trials, which can take 5-6 years. There are a lot of breakthroughs in stem cell research that are worth the hype but that doesn’t mean they immediately translate into cures. Still, it’s clear that we’re on the verge of a total revolution in medicine. Hopefully those of us who read this blog will live long enough to benefit.

  17. steve says:

    Oh, and it’s “whoever” since it’s not a direct object in the sentence used.

  18. Some idiot says:

    The correct answer is “the dude that gives the most hopeful prediction”
    (-;

  19. Eskimo says:

    #17, I work in the PR office at a medical school and we generally try NOT to use the word “breakthrough.” But I agree with your point about advances in the lab being distinct from those in the clinic.

  20. steve says:

    #20, sorry, I wasn’t meaning to be taken quite so literally. Press releases can give the impression of a breakthrough even without using the word. Generally they’re hyped to make them sound like breakthroughs (after all, no one would put out a PR on a mundane, run-of-the-mill finding) so the public can be forgiven for thinking that the application of that finding is just around the corner.

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