A couple reasons why columnists should be very careful when they opine about science.

Even active scientists often make mistakes when they comment on fields outside their expertise. In a recent example not involving a crackpot theory of quantum consciousness or intelligent design, Charles Krauthammer, an columnist for the Washington Post with a background in psychiatry, writes:

Even a scientist who cares not a whit about the morality of embryo destruction will adopt this technique because it is so simple and powerful. The embryonic stem cell debate is over.

Today, there’s a response, not from a columnist, but from Thomson, the author of the American iPS paper, and from Alan Leshner, the executive publisher of Science who published Thomson’s paper, showing how ridiculously off-the-mark Krauthammer’s piece was:

Krauthammer’s central argument — that the president’s misgivings about embryonic stem cell research inspired innovative alternatives — is fundamentally flawed, too. Yamanaka was of course working in Japan, and scientists around the world are pursuing the full spectrum of options, in many cases faster than researchers in the United States.

Reprogrammed skin cells, incorporating four specific genes known to play a role in making cells versatile, or pluripotent, did seem to behave like embryonic stem cells in mice. But mouse studies frequently fail to pan out in humans, so we don’t yet know whether this approach is viable for treating human diseases. We simply cannot invest all our hopes in a single approach. Federal funding is essential for both adult and embryonic stem cell research, even as promising alternatives are beginning to emerge.

Krauthammer, thou hast been pwned, now STFU and GBTW kthxbi

I don’t understand how these people get paid to do this. Here’s a login for those who need it.

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