Monday, October 30, 2006

Feeling over thinking

A week ago, actor Michael J Fox appeared in television ads supporting Claire McCaskill's campaign for Senator from Missouri. There has been a great deal of controversy over the ads, in which Fox makes a number of factually untrue claims, including a charge that Senator Talent, McCaskill's opponent, wants to make stem-cell research illegal. The truth is that stem cell research is legal and is already happening in Missouri and across the country. The major difference between McCaskill and Talent is that McCaskill wants to provide federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, and Talent thinks that it should be privately funded.

Most scientists (other than those lobbying for tax dollars to support embryonic stem cell research) agree that adult stem cells and umbilical stem cells are much more promising candidates to achieve effective treatments for Parkinson's Disease and spinal cord injuries. Embryonic stem cells are just one of many varieties of stem cells being researched, and are the least promising in terms of the prospects for actually curing diseases. While other kinds of stem cells are already in use for the treatment of at least 80 different conditions, embryonic stem cells have not even been approved for a single human clinical trial, mainly due to the high risk of rejection and the side affect of causing monster tumors observed in animal trials. However, the majority of Democrats in Congress voted earlier this year to fund embryonic stem cell research, but voted against funding the more promising research involving stem cells which do not require the death of the donor. It seems that they only want research if it requires that unborn babies be killed in the process. And thus the real agenda is revealed: federal funding of embryonic stem cell research is a desperate attempt to demonstrate that there is a benefit to society in the killing of unborn babies.

I said from the beginning that the Fox ad plays to people's emotions, rather to rational thought. Rush Limbaugh was broadly criticized when he suggested that Fox stopped taking his Parkinson's medicine to film the ads, but Fox wrote in his book that he intentionally stopped his medication when testifying before Congress. It is clear that he is using his symptoms to invoke an emotional reaction of sympathy. It comes across as a shameless act of manipulation, and you have to wonder if he thinks that people are really stupid enough to fall for it.

You might think that Fox's condition makes him uniquely qualified to speak on efforts to cure Parkinson's Disease. Surely he is more knowledgeable about the issues in the Missouri election than the average guy. The central issue revolves around a ballot proposition which provides funding for embryonic stem cell research in Missouri. Its supporters point out that the proposition forbids human cloning. While it does forbid reproductive cloning, it explicitly protects the practice of human cloning for research: the process of farming cloned human embryos expressly for the purpose of using the embryos for research. When Fox was asked about this on ABC's "This Week" he said something rather remarkable:
"I don't think that's true. ... I have to qualify it by saying I'm not qualified to speak on the page-to-page content of the initiative. Although, I am quite sure that I'll agree with it in spirit, I don't know. On full disclosure, I haven't read it, and that's why I didn't put myself up for it distinctly."
So Michael J Fox admits that he made an ad supporting a candidate because of her position on an initiative which he has not even bothered to read! If there is any question that this ad campaign is pure emotional manipulation, rather than an appeal to rational thought, this puts it to rest.

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