Gingrich Brings Grotesque Charges Against Science

02/20/2012 08:21 pm ET | Updated Mar 31, 2012
  • Don C. Reed Sponsor, California’s Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act of 1999

As a loyal Democrat, I am tempted to keep silent while two anti-science Republican Presidential candidates beat each other up.

Both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney supported embryonic stem cell research in the past. Both men, attempting to gain political advancement, have flip-flopped on the issue.

But there is an important difference between the two men.

Romney is no prize for science, having pledged to cut off funding for research which might bring cures for literally millions of suffering Americans. If he wins the nomination, pro-science Democrats will oppose him strongly -- but with reasoned arguments, bound by the limits of fact. It is my hope and belief that he and his campaign spokespeople will feel the same restraint.

But Newt Gingrich? Judged by recent grotesque misstatements, the former Speaker of the House is incapable of a rational discussion.

Last Sunday at a Baptist Church in Winter Park, Florida, Gingrich alleged:

"Research into embryonic stem cells... has nothing to do with science...This was (done)... to justify desensitizing society to killing babies. If the 'secular left' could have done the same research without killing embryos, they would have rejected it, because their real interest was in exploiting Parkinson's victims to promote abortions."
--"Catchy Slogans, Sloppy Ideas", David Firestone, New York Times blog, January 29, 2012

Let's take a closer look at that paragraph, which is studded with innacuracy.

1. "... embryonic stem cell (research) has nothing to do with science" -- ?

On March 1, 2002, in the Reeve-Irvine Research Center, the University of California at Irvine, I held in my hand a laboratory rat that had been paralyzed, and then walked again, thanks to embryonic stem cells -- and this while my paralyzed son Roman Reed sat nearby in his wheelchair.

This is an example of the very real science Gingrich so casually dismisses, in this instance the work of Dr. Hans Keirstead, whose eight years of repeated tests laid the FDA groundwork for the world's first embryonic stem cell (ESC) clinical trials. Geron, the company which first attempted to finance the trials, ran short of money and had to quit -- but their near-decade of effort made the next set of trials much easier -- and that is why ACT (Advanced Cell Technologies) recently reported success in the first ESC trials with macular degeneration, a common form of adult onset blindness.

2. "Exploiting Parkinson's victims to promote abortions" -- ? That is vile even from someone famous for verbal bullying. Where is the connection between stem cells and abortion? Stem cells are manipulated under a microscope, with no womb involved. How can there be an abortion when there is no pregnancy?

Even Gingrich acknowledged this, before he got the presidential bug:

"For many of us, there is a very real distinction between doing something with an unborn child, a fetus that is implanted, and doing something with cells in a fertility clinic that are otherwise going to be destroyed."
--July 10th, 2001, quoted in "Gingrich vows to ban embryonic stem cell research...", Karen Tumulty, the Washington Post, January 29, 2012.

Exploitation of Parkinsons' disease sufferers? Ask Michael J. Fox if he feels exploited by research intended to bring cure to his devastating condition. No one has worked harder to support the research. Parkinson's disease has been described as like living in a slowly closing tomb, as one gradually loses control of all bodily functions. Parkinson's patient advocate groups all across the country are strong supporters of embryonic stem cell research.

3. To claim scientists "would have rejected (non-embryonic stem cell research)" is provably false. A simple trip to the NIH website will confirm that far more federally-funded scientists are doing non-embryonic stem cell research than embryonic.

Example: In 2010, human embryonic stem cell research -- $126 million
Human non-embryonic stem cell research -- $341 million

Gingrich's falsehoods should be publicly discounted by every scientist who supports freedom of research, every family with a loved one suffering chronic disease or disability and by every American who still expects honor and decency -- even from presidential candidates.