Sunday, March 22, 2009

Facebook no longer permits me to add friends

Yesterday evening, as I was connecting with like-minded people (other atheists, humanists, etc) by seeking to add them to my list of Facebook friends, I was stopped by a FB warning. Since I first posted on my wall on 9 March an article by Jack Huberman “How To Save Our Secular America”, I have been doing just that and I now have 261 friends. Hardly abusive behavior – here are some comments my FB friends have left on my wall:

  • “I assume I really don’t know you but if you a humanist, I am happy to be your friend. I see that you have been working on very important projects and do let me know if I could be of any help.”
  • “Hi Lola, nice to be in touch with you. I am a secular humanist working with the marginalised communities in India. …”
  • “Oh... I like your website! I’ll be adding it to my blogroll. We obviously share a lot of the same goals.”
  • “Pleased to meet you Lola!!!”
  • “Hello Lola, It is a pleasure meeting you as well! It is always nice to meet a friend with common views. Stay well.”
Oh, and the latest comment: “Hi Lola, thanks for adding me. I’m intrigued by your work and your website. The Network of those Abused by Church. What a wonderfully gutsy approach!” I haven’t added new friends since the warning and Declan says I should get my head around the fact that it is likely that I am going to be blocked or my account permanently disabled: hasn’t his petition to the UN in support of therapeutic cloning been brought to a halt through spamming - despite that 24 Nobel laureates have signed it – and our website twice removed from the internet (see our “About us”)? A short while ago, I received an email from a FB friend who also happens to be a recognised authority in stem cell research and has signed Declan’s petition. The email is in relation to a Christopher Hitchens video that I posted on my wall yesterday evening on the UN's Anti-Blasphemy Resolution – American Atheists will be demonstrating outside the UN next Saturday. It has had a good response but it seems he isn’t able to add his comment (among the comments last night, I announced my receipt of the FB warning) and is not sure if Facebook “is blocking it or not”. He is using an iPhone, but was able to write on somebody else’s wall. “It’s insane what FB is doing,” he says. I keep thinking about the video “The Four Horsemen”, convened by The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS), which features an unmoderated 2-hour discussion between Richard Dawkins (FB friend), Daniel Dennett (NAC Honorary Associate), Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. Within 20 seconds, they raise the whole issue of religion being “held off the table of rational criticism” (Sam Harris).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Obama lifts ban on embryonic stem cell research

Alan Trounson, president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, poses for a portrait at his offices in San Francisco, Monday, March 9, 2009

Yesterday, US President Barack Obama signed an executive order to lift restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, overturning a Bush administration policy that patients and medical researchers said hindered the development of new medical treatments. Obama signed the order before a White House audience packed with scientists – the Chicago Sun-Times gives a list of participants and attendees.

“Promoting science isn’t just about providing resources, it is also about protecting free and open inquiry,” Obama said. “It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.”

Bernard Siegel, executive director of the Genetics Policy Institute (GPI), said in a statement: “In order to provide certainty, the next step is to protect embryonic stem cell research by legislation. Building on the momentum, it’s time to repeal the Dickey-Wicker Amendment that serves as a blockade for funding research on work on embryos discarded from in vitro fertilization procedures to derive new cell lines or somatic cell nuclear transfer. All stem cell advocates applaud Congresswoman Diana DeGette who has expressed her intention to seek reversal of this fundamental funding restriction.”

The Associated Press reports that scientists are cheering Obama’s lifting of federal funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, hopeful the move will open the financial floodgates to speed new treatments. “It’s wonderful. We are elated,” said Jan Nolta, who directs the stem cell research program at the University of California at Davis. “Now that we can use the federal funds, it will just go so much more quickly.”

Michael West, chief executive of BioTime, said he expected to see increased demand for the hundreds of stem cell lines sold by his Emeryville-based company. More importantly to the industry, West said, private investors will be less afraid of putting their money into stem cell startups. Venture capitalists and big pharmaceutical companies in the past have been skittish about investing in stem cell companies out of fear that federal regulations could tighten even further, he said. “It’s a green light that will go a long way in my experience to people committing capital. Not knowing the future was really a major risk factor.”

Not everyone is excited though. The International Herald Tribune reports today that after Obama signed the order, the Vatican and US and Italian Church leaders condemned the move. Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee on pro-life activities, called Obama’s decision “a sad victory of politics over science and ethics”.

The Chicago Tribune and The Capital Times carry some quotes from well-known researchers, many of whom have signed Declan’s petition to the UN on somatic cell nuclear transfer, sometimes referred to as “therapeutic cloning” to distinguish it from reproductive cloning research. Below is a statement from James Thomson, professor of anatomy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who is credited as the world’s first person ever to isolate an embryonic stem cell, first from a rhesus monkey in 1995 and then from a human in 1998. Prof Thomson is often acknowledged by his peers as “the founder of the field”. He said:

The executive action by President Obama lifting restrictions on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research is a welcome milestone for our field. The decision will help restore America as a leader in this field and is a clear path out of a policy thicket that has slowed the pace of discovery for eight years. It also removes a stigma that has discouraged many bright young people from embarking on careers in stem cell research. Research on embryonic stem cells remains critically important. We have many unanswered questions, and the only way to realize the full potential of embryonic stem cells and other types of stem cells is a level playing field and unfettered inquiry. Human-induced pluripotent stem cells - the transformed adult cells that seem to mimic the qualities of embryonic stem cells - would not have been possible without research on human embryonic stem cells. We are grateful to President Obama for the courage of his decision as well as for the broad bipartisan support our work has received in Washington.