A new medium, a new message

Controversy is a curious thing, especially when you throw today’s communication technology into the mix. Everybody has an opinion about everything, and takes to a keyboard to share it with the world.

Amy Swinderman
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Controversy is a curious thing, especially when you throwtoday's communication technology into the mix. Everybody has an opinion abouteverything, and takes to a keyboard to share it with the world. This can makefor a cluttered atmosphere and a confusing media message. One often has totrudge through a lot of garbage and misplaced frustration before finding both anews story, and interesting analysis from people who are informed enough tointerpret the story's potential impact. This month, ddn brings you both of these hard-to-find items.
When I set out to cover the Sherley, et al., v. Sebelius,et al., case challenging federal fundingfor embryonic stem cell (eSC) research, I cleared my calendar for at leastthree days. From our past coverage of President Barack Obama's lifting of theprevious administration's ban on federal funding for eSC research, andexploration of both sides of the contentious debate, I knew I should be preparedfor an onslaught of "stuff."
A cursory expedition for information led to adeluge of information (some of it accurate, some of it not) and opinion (someit angry, some of it really angry).
Drawing from my past experience as a legal reporter, I knewI had to do what any good reporter should do, which is get to the core of thestory. Shutting out all other "noise," I located the court documents for thecase and started reading. To my great surprise, I learned that the leadplaintiffs in the case were not "right-wing nut-jobs" or "rogue pro-lifers," asmany media reports suggested, but two researchers who have serious concernsabout the potential of eSC research, and the impact that increased funding foreSC projects will have on other types of research. To my even greater surprise,I learned that the researchers—Dr. James L. Sherley, a biological engineer atBoston Biomedical Research Institute, and Dr. Theresa Deisher, research anddevelopment director at AVM Biotechnology LLC in Seattle—aren't against stemcell research altogether, as some mainstream media reports have suggested. Theyboth engage in stem cell research using adult stem cells, a field they claimwill suffer if more federal dollars are filtered to researchers who wish to useeSCs.
That the crux of the lawsuit centered on this argument, andwhether Obama's 2009 order violates the Dickey-Wicker amendment, a 1995 lawprohibiting the government from appropriating funds for research that involvesthe creation or destruction of human embryos for research purposes, surprisedme, given the highly polarized reports I'd seen about the case.
You may besurprised to read the facts of the case, too, and you can do so starting withour cover story, which continues in our Government Watch section.
And you might be as surprised as I was to find that bothSherley and Deisher, who declined many media interviews once the case came tolight, were willing to speak candidly with me, not about the pendinglitigation, but about their feelings toward eSC research.
Both scientists impressed me with their willingness toopenly discuss their beliefs, but only a small portion of their interviewsappear in the story, which chiefly concerns the arguments in the case. However,we believe the story deserves more ink, so this month, we're taking to our newblog, http://ddnonline.wordpress.com/, to get up close and personal with thepeople at the center of this reignited debate.
We started the blog in late August to give us theopportunity to bring you a "behind-the-scenes" look at some of the importantstories we cover—and give you, the reader, a chance to comment and interactwith other readers.
"It's another tool for us, and a necessary one in thisincreasingly e-connected age," says ddnAssociate Publisher Laurence Doyle. "Ultimately, what we hope to create is aplace where we can stimulate discussion. Even as an extension of our websiteand e-newsletter efforts, it is a promising tool, but if it can be a place toshare ideas and opinions, that will be a very rich addition to our newscoverage."
This month, you can read a Q&A with Sherley and Deisheron our blog. Deisher, in particular, was gracious enough to discuss how shebelieves her Catholic faith impacts her work: "My faith enhances my work," shesays. "My Christian faith calls me to focus on drugs and treatments that areaffordable so that the greatest number of people will benefit. My faith callsme to use reason and the order of natural law to determine, for instance, thestem cell most optimal for clinical use. My faith calls me to focus only onthose treatments that will be effective. My faith also calls me to respect theintrinsic dignity of human life in my work."
If you're interested in seeing more on this controversialissue, getting to the facts of the case and discussing it with other members ofour audience, we invite you to check out our blog. We look forward to "talking"to you!

Amy Swinderman

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