Ye Olde Natural Philosophy Discussion Group

Reviews and comments on
Christopher Thomas Scott:
Stem Cell Now: From the Experiment That Shook
the World to the New Politics of Life

Everyone of us rated this book very highly, and it achieved an almost unheard of average rating of 9.0 on a scale of 0 to 10. There was a general hope expressed that the book will be widely read in the U.S. especially.

Rosie commented that the writing was really clear and that the science was well explained—which the rest of us also agreed with. She said the book was really fair and rational, giving both sides of each argument. She also appreciated the author giving the background on each of the ethical positions for and against stem cell research and therapy. "Given its timeliness," Rosie said, "everybody should read it!"

John and Rich agreed with Rosie's very positive comments. John said he thought the book was a wonderful discussion and that everyone should read it. Rich remarked that that "this is a really good book, a great book to read". He pointed out that unlike some of the books our group has read, this book was well condensed down and had very little repitition. Barbara likewise very much enjoyed the book.

Kevin S., Kirby and Scott also liked the book a lot, and each of them also gave it high ratings. However, each of them also had a few criticisms of the book. Kevin said that for him it was mostly review, though the author did do a good job outlining the various points of view.

Kevin commented that one thought that kept running around in his mind as he read the book was that this new stem cell science seems to be something mostly for rich Western people, and that the huge amounts of money involved could be used to much better purpose for general public health, etc. Scott agreed with that, but suggested that if this public money were not spent on stem cell research it would probably not be spent on health services for the poor in any case (given who controls the government!). Still, Kevin's basic point is well-taken: There is the much bigger issue looming before us of straightening out our failing public health system in this country.

Kirby noted the genuine importance of stem cell science, and agreed that the author did a very good job explaining both the scientific and moral issues involved. Nevertheless, he personally felt a bit bored by the book.

Scott said that for him all the scientific explanation was quite valuable and extended his rather limited knowledge in that area. On the other hand he was rather impatient with the extended discussion of the moral and political pros and cons, since the correct positions there seem quite obvious. This brings up the issue of how to rate books in general: Do you rate them for other people, or for how useful they were to you personally? Scott agrees that Stem Cell Now is a very important book that should be widely read, but still the second half of the book on the moral and political debates was not of much value for him personally. When it comes to the central issue in those debates, whether or not early embryos "are human beings", the answer is clearly that they are not! In the epilogue the author quotes the comment: "Is potentiality the same as actuality? You and I are potentially dead. But we are not yet dead, and until we are actually dead, it would be a mistake to treat us as if we were dead." In the same way, something that is only potentially a human being does not need to be treated in the same way that actual human beings are properly treated. Q.E.D. Once you understand this abstract point the moral appropriateness of stem cell research and therapy (or abortion too, for that matter) is completelely established.

Scott had a few other very secondary criticisms of the book, such as of the argument on p. 163 that the opponents of stem cell research had "predetermined" opinions and "lacked neutrality". This sort of liberal wishy-washyness is hypocritical since the author would not object to those on the other side having already made up their minds or "lacking neutrality". In point of fact in most arguments there is one side which has already done more investigation than the other, and/or thought things through more clearly, and therefore it is ridiculous to demand that no one should enter a discussion or debate with predetermined opinions.

John felt that those of us who gave the book a less than 10 rating (based on what we personally got out of the book) were in the wrong, because he felt the book is so important for educating the rather ignorant American population on this issue. And John just might be right about that!

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