Of Stem Cells, Twitter, and the Catholic Church

I was looking at Twitter’s trending topics today, and noticed the #stemcellresearch hashtag. A bit of research revealed that the tag referred to the new proposed regarding state-funded stem cell research, which is currently open for comment from the public.

Here’s the rub: The NIH website has a form for people to post their views about the proposed guidelines before they’re finalised and enforced. However, as you’d expect, there’s opposition to the suggestion of Stem Cell research being allowed at all. The main opposition has come from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who have essentially instructed their followers to flood the NIH with comments opposing the guidelines. According to this forum post 99% of the 6000+ comments were opposing the guidelines on this basis. Of course, the scientific community weren’t keen on letting this lie.

This Message was published informing people of the situation, and requesting that they post comments in support of the research, and of some amendments to the guidelines.
It wasn’t long before this found it’s way onto Twitter, with the associated hashtag, thanks to Niel Gaiman, and became a trending topic.

Personally, I’m all for Stem Cell research. I don’t agree with the USCCB that it constitutes government funded “killing”. I don’t think an embryo is a human being any more than a strand of hair is.

The real question this poses is, who will win the debate? Obviously, the comments will have to be reviewed a bit more than “Who shouted loudest?” to assess how the guidelines should be reviewed, but I’m interested to see how much sway Twitter has. Can Twitter get more people to comment than the Catholic Church? Personally, I think that people will be more concerned with re-tweeting the message than actually commenting on the guidelines, but if a cat can get half a million followers, surely the Twitter community could make a dent on 6000 comments?

Oh, and if you’re on Twitter, you might want to check out What The Trend?, which keeps track of trending topics, and what they’re about. It’s pretty handy for explaining some of the more obscure hashtags.

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