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Peering from the Shadows: Stem Cell Research and the Quest for Regulation in Argentina

Harmon, SHE

Stem Cell Reviews and Reports   8 (3) 640-646

August 2012   (Cover date September 2012)

http://www.springerlink.com/content/m68557n274k31061/

Introduction

The pursuit of scientific knowledge is not amoral. It is not neutral. So science has long been contentious and disruptive. While the nature and range of socio-moral questions that are raised by scientific pursuits are diverse and context-specific, its destabilising effects increase when it fails to serve the political interests of entrenched powers [1, 2]. In such cases, science has been muzzled, discredited, or simply outlawed. Consider the Catholic Church’s reaction to Galileo, [3] or the varied responses by a range of organisations, including government, universities and industry, to environmental science [4]. One might also take notice of the suppression of, and assault on embryonic stem cell research, which has some reproductive medicine applications, by the religious and political right. While this antagonism is particularly visible in the US, [5] it is not exclusive to the US, and can be seen in various states around the world, including Italy and Germany [6].

The pursuit of scientific research in social settings where bodies traditionally suspicious of science are politically powerful is doubly challenging when democratic traditions are weak or participative opportunities few. In such settings there are fewer opportunities for protagonists to call upon the informed public to generate support which might circumvent the voids opened up, or barriers erected by, these powers. In such situations, researchers can become isolated and marginalised, and potentially fruitful avenues of inquiry can be closed off. This has implications for knowledge-creation, innovation, the timely translation of innovation into products useful to patients, commerce, and more.

Drawing on evidence generated in the ‘Governing Emerging Technologies: Social Values and Stem Cell Research Regulation in Argentina’ project (GET: Social Values Project), [7] this paper considers the general circumstances within which Argentine stem cell researchers find themselves, as perceived by those researchers and non-researchers who are close to the field. In doing so, it argues that there is an important role for the law in supporting researchers and ‘correcting’ the science environment in which researchers operate. In Argentina, despite several important salutary reforms (eg: the formation of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation and of a national Advisory Commission on Regenerative Medicine and Cellular Therapies, and their activities [8]), the science environment still lacks transparency, dialogical spaces, appropriate policy influence for society and key protagonists, and more [9]. This paper does not call for the hegemony of scientific knowledge, but rather for a democratisation of science, emphasising the role of regulation in this process.