Stem Cell Line Review Now Possible at NIH

The National Institutes of Health has established a website and review committee for researchers to submit stem cell lines for review (H/T The Scientist).  The review is necessary for these lines to receive federal funding under the new guidelines established earlier this year.  The review committee (called a working group) is listed in the announcement as part of the Advisory Committee to the Director, and is separate from the NIH Stem Cell Unit, which has been reviewing the 21 stem cell lines that were deemed eligible during the previous administration.

The results from the review committee – how many lines end up deemed eligible for research – may be deemed as deciding whether or not the change in stem cell policy is successful in the eyes of the scientific community and in those activist communities that see stem cells as an important tool for their causes.  Regardless of that particular outcome, the change in policy may be deemed successful by the Obama Administration as it fulfills a campaign promise and an effort to portray the Administration as science-friendly (something Dan Sarewitz has commented on, and I plan to respond to his arguments soon).

Brian Arthur and the Evolution of Technology

I want to point readers to an interview in American Scientist (H/T 3 Quarks Daily) with Brian Arthur, an economist with the Santa Fe Institute.  I first became aware of Arthur’s work during my master’s program, where we were exposed to complexity studies (a specialty of the Santa Fe folks) and more dynamical economic work like Arthur’s examinations of feedback loops.

In the brief discussion, Arthur describes his new book, The Nature of Technology.  While the particular insights Arthur brings out aren’t necessarily new to those who study technology, Arthur’s attempt to create a coherent whole out of the different functions of technology is different, and what he outlines in the interview suggests the book is worth reading to see if he succeeded.  I also think his effort to see how technology evolves, and how that evolution differs from biological and cultural evolution, is very useful.  Also of interest is his discussion of making new technologies out of combinations of existing items.

In many ways, a kind of combination of old policies happens in the crafting of new policies.  This is particularly true for policies involving science and technology.  Take a look at policy discussions over any of the so-called emerging technologies (nanotech and biotech the most known of the bunch), and you’ll see redressed versions of policies associated with genetic technologies.  In some cases that works pretty well, but it’s not necessarily true that what worked for older, apparently similar technologies will do so for the new stuff.  I think a lot of the broadband and related telecommunications policy struggles the U.S. has seen over the last couple of decades results from policies based on old phone technologies unable to adjust effectively to not just the emergence of the internet, but of the transition away from a hardline infrastructure.  While it is easier to make new policies (both politically and logistically) out of combinations of older policies, it can make adjustments much harder down the road.  But politics is the art of the possible right now, so future problems often are overlooked.