Sophia Frentz Reviews Stem Cell Battles: Proposition 71 and Beyond
Stem Cell Battles: Proposition 71 and Beyond by Don C Reed
Stem Cell Battles was an unexpected foray into genuine story-telling. As dry as the title sounds, the style of the book is more autobiographical than scientific. It’s fair enough – the author has been intimately involved in stem cell funding and advocacy for a long time. Many of the chapters initiate with a story, often personal. These stories are compelling and include the author’s brush with cancer and son’s paralysis, pulling scientific research and the legislature sharply into focus with the effects these have on real lives. In Stem Cell Battles, you never think people aren’t intimately affected by research, funding, and advocacy.
The personal voice of this book is a welcome change; the story is told enthusiastically and with clear investment and passion. Reed is full of praise for the scientists involved in stem cell research, and does not save his praise for directors of institutes and heads of groups. Many younger scientists are mentioned, as are many female and non-white scientists, and having read more than enough odes to white men, it is a surprising relief to experience genuine diversity in this credit. The amount of information can appear messy and occasionally makes for hard reading, but life (and science) is messy.
A drawback of the personal tone is in the unfortunately personal nature of it. For those used to reading science books, it is hard to explain exactly how different the tone is – it certainly took me a few chapters to feel comfortable with reading something that felt more like Reed’s personal blog than anything else. Furthermore, while the author often flags his biases and does everything to provide a fair and balanced story, there are occasional slips which can be jarring. However, these instances are in the minority.
Something that will strike the non-American reader is that this book is also an unintentional horror about the healthcare system in the USA. This can occasionally limit the relevance and interest of information included to an international audience, as the personal cost of healthcare treatment is not something much of the world has to think about. However, discussing the very real costs people in the USA have to weather drives home the urgency of this research in a worldwide sense.
This book will take you a long time to read but it is presented in bite-size chunks in an informal way, making it easy to put down and pick back up again. If you don’t care particularly about the state of law and research funding in the USA, it may be of limited interest – but having said that, you may surprise yourself once you get into it. Overall, I found Stem Cell Battles an unexpected and enjoyable read. I don’t think I’d ever go back for a full read-through again, but I’m definitely going to dip back in for the occasional chapter.
Sophia Frentz is a PhD student in Mitochondrial research at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. She occasionally moonlights as a writer, and has had science pieces published by Lateral Magazine and The Conversation. When she’s not at the lab or in the office, she’s probably working on one of her many side projects.