Stem cell misconceptions put to test by MU science students

Friday, November 3, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:55 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Chia-Yu Wang thinks talking about stem cell research provides another great opportunity for people to recognize how deeply science relates to their everyday lives.

As an MU doctoral student in science education, Wang thinks science education has a place beyond the classroom. Everyone should be scientifically literate, she said, and people should judge science-based issues as independently as possible.

“People get information from the radio, newspaper and TV,” Wang said. “We hope that they can think critically over the issue they got from the mass media.”

Amendment 2, also known as the Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, would guarantee that any stem cell research allowed by the federal government be allowed in Missouri.

On Monday, Wang and several other doctoral students in science education presented “Seven Misconceptions about Stem Cell Research” in MU’s Speakers Circle. The students developed questions around seven aspects of stem cells after asking faculty what misconceptions they had found among their students.

“Because of the broad response, we’ve got the information even from the arts and science (college),” Wang said. “In a sense, it is a collaborative effort.”

During the 1 ½-hour interaction with listeners and passers-by, the presenters used poster board with questions about stem cell research on one side and answers to them on the other. “Our goal was to inform,” said Kristen Hutchins.

Among the areas they addressed were the definition of stem cells, their applications in research and medicine, and the legality of their research under federal law.

Wang and the other students also handed out about 150 fliers covering the seven areas of stem cells.

“People can check out the information and consider the pros and cons on their own,” Wang said.

Ben Goldschmidt, a sophomore in biological engineering, seemed impressed with the even-handedness of the presentation.

“My professional area has lots to do with stem cell, and I came to check if I have got all the information (correct),” he said.

Debate sprang up from time to time. Michael Acuff, an MU spinal cord injury specialist, spent time on the edge of Speakers Circle talking with people about his opposition to Amendment 2. Acuff and two undergraduates, Laura Estes and Rosa Sow, argued over the economic impact of stem cell research and whether it exploits women.

The presenters, meanwhile, tried to adopt an open attitude.

“People have their beliefs and values,” said Wang. “Our intention was not to engage in the debate.”

Their desire was to stick to the science.

“What we offered is simply the scientific information rather than opinions,” Wang said.

A second presentation is set for Monday, the day before the election.

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