Policy ForumScientific Community

Confronting stem cell hype

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Science  13 May 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6287, pp. 776-777
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf4620

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Summary

The way science is represented to the public can influence understanding and expectations, frame policy debates, and affect the implementation and use of emerging technologies. Inaccurate representations of research may, for example, lead to public confusion about the readiness of a technology for clinical application. As a result, the issue of science “hype”—in which the state of scientific progress, the degree of certainty in models or bench results, or the potential applications of research are exaggerated—is receiving increased attention from the popular press, the research community, and scientific societies (1). In newly issued guidelines on the ethical conduct of human pluripotent stem cell research and clinical translation (2), the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) explicitly recognizes and confronts the issue of science hype. By placing a clear obligation on researchers, the ISSCR hopes to make balance in public representations of research a norm associated with scientific integrity. The focus on public communication, which is new to this version of the guidelines, is the result of both specific concerns regarding how stem cell research has been portrayed in the public sphere and the growing recognition that researchers play an important role in the science communication process.