On Tuesday, New Jersey voters defeated a state ballot referendum that would have put $450 million of taxpayer funds into stem cell research. It was a rare electoral victory for opponents of embryo-destructive research—made all the more surprising by its Garden State venue. New Jersey, after all, has some of the most extreme pro-cloning and embryo research laws in the country, explicitly permitting, for instance, the creation of cloned embryos and their development in the womb until the moment of birth.
In search of an explanation, the New York Times offers up the absence of a massive media campaign with deep pockets, of the sort employed in similar referenda in California in 2004 and in Missouri in 2006. In both cases, tens of millions of dollars were spent on ads attempting to persuade voters of the promise of embryonic stem cells—often using starkly dishonest and distorted arguments.
In Missouri, for instance, the advertising campaign coined the clever term “early stem cell research” (as in this ad) to avoid using the word “embryo,” and asserted that embryonic stem cells would cure Alzheimer’s (despite a near consensus to the contrary among researchers). In California, where a similar effort resulted in the creation of a $3 billion stem cell institute in 2004, pre-election deceptions about how the project would work continue to plague the new institute, which has now gone through several difficult leadership changes. Most recently, the institute hired as its director an Australian scientist who was caught lying to the Australian parliament in 2002 in order to obtain support for stem cell research.