Life as an Extreme Sport

Stop Yelling If You Want Me to Listen

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the World Stem Cell Summit, and as is habit when I attend conferences, I tweeted my reactions to various panels I attended. Alexey Bersenev asked if I would elaborate on my rather frustrated tweeting from the panel on “The Role of States in Regulating Stem Cell Therapies,” and I agreed (although I didn’t specify the timeline of when that would happen, obviously).

This panel was a regulatory session, as were most of the panels that I sat in on. It was moderated by Kirstin Matthews, from Rice University, and the panelists were Keri Kimler of the Texas Heart Institute; Mitchell S. Fuerst, a lawyer who has represented Regenerative Sciences (Regenexx/Dr. Chris Centeno et al.) in their lawsuit with the FDA; and Leigh Turner, a bioethicist from the University of Minnesota.After needling some people about conflicts of interest earlier this year, I suppose it’s necessary to once again point out that I consider Leigh a friend and colleague, and unsurprisingly, agree with his views regarding stem cell treatments and regulations. I don’t really think that biases me against being yelled at, but hey – some people just want an excuse to nitpick.

Paul Knoepfler was also in the audience for this panel session; in his brief write-up, he called the discussion between Fuerst and Turner a “particularly interesting and vigorous debate.”

I am going to go a little bit further than that, and say that I think it was actually a really lousy panel and debate, largely because Fuerst opted to engage in what is often referred to as conversational terrorism. He relied on every “trick” in the book, including a full range of ad hominem attacks, attempts at misdirection, constant interruption and talking over both Turner and Kimler, dismissing valid criticisms with the repeated statement of “that’s not germane to this discussion,” and perhaps the one that got under my skin the most, utter loud bombast, as if shouting at the audience will simply intimidate them into agreeing with you.

In my case, it does quite the opposite. This is probably in part because I’m female, and a lot of men seem to feel that shouting loudly at a woman will intimidate her into silence, going away, or acceding to demands. Mostly it just makes me cranky and likely to yell right back — something I managed to avoid doing at the panel, largely because during the Q& A period much of the audience got up to ask Turner and Kimler questions that they were unable to address during the panel due to Fuerst’s behavior.

Turner was able to talk during the panel — at least at times — and address some of the interesting and contentious issues around the role of states in regulating stem cell therapies, and I was able to learn some more about the topic. But Kimler barely spoke, and this is too bad — she was there as a patient advocate, and given her background and experiences in Texas, with their medical board and their recent stem cell guidelines, I would have liked the opportunity to hear and understand more about the position(s) that she supports.

By engaging in bad behaviour, Fuerst undermined the position he supports regarding state and federal oversight of stem cell regulations and denied the audience not only the opportunity to learn about his position in a non-confrontational manner, but the opportunity to learn from the other two experts invited to speak.

And just to be clear, this is not behaviour unique to Fuerst. In fact, it was on display in September during the Texas Tribune Festival’s panel on whether or not the state’s stem cell policy was good for Texans.I suppose a genuinely cynical person could try to argue that it’s really Turner that’s inciting people to these levels of bombastic over-talking, but having spent time with him I can assure you that he is indeed the epitome of Canadian politeness. I find that if someone — in the World Stem Cell Summit case, Fuerst — cannot present their argument in a calm, coherent, and rational manner, I’m going to dismiss everything they say as not worth my time, if not outright invalid.This, for what it’s worth, is not something a panelist should try for, period, and it’s really something you want to avoid if your audience includes the media. I’m certainly not the first writer-type to find it irritating to be yelled at rather than engaged with. If ya can’t keep your temper under control and engage with your fellow panelists — and the audience — with the respect that they should be afforded (and that you want afforded to you), then don’t agree to sit on the panel in the first place. It just wastes everyone time, and that’s frustrating, for everyone involved.