Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

12/26/2007 (6:35 pm)

On the Hot Seat

Jay Lefkowitz, who was deputy director of domestic policy at the White House when the President announced his compromise decision on embryonic stem cell research in August 2001, wrote a lengthy description in Commentary of the evaluation process the President worked through on his way to making a decision. He feels that since the recently-announced development of a means to create embryonic stem cells from adult stem cells makes the debate over embryonic cells moot, he could safely discuss his role in the decision. I would have preferred that he publish this sooner.

What comes through most clearly is how seriously the President took this decision, and how much effort he put into hearing all relevant voices in the debate. The process took months, and involved interviews with dozens of experts in relevant fields, as well as Congressmen, ethicists, lawyers, and even a reading of Fahrenheit 451. During the process, the President refused to consider political expediency:

When a member of the National Right to Life delegation took out a public-opinion poll to bolster his claim that opposition to stem-cell research would be a winning issue politically, Bush swatted the paper away and replied with uncommon sharpness: “This is too important an issue to take polls about. I am going to decide this based on what I believe is right.”

It becomes clear that the 2004 campaign by Democrats to paint the President as anti-science was opportunistic partisanship (as though there were ever any serious doubt on the point.) Take a look:

…in an interview with the New York Times shortly before Bush’s August speech, Irving Weissman of Stanford (director of Stanford’s Institute for Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine) stated that “a finite number [of stem-cell lines] would be sufficient. If we had 10-15 lines, no one would complain…” There had already been two decades of research using embryonic stem cells derived from mice, and 90 percent of that research had been conducted using only five distinct lines.

…Weissman would later change his tune and become one of the President’s most persistent critics.

I find the abuse of science for partisan political purposes particularly offensive. Scientists have a right to their political opinions, but when their scientific opinions get bent for the sake of partisanship, the scientific process is damaged, possibly irreparably. One day I’ll write at length about the political left’s habitual misuse of science to create a false patina of legitimacy over their favorite cultural memes. There have been a dozen topics over the last four decades where leftist researchers have performed improperly-conducted research for the purpose of bolstering political positions, including abortion, feminism, homosexuality, smoking, and global climate change. In my post immediately preceding this one, I believe I uncovered an instance of a buddy-system-inspired “study” to buttress the left’s pet argument on photo IDs for voters, although it’s hard to be certain.

This is very serious stuff; if the public comes to see the sciences as the tool of political partisans and not an objective exercise, it will be difficult to sustain support for continued research. Worse, if peer review breaks down, the sciences will not be trustworthy.

I’m not a huge fan of George W. Bush; I even called him an idiot in a post last week (for signing the Energy bill). But I’m deeply grateful that we had a man of genuine conscience in the Oval Office when this question regarding embryos and research came up, and not a partisan hack; and I feel certain that history will owe President Bush an apology for all the times he was called stupid, thoughtless, incurious, and all the other ways he’s been maligned.

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