This week, President Barack Obama lifted the ban on federal funding for stem cell research that destroys human embryos, and instantly one of the most intellectually deceitful debates of the past decade was reignited.
The president claimed that from now on, we will "make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology." Others dropped inane phrases regarding the "proper role of science" and the need to "remove politics from science," as if science existed in a vacuum.
To begin with -- though I disagree with the position -- opposition to embryonic stem cell research is not the equivalent of opposition to "science." Opponents have an ethical position that concerns policy. They are not alone.
Many liberals oppose the expansion of nuclear energy or genetically modified foods, to offer just two examples. Why would they stand in the way of science? Well, I assume, they hold some principled reservations about the repercussions of those activities.
And if scientific decisions -- or "facts" -- should be the sole driver of policy, then why are the proponents of embryonic stem cell research placing any restrictions on the research?
After all, Congress clamps constraints on science all the time. In this case, limits (some coming via the wonderfully named Dickey-Wicker Amendment) ban the use of taxpayer funds to directly fund creation of and experimentation on human embryos within private clinics and also outlaw cloning.
Do you find cloning immoral or just super creepy? What if cloning held the potential to cure some menacing ailment or appreciably enhance our quality of life? Would it be less scary? Less wicked? Would you support it then?
Whatever the answer, those are moral queries, not "factual" ones. So why, then, is Washington selecting which discipline is tolerable and which one isn't? Aren't we simply placing a new morality on science?
For instance, why does Washington ban women from producing embryos for the sole purpose of having them destroyed later in the name of science? Isn't such a prohibition a moral and ideological question, as well? It is a woman's choice, is it not, to destroy her fetus without having to provide any justification? Then why should that same woman be barred from creating an embryo to potentially cure diabetes?
Science doesn't fret over motives. Why does Washington?