Stem Cells and that "War on Science"November 28th, 2005
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.
Every so often here we’ve taken issue with claims of a Republican “war on science.” Our view is not a defense of Republican policies, far from it. Our view is that the factors which lead to the misuse of science in politics have less to do with political or ideological affiliation than with the basic dynamics of science in decision making. As a result, improving the use of science in decision making won’t occur through mindless partisanship, but by actually paying attention to the dynamics of science in society. The ethical quandaries of he South Korean stem cell research program reported in the New York Times Friday throw another wrench into claim of a Republican “war on scince” and evidence that science abuses routinely span the political spectrum (The American Journal of Bioethics was on top of this and its significance early on, see this post).
Here is an excerpt from the New York Times article,
“The South Korean researcher who won world acclaim as the first scientist to clone a human embryo and extract stem cells from it apologized Thursday for lying over the sources of some human eggs used in his work and stepped down as director of a new research center. After months of denying rumors that swirled around his Seoul laboratory, the researcher, Dr. Hwang Woo Suk, confirmed that in 2002 and 2003, when his work had little public support, two of his junior researchers donated eggs and a hospital director paid about 20 other women for their eggs. On several earlier occasions, he had said that he did not use eggs harvested from subordinates and that no one was paid for egg donations. “Being too focused on scientific development, I may not have seen all the ethical issues related to my research,” Dr. Hwang, a veterinarian by training, told a news conference in Seoul on Thursday.”
Chris Mooney, passionate partisan and ubiquitous champion of the “war on science” argument (and who we’ve debated on this issue before), has claimed that President Bush’s 2001 exaggeration of the number of stem cell lines available to researchers to be “one of the most flagrant purely scientific deceptions ever perpetrated by a U.S. president on an unsuspecting public.”
So if deceiving the public to limit stem cell research is a “war on science” then presumably it is equally improper to deceive the public to advance stem cell research. The alternative is that one adopts an ends-justifies-the-means sort of logic in which the appropriateness of lying is determined to be a function of one’s judgments about the value of the desired end. Of course, this sort of logic is exactly what underlies claims of the “war on science” anyway. Of course it also underlies conservatives calls for “sound science.”
I didn’t like how President Bush justified his stem cell decision in 2001 and I don’t approve of Dr. Hwang Woo Suk’s ethical lapses. But it should be obvious that these sorts of actions won’t be addressed through simply more political partisanship, but through a carefully understanding of the complex factors which shape the use and misuse of science in decision making.