Wednesday, June 01, 2005

"Moral" Backlash Threatened

I meant to write on this news item some time ago about an embryonic stem cell researcher upset that the government won't fund his research. Unfortunately I can't access the original article now and all that remains is the blog post Stem cell research leader warns of moral backlash at Stem Cell Debate that led me to it:

A Nobel laureate who campaigned for California's $3 billion stem cell initiative is warning that ideologically driven laws to prohibit research could abridge the constitutional rights of researchers and would face legal challenges. Paul Berg, a biotech pioneer and a professor emeritus at the Stanford University School of Medicine, made the comments during a luncheon speech April 28 at BayBio 2005, a conference of the Bay Area biotechnology association.
"Given the federal government's threat to prohibit certain lines of research, it seems relevant to ask if the freedom to conduct scientific investigation and to report its results is legitimately different from the rights afforded to the press for their freedom of inquiry and publication," Berg said. "In short, lacking clear evidence of certain danger or harm, I believe the case can be made that the freedom to conduct scientific inquiry is inherent in the right to free speech granted in the Constitution's Bill of Rights."

(Oh, the outrage!)

For anyone who knows the real situation (that no one is prohibiting this research , and that President Bush actually liberalized funding for embryonic stem cell research), the claim is really too silly to require a response. Nevermind that "lacking clear evidence" is never adequate when human life is possibly at stake ("is that movement behind that tree a dear or another hunter?"). Nevermind about the cliche free-speech claim. The funding claim is the most outrageous: as if a "right" to do x means that the government has an obligation to fund x! Let's try x = "right to bear arms" and see how the PC thoughtpolice like that! (That last argument originally found in Harvard's Penninsula.)

I can't resist saying that it is perennially amusing to me that "progressives" are so delusional as to brand "regressive" and inhumane any short-fall from their expectations of an inevitable, utopian "future."

What stimulated me to dredge this item up from last month was this great post I ran across last night:

Shazaam! An Even-Handed Article on the Cloning Debate in WIRED by Wesley J. Smith.

I think Smith is being rather charitable calling the Wired article (How to Farm Stem Cells Without Losing Your Soul) even-handed, when it deploys some of the usual deceptive rhetoric (e.g., that Bush cut funding). But it is even-handed enough to convey the point that Smith highlights:

But the most revealing part of the Wired article for me was the predictable lack of enthusiasm of the mainstream biotechnologists for the ANT proposal [to generate embryonic stem cells putatively without killing an embryo]. This isn't surprising. They are not interested in consensus or compromise. Biotech scientists want to do what they want to do, e.g., human cloning, and they want tax payers to foot the bill in the billions of dollars. Thus, even as Hurlbut strives to bridge the growing gap between science and morality, the scientists really don't care. Believing that only scientists can decide what is moral in science, they insist that the rest of us mind our own business and let them get on with it.

Hurlbut's compromise calls the bluff of the scientists who continue to claim what little moral high-ground remains to them. It shows that they don't believe in morality—outside their own Olympian decrees, that is.

This reaction is part of the egocentric arrogance that is dragging our civilization down to decadence. After all, what's so special about a scientist? If a scientist can decide what is right and what is wrong, why can't anyone else?

Clive Thompson, "How to Farm Stem Cells Without Losing Your Soul: A solution to the stem cell dilemma that even the Vatican can love" Wired, June 2005.

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