Scrudato: Science demands ideology

On March 9, President Obama announced he was overturning former President Bush’s executive order that partially banned federal money from funding embryonic stem cell research. He cited his desire to make decisions “based on facts, not ideology.” While the pundits on both sides of the issue have criticized or lauded the move using the same tired old lines from the cultural wars of the ’90s, few have considered the implications of divorcing science from ideology.

Today, through science, we have a previously unimaginable capacity to destroy, unprecedented mobility, near omnipresence with information from around the world available at the speed of light, and, finally, the ability to change the very makeup of life itself through biotechnology. We stand on the brink of obtaining the ability to change our species at will, the power to manipulate our children and even ourselves however we desire.

The question that must be asked is: Do we look back to the past for guidance and reject this power in the hopes of preserving that which is essentially human, or do we blindly forge ahead without looking at the ramifications of what we are about to do?

Science, for as many questions as it can answer for us, fails us in answering this one. Science without the moral and ethical guidance of history’s collective human experience ceases to serve humanity and, instead, only serves to further its own existence. This is not to say by any means that science should be abandoned; rather, this suggests that science and ideology must be equals. It has a tremendous potential, but without the guidance of human experience, it pursues avenues of research that are perhaps the very antithesis of what we see as human traits.

Cloning illustrates this point well. There’s nothing scientifically wrong with reproductive cloning. What scientific fact precludes citizens’ ability to choose to recreate a deceased child if they so choose? Furthermore, there is no scientific reason to avoid cloning for organ harvesting.

Consider the possibilities. Many individuals find the idea of cloning for organs repugnant, but the important question, however, is why we find such a technique so repulsive. Scientifically, the idea is sound. It is an expedient method of crafting perfect replacement organs. It might violate scientific codes of ethics, but aren’t those ideologically based as well?

The simple and obvious answer is that ideology stays our hands in these endeavors. Fundamentally, science is neither ethical nor unethical. It makes no judgments beyond whether data was obtained in a manner that ensures repeatability and a sound application of the scientific method. Any further judgments are inherently ideological restrictions and wholly subjective.

The president, contrary to his rhetoric, has kept ideological restrictions in place, as many people would have been horrified by their removal. The claim that ideology can be removed from science is ridiculous at best and deeply disturbing at worst. We must realize that science, as a study, does not share our horror; everything is fair game unless we, as humans, declare otherwise. If we wish to be served by science, ideology must regulate scientific study.

We, as humans, should not only be able to restrict science, but we should also feel obligated to ensure that it does not disrespect the sanctity of human life under the guise of serving us. When so many people feel so strongly about this issue, it is indeed wrong to force them to fund it through mandatory taxes, especially when there are promising alternatives.

Whereas President Bush’s executive order was intended to allow people to choose for themselves whether to fund such controversial research, President Obama’s decision is nothing more than an attempt to force his own ideology upon the entire nation under the guise of doing the very opposite.

John Scrudato is a sophomore in Morse College.

Comments

  • Y'11

    I'm all for stem cell research, but I don't think a lot of people know that not a single approved medical treatment has been derived from embryonic stem cell research so far. Embryonic stem cell research has great potential, but I have to admit that it's also one of the most overrated scientific field by the public. These cells are almost impossible to control. It's the equivalent of introducing a new species of frogs to eradicate a pest population, but ultimately having the frogs reproduce uncontrollably and destroy the ecosystem.

    Despite all that, I still believe stem cell research is worthy of pursuit. As a biology major, I'm also excited to read about recent research that has discovered several ways to make stems cells with the same functions as embryonic stem cells, but without the need to either create or destroy embryos. Hopefully, this will end the debate… but oh, politicians want to have their fun. Seriously, we need politicians who have science and engineering backgrounds. For the majority of the topics debated in Washington, they have ZERO clue of what the heck is going on. "oh wow! It has 'green', 'sustainable', and 'economy' all in the same phrase? oh boy!"

    Bravo for pointing out that science cannot be divorced from ideology! I think the creation of the atom bomb has already proven the consequences of such action. Guess what? In science, it only takes one SINGLE person to step cross the line and there is NEVER any going back. Fortunately, most of the professors I have talked to know how crucial ideology is. I've always been awed by science, but also intimidated by its sheer power to transform the world… in either direction.

  • mb

    You're absolutely right in most of what you say, but my sense is that there was a kernel of truth within Obama's humdrum rhetoric. Much opposition to various flavors of scientific endeavor stems from a lack of understanding of what's really going on--a lack of knowledge about the "facts". (The LHC "controversy" jumps immediately to mind.) The majority of the opposing population opposes the endeavor merely because others who share their ideology /in other areas/ oppose it.

    Obama's "facts, not ideology" did not mean to divorce science from ethics; it meant to encourage decision making based on investigation of the facts (and THEN applying ideology), rather than peer pressure from your ideological cohort.

  • MC

    mb, its all the same. Science is an investigation of facts in as impartial a manner as possible. If you investigate something and then decide whether it was a good idea that is quite obviously divorcing science from ideology. Contrary to what the herd seems to think, President Bush never banned stem cell research based on some sort of back country voodoo. He actually gave $130 million to support it (but funding was restricted to cell lines created before his ban). His stated intention was to keep taxpayer money from going towards research that many of Americans vehemently opposed. Plenty of money still went to adult stem cells and much progress has been made in that area (in fact every disease he mentioned in his speech has been treated with adult stem cells). Private companies and individuals are still free to use embryonic cells and they have. Seems to me that Obama was the one who didn't want to look at facts. If every reason he mentioned for funding embryonic cells has been pursued with adult cells and companies are still free to fund their own embryonic research, why should government money go towards the research? It's also interesting to note that in countries without restrictions on embryonic research very little if any positive results have been obtained with embryonic stem cells.

  • Abdel Hameed m.Sadiq

    If you do not have objective in your life,all roads will be the same.Policy makers do their best to change but not to develop nation's awareness about the necessity of having truth,not having folks about truth.Scientists must stand for human beings ideology because science can empower our desire to change not to develop ethics,or morals.Scietists can be intelligent enough in their labs experiements,but intelligence is not enough to gain hearts of human beings unless your respect their own decent ideologies.

  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately, Mr. Scrudato missed the point of President Obama's statement. Yes, part of his science agenda related to ethics issues like stem cells, but his point about ideology was referring to issues like global warming. Under the Bush administration, scientific reports that were deemed politically unsatisfactory were repressed or edited to suit the politicians. President Obama is (fortunately) reminding the government that it should and cannot alter scientific results to suit a political agenda.

  • jman

    Andrew,

    Not at all. First of all, the comment was in a speech specifically regarding stem cell research and the author focused on stem cells. If President Obama was doing what you claim, then he would not have lifted the funding ban on new cell lines as MC stated. Adult cells perform better and embryonic research is still legal with private funding and even received public funds under Bush's "ban." If he intended to do what you claim, he would push nuclear power. As for suppressing research, I suggest you google James Hansen. He is the man at the center of the Bush administration's so-called suppression and, once you know a bit more of the actual story, I hope you'll have more trouble blindly stating that Bush suppressed global warming research solely for political reasons.