Potentatus - Politics and Policy

Politics and Policy Blog

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


Scientists Oppose Bush

Four thousand scientists, including 48 Novel Prize winners, have signed a statement opposing the Bush administration's use of scientific advice. This marks the first time that a large portion of the scientific community has united to express opposition to a president's science policy. The current adminsitration has removed many prominenet scientists from presidential advisory committees.

Many of the scientists who have signed the statemetn against Bush have served prominently in the current and past Republican adminstrations. Some of the notable issues which Bush is criticized for are stem-cell research, reproductive health policy, drug policy, and environmental policy. For example, environmental scientists have been thwarted in their attempts to include full and accurate information about global warming in official government reports. Embryonic stem cell research is likely the most contentious for the current adminsitration. In 2001, President Bush restricted federal funding for stem cell research to a few dozen existing cell lines citing concerns that harvesting the cells destroyed human embryos. Bush's decision hampered medical research that could offer a key to curing many diseases. The stem cell debate came to a head at the Democratic National convention, where Ron Reagan Jr. broke rank with his father's political ties and spoke to advocate voting for Kerry - um, they meant embryonic stem-cell research, right?

The Bush administration has manipulated scientific information to suit political purposes and has based appointment of scientists to advisory panels based on political affiliations and beliefs. Qualifications, not party ties, should determine government scientific advisors.

It is the conceit of scientists that science impartial and free from political bias. It is the naivety of scientists that science alone is sufficient to determine policy. In fact, economics is necessary to ascertain the costs and benefits of policies. Of course economists forget that political science is needed to determine the political viability of choosing any given policy, sociology and anthropology to consider the cultural implications, and philosophy and ethics to consider the moral dimension.

Environmentalists are particularly bad in ignoring the costs of the policies they propose. They tend to advocate draconian measures on scant evidence or manipulated evidence that could cause far more economic damage than the benefits they seek.

Scientists are also too quick to deem they know best on moral questions such as stem cell research. We as a society have decided there are certain limits to what is acceptable code of conduct for scientific research. Experiments such as human eugenics, Milgrom’s social psychological manipulations, and animal testing of cosmetics have largely been disallowed. It is a moral, philosophical, political, economic and scientific question as to where the boundaries should be drawn.

There is no doubt that qualifications should be primary when deciding policy. It is not clear how these qualifications should be measured.
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