NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 12, 2008

There are few things in American politics more irrationally ideological, than the accusation that Republicans are conducting a war on science, says the Washington Post. 

The Bush administration has declared open season on open inquiry, according to Hillary Clinton.  "When I am president," she promises, "scientific integrity will not be the exception; it will be the rule."  The exceptions, in this case, are pretty exceptional, says the Post:

  • Elias Zerhouni, who has reformed the National Institutes of Health with widely praised efficiency.
  • Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who helped set in motion large-scale AIDS treatment in Africa.
  • Francis Collins of the National Human Genome Research Institute, who led the effort to map the human genome.

For the most part, these accusations are a political ploy -- actually an attempt to shut down political debate, says the Post.  Any practical concern about the content of government sex-education curricula is labeled "anti-science."  Any ethical question about the destruction of human embryos to harvest their cells is dismissed as "theological" and thus illegitimate.  Liberal views are "objective" while traditional moral convictions are "biased." Public scrutiny of scientific practices is "politicizing" important decisions.

These arguments are seriously made, but they are not to be taken seriously, says the Post.  Does anyone really believe in a science without moral and legal limits?  In harvesting organs from prisoners?  In systematically getting rid of the disabled?

Science can easily become the power of some over the lives of others.  And in their talk of a Republican war on science, liberals may be blinding themselves to a very different kind of modern war in which their own ideals are deeply implicated: a war on equality, says the Post.

Source: Michael Gerson, "A Phony War on Science," Washington Post, May 7, 2008; and Yuval Levin, "Science and the Left," New Atlantis, Winter 2008.

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