Obama, Embryonic Stem Cells, and Cloning: My $0.02

Just yesterday, a friend of mine on Facebook–JG, who is VERY liberal–posted the following comment in his status: “Is it bad that I’m not 100% sure I agree with a ban on reproductive cloning?

My answer: given your ideological bent, it depends.

From a Christian standpoint, embryonic stem cell research (ESC) and reproductive cloning are not defensible. Commoditizing humans for the purpose of killing them and harvesting their stem cells is not a Christian value. Funding the practices with tax dollars is all the more damnable.

Still, JG raises a good question, in light of President Obama’s recent decision, which (a) lifts the ban on federal funding of ESC research and (b) keeps in place the ban on federal funding of reproductive cloning.

(NOTE: neither practice was illegal before; it was merely the policy of our government not to fund the practices with tax dollars. Firms, however, were–and still are–free to seek funding for their research through investment banks, private capital, and venture capital groups both nationally and internationally.)

By lifting the ban on federal funding of ESC research, Obama claimed that science, not ideology, would drive research.

If that is the case,

(a) why have a ban on federal funding of reproductive cloning? If “science”, not “ideology”, must lead, then why ban funding of one but not the other?

(b) how is the new policy less politically-motivated than the Bush policy of old?

Under Bush, ESC research and reproductive cloning were perfectly legal. Any firm wishing to pursue such research was free to sell their ideas to Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Credit Suisse Group, Royal Bank of Scotland, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and any number of hedge funds or venture capital groups.

Under the old policy, researchers had the burden of proof of showing that they could actually provide a return on investment; i.e., that their “research” was capable of (a) producing results, and (b) producing results that could deliver profitability to cover the cost of the capital.

Fact is, if ESC really held the key to curing cancer, or Parkinson’s Disease, or arthritis, or even jock itch or athlete’s foot, then every venture capitalist, hedge fund, and investment bank in America would be pouring their dollars into it. In fact, this would be the next economic bubble if it held such “promise”.

That is not to say that ESC research has no potential at all. In fact, one firm has actually secured an FDA go-ahead to do testing on humans to demonstrate that an ESC therapy does not pose a tumor risk. (That therapy is not being tested for efficacy.) This is a case where a firm–without federal funding–is forging ahead.

(I don’t like that research, but–given that abortion is perfectly legal–there’s not a world of things you can do about it.)

Still, to claim that funding ESC research is allowing “science, not ideology” to lead, while maintaining a ban on reproductive cloning, is purely a political decision, not a scientific decision.

Moreover, if “science, not ideology” is supposed to lead, then what’s the fuss with harvesting body parts from newborns who are profoundly handicapped? If “science, not ideology” is supposed to lead, then there are no moral imperatives that should hold any research back, as we pursue a “positive evolutionary advantage”.

President Obama has shown that he is more politically-motivated than any of his predecessors on this matter.

How Government Wrecked Scientific Research

Vox Day provided some insight into this article, but what he didn’t address–probably because it was so freaking obvious–was the good professor’s rationale for why we have a glut of scientists who are effectively competing for a very limited number of positions, and, once tenured, finding themselves fighting uphill to get funding for real research.

Suppose you do eventually obtain a permanent job, perhaps a tenured professorship. The struggle for a job is now replaced by a struggle for grant support, and again there is a glut of scientists. Now you spend your time writing proposals rather than doing research. Worse, because your proposals are judged by your competitors you cannot follow your curiosity, but must spend your effort and talents on anticipating and deflecting criticism rather than on solving the important scientific problems. They’re not the same thing: you cannot put your past successes in a proposal, because they are finished work, and your new ideas, however original and clever, are still unproven. It is proverbial that original ideas are the kiss of death for a proposal; because they have not yet been proved to work (after all, that is what you are proposing to do) they can be, and will be, rated poorly. Having achieved the promised land, you find that it is not what you wanted after all.

What can be done? The first thing for any young person (which means anyone who does not have a permanent job in science) to do is to pursue another career. This will spare you the misery of disappointed expectations. Young Americans have generally woken up to the bad prospects and absence of a reasonable middle class career path in science and are deserting it. If you haven’t yet, then join them. Leave graduate school to people from India and China, for whom the prospects at home are even worse. I have known more people whose lives have been ruined by getting a Ph.D. in physics than by drugs.

If you are in a position of leadership in science then you should try to persuade the funding agencies to train fewer Ph.D.s. The glut of scientists is entirely the consequence of funding policies (almost all graduate education is paid for by federal grants). The funding agencies are bemoaning the scarcity of young people interested in science when they themselves caused this scarcity by destroying science as a career. They could reverse this situation by matching the number trained to the demand, but they refuse to do so, or even to discuss the problem seriously (for many years the NSF propagated a dishonest prediction of a coming shortage of scientists, and most funding agencies still act as if this were true). The result is that the best young people, who should go into science, sensibly refuse to do so, and the graduate schools are filled with weak American students and with foreigners lured by the American student visa.

Priceless.

Save the World…Stop Breathing!

I thought this was funny, as it further demonstrates why most of what passes for “science” today has more in common with scientology than with real science.

Our warmest year on record was ten years ago, and last year was the largest one-year temperature drop ever recorded. None of the mathematical models predicted that, and yet we have Chicken Littles running around–cross-dressed as scientists–telling us what is going to happen in 300 years.

Vox Day Opines on Europe, Science, and Government

Once again, the Christian uber-libertarian Vox Day provides an excellent insight (emphasis mine):

This is a remarkably silly notion. For one thing, the science which Galileo was “defending” wasn’t Italian, wasn’t Galileo’s and had been published for more than 80 years. For another, Sailor himself notes that “Italian contributions to science continued on fairly strong for the rest of the 17th Century….”

Now, what else happened during the 17th Century? Among other things, it marked the end of the Italian city-state that, like its Greek counterpart, was the source of so much artistic, scientific and intellectual brilliance. Once Ludovico Sforza invited the French and Germans into Italy in 1494, the fate of the Italian peninsula was sealed. It took 300 years, but in the end, even the Most Serene Republic of Venice succumbed to the continental powers.

There is a salient lesson to be drawn from the data, although not the incorrect one that Sailor draws. If rivalries between diverse loyalties tend to drive scientific development, as the histories of Greece and Italy sugges, then the continued evolution of unifying entities such as the European Union and the United Nations can be expected to retard human development rather than enhance it.

I would suggest that this is true because the European Union, the United Nations, and even the proposed North American Union–as governmental entities–are more about controlling people and advancing political agendas rather than advancing individual liberties.

The net result is that they choke free markets, burden people with excessive regulation, and–through the enforcement of political agendas–actually stifle innovation and the expansion of knowledge.