Hiding Behind the Science of Stem Cells

May 25th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

David Shaywitz has a nice op-ed in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal on the stem cell issue. The article is not available online. Shaywitz makes the case that the very same conservatives who decry “junk science” are hiding their moral objections to stem cell research behind scientific claims that adult stem cells are a good substitute for embryonic stem cells. Shaywitz writes:

“For true believers, of course, these scientific facts should be beside the point; if human embryonic stem cell research is morally, fundamentally, wrong, then it should be wrong, period, regardless of the consequences to medical research. If conservatives believe their own rhetoric, they should vigorously critique embryonic stem cell research on its own grounds, and not rely on an appeal to utilitarian principles. Instead, there has been a concerted effort to establish adult stem cells as a palatable alternative to embryonic stem cells. In the process, conservatives seem to have left their usual concern for junk science at the laboratory door, citing in their defense preliminary studies and questionable data that they would surely – and appropriately – have ridiculed were it not supporting their current point of view.”

I think that Shaywitz is right on here with the exception of one important point. I don’t think that conservatives (on the stem cell issue or generally) are alone in their concern over “junk science” or unique in their desire to hide behind science. People and interest groups from across the political spectrum have shown considerable willingness to engage in political battles through science. In fact, turning political debates into scientific debates is arguably one of the most robust areas of partisan agreement.

One Response to “Hiding Behind the Science of Stem Cells”

  1. Eli Rabett Says:

    The problem is that the radical right (they are in no way conservative) is hiding behind something that sounds like science on most of of these issues, while declaiming that good (if not excellent) science is junk.

    I probably should name a few problem here: stem cell therapy, smoking, second hand smoke, climate change, evolution, CFCs/ozone, etc.

    On the other side (although not so much red as green) nuclear power, chlorine, etc.

    The real junk science is the crud intelligently designed to challenge the good science. Stuff th at sounds plausible on the surface if you don’t know much about the situation. Moreover you cannot separate the polemics from the amplifiers that proclaim it (AEI, CATO, SEPP, Tech Central Station, Greenpeace, etc.)