Obama, Science, and Ethics

As President Obama reversed Bush's policy against public funding for the destruction of human embryos to create new stem cell lines, he said the following in celebration:

This Order is an important step in advancing the cause of science in America. But let's be clear:  promoting science isn't just about providing resources - it is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those who are here today do their jobs free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient - especially when it's inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda - and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.

The above comment was immediately preceded in the speech by this:

We will develop strict guidelines, which we will rigorously enforce, because we cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse. And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction.  It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society.

If ethical constraints on science are appropriate, then statement #1 is an unfair characterization of the Bush policy.  If they aren't, then statement #2 is nothing but dogmatic "manipulation and coercion"--an emotional statement "based not on facts, but on ideology."  So which is it? 

The fact that these two, completely contradictory statements appear to have passed in the very same speech side by side without notice or challenge disturbs me.  It seems people are so used to hearing certain talking points that they've ceased to think about what they're hearing.  This is not good.

blog post |
Amy K. Hall