Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Stem Cell Lies

Ted Baehr, Christian movie reviewer and propagandist, has an essay at the Worldview Weekend site where he rather brazenly accuses MIchael J. Fox and “liberal elites” of lying about stem cell research. In the process, he tells some whoppers himself.

When is a lie not a lie?

According to America’s liberal, secular elite, a lie is not a lie when it comes from the mouth of a Hollywood star with a terrible debilitating disease or injury. Or, when it comes from some other sympathetic victim, such as the left-wing parent of a dead soldier (Cindy Sheehan) or a left-leaning widow trying to push an obvious political agenda.


Well of course. Because the conservative, religious elite would never use claims of victimhood to push a political agenda, no sirree bob. They are pure and holy and do not engage in such things. Pay no attention to that fake “war on Christmas” behind the curtain. Ignore that constant bleating that any disagreement with wars they support is an attack on our poor defenseless troops (a claim conveniently forgotten if a Democrat is in office and the right disagrees with the war, as in Bosnia and Somalia). Those are inconvenient figments of your imagination and Mr. Baehr would rather you pretended, along with him, that they do not exist.

This week, in the last stages of this year’s highly contested Congressional elections, liberals in Maryland and Missouri made campaign commercials featuring beloved star Michael J. Fox, who suffers from the debilitating disease of Parkinson’s. In both ads, Fox spoke in favor of forcing all taxpayers to fund stem cell research using murdered unborn children, which is known by the euphemism “embryonic stem cell research.” Of course, in neither ad did Mr. Fox use the term “embryo stem cell” or taxpayer funds, making it seem as if the opposition is against all stem cell research. Also, in his ad in a Maryland race, Mr. Fox said that the conservative Republican candidate was opposed to “the most promising stem cell research.”

This last claim is the most egregious lie of all.

Embryonic stem cell research is not the “most promising” stem cell research. In fact, embryonic stem cell research has so far not resulted in one cure or one positive medical treatment for any disease or any medical problem.

Furthermore, adult stem cell research (which no Republican, conservative or pro-life candidate we know of opposes) has actually resulted in more than 80 different medical treatments.

Now ordinarily I would presume that Baehr simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about, that he’s just repeating a talking point that he hasn’t bothered to research. But since he is so cavalier in accusing Michael J. Fox and “liberal elites” of lying here, let’s treat him in precisely the manner he is treating others: Mr. Baehr, you’re lying through your teeth. It’s a common lie, an often repeated lie among the religious right, but it’s still a lie.

Back in July, someone actually took the time to trace the source of the lie that adult stem cells have already yielded treatments for all these diseases (though Baehr seems to have exaggerated the claim from the original claim of 65 treatments). The source is David Prentice of the Family Research Council, who created the original list that has now been cited a few billion times by those who oppose embryonic stem cell research. But as the letter these three scientists wrote to Science shows, that list is fraudulent:

Prentice has said, “Adult stem cells have now helped patients with at least 65 different human diseases. It’s real help for real patients”. On 4 May, Senator Brownback stated, “I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record the listing of 69 different human illnesses being treated by adult and cord blood stem cells”.

In fact, adult stem cell treatments fully tested in all required phases of clinical trials and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are available to treat only nine of the conditions on the Prentice list, not 65 [or 72]. In particular, allogeneic stem cell therapy has proven useful in treating hematological malignancies and in ameliorating the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Contrary to what Prentice implies, however, most of his cited treatments remain unproven and await clinical validation. Other claims, such as those for Parkinson’s or spinal cord injury, are simply untenable.

The references Prentice cites as the basis for his list include various case reports, a meeting abstract, a newspaper article, and anecdotal testimony before a Congressional committee. A review of those references reveals that Prentice not only misrepresents existing adult stem cell treatments but also frequently distorts the nature and content of the references he cites.

For example, to support the inclusion of Parkinson’s disease on his list, Prentice cites Congressional testimony by a patient and a physician, a meeting abstract by the same physician, and two publications that have nothing to do with stem cell therapy for Parkinson’s. In fact, there is currently no FDA-approved adult stem cell treatment–and no cure of any kind–for Parkinson’s disease. For spinal cord injury, Prentice cites personal opinions expressed in Congressional testimony by one physician and two patients. There is currently no FDA-approved adult stem cell treatment or cure for spinal cord injury.

The reference Prentice cites for testicular cancer on his list does not report patient response to adult stem cell therapy; it simply evaluates different methods of adult stem cell isolation.

The reference Prentice cites on non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma does not assess the treatment value of adult stem cell transplantation; rather, it describes culture conditions for the laboratory growth of stem cells from lymphoma patients. Prentice’s listing of Sandhoff disease, a rare disease that affects the central nervous system, is based on a layperson’s statement in a newspaper article. There is currently no cure of any kind for Sandhoff disease.

By promoting the falsehood that adult stem cell treatments are already in general use for 65 diseases and injuries, Prentice and those who repeat his claims mislead laypeople and cruelly deceive patients.

As usual, those who oppose ESCR present this as an either/or: we either do research on adult stem cells or on embryonic stem cells. The reality, of course, is that we should do both. Even stem cell researchers who oppose the use of embryonic stem cells on moral grounds admit that adult stem cells do not have the same potential as embryonic cells because they do not differentiate into as many varieties of cells. Adult stem cells will be useful in treating some things and useless in treating others, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either a fool or a liar.

He also makes this silly claim:

The Fox ads also beg the question, Why is the government using any taxpayer money to fund any kind of research whatsoever, anyway? Shouldn’t the private sector do that? As one of our conservative friends, Tracy Schreiber, says, “When the government pays for art, you get bad art. When the government pays for science, you get bad science.”

One can certainly argue over whether the government should fund either art or science, but it is patently absurd to claim that the involvement of government funding renders the results of either pursuit bad. Yes, one can point to an NEA grant for some mediocre bit of crap like Serrano’s Piss Christ, but one would also have to ignore that government funding also supports fine symphony orchestras and the source of the funding does not reduce the level of the music they perform.

Likewise, one can certainly argue that taxpayer funds should not be involved in medical research, but to claim that such funding leads to bad research is pure poppycock. In the US, the government funds about 36% of all medical research, mostly through universities, grants and agencies like the NIH. The list of treatments that were developed with partial or complete government funding is enormous. In AIDS treatments alone, government funding led to either the discovery of the agent, the preclinical research or clinical trials for over a dozen drugs, including AZT.

In the realm of cancer treatments, funding from the National Cancer Institute supported the development of 50 of the 77 FDA approved anti-cancer drugs prior to 1996. Testimony before a Senate committee in 1993 included the following facts:

While the FDA approves hundreds of drugs for marketing every year, the number of new or important drugs is relatively small. In 1991 the FDA approved 327 new and generic drugs and biologic products. Thirty of the approvals were for new molecular entities (NMEs) — drugs distinctly different in structure from those already on the market. Only five of these drugs received an FDA efficacy rating of A, which is reserved for drugs which afford “significant therapeutic gain.” Nine of the NMEs received an FDA classification of E, which is reserved for drugs that treat “severely debilitating or life threatening illness,” including four of the five Class A drugs. Two drugs received FDA Class AA priority status for the treatment of AIDS.

All five 1991 FDA Class A drugs were developed with federal funds.

Six of the nine 1991 FDA Class E drugs were developed with federal funds.

Both 1991 FDA Class AA drugs for AIDS were developed with federal funds.

For the group, seven of the ten 1991 FDA NME priority drugs (Class A,E or AA), were developed with federal funds…

The federal government has played an enormous role in the development of new cancer drugs. There have been 37 new cancer drugs discovered and approved for marketing since the National Cancer Institute’s new drug program began in 1955. Of the 37 cancer drugs, 34 were developed with federal funding.

Somehow I doubt that Mr. Baehr, should he or a loved one come down with cancer, would ask which ones were developed with government money and reject the ones that were because government funding leads to “bad science.”

So, the question arises, why is this little man spreading these vicious lies in such an emotionally manipulative manner? Has no one told him the truth? Or, is he just another loony lefty liberal?

Given the lies you’ve told in just this single essay, Mr. Baehr, I’d reign in that rhetoric a little bit. It might come back to bite you in the butt and make you look very, very foolish.

Comments

  1. #1 Bill Snedden
    November 2, 2006

    Oops! Too late!

  2. #2 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    November 2, 2006

    The Fox ads also beg the question, Why is the government using any taxpayer money to fund any kind of research whatsoever, anyway? Shouldn’t the private sector do that? As one of our conservative friends, Tracy Schreiber, says, “When the government pays for art, you get bad art. When the government pays for science, you get bad science.”

    I’d like to see the list of countries that do not fund scientific research and are scientifically more advanced than the USA and other countries that do fund research.

  3. #3 chris
    November 2, 2006

    I heard Ann Coulter spouting this crap on Dobson’s radio show about a week ago. I had never heard it before, so I wondered where she got it from. Of course I knew it wasn’t true, it was Coulter/Dobson remember, but she said it with such conviction. Thanks for the backstory.

  4. #4 bob koepp
    November 2, 2006

    I have no interest in defending Baehr, but there _is_ a problem with using tax monies to support morally contentious research, at least if one adheres to the principle of freedom of conscience. There are, of course, ways to work around the problem. But step one is to get people to recognize that there is a problem.

  5. #5 PiGuy
    November 2, 2006

    Well, he might have a point about the negative impact of federal funding. Try these:

    - When the federal government funds education (No Child Left Behind), you get bad education.

    - When the federal government funds sex education (Abstinence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder), you get bad sex education.

    It’s not universal, of course. As you point out, Ed, there seems to be (to me as well) more good than bad federally-funded art and science. But I’d be willing to bet that Baehr thinks that there’s nothing wrong with faith-based initiatives. Hmmmm…

  6. #6 double-soup tuesday
    November 2, 2006

    …but there _is_ a problem with using tax monies to support morally contentious research, at least if one adheres to the principle of freedom of conscience.

    How can this be resolved in a representative form of government?

    We don’t have direct say in line-by-line expenditures; that’s why we elect people to represent us and those people set the budget, authorize spending (and fund the whole operation by taxation). The only way to fully maintain this idealized freedom of conscience is to withhold taxes and only contribute to that which doesn’t offend us on any given day (and that with imperfect and often emotional knowledge).

    Would that be a better way to run the country? On one side you have freedom of conscience (and functional chaos), on the other side we have an imperfect but functioning representative democracy.

    Would freedom of conscience make me a happy person? Very briefly. I doubt anything could make me happy for longer than a short period, so I’ll choose the less idealized, yet functioning version of reality that keeps the roads paved and supermarket shelves stocked.

  7. #7 Fastlane
    November 2, 2006

    They can start looking at cutting this funding AFTER they cut the much more egregious and obviously unconstitutional faith based funding.

    Cheers.

  8. #8 KeithB
    November 2, 2006

    “I have no interest in defending Baehr, but there _is_ a problem with using tax monies to support morally contentious research”

    Who decides what is “morally contentious?”

    Jehovah’s witnesses would allow no research into blood transfusions.

    Buddhists and PETA folks might find *all* animal research immoral.

    Creationists might find all biological research immoral.

  9. #9 Dave
    November 2, 2006

    I want to play: When the government funds illegal warrant-less wiretapping you get bad illegal warrant-less wiretapping.

    Seriously, though, for guys like Baehr, it’s true that government-funded science is bad science. It tends to be, you know, actual science, producing actual knowledge. That’s the last thing these people want.

  10. #10 JimC
    November 2, 2006

    “I have no interest in defending Baehr, but there _is_ a problem with using tax monies to support morally contentious research”

    I don’t find it morally contentious at all. I do find not trying to save humans with disease incredibly wrong however.

  11. #11 bob koepp
    November 2, 2006

    Has anybody ever heard of a guy named Locke? … or maybe Mill? Is anybody ready to defend the proposition that ‘two wrongs make a right?’
    Jerking knees are not evidence of critical thinking.

  12. #12 DragonScholar
    November 2, 2006

    Calling Michael J Fox a little man? Only in stature, perhaps. He managed an enjoyable acting career, fought this disease bravely, and is now speaking out to help others, publically, subjecting himself to this bile – and fighting back.

    Utterly disgusting to see him insulted. But hey, Fox is far, FAR bigger than this pathetic wingnut.

  13. #13 Ed Brayton
    November 2, 2006

    Bob Koepp wrote:

    I have no interest in defending Baehr, but there _is_ a problem with using tax monies to support morally contentious research, at least if one adheres to the principle of freedom of conscience. There are, of course, ways to work around the problem. But step one is to get people to recognize that there is a problem.

    Why stop with morally contentious research? What about morally contentious military actions? The fact is that there is no way in the real world to insure that every person supports every government policy, which means that virtually everyone in a modern society is going to be taxed to support something they disagree with. It’s totally unavoidable.

  14. #14 JimC
    November 2, 2006

    Is anybody ready to defend the proposition that ‘two wrongs make a right?’

    Well first you have to make a provable case that the initial action is wrong in the first place. I don’t think it is.

  15. #15 kehrsam
    November 2, 2006

    When the government funds torture, you get bad torture. Which I suppose means that the private sector can produce “good” torture.

    By his logic, why should government fund anything?

  16. #16 bob koepp
    November 2, 2006

    I don’t stop with morally contentious _research_; but that seems to be an appropriate categorization for embryonic stem cell research. And I haven’t suggested that something’s being morally contentious automatically renders it out of bounds for public funding. That’s a red herring. Proponents of morally contentious activities might be able to make a case that those activities are necessary for the maintenance of a well-ordered society. But I haven’t seen such arguments in the case of ESCR.

    The fact that I personally think ESCR is morally acceptable and well worth pursuing doesn’t mean that I should try to extract support from those who view things differently.

  17. #17 Ed Brayton
    November 2, 2006

    Bob Koepp wrote:

    I don’t stop with morally contentious _research_; but that seems to be an appropriate categorization for embryonic stem cell research. And I haven’t suggested that something’s being morally contentious automatically renders it out of bounds for public funding. That’s a red herring. Proponents of morally contentious activities might be able to make a case that those activities are necessary for the maintenance of a well-ordered society. But I haven’t seen such arguments in the case of ESCR.

    And one could make the argument that an aggressive foreign policy is necessary for the maintenance of a well ordered society (and since when is “well ordered” the only criteria? why not more healthy? Or more free?). For that matter, one could make the argument that research on AIDS is a terribly immoral thing because AIDS was sent by God as punishment (yes, it’s a stupid argument, but it’s an argument and that seems to be your only criteria, that one “might be able to make a case”). There simply is no limit to the number of things a government might do that taxpayers find morally contentious. I find a great many things my government does morally insane, forget about merely contentious. But those things are wrong because they’re wrong, not because I am being taxed to support something I don’t agree with. The latter is totally unavoidable and I see no reason to single out research in this regard.

  18. #18 bob koepp
    November 2, 2006

    How about responding to things I actually say, rather than attacking wild extapolations of your own design?

    I try not prejudge arguments before they are presented. Hence I observe only that one “might” be able to make a case for social necessity. I’m also willing to consider other criteria besides “necessary for a well-ordered society” as grounds to override moral objections. But since we’re talking here about society, in the form of the state, coercing support for an activity from those who have moral objections, I think it only prudent to at least start with criteria that have an established track record and have withstood criticism by serious political thinkers.

    The issue here is not whether some practice is “really” morally contentious (or even insane). It is an indisputable social fact that there is contention about the moral status of ESCR. You have served up another red herring. What is at issue is whether it is compatible with the principle of freedom of conscience to coerce support from those who have moral objections to ESCR. If you think it is compatible, let’s hear your argument.

  19. #19 KeithB
    November 2, 2006

    Because the only reason that there is moral contention is a religious argument. To dis-allow this research is a de-facto way of “establishing a religion.”

  20. #20 Ed Brayton
    November 2, 2006

    Bob Koepp wrote:

    It is an indisputable social fact that there is contention about the moral status of ESCR. You have served up another red herring. What is at issue is whether it is compatible with the principle of freedom of conscience to coerce support from those who have moral objections to ESCR. If you think it is compatible, let’s hear your argument.

    And it is an indisputable social fact that there is a contention about the moral status of the Iraq war. And about whether we should teach sex ed in schools, and over what should be taught if we do teach sex ed in schools. For that matter, whether we should have government schools at all. And over discrimination laws. One could go on all day. There is not a single person in this or any other country who doesn’t pay taxes to support something they consider morally objectionable. If you have a solution to that, I’m happy to entertain it. Absent that it seems awfully pointless to complain about any specific situation where it takes place.

  21. #21 Shawn Smith
    November 2, 2006

    Another point about federal funding that I’ve seen mentioned at Pharyngula, is that when the government decides that some bit of research is not to use any government funds, that means that any laboratories, equipment, or materials paid for with those same government funds are also ineligible for use in the banned research. So, you know that centrifuge that you bought four years ago to teach biology lessons? Well, you damn well better not use it in your ESCR program. The same goes for all your test tubes, burners, labs, mouse food, petri dishes, etc. It suddenly gets a whole lot more expensive to do research than it would have otherwise.

  22. #22 Keanus
    November 2, 2006

    Some art is bad. Some art is good. Some research is bad. Some is good. And despite all the reviews in the world, we often don’t which it is until after the fact. For that reason it’s wise to fund research (and art) from a variety of sources and to provide it to a variety of beneficiaries. It’s sort of like evolution. The healthiest system (species, ecosystem, etc.) is one with lots of variety. Such variety creates resiliency. So for my money, having the feds fund some research is just fine, so long at they don’t put all their eggs in one basket (abstinence only education and NCLB are examples of putting all one’s eggs in one basket), or refuse to fund one avenue because some religious sect objects. We need variety. All of it. So let’s fund ESCR and ASCR and let some be private and some public.

  23. #23 bob koepp
    November 2, 2006

    I haven’t claimed that there aren’t plenty of other morally contentious issues besides ESCR that get funded through tax dollars. I’d be happy to critique _all_ expenditures of taxes in light of the principle of freedom of conscience (properly qualified, of course). But the issue at hand is ESCR. So unless you’re arguing that two wrongs _do_ make a right, that abuses of coercive powers in these other cases somehow justify similar abuses in the case of ESCR, these other issues are irrelevant to the present discussion.

    BTW, the fact that you mention discrimination laws as something that might run afoul of the principle of freedom of conscience suggests that you don’t understand how the principle is supposed to constrain coercive actions. Claiming a moral basis for objections to particular kinds of practices is not analogous to claiming a moral basis for objections to particular kinds of people. To suggest otherwise evidences sloppy ethical and political thinking.

    On the other hand, maybe you just don’t care about freedom of conscience. If that’s the case, just say so.

  24. #24 chaos_engineer
    November 2, 2006

    What is at issue is whether it is compatible with the principle of freedom of conscience to coerce support from those who have moral objections to ESCR. If you think it is compatible, let’s hear your argument.

    “Freedom of Conscience” means that you can’t be forced to directly support something. You can still be forced to support it indirectly.

    So you couldn’t be forced to perform ESCR research, or to take ESCR-based medical treatments.

    But you can be compelled to pay taxes as a condition of citizenship. Once you’ve paid over the money, it’s no longer yours. It’s owned by society-as-a-whole and under the current system you don’t get an absolute veto over how it’s used.

    Now, suppose we switched to a system where you did have an absolute veto, and you could get your taxes reduced just by saying, “I don’t want to support that program.” Human nature being what it is, everybody would pay zero taxes and the government would collapse. (That might sound like a good idea, but it leads to problems in the long run…let me know if you want details.)

  25. #25 Ed Brayton
    November 2, 2006

    Bob Koepp wrote:

    I’d be happy to critique _all_ expenditures of taxes in light of the principle of freedom of conscience (properly qualified, of course). But the issue at hand is ESCR. So unless you’re arguing that two wrongs _do_ make a right, that abuses of coercive powers in these other cases somehow justify similar abuses in the case of ESCR, these other issues are irrelevant to the present discussion.

    If you’d be happy to critique all expenditures that someone believes to be “morally contentious”, then please tell me what would be left. There is nothing that any government does that someone doesn’t believe to be morally wrong. So unless “properly qualified” reserves you the right to decide which ones are really morally contentious and which ones aren’t, then your argument applies to every single dollar spent by every government all over the world. Every dollar is spent on something that some citizen objects to.

    BTW, the fact that you mention discrimination laws as something that might run afoul of the principle of freedom of conscience suggests that you don’t understand how the principle is supposed to constrain coercive actions. Claiming a moral basis for objections to particular kinds of practices is not analogous to claiming a moral basis for objections to particular kinds of people. To suggest otherwise evidences sloppy ethical and political thinking.

    YOu’re missing the point completely. I used that as an example of laws that are enforced with our tax dollars that a subset of citizens believes to be morally wrong. But that’s true of virtually everything any government spends on anything.

    On the other hand, maybe you just don’t care about freedom of conscience. If that’s the case, just say so.

    Oh for crying out loud, fuck off. I am an outspoken advocate for freedom of conscience in a wide range of areas and anyone who reads this blog knows that. That doesn’t mean I have to buy into the notion that because government spends money on something someone objects that person’s freedom of conscience is violated. The government does a great many things I find morally bankrupt with my tax dollars, but everything any government does is morally bankrupt to someone, even the things I am strongly in favor of. My freedom of conscience is not violated if the government does something I disagree with using my tax dollars. If we apply that standard, no government could do anything without violating someone’s freedom of conscience.

  26. #26 double-soup tuesday
    November 2, 2006

    BTW, the fact that you mention discrimination laws as something that might run afoul of the principle of freedom of conscience suggests that you don’t understand how the principle is supposed to constrain coercive actions. Claiming a moral basis for objections to particular kinds of practices is not analogous to claiming a moral basis for objections to particular kinds of people. To suggest otherwise evidences sloppy ethical and political thinking.

    On the other hand, maybe you just don’t care about freedom of conscience. If that’s the case, just say so.

    Hey Bob, don’t take this as offense, but can you explain this in some clearer terms? Your references to sloppy ethical and political thinking and generally not understanding coercive actions aren’t doing it for me.

    Which system of government and funding would meet the required criteria?

  27. #27 bob koepp
    November 2, 2006

    Despite being told to fuck off, I’ll assume that you’re simply frustrated and not a total asshole.

    Being happy to critique all tax expenditures in light of the principle of freedom of conscience doesn’t imply any particular conclusions regarding any particular types of expenditures. Criticism might, after all, result in an endorsement of what is critiqued. And I did mention that the principle of freedom of conscience needs to be properly qualified. The most common qualification is often stated in terms of what is necessary for a well-ordered society. Whether or not one finds the arguments persuasive, arguments at least have been made that things like the ability to engage in wars, provision of infrastructure necessary for education, transportation, commerce, various forms of welfare, etc, etc, can trump conscientious objections — because such things are necessary to a well-ordered society. While I don’t claim the perogative to make final and binding judgments about which of these arguments suffice in particular cases to override freedom of conscience, I do expect people who profess to care about freedom of conscience to be willing to present such arguments. I have not seen such arguments in the case of ESCR.

  28. #28 khan
    November 2, 2006

    ===============================
    Embryonic stem cell research is not the “most promising” stem cell research. In fact, embryonic stem cell research has so far not resulted in one cure or one positive medical treatment for any disease or any medical problem.

    Furthermore, adult stem cell research (which no Republican, conservative or pro-life candidate we know of opposes) has actually resulted in more than 80 different medical treatments.
    ===============================

    You left out the second part of the mantra:

    “Embryonic stem cells always cause tumors.”

  29. #29 Ed Brayton
    November 2, 2006

    Bob Koepp wrote:

    Despite being told to fuck off, I’ll assume that you’re simply frustrated and not a total asshole.

    You were told to fuck off for your ridiculous, flippant and snide little “maybe you just don’t care about freedom of conscience” bullshit. I couldn’t care less whether you think I’m an asshole, but I’m about the last guy you could ever accuse of that. So yeah, fuck off. I’m done with you.

  30. #30 kehrsam
    November 2, 2006

    Mr. Koepp:

    With all due respect, I do believe you have the problem backwards. The question “Is medical research a legitimate use of tax dollars” has been answered some time ago, in the affirmative. One may agree or disagree, but the decision has been made.

    The question then becomes, why should ESCR be treated differently than any of the other issues Ed has raised? Why on this issue should taxpayers in the minority get a veto, rather than science education, the Endangered Species Act or bombing heathen Irquis in my name?

    Yes, some people have moral objections. As Ed points out, this is true of almost every government expenditure. So, since it appears that medical research is an acceptable class of spending, what makes this issue special?

  31. #31 Ed Brayton
    November 2, 2006

    kehrsam-

    I don’t think I buy that. The fact that we (collectively) accept a given form of spending as legitimate doesn’t mean that it’s a settled question. I think one can make a legitimate argument against that particular class of spending, but that’s an entirely different argument from the one he is making. One can argue that a given expenditure is illegitimate without making the argument that it’s illegitimate because some people consider if morally contentious. We can lay out a coherent set of criteria that separates legitimate from illegitimate expenditures or actions, but I don’t believe that one of those criteria can possibly be that it’s illegitimate if some people think it’s morally contentious. If that were the standard then all government spending and actions would be illegitimate, and no one can seriously make that argument. I would make moral arguments against the drug war, for example, and those arguments are, in my view, compelling reasons why we should stop that drug war, but the drug war is not illegitimate merely because one makes moral arguments against it – because one can make moral arguments against anything and everything.

    Mr. Koepp’s argument that we should use that criteria but only override it if the action in question is “necessary to a well ordered society” doesn’t get us very far in resolving the issue either. How does one determine such a thing? Some would argue that public schools are necessary for a well ordered society, while others would argue that they are an immoral intrusion into parental rights to raise children as they see fit. Some would argue that War A is necessary, while others would argue that it is immoral and unnecessary. My point is that government actions can be legitimate or illegitimate based on any number of criteria that one must first delineate. But to claim that an action is illegitimate merely because it is morally contentious to someone is not a tenable criterion on which to determine such a thing.

  32. #32 bob koepp
    November 2, 2006

    We obviously have different perspectives. From where I sit, what’s ridiculous is repeated and repetitive red herrings, wild extrapolations, and complete failure to engage substantive issues.

    kersham – Medical research does not get an automatic pass. If you’re at all familiar with research ethics you already knew that.

  33. #33 kehrsam
    November 2, 2006

    Ed: Since I don’t think we disagree here, I take it I wasn’t clear in my argument, which was as to where the burden of proof lay in the arguments here. Mr. Koepp said, …but there _is_ a problem with using tax monies to support morally contentious research, at least if one adheres to the principle of freedom of conscience.

    My response is: We have the NIH, so medical research does seem to be generally accepted as a proper use of tax monies. Therefore, if a line of research has significant promise, it is up to the opponents to show that there exists sufficient moral issues to counterbalance that promise. Have opponents of ESCR made that argument? Not to my satisfaction, nor that of several state legislatures, nor, for that matter, of majorities in the House and Senate.

    I don’t know how anyone could read my last post and think I was arguing that a sort of moral veto should exist. I was arguing exactly the opposite. Even Thoreau allowed that the government had the authority to levy the tax and jail him for not paying.

    For the record, I am pro-life, but I fail to see what that has to do with what happens to excess frozen embryos otherwise slated for destruction.

  34. #34 Davis
    November 2, 2006

    We obviously have different perspectives. From where I sit, what’s ridiculous is repeated and repetitive red herrings, wild extrapolations, and complete failure to engage substantive issues.

    I dunno, reading through all your comments I get the impression that you’re applying special pleading to ESCR. The extrapolations people have made are completely legitimate — if we ought not to fund ESCR because it’s morally contentious, then the exact same reasoning would give us an unending list of other things we ought not to fund. If you look hard enough, you’ll find people who take moral issue with all medical research; so ought we not eliminate all public funding for such work, using exactly the same argument? This is a perfectly legitimate reductio ad absurdum.

    It wouldn’t be too difficult to argue that medical research is unnecessary for a functioning society; we could probably do pretty well without any further improvement in medical technology.

    So where, exactly, are the “substantive issues” not being addressed?

  35. #35 bob koepp
    November 2, 2006

    kersham – I’m glad you brought up Thoreau. He acknowledged the _legal_ authority of the government to tax and jail him. He most definitely did not view that as equivalent to _moral_ authority.

    Davis – In a liberal society (if there were such a thing) the burden of proof would rest on those who claim that compelling support from moral dissenters is necessary; that there is no practical way to achieve legitimate social ends which is less intrusive. The principle of freedom of conscience is inherently biased in favor of individuals. But don’t take my word for it. Read Mill.

    It was not my intent to hijack Ed’s blog, so I’ll sign off.

  36. #36 Orac
    November 3, 2006

    From article:

    Tracy Schreiber, says, “When the government pays for art, you get bad art. When the government pays for science, you get bad science.”

    Four words: National Institutes of Health. Much of the innovation and basic science used by the pharmaceutical companies over the last several decades had its origins in NIH funded research.

  37. #37 DuWayne
    November 3, 2006

    bob koepp –

    I am not keen on responding to anything you say because you are arrogant and petty. But I think you need to understand that one can use Mill to support virtually any ideological position. Utilitarianism can be used to support a gamut from Marxism to Libertarianism. I can even see how a fascist might use Mill, twisting his writing to fit, but I can see it. That said, we don’t live in John Mill’s democracy, we live in the democracy largely formulated by men who used many of the principles found in Utilitarianism, but they by no means limited themselves to the notion that man is an island – which is what you are doing in essence.

    It is not a red herring to point out that by your logic, no one should have to pay taxes – or at least they should be able to decide where their dollars get spent. But that is not how taxes work. We elect representatives to decide how much we should be taxed and how that money should be spent. That is our input into the system – period. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have it your way, I would sure as hell not pay, or allow my child and his children to pay, for the war in Iraq. I would not pay to support corporate welfare either. I can think of a vast number of things that this government does with my tax dollars that I find moraly reprehensible – but I don’t have that choice, nor should I. If I do not like how my tax dollars are spent, I should fight like hell to change the people who decide how my tax dollars get spent.

  38. #38 Wittgenstein
    November 3, 2006

    Let’s see, just this year 3 Americans were awarded Nobel Prizes. Craig Mello and Andrew Fire split the prize for physiology/medicine for RNAi, and Roger Kornberg got the chemistry award for his work on eukaryotic transcription. Now I haven’t looked into their past funding, but I’d be willing to bet that all of them were substantially supported by government grants, particularly NIH money. Looks like you get pretty damn good science with government funding.

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