The Intersection

From CNN:

Republican Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri early Wednesday conceded defeat to Democrat Claire McCaskill after a hard-fought race, telling supporters that “the headwind was just very, very strong this year.”

McCaskill was backed by actor and stem-cell-research advocate Michael J. Fox.

I leave it to more knowledgeable political analysts to determine just how much of a role stem cells played in the race–but it was undoubtedly a prominent issue. So in some sense, reaction against the “war on science” might have cost Jim Talent dearly.


  1. #1 Fred Bortz
    November 8, 2006

    I note in my pre-election blog entry, “Support the Candidates That Support Science” ( ), that stem cell research is not strictly a scientific issue.

    Thoughtful people have decided that there is a moral issue at play here. Sometimes a society decides to forego the possible benefits of a particular line of scientific research because the moral costs may be too high.

    I support embryonic stem cell research, but I respect people whose opposition is based on ethical and moral grounds. The problem arises when the opponents abuse science by claiming that adult stem cells have the same potential as embryonic stem cells.

    Their abuse of science in that case diminshes their moral stance, and I e-mailed my Senator-elect, Bob Casey, to tell him that. I hope he gets the message and doesn’t adopt the same anti-science strategies as his soon-to-be predecessor, Senator Sanctimony himself.

  2. #2 Jon Winsor
    November 8, 2006

    Molly Ivans:

    This campaign has been like getting stuck in Alice’s Wonderland for three months. “There is no use trying, ” Alice said, “one can’t believe impossible things.”

    “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” replied the White Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

    Every time you turn around, you run into the Jabberwocky or the Frumious Bandersnatch — Richard Perle in penitence — or some other equally fantastic sight. The great Skywriter in the Sky has positively run amok with irony and has been splashing it all over the campaign like Jackson Pollock. Fortunately, it is not my duty to lend dignity to the proceedings…

  3. #3 Jesse
    November 8, 2006

    I am not so sure. An initiative on stem cell research was on the same ballot. It passed by about 2%, and that was only after a $30 million campaign. The initiative was rapidly sinking in the polls, and pundits began to wonder if became a liability for McCaskill (who won by 3%) and an effective GOTV for Talent. This morning on NPR, McCaskill said that stem cell research was not the huge issue there that the national media made it to be. I think that story is the one in my URL.

  4. #4 ERV
    November 8, 2006

    Claire has been a very pro-science politician, as far as I remember, and she did reference you a while back in Nature News 😉
    “There has been a type of warfare declared against science in Missouri,” says McCaskill. “This is just about not criminalizing scientists and patients and researchers.” The ballot issue has split the Missouri Republican party: former three-term Republican senator John Danforth, whose brother died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, is co-chairing the coalition supporting the amendment.

    I think its interesting to note the impact it didnt have. Claire barely lost the governors race in 2004, I would say, because of the Faithful Followers (we had an anti-marriage amendment up, support of Dear George). Blunt just road their coat-tails. The vote of the Faithful wasnt enough to save Talent or the poor embryos this time.

    And no, I dont have sympathy for people who reject embryonic stem cell research on ‘ethical’ grounds, because those same people will be in line like everybody else if we figure out a treatment for Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s or spina bifida or anything else. If theres one thing any form of fundamentalist is reliable on, its their hypocrisy.

  5. #5 Jim Ramsey
    November 9, 2006

    Fox’s commercial sewed up the clone vote for McCaskill. The best thing is that, for some strange reason, they all vote the same way!

  6. #6 RickD
    November 9, 2006

    Calling fear-mongering anti-science reactionaries “thoughtful” doesn’t make it so. If the anti-science crowd were content to simply say “we feel that embryonic stem cell research has immoral implications”, that would be fine. The problem is that so much lying and hypocrisy is used as part of the strategy that any claim to enlightened morality has to be looked at with great cynicism. People who oppose embryonic stem cell research are quite happy to leave those same embryos frozen in fertility centers indefinitely. They are also quite happy to mislead the public about the relative research value of embryonic stem cells vs. adult stem cells. And of course the kicker is that Bush was quite happy to indulge in serious misrepresentation about the number and quality of existing stem cell lines.

    So, no, while it may be considered a proper debating technique to call people “thoughtful”, I don’t see anything in the anti-stem cell research argument that merits that word.

  7. #7 Fred Bortz
    November 9, 2006

    From ERV:
    And no, I dont have sympathy for people who reject embryonic stem cell research on ‘ethical’ grounds, because those same people will be in line like everybody else if we figure out a treatment for Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s or spina bifida or anything else. If theres one thing any form of fundamentalist is reliable on, its their hypocrisy.

    Please don’t lump all people who have ethical objections to embryonic stem cell research in with religious fundamentalists. Senator-elect Casey is a mainstream pro-life Catholic. His religious beliefs are the origin of his position on stem-cell research. Many people who share that position understand exactly what they are giving up by not pursuing the research.

    I disagree with their position, but there are other avenues of research that I think should be discouraged on ethical grounds. For example, I worry about “designer babies” that could result from genetic modification of defective cells found in pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. I know precisely what we are giving up, but I think we diminish our humanity by pursuing that line of technology.

    I don’t object to PGD itself when it is used to screen out genetic defects such as Tay-Sachs or Huntigdon’s, but adding GM carries numerous risks that amount, in my view, to experiments on humans without their consent. PGD is one of those technologies that is easily abused, and we need to proceed cautiously with it. Producing genetically modified human embryos is, at best, ethically dubious.

    I expound these views in a recent review of After Dolly: The Uses and Misuses of Human Cloning by Ian Wilmut and Roger Highfield.


  8. #8 Fred Bortz
    November 9, 2006

    From Rick D.

    Calling fear-mongering anti-science reactionaries “thoughtful” doesn’t make it so.

    I didn’t say that all opponents of stem cell research are thoughtful. But some have thought through their positions, and understand what they are asking society to give up.

    What gives you the right to call such people “fear mongering anti-science reactionaries.”

    Statements like yours make those of us who support embryonic stem cell research look amoral or tone deaf when it comes to ethical discussions. I favor embryonic stem cell research on ethical grounds, and I am glad that science makes it possible. Because I have thought through the ethical issues, I can understand why other equally thoughtful people disagree.

  9. #9 RickD
    November 10, 2006

    Gosh, I’m sorry I sound “tone deaf” to you. Either make a substantive complaint about what I’m saying or admit that you are only arguing niceties and not substance.

    When I see somebody purport to be “thoughtful” for reasons that are neither terribly deep nor terribly well-reasoned, and seem more to be politically motivated than representing any coherent ethical foundation, then I’m going to challenge the usage of that adjective. It’s far too easy to toss around adjectives like “thoughtful” or “brilliant” as a way to innoculate one’s own debating reputation at the cost of any serious inquiry.

    Because I have thought through the ethical issues, I can understand why other equally thoughtful people disagree.

    So a person who disagrees with you about stem cell research can be “thoughtful” but a person who disagrees with you about whether said people are “thoughtful” is not? That’s rich. That is the implication of your statement. “Because I have thought through the ethical issues…”

    And I haven’t?

    Perhaps you could cite an example of a “thoughtful” person who disagrees with embryonic stem cell research?

  10. #10 Fred Bortz
    November 10, 2006


    I’m not going to get into a long discussion here, but I was complaining about your implication that ALL people who oppose embryonic stem cell research are “fear-mongering anti-science reactionaries.”

    As for a thoughtful opponent, how about the late Pope John Paul II? I disagreed with many of his positions, and I never viewed the world through a religious perspective as he did, but I regarded him as both thoughtful and compassionate.

    After six years of hearing disrespect from the other side of this political argument in the U.S., it is time for a more respectful conversation now that “our side” has the majority in Congress. I think that’s what the majority of voters asked for, and that’s all I asked of you as well.

  11. #11 Ken
    November 17, 2006

    As a Missouri voter and a humanist I watched to polls very closely on this issue as well as the Senate race until it was over. Fortunately the amendment passed in the end but it was clearly a liability for McCaskill. The “cloning” messages were powerful and prevalent. Though $30 million was spent to support the amendment it was NOT a great campaign. There were very practical arguements regarding the reality/science of Cloning and Stem Cell Research that were never used. Americans CAN understand the science if you give them a chance. We need to get in their face.

  12. #12 Jon Winsor
    November 21, 2006

    This Zogby poll on voters’ views on climate change is interesting:

New comments have been disabled.