The Republican Right Versus the Republican Center

Judging from the stem cell vote, it looks like the Republican right is still predominant, even if there has been some erosion on this issue and a lot of Republicans shifting positions:

In the Senate, 43 Democrats, 19 Republicans and one independent voted to expand federally funded embryonic stem cell research, while 36 Republicans and one Democrat -- Ben Nelson (Neb.) -- voted against it.

First of all, what the heck is up with Ben Nelson?

Second, the above vote tally inspires me to include a point of clarification. When I introduced the phrase "Republican War on Science" into the discourse--and it has since gotten around quite a great deal--I never meant to suggest that every single last Republican was somehow "anti-science." I only meant to argue that there was something about the GOP, as presently constituted, which tended to make a "war on science" an inevitable outcome when this party is put into power in the Senate, House, or White House.

I think that the current stem cell vote accurately reflects this fact, although technically my analysis focuses on misuse of scientific information itself rather than whether a particular politician supports or opposes federal funding for a particular sort of research (which is what the current stem cell bill involves). Nevertheless, conservative opponents of the current bill defend their position by engaging in a wide range of science abusing behaviors, such as inflating adult stem cells and ignoring the fundamental falsehood about available lines that lies at the heart of the Bush policy. So I think the general point remains accurate.


More like this

Below I provide an overview of the Editorials printed at the national and major regional newspapers. Without exception, the newspapers denounce Bush's decision. Most go with the "moral inconsistency" angle: why prevent research that could save lives when the left over embryos at IVF clinics…
On the 29th of June, the Senate finally announced an upcoming vote on HR 810, a bill which would overturn President Bush's current prohibitions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. As I reported before, the announcement has been anticipated for some time, and many were disappointed…
The other day I picked up the September issue of Running Times and noted an item concerning the ACLI Capital Challenge. The Capital Challenge is a three mile road race open to teams representing the three branches of the federal government and the media. The proceeds benefit the District of…
One of the primary goals of Congress since the Democrats' stunning November 2006 election victory has been restoring federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. President Bush first imposed the restrictions on embryonic stem cell research in August 2001. After the House voted in May 2005 to…

I think we have to be very careful labeling a vote against embryonic stem cell research as a vote against science, or vice versa.

For context, I'll state that I favor funding the research, but I make that judgment on personal morality, not because I am a scientist or because I am slightly left of center politically. I don't consider an embryo as the moral equivalent of a fetus, nor do I consider a first-trimester fetus the moral equivalent of a viable fetus. In very rare circumstances, I am willing to give an unborn but viable fetus a slightly lesser moral status than a baby.

But those are all moral judgments and have nothing to do with my scientific side. Many scientists and nonscientists will draw moral distinctions differently from me, and I respect their right to do so. In fact, I think we need to listen to their points of view when making a political decision on what science should or should not be supported by our government.

In short, people can favor science and respect the process of science and still have moral objections about using human embryos in research. Other people can reject science in favor of the supernatural yet still have no moral qualms about human embryonic research.

This was a vote largely on moral grounds, and we are not respecting the political process if we uncritically label votes against funding this particular research as anti-scientific.

Fred, good point, but see Chris' last paragraph.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 19 Jul 2006 #permalink

Fred, you need to re-read Chris's last paragraph and then you should visit the commentary on the Senate debate on the bills. Yes, the opponents often claimed moral objection but they repeatedly rationalized it by claiming Bush's original position circa 2001 was rational and offered lots of lines of ES to use. They also advanced the bogus argument over and over that AS are up to the task and proven providers of effective therapies. The opponents are just like the opponents of abortion I meet weekly on the sidewalk outside a Planned Parenthood clinic. They claim abortion causes breast cancer, that post-abortion women have a huge chance of an emotional collapse, that husbands/partners almost always leave a woman after an abortion, that PP's basic goal is to kill off the "black race" and so on. Their posturing on false science and false history is inherent in their views and cannot be separated from their moral objections. Sadly, there are some opponents I meet, who object to abortion entirely on moral grounds, who are as offended by their fellow protesters as much as I. Those later folks are ones I can respect and with whom I have some interesting dialogue. The others should be fllushed down the sewer. I suspect the divide in the Senate is similar with most rationalizing their opinion by scientific falsehoods. And for some their vote is pure political posturing.

Actually, my point was to elaborate on Chris' last paragraph, not to dispute it.

I know there is plenty of science abuse going on, but we risk amplifying the abuse if we claim this is an argument over the science.

My response to an abuser would be this, "You're putting the cart before the horse. The research hasn't been done, so anyone on either side who makes broad claims is speculating, and you are especially guilty of that right now. This is a political and moral decision about whether the government should fund a particular area of research. It is no different from making political and moral arguments about defense-related research. A solid scientific case can be made for the potential of embryonic stem cells, which is why so many people want to do the research. The U.S. government is not going to be able to stop the research, but question is whether the U.S. government should fund it."

That's why we need to be careful in treating it as a fight over the science. That invites abuse of science rather than the run-of-the-mill political abuses that are bad enough!