Human Exceptionalism

Hubris and “Endarkenment” in Science Editorial

As someone once accused by bioethicist Alta Charo of promoting an “Endarkenment” because of my views on ESCR–at least she did it to my face–I have to say that a recent Science editorial extolling President Obama’s stem cell speech, demonstrates the very unenlightened approach it accuses former President Bush of pursuing. Oozing the hubris we have come to expect from the politicized science sector, and referencing Bush’s late ESCR funding policy, the editorial (no link) states:

The authors of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were children of the Enlightenment. They understood the power that flows from combining human reason with empirical knowledge, and they assumed that the political system they were creating would thrive only in a culture that upheld the values of the Enlightenment…

Recently, however, the precepts of the Enlightenment were ignored and even disdained with respect to the manner in which science was used in the nation’s governance. Dogma took precedence over evidence, and opinion over facts. Happily, as was made clear by two policy announcements by President Barack Obama on 9 March 2009, the break in the traditionally harmonious relationship between science and government is now ending.

What garbage. President Bush’s ESCR policy was long on facts and long on ethics. He acknowledged that an embryo is a human being. That’s basic biology. He stated that because embryos are human beings, they should not be used as instrumentalities with government money. That is good ethics and it reflected existing federal law (Dickey Amendment)—indeed a law that President Obama just renewed with his signature. One can disagree with Bush’s conclusion about how to best promote science within a proper ethical parameter. But he took an ethical position that specifically reflected “a combination of human reason with empirical analysis.”

In fact, if any side of this debate has been anti-science, it has been the pro ESCR side. Anti science is redefining basic biological terms for a political purpose, as in the trope that an embryo that was not yet implanted, sometimes called the “pre embryo,” is not a human life. None other than Princeton biologist Lee Silver admitted this was being done by his side in his pro cloning and genetic engineering book Remaking Eden, page 39, as quoted in my Consumer’s Guide to a Brave New World (my emphasis):

I’ll let you in on a secret. The term pre-embryo has been embraced wholeheartedly…for reasons that are political, not scientific. The new term is used to provide the illusion that there is something profoundly different between what we nonmedical biologists still call a six-day old embryo [the blastocyst] and what we and everyone else call a sixteen-day old embryo [an embryo that has begun to develop differentiated tissues].

The term pre-embryo is useful in the political arena–where decisions are made about whether to allow early embryo (now called pre-embryo) for experimentation–as well as in the confines of a doctor’s office, where it can be used to allay moral concerns that might be expressed by IVF patients. “Don’t worry,” a doctor might say, “it’s only pre-embryos that we’re manipulating and freezing. They won’t turn into real human embryos until after we’ve put them back in your body.”

That’s corrupting science because it is explicitly intended to prevent rational debate by obfuscating the facts about the humanity of the early embryo in order to reach a predetermined “ethical” conclusion, not based on facts but a junk biology narrative.

Science’s editorial continues:

The president has taken a large and inspiring step to restore the historically beneficial balance between science and government; we should all now offer to help with the enlightened effort just launched.

Translation: We now have a rubber stamp back in office that will allow us to do whatever we want and will sign a blank check to pay for it. Talk about an Endarkenment!

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