The Debate Continues To Rage

September 5th, 2008

I received a press release today from an organization called the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank located in Washington DC and committed to “free enterprise and limited government.”

And, while free enterprise and limited government are not inherently bad, years of bad politics and close-minded agendas immediately put a bad taste in my mouth when I read the phrase.

Still, I was interested in what they had to say this time around.

… a new report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute calls into question whether, ethics aside, stem cell research is even a sensible expenditure of taxpayer dollars.

 Government stem cell research programs, such as California’s Proposition 71, are bureaucratic, wasteful, and mired in political controversy And, because stem cell research is inherently speculative and politically controversial, the public would be best served if governments left it to the private sector.

 “This is not a question of whether the research should be conducted, but whether public funding for it is justified,” said Fry-Revere. “It is impossible to know how successful this research will be or whether any individual projects will produce genuine medical treatments, and it is not the place of government to gamble with taxpayers’ money.”

I can see the argument here; stop government funding of the research because private groups will do the work anyway, and public funding comes with beaurocracy that almost negates the benefits of the research itself. It is true. Publically funded labs have to comply with incredibly strict regulations that make doing the research nearly impossible… not to mention the restrictions on cell lines.

However, this is not what I see as their main point. They primarily argue that the nature of the research is too speculative. Why should the government fund research that might not amount to anything? Sure, fair enough. Why should it?

But, then again, why shouldn’t the government be a part of promoting science and the search for knowledge? The government can help the economy by putting taxpayer money back into industries like scientific research. Not only will that money increase the number of jobs in that sector (something that is good in this time of a 6.1% unemployment rate), but the result could also be something that will help mankind.

Whether or not cures actually come from basic research is not the point of supporting science with taxpayer money. Besides, didn’t the California taxpayers decide to set a certain amount of money aside for stem cell research? It’s not as though the decision was made by someone other than “the people” in this case.

I am amazed to think that supporting science is “gambl[ing] with taxpayers’ money.” The arguments made in the press release are emotional at best, and not supported by fact in the least. If supporting things can be considered gambling one might as well say that public funding of the educational system is a gamble because we have no idea how any of the kids are going to turn out. They might all end up drug addicts and thieves. I’d like to counter that financial support of science and basic reasearch is rather an investment in the future.

Finally, if they really have an issue with the speculative nature of stem cell research, why bring up this question only for stem cells. Why not bring into question funding of science in general? Take the argument to its logical end. It seems that this focused approach belies an underlying agenda.What that agenda is I can only guess at, but I feel that their argument against stem cell funding in this case was disingenuous at best.

Science Doesn’t Start Wars

August 25th, 2008

Nina Fedoroff is my new favorite scientist ever. This interview makes me happy.

Thoughts Over Greenland

July 31st, 2008

This was written while I was on my flight back from Russia and heading over Greenland. Listening to Cut Copy. 6 more hours in the flight. I’d already watched 2 movies, and I only had 3 hours of battery time remaining on my beast of a laptop.


The beauty of the pristine environment below just makes me think of the unseen effect that we are having on the environment. I look at the glaciers flowing to the sea and the many icebergs floating upon it, and I just wonder how and if we will survive the changes ahead.

I know that many people are not convinced about the climate change situation facing us, but I think many more people are thinking about the possibilities than 30 years ago.

My grandfather, over 90 and well intentioned, didn’t believe the speculation about the population problem, and he doesn’t believe that climate change is an issue either. Well, in his lifetime, we have not observably exceeded the limits of this planet.

However, we are not able to feed millions of people in the less resource rich areas of the world. Is Africa succeeding? Is India succeeding yet? The rich are doing fine wherever they are, but the poor are doing ever poorer. Is that a failing of the planet? I don’t think so. It is a human failing. A political failing.

Cold, cold,
Deep blue hue.
The ice water resembles
A cocktail sipped poolside in
Miami heat.
Hot, hot,
Red, orange.
The earth dark brown
Like chocolate in a silver wrapper.
Shivering with enjoyment,
The snow ever moving
Ever slipping off the edge of the pool
In a white bikini showing
More skin than the prettiest girl.
Ice, ice,
Water, ocean.
Our earth.
Here at the northern pole
The atmosphere wraps it in clouds
And fog like the most demure maiden.
It sizzles and burns openly further south,
But here, here,
It is the ice queen.
The snow maiden
Vasilisa the Fair.
We watch,
As she gives herself to the sea.

Making Science Political

December 10th, 2007

I know many people out there like their science and politics to mix about as much as a red sock in a load of white laundry. However, the two are inextricably linked no matter how furious the protestations.

This is one of the reasons that I have made The Weird From Washington with Dr. Michael Stebbins a regular part of the TWIS line-up. Politicians are making decisions about our lives that should be informed by science, yet science remains the red-headed stepchild of the United States government. Science is ignored. It is attacked. It is misused and mistreated.

There is a light in the woods, and we will see how bright it can burn over the next year as scientists and bloggers band together to force science into the Presidential debate. Will independent media be able to put science and the environment on big media’s plate? Will it become an issue outside of the halls of academia?

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