Wednesday, July 19, 2006


The debate over president Bush's possible veto of legislation regarding federal funding of stem cell research has been falsely characterized as a conflict between those who are ‘pro science’ and those who are ‘religious’ and ethics centered.

In this case it is the position of the media and other critics is that we should divorce ethics from science with regards to public policy. Science is a pure and objective standard upon which public policy decisions should be based, while ethics (especially Judao-Christian ethics) are equated with irrational biases and ignorance.

This hypocrisy, inconsistency, and intellectual dishonesty becomes apparent when the debate shifts from stem cell research to genetically modified foods. In this case science is equated with corporate greed and exploitation. It follows that science has been corrupted by the profit motive and is no longer objective, so we must rely on ethics or theories of environmental justice and social justice to guide our decisions.

Scientific solutions to problems always have implications for human welfare. It follows that in every case questions of ethics (often influenced by religious beliefs) arise. An honest media will portray these issues as two separate debates and steer away from the false dichotomy of science vs. ethics. One debate should be framed in terms of empirical facts regarding the soundness of the science involved. The other should encompass ethical considerations whether they involve theories of social justice, religion, or normative economics. It is irresponsible for the media, academia, or politicians to choose sides in a debate and then present it as a contest between enlightened scientists and religious nuts.

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