New Administration Displays Old, Naïve Understanding of Science

In a stunningly biased headline this week, The Washington Post said “Obama Aims to Shield Science from Politics.” Well that is certainly one interpretation of the Administration’s announcement that it will fund new embryo-destructive research! Of course, this is nothing new. It has been an anti-Bush mantra of the hard Left for some years now that there is “A Republican War on Science,” to borrow Chris Mooney’s delightfully fatuous phrase.
In the debate over how to teach evolution in public schools, we often hear Darwinists cry, “Science is not democratic.” To which I’ve heard John West sagely reply a thousand times, “But public policy is!”
The recent headlines, and the Administration’s own rhetoric, regarding the President’s decision to have taxpayers (many of whom are morally opposed) fund new embryo-destructive research display the same naiveté in demarcating politics and science. It seems not to occur to certain folks that the answer to the question, “Is it good policy to Federally fund embryo-destructive research?” is not a scientific one. Rather, this sort of answer involves questions of a moral and prudential (political) nature.
As Robert George and Eric Cohen note, the new President’s position is itself highly political:

It is red meat to his Bush-hating base, yet pays no more than lip service to recent scientific breakthroughs that make possible the production of cells that are biologically equivalent to embryonic stem cells without the need to create or kill human embryos. Inexplicably — apart from political motivations — Mr. Obama revoked not only the Bush restrictions on embryo destructive research funding, but also the 2007 executive order that encourages the National Institutes of Health to explore non-embryo-destructive sources of stem cells.

Americans should never back down when they are told that they are to leave science policy to the technocratic experts (see Yuval Levin’s excellent defense of this point). This same principle applies to the debate over how evolution should be taught: This debate involves more than just the objective “facts” of science; it touches on everything from philosophical anthropology to the wise use of limited public time and money. This is a democratic debate and should remain so.