How principled are opponents of scientific research?

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July 7 2006 2:48 PM

Stem Sellouts

How principled are opponents of scientific research?

Motivated in part by his own affliction from Parkinson's disease, Michael Kinsley's piece on "what pro-lifers are missing in the stem-cell debate" elicited a passionate response in Read Me.

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Rejecting Kinsley's straw man argument "that all or most opponents of such harvesting equate a microscopic embryo to an adult human life," RoboTombo instead draws a moral line "between producing embryos with the intent of destroying them (stem-cell research) and producing embroyos with the intent of producing a human life (fertility clinics)."

TheRanger notes a contradiction in Kinsley's "attempt to dehumanize the embryo. He vainly tries to couple sentience to the beginning of life while at the same time claiming that nobody can define when life begins." For skruuball, "those who oppose stem-cell research on the basis that life begins at conception" while praising the work of fertility clinics are the ones guilty of inconsistency, "as the number of embryos destroyed during the in-vitro process dwarfs the number that would be destroyed during the harvesting of stem cells. However, coming out against fertility treatments is not nearly as politically expedient."

In her opposition to the destruction of all embryos (even for ostensibly good causes), MaryMack3897 makes this broader claim: "Pro-choice proponents are really pro-self proponents. They do not endorse the practice of letting everyone make choices for themselves, because they support practices such as abortion, which prevent the formation of free-will from ever occuring."

Xando places "the burden of proof on supporters to prove that stem cell research is a valuable use of government funds." Criticizing the practical effect of such a position, lucymom contends that "blocking government funding … will stop many of the best scientists from doing this research. It is very difficult to conduct high level science with private funds for many reasons. Stopping public funds is a way to reduce the amount of research done and the opponents know it." engineer counters:

…if there is really a big payoff, wouldn't the private sector be investing in this as a cure for Parkinson's, nerve damage, etc.? I imagine Mr. Kinsley and other sufferers would gladly pay for a cure.

Stem cell science is at the basic stage and does not justify spending much public money. We lose many more people to heart disease, traffic accidents, drug addiction and mistakes in hospitals. Those areas are not very sexy, but have a large impact on public health.

The stem cell issue may end up like breast cancer, but with its own color ribbon. Lots of money will be spent with little reduction in the leading causes of death and sickness.

Speaking of public funds for stem-cell research, you can find out the latest on California's Institute of Regenerative Medicine (funded by voter-approved Prop. 71 in Nov. 2004) here. AC11:47am PDT

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Wednesday, July 3, 2006

One of the week's consistently smartest discussions has been taking place in The Highbrow Fray. Meghan O'Rourke started brains a-churning with her nuanced analysis of Linda Hirshman's Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World.

For many readers, the central point for debate is the definition of a "good" life. MutatisMutandis argues that Hirshman's argument is rooted in status quo feminism:

Despite any possible hullabaloo from the conservative side, in essence this is a Conservative position with a capital C, and not a radical one. It involves implicit acceptance that society will largely stand as it is, namely materialistic and careerist, and explicit acceptance of its norms: Only people who make (a lot of) money have really "valuable" lives. And therefore Hirshman requires that women do more to conform to the demands of this society; she is not set about changing society itself.

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