Monday, May 10, 2010

Everything Gives You Cancer? - Science's "Rightful Place"

Everything Gives You Cancer?
A new report belies Obama's promise to "restore science to its rightful place."

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703338004575230312985170570.html

BEST OF THE WEB TODAY MAY 7, 2010
By JAMES TARANTO

President Obama promised in his inaugural address to "restore science to its rightful place." The notion that conservatives or Republicans are "antiscience" is a liberal Democratic talking point of long standing, but what exactly does it mean?

Largely it is an assertion that liberals take the side of "science" in disputes that are cast as pitting science against religion. Sometimes they are right, as when they argue that biblical creation or "intelligent design" should not be taught in science classes as alternatives to the theory of evolution. Ideas about the supernatural belong in the domain of theology or philosophy. They are outside the realm of science, and maintaining this distinction is important to the integrity of science.

On the other hand, liberals are wrong to cast as "antiscience" objections to embryonic stem-call research. Whether or not one agrees with these objections, they are based not on a hostility to science per se but on ethical qualms about particular forms of research. Science is a method for answering empirical questions; it cannot yield answers to moral questions such as whether a human embryo has intrinsic value.

The implicit claim that scientists are better qualified than nonscientists to answer ethical questions points to the broader problem with the liberal attitude toward science. It seems to be more about asserting the political authority of scientists than adhering to the scientific method. This is very clear in the global-warming debate, in which, as last year's "Climategate" scandal showed, scientists disregarded the scientific method in order to promote an ideologically favored hypothesis. In ignoring the scandal and pushing ahead with its "climate" agenda, the Obama administration has shown that it is more interested in ideology than science.

The New York Times reports on another example: "a dire government report on cancer risks from chemicals and other hazards in the environment," which is so alarmist that it has even "drawn criticism from the American Cancer Society, which says government experts are overstating their case."

Here's the key passage:

The chairman of the president's panel, Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall Jr. of Howard University, said the panel stood by the report.
"This is an evenhanded approach, and an evenhanded report," Dr. Leffall said. "We didn't make statements that should not be made."He acknowledged that it was impossible to specify just how many cancers were environmentally caused, because not enough research had been done, but he said he was confident that when the research was done, it would confirm the panel's assertion that the problem had been grossly underestimated.

He is confident that once the research has been done, it will confirm the conclusions that he has already reached--conclusions, by the way, that would seem to point in the direction of a vast expansion of government power, consistent with the administration's ideology. Is this what the president meant when he promised to restore science to its proper place?

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