As President Obama lifted restrictions on federal funding of stem-cell research March 9, he defended "letting scientists do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient." Obama contrasts his approach with that of his predecessor, who many say allowed ideology to outweigh science in government decisions. But Obama is wrong, in three ways.
First of all, the government has a responsibility to monitor and regulate the activities of scientists, who are not infallible, and like all of us, can be driven by motives of greed or ambition to cross lines that shouldn't be crossed. Laissez-faire science is even more dangerous than laissez-faire business. If you doubt it, remember the Nazi scientists. It is the responsibility of government to address issues of morality, which impinge upon science as upon all human behavior.
Second, funding specific areas of research is not a matter of "letting scientists do their jobs." It is a matter of selecting certain projects over others and using public funds to promote them.
Taxpayers who are offended by stem-cell research have a right to object without being labeled "anti-science."
Finally, Obama has his own ideological reasons for supporting embryonic stem-cell research, while ignoring "inconvenient" facts about the destruction of human embryos. Ideology also determines which scientists he chooses to listen to when evaluating the evidence for human influence upon climate change and the predictions of how it will affect our future.
In other words, Obama is no less ideological than President Bush when it comes to issues of science. He only pretends to be. This is not change, only hypocrisy.
-Russell Board is a writer living in Saitama, Japan