Stem Cell Censorship Broken

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Various program directors at the National Institutes of Health got to tell Congress yesterday that they oppose President Bush's restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research, according to the Washington Post and the New York Times. Why are we just now finding out what they really think? Because they were finally unmuzzled by the demand from Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) that "Your response should be submitted directly to the Subcommittee without editing, revision, or comment by the Department of Health & Human Services."

Interestingly, the Post notes:

Perhaps inadvertently, even NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni appeared to give away his personal feelings while testifying before the subcommittee.

"If they're going to be destroyed [anyway], where is the moral issue?" Specter asked Zerhouni, referring to the legislative proposal to allow funding of research on embryos destined to be discarded.

"I think you'll have to ask that from those who hold that view," Zerhouni replied.

NEXT: Preemptive D.A.R.E.

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  1. This is just like the threats made agains the senior Medicare actuary about the prescription drug bill’s costs – a deliberate attempt to prevent the government’s nonpartisan experts from doing their jobs, when it interferes with a partisan agenda.

    One definition of totalitarianism is the merging of the party with the state.

  2. Obviously, science should ideally be 100% private, yadda yadda. And, for the record, a majority of my time in grad school has been funded by industrial grants.

    Anyway, as long as the NIH exists as a public entity, and as long as Congress is tasking them with finding cures for diseases, it might make sense to put that public money into the most promising avenues of research. If stem cells are the most promising avenue of research then perhaps the best bang for the buck might be delivered by going down that road.

    Now, yes, I know, nobody should be forced to pay for scientific research (or anything else). Then again, nobody should be forced to pay for public roads (all roads should be private, yadda yadda) but as long as the roads are publicly funded, most libertarians would agree that the funds should go to the most competent and efficient contractors, rather than whoever is ideologically favored.

    It’s fine to argue that none of these programs should exist. But as long as they do, the lesser evil is to err on the side of efficacy rather than ideology.

  3. Christ, thoreau, if the government’s programs really were efficient, I could live with them a lot more easily. Problem is, there’s no incentive for them to be efficient because there’s no real oversight. Not to mention these people get corrupted so quickly, it seems. Then you’ve got those who were never going into it for any other reason than to impose their worldview on others.

    Which is why I can’t understand why people put any faith in our government whatsoever.

  4. “If they’re going to be destroyed {anyway}, Where’s the moral issue?”

    Arlen Specter said that??? I thought Josef Mengele said it first.

  5. Lowdog,

    The problem for us libertarians is that govt funding for science like this is actually pretty damn effective. I still don’t like it, but it seems to work–a few million bucks in federal money can be very important, even if it’s a small % of the total spent on the research, because the biggest, most prestigious universities use that federal funding, and there’s a trickle-down-type effect.

  6. Well, that depends on what you see as effective. For instance, Venter has said that a government genome sequencing project would probably have taken five times longer than it did at Celera. At least, that has been my experience with comparable projects in the public (including universities) and private sectors ie the private sector brings products to market faster and cheaper.

  7. I’ve been swayed from my libertarian principles on the interface between government and science, after taking enough classes on it and talking with experts who eat and breathe science policy — especially economists concerned with the problem. I don’t think the government should go around spending public money on science willy-nilly, and certainly some programs are a waste, but at the very least, I don’t think the tiny science budget should be the among the first government entities thrown against the wall when the libertarian revolution comes.

    Now, I might consider non-defense science spending to be unconstitutional (save patents), but that’s different from the question of whether it’s right or wrong.

  8. I don’t think the tiny science budget should be the among the first government entities thrown against the wall when the libertarian revolution comes.

    My take is that rather than slashing and burning it and declaring victory we need to encourage the current trends toward more private funding of research. For instance, most of my graduate work has been on industrial grants. My university, a public one ironically enough, has been quite active in raising industrial funds for physics and engineering research.

    Also, a lot of physics and engineering funding comes from DoD. DoD treats universities as a farm team, since a lot of Ph.D recipients in physics and engineering will go to work at defense contractors. At the same time, it’s a great way to test ideas that might make their way into defense applications some day. Not the ideal situation from a libertarian perspective, but certainly less distasteful than public funding of other types of research.

    I’m not a fan of the marriage between science and state, but I want to look for solutions rather than just denounce it. And the state has, in all fairness, made some pretty impressive scientific institutions. Which is not to say that the private sector couldn’t do better, but we should look for ways to transition those institutions toward the private sector and preserve them, rather than denounce the existence of those institutions.

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