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U.S. Science: A Double Standard?

How can the Bush Administration ban stem cell research — but push GM products?

May 13, 2002

How can the Bush Administration ban stem cell research — but push GM products?

This century’s dictators have often tried to distinguish between “good” and “bad” science. Joseph Stalin labeled genetics and cybernetics, two of the greatest achievements of the 20th century, as “bourgeois pseudoscience”.

Adolf Hitler, as well, referred to nuclear physics as “Jewish physics” — and rejected the psychoanalytic studies of Sigmund Freud as “Jewish science.”

Make no mistake: President Bush bears no resemblance to these dictators. But — surprising and unpalatable as it may sound — the Bush Administration, while not using quite the same loaded language, is willing to make similar distinctions about scientific research.

In doing so, it appears to be taking the same approach to science as disreputable dictators of the past. Ultimately, the decision-making is based on ideology.

Thus, the Bush Administration has placed a complete ban on human cloning — even for human cells cloned exclusively for scientific research.

It has also curbed the ability of researchers to work with stem cells — which hold immense significance for both scientific and medical studies.

Biotech research using stem cells may help to totally eliminate some diseases — and also aid in the early detection and cure of others.

However, U.S. religious conservatives who hold sway over the Bush Administration are opposed to all experimentation involving human embryos — or any research that is related to legal abortions.

But U.S. scientists are banned from playing God only in regards to human cloning issues opposed by religious conservatives. If they wish to tinker with other parts of nature, they apparently have the green light. Especially if their research is championed by special interests in politically influential agricultural states.

For instance, few restrictions exist on the use of artificial growth hormones to increase meat production. And there is certainly no concern about altering nature when it comes to additives in the food supply.

As a result, genetically modified food routinely finds its way into U.S. diets without warning labels. Moreover, the U.S. government continues to fight tooth and nail to place genetically modified foods — including beef grown with the use of massive quantities of hormones — into EU markets. Science, after all, has made things better. Who can argue with science?

Ultimately, of course, such selectivity regarding scientific endeavors in the United States will never be sustained. In fact, the United States should learn from the famous example of T.D. Lysenko, a Soviet plant breeder who championed obsolete theories of genetics and evolution developed by the French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.

Those theories fit Communist ideology better than contemporary ideas, and so were championed by the Communist Party — and by Stalin. It set back Soviet genetic research by decades — and permitted other countries to gain a significant lead.

In a rapidly globalizing world, scientific research can be carried on just across America’s border — in Mexico or Canada. And there remains plenty of venture capital to fill the gap created by the withdrawal of U.S. government funding — especially if such projects promise to yield lucrative applications in health care and other fields.

In the end, the ban on human cloning for research purposes is likely to hurt the United States and its lead in scientific research.