Sunday, January 23, 2005

Why science shouldn't be a matter of public policy; not just for conservatives either.

From today's NY Times op-ed page:

"The National Academy of Sciences, the nation's most prestigious scientific organization, has declared evolution 'one of the strongest and most useful scientific theories we have' and says it is supported by an overwhelming scientific consensus."

Unfortunately, the endorsement of the NAS isn't enough for people that want ID or Creationism taught in schools. I've been critical of this before and labeled as "intolerant" of other people's views.

In And the Band Played On, you can read about Mervyn Silverman, Health Director of San Francisco, and the struggle he faced closing bathhouses in the city to stop the spread of AIDS. The city's public health priorities became a political debate, and Silverman was accused of trying to limit gay freedom by closing the bathhouses. How many people needlessly died because epidemiology became a debate about social values?

Science shouldn't be open to debate on the grounds of the social or moral views, only observation - a person's "feelings" don't matter, and this just doesn't apply to conservatives and evolution. Keep in mind, a theory is an observation about how something works - the "why" is usually a metaphysical question, and that's why evolution and God aren't irreconcilable. Neither proves nor disproves the existence of the other one. I'm not attacking research ethics - the core of the stem-cell debate - I'm talking about pure science.

The favorite doomsday scenario of bad TV movies is the bio-weapon. Our best scientific defense - quarantine - does it infringe on personal liberties - sure, but who cares if it is scientifically the single best resort to stop the spread of something like smallpox. Biology cannot be open to a debate about "freedom".

True, no one will die from teaching ID or Creationism in school, but it's bad science and it's bad public policy. From a scientific perspective, how do these "theories" explain the fossil record, homology, or DNA? From an application perspective, why conduct primate testing if there's no biological linkage? Why conduct scientific research at all, because if something can't be explained as too complex, we'll just attribute it to the Designer?

From a public policy perspective - I'll look to ID supporters to make my case. I've read arguments that man believed in a geocentric universe for years until proven wrong, why can't it be the same for evolution?

First, that's a false statement. Ancient Greeks, albeit on flawed reasoning, hypothesized a heliocentric system based on observations. The geocentric model was advanced by Aristotle with absolutely no basis in observation but as a metaphysical theory - kind of like Intelligent Design. We all know the story about Galileo and the Inquisition, but he wasn't the one that "proved" the Coperican model of a heliocentric system - it was Kepler, an Austrian Protestant. The environment for Italian Catholic scientists during the Inquisition didn't permit this type of research.

From a public policy perspective - What scientific discoveries will our country miss out on because social values are allowed to intrude into the advancement of theories?


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