Science and Ideology
“Science, not ideology.” The phrase makes a good sound bite, but it is a false dichotomy. President Obama is right to try to correct the politicization of science under the Bush administration, but he was wrong to present the lifting of the restriction on stem-cell research imposed by his predecessor as freeing science from politics. The Bush policy, like that of Bill Clinton before him, was an arbitrary political compromise for which there was no coherent moral defense.
“Big science” and science policy are often entwined with politics and ideology. This is clearest in the military field, where under ideological banners weapons are developed without consideration of their consequences. Consider, for example, the health and environmental effects of depleted uranium munitions or Agent Orange. In the health field, reproduction has often been the target of scientific experts, whether in eugenic sterilization programs or compulsory birth control policies.
The unexamined ideology in the stem-cell debate is the promise of scientific progress. Especially now that pluripotent stem cells can be produced from adult cells, it is not at all clear what advocates of embryonic stem-cell research can offer us but hopes supported by guesses, questionable predictions and future scenarios. In recent years, the salesmen of medical research touted fetal-tissue transplants and genetic therapy as panaceas, only to end up without success. Embryonic stem cells are only the latest in a series of super-cures being hyped to the American public.
As the National Institutes of Health and Congress consider future stem-cell legislation, they should understand that expert scientific advice is not free of ideology or politics.
Hate Groups Growing
Almost 100 hate groups now operate throughout the nation, a jump of over 50 percent since 2000. They include neo-Nazis, white supremacists, neo-Confederates, Klansmen, black separatists and racist skinheads, to name only a few. Some groups even produce propaganda denying the Holocaust. Latinos are a primary target because of alarm at their growing numbers. Hate groups blame them for the downturn in the economy. The Southern Poverty Law Center cites one false claim that holds Latinos responsible for the subprime mortgage debacle, contending that undocumented immigrants held five million bad mortgages and are responsible for the subsequent meltdown. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was cited as the source of this false information, and although H.U.D. quickly debunked the claim, right-wing commentators like Rush Limbaugh and television programs like CNN’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight” spread the bogus information without checking the facts.
The election of Barack Obama has also stimulated the growth of hate organizations. They resent the fact that an African-American is president of the United States, seeing it as a sign that the country is coming under the control of non-whites. Incidents after the election have included the burning in effigy of Mr. Obama and Obama-focused racist graffiti. Several white supremacists have been arrested for allegedly plotting to kill him. In one case, a federal grand jury indicted a former marine after investigators discovered white supremacist materials and a journal in his barracks at Camp Lejeune, N.C., outlining an assassination plot. There is no place in a democracy for hate groups of this or any kind.
A Face by Any Other Name
Art historians recently announced the authentication of the only known painting of William Shakespeare completed in his lifetime. More accurate than the traditional woodcuts known by generations of English students, the painting shows a man with an intelligent countenance, a sidelong glance and a thinning pate, all characteristic of other (posthumous) representations. Yet does this add much to our appreciation of the Bard of Avon?
The human desire to know the physical face of the hero (or heroine) extends beyond Shakespeare aficionados. Indeed, there is an entire history of devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus in Eastern and Western Christianity: the religious name taken by one of the most popular modern saints was Thérèse of the Infant Jesus and the Holy Face. More recently, in 2002, forensic specialists reconstructed the face of a man from the time of Jesus. Photos of the resulting sculpture, with heavy brows, a thick beard and bovine expression appeared in media outlets across the world. “The Real Face of Jesus?” asked the headlines. Christians can be forgiven for wanting to see God “face to face.” Shakespeare enthusiasts feel the same. For now, they can be content with this single portrait and, more important, his plays, which are a clearer indication of who he was. For Christians, the Gospels will suffice.
Editor’s Note: Because the next issue of America (dated April 13) commemorates the centennial of the magazine, some of the usual weekly features will not appear in the print edition. They will, however, be posted on America’s Web site, www.americamagazine.org.