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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,

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9 years 11 months ago
Still no editorial against Obama's attack against life. Shame! Shame! Shame!
9 years 11 months ago
As a now retired urologist, I find "reproduction has often been the target of scientific experts" to be inaccurate, at least from the practicing physicians' standpoint. The phrase makes it sound like that legion of practitioners who offer certain medical procedures to their patients as somehow guilty of something like the forced sterilization practiced in World War II Germany upon the insane and other "undesirables". I'm not convinced that performing a vasectomy, as an example, for a patient who requests the procedure for family size reasons, is "targeting" reproduction so much as meeting the need of a patient seeking help. To "target" in this context sounds conspiratorial. That certainly wasn't the way I saw it.
9 years 11 months ago
I am an Obama supporter who was disappointed in the speech that he made when he lifted the restrictions on stem cell research. But the water was already pretty muddy. The Catholic Church has been far from clear in their teaching of just why stem cell research is getting into ambiguous moral territory. The embryos used for stem cell research are left over from in-vitro fertilization procedures, and going to be thrown in the trash. Yet, from my view, very little is said from the Church about in-vitro fertilization. In my opinion, the Church goes about the teaching of the sacredness of life the wrong way. They dwell on the THOU SHALT NOTS, with great emphasis on the sexual though shalt nots. So that we are left with the message that there really is something inherently wrong with our sexuality, our bodies. Wouldn't it be better if the Church kept its message simple and focused on thou shalt love and honor who you are, and who your neighbor is, and treasure and celebrate and PROTECT your bodily beings? It seems to me that this would result in a natural respect and honoring of sexuality as well. Yes there could be "rules" or guidelines - but with the underlying honoring of sexuality, these would be more readily accepted and honored, especially if the emphasis were not on the rule, but on the sacredness. As it stands today, it appears that the rules of the Church take precedence over the sacredness that they are supposedly protecting. At least Obama appears to be concerned about people more than dogma.
William Rydberg
9 years 11 months ago
Concerning the sub-heading "Science and Ideology" and the comment following. Is it really prudent for Catholic Theology and Morality to vacate the intellectual stage when "science" is invoked? The word is used almost like a talisman-a signal for Catholic intellectuals to either withdraw or completely absent themselves from public discourse. Leaving advocates of a mistaken definition of "science" to be sole occupants of the public weal. After all, the first definition of the word "science" as taken from the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary is: "the state of knowing: knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding." By this defintion, everything that we stand for as Catholics, falls unde the defintion of science. Grace and peace with prayers always...
9 years 11 months ago
1. We all started the same way, we have learned,by a single cell from and male and female joining together to form: a human being. The first nine months of life are a very fragile time with alot of changes. (differentiations). There are no "throw aways". 2. And as far as stem cell research, "throw-aways" should not be used as the Materials for scientific research. 3. Every student of general biology has learned this.
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