Commentary Magazine


The Stem Sell

Today brought us a new installment of the Anti-Bush Executive Order Sign and Clap show. Like its predecessors, today’s episode was characterized by our dour president getting off a dig at the previous president, the mechanically enthusiastic applause of onlookers, and the evasion of tough executive decisions.

Here’s the dig:

Promoting science isn’t just about providing resources, it is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.

The issue at hand is stem cell research, and in case accuracy on George W. Bush’s record matters to anyone at this point, let it be known that Bush never prohibited open scientific inquiry, and never engaged in “manipulation or coercion” of data. He never “distorted or concealed” scientific information to serve an ideology. He didn’t even “ban” federally funded embryonic stem cell research; he prohibited federal funding for research if the “cell derivation” process was initiated after August 9, 2001. And how funny it is to be scolded on the importance of unfettered scientific inquiry from the man who says of climate change, “The science is beyond dispute.”

Here’s the evasion:

While lifting the Bush administration’s restrictions on federally financed human embryonic stem cell research, President Obama intends to avoid the thorniest question in the debate: whether taxpayer dollars should be used to experiment on embryos themselves, two senior administration officials said Sunday.

The officials, who provided details of the announcement Mr. Obama will make Monday at the White House, said the president would leave it to Congress to determine whether the long-standing legislative ban on federal financing for human embryo experiments should also be overturned.

Not only that, the executive order itself is, like the one on rendition, a call for a review period that leaves the door open for complete revision.

Within 120 days from the date of this order, the Secretary, through the Director of NIH, shall review existing NIH guidance and other widely recognized guidelines on human stem cell research, including provisions establishing appropriate safeguards, and issue new NIH guidance on such research that is consistent with this order. The Secretary, through NIH, shall review and update such guidance periodically, as appropriate.

Never mind all that. Just consult this Reuters report if you want to know what to take away. There’s a helpful bullet-point list at the top:

* Obama underscores support for “scientific integrity”

* Obama promises “strict guidelines” for stem cell support

* Scientists, supporters praise decision

* Religious conservatives unhappy

Anti-Bush, pro-nothing. Sold.

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