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Scientific American interviews Diana Degette

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Human embryo with 8 cellsScientific American recently interviewed U.S. Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-Colorado) about her new book, Sex, Science, and Stem Cells. DeGette's book decries opposition to her favorite political pets, those related to human reproduction. Her thesis that this opposition constitutes an attack against science itself is an appalling lie, in which SciAm is blithely complicit. (It's not the only publisher so inclined; "Science and Religion News" glowingly praised the interview.)

The trouble starts right with the title of the interview: "Congresswoman Slams Religious Right's Assault on Science's 'Edgier' Side." "Edgy"? To many scientifically literate people, embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) is vivisection writ very small. Something that unethical can hardly be described with the benign adjective "edgy."

What began in the title grows worse throughout the article. On the second page of the online article, the interviewer asks, "Why did you choose to focus on what you call the "edgier-side" of the big antiscience conspiracy?" This is a classic loaded question, an informal logical fallacy, which makes SciAm's political position crystal clear. Let me refute the assumption behind this question here:

There is no big antiscience conspiracy. The Bush administration is not whispering together with other opponents of (ESCR), "How can we stymie science? Let's count the ways!" In fact, I think one would be hard-pressed to identify even one ESCR opponent who also opposes research that does not involve destroying human beings.

There is no assault against science. Rather, the assault is against particular forms of scientific research that are unethical. ESCR is in the same category as the notorious Tuskegee Study.

ESCR is not about sex. It's about human life: the lives of embryos and the lives of sick people hoping for cures. Research ethics forbid allowing the potential for medical cures to trump the rights of research subjects. It would be just as unethical even if adult stem cell research did not offer potential cures without the ethical thorns.

DeGette declares, "I'm pro-science." She seems to be trying to recouch language to denigrate her opponents, the same way abortion-rights supporters did when they coined the noxious term "anti-choice." There is an implicit lie in DeGette's rhetoric: If you disagree with her political views on ESCR, then you are "antiscience." SciAm should dispense with perpetuating this mendacity and pay no more attention to DeGette.

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