Forrest GOP

February 14, 2012

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

A GOP Valentine

February 14, 2012

The New Atlantis:

In December 1994, a committee that advises the director of the National Institutes of Health met on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. The meeting focused on the recent recommendation of the NIH’s Human Embryo Research Panel that the federal government should fund a range of research involving human embryos.

The chairman of the panel told the committee about the “extremely high level of public ignorance” about human reproduction, which “invites exploitation by those who, for moral reasons, object to human embryo research.”

That ignorance, he warned, could be “manipulated into public hostility” toward embryo research.

The conversation became frankly political, as several committee members voiced concern that the incoming Republican majority in the U.S. Congress would restrict funding for the research, including expected developments with human embryonic stem cells. The committee began to brainstorm ways to shape the policy and influence public reaction so that embryo research could receive government funding with minimum opposition. One committee member proposed a sophisticated strategy of political lobbying: “have us do our homework to determine which people in Congress … have family members with which particular illnesses and make individual visits to them to ‘background’ them and brief them and discuss their particular family history concerns. Scientists would respond to ethical objections against the destruction of nascent human life by entering the political arena; to make their case, they would rely not only on scientific facts but on emotionally charged appeals.

Fast-forward a dozen years. Embryo research became a hot-button political issue, and strikingly, just as had been anticipated in 1994, public officials and candidates for office regularly spoke about the issue in terms of their family health problems. So it was that, in considering legislation to fund embryonic stem cell research in April 2007, a series of Senators, one after another, described illnesses suffered by relatives, constituents, and themselves — a parade of maladies, from cancer to Parkinson’s to diabetes to asthma. One Senator, explaining his vote in favor of using taxpayer dollars to fund embryonic stem cell research, recounted his mother’s physical and mental decline due to Alzheimer’s disease: “When I look at her empty gaze and shriveled body, I cannot help but wonder, if we had started embryonic stem cell research years ago, would she still be suffering today?” While these Senators understandably focused on the face of the suffering that might be relieved if human embryos were destroyed for the sake of delivering a panoply of hoped-for cures, the imperative to relieve suffering was never in dispute, and they failed entirely to attend to the nature of the human embryo and its moral status — the ethical issue that was the very center of the debate.

These two remarkable snapshots — a government scientific advisory board strategizing about political lobbying, and politicians making passionate personal pleas about science policy — give us a glimpse of the strangeness of the debates about embryonic stem cell research from the 1990s through today. The stem cell debates have shown American politics at its best and its worst, with examples both of principled democratic discourse and plainly dishonest demagoguery. And stem cell research itself has shown us science at its most noble and its most debased, with examples both of brilliant researchers pursuing cures for terrible afflictions, and others committing egregious scientific fraud in the hunt for glory. As a result, the stem cell debates have helped to reveal the knotty and complicated relationship between science and politics.

This report examines the stem cell debates in hopes of better understanding the relationship between science and politics. It lays out for the public record the most important facts and arguments, some of which have been long neglected or distorted, so that we might better understand the purpose and limits of science in a self-governing society, the proper role of scientists in American political life, and how citizens and policymakers should think about both. This report examines when, how, and why the stem cell debates sometimes lapsed into error and exaggeration. It also reflects on the value of public deliberations about the fundamental questions of bioethics.

A comprehensive history of every aspect of the stem cell debates is beyond our present purposes, although the five appendices following the body of this report, each of which can be read as a standalone chapter, offer up-to-date explanations of the science of stem cells, the medical promise of stem cells, the ethical questions raised by stem cell research, the relevant policy and legal history, and other nations’ stem cell research policies.

From Discovery to Debates

Stem cells are cells that have the ability to differentiate into one or more of the types of cells of an organism’s body, as well as the ability to self-renew, creating more stem cells like themselves. “Adult” stem cells — which are found not only in adults but also in children, babies, and fetuses — are typicallymultipotent, meaning that they are capable of producing multiple (but not all) cell types.[6] Some adult stem cells have been used in medical therapies for decades. For example, bone marrow transplantation has been used to treat patients since the 1950s, years before scientists understood that it was specifically the presence of blood-forming adult stem cells in the marrow that made the treatment work…

Science, Policy, and Politics

Before focusing on the interplay of science and politics in the stem cell debates, it is useful to step back and consider how they relate in general. Broadly speaking, we can distinguish between two ways science and politics relate to one another in the United States. First, government funds, regulates, organizes, directs, endorses, and prohibits different aspects of the scientific enterprise. Second, science provides policymakers with information and advice regarding natural phenomena, technology, and other matters relevant to public policy. These different relationships between science and policy correspond to two distinct senses in which we use the term “science.” When we speak of science policy as the way government supports or limits science, we are speaking of science as a project or practice, carried out by members of our society and subject to democratic political authority like any other activity. When we speak of the way government seeks science or scientific advice, we speak of science as a kind of knowledge concerning the natural world, knowledge that is subject to critical analysis and debate but not to political authority or regulation.

Although the policy questions in the stem cell debates chiefly concerned the first sort of relationship between science and politics, namely how the government ought to support or regulate this medically promising but ethically controversial field, the second sort of relationship has also been integral to the stem cell debates: scientific knowledge concerning the nature of the human embryo has been essential in informing policymakers and the public in their moral reasoning on the topic.

Historically, the federal government has provided considerable support for the scientific project. The classic articulation of postwar science policy in the United States is found in Vannevar Bush’s 1945 report to President Franklin Roosevelt, Science, The Endless Frontier.[12] In this influential report, Bush (no relation to President Bush) argued that government funding for science, particularly for what he dubbed “basic research,” was essential to ensuring that America continue to enjoy the technological progress necessary for the nation’s strength and prosperity. Vannevar Bush’s model of scientific progress held that basic research leads to applied research which leads to the development of useful technologies and products.[13] Following this model, the U.S. government has since the end of the Second World War provided considerable funding for scientific and medical research, with consistent public approval.

During the latter half of the twentieth century, the U.S. government also came to recognize the importance of regulating scientific research, particularly biomedical and behavioral research conducted on human subjects. The horrific scientific experiments performed by Nazi doctors during the Second World War, along with other cruel and unethical experiments performed in the United States and around the world, clearly demonstrated the need for ethical oversight of scientific research. Governments around the world instituted policies on research ethics and the protection of human subjects, based on the principles articulated in such documents as the Nuremberg Code and the Belmont Report.

Meanwhile, science, understood as our most reliable source of knowledge about the natural world, rightly enjoys a great measure of authority. In our political life, we rely on science to settle questions regarding purely physical phenomena: the toxicity of different chemicals, the efficacy of medical treatments, the sturdiness of bridges, the effects of pollution, and so on. In crafting policy, we weigh these scientific facts against other facts, interests, and values. Scientific knowledge can also inform our moral reasoning. A scientifically accurate description of biological death, for instance, is critical for determining the ethics of organ donation, and for developing sound policies to regulate organ donation…

 Read it all.

Boston Review:

On October 15 last year, 200,000 people marched in Madrid. They were part of a Spanish movement that has come to be known as 15-M—after May 15, the date of its first action—or the indignados. The movement has broad support from the Spanish public, both right and left, with 73 percent approving in recent polls. Participants and organizers consistently report that “regular people” and “first time” protestors, “not just movement activists,” are deeply involved in the assemblies. As Irache, a public school teacher participating in the march, told us, “The crowd that day came from all walks of life in the city.”

The six-hour march past the city’s financial and tourist center to the iconic Puerta del Solwas animated by the now-familiar indignado chants: “if we can’t dream, you won’t sleep”; “they don’t represent us”; and “these are our weapons,” as protesters lifted their hands in the air, a sign of agreement at assemblies.

Along the route there were more strollers than police. But at least for North American eyes, what was most striking was the absence of banners. True to the principles of 15-M, almost no one came with signs representing parties, unions, or any other organized groups. The only exceptions were the green T-shirts of the “Green Tide,” an ad hoc movement of teachers and students to defend public education against drastic cutbacks. This group, Irache assured us, was there to support the protest, and not part of 15-M itself.

The lack of banners is essential to the work of the indignados. As a movement, 15-M does something novel, bringing people together as equal citizens, not as representatives of particular interests or bearers of particular identities. Claiming broad allegiance—8 million people say they have participated in at least one 15-M event—the movement has broken the barrier between political activists and ordinary citizens. It shares principles of nonviolence and nonpartisanship with the Occupy movement and other peaceful demonstrations around the world. But its central demand—for a direct, deliberative democracy in which citizens debate issues and seek solutions in the absence of representatives—is unique. 15-M represents a striking challenge to traditional political actors—parties, civic associations, unions—and to democratic politics itself.

15-M has evolved to become a new political subject, distinct from the original Internet-based group—Democracia Real Ya, or Real Democracy Now (DRY)—that organized the mobilization of May 15, when about 20,000 people gathered in Puerta del Sol. Three months earlier, on a Sunday night in February, ten people met in a Madrid bar to began planning the event. They had already been exchanging opinions online about the political and economic situation in Spain. Their meeting ended with both a slogan—“Real Democracy Now: we are not goods in the hands of politicians and bankers”—and plans to hold a demonstration the week before the municipal elections of May 22.

Although DRY targeted unemployment and mortgage reforms, the main message was not about the economic crisis but about the breakdown of political accountability and representation. Some commentators on the left criticized this message as insufficiently radical, but more than 500 organizations and movements supported the May 15 event, even though DRY rejected official collaboration with any political party, union, or other expression of institutionalized political ideology.

The gathering was a success. The widespread disaffection of Spanish citizens took center stage at one of the nation’s most visible sites.

That was supposed to be it.

But not all of the participants left the plaza. Initially about 50 decided to stay. By midnight, this group had dwindled to just over twenty. They decided to spend the night in the square. Most of the holdouts did not belong to any social movement; they were not seasoned activists or even members of DRY. They stayed, some of them said, because they were “tired of demonstrations that finish happily and then: nothing.”

A physics PhD student acted as moderator for the group discussions, and a 28-year-old journalist spoke on behalf of the group when the police asked them to leave. They managed to stay in the square until the next morning and, in exchange, guaranteed the police that they were not going to riot or disturb the peace. They organized into small committees to look for food and makeshift mattresses. One of the protesters used a smart phone to spread word of the occupation, with the Twitter hashtag #acampadasol.

The next morning, Monday, the police chased them out, but messages on Twitter and Facebook called for another sleepover that night. This time nearly 200 people attended. The police forcefully removed the occupiers before midnight. By Wednesday nearly a thousand people were camped out. A judicial injunction against the encampment only emboldened the growing movement. On Thursday the numbers increased further, and the first tents appeared. Protesters in Barcelona and Seville followed suit, setting up camp in public spaces. By Friday, May 20, more than 10,000 people were camped in the Puerta del Sol. And many more came on Saturday to express solidarity. Twenty thousand people spent the day holding back the police.

The central organizing principle of 15-M is individual participation. The movement is infused with a participatory ethos: everyone is expected to take part in all aspects of the group. Strikingly, the movement rejects the principle of representation. Some participants belong to other groups or organizations, but within the movement, individuals do not speak for collectives; they speak in their own voices, for themselves, relying on their own judgments.

This is highly unusual in Spain, which is filled with progressive networks and organizations focusing on diverse interests: housing, the environment, the working class, anarchism, feminism, and many others. Until now, the work of advancing social justice has consisted in suturing together often-fragile coalitions, assuring the right mix of representation at events, and facing the usual controversies that arise when an array of interest groups try to work together.

15-M challenges traditional political actors and democratic politics itself.

15-M has broken with that coalition-politics logic. Assemblies only accept proposals by consensus, and proposals are developed by ad hoc working groups, not permanent institutions committed to single issues. There is no interest group representation and no bargaining. The decisions that touch all must be accepted by all. And the process is evolving: one very active working group is tasked with improving the decision-making procedure….

Read it all.

Psychology Today:

It will not have gone unnoticed that men are more violent than women. Men perpetrate about 90 percent of the world’s homicides and start all of the wars. But why? A recent article in a prominent science journal contends that evolution has shaped men to be warriors. More specifically, the authors claim that men are biologically programmed to form coalitions that aggress against neighbors, and they do so in order to get women, either through force or by procuring resources that would make them more desirable. The male warrior hypothesis is alluring because it makes sense of male violence, but it is based on a dubious interpretation of the science. In my new book, I point out that such evolutionary explanations of behavior are often worse than competing historical explanations. The same is true in this case. There are simpler historical explanations of male violence, and understanding these is important for coping with the problem.

A historical explanation of male violence does not eschew biological factors, but it minimizes them and assumes that men and woman are psychologically similar. Consider the biological fact that men have more upper-body strength than women, and assume that both men and women want to obtain as many desirable resources as they can. In hunter-gatherer societies, this strength differential doesn’t allow men to fully dominate women, because they depend on the food that women gather. But things change with the advent of intensive agriculture and herding. Strength gives men an advantage over women once heavy ploughs and large animals become central aspects of food production. With this, men become the sole providers, and women start to depend on men economically. The economic dependency allows men to mistreat women, to philander, and to take over labor markets and political institutions. Once men have absolute power, they are reluctant to give it up. It took two world wars and a post-industrial economy for women to obtain basic opportunities and rights.

This historical story can help to explain why men are more violent than women. The men who hold power will fight to keep it, and men who find themselves without economic resources feel entitled to acquire things by force if they see no other way. With these assumptions, we can dispense with the male warrior hypothesis, which is advanced by Melissa McDonald, Carlos Navarrete, and Mark Van Vugt, in the latest issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. These three psychologists imply that male violence is natural and inevitable, but all the evidence they offer can be explained by the simpler assumption that farming technologies allowed men co-opt power over the course of human history.

  • The authors claim that men are more xenophobic than women, because they are wired to wage war. But this is also predicted on the historical account, because men control governments and handle foreign relations. It follows too that men start all wars.
  • The authors contend that, compared to women, men prefer social dominance hierarchies, which testifies to their innately competitive nature. But this is easily explained on the social story: in male dominant societies, men gain from dominance hierarchies, and women lose.
  • The authors note that men are more prone to cooperate when under threat than otherwise, which may suggest an instinct to form armies. But a simpler explanation is that, having obtained power, men are reluctant to cooperate except under pressure.
  • The authors cite a disturbing study in which men endorse war after being primed with a picture of an attractive woman, which suggests that male violence has a sexual motive. But the link between sexand violence may derive from the fact that sex is often coercive in male dominant societies.
  • The authors link the male warrior hypothesis to racism: white men, they say, show greater fear responses to pictures of black men, than do white women. But this is difficult to explain on any evolutionary hypothesis, since there would have been little ethnic diversity in our ancestral past. Racism is more readily linked to the social history of slavery, an industry run by men.
  • The authors also remark that women become more racist at times of peak fertility, suggesting fear of impregnation by foreign invaders. A different explanation is that menstrual peaks also bring out strong emotions, which lets latent racism come to the fore.

The male warrior hypothesis makes many predictions that don’t pan out. There is no evidence that men prefer foreign women–the Western ideal is Barbie–and women often like effeminate men: David Bowie would not be sexier with an enormous beard. On the male warrior hypothesis, women should fear foreigners as much as men do, because foreign men are hardwired to attack them, but women are actually more sympathetic to foreigners. This may stem from their firsthand knowledge of discrimination. Women are also more cooperative than men, which makes little sense if men are innate coalition builders.

There are dubious presuppositions as well. The warrior hypothesis assumes there was constant warfare in our evolutionary past, but some anthropologists argue that ancestral populations were too sparse for frequent contact. It also presupposes that warfare increases male fertility, when it may actually reduce fertility for all. Fertility is probably maximized when men are non-violent and share in childcare, but in many societies men beat their wives, neglect their children, and practice sex-selective infanticide against girls. The authors perpetuate the myth that evolution prefers men to be polygamous and females to be monogamous, but we see every variation in other species. In chimpanzees, both sexes seek multiple partners.

Social history explains such facts by proposing that men have taken power by their greater strength, leading to violent competition and the abuse of women. This approach correctly predicts cross-cultural variation in gender differences. As women gain economic power, they cease being treated as male property, age differences between romantic partners shrink, and violence against women diminishes. On the flipside, women who gain power, like Margaret Thatcher and Condaleeza Rice, are often hawkish, suggesting that power, not gender, determines belligerence. Women in the judiciary dole out harsher penalties than men. And woman are committing more acts of domestic violence that previously recorded…

Read it all.

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

‘I Had A Dream’

February 14, 2012

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.


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