Friday, November 11, 2005

1st Rate Lobbying or 2nd Rate Research

Pardon a little dramatization but you may be thinking already of relaxing this holiday weekend and I want to stir you up a bit.

It could be like this:
Within a decade, the modernity and efficacy of genetics-based medicine available to citizens of the Christian Republic of America will be inferior to what any citizen of south east asia takes for granted. We will not do the science, we will not make the profits, we will not own the pharmacies we will not have the cures. Going to an American doctor in 2015 will be comparable to going to an Iranian doctor in 1964. Only quacks will promise you the same results you will get abroad. Most will sigh and tell you they have read in a medical journal that a clinic in Singapore can tailor an antibody to your particular tumor with a 95% chance of complete remission. Maybe they can give you a phone number to call there but your CRA health insurance will be so written as to forbid any payment for procedures that play with the genes god gave you. Sorry.

The Womens Bioethics Institute has just published its findings on the impact of conservatives on biomedical research and the lack of impact on the part of progressives. Please READ THIS, it may leave you sober no matter how much you drink this weekend.

There is a big difference between having a general impression that backward ideologues are just making a lot of noise about a few hot button issues and knowing about the certain if slow damage being wrought by well organized, well funded fundies who have gravitated to the policy making bodies which fund and enable practically all research that takes any government money.

I am sure a few exerpts from a document you were meant to read won't violate fair use: 5
Key Findings
  • Conservatives have well-established bioethics centers with strong advocacy outreach programs that are interlocking and supportive of each other.
  • Conservatives are using an existing infrastructure of think tank and religious organizations to drive awareness, energize their constituencies, and support a unified bioethics agenda.
  • Conservative foundations are strategically funding high-profile cases with a broad bioethics agenda in mind.
  • Conservatives see driving bioethical debate as critical to building a society based on their values and worldview.
  • That progressive activities there are in the area of bioethics are under funded, narrowly focused, and lacking in a unified philosophical framework.
  • The progressive organizations that have added bioethics to their agenda are the reproductive rights groups that are ill-equipped to carry a broader “progressive bioethics agenda” because of their ties to the abortion debate.
  • Athough progressives dominate academic bioethics, the scholars are not trained and in many cases are disinclined to work from an explicit ideological framework.
  • Pogressives will need to do more than throw money at the problem; it will require a major rethinking of the issues.
Conservatives and Bioethics
Conservatives see bioethics as a way to extend their anti-reproductive freedom, anti-science, pro-religion political agenda. They use bioethics as way to galvanize their base, gear up the troops for battle, divide progressives, and polish their image as protectors of society’s values.

At the core of bioethics is the ultimate power struggle for the control of life (and death) and our sense of ourselves as human beings. One of the best synopses of the conservative’s perspective on bioethical issues was captured by R. Atla Charo1 in her observations of the President’s Commission on Bioethics:

…In its widespread attachment to a neo-conservative world view that is suspicious of technological advance, opposed to moral relativism and moral pluralism, determined to identify moral absolutes, and open to an increased permeation of religious values into public policy and bioethics analysis, this council and its leadership appear to reflexivelyendorse the view that science is a threat to both society and government…” 10
Progressive Response
The five progressive organizations analyzed are trying to get some purchase against the onslaught of conservative resources. Unfortunately, their work is severely under funded; three of the top five groups have annual incomes of less than $150,000 and are run mostly by volunteer staff. The agendas of the two best funded organizations are narrowly focused on genetic technologies and, while they are doing important work in that area, they miss the opportunity to present a unified philosophical progressive framework.

If you wait too long to bite the bullet, the bullet bites you.

To me, the reticence of practicing scientists and academics to dirty themselves with ideology seems to reflect well on the character and discipline of scientists and science education but it will be fatal to the funding of many promising areas of research. All of us who are not afraid of the future should be more organized and more alarmed to prevent that future from being retarded.

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