Stem cell research at last

I’m pleased, as is anyone in the pro-science camp, at Obama’s expected reversal of Bush’s ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. I especially appreciate these comments he made.

“Promoting science isn’t just about providing resources, it is also about protecting free and open inquiry,” Obama said. “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.”

That last is another richly deserved rebuke of the Bush administration, and its kowtowing to fundamentalist ignorance in issues of science. In particular, the Right Wing Cult of the Fetus is driven berserk by the idea that “babies” are being “killed” so that mad scientists can do their freakish lab experiments. The point that the fetuses being used are among those routinely destroyed as surplus by fertility clinics is not the kind of inconvenient fact that will pierce the armor plating of their righteousness. Nor is the fact that these fetuses will still be available for infertile parents who wish to conceive in vitro.

As for the results we may one day enjoy from such research, which are also disputed by the RA crowd (Righteous Anger), well, we cannot say for sure right this minute that, fifty years from now, paraplegics will be dancing the rhumba after having their new spines installed as an outpatient procedure, or that we’ll have eradicated dozens of diseases, or what have you. But the possibility is there, and not to be ignored, and that’s why research is so vital. If we can better the lives of people, we should. That’s basic.

Still, though, sometimes I think conservatives cannot only think long-term, but literally can’t understand anything that doesn’t appear to have an immediate, tangible benefit. It’s as if scientific research isn’t worth doing if it doesn’t work like an ATM, spitting out instant gratification. Get a load of Republican Rep. Eric Cantor’s ignorant and hypocritical whimper, which he tries to couch in terms of the economy.

“Why are we going and distracting ourselves from the economy? This is job No. 1. Let’s focus on what needs to be done,” Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Once more with feeling: Cantor’s party bequeathed us this tattered economy, so that’s quite enough pretense from their side of the aisle that theirs is the party that’s all about fiscal responsibility, thank you kindly. And with the stimulus package now signed, well, let’s say that the l-o-n-g road to economic repair is, at least, being mapped out.

But what’s doubly stupid about Cantor’s remarks is his failure to understand that a country engaging in strong and well-funded scientific research is one whose economy is thriving. Not only does it put researchers to work — you know, jobs — but if their research really does bear fruit, and we begin to see real treatments emerge that we’ve never had before…well, that means money, dammit, and plenty of it. It means medicine we can export, it means more students getting advanced degrees in the sciences due to the increase in jobs in the wake of these new treatments…I mean, there’s no downside.

The only downside to scientific research is when ideology hurls itself bodily in science’s path. I’m glad that, for right now at least, we have a president who respects the role of science in benefiting humanity. And the economy.