March 9, 2009
Reason Returns to the White House
By Mary Lyon
Like it or not, knuckle-draggers: Science is back IN.
As a life-long Catholic, I couldn't be more delighted. I'm sure the airwaves and the cable channels will soon be wall-to-wall with conservatives and Republicans and other assorted 133h-century thinkers whining and moaning and ringing their hands - probably gnashing their teeth and rending their garments, too, according to the Old Testament model. The gas giants certainly will weigh in (there! How 'bout that for blurring the lines between science and "morals"?). For the sake of decency and morality I will not name them here especially since one in particular got WAY too much undeserved attention last week and doesn't need any more help from little me. Instead, I will step up, myself.
I am utterly thrilled that the White House has now moved out of the Dark Ages. For the last eight years I have watched the national debate with growing sadness as the volume and temperature turned up, and fact-based reality gave way to the faith-based mindset. The sins were legion. Government-issued "scientific" reports were cherry-picked clean of evidence supporting global warming. Anti-choice red tape strangled federal funding to women's health programs throughout the country and across the globe. Realistic sex education was deemphasized or even banned from schools (hey, Governor Palin, how did abstinence-only education work out for that still-unmarried, high-school-aged new-mom daughter of yours?). And then there was the narrow-minded religious extremist nominee Dr. David Hager who was tapped to head the FDA's Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee. This darling man was best known for recommending that women struggling with PMS look for a cure by reading the Bible. Why did he even bother with medical school, I wonder? I dreaded the "brain drain" prompted by the Bush tourniquet choking off federal funding for scientific research. No wonder some of our finest scientific minds were leaving the country. Way to lead the world, America!
Finally, we have climate change in the Oval Office. Thank God! Overturning the Bush administration's backward dictates on stem cell research by President Obama is hopefully the beginning of the end of the bullying from that particular pulpit. I've been known to excuse myself from church when the homily is given over to politicking on behalf of denying the women of the parish full access to the free will that God Himself gave them when it comes to their own bodies and the privacy of their own gynecologist's offices. Unless they're patients of Dr. Hager, I presume.
I'm going to be watching the coverage of this welcome White House shift with great interest. I'll bet we'll hear far more from the religiously-slanted than we will from the scientific community. I suspect the talking heads will be lopsidedly conservative in the days ahead. Already, with Obama's signature just barely dried, CNN's daytime anchors offered their own quickie rephrasing of a Democratic supporter's stem cell support bill, while indulging a Republican opponent with his own leisurely personal face time. Can't we get reaction from both sides equally, if we're going to have reaction at all? The reactionary side of the spectrum always gets first dibs at the mics and cameras anymore.
Rest assured, although I won't be granted such a powerful podium, I won't be silent. I'll continue to be the one at the parent-teachers meetings in the fall semester, cornering the biology teacher about the year's curriculum. Our kids both went to Catholic school and our one remaining high schooler has one more fall semester to go. Nevertheless, I have not hesitated to confront any efforts to fudge the facts or findings or blur the boundary lines between science and religion in science class and to guard against any such encroachment. There's plenty of room for discussion of medical morality and even creation "science" in the many available philosophy, theology, and sociology classes on the schedule. Science itself should be sacrosanct. CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox Noise may not bother to listen to my side, but my kids' teachers absolutely will have to.
The bottom line for those of you who object to embryonic stem cell research on religious or moral grounds - NO ONE is forcing you to take advantage of the benefits such research is considered likely to provide. NO ONE will be holding a gun to your head to make you take such treatments or demand them for some stricken relative of yours. You would, and will, still have a choice about that, unlike the flat-out restrictions you would eagerly force upon the rest of us. And if you object about your tax money being spent on such things - please reexamine your own willingness to send your tax dollars to kill other people's innocents in Iraq (oh, THAT's okay).
This is the 21st century, not the 13th, nor the first, or even the 19th. Let's live into that, fully, for a change - for our health, our longevity, our economy, and certainly our sanity. Reason has returned to the White House and not a moment too soon, because in these times clear-headedness, logic, and a lot less knee-jerk political ideology are what's needed more urgently than ever. If there's a way to turn on the light, why should we insist on staying in the dark?