There is an old Yiddish expression for a dummy, someone who “spells Noah with seven mistakes.” It is pretty funny in English, where Noah has four letters, but hilarious in Hebrew, where Noah is spelled with just two letters. Making seven spelling mistakes in a two-letter word takes some doing. Still, President Obama has managed very easily to accomplish something along these lines in his new directive concerning embryonic stem-cell research.
Here are some quotes from his address announcing the changes: “We will restore science to its rightful place.” “Our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values.” “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.” “This is about letting scientists like those here today to 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.”
There are so many different lies, distortions, corruptions and manipulations in those four sentences that a column of this size cannot possibly plumb every one. But we can illuminate at least a few. To wit:
- No entity in the history of this planet has spent a fraction of the money on science that is spent by the United States government every single year, under President Bush no less than under any of his predecessors. Various bodies within this government are studying and cataloguing voluminous information concerning every conceivable aspect of weather, topography, soil composition, agricultural patterns, animal habitats, nuclear physics, astrophysics, not to mention computer science.
- The involvement of the United States government in scientific arenas represents the absolute pinnacle of human endeavor in this field. Painting the Bush administration as denigrating science because it set moral limits on a particular field of research, or because it held that multi-millennial projections of climate change should not trump the current needs of humanity, is entirely absurd.
- The statement about creating a false choice between moral values and sound science is ridiculous by definition.
Does Obama believe we can kill old people to harvest hearts for transplants for the young? Does he believe we can kill old people to save money better invested on the health of the young? Does he believe we can kill people who have contagious diseases to protect those who do not?
Had Obama been a man of truth, or even a man of class, he would have said: “Every society is entrusted by God with the task of setting reverent limits beyond which the knowledge of man surrenders to the majesty of the moral code. In this highly sensitive calling, my predecessor reached a particular judgment. Although I respect his good faith decision, I have upon review arrived at a somewhat different conclusion.” Now that is dignified language, something President Bush might have said about President Clinton.
4. President Bush did not casually or arbitrarily dismiss the scientific imperatives for embryonic stem-cell research. Instead he fielded a panel of distinguished academics and theologians which prepared an extensive published report of findings.
Although there was some infighting among the participants, including a huffy resignation or two, this was an intellectual and moral process which could be a model for deliberations by future occupants of the White House.
Obama is certainly entitled to depart from the conclusions reached. But to denigrate the process is tawdry and gratuitous. This kind of a commission to ponder weighty matters with multi-disciplinary implications is a sign of respecting science and should have been treated as such.
We could go on and on, especially about the biggest lie of all, a masterful piece of Doublespeak, the idea that an Obama administration will be open to scientists with inconvenient opinions. That lie was being disproved simultaneously: while he was at the podium, the Heartland Institute was running a convention in New York for 700 scientists who deny manmade global warming. How much of a hearing will Obama give them?
At the end of the day, we return to the consistent pattern of the still-new Obama squad. Go out there, tell big lies to support your position, including lies about what your position is, and for good measure toss in a slam on Bush. What could be sounder or more scientific than that… if it works?