Go to contents

[Op-Ed] Is Science Free From Politics?

Posted March. 11, 2009 08:37,   


"The era of suppression is over." American scientists had something to cheer after U.S. President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order to lift government restraints on financing stem cell research. The decision is expected to cause an astronomical amount of money to be injected into stem cell research, especially by the National Institutes of Health.

At the signing ceremony, Obama said, “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.” No era has rejected the notion that the earth revolves around the sun. Does Obama mean science has been restrained by politics? As his comments target the previous Republican administration led by George W. Bush, science was controlled by politics under Bush. Bush waged war against Iraq on the premise that the Arab country had weapons of mass destruction. His premise was wrong, however. Nevertheless, he said he had “scientific evidence.” Perhaps his “science” referred to politics.

Bush ignored warnings over global warming from scientists and had Washington withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. His ban on stem cell research also had nothing to do with science. Bush believed destroying embryos for research was wrong and his belief was made into law. He made the decision based on his Protestant beliefs, not scientific data. He never gave up his determination to ban stem cell research in replacing members of the House Ethics Committee with conservatives.

Has Obama released science from the yoke of politics? His decision to lift the ban on stem cell research has been welcomed by scientists. This, however, does not mean science is free from politics yet. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, once said, “Water shortages could eliminate agriculture in California by the end of the 20th century.” Nothing of the sort occurred in California. White House science adviser John Holdren, a former professor at California-Berkeley and Harvard University, said, “It is still a possibility that climate change can kill one billion people by 2020.” This is also seen as a wild hypothesis. Obama is under fire for making wrong political judgments since he is surrounded by scientists who overestimate the dangers of global warming and the future of stem cell research. The separation of science from politics still seems difficult.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)