Sunday, December 11, 2011

In re: keeping politics out of science. The fight over Plan B is a fight over values not science.

I've done this all before. Daniel Callahan on the "research imperative"
Though unfamiliar to most scientists and the general public, the term expresses a cultural problem that caught my eye. It occurs in an article written by the late Protestant moral theologian Paul Ramsey in 1976 as part of a debate with a Jesuit theologian, Richard McCormick. McCormick argued that it ought to be morally acceptable to use children for nontherapeutic research, that is, for research with no direct benefit to the children themselves and in the absence of any informed consent. Referring to claims about the “necessity” of such research, Ramsey accused McCormick of falling prey to the “research imperative”, the view that the importance of research could overcome moral values.

That was the last time I heard of the phrase for many years, but it informs important arguments about research that have surfaces with increasing force of late. It captures, for instance, the essence of what Joshua Lederberg, a Nobel laureate for his work on genetics and president emeritus of Rockefeller University once remarked to me: “The blood of those who will die if biomedical research is not pursued will be upon the hands of those who don’t do it.”
Lederman is a medical Stalinist, offering war communism in the war on disease. Millions for NASA or for water purification plants? Cancer research or poetry? The questions do not concern science.

Hermann Broch
For the esthetic in general as an expression of the supreme ultimate value of a system can influence the result of ethical action only secondarily, just as “wealth” is not the main goal but the side effect of individual commercial activity. And “wealth” itself is an irrational concept. It is an almost mystical process, the setting of ethical values: Arising from the irrational, transforming the irrational to the rational, yet nonetheless it is the irrational that radiates from within the resulting form.
Or if the desire to preserve life is logical, the logical can become illogical.
Science is a tool. Values are to things as emotions are to plant life. Love is a rose in our imaginations not the world.

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