October 26, 2005


The Great Stem Sell and Other Mistakes: What Americans really think about science: astonishing new polling data (Nigel M. de S. Cameron, 10/26/2005, Christianity Today)

If you read the mainstream press, you would be forgiven for believing that America is besotted with science, that only half-crazed, pro-life "extremists" have any doubts about the miracle cures that will spring any moment from embryonic stem-cell research, and that "therapeutic cloning" is the technology of the future.

According to a new opinion poll conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), you would be very wrong. [...]

For example, how many Americans believe that embryonic stem-cell research "holds the greatest promise for discovering new treatments for disease, compared to other types of stem cell research?" 90 percent? 70 percent? 40 percent? 25 percent? All wrong. The answer is an almost unbelievable 14 percent. So what do the rest think?

Well, the stress that many of us have been placing on adult stem cells, which have already proven to have great therapeutic potential, seems not to have gotten through. Those who think the "greatest promise" lies here number only 7 percent. Far more have concluded that the "greatest promise" lies with "other sources, such an umbilical cord blood"—37 percent. This is a strange result, and it may indicate a conviction that "stem cell research" is the answer among people put off by destroying embryos but not familiar enough with the debate to know what an adult stem cell is (it's a very strange term). [...]

When it comes to cloning, the results are even stronger—and surprising. Cloning an embryo, of course, can yield embryonic stem cells (if the embryo is destroyed). This is what is meant by "therapeutic cloning," a dishonest term for cloning for research. A cloned embryo could also be implanted (like an in vitro embryo) and lead to a newborn child. The bioscience advocates have been trying their best to have us think of these two in quite separate categories: "therapeutic" versus "reproductive" cloning. Indeed, they try and avoid the word "cloning" altogether, and speak of "somatic cell nuclear transfer" (the technical term for cloning) "to get stem cells."

Once again, the American public has not been taken in. According to the poll, 81 percent oppose cloning as such. [...]

By the way, the poll also asked people about evolution and intelligent design. Just for the record, only 15 percent believed that only evolution should be taught in public schools, while 73 percent thought that either intelligent design, creationism, or a combination of them and evolution should be offered.

It is widely assumed that Americans are uncritically "pro-science" and that possessing the most powerful technology in the world makes it hard for us to ask hard questions about where science is taking us—and what its values are. Yet, partly as a result of the aggressive pro-cloning, pro-stem-cell research, and pro-evolution views of so many scientists and their organizations, the poll reveals deep-seated ambivalence on the part of many people.

While 85 percent believe that developments in science have helped to make society better (I wonder why that was not 100 percent; how can anyone disagree?), as many as 56 percent (versus 37 percent) agree that "scientific research doesn't pay enough attention to the moral values of society," and 52 percent (versus 41 percent) actually agree with the statement that "scientific research has created as many problems for society as solutions." These numbers should set alarm bells ringing in the science establishment—which is ultimately entirely dependent on two factors: public funding through the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and other federal bodies; and the market for biotechnology and other products. Both of these depend on the support of the people, and well over half of them are now very skeptical of science.

The group that the numbers should scare most is Democrats, who have to a large degree staked their political future on opposition to religious values and an embrace of science and secularism. John Kerry, for example, tried making his unlimited willingness to exploit embryonic stem cells an issue in '04 and all it did was convince people that Democrats have a moral tin ear.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 26, 2005 1:54 PM

It's always good when the Alma Mater gets a mention that doesn't involve students disappearing.

Posted by: mc at October 26, 2005 2:21 PM

Since moral arguments are not allowed to be used to put limits on scientific research, I am waiting for the left to proclaim that all the prominent scientists who urged a halt to research on nuclear weapons during the Cold War were religious zealots who hated science...

Posted by: b at October 26, 2005 3:00 PM

New Poll just came in: Idiots now respond, to questions that they shouldn't even be asked, more than ever!

Christianity Today: sounds like a really unbiased source of information.

I'm waiting for the right to take down fertility clinics, where embyros are killed in number far more massive than they are currently in any stem-cell research. Then again, mad scientists are a much easier target to scapegoat then a woman desperately trying to have a baby.

Posted by: Hobbes at October 26, 2005 4:46 PM


The problem of extraordinary fertility measures will certainly have to be addressed.

Posted by: oj at October 26, 2005 4:50 PM

And our opponents creep ever closer to the moment in which they will realize that democracy and secular humanism can't coexist in America. Anyone doubt which side they'll opt for?

Posted by: David Cohen at October 26, 2005 11:56 PM

Secular humanism and democracy are totally compatible. The only thing that needs to happen is for atheists to accept that atheism is in fact a religious viewpoint, and that attempts to dive away all religion from the public sphere is not tolerance, but the establishment of atheism as the state religion.

Most atheists can easily agree to this. Only the fire eaters will object, just like the fire eaters of any other religion.

The actual details on what forms of religion are appropriate to display in the public sphere will still need to be worked out, but that's normal give and take.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at October 27, 2005 12:21 PM