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science and the progress of malice

By Diogenes (bio - articles ) | Jan 10, 2006

Dr. Leon Kass, the professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago who has recently stepped down as chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, was asked by Bret Stephens his views on Hwang Woo Suk, the South Korean scientist who admitted to faking his cloning-experiment results. Kass did not straddle the fence:

As far as Dr. Hwang is concerned, Dr. Kass is merciless, and he fires grapeshot: "Scientific fraud is always revolting, but it is fortunately rare and, in the end, truth will out. But in this case, American scientists and the American media have been complicit in the fraud, because of their zeal in the politics of stem-cell and cloning research and their hostility to the Bush funding policy. Concerted efforts have been made these past five years to hype therapeutic cloning, including irresponsible promises of cures around the corner and 'personalized repair kits' for every degenerative disease."

"Complicit in the fraud." These are strong words, coming as they do from an exceptionally genial and gentle scholar -- and one who knows whereof he speaks. Note that the "zeal" to which Kass refers marks out not only its allies but also its enemies, and tells lies about both. In this respect it is unlike Utah's Cold Fusion fraud, which sued for the public's admiration but asked for no knee-capping. Kass scores the pro-cloning scientists and the lapdog media for acting as hit-men as well as shills:

"The need to support these wild claims and the desire to embarrass cloning opponents led to the accelerated publication of Dr. Hwang's 'findings.' ... We even made him Exhibit A for the false claim that our moral scruples are causing American science to fall behind."

There's a sense in which moral scruples do impede science, as those Nazi doctors who killed prisoners in ice-water as part of their brain-stem freezing experiments could have pointed out to objectors. But even those Nazi docs may well have had scientific indifference toward the results -- indifference, that is, as to whether the subjects were found to die at 72 or 62 degrees body temp. Yet in the case of Hwang's claque their malice toward morality full stop dictated a priori the result they wanted "science" to vindicate, so much so that the humiliation of their adversaries trumped respect for science itself. A parable.

Medical research unhindered, KZ Dachau, 1943.

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