Monday, November 03, 2008

Biology, Medicine and Politics

On this election eve, I think it's appropriate to link to Ben Bova's weekend column in the Naples News in which he discusses the great advances in medicine within his lifetime, and how influence of religious groups on politicians could might interfere with such advancements in the future:

In the United States, some aspects of such research have been hampered by politicians who are under the influence of very conservative religious groups. This is nothing new. Religious leaders opposed vaccination against smallpox 300 years ago. They thought it was blasphemous to deliberately try to avoid the affliction, which they saw as a punishment from on high.

In the 19th century, religious leaders in England opposed giving anesthetics to women in labor because the Bible says women should bring forth their children in pain and suffering.

Such antiquated attitudes eventually crumble. But how much pain and suffering — and death — must we endure before they are overcome?

The research that is protested by religious groups today is more likely to involve embryonic stem cells or cloning than vaccines (unless you consider proponents of new age woo to be "religious"). While that is a serious concern, in this election season I've been dismayed that the McCain-Palin campaign has made science, particularly biological research, a target for mockery. It makes me rather sad that there are apparently enough American who are anti-science for the Republications to feel like this is a winning strategy, particularly in light of the fact that there are religious groups trying to undermine biology education in our schools. To move forward into the 21st century, I believe that government needs to strongly support science education programs, as well as both applied and basic research. And that's one of the reasons why I'm voting Obama-Biden tomorrow.

If you are American I encourage you to vote. And while you are in the voting booth, consider the future of American science.

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