Abortion of Science

May 22, 2008

Kevin Barron, Labour, says:
“If medical science was telling us that we ought to reduce the limit of weeks that we have, then maybe that’s something that we should do, but it should be driven by science and not driven by some of the debate that we heard last night.”

I am a Scientist and disagree with this in the strongest terms.

Scientists are becoming like society’s witch doctors. They have a patriarchial stature; people go to them for almost any problem and repeat their response like a mantra over their ills. Increasingly you hear people say “Well Scientists have found…” or “Scientists say…” rather than “Science says” which is a massive difference.

In the 30s Martin Heidegger, a philosopher, argued that as technology became more powerful and ubiquitous we would begin to view the earth and human life simply as a resource from which we must extract ever faster and more efficiently. Some would draw parallels with embryonic stem cells for example. You can’t get in the way of progress, Kevin seems to be saying; science overules objections of conscience like rock beats scissors. But regardless of where you stand on this, the idea seems to me to be that science does not have to be divorced from conscience.

Heidegger also argues that we should be able to say yes to some things and no to others, based on conscience. You may be for or against abortion limits changing from six months, but don’t be cowed by science either way. No equation should tell you how to think, even though that equation can be wonderful, beautiful even, and right. Science will only tell you that you can do something. Only a Scientist would ever have the audacity to go further than that and try to tell you whether you should do that something.

Debate, on many issues, is too often beaten down in this country by a quote from an unattributed Scientist. But there is no nirvana of conscience that hits you half way through a physics PhD. Scientists should present choices to people who then use their conscience to decide. Scientists should not don a turban fold their legs, stretch their fingers out and ask you to repeat after them. Metaphorically speaking.

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