Stem cell decision sets science free, will create wealth

President Barack Obama gave the U.S. economy a terrific boost Monday by ending the ban on using federal dollars for stem cell research.
His advisers said the move was “a clear signal that science — not political ideology — will guide the administration.”
“I would simply say this memorandum is not concerned solely — or even specifically — with stem cell research,” Harold Varmus, chairman of the White House’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, but will apply broadly, he told an AP reporter.
Varmus also said the president would put safeguards in place to prevent political interference with science and research at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere.
The consequences of this change in public policy will be to spark an immediate and broad increase in basic medical research and to free all branches of science from the stultifying need to protect themselves from interference from ideologues.
The United States has led the world in scientific and technological innovation for decades. It has fallen behind in the last eight years due to anti-science politics. Lifting that yoke from the nation’s scientific innovators, those responsible for — in Warren Buffet’s words — creating the greatest weath-generating society the world has ever known,” will translate into new jobs and, more importantly, will lift the standard of living worldwide.
Not immediately, of course. As Dr. Curt Civin, director of the University of Maryland Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine said, “we’ve got eight years of science to make up for.” With the ban lifted, however, hundreds of scientists will go to work with federal grants to discover how to use stem cells to cure diseases and repair injuries that are now untreatable.
Discoveries will be made and the United States will create new treatment centers built around them. Our universities and teaching hospitals will become even greater wealth creators, using an expansive definition of wealth that includes adding to the store of human knowledge and human ability to solve problems.

RESTORING SCIENCE to its rightful place will affect far more than the field of medicine. For most of the Bush years, it was a matter of faith that global warming was a myth and that the activities of mankind had nothing to do with rising temperatures, melting glaciers and rising sea waters. That attitude was abandoned a year or so ago, but not until the rest of the Western world moved far faster to develop alternative sources of energy and put policies in place to curb the production of polluting gases.
Now U.S. policies will be built on scientific research and will change as more facts are learned and clearer understandings are achieved.
For eight full years it was U.S. policy to discourage family planning both in this country and in our foreign aid programs. Millions upon millions were spent preaching abstinence and funds for birth control were withheld despite the fact that careful research showed that abstinence programs didn’t work; that birth rates among any studied population group remained the same or increased in spite of the preaching and that the welfare of families in developing nations increased as family size declined. Ideology trumped science. That won’t happen any more. The emphasis will be on what works rather than on what fits a dogma.
When historians look back at our time, this shift in administrative philosophy from ideological to pragmatic may very well be seen as key to the nation’s renewed prosperity and regained leadership on the world scene.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.