President Obama promised again yesterday to take politics out of science, which is at once A) a lie, B) a horrible idea and C)a naked power grab.
It is a lie because President Obama does not by any stretch wish to take all politics out of science, he simply wishes to remove from the practice of science the influence of those political ideas with which he disagrees. He certainly intends for his own politics to remain thoroughly enmeshed in the practice of science.
It is a horrible idea because politics is how we decide things together in this country. The founding fathers carefully crafted the outlines of a political process (complete with what checks and balances they could reasonably conceive) that would enable us all to exercise some influence over and maintain some restrictions on the activities of our government. The underlying assumption of the Constitution is that governance is far too important to be left to the government, and that the common sense of the common people is a necessary corrective - really the only corrective - to the absurdities of a governing elite.
It constitutes a naked power grab because it seeks to insulate publicly funded science from public control, and to concentrate that control in the hands of a few, who are by no means disinterested, and who must answer to no one. It is an end-run around the political process, which President Obama and those in his camp find messy, inconvenient and frustrating. Politics means controversy and argument and compromise, and the President has no patience for such things. Besides, certain groups (those pesky religious folk, mainly) have more influence over that process than he would like. They make things difficult and ask hard questions.
So, with a wave of his hand, he simply brushes away the conroversy... "Obama has spoken, the matter is settled". There will be human cloning (but only embryos, so it's okay), there will be humans created only for the purpose of harvesting their body parts (that's what embryonic stem cell research is), it will be funded by your taxes and there is nothing you can do about it.
The president has pledged that under his administration, science will not be obstructed or obscured by "politics or ideology", which means that science will not be obstructed by ethics.
But scientific ethics are too important to be left to scientists.
*I found this quote from Chersterton quite by accident the day after I wrote the post above, while browsing through the latest issue of Gilbert Magazine;
The Government and experts shall be allowed, without trial or discussion, to dispose of unborn generations with the levity of a pagan god. We are putting the official on the throne. - G.K. Chesterton, 1912