Political Science

January 9, 2008

Please excuse a little diversion from the regularly scheduled programming. I thought this would get more play on the Borg. Perhaps I missed it but they seem to be obsessed over who should be the National Science Advisor at the moment.

Last week’s Science had a good bit on the scientific perspectives of Clinton, Edwards, Giuliani, McCain, Obama, Richardson, Romney and Thompson. Also an editorial from Donald Kennedy entitled Science and God in the Election.

A Flavor:

Clinton has called for another doubling of the $30-billion-a-year National Institutes of Health budget during the next decade, the preservation of the NASA team involved in the shuttle program even as the agency shifts to new exploration missions, and the augmentation of NASA’s earth science and aeronautics programs.

[Edwards] would end what he calls the “antiscience” practices of George W. Bush’s Administration–such as “censoring research and slanting policy on climate change, on air pollution, on stem cell research.” And he would increase science funding… he advocates a low-cost “universal Internet” for rural communities [Ed: yea, for bloggers!] and more research on autism and fragile X syndrome, a genetic cause of mental impairment. He favors federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research, including nuclear DNA transfer. … . he supports budget increases “substantially better than the pace of inflation” for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation.

[Giuliani’s] campaign successfully discouraged key advisers from speaking to Science about specific issues. … he said in May that “as long as we’re not creating life in order to destroy it–as long as we’re not having human cloning … I would support [federal funding].”

[Huckabee] raised his hand to say that he didn’t accept the theory [of evolution]. … opposition to the use of embryonic stem cells for research … When the Arkansas legislature rejected his proposal to use millions of dollars in tobacco-settlement funds for health care and medical research, he exercised his right as chief executive to call for a referendum, which passed handily. That effort only intensified after he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and shed 110 pounds… “He would certainly be a friend” of the National Institutes of Health as president, says G. Richard Smith, who helped with the referendum and now directs the psychiatric research institute at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. ..

[McCain] … also listened to the scientific experts in the stem cell debate. Although he opposes abortion, he voted for a bill to expand President George W. Bush’s policy on research with human embryonic stem cells. However, he draws the line at human nuclear transfer, or research cloning, arguing that there is no ethical difference between cloning for research and cloning for reproduction….Most nonclimate science issues are far down on McCain’s list of priorities. … he has sponsored a bill to restrict taxes on Internet use… wants to make better use of cyberspace to advance the cause of freedom in the tradition of Radio Free Europe. … he has also been involved in expanding H-1B visas for foreign science graduate students

Deborah Burnet, a pediatrician at the University of Chicago … says Obama … would urge her students to think about “how to use scientific inquiry to make intelligent public policy,… his message that students should apply “insights from scientifically collected evidence” to real-world problems… He’d like to double federal spending on basic research and help more Americans get on the Web by broadening Internet access [Ed: woohoo!]… He has proposed or supported legislation to promote embryonic stem cell research, increase research on avian influenza, and develop microbicides to protect women from HIV/AIDS. … For academic health centers, says Burnet, that means “getting the translational component going.”

[Romney] laced his stump speeches with references to his opposition to embryonic stem (ES) cell research and abortion and his doubts about the role of humans in global warming. That focus is a far cry from 5 years ago … wowed biotechnology leaders and university administrators with his aggressive and no-nonsense talk about unleashing the power of research. “We were impressed by his willingness to talk about the importance of research universities in the state and national economies,” says Paul Parravano, “For a lot of people here [MIT], this was fresh and important.”…He also consistently opposed efforts to introduce the teaching of intelligent design in the classroom…. His 2-year honeymoon with the research community ended abruptly in 2005, however, just as Romney’s presidential campaign was getting started. … He vetoed a bill passed by the Massachusetts legislature to allow ES cell research, citing his ethical concerns.

“The issue [for Thompson] was this billion-dollar project was happening in Tennessee,” says Moncton. “There was no discussion of how intrinsically interested he was in science.” Rick Borchelt, a longtime Democratic aide and former spokesperson for the Department of Energy lab, concurs. “He’s pretty much a cipher on science and technology,” says Borchelt. … Within a few hours of reading about a method of genetically reprogramming skin cells into what appear to be embryoniclike stem cells, [Thompson] rushed out a statement lauding the discovery. “Today’s announcement is just one more indication that our current policy in relying only on adult cells is working,” he said … Campaign staffers declined repeated requests from Science to detail Thompson’s views on science and technology issues.

This is filtered through whatever agenda Science folks have, of course. But it seems consistent with other sources. Pretty much everyone is in favor of “research” when they are talking about non-biological/ecological science and especially when it links into their ideas of stimulating the economy. Republican candidates dodge on bioscience, ecoscience and evolution because they are ideologically constrained. Democrats want to score points accordingly. I like the pandering to my demographic, i.e., those who want to increase the NIH budget, from a couple of candidates.

And, of course, some of these candidates may be more viable than others after Iowa and NH results of the past week.

12 Responses to “Political Science”

  1. CC Says:

    But when a candidate tries to persuade voters that his faith constitutes a claim on their vote, it surely touches on the establishment clause.

    Surely Donald Kennedy has more sense than to believe that? Or at least to wonder about it enough to pick up the phone and get an informed opinion? It’s not like he doesn’t know where to find a law professor.

    [Edwards] would end what he calls the “antiscience” practices of George W. Bush’s Administration…

    Suing obstetricians over nonsensical claims that they caused cerebral palsy, though — that he’s all over, though!

    Pretty much everyone is in favor of “research” when they are talking about non-biological/ecological science and especially when it links into their ideas of stimulating the economy. Republican candidates dodge on bioscience, ecoscience and evolution because they are ideologically constrained.

    C’mon, this isn’t ScienceBlogs! Republicans generally push restrictions on stem cells, absolutely. The idea that they’ve made attacks on biomedical and biological research in general is absurd.

    This is the usual strategic idiocy of scientists on display here. Does it make any sense to insist that, yeah, pretty much all biologists do is make embryonic stem cells and disprove creationism? Ok, if you’re a ScienceBlogs ranter whose primary goal is driving traffic from enraged atheists, it does make sense. But if you need the government to keep throwing huge increases at NIH and NSF, the way Bush did…?

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  2. CC Says:

    I also like:

    Within a few hours of reading about a method of genetically reprogramming skin cells into what appear to be embryoniclike stem cells, [Thompson] rushed out a statement lauding the discovery.

    OMG, within mere hours!?! Whereas Obama and Clinton did, what, went into the TC room to replicate the results before voicing an opinion?

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  3. drugmonkey Says:

    “This is the usual strategic idiocy of scientists on display here. “

    eaaaasy there CC. I said “dodge” not “made attacks”. Precisely because I understand that historically people from across our political spectrum have been behind biomedical research funding at the federal level. I assume the current crop of candidates are no different. And it is categorically the case that some ideological perspectives that are deemed necessary for success constrain the degree to which a candidate is open about his/her true beliefs and/or policies. On both sides. In the case of bioscience, Dems don’t tend to be as ideologically constrained. Other places we may judge them to be the ones constrained by ideology…

    getting back to the bipartisan-ness of NIH funding, although flatlining works out to a cut in reality let’s face it. nobody has had the courage to really try to cut the NIH’s budget numerically!

    with respect to the Edwards-as-trial-lawyer charge I dithered on including that one, honestly. Ultimately I just can’t see what it has to do with his perspective on science. This may be because my natural bias to assume that in the courtroom the job is to make an argument that sways the jury, period. that’s the job. not to be honest or true to one’s beliefs or any of that crap. to win. you may choose to like or not like the job or people that choose that job. but I don’t think you can conclude personal beliefs from parts of their job performance in this case.

    “if you need the government to keep throwing huge increases at NIH and NSF, the way Bush did…?”

    um, not getting this one. you mean the fact that an increase of $1 is still an increase? and that a dinky percentage increase of the NIH budget is still a lot of money compared, say, to my household budget?

    oh, and on Thompson, who do you think you are? Jackie Broyles?

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  4. physioprof Says:

    “This may be because my natural bias to assume that in the courtroom the job is to make an argument that sways the jury, period.”

    Not quite. Attorneys must obey ethical, professional, and legal rules that bar them from making arguments they know to be false, regardless of how convincing they can make them sound.

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  5. drugmonkey Says:

    “rules that bar them from making arguments they know to be false”

    aaaannnnd, since most of life deals with levels of uncertainty, how much wiggle room does this leave?

    I mean, if we’re talking a decision about when to go for cesarean… dude, it is f*cking chaos in that delivery room when the delivery starts to bork. or it can be. and people have some unbelievably firm ideas that they want vaginal delivery if at all possible that the docs are up against. not to mention very real risks to the mother of the surgical procedures. I’m not sure *anyone* could “know” with any certainty the exact timing of the particular “correct” decision in any case.

    suppose I was the lawyer and I believed the above with respect to uncertainty. would it be malpractice for me to make the argument that in a specific case, the evidence tended to argue one way or the other? despite a general perspective that there is a lot of uncertainty?

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  6. physioprof Says:

    I’m with you. I was just qualifying your absolute statement that “the job is to make an argument that sways the jury, period”, by making it clear that there is more to it than that.

    There is always uncertainty, and attorneys are certainly permitted (indeed, they are obliged) to characterize reasonable uncertainty in the way that is most favorable to their clients. Your very broad statement was much more general than that, and encompasses situations that render it incorrect.

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  7. Thomas Robey Says:

    Thanks for the heads up on that Science issue. My copy has been lost between Seattle and Spokane…

    This conversation is interesting because it uses obstetrics as an example of how the legal system butts heads with medical science. The problem with that is that of all the branches of medicine, obstetrics is the LEAST evidence based, most entrenched in dogma, tradition and – dare I say – superstitious fear. (If not of a god, then of the lawyer.)

    I have heard Ob/Gyn residents, attendings, and even experts in the field routinely say, “There is no evidence that monitoring fetal heart rate decelerations yields any clinical benefit, but we do it anyway.” You know what monitoring decels (as we call them) does do? It boosts the Caesarian delivery rate! Substitute x for decels where x represents more Ob procedures than you want to know about, and you have the state of the art for Ob.

    Maybe THAT is why obstetricians get sued so much. There is not enough science behind their medicine. Maybe instead of complaining, more should be setting up trials.

    In the end, all this talk (notably my own) makes me wonder just how we humans managed to survive for the millions of years before malpractice.

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  8. drugmonkey Says:

    Maybe you can expand on this a bit Thomas, given that this is exactly the example I use for pointing out how nutzo the “natural” childbirth people are. My assumption was always that decels were indeed bad. Thus, pointing out that the fetal monitoring increased Caesarian rates was a “duh” issue. [sidebar: arnie used “duh” in his state of the state on a medical example. dude can’t deliver a joke to save himself but damn if he doesn’t keep trying and is funny in spite of himself.]

    are you suggesting that the Caesarians caused by decels are unnecessary? or at least scientifically unsupported as being better than waiting for vaginal delivery?

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  9. Thomas Robey Says:

    It is precisely my point that Caesarians caused by decels are scientifically unsupported as being better than waiting for vaginal delivery. More credibly (or incredibly), my attending physicians and senior residents repeat this particular statement ad nauseum. It’s as though they want to change the practice or (more likely) support their activities with data, but for some reason are powerless to do so.

    I am careful not to say that the Caesarians caused by decels are unnecessary. Collective we just have no scientific foundation to stand on. Sure there is common sense, tradition and a medical-legal footing, but as for science, not so much.

    I didn’t believe this when I first heard it, so tried to dig up evidence of some sort in the literature. I mostly found consensus statements, position papers and clinical guidelines. (Each is the sort of thing that is decided by ‘expert committees.’) Hopefully some obstetricians out there can chime in on this – I have a limited OB experience thus far, and want to be able to respectfully inquire about this and other issues when my clerkship rolls around.

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  10. bikemonkey Says:

    I haven’t really kept up with who this Ron Paul character is but Orac is all over it.

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  11. a Says:

    My understanding of the high prevalence of fetal monitoring is that it is important retrospectively when being sued (frequent in an OB’s career)- imagine not using a monitor when a poor outcome happens, then in court you’re not practicing the “standard of care”…

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  12. Thomas Robey Says:

    Exactly!

    And that is not medicine based in science. It’s practice based in law!

    What if “standard of care” is costing us billions of dollars, causing excessive morbidity and resulting in no real benefit?

    Funny… at least part of that question could be answered using the power of science. (Please speak “power of science” with your best impersonation of the guy announcing monster truck rallies.)

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