In 2008, Sens. Obama and Clinton fell over each other with promises to “follow the science.” They were speaking particularly in criticism of President Bush’s ban on stem-cell research and Republican resistance to the widespread findings regarding anthropogenic climate change. By “following the science,” they promised, policy would no longer be the prisoner of “political” considerations—it would be decided based upon scientific findings.

Supporters of candidates Obama and Clinton knew exactly what was implied by that phrase—”following the science”—thus short-circuiting any real discussion of what, precisely, that phrase meant, and whether there was in fact any such thing as “following the science.” Obama and Clinton’s supporters knew exactly what policy prescriptions were implied in that phrase, and never stopped to ask questions such as, “should moral and ethical considerations guide decisions in the application of scientific research?” or, “should scientific research itself be subject to ethical and moral limitations?” or, “isn’t there a reason that public policy decisions are made by elected leaders who represent a variety of constituencies, and not scientists who may have a blinkered view of what their findings entail?” Does the fact that some sick people could benefit from kidney transplants justify opening a market in kidney purchases? What of signing up poor people to engage in risky medical research for significant compensation? What of using clones for organ harvesting? How does one, in such instances, “follow the science”?

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