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21st Century Science, Part Two

THINK TANK WITH BEN WATTENBERG
#1333 21st CENTURY SCIENCE, Part Two.
FEED DATE: November 24, 2005
Ronald Bailey


Opening Billboard: Funding for this program is provided by...

(Pfizer) At Pfizer, we’re spending over five billion dollars looking for the cures of the future. We have 12,000 scientists and health experts who firmly believe the only thing incurable is our passion. Pfizer, life is our life’s work.

Additional funding is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

WATTENBERG: Hello, I’m Ben Wattenberg. Human cloning, stem-cell research, global warming, and so-called “Intelligent Design” are only a few of the countless issues that seem to intertwine science, morality, commerce, and politics. Where is the balance? What is the role of the government in guiding scientific discovery? To find out, Think Tank is joined by Ronald Bailey, science correspondent for ‘Reason Magazine’, adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and author of ‘Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution.’ The Topic Before The House: 21st Century Science, Part Two. This Week on Think Tank.

MR. WATTENBERG: Ron Bailey, old friend. Welcome back to “Think Tank.” Let’s just, for viewers who didn’t catch the first show, pick up very briefly. What are some of the moral, ethical, religious and commercial arguments that are going on, just in a nutshell?

MR. BAILEY: I think you put your finger on something there, Ben. Science and scientific research is really at the center of a lot of our religious, ethical and moral debates today, and the reason that is, is because science is the thing that we can all agree on. It is the way we determine what is true. I like to think of it the following way. Jonathan Rausch, an old colleague – and you know Jonathan – he made an argument in a wonderful book called ‘Kindly Inquisitors’, where he basically said our combi –-

MR. WATTENBERG: ‘Kindly Inquisitors’?

MR. BAILEY: ‘Kindly Inquisitors’.

MR. WATTENBERG: Right.

MR. BAILEY: Where he says our society is based on three pillars. The first pillar is capitalism, which is how we determine who gets what. The second pillar is democracy, which is how we decide who gets to wield legitimate power. And the third thing he calls “liberal science,” and that is how we determine what is true.
And his argument – and, basically...

MR. WATTENBERG: Liberal science in – would be in the old sense scientific method – how process...

MR. BAILEY: ...scientific method...

MR. WATTENBERG: ...itself...

MR. BAILEY: ...right, exactly. Exactly right.

MR. WATTENBERG: ... and be not liberal, as...

MR. BAILEY: No, he’s not politically liberal, but in the sense that – what he means is essentially it’s everything from activist pamphlets all the way up to peer-reviewed journals and scientific journals. And this is how our society works out over time what is true from what is false, and he thinks that we pay a lot of attention to the, you know, the democracy part and the capitalism part, but we don’t pay a lot of attention to the free speech, the science part. And the reason that this has become such an arena of discussion is the science has been so politicized is because it’s the only thing that we can all agree on.

MR. WATTENBERG: Let’s go on to some other, further specifics that you do not mention in the book, but that I know you have views on – the idea of hybrid cars getting 50 or 60 or 70 miles per gallon, that seems to be a keeper, and that would be a – that would be a big one, wouldn’t it?

MR. BAILEY: Well, hybrid cars are certainly an interesting new technology, and I think it’s becoming popular. There has to be a way of thinking about it, though. The problem with fuel efficiency standards in the past is - before hybrid cars – is that the way to get higher miles per gallon was to make a smaller car, and the problem with that is that smaller cars are more dangerous. They kill more people – not to mention the fact that they were very unpopular in the market, and they never made a profit for any of the companies. And you may have heard that GM lost $3 billion this last year, which is a problem.
But with regard to the hybrids...

MR. WATTENBERG: “This last year” being Two Thou--...

MR. BAILEY: This is...

MR. WATTENBERG: ...2005.

MR. BAILEY: Right, 2005.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay.

MR. BAILEY: But, now, what’s interesting about hybrid cars is you ha -- they cost four to $5,000 more than the same gasoline car does, and what you have to figure out is that when you – does it save you enough gas to pay for the extra premium on the car? And that’s still out right now.

MR. WATTENBERG: It seems to me the big political argument has - in the Congress the last few years - has been some people saying that we need more conservation and some people saying that we need more production of various hydrocarbon fuels. And it seems to me the answer is so obvious that we need both. I mean it’s – that’s what we need.

MR. BAILEY: Right. You’re absolutely right. We need both. There’s abs -- there’s no reason to waste fuel. People all the time are trying to...

MR. WATTENBERG: Right.

MR. BAILEY: ...figure out how to become more efficient, and the market is very good at...

MR. WATTENBERG: I mean...

MR. BAILEY: ...doing that.

MR. WATTENBERG: ...and certain things become symbolically so valuable, I guess for mail order purposes, or purp -- this thing about ANWR, the Arctic National Wildlife Resource...

MR. BAILEY: Refuge.

MR. WATTENBERG: Refuge – I’m sorry – which probably one in a million Americans have seen, and the argument they’re making for it is, “Oh, my God. We shouldn’t touch it because it’s, quotes, ‘pristine’.” I mean what would they do? Prefer to drill in Manhattan? I mean it seems to me that – that that’s an argument in favor of it.

MR. BAILEY: Well, I don’t know if it’s an argument in favor of it, but a lot of the ecological damage that is alleged doesn’t seem to be on. Consider the case of Trudeau Bay, where they are...
MR. WATTENBERG: Right.

MR. BAILEY: ...still producing.

MR. WATTENBERG: Right. Right.

MR. BAILEY: I - I’ve actually visited Trudeau Bay, and one of the things that you...

MR. WATTENBERG: In Alaska, right?

MR. BAILEY: ...in Alaska. I’ve been to the – beyond...

MR. WATTENBERG: ...pipeline...

MR. BAILEY: ...the Arctic Circle...

MR. WATTENBERG: ...pipeline.

MR. BAILEY: ...the – there...

MR. WATTENBERG: Right.

MR. BAILEY: ...standing on the frozen seashore. And I was talking to people there, and it turns out that the caribou herd that in Ninetee -- in 1970 or so numbered around 6,000 caribou today is over 30,000 caribou. Apparently, they don’t mind oil production in the northern slope of Alaska. I’m not saying it’s perfect or anything else.
The other thing that we have to keep in mind is the technologies for drilling and production now are so much better than they were when the first oilfields were found in Alaska, that the environmental footprint would be a lot smaller.

MR. WATTENBERG: What about what’s – another one not in your book, but that – should the government be involved in these decisions, the case in point being the development of fuel cells?

MR. BAILEY: The way people talk about it a lot is we should have a Manhattan Project for energy the way we had a Manhattan Project for the atomic bomb. Well, the thing about the Manhattan Project is we knew what we were looking for. We were looking for something to go “boom” in a big way. But a Manhattan Project on energy – is it fuel cells? Is it solar cells? Is it windmills? Is it – and it just goes on and on and on. It would be very hard for anybody to select, in advance, what the right technology would be. So, it’s kind of – if you want people who run the Post Office to be doing your research for you, there’s a problem there. I think we have a – we shouldn’t have the government making the selection.

MR. WATTENBERG: I mean you – so, you are – I mean just so we know where you’re coming from, you are a libertarian. Your basic instincts would be let the market take care of it and keep the government’s big nose out of things.

MR. BAILEY: Yes, basically, because the government hasn’t proven itself awfully good at doing this kind of research.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Now, the one that I find really interesting is the big argument going on between evolution and intelligent design.

MR. BAILEY: Okay. Well, intel -- as you know, the intelligent design debate is an argument that says that some sort of intelligent design that created life, that it’s too complicated for have – to have come into existence by random chance, which is always what they’re comparing it to. And they’re basically saying that Darwinian evolution, which is what the vast majority of biologists – 99.9999 percent of biologists believe – is not – cannot be proved.
They’re – they’re completely wrong about that. If you go in, you will find genetic research goes that...

MR. WATTENBERG: But – but...

MR. BAILEY: ...way.

MR. WATTENBERG: ...but, Ron, Darwinian theory can be regarded as encompassing intelligent design. After all, he had theory of how things work.

MR. BAILEY: But – but...

MR. WATTENBERG: I mean...

MR. BAILEY: ...intelligent...

MR. WATTENBERG: ...I mean it goes back to Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, or whatever. I mean it’s a –it’s a quest for understanding...

MR. BAILEY: Well, Dar –

MR. WATTENBERG: ...how life works.

MR. BAILEY: ...well, now, Darwinian science is basically the following: that we all descended from a common ancestor over billions of years...

MR. WATTENBERG: Right.

MR. BAILEY: ...through what is called “natural selection,” that basically what would happen is that there was descent with variation. And natural selection, the variability of organisms to reproduce and survive, as some were more fit than others, basically created the plethora of the millions of species we be – see before us, over millions of years.
Intelligent design basically says that each, individual thing was probably created in some way directly by God, without evolution intervening. It may well be that a Creator of some sort or other did, in fact, use evolution to create what we see now; but it is not what intelligent design theorists are talking about.

MR. WATTENBERG: Well, it’s what some intelligent design...

MR. BAILEY: ...controversy.

MR. WATTENBERG: ...the – the push for it now, so it is said, is coming from creationists, who believe in the literal word of the Bible.

MR. BAILEY: Right.

MR. WATTENBERG: But, you know, it’s kind of interesting. The Bible, if you take biblical language – and we’ve done a couple of shows about the Bible – if you change, “On the first day,” “On the second day,” to, “In the first era,” and “the second era,” and...

MR. BAILEY: Sure.

MR. WATTENBERG: ...“the third era,” and every modern religion, every historical record we have does point to what the tale of Noah taught; there was a big flood at some point way back then, it is not, it seems to me, pie-in-the-sky, necessarily.

MR. BAILEY: Well, I have to respectfully disagree. I mean there’re all kinds of ways of interpreting the Bible. For example, I spent my summer vacation among the creationists at Liberty University. These are – they think intelligent design theorists are wimps. These people believe in literal...

MR. WATTENBERG: [Unintelligible]...

MR. BAILEY: ...seven-day, 24-hour Creation.

MR. WATTENBERG: ...okay.

MR. BAILEY: And, actually, I sat with them, and I have lots of them praying for me today. And we talked about this, and I – and it came to me that they weren’t interested in science. They don’t even care about the details of fossils and molecular biology, or any of that stuff. What they’re afraid about and what they’re concerned about is their kids are going to lose their faith in God because of their encounter with Darwinian science. That isn’t necessary, but that’s what they’re really...

MR. WATTENBERG: Yes, but – but...

MR. BAILEY”=: ...afraid of.

MR. WATTENBERG: ...but, you know, there’s – there are a couple of things. First of all, religion has always been in politics. I mean be it Pat Robertson on one side, or Al Sharpton, or Jessie Jackson – the others – or Martin Luther King. That’s number one.
And secondly, these same people who are denouncing science, they have computers. They have cars. They get vaccinations. They’re – I mean there’s sort of an inherent contradiction there, isn’t there?

MR. BAILEY: Yes, you’re right. Everybody on the creation side takes advantage of the modern technologies that modern science makes possible for us. The thing about biology is that it touches on the issues of life and death – the meaning of life and death in a way that quantum mechanics simply doesn’t, or the way that chemistry simply doesn’t, and so we don’t have creationist chemistry. We don’t have creationist quantum mechanics. We do have creationist biology, because people think that that is what is vital, what mean - the meaning of our lives is determined by the shape of our lives: birth, death and all those kinds of issues that biology touches on.

MR. WATTENBERG: Scientists sort of pride themselves as somewhat of a – of a priestly class. I mean they have this scientific theory, and Francis Bacon and hypothesis and blind, double-blind studies. But are – are – are they really, these days, quite as independent?

MR. BAILEY: Scientists are just people. They’re just people using a particular method. What’s good about science and what – why we trust it is because it is a process of discerning what is true or not. It can be run by fallible people, and is run by fallible people, but the process of peer review and constant criticism will help us eventually figure out who is telling us the truth and who is mistaken. And it doesn’t immediately work. It doesn’t tell us the answer. It doesn’t drop out like a, you know, a gumball in a machine when you put in a coin, but eventually the truth will win.

MR. WATTENBERG: The - there’s been a controversy recently about the makeup and the appointment of various scientific boards, one of them being the President’s Council on Bioethics. Much of it seems like just a – an extension of the abortion fight. Isn’t that why people run for President or to be members of Congress – in order to influence?

MR. BAILEY: Well, yes. One of the – the problem, though, that people are having with the Bush administration – and I share the problem – is that what they’re putting people on there if – to do is not to determine whether something is qua -- has high quality, or that it’s safe, or it’s efficacious, which are the normal reasons you would regulate or control something. They’re trying to substitute values. And we all have values. The scientists have them, too. But the fact of the matter is what they’re trying to do is subvert the scientific process in the name of some values.
Let look at the case of plan B, the contraceptive pill, the...

MR. WATTENBERG: Right.

MR. BAILEY: ...the morning-after pill, which has been delayed for nearly two years now. 20-some people voted dramatically in favor. Only two people voted against allowing this drug out into the market, making it over-the-counter.

MR. WATTENBERG: This is the National Academy of Science Board. This is...

MR. BAILEY: No, this is actually an advisory board for the federal – for the...

MR. WATTENBERG: ...right, right, right.

MR. BAILEY: ...Food and Drug Administration, and two people who were both very strong Christians, voted against it. And the reason they voted against it had nothing to do with the safety of the drug. It had everything to do with the fact that they were afraid that women will become more promiscuous if they had access to the drug over the counter. That is not a scientific question, and that is not something the FDA should be ruling on. And that is my problem with the Bush administration.

MR. WATTENBERG: Um-hum. But let me play devil’s advocate for a moment. The President ran in both 2000 and 2004 as a pro-life candidate.

MR. BAILEY: Sure.

MR. WATTENBERG: I mean – and to do, in theory, everything to promulgate that theory. So, this is the way the world works, isn’t it?

MR. BAILEY: I – it is the way the world works, and President Bush is by no means the first politician to pervert science for their agendas. For example, your viewers might be interested to know that President Clinton, in 1993, overruled a report from the National Institutes of Health that had declared that embryo research was ethical and could receive federal funding. He said no, it couldn’t.
So, let’s face it. All politicians play in that ball field for various reasons.

MR. WATTENBERG: Yes, on the other hand, these days, most young women – I hope I get it right – know that if after a so-called one-night stand if you take a quadruple dose of “the pill,” that is – will cause a spontaneous abortion. I mean it’s – it’s not, as we say, “rocket science.”

MR. BAILEY: Well, the problem...

MR. WATTENBERG: It...

MR. BAILEY: That’s true.

MR. WATTENBERG: ...did I get that right? Is that...

MR. BAILEY: ...something like that. What happened...

MR. WATTENBERG: Yes.

MR. BAILEY: ...well, there’s...

MR. WATTENBERG: I don’t...

MR. BAILEY: ...basically, what you’ve described is what plan B is, essentially...

MR. WATTENBERG: Yes.

MR. BAILEY: But the thing is – is that you have to go get a doctor’s prescription for that right now; whereas, with plan B, you could go to your pharmacy and pick it up off the shelf like a guy could go pick up a condom. Why shouldn’t women have that access to that medicine?

MR. WATTENBERG: Alright. The – the Food and Drug Administration has pulled certain drugs from the market because they say it’s - it’s dangerous. Now, how safe need a medication be? I mean on a cost-benefit analysis, if you have a drug that saves the lives of a thousand people and loses two people, and, as you have said, the – the process of doing it takes so long, that some people may be dying while they’re doing their research, in that case, is or is not the Food and Drug Administration the villain?

MR. BAILEY: I think the Food and Drug Administration is – is vastly too cautious. One of the problems, though, is, as you probably will recall, the Food and Drug Administration is supposed to now approve drugs on the basis of quality, safety and efficacy. Efficacy came into – that is, does – does it work – came into – as a regulatory rule in 1962, with the Kefauver amendment. And I would suggest to you that – that by doing that, you’ve delayed the introduction of lots of drugs, and now we’ve set up a system where probably -- and lots of scholars have said this – that if aspirin were to be invented today, it wouldn’t make it through the FDA. It would be made illegal, and we have a lot of problems with that.
One other way to look at it in - and a former member of the pharmaceutical industry, Mary Roark, did a calculation. I’ll just tell you what it is. I’m not going to stand by it, but it’s an interesting calculation. She basically said from the thalidomide tragedy in the 1960s...

MR. WATTENBERG: Right.

MR. BAILEY: ...when the FDA regulations for safe - for efficacy were first adopted, probably by checking for efficacy, we saved as many as 10,000 people’s lives over time, sine 1962. In the meantime, by delaying drugs that would otherwise have been on the market, because they take it so long to research, you’ve killed several million people.

MR. WATTENBERG: Technology is advancing so rapidly, is it fair to say that at this point, given all the different players – foreign countries, states – it’s really impossible to stop it?
To turn the spigot and say we’re – we’re not going to do stem cell research...

MR. BAILEY: Right.

MR. WATTENBERG: ...or whatever the case may be. I mean it – it’s here.

MR. BAILEY: Right. I – I think that you’re absolutely right. The internationalization of scientific research means that the United States is no longer at the center.

MR. WATTENBERG: And the separation of powers within the United States: Massachusetts, New – New Jersey, you had mentioned California...

MR. BAILEY: Right.

MR. WATTENBERG: ...have spe -- are spending many millions of dollars But you have so many players...

MR. BAILEY: Right.

MR. WATTENBERG: ... that you can’t stop it anymore.

MR. BAILEY: I think we can’t stop it. And the good news about that, by the way, is I think that, for example, the example of stem cell research, what will happen is at the moment – the moment that some South Korean stands up and walks again, who’s had a broken back, because of stem cell research – that moment, the debate is over in the United States. The public in the United States...

MR. WATTENBERG: We...

MR. BAILEY: ...pragmatic Americans are going to say, “Why can’t we have that?”

MR. WATTENBERG: Yeah, I mean, so much of what has happened that was so controversial – at one moment – in vitro fertilization being one of the -- one of them, is now not only being – is now not only commonplace, but you have people talking about the – you know, all the different methods of A, B, C and D at the dinner table, which, you know, 30, 40 years ago was, you know, off...

MR. BAILEY: Shameful.

MR. WATTENBERG: ...off the dinner table – off the table.

MR. BAILEY: Right. There was a – a survey in 1968 that was done that basically found – 1968, found that 67 percent of the American public believed that the creation of test tube was against God’s will.

MR. WATTENBERG: Right.

MR. BAILEY: Ten years later, in 1978, after the birth of the first test tube baby in Great Britain – not the...

MR. WATTENBERG: Right. Right.

MR. BAILEY: ...United States. It had been essentially illegal in the United States. Over – over two thirds of the public said, “It’s a good idea.”

MR. WATTENBERG: Right.

MR. BAILEY: So, in just a decade, the public changed its mind.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay.

MR. BAILEY: And I think it’ll happen for a lot of these technologies.

MR. WATTENBERG: Alright. Some opponents of biotech say that it will increase inequality, making rich people have an even further advantage over poor people, that a – a rich man or a rich woman might create a perfect clone of himself or herself, store it somewhere in the garage and use those body parts for themselves, avoiding any possible – possibility of rejection.

MR. BAILEY: Like all technologies, it’ll become cheaper, and what will happen is – is that poor people will be able to give the genes for beneficial qualities to their children the way that already the rich people give beneficial help to their children.
So, for example, you might be able to help – a poor person might be able to help their children to have a stronger body, or a stronger immune system, or – or a more clever brain over time. And, in fact, I think that you’ll reduce inequalities. There might be some opening for it at the beginning, but as one person’s quipped about it, this is – biotechnology is, in fact, probably a technology where the rich are going to be the expendable subjects for the first time in history.

MR. WATTENBERG: What about using biotech as a weapon of terror? We – we had this big scare. In fact, it’s never been solved, to my knowledge, about enhanced anthrax powder. Is this dis -- I mean can the bad guys, the – the terrorists of the world use these things that you think are so good?

MR. BAILEY: Well, all technologies can be misused, and biotech is no different than that. But I do think that your viewers have to keep in mind something interesting. I hope it’s interesting, anyway. The fact of the matter is – is that five people died in a bioterror attack in the United States, whereas 3,000 people died when a plane...

MR. WATTENBERG: Yes, but it...

MR. BAILEY: ... a building.

MR. WATTENBERG: ...could be – it could be 10 million also.

MR. BAILEY: Well, no. That’s what people say. I think it’s a lot more difficult than that. But there interesting thing is that the – the – what happens – to protect yourself against a large terror attack, what you want is a robust biotech industry moving forward be - in order to come up with vaccines quickly, or other med – anti-virals quickly, who come up with diagnostics quickly. If we clamp down in the name of security, if we slow down the industry, I think we make ourselves more – more vulnerable to attack rather than less vulnerable to attack.

MR. WATTENBERG: Last question before we get out: hasn’t all this – this series of symbolic arguments – it’s really become part of what is loosely called the “culture war” in America. You – you buy that?

MR. BAILEY: I – I think that you’re right, that the culture war has now, unfortunately, invaded science; and – and it’s going to be there for a while. I – I actually foresee the – the politics is going, in the future – the twenty-first century — politics is going to be around these scientific issues for the foreseeable future. It’s going to be a terrible battle where both the left and the right, who are anti-technology and anti-research, are going to join together against people who are in favor of scientific progress, and we’re going to see some terrible, terrible battles in the future.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Ron Bailey, on that note we have to stop. Thank you for joining us on “Think Tank,” on part two of our discussion on science and technology.

MR. BAILEY: Thank you.

MR. WATTENBERG: And thank you. Please, remember to send us your comments via e-mail. We think it makes our program better. For “Think Tank,” I’m Ben Wattenberg.

MR. WATTENBERG: Thanks, Ron Bailey, we’ll leave it at that for now and pick it up on a subsequent episode. And thank you. Please, remember to send us your comments via e-mail. We think it makes our program better. For “Think Tank,” I’m Ben Wattenberg.

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Funding for Think Tank is provided by...

(Pfizer) At Pfizer, we’re spending over five billion dollars looking for the cures of the future. We have 12,000 scientists and health experts who firmly believe the only thing incurable is our passion. Pfizer, life is our life’s work.

Additional funding is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.


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