The war on science The following are excerpts from a commencement address Thursday by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to graduates of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

May 30, 2006

Each one of you has had two important principles deeply embedded in you through your association with this amazing institution: an unwavering allegiance to the power of science and a profound commitment to use that power to help people. And this is a good thing, because now more than ever, these two fundamental concepts are being ignored, or are under attack.

Today, we are seeing hundreds of years of scientific discovery being challenged by people who simply disregard facts that don't happen to agree with their agendas. Some call it "pseudo-science," others call it "faith-based science," but when you notice where this negligence tends to take place, you might as well call it "political science."

You can see "political science" at work when it comes to global warming. Despite near-unanimity in the science community, there's now a movement - driven by ideology and short-term economics - to ignore the evidence and discredit the reality of climate change.

You can see "political science" at work with respect to stem cell research. Despite its potential, the federal government has restricted funding for creating new cell lines - putting the burden of any future research squarely on the shoulders of the private sector. Government's most basic responsibility, however, is the health and welfare of its people, so it has a duty to encourage appropriate scientific investigations that could possibly save the lives of millions.

"Political science" knows no limits. Was there anything more inappropriate than watching political science try to override medical science in the Terri Schiavo case?

And it boggles the mind that nearly two centuries after Darwin, and 80 years after John Scopes was put on trial, this country is still debating the validity of evolution. In Kansas, Mississippi and elsewhere, school districts are now proposing to teach "intelligent design" - which is really just creationism by another name - in science classes alongside evolution.

Think about it! This not only devalues science, it cheapens theology. As well as condemning these students to an inferior education, it ultimately hurts their professional opportunities.

Hopkins' motto is Veritas vos liberabit - "the truth shall set you free" - not that "you shall be free to set the truth." I've always wondered which science those legislators who create their own truths pick when their families need lifesaving medical treatment.

There's no question: Science - the very core of what you have been living and breathing these past several years - is being sorely tested.

If you think about it, the cardinal rule of medicine - "Do no harm" - really aims too low. To improve health means being rigorous, being inquisitive, keeping up to date with scientific progress and always pursuing the truth. It also means thinking beyond just medicine, and addressing the broader social, political and economic issues that affect health: housing, education, discrimination and, most of all, poverty.

Addressing these issues will increase access to care and improve patient outcomes, but there's no doubt it will take courage and strong leadership to make society confront them.

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