Saturday, April 22, 2017

The March For (At Least Some Of) Science

“In a way, the worldview of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. By lack of understanding they remained sane. They simply swallowed everything, and what they swallowed did them no harm, because it left no residue behind, just as a grain of corn will pass undigested through the body of a bird.” (George Orwell, 1984)
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The March For Science, according to various news article I have read, was focused on the value of evidence-based science, an enterprise that is apparently under fire. I suspect this is mostly a political broadside against President Trump, specifically when it comes to global warming,vaccines, and alternative theories to evolution.

Now, I am a fan of both science and evidence. Though the march is largely symbolic and baldly political, I don’t think anyone actually thinks the theoretical framework of the march is problematic (“Boo evidence and science! Stop learning stuff!"). However, the march seemed to me to be somewhat naive and far too narrowly focused.
I say 'naive' because it ignores all the times evidence-based science has gone wrong. Google “scientific mistakes” or “when science is wrong” and do a little research. Read Michael Crichton’s blistering critique of modern science, “Aliens Cause Global Warming.”  Science is a noble enterprise that has accomplished astonishing things, but imperfect people do imperfect science. It’s a bad altar at which to bow - and that's kind of what the fawning news articles implied. Praise for the accomplishments of science is definitely merited, but some humble moderation isn't a bad idea. 

I say 'narrow' because this march should be leading to a much broader discussion about the dangers of rejecting evidence-based science. If you are going to march for evidence-based science, march for it. Just march for all of it. I already mentioned a few topics that kept popping up in the articles I read. Those are all worth viewing and discussing using the merits of the evidence we have; however, some other issues come to mind in which our culture blatantly overlooks, ignores, or disregards clear evidence-based science. Those two issues involve the humanity of the unborn and the reality of biological sex.


In the case of the unborn, science and biology bringing clarity to the question of life. There is a clear consensus that human life begins at conception.
  • "It is the penetration of the ovum by a spermatozoan and resultant mingling of the nuclear material that each brings to the union that constitutes the culmination of the process of fertilization and marks the initiation of the life of a new individual." (Bradley M. Patten, Human Embryology, 3rd ed., New York: McGraw Hill, 1968, page 43.)
  • "Every time a sperm cell and ovum unite a new being is created which is alive and will continue to live unless its death is brought about by some specific condition." (E. L. Potter and J. M. Craig, Pathology of the Fetus and the Infant, 3rd ed., Chicago: Year Book Medical Publishers, 1975, page vii.)
  • The beginning of a single human life is from a biological point of view a simple and straightforward matter - the beginning is conception."  (Subcommittee on Separation of Powers to Senate Judiciary Committee S-158, Report, 97th Congress, 1st Session, 1981.)
  • "Physicians, biologists, and other scientists agree that conception marks the beginning of the life of a human being - a being that is alive and is a member of the human species. There is overwhelming agreement on this point in countless medical, biological, and scientific writings." (Subcommittee on Separation of Powers, Ibid.) 
  • “The science of embryology is clear. From the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. Therefore, every ‘successful’ abortion ends the life of a living human being.” (Scott Klusendorf, The Case for Life, Crossway Books, 2009, p. 35.)
  • “Although life is a continuous process, fertilization (which, incidentally, is not a ‘moment’) is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte.” (Ronan O’Rahilly and Fabiola Muller, Human Embryology and Teratology, 3rd ed., New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001, p.8.)
  • “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo).” (Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th ed., Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003, p.2.)
  • “It is possible to give ‘human being’ a precise meaning. We can use it as equivalent to ‘member of the species Homo sapiens.’ Whether a being is a member of a given species is something that can be determined scientifically, by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms. In this sense there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being.” (Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp.85-86.)
  • Dr. Warren Hern, author of Abortion Practice, told Planned Parenthood: “We have reached a point in this particular technology [D&E abortion] where there is no possibility of denying an act of destruction. It is before one’s eyes. The sensations of dismemberment flow through the forceps like an electric current.”
  • In 1970, an editorial in California Medicine noted: “Since the old ethic has not yet been fully displaced it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra-or extra-uterine until death. The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices. It is suggested that this schizophrenic sort of subterfuge is necessary because while a new ethic is being accepted the old one has not yet been rejected.” 
  • Former Planned Parenthood President Dr. Alan Guttmacher was perplexed that anyone would question these basic scientific facts. "This all seems so simple and evident that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn't part of the common knowledge," he wrote in his book Life in the Making. (A. Guttmacher, Life in the Making: The Story of Human Procreation, New York: Viking Press, 1933, p. 3.)
  • A Planned Parenthood brochure in 1963 noted, “Abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun.  It is dangerous to your life and health.”
  • Faye Wattleton, the longest reigning president Planned Parenthood, told Ms. Magazine: “I think we have deluded ourselves into believing that people don't know that abortion is killing. So any pretense that abortion is not killing is a signal of our ambivalence, a signal that we cannot say yes, it kills a fetus.”
  • Bernard Nathanson co-founder of NARAL, in an article for the New England Journal of Medicine in 1974: "There is no longer serious doubt in my mind that human life exists within the womb from the very onset of pregnancy..."
We see in biogenesis that species reproduce after their own kinds. A human being cannot be pregnant with anything other than another human being. Another way of thinking of this is asking the question: Were you ever not you? Of course not. If you were to walk backward through your life history, you would walk back to the moment of your conception. An embryo is what a human being is at that stage of development. During the span of our life we are at times functionally different - we have different abilities to express our utility -  but we are never ontologically different. As philosopher and ethicist Teresa Iglesias has noted in "What Does It Mean To Be Human"
"The kind of life that a zygote or an embryo has, because of the power it actually possesses is personal power, is personal life, the life of a personal being. By this inner power the zygote turns into the adult person. And clearly, the presence of personal powers must be attributed to a personal subject, they belong to someone, they are of someone, they are of a personal being."
Even Peter Singer agrees with this. Singer, an ethicist at Princeton who is by no means pro-life, wrote in his book Practical Ethics: “The liberal search for a morally crucial dividing line between the newborn baby and the fetus has failed to yield any event or stage of development that can bear the weight of separating those with a right to life from those who lack such a right.” 


"The biologic character or quality that distinguishes male and female from one another as expressed by analysis of the person's gonadal, morphologic (internal and external), chromosomal, and hormonal characteristics."  
"A distinctive character of most animals and plants, based on the type of gametes produced by the gonads, ova (macrogametes) being typical of the female, and spermatozoa (microgametes) of the male, or the category in which the individual is placed on such basis."  
"The biologic character or quality that distinguishes male and female from one another as expressed by analysis of the individual's gonadal, morphologic (internal and external), chromosomal, and hormonal characteristics."  
"Biological quality distinguishing male and female, expressed by the presence of two X (i.e. female) or X + Y (i.e. male) chromosomes."  
 "A classification of an individual as male or female on the basis of anatomic, functional,hormonal, and chromosomal characteristics."
  • anatomic (genotype), a classification of sex based on the sexual differentiation of the primary gonads.
  • chromosomal - the chromosomal characteristics involving normally 44 somatic and 2 sex chromosomes, the latter designated as XX for the normal female and XY for the normal male. The presence of the Y chromosome is associated with a male phenotype and its absence with a phenotypic female. The chromosomes responsible for sex classification–XX for female, XY for male.
  • functional (phenotype) - the designation of sex based on the state of maturation and potential for use of the external genitalia.
  • hormonal - a contributory assignment of sex on the basis of adequate levels of estrogen and androgen for the development of typical phenotypic secondary sex characteristics. 
  • nuclear - the sex determination based on the presence or absence of the hyperchromatic nucleolar satellite in squamous cells from a buccal mucosa smear or of “drumsticks” in the polymorphonuclear neutrophil. Positives are normally seen in the female. 
People are born with a particular biological reality that is assigned by one's chromosomes, not the doctor. The evidence-based science is clear on this point. Obviously, some people feel that their gender does not align with their sex. Many go to great lengths to change their appearance to align with their self-identity. Increasingly, our society says that this existential self-identity and the accompanying transformations are more important than the biological reality with which one was born. 

This, however, flies in the face of evidence-based science. “You’re never changing the sex of the patient” when so-called sex-change surgeries happen, says Quentin Van Meter, a pediatric endocrinologist. “Every cell in the body is programmed to be male or female.” The label "MtF" or "FtM" is a physical impossibility. One's expression of gender identification may change; one's sex never can.

This is why a transgendered boy racing in girl's track or wrestling in a girl's program or playing volleyball on a girl's team is a problem. He is not transsexed. We want to believe that changing the exterior will change who he fundamentally is, but it does not. It just changes how he looks. Even if we want to say that they are all women based on an arbitrary and impermanent socially constructed standard of what it means to be feminine (or so the claim of gender goes), each one of these athletes is a male competing against females, and there is nothing that will change that fact. 

Now, if someone is of the mindset that self-identity matters more than biology or that gender identification should trump biological identification, they are free to choose that course. My point has nothing to do with their personal character, motivation, or personality. My point is that this is not a perception that can in any way be at peace with evidence-based science.  Individuals are free to create their own internal worlds, but that does not mean the external world must adjust. It can’t. It's kind of stuck being what it is.

A strange-but-true example printed in The Guardian may help to highlight why reality must be observed. The article is about a small group of gay men who masquerade as and even identify as puppies.  
Kaz [a young man], another pup, argues that for some, being a puppy isn’t just a fun mask to try on – it’s how they identify; it’s who they are. “Even when I worked in PC World I would sometimes walk up to people and nip at their shirt,” he says, laughing. “I got in trouble once; someone walked into the PC repair centre and I had part of their dad’s computer in my mouth. But the other staff knew I was like that to everyone. They didn’t find it weird.” For Kaz, pup play can be summed up in the phrase: “Be dog”. He will socialise as a pack, enjoy physical closeness with other pups and always eats out of a dog bowl at home. “It’s just nice, it makes me feel comfortable,” he explains, before adding “But I always eat with a knife and fork and at a table. Otherwise it’s time-consuming and you can’t watch TV…” 
Whether we see it as a kink, an identity, a reaction to an early experience, a form of escapism or a fetish, the main thing, says Tom, is that we see it at all; that we know it’s there and accept it. “It feels like you can be gay, straight, bisexual, trans and be accepted,” he says. “All I want is for the pup community to be accepted in the same way. We’re not trying to cause grief to the public, or cause grief to relationships. We’re just the same as any other person on the high street.”
Are they pups or not? No, they are not, even if they believe they are and if they modify their appearance and actions to make it seem like they are. Are otherkin or furries animals or people? They are people, even if they believe they are and if they modify their appearance and actions to make it seem like they are. Are men like Stefoknee a different age than they actually are (Age Dysphoria, or Age Identity Dysphoria)? Are people able to choose their ethnic background simply by identifying as having an ethnic background different than their actual one? Should people with Body Identity Disorder be encouraged to amputate perfectly healthy limbs because they identify as transabled? The answer to all of these is, of course, no.

A Norwegian woman thinks she is a cat; another is convinced she’s a dragon (you can watch a documentary on this phenomenon here). Vinny Ohh is changing his body to match his self-perception of being a genderless alien. Some think they are vampires, and not everyone is convinced they should be told differently. A few even think they are dead (Cotard's Syndrome)Are they any of those things? No, they are not, even if they believe they are, and even if they modify their appearance and actions to make it appear as if they are. 

Reality does not adjust because of what we think. Reality just is.

If we are going to align our thinking and public policy with what physical phenomenon can be determined with credible certainty through the methods of science, let’s do it. I'm not anti-science. It sounds like a great idea. Let’s just be sure we do it fairly and consistently. And let's not prostrate ourselves at the feet of our vaunted scientific saviors. They, too, have feet of clay.