June 25, 2004
Reductio ad absurdum

Today's Seattle Times had an editorial in which I had a problem with their reasoning. The subject was on stem-cell research, and the president's splitting-the-difference approach to the controversy. While I agree with the paper's position (I am in favor of allowing research) the editors made a rather fatuous statement that I could not let pass:

Bush hoped his 2001 decision to allow federal funds to be used on existing stem-cell lines would end the debate. He attempted to carve an imaginary middle line in our country's politics. .

For people suffering a variety of ailments, there is no middle ground. Federal funding of research on a broader supply of stem cells should proceed in earnest.

Actually, he found a middle ground between those who favor unrestricted research and those who oppose any research at all. There's no "imaginary" about it. By tying it to those who are depending on research that may or may not cure them, the paper is assuming that only wholesale research will find cures.

By extension, the paper's argument could be extended to any controversy, with the only valid views to be the extremes. Think of abortion—one is either in favor of unrestricted abortion on demand, or one is opposed to abortion in any case. Gun control can be reduced to no laws versus no guns. By dismissing Bush's (perhaps overly) nuanced position, the Times' editorial staff misses the point that many people are ambivalent about research on living, human cells. One does not need to agree with his views to recognize that Bush has staked out a position that is internally consistent and defensible.

posted on June 25, 2004 07:40 PM


It's the classic fallicy that the media always preys upon. Rarely does the media acknowledge that there is middle-ground on anything. It's black or white, good or bad, all or none... I guess middle of the road ideas are too mundane, so why not cover the extremes. They're much more interesting anyway.
As far as stem-cell research, the country is not cut and dry. In fact the average citizen doesn't give a rat's ass about an all-or-none concept (just like abortion). President Bush was good to take the stance he did, and yet the media plays it against extremes. They can ping him against either side (all-or-none) and make his stance look bad, depending on what sort of picture they're looking to take. So I guess... Take it with a grain of salt. Today's media isn't much more than entertainment with some well manipulated facts tossed in anyway.

posted by arclightzero on June 27, 2004 09:30 AM

Actually, it wasn't a "cut down the middle" at all.

He never opposed stem cell research (and nor do I), he opposed growing human embryos to be harvested like guinea pigs.

So his position was perfectly logical and principled.

posted by Misha I on June 27, 2004 10:30 PM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?

Back to Horologium