Reality-based conservatism

Junk science and its opponents in the Schiavo case

The American Council on Science and Health is an industry-funded group devoted to criticizing what it calls “junk science” in environmental and health-care research, e.g. by arguing that most “carcinogens” aren’t actually carcinogenic. It’s a solid part of the new conservative establishment. Yet ACSH has issued a blistering statment on the Schiavo case. In addition to criticizing Sen. Dr. Frist for making a diagnosis based on home movies, the statement lays out the medical facts of the case in blunt language:

Brain scans indicate that her cerebral cortex ceased functioning — probably just after she experienced cardiac arrest in 1990. Ms. Schiavo’s CAT scan shows massive shrinking of the brain, and her EEG is flat. Physicians confirm that there is no electrical activity coming from her brain. While the family video repeatedly shown on television suggests otherwise, her non-functioning cortex precludes cognition, including any ability to interact or communicate with people or show any signs of awareness. Dozens of experts over the years who have examined Ms. Schiavo agree that there is no hope of her recovering — even though her body, face and eyes (if she is given food and hydration) might continue to move for decades to come.

The statement concludes:

Let’s call tripe when tripe is served. All of us are entitled to our own personal views on the Schiavo case, what her fate should be, and who should make decisions for her. But all of us should be united in rejecting politically-generated junk science.

This really is a case of faith-based vs. reality-based approaches to thinking and acting. I’m delighted to see Glenn Reynolds on the reality-based side.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: