Over the last several months, an enormous amount has been said about how the United States is falling behind the rest of the world in science: endless newspaper editorials, chin-pulling on television talk-shows, widely publicized demands for legislative action.
After the scandals of faked science in South Korea, the evidence that the nation is falling behind remains less than overwhelming. When Time magazine emblazoned "Is America Flunking Science?" on its cover this month, the columnist Charles Krauthammer responded, "You can pick your statistics. Mine are that the U.S. leads the world by an immense margin in just about every measure of intellectual and technological achievement: Ph.D.s, patents, peer-reviewed articles, Nobel Prizes....The economy follows culture, and American culture is today, as ever, uniquely suited for growth, innovation and advancement."
Much of this is doubtless the familiar bout of worry that comes upon us every few years ever since the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957and so President Bush called in this year's State of the Union address for an extra $136 billion in science education over the next ten years.
But some of it is the sharp end of politics, and this is a worry, for like the brouhaha about evolution, the nation's ostensibly failing grade in science is yet another stick with which to beat the pro-lifers who oppose creating embryos for stem-cell research.
The Democrats have clearly thought for some time that stem-cells are a winner for them. At the 2004 convention in Boston, the word "abortion" was never spoken from the rostrumbut nearly every speaker railed against the Republicans on embryonic stem cells. Now the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is arguing that "stem-cell research could define" the 2006 races. The Republicans are "at odds" with their electorates, and "2006 could bring George Bush's first veto" if Congress passes embryonic stem-cell funding.
Even here, the evidence is not overwhelming. But Senator Jim Talent, facing a hard race in Missouri, has bought the line that stem-cells are a loser for Republicans and recently withdrew his support from a bill that would have banned cloning. It's hard to say how much of the media push about America's failing grade in science is driven by the attempt to set up the pro-lifers for a political fall. Too much, I'm afraid.
When the large alternative newspaper the NY Press killed at the last minute its feature on the Danish cartoons about Mohammadwhich was illustrated, reasonably enough, by the cartoons themselvesmost of the editorial staff resigned in protest. This was big news here in New York, particularly when the New York Times illustrated its own piece on the cartoons with the Brooklyn Museum's painting of the Blessed Virgin splattered with elephant dung, on the grounds thatum, well, on no grounds really, except the manifest fact that Catholics wouldn't come burn the Times down and Muslims just might.
One of the editors who resigned was the arts editor, a playwright named Jonathan Leaf. The New Partisan has now published the column he wrote for the killed issue of the NY Press, and it's worth a read. Jonathan writes:
Back when the so-called "Temple Mount" incident was taking place in 2000, Western reporters credulously repeated Palestinian claims that the Arab violence that followed Ariel Sharon's decision to visit a disputed part of the Wailing Wall arose from sheer emotion. It was only later, when Palestinian leaders themselves admitted that the event was simply a handy excuse and that the terrorist campaigns they set forward were planned far in advance, that this explanation proved "inoperable."
Similarly, Western reporters parroted claims that there was unprompted rioting in Pakistan in response to the false reports that a Koran had been flushed down a toilet at Guantanamo. It was only afterwards that it became clear that these protests were not spontaneous at all.
In the most recent case, Arab newspapers not only re-printed the disputed images of Mohammed, they also deliberately chose to inflame the situation by including other, more objectionable images of the prophet which had not run, but were thrust forward by radical imams to inflame the situation. In a country where newspapers act at the behest of the ruling faction, it is hard to imagine that this was an independent action. More likely, those editors were doing what the editors of Egypt's official daily were when they claimed on their page one that U.S. food aid to Afghanistan was deliberately laced with poison to kill Afghani children. They were inciting hatred of the West on orders of government officials who sought a scapegoat for the afflictions undergone by a troubled nation and region.
Though he pulls no punches, Jonathan Leaf is in the end fairly mildconsistently distinguishing his dismay with particular Arab governments from any sort of general anti-Islamic charge. This is what required the owners of the NY Press to lose their editorial staff?
In addition to which:
Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth is the title of Father Neuhaus' new book. Avery Cardinal Dulles says of Catholic Matters:
"It would be difficult to find a guide so knowledgeable, so theologically astute, and so engaging as a writer. Father Neuhaus presents the 'high adventure' of a Catholic orthodoxy that stands firmly against the winds of adversity and confusion."
The book will be in the stores on February 27 and can be advance ordered from Amazon.