Not all policy can be rooted in science because science is not an all-encompassing discipline…unless you include the “soft sciences” like psychology, sociology, theology, economics, and political science, which are much more difficult to apply in an objective way.
But where it makes sense, we should take advantage of modern science, and use its findings to guide policy…at least in cases where we can be sure that the science is properly done and not falsified or politicized.
But we should not use science as a bludgeon either. Very few people are “anti-science”…indeed, sometimes the people accused of being “anti-science” are more scientifically literate than the people who are accusing them.
U.S. policy should move steadily toward reducing carbon emissions, but there is no need to do so rashly or on technically and economically unfeasible timelines. Further details are available on the climate change page.
Gender and Sex
There is no question about the science of sex. This is basic biology. If you have XX chromosomes, you are female. If you have XY chromosomes, you are male. A very small percentage of people have chromosomal disorders and may be categorized as intersex, so there is some question of how to deal with that in our government record keeping…but, as a general rule, public and medical records (and other pubic actions) should reflect biological reality.
Some people who are not intersex identify as transgender — meaning, they believe that their gender (i.e., their identity) does not align with their determinable sex (i.e., their biology). This is no different than if somebody believes they are nonhuman, or believes they are a famous historical figure, or believes they are overweight when they are in fact dangerously skinny. These kinds of mental illnesses are nothing new, and those who suffer with them deserve love, respect, and proper mental health treatment.
The government must not unfairly discriminate against people who identify as transgender. But it does have a duty to keep accurate records. There are also some cases — like military recruitment — where this and other mental illnesses may be disqualifications for legitimate reasons. And the rights of a transgender individual must be weighed properly against the rights of others when it comes to things like bathroom and locker room access in public schools and other facilities.
Generally, people can do whatever they want. They have a right to bodily autonomy, which is one of their liberty rights. They can adopt whatever stereotypical masculine or feminine traits they like. But these rights impose no duties upon others. Remember the definition of rights. Nobody else is required to indulge you (beyond simple tolerance). And no individual may be required by law to assert as fact something they believe to be false.
In the rare cases where governments must take a stand — such as in the issuance of birth certificates — it must always side with the facts.
The right to life is the first human right, and it begins when life begins. In ancient times it was difficult or impossible to know with certainty when life began, although most religious and cultural traditions settled on either conception or the “quickening” (the first time the child’s movement can be felt by the mother).
But modern science has settled this question definitively. Each human being’s life begins at conception. The sperm and egg fuse and a new human being is created. He or she has a unique DNA pattern, and that person’s body begins to rapidly grow and develop according to its own genetic blueprint.
This is no longer a subject where there can be debate. The facts are in. The science is settled. The evidence is irrefutable. We know when life begins. The only remaining question is when human life is worthy of legal protection, and that is a question that gets into natural law and philosophy (see “What Are Human Rights?” and “The First Right: Life“).
Any government that starts getting into making determinations about which human beings have rights and which don’t is getting into very dangerous territory. Every human being has human rights…from the very beginning to the very end.
Let’s start with a really, really simple statement:
Vaccines are good.
I am mystified by people who dispute this. Vaccination is one of the most important scientific developments in the modern age. It has saved literally millions of lives. And there is a legitimate government interest — at least at the state and local levels — in strongly encouraging that children be vaccinated against potentially deadly diseases. Doing so helps protect the life and health of other citizens.
And yet, it is not that simple. The liberty rights include the right to bodily autonomy, and the right of parents to choose how to care for their children without undue interference from government. Nobody has the right to force you to take a medicine or a vaccine. Nobody has the right to force you to give them to your children either, except in certain extreme cases where failure to do so constitutes abuse or neglect.
I want to reiterate that I think every parent should give their children the proper, recommended vaccinations. The reasons that most anti-vaccination parents give for their choices are usually verifiably wrong. Vaccines do not cause autism, for example. This has been proven time and time again through well-crafted and reproducible studies.
And yet, we are getting into a strange and dangerous place when we start using the government to force people to put things in their or their children’s bodies against their will, even when we [think we] know that it is what’s best for them.
There are two reasonable arguments in favor of forced vaccination programs.
First, the government does have a valid interest in protecting children from abuse and neglect by their caretakers…and it can be argued that failing to vaccinate a child is a form of neglect. This is a bit of a stretch though. It’s not the same as withholding food or water or necessary medicine. There is a difference between something that is required and something that is beneficial. For example, a parent is not neglecting their child by driving an older car with fewer safety features, even though it might be better for them to get a newer car.
Second, a child who is not vaccinated (for non-medical reasons) may pose an unnecessary risk to children and adults who cannot be vaccinated against some particular disease, or have a suppressed immune system due to illness or medical treatments. It might be appropriate for this reason to prohibit unvaccinated children from attending public schools, from visiting medical facilities without taking special precautions, and so on…especially during outbreaks. But even this sort of restriction must be used sparingly and only when there is an overwhelming public health need.
There is a moral difference here between positive, intentional action as opposed to unintentional action or simple inaction. I have no right to shoot you (except in legitimate self defense). That’s an active, intentional, unjust act. But if you are sickened or killed by a disease I carry, that is no such thing. Even if I have not taken reasonable steps to keep myself healthy (e.g., washing my hands, getting vaccinated) I’m still not morally or legally responsible for the actions of the microscopic organisms I may carry. And I have not forfeited my human rights even if I have used them stupidly.
So while vaccination is a great public good, the government doesn’t have the authority to force you to do it, or to do it to your children except in very limited circumstances. People have the right to make poor decisions. That’s freedom.