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'Respected ethicists' say three-parent babies are OK. But on what basis?

A 12-memher panel of "ethicists" assembled by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has released a 164-page report that says that it's OK to artificially tinker with the human genome in order to create babies with three parents.

Excuse me, but says who? Precisely why should we take these people as experts on ethics? What are their values? By what are they informed? Whatever letters they may have after their name, and whoever may "respect" them, why should anybody take them as authorities on ethics? And most importantly, what are their arguments? Maybe they're right. But if they are believed, it ought to be on the basis of their reasoning, not on the basis of their resumes.

As anybody from a "blended family" knows,  when the number of parental figures grows, things get complicated. All sorts of emotional and attachment issues arise. We have some long discussing to do as a society before we start doing something so potentially confusing to children as introducing biological third parents who may or may not be part of their family structure. Adopted kids often have identity issues. How much more potential is there for confusion when kids are in fact the children of their mother and father, or father and father, or mother and mother, but of other people, too? Seems to me that we may be creating a whole bunch of new problems for children who already have enough growing up in today's society.

It would be great if every such study could be read by the general public, who could thus be helped in assessing the reliability of such recommendations. But that's not going to happen. So help us out a little, guys.

The Cult of the Expert- the appeal to what logic calls the "ipse dixit" fallacy- is a prominent feature of our contemporary society. If scientists say something, it must be so, we're told. They're scientists, for crying out loud.

But there's a reason why the appeal to authority is considered a logical fallacy. Nobody, no matter how impressive their credentials, is entitled to be believed simply on the basis of their credentials and references. In the hard sciences, they have to back up their conclusions with data. Even here, in the realm of objective fact, we're experiencing something of a breakdown in the process of deciding what is and is not true. Peer review is supposed to weed out biases and bad methodology. But what if the majority of experts in a given field share the same bias for sociological or political or other reasons affecting their worldview? What if a scholar's peers can't see his bias because they themselves share it? What if they don't detect her bad methodology because her conclusions confirm what they subjectively believe ought to be true?

The widespread dissent from scientific orthodoxy on global warming is caused by just such a widespread distrust of the ability of climatologists to transcend their political and attitudinal biases or to detect those of colleagues who share them. When questions are asked, the response is generally similar to Ring Lardner's famous phrase: "'Shut up,' he explained."

Sorry, but "you're stupid isn't an argument. And intelligent people who want to do something other than merely taking "experts" at their word deserve better.

The same dynamic operates in other controversial areas. A widespread currency has been given studies supposedly establishing that no harm comes to children raised in households in which both parents are of the same gender, even though parallel studies show that difficulties in relating to the opposite sex occur when children are raised by single parents of their own gender! One would think, therefore, that a girl raised by a single mother and lesbian parents ought to face similar problems in learning to relate to men. But apparently not. And demonstrable flaws in the studies on same-sex parenting and other politically and socially volatile issues are often overlooked when their conclusions support the attitudes of those with the responsibility for peer review.  On the other hand, scientists are often quick to pounce on comparable flaws in studies whose conclusions they dislike.

We live in an age of information glut. It's understandable, I suppose, that the temptation to abdicate our responsibility to use our intellects and simply believe "the experts" should be acute. But the problem is that there's no objective reason to believe that the experts are right- that what they are advancing is prudently considered science as opposed to mutually-reinforcing groupthink.

How much more so is this true in a field as subjective as ethics? Again, I ask: why should we take what these ethicists say seriously? Surely not simply because they're "experts," and ought to know. Before the slightest credence is given to this report by anybody, it ought to be read. The assumptions and biases and worldview of its authors need to be scrutinized, along with their logic.

And somehow, I have a strong hunch that rather than being reassured by information about the biases and assumptions of this panel, a great many of us would find them troubling- and their similarities to the biases and assumptions of the other members of the panel even more so.

"Respected panels of experts" simply ought not to be believed. Reasoned arguments should be. But the opportunity for most of us to do that is limited.

So maybe rather than being told that a panel of "respected experts" has reached this conclusion, we ought to be told by what logic they reached it. Funny, but such information can't be found in the article.

HT: Drudge

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