Indirect way to block stem cell research
The New York Times has an article about stem cell research in Missouri, and some of the difficulties that scientists currently face there.
Just some background: Missouri has very strict abortion regulations and a vocal population objecting to stem cell research. Nevertheless, the state passed an amendment that allowed for expansion of stem cell research, with the backing of the Republican governor Matt Blunt. He recognized the importance of scientific inquiry. Or at least the economic importance of having a major scientific laboratory choose Kansas City, Missouri over Kansas City, Kansas.
Quite simply, the Missouri initiative says that any federally allowed stem cell research must be allowed in Missouri. The state legislature was moving to block this, so citizens of the state made a move to get it on the ballot.
Still, there have been problems. The lab in KC is cutting back on its building project, due to the negative atmosphere. More troubling, certain legislators have blocked building funds for the University of Missouri in Columbia:
A few months ago, the University of Missouri, in Columbia, lost some $85 million in state money for a new research facility. University officials said the facility was not intended for stem cell research, but opponents of the research blocked the financing anyway, suggesting that the constitutional amendment would make it possible down the road.
“For a bright shining moment in time, we were moving ahead as a state to protect research,” said Senator Chuck Graham, Democrat of Columbia. “But now the other side wants to walk away, not only from stem cell research, but all research. Their attitude now is, if there’s a beaker or a Petri dish involved, we’re not going to fund it.”
What concerns me is not the discussion of whether or not stem cell research is acceptable (it should be, but that's not my point). Instead, I'm concerned by the cavalier attitude of state legislators towards the state's only publicly funded Research I university.* The legislators blocked financing because they have a feeling that this building - not currently dedicated to stem cell research - might, just might, house such research in the future.
I understand the need to oversee public universities (only very begrudingly, mind you). But this goes above and beyond that. This was a project that, to the best of my knowledge, had been previously budgeted. Once this amendment passed, however, the legislators decided the punish the University of Missouri for it (Columbia is probably the most liberal city in the state ... and Columbia's Chuck Graham was one of the biggest proponents of the amendment. But that's my speculation). This is an effort to curtail legal research at a research university -- is this a breach of academic freedom? Certainly, the scientists at Missouri can raise funds through grants, but those really only outfit labs and pay salaries. Clearly, Chuck Graham implies the anti-science attitude in the state.
I was disappointed when I heard about this some time ago, but I'm glad that it's in The New York Times this morning.
*Washington University in St. Louis is also a RI insitution, but it is private. Several of the other Universities around the state, including the University of Missouri-Kansas City and others, are Research II institutions. I know that this is an older designation by the Carnegie Foundation, but it's good shorthand. And I still think in these terms.