The technocratic imagination believes in a division of labor. Scientists determine the facts through objective research. Administrators and experts, who understand the science, then develop rational policy based on it. End of story.
Not in the real world, where both science and policy struggle to give meaningful answers to even the smallest of problems. Circumcision, for instance.
While some families circumcise their male children for religious reasons, others have done it on medical advice. Scientists are now increasingly divided over the practice; in the New York Times we can read that after years of regular circumcision, doubts about the procedure are growing:
Circumcision “is not necessary, it’s invasive and it’s risky,” said Georganne Chapin, executive director of Intact America, an advocacy group based in Tarrytown, N.Y., that opposes routine circumcision. She notes that the sensitive foreskin is laced with nerves and blood vessels and protects the head of the penis.
Yet public health officials are mulling whether to actively encourage neonatal circumcision as part of a long-term strategy to curb the spread of AIDS in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be releasing new recommendations on routine circumcision in the “near future,” a spokesman said.
The new recommendations will take into account data from clinical trials in South Africa, Kenya and Uganda, which found that adult men who were circumcised were less likely than those who were not to have been infected by an H.I.V.-positive female sex partner. Circumcision reduced their risk of infection between 55 percent and 76 percent over a two-year period.
Via Meadia has no position on this issue other than supporting the right of parents to make whatever decision they believe is in the best interest of the child whether for medical, religious or other reasons.
But we note that after thousands of years of experiment and discussion, the world still has trouble assessing the pros and cons of removing a scrap of flesh. This suggests that both the scientific uncertainty and the lack of policy consensus over the much more complex questions like climate change will be with us for some time.