Posted by: Dan | January 11, 2007

Libya, Science, and Human Values

Last week’s issue of Nature has an editorial on the “Tripoli Six” case, where a Libyan judge sentenced six international health care workers to death despite credible scientific evidence to their innocence. There’s been a lot of discussion on this case, and although human rights violations are unfortunately commonplace the world over, this one has drawn significant attention, specifically from the international science community. The role of science, and not merely politics, is at the heart of the outcry over this case, and a passage in the editorial about the role of science struck a cord with me:

It would be too simplistic to dismiss this entirely as anti-Western rhetoric. There is understandable resentment in many parts of the world that powerful nations are selective and inconsistent in their application of human rights. But the attention attracted by the Libyan scandal has been largely fuelled by the social conscience of what can in such instances be justifiably called the international scientific community — a force that is largely apolitical. It has a long track record in defending individuals on trial in human-rights cases, and has helped Arab and other scientists who have suffered travel restrictions to the United States (see Nature 443, 605–606;2006 doi:10.1038/443605b). It has also been relatively even-handed in its struggle to champion science as a rational means of establishing truth, and has consistently attacked the abuse of science for political ends wherever this occurs.

The horrible thing is that the current American leadership – abusive and self-serving – probably taints the issue. Afterall, in today’s world, politics trumps science and facts. So as impartial as the international scientific community may be, all Libyans (and other nations, on other topics) see is an external self-serving agenda. Let’s face it, the United States (and by association, the West in general) is no longer a defender of inalienable human rights.


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