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July 28, 2008 - Image 5

Resource type:
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Publication:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2008-07-28

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Monday, July 28, 2008
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

5

ELAINE MORTON I NATURE CALLS
E-MAIL MORTON AT EMORT@UMICH.EDU

Speeding up science

6bD

Hey check 11i~5hI
ou M

Steal Michigan Gov't Now!

You know a ballot initia-
tive is promising major
changes when it has an
exclamation
point in its
official name.
The Reform
Michigan
Government
Now! proposal
(assuming it
clears a few ROBERT
lingering legal SOAVE
hurdles) will
be on the ballot
this November, bringing with it a
storm of political changes.
The proposal is being marketed
as an antidote for bureaucracy, aim-
ingto reduce the size of the Michi-
gan Supreme Court and cut salaries
for elected 'officials among other
changes. Unfortunately, it now
appears that the proposal is actu-
ally a less-than-honorable attempt
by the Democratic Party to control
the state government without hav-
ing to win costly elections.
When I first heard about the pro-
posal, it had my support. It seemed
like Reform Michigan Government
Now! wanted to accomplish a won-
derful thing - shrinking the size
of the Michigan government. And
it was going to accomplish this by
taking the issue straight to the peo-
ple, via ballot initiative.
Choosing other people to run
our society for us is never some-
thing I advocate, and voting for
ballot initiatives seemed to me to
be preferable, at least theoretically.
They allow the people to make their
own choices, in the style of a true
direct democracy. They essentially
embrace a positive view of human
nature: If you believe as I do that
the average person is smart enough
to know what's best for himself or
herself, then it is difficult to deny
the allure of ballot initiatives.
And then my eyes were opened
a little wider to the realities of

Reform Michigan Government
Now!, and my faith in ballot initia-
tives has been shaken ever since.
Further inspection of the pro-
posal has revealed that it is likelyto
be a Democratic ployto grab power
in the state government. The dis-
covery was made by Jim Vote, an
intern working for the Mackinac
Center for Public Policy (a libertar-
ian think tank) who found a Pow-
erPoint presentation on the website
of the United Auto Workers Region
1C of Flint. The presentation mar-
keted the proposal as, "Changing
the rules of politics in Michigan to
help Democrats."
The bottom line of the presenta-
tion is thatthe Democrats will have
a hard time winningstate elections
in the near future. Their solu-
tion is to use this ballot initiative
to remove Republicans from the
judiciary. This way when matters
of legislative redistricting end up
before the courts, the Democrats
will have solid judicial majorities
to rule in their favor, gaining them
extra seats without the necessity of
winning elections.
Under the guise of eliminating
bureaucracy, the proposal will cut
the two most recent appointees
to the Supreme Court - both are
Republicans. The Court of Appeals
will lose eight judges - most of
them appointed by John Engler, a
former governor and Republican
- if the initiative passes. The cir-
cuit courts, however, would gain
ten judges to be appointed by the
governor, an office currently con-
trolled by the Democrats.
Slide 11 of the PowerPoint pre-
sentation sums up the approach
quite nicely: "In 2008, use the pub-
lic's very negative mood and high
level of discouragement about state
government ... to enact a ballot
proposal which comprehensively
reforms state government, includ-
ing changing structural objections
to Democratic control of govern-

ment in 2012-2021."
The truth of the matter seems to
be that stacking the court is simply
easier than winning elections. It's
even less expensive - advancing
the proposal only costs $4.9 mil-
lion, which is, as the presentation
points out, "less than half the cost
of trying to beat one incumbent
GOP Supreme Court Justice."
It's a shamethat the ballotinitia-
tive is actually so crooked because
some of its apparent goals are very
positive. As millions of people in
the state have suffered job loss
and salary cuts because of our dis-
mal economy, it is only fair for our
elected officials to share the pain.
But the ballot initiative has only
been padded with these salary cuts
in order to make the proposal more
appealingto voters - in hopes that
they will gloss over the parts about
removing "structural objections to
Democratic control."
Betrayed
by ballot
initiatives.
Reform Michigan Government
Now! has severely diminished my
affinity for ballot initiatives. In
order for them to work, their lan-
guage must match their content.
But the extent to which this ballot
initiative was able to conceal its
dishonorable intentions has raised
serious doubts in me as to whether
any ballot initiative can achieve
such clear language.
Robert Soave is a summer
associate editorial page
editor. He can be reached at
rsoave@umich.edu.

When you're on your
cell phone, the last
thing you're probably
talking about
is how much
electromag-
netic radiation
is being emit-
ted into your
noggin by your
little electric _
blue Razr. TOM
Well, it might MICHNIACKI
be if you were
talking to Dr.
Ronald B. Herberman, director of
the University of Pittsburgh Can-
cer Institute.
According to MSNBC, he is so
concerned that cell phones may
cause cancer that he sent out a
warning last week to his employees
to limit their use of cell phones. But
his recommendation contradicts
already-published studies showing
that there is no link between cell
phone use and cancer.
Interestingly, he's basing his
opinion on unpublished data. The
results of the study won't be avail-
able for a while, but he believes
that science is acting too slowly.
Hearing about Dr. Herberman's
claim that science is sluggish real-
ly got me thinking: What makes
research so time-consuming? And
is this lack of quick results costing
people their lives?
Studies are oftenlengthybecause
of the huge amount of bureaucratic
hoop-jumping facing researchers.
Laboratories are often just as full
of paperwork as they are of Bun-
sen burners. Stacks of forms must
be submitted to verify the ethical
nature of an experimental protocol
and to obtain grants.
Big bureaucracy isn't the only
reason for the dilatory pace at
which experimental results are
obtained. Having previously
worked in a neuroscience lab, I
can tell you that many research-
ers (including myself) are perfec-
tionists. Every minute detail of an
experiment must be performed
without error.
To be fair, that microscopic
attention to detail is valuable -
perfectionism breeds slow science,
but it also creates scientific valid-
ity. When one shows extra care,
the data and results are much more
likely to be accurate. A tiny mis-
step could ruin months of research
or put individuals in harm's way.
But without a doubt, right now
the field takes this diligence to the
extreme. In the depths of scientific
exploration, researchers often lose
sight of the ultimate goal of sci-

ence: to make timely discoveries
that will benefit humanity.
Experimentation must be exact
to ensure accuracy, but it must also
be performed with some urgen-
cy. Scientists should realize that
swiftly releasing data is just as
much a priority as obtaining valid
information.
The balance of importance in
the scientific world right now is
far too skewed towards exactness.
Tipping this balance may give the
public valuable knowledge just
in time to save lives. I don't know
about you, but saving lives sounds
like a pretty good idea to me.
The perfectionism that is per-
vasive in the scientific community
also needs to be dealt with. Striv-
ing for an errorless experiment is
a good thing, but attempting a pro-
cedure repeatedly when it has no
chance of working isn't.
Quicker
research could
save lives.
A quest for perfection also
means that a researcher will spend
far too much time trying to discov-
er and comprehend an experimen-
tal element. Attempting to uncover
every tiny detail of the biological
mechanism in microscopic detail
linking cell phone use to cancer
is important work. But holding up
the publishing of important find-
ings for this reason loses sight of
the bigger picture.
There is no shame in releasing a
study early, even if you do not thor-
oughly understand all outcomes of
the research - further studies can
be conducted after initial results
are brought to light. The impor-
tance of the research will not be
diminished; in fact, it may be ele-
vated if its results save lives.
It's interesting that science is
one of the few things in our world
today that hasn't become high-
paced. Research needs to catch up
to the fast tempo of the society we
now live in. Slow scientific experi-
mentation, relaxing Sunday after-
noons and using home phones are
now things of the past. Well, maybe
not using home phones. Thanks for
giving us a warning, Dr. Herber-
man.
Tom Michniacki can be
reached at tmich@umich.edu.

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