Sometimes science needs to take a backseat

Science is based on fundamental, objective truth. So sometimes, in support of science, it is necessary to step back and take a moral stand. Here is my letter to Nebraskan Senator Ben Sasse (republican, Judiciary Committee). Since I have no other way to reach out to Dr. Blasey Ford, I will tweet this link to her in full support of courageous testimony this week.

Sept. 29, 2018

Dear Senator Sasse,

As a constituent and fellow Nebraskan, I feel it is my duty to write and convey my deepest dismay at your vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee, in favor of confirming Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.

On the day of the hearings, I sat riveted to my computer screen, watching, the compelling evidence of Dr. Blasey Ford. Like most Americans, I feel that it is inconceivable that this woman committed perjury; she had absolutely nothing to gain from wrecking her life and exposing herself to the deep hatred, death threats and everything else she has put her family through. As an academic myself, I could her love for her research and graduate students, and I know that this hearing has disrupted her entire life. No woman (or man) would lightly consider doing this, or taking a lie detector test, for that matter.

On the other hand, I was deeply upset by the belligerence of the supreme court nominee. Obviously, someone accused of doing something he didn’t commit would warrant a vehement denial. However, Judge Kavanaugh’s bellicosity and utter hostility, his unhinged attack on “The Clintons” and half the country, and his condescending behavior toward the female senators who were questioning him raised serious concerns as to his fitness to be an impartial, balanced, responsible Supreme Court Judge. If you have any doubts as to the accuracy of my assertions here, I ask that you please watch the hearing again. And for reference, please compare his hearings with those of Judge Gorsuch, who had zero allegations against him.

In addition, there is little doubt that Judge Kavanaugh has told a significant number of lies or untruths, depending on how serious one considers certain misrepresentations. There is mounting evidence from eyewitnesses that he was a serious drinker in high school and college years. Would that in itself disqualify a nominee who may have a stellar career post-college? Probably not—although I submit that the Supreme Court should have the very highest standards. However, lies about his past are, in my view, disqualifying, and potentially perjury.

Notwithstanding everything else, it is very clear that both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh cannot be telling the truth. And while this is not a criminal trial, the following reasons lead many to deeply question the fitness of the nominee: 1) Dr. Ford was extremely credible, and absent ridiculous conspiracy theories, had no reason to lie and every reason not to come forward. 2)  Judge Kavanaugh had reasons to lie; if true, his position is in danger. 3) Dr. Ford has clearly made her accusations known to others years before this nomination. 4) Dr. Ford has taken and passed a lie detector test. 5) Judge Kavanaugh has not taken a lie detector test. 5) Judge Kavanaugh has told a number of lies about his past and at the least, misrepresented himself. 6) Additional women have come forward; while their credibility has yet to be determined, this is something that needs to be done.

As my junior senator and representative in the senate, I am deeply disappointed in your decision to vote to confirm the nominee without further FBI investigation and calling additional witnesses to testify. Although my political views differ somewhat from those of your own, I have always respected your independence and general tendency to support what is ethically “the right thing to do.” A couple years ago, I recall corresponding with George Will of the Washington Post, regarding a column that he wrote just before the 2016 elections. In that e-mail, he wrote to me that he considered “writing in” your name on his ballot. He viewed you as the new brand of empathic conservatism. But today I feel numb and disoriented that only a single Republican senator stood up and asked for a very minimal FBI investigation. Unfortunately, you were not that courageous senator, and I ask you why not? And how could you possibly think that it was morally right, not to subpoena the only other witness allegedly involved, Mark Judge, to testify?

While I can understand some frustration at the possibility of potentially having to withdraw a nominee at the last moment, whatever unhappiness there is about Senator Feinstein’s decision-making and whoever leaked Dr. Ford’s letter, all of that pales in comparison to the sacred duty of ensuring that the next Supreme Court Judge is a person of the highest moral caliber. Your decision not to spend any additional time considering this matter is deeply disturbing to me and many Nebraskans/Americans.

As my senator, even independently of the FBI investigation, I ask that you carefully consider whether this nominee has moral values that are consistent with those of a worthy Supreme Court Judge. Whether you think his record is truly “unblemished” or whether there are serious and potential concerns. I think most non-partisan people would come to the conclusion that this nominee is truly not a good fit, and ask that you work toward finding as more appropriate and worthy nominee.


Steve Caplan, PhD






About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
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