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Shouldn’t scientists be making decisions about science?

by Donald Prothero, Oct 24 2012

The news recently has been full of shocking and disconcerting quotes from the members of Congress. The most outrageous is by Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia (an M.D., even!), who said (in a recent speech at the Liberty Baptist Church Sportsman’s Banquet):

“God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. It’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior. There’s a lot of scientific data that I found out as a scientist [note: Broun is NOT a real scientist] that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I believe that the Earth is about 9,000 years old. I believe that it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says. And what I’ve come to learn is that it’s the manufacturer’s handbook, is what I call it. It teaches us how to run our lives individually. How to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all our public policy and everything in society. And that’s the reason, as your congressman, I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that.”

When he heard this statement, Bill Nye said:

“Since the economic future of the United States depends on our tradition of technological innovation, Representative Broun’s views are not in the national interest,” Nye told The Huffington Post in an email. “For example, the Earth is simply not 9,000 years old,” he continued, contradicting a remark made by Broun later in the video. “He is, by any measure, unqualified to make decisions about science, space, and technology.”

Or take the now-infamous Todd Akin, Congressman from Missouri now seeking the Senate seat from that state. It was bad enough that he believed and spouted some myth from a discredited anti-abortion doctor that a women’s body can “shut down” and prevent impregnation from rape. But at a recent Tea Party meeting, he said:

I don’t see it [evolution] as even a matter of science because I don’t know that you can prove one or the other. That’s one of those things. We can talk about theology and all of those other things but I’m basically concerned about, you’ve got a choice between Claire McCaskill and myself. My job is to make the thing there. If we want to do theoretical stuff, we can do that, but I think I better stay on topic.

Or take Michele Bachmann, who began her political career fighting for creationism in Minnesota schools, is an extreme hard-line creationist, global-warming denier, and even spouted nonsense from anti-vaxxers during her brief presidential campaign. How about the original field of nine GOP presidential candidates, only one of whom openly admitted that he agreed with the idea of evolution? Who knows how many other Southern GOP Representatives are also creationists, since that is the majority viewpoint in the South?

How about Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin? He’s one of the loudest climate-deniers in Congress, with a list of quotes showing he’s read and absorbed nearly every lie from the climate denier lobby? Or how about Congressman Ralph Hall from Texas, who

was asked about climate change and said, “I don’t think we can control what God controls.” He also said he agrees with Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) that climate scientists are involved in a conspiracy to receive research funding. When the reporter noted that a survey published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that 97 percent of climate-science researchers agree that human activities have contributed to global warming, Hall responded, “And they get $5,000 for every report like that they give out,” adding, “I don’t have any proof of that. But I don’t believe ‘em.”

Or take Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, who still chatters on about the debunked idea that scientists were predicting global cooling in the 1970s. Or Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, from an extremely conservative district in southern California. He has said in recent months that

an earlier period of global warming may have been caused by “dinosaur flatulence.” Last year, after coming under fire for seeming to suggest that if global warming is real it could be addressed by cutting down trees (when in fact forests reduce global warming by absorbing atmospheric carbon), he issued a statement saying, “I do not believe that CO2 is a cause of global warming.”

These statements of scientific illiteracy and science denialism are appalling enough by themselves, but even scarier is the thought that they come from the members of the House Science and Technology Committee! Hall is the Chair, Sensenbrenner is the Vice-Chair, and Akin, Broun, Brooks, and Rohrabacher are all prominent members. How is it that the House Committee with the greatest influence over science funding and policy in this country is dominated by people with demonstrably false views about science? Shouldn’t a committee in charge of such important tasks as overseeing science policy in this country be run by people who at least understand science, if not by scientists themselves? How did the inmates come to run this insane asylum?

In a recent column, mathematician John Allen Paulos (author of the bestseller Innumeracy) argued that there should be more scientists in Congress. He writes:

I’ve visited Singapore a few times in recent years and been impressed with its wealth and modernity. I was also quite aware of its world-leading programs in mathematics education and naturally noted that one of the candidates for president was Tony Tan, who has a Ph.D. in applied mathematics. Tan won the very close election and joined the government of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who also has a degree in mathematics. China has even more scientists in key positions in the government. President Hu Jintao was trained as a hydraulic engineer and Premier Wen Jiabao as a geomechanical engineer. In fact, eight out of the nine top government officials in China have scientific backgrounds. There is a scattering of scientist-politicians in high government positions in other countries as well. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has a doctorate in physical chemistry, and, going back a bit, Margaret Thatcher earned a degree in chemistry. One needn’t endorse the politics of these people or countries to feel that given the complexities of an ever more technologically sophisticated world, the United States could benefit from the participation and example of more scientists in government. This is obviously no panacea — Herbert Hoover was an engineer, after all — but more people with scientific backgrounds would be a welcome counterweight to the vast majority of legislators and other officials in this country who are lawyers. Among the 435 members of the House, for example, there are one physicist, one chemist, one microbiologist, six engineers and nearly two dozen representatives with medical training. The case of doctors and the body politic is telling. Everyone knows roughly what doctors do, and so those with medical backgrounds escape the anti-intellectual charge of irrelevance often thrown at those in the hard sciences. Witness Senator Bill Frist, Gov. Howard Dean and even Ron Paul.

Paulos speculates that scientists are ill-suited to the culture of American politics, where stretching the truth and schmoozing rich people and corporations is the prerequisite. As he puts it:

For complex historical reasons, Americans have long privately dismissed scientists and mathematicians as impractical and elitist, even while publicly paying lip service to them.
One reason is that an abstract, scientific approach to problems and issues often leads to conclusions that are at odds with religious and cultural beliefs and scientists are sometimes tone-deaf to the social environment in which they state their conclusions. A more politically sensitive approach to problems and issues, on the other hand, often leads to positions that simply don’t jibe with the facts, no matter how delicately phrased. Examples as diverse as stem cell research and the economic stimulus abound. Politicians, whose job is in many ways more difficult than that of scientists, naturally try to sway their disparate constituencies, but the prevailing celebrity-infatuated, money-driven culture and their personal ambitions often lead them to employ rhetorical tricks rather than logical arguments. Both Republicans and Democrats massage statistics, use numbers to provide decoration rather than information, dismiss, or at least distort, the opinions of experts, torture the law of the excluded middle (i.e., flip-flop), equivocate, derogate and obfuscate. Dinosaurs cavorting with humans, climate scientists cooking up the global warming “hoax,” the health establishment using vaccines to bring about socialism – it’s hard to imagine mainstream leaders in other advanced economies not laughing at such claims.

Paulos argues that our celebrity-obsessed culture prefers flash over substance, and our tendency to give all viewpoints equal time, even garbage vs. science, works against it. In his words:

Skepticism enjoins scientists — in fact all of us — to suspend belief until strong evidence is forthcoming, but this tentativeness is no match for the certainty of ideologues and seems to suggest to many the absurd idea that all opinions are equally valid. The chimera of the fiercely independent everyman reigns. What else explains the seemingly equal weight accorded to the statements of entertainers and biological researchers on childhood vaccines? Or to pronouncements of industry lobbyists and climate scientists? Or to economic prescriptions like 9-9-9 and those of Nobel-prize winning economists? Americans’ grandiose (to use Newt Gingrich’s malapropism) egalitarianism also helps explain why the eight or nine original Republican presidential candidates suffered little for espousing, or at least not clearly opposing, scientifically untenable positions. Jon Huntsman, the only exception, received excessive kudos for what seems a rather lukewarm acceptance of climate change. To avoid receiving the candidates’ canned responses on these and other issues, I sometimes wish that a debate moderator would forgo a standard question about immigration or jobs and instead ask the candidates to solve a simple puzzle, make an elementary estimate, perform a basic calculation.

With this kind of background, it’s no wonder we saw absurdities like that same committee on March 10, 2011, trying to officially define carbon dioxide and other known greenhouse gases as not greenhouse gases, and restricting the scientific information the EPA could act upon. After this absurd display of putting politics before scientific reality, Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts delivered a withering rebuke:

Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to a bill that overturns the scientific finding that pollution is harming our people and our planet. However, I won’t physically rise, because I’m worried that Republicans will overturn the law of gravity, sending us floating about the room. I won’t call for the sunlight of additional hearings, for fear that Republicans might excommunicate the finding that the Earth revolves around the sun. Instead, I’ll embody Newton’s third law of motion and be an equal and opposing force against this attack on science and on laws that will reduce America’s importation of foreign oil. This bill will live in the House while simultaneously being dead in the Senate. It will be a legislative Schrodinger’s cat killed by the quantum mechanics of the legislative process! Arbitrary rejection of scientific fact will not cause us to rise from our seats today. But with this bill, pollution levels will rise. Oil imports will rise. Temperatures will rise. And with that, I yield back the balance of my time. That is, unless a rejection of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity is somewhere in the chair’s amendment pile.


Given these realities, I’m not optimistic that we will have a demonstrably more science-literate 113th Congress next January, although taking power out of the hands of the science deniers in the GOP would be a step forward. The situation reminds me of the famous quote from Mark Twain:

Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.

55 Responses to “Shouldn’t scientists be making decisions about science?”

    • MadScientist says:

      At least they weren’t burned at the stake. This is terrible – what next, people in the meteorological institute imprisoned because they don’t forecast flooding? Hopefully their convictions will all be quashed at the appeal.

      • Max says:

        I should go to Italy and ask seismologists, “My dog is acting weird, should I expect an earthquake soon?” If they say no, and an earthquake hits within the month, I sue them.

  1. Trimegistus says:

    The inevitable bit of Republican-bashing from Mr. Prothero.

    If you’re interested in politicians pushing scientific fraud, how about a look at all the Obama Administration’s failed solar-energy projects? Oh, but Mr. Prothero isn’t interested if the politicians are Democrats. He’s perfectly happy to let them blow billions on “green energy” projects because they’re his team.

    And I bet he honestly thinks he’s rational and objective, too.

    No doubt he’s working up something about how the scary Mormons are going to ban all science if Romney gets elected, ready to post a day or two before the election. He’s so predictable.

    When did skepticism become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the DNC?

    • Janet Camp says:

      Since Republicans voted idiots onto the science committee.

      Your green energy talking point has been debunked by every credible fact-checking source.

      Who’s the real partisan idealogue here?

    • David Hewitt says:

      Perhaps Rep./Dr. Broun does not practice medicine because his patients died when prayer didn’t work…

      I do not see that the Obama administration has accomplished so much; the praise heaped upon these people is, in my opinion, unjustified. But there is no doubt that SO MANY Republican candidates and office holders are so VASTLY ignorant of facts, choosing to replace wisdom with “faith.” THIS is what concerns me even more than mere incompetence. And I was raised in the Deep South and know the type well.

      On a related note: I don’t care if Romney is a Mormon or not. How he spends his private time is up to him. But if he REALLY BELIEVES the Mormon claptrap–I mean, kingdoms on other planets, etc.–he’s just a nineteenth century Scientologist, and that’s the last thing we need running the place (except, maybe, an actual Scientologist). (I wonder how many Mormons REALLY BELIEVE the stories.)

      The lesser of two weevils, eh?

      • Janet Camp says:

        I lived in a heavily Mormon area (not Utah) and I can assure you that even the doctors and geologists (!) among them BELIEVE. I pulled my kids out of a Mormon pediatric practice and had endless conversations with students–I was in college at the time (a late student). I was accused of lacking tolerance and I always answered that I simply wanted to be clear on the person’s stance on science vs. Mormonism. One guy, on an archaeology (he was specializing in plylnology) field trip told me he was somewhat conflicted, but that he firmly believed the Book of Mormon to be divinely inspired and was bringing up his children to be good, believing Mormons. This was a typical response. It is very difficult to “sort of “ be a Mormon–it’s a cult and you are excommunicated and shunned if you fall away in any way. I recommend “Under the Banner of Heaven” by Jon Krakauer for a good history on Mormonism. He grew up with them and respects them, but some of their history is quite shocking–massacres and Brigham Young’s child brides, among others. Romney seems to be a full-on practicing, magic underwear, married in the Temple, baptizing dead relatives, believing Mormon to me.

      • Max says:

        What about Harry Reid and John Huntsman?

    • AL says:

      How is Solyndra a “scientific” issue? The decision to finance Solyndra is a fiscal/economic issue. There’s no issue as to whether or not it’s scientific or pseudoscientific. Solar energy does what it does, no one’s claiming it violates thermodynamics or is powered by God.

    • tmac57 says:

      If you’re interested in politicians pushing scientific fraud, how about a look at all the Obama Administration’s failed solar-energy projects?

      What “scientific fraud”?
      As for “blowing billions”, the only one that I would have singled out as being ‘blown’ was the $3 billion for ‘clean coal’…which Romney supports.
      Out of the $90 billion loan program for energy projects, $648 million (6% of the loan guarantees) went to 3 companies that went bankrupt out of 26 total companies,a better average than private venture capital companies.

    • itzac says:

      I had no idea the photo-voltaic effect was so politically contentious.

      Unfortunately I’m not familiar with the whole Solyndra thing, but I don’t need to to understand you’re comparing apples and oranges.

      Prothero is talking about republican congress critters who are actively hostile to the whole scientific enterprise. You’re talking about whether or not a particular project should have received funding.

  2. Max says:

    Todd Akin also chairs the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, whose member, Democrat Hank Johnson, feared that stationing Marines on Guam would make “the island so overly populated, that it will tip over and capsize.”

    • David Hewitt says:

      When I heard that Guam story, I thought that Johnson was using “capsize” metaphorically. But from the video, it’s clear that he thought that islands float, like rafts. Oh dear…

      • Trimegistus says:

        Mysteriously Mr. Prothero isn’t interested in Hank Johnson.

        But let’s apply Protheronian logic to the situation: since he clearly believes that any statement by anyone associated with a political party means those opinions must be shared by everyone in the party (because otherwise these are trivial stories not worth anyone’s time to report here), then Democrats believe:

        Islands float (Hank Johnson)
        Jews are descended from pigs (Louis Farrakhan)
        The Apollo 11 landing site is visible from Mars (Sheila Jackson-Lee)
        Vaccination causes autism (Robert Kennedy jr.)
        Aircraft contrails are “chemtrails” (Dennis Kucinich)

        …and that’s just off the top of my head.

        I’m NOT saying that all Dems believe these particular bits of nonsense. I AM saying that it’s dishonest and shabby of Mr. Prothero to do the exact same sort of cherry-picking and claim it has relevance to current politics.

        If you believe that the existence of some religious fundamentalists in the Republican Party somehow taints the whole organization, then either you must believe my examples prove the Democrats are equally compromised — or you must admit you’re a big fat hypocrite posting dishonest arguments to support your political party. I’m not sure which is worse.

        Either way, this isn’t “skepticism” by a country mile in any direction. Aren’t the other bloggers at Skepticblog getting a little tired of Mr. Prothero dragging out his straw man every couple of weeks?

      • David H. says:

        Indeed, I DO believe that Democrats are equally compromised. Nobody seems to know what the hell is going on. The Reptoids need to take control, and soon.

      • Erik Jensen says:

        Hank Johnson and Sheila Jackson Lee don’t continue to make those claims. Robert F Kennedy Jr. and Louis Farrakhan have never held public office. Can you provide a quote from Kucinich?

        It’s not even close. Republicans routinely deny climate science, evolution, and cosmology. These things are in their party platforms and are litmus tests for public office!

      • Student says:

        That’s a lot of false equivalency you’re trying to use to maintain a cognitive dissonance. Science wise, the GOP is a joke. Which is a shame, because it’d be good if people could choose something less than stupid if they want to vote conservative.

      • BKsea says:

        A key point being missed is that these are all members of the House science and technology committee. The point of this post is that people with such absurd views on science should not be put in charge of science! If you can find an equally absurd comment from a Democratic member OF THAT COMMITTEE, I will be equally outraged. Last I checked, Louis Farakhan is not part of the House Science and Technology Committee.

      • tmac57 says:

        To add to that, again,all but one of the GOP candidates for President of the United States of America, apparently do not believe in evolution, as Donald Prothero pointed out.Simply stunning.

  3. d brown says:

    oh boy. your going to get it now. say the Obama’s funded stuff has a better result rate that what Wall St funds. But any stick to beat a dog, right?

  4. Janet Camp says:

    And today this:

    Indiana GOP U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock declared Tuesday night he opposes aborting pregnancies conceived in rape because “it is something that God intended to happen.”

    Some “distancing” but no outright disavowals from the GOP.

    • David Hewitt says:

      Yes. it’s always God’s will. Recall Douglas Adams:

      “Where God Went Wrong,” “More of God’s Great Mistakes,” and “Who Is This God Person, Anyway?”

  5. Jim Howard says:

    You know Don, you are hurting science when you publish these hateful partisan diatribes against half the country.

    For every silly Republican you quote here I’ll see you an equally ridiculous science related claim from a Democrat and raise you by a socialist.

    Posts like this make creationists everywhere happy by conflating science with politics.

    The logical conclusion a lot of folks will gain from this screed is that the government should just stop funding science entirely.

    • Erik Jensen says:

      I just don’t buy your false equivalency here, Jim. Sure, there are anti-science views embraced by some Democrats. There are anti-GMO and pro-homeopathy activists among their ranks, for example. But these views are not embraced by the leadership and they are not mainstream views of the rank and file. When was the last time a large group of Democratic candidates raised their hands during a debate to embrace pseudoscience? It’s basically a requirement to win a Republican primary.

    • Janet Camp says:

      Name an anti-science Democrat.

  6. igloo says:

    So this is now a debate over whether my idiots are not quite as stupid as your idiots?
    From the outside (New Zealand in my case), I am concerned over what seems to be an increasing polarisation in your politics.
    If the USA can’t find, or develop, a large central mass of reasonable, rational and well-intentioned people to decide your future, you’re going to be in big trouble.
    Or I am being overly pessimistic?

  7. d brown says:

    Yes we ate in big trouble. The state of Texas has a school book board. The school book publishers have to make their books past the book board to be sold in Texas. They don’t want to make books that can not be used in Texas. The right wing now ruins that board and has made the them cut out things from the books they were using. like how much there is about Jefferson. Given time and power I do think there will be a war over the Earth revolving around the sun. I grew up and live in a in a Mormon area. The Christian right voting for a Mormon shows how much they want power at any cost.

  8. WScott says:

    Sure the Democrats are not exactly paragons of scientific rationalism. No one here is arguing that they are; in fact the article Prothero linked to calls this out specifically. But the Democrats made a concerted effort to marginalize their lunatics in the 80s, and now the woo-meisters are for the most limited to the fringe. Meanwhile the GOP has numerous anti-scientific elements *in their platform.* It’s all but a requirement to run for high office as a Republican these days.

    Compare the candidates answers to the 2012 Science Debate. Obama’s answers are pretty mediocre and lacking in specifics. But Romney’s answers are horrific, ranging from vague platitudes to demonstrable falsehoods.

    Pretending that a handful of lunatics on one side’s fringe is the same as a majority of lunatics in the other side’s mainstream is the worst sort of false equivalency. That’s not to say Republicans are evil, or even that they’re wrong on most issues. But they are CLEARLY on the wrong side of this issue. If you’re a Republican, and you care about science and rationality, then I’m begging you – move out of denial and start working to change your party’s stance on these issues.

    • Student says:

      That’s exactly it. Trimegistus and one or two other morons keep spouting absolute claptrap. The Republicans HAVE a serious problem with their policies and science. They HAVE a serious problem where their elected members keep making statements that run counter to scientific knowledge. They HAVE a problem where such ignorance is then attributed to God’s will or plan. It’s not a couple of isolated morons. It’s representatives on the science comittees. It’s their leadership. It’s their policy. It’s their Governors. You just can’t plead that they’re an isolated lunatic fringe who have nothing to do with it.

      These things need to be stripped out of their party. I don’t agree with conservative financial policy, nor do I agree with their foreign policy or view in civil liberties. But it’d be good if those who did could choose that party with a straight face, without choosing a group which is obviously so poisonously stupid. Since the US has polarised it’s politics into a big Democrat/Republican dichotomy, by failing so terribly, the Republicans are in essence creating a situation where, in the abscence of complete stupidity on the half of the nation (Which isn’t out of the question), the Dems have a clear path to victory. Which is terrible for everyone. I’d prefer if more parties had a chance, but at the very least, an intelligent GOP would make a better competition.

  9. dagny says:

    The arguments presented all seem to be centered around “my party is smarter than your party”, which proves the point of the blog -that Scientists should be in charge of decision making about Science- and government therefore should stay home.

    A more confusing question raised – are the self appointed science police here really saying that Mormons are less scientific in their beliefs than other religions? To be Christian, one must necessarily take some things as fact that are not scientifically possible. So since most politicians, Obama included, claim to be Christians, are they hypocrites in their religion by accepting certain scientific findings? Is our choice between those who follow their faith, and those who only profess belief to gain political following?

    • @b says:

      >>Mormons are less scientific in their beliefs than other religions?

      Other religions *PRE-DATE* the scientific revolution of the 1600s.

      Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon in 1820s New York.

      Believing that JS was scribing the words of Yhwh is approaching the credulity of accepting L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology.

  10. WScott says:

    Regarding the pre-hijack topic of the article: I think Paulos has a good point that the “skill set” needed to be a good scientist or engineer is not necessarily the same as that needed to be a good politician. Politics is all about two things: social skills, and willingness to compromise. I’m not saying scientists are not capable of either of them, but let’s face it, they’re not the first traits you associate with the profession.

    Rather than trying to get more scientists to run for office, the goal should be to encourage elected officials to have educated science advisors as part of their (formal or informal) team.

    • Double Helical says:

      Good discussion. But, talking about science and politics is a little like talking about science and religion… Oh, well.

      I wanted to reply about the Paulos quote, but first let me add to the discussion concerning scientists, doctors, and engineers. There seems to be an assumption here that engineers, doctors, and scientists all have similar skill sets. Well, that’s not quite accurate. Dr. Novella correctly pointed out in his podcast that most doctors are not trained in science. I would like to make a similar point about engineers. I am a scientist who works with a lot of engineers. I know quite a few that are very religious and as a result they buy into global warming denial and anti-evoloution–because it’s part of the mantra at their church. Surprisingly, I even know a few good engineers that are Young-Earth Creationists. With them, cognitive dissonance is working overtime, I suppose. They are not stupid people. Now, all good skeptics and all good scientists know that you need evidence for claims, and that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. These men and women that I know are excellent engineers, but they are lousy scientists.

      Now to the main point: pick your science. I think that the Dems may get points for very visible good science, such as evolution and global warming. But some of their major platforms in the social and economic arenas are not scientifically based at all. A mitigating factor is that these sciences are not as clear-cut as the age of the Earth or the fact of evolution. Nevertheless, if I criticize Democratic largesse as being counterproductive and unsustainable, I leave myself open to Democratic diatribes of the same order as the ones usually attributed to top Republicans. As the long quote by Paulos explains in some detail, neither party has anything to brag about.

      • igloo says:

        I remember being in the States while the 1980 primaries were going on and remarking to my hosts that in my country, it would be unthinkable that a former movie star could be a plausible candidate for head of state. This view did not go down well.
        I have since come to understand that I was wrong. You could be a good president with one of many backgrounds, as long as you had a work ethic, goodwill, a good mind, and a sense of curiosity about the world.
        So I am disturbed when one of your candidates has, for example, very strong views about Iran but a very vague understanding of its geography.

      • WScott says:

        @ Double Helical: Good point re scientists vs. engineers & doctors.
        Re democratic “major platforms in the social and economic arenas are not scientifically based at all.” Are you talking about policies based on assumptions that you feel may not be scientifically valid? Or policies that directly deny established scientific fact? If the latter, I’d be curious to hear what policies you’re referring to. If the former, then sure there’s plenty of those on all sides; but that’s a far cry from, I dunno, adopting creationism and climate change denialism in the party platform.

      • Double Helical says:

        @WScott: For the Dems, it’s mostly “squishy” social and economic assertions. It’s hard to spot mendacities about the effectiveness of some social program or why we need yet another social program. And, who is raking in a tidy profit as a result. One reason that there are hundreds of social programs, I suspect, is to make it easier to cover up the graft and corruption.

        Once in a while you can see some major cognitive dissonance, such as the fervent belief that banning guns is a way of reducing crime, which is demonstrably untrue. Yet it is a mantra that is repeated ad nauseam. They even have pseudoscientists with phony “studies” just like the global-warming denial crowd. Some numbers are made up. To name a few: One might often hear a factoid that a “kid” is killed by a gun every 3 minutes, or some such number. That translates to 175,200 child deaths every year. Obviously untrue, when the number of accidental child deaths (2009 – CDC stats, ages 1 to 14) is about 485, and the actual number of firearm accidental deaths (children 14 and under, 2007 stats) is 67. [That's one kid every 7,845 minutes.]

        For all ages, the oft-cited total firearm death statistic of 31,347 (CDC – 2009) obfuscates the actual criminal homicide statistic of 11,493 deaths per year (CDC – 2009). [That's about one firearm homicide every 46 minutes.] By the way, that number is steadily dropping, even as firearm ownership continues to climb. Also note that vehicle deaths per year are very much higher.

        Sorry to have to quote so many statistics. I’ve been following this for a number of years. I can’t understand why a large segment of Democrats are so insistent on gun control that they are willing to sacrifice votes. All humans have a natural right to self defense, and the defense of their families. This should not be a political issue.

        The reason I bring up gun control (an easy target) is to point out that Dems who trot out phony numbers for this issue only serve to alert us that other statistics that they quote may also be in doubt or outright hokum.

        Unfortunately, bad statistical references about social programs are not as easy to spot as overt endorsement of Creationism, global warming denial, and opposition to stem-cell research.

        Finally, I’m not sure, either, that it’s “a far cry” from one party’s obfuscation to the other party’s obfuscation. Either way, it affects taxpayers when someone has to resort to lying or advocating stupidity in order to get elected.

      • Max says:

        Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi is an engineer with a Ph.D. in materials science from USC. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is an ophthalmologist.

      • Max says:

        Herman Cain has a Master of Science in computer science, and worked as a ballistics analyst.
        Ron Paul is an OB/GYN, who is or was a member of the pseudoscientific Association of American Physicians & Surgeons (AAPS).

      • Max says:

        Yeltsin was a chief engineer, Brezhnev was a metallurgical engineer. It doesn’t mean anything. They were still bureaucrats.

  11. d brown says:

    Back in 1927 Hitler wrote how he was going to gain power. He was going to lie. He said that people would not believe small lies. But they could not believe that anyone woUld tell them a really big lie “such as the exact oppose of the truth.” This is what the GOP has been doing for a long time. He was evil. So are they.

  12. Nyar says:

    The evil party or the stupid party, take your pick.

  13. markx says:

    Mind boggling that such simple minds are allowed to govern.
    Sobering that upon pronouncing such beliefs they will still find voters to elect them.
    And worrying that these simpletons have also chosen to comment on the predictions of our climate scientist brethren, when it is clear they know very little about any type of science.

    (markx … who gets up from the pile of furry mongrels he is lying with and furtively slinks away, scratching fleas…)

  14. Miles says:

    I agree with all of the observations in the article. I just don’t think that replacing these committee members with “real scientists” would make them any more qualified to spend other peoples money. Remember, we are talking about making government funding decisions, not working in the lab. This is the result of using a “democracy” to spend other peoples’ money. If you get enough of a majority that want that money spent on creationism museums, well, that’s what is going to happen. If Prothero himself were on the same committee, he would be subject to the same politically democratic pressure from outside groups. And any science that is government funded, must therefore be more wasteful and inefficient, due to all the additional red-tape that must accompany that money.

    The answer is not to create Plato’s Republic, as this article suggests. The best thing we can do is simply get government out of it altogether.

    • @b says:

      I agree with your assessment, but not your conclusion.

      Romney makes that argument about “getting government out of [science funding]“.

      So says Point of Inquiry podcast’s round-up of the presidential Science Debate 2012 (

      I concede it’s a strong argument but it makes me uneasy.

      Obama’s alternative is do keep doing what we’re been doing for 50+ years; fund the important science that isn’t attracting private investments (because that area isn’t seen as a money-maker).

      Defending his status quo might even sound attractive to fiscal conservatives who love public research/education more than they hate “big government”.

      • Miles says:

        And how is it determined which science is “important” to fund? Important to whom? Ultimately, this process will always be political. When government spends money on science, politics will be injected into that process. The two simply don’t mix, as liberals and progressives are fond of pointing out when religious conservatives attempt to inject religion into the classroom. The left is sometimes guilty of the same thing, perhaps to a lesser extent (ethanol, organic food, fracking, etc.). But “which party is worse when it comes to science” ignores the real issue: politics do not belong in science. The scientific process simply cannot work the way it is intended when it is subject to the political arena.

  15. @blame says:

    Regarding the OP, count the “I” statements of those politicians. They’re hiding in plain site; (mis)informing the public about their personal (mis)understandings. Instead our government ought be teaching us the professorial opinion of the day. The scientific facts. Not hearsay.

    Alas the (misleading) rhetoric of our politicians is so compelling that it’s marginalising what experts want to teach us about our changing planet. Public education could undermine their popularity.

    Political mastery means they can win votes by way of their wit and gut, instead of by persuading their voters to trust today’s experts.