It’s Thumb Your Nose at Science Week in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. In the primary campaign that’s turned into a competition to out-crazy your rival’s crazy, the latest craze is evolution- and climate change-denial. In New Hampshire as part of his campaign launch, Texas Gov. Rick Perry delivered a double dose of denial, pandering to the GOP’s far-Right base by essentially saying that social issue conservatism and corporate special interests know better than all those smarty pants scientists.
On climate change, Perry paints climate change as some sort of scam, with researchers feathering their lab benches with the money that supposedly is doled out to gin up evidence for global warming. On the climate skeptic side of the argument, Perry touts the steady stream of courageous scientists piping up to cry foul:
“I think we’re seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.”
And then, Talking Points Memo points out, Perry showed that for all his steely rock-ribbed conservative certainty on so many things, he’s kinda squishy about evolution. When double-teamed by a mother and her school-aged son, Perry explained that schools in Texas reflect evolution’s still-uncertain place in the scientific marketplace of ideas:
“Here your mom was asking about evolution. And you know, it’s a theory that is out there — it’s got some gaps in it. In Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools. Because I figure you’re smart enough to figure out which one is right.”
Exactly, I send my daughter off to school so that she and other students can pass judgment on the validity of the greenhouse effect or natural selection as scientific paradigms. Contrary to Gov. Perry’s smarmy glib assertions, both human-caused global warming and evolution are rock solid. For over 20 years, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reviewed and synthesized the results of thousands of scientific studies of environmental and climate trends — a mounting preponderance of evidence for man-made climate change. (Now that I think of it, I wonder whether it’s the mainstream climate scientists or the deniers who can tap into politically motivated funding sources?)
When it comes to evolution, I remember 30 years ago in college when a budding cancer researcher explained to me that natural selection was proving extremely useful as a theoretical framework for a wide array of cancer pathologies. Not to mention the zoological family trees of species for which Darwin originally developed his theory.
Which brings me to the longstanding right wing tactic of crying “theory” to cast doubt on the scientific targets of their scorn. As they ought to teach in Texas schools and everywhere else, a theory is a framework or rule put forward as a pattern for the occurrence of the phenomena being studied. That’s the function of theories in science — how they’re supposed to work. When the pattern or rule doesn’t consistently bear out, the theory is disproven. When the framework does match up with the data scientists collect, it’s still a theory – a durable and successful one.
Returning to the Republican presidential politics of all this, the one moderate in the race who’s opted out of the crazy-thon, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, wanted the record to show he actually believes in science. As Huntsman tweeted on Thursday:
“To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”
Which got me thinking about a potential strategy for Gov. Huntsman’s campaign. What if he adopted a bemused good-humored posture of “will you get a load of these guys?!” I’m only half joking here. Huntsman’s stance as the sole candidate to say he’d vote for the debt ceiling deal reminded me of those two brave Senators Morse and Gruening who voted against the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and were then of course vindicated by the Vietnam War morass. They say Huntsman is really laying the groundwork for a 2016 campaign. Who knows, maybe he’ll start looking good to Republican primary voters even sooner.
Photo credit: gds