A recent popular refrain from politicians in the US is “I am not a scientist”. This is code, mostly from the mouths of Republicans, for a train of thought that goes something like this:
1. Facts discovered through the scientific method are nothing more than opinion.
2. However, my beliefs are fact.
3. Hence, anything that is explained through science is wrong.
4. Thus, case closed.
Those who would have us believe that climate change is an illusion now take cover behind this quaint “I am not a scientist” phrase, and in so doing are able to shirk from questions of any consequence. So, it’s good to hear potential Republican presidential candidate, Scott Walker, tow the party line recently by telling us that he’s no scientist and “punting” (aka ignoring) on questions of climate change. This on the same day that NASA, Cornell and Columbia warn that global warming is likely to bring severe, multi-decade long megadroughts — the worst in a thousand years — to the central and southwestern US in our children’s lifetimes.
The optimist in me hopes that when my children come of age they will elect politicians who are scientists or leaders who accept the scientific method. Please. It’s time to ditch Flat Earthers, creationists and “believers”. It’s time to shun those who shun critical thinking, reason and evidence. It’s time to move beyond those who merely say anything or nothing to get elected.
From ars technica:
Given that February 12 would be Charles Darwin’s 206th birthday, having people spare some thought for the theory of evolution doesn’t seem outrageously out of place this week. But, for a US politician visiting London, a question on the matter was clearly unwelcome.
Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin and possible presidential candidate, was obviously hoping for a chance to have a few experiences that would make him seem more credible on the foreign policy scene. But the host of a British TV show asked some questions that, for many in the US, touch on matters of personal belief and the ability to think critically: “Are you comfortable with the idea of evolution? Do you believe in it? Do you accept it?” (A video that includes these questions along with extensive commentary is available here.)
Walker, rather than oblige his host, literally answered that he was going to dodge the question, saying, “For me, I’m going to punt on that one as well. That’s a question a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or another.”
“Punting,” for those not up on their sports metaphors, is a means of tactically giving up. When a football team punts, it gives the other team control of the ball but prevents a variety of many worse situations from developing.
In some ways, this is an improvement for a politician. When it comes to climate change, many politicians perform a dodge by saying “I’m not a scientist” and then proceed to make stupid pronouncements about the state of science. Here, Walker didn’t make any statements whatsoever.
So, that’s a step up from excusing stupidity. But is this really a question that should be punted? To begin with, Walker may not feel it’s a question a politician should be involved with, but plenty of other politicians clearly do. At a minimum, punting meant Walker passed on an opportunity to explain why he feels those efforts to interfere in science education are misguided and why his stand is more principled.
But, much more realistically, Walker is punting not because he feels the question shouldn’t be answered by politicians, but because he sees lots of political downsides to answering. Politicians had been getting hit with the evolution question since at least 2007, and our initial analysis of it still stands. If you agree with over a century of scientific exploration, you run the risk of alienating a community that has established itself as a reliable contributor of votes to Republican politicians such as Walker. We could see why he would want to avoid that.
Saying you refuse to accept evolution raises valid questions about your willingness to analyze evidence rationally and accept the opinions of people with expertise in a topic. Either that, or it suggests you’re willing to say anything in order to improve your chances of being elected. But punting is effectively the same thing—it suggests you’ll avoid saying anything in order to improve your chances of being elected.
Read the entire article here.