Jun 19 2011
The Republican primary season is already starting, and we are in for another round of candidates saying embarrassing things about science. To be fair (this is not a political blog so I want to make sure I don’t come off as partisan) bad science is not limited to the Republican party. But there are some issues where they definitely take the lead – and evolution/creationism is one. In some states creationism is on the Republican party platform. Last election cycle 4 of 10 Republican primary candidates endorsed creationism over evolution when asked directly in a debate.
This cycle we have Michele Bachmann, congresswoman from Minnesota, who is already on record as supporting creationism. In 2006 she stated:
“there is a controversy among scientists about whether evolution is a fact… hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel prizes, believe in intelligent design.”
Now, following a speech to Republicans in New Orleans, she said to reporters:
“I support intelligent design. What I support is putting all science on the table and then letting students decide. I don’t think it’s a good idea for government to come down on one side of scientific issue or another, when there is reasonable doubt on both sides.”
She is dead wrong, of course. There is no scientific controversy about the fact of evolution. The overwhelming majority of scientists support evolution – because the evidence for it is overwhelming. The controversy is entirely a political/religious one. This is embarrassing for Bachmann. I don’t expect every presidential candidate to be a scientist, or have any level of expertise in science. But I think in the 21st century we should expect a basic level of scientific literacy from our leaders. There are simply too many issues that require an understanding of science.
This also demonstrates a weakness for any candidate. It indicates that they are willing to cater to a special interest. Even worse, if is a failure of process. Even if a candidate is not well-informed on an issue, they should know how to consult the proper experts to quickly get a working knowledge of an important issue. Before Bachmann makes public statements about such a hot-button political question she should talk to a few experts – find out what the real issues are.
So her statements represent a gross failure of due diligence – not something I want in a president. Or, if she did consult experts and was still able to make these statements, that is a profound failure to understand the issue, or of intellectual honesty. All of these possibilities are bad news – there is really no interpretation that can save her.
Her more recent statements indicate that she is steeped in pro-creationist propaganda, however. She has certainly listened to that side. She is giving the “academic” freedom line – the current approach of the creationists. This approach seems superficially fair – but it is a demonstrable ruse. She makes it seem as if there is equivalent doubt on either side of the evolution question, but there isn’t. This question has been decided – as much as it has been decided that DNA is the molecule of inheritance, and that plate tectonics play an important role in understanding the geology of the Earth – even as much as the sun-centered solar system.
We don’t need to teach geocentrism, growing earth nonsense, the ether, or alchemy to students and then let them decide. Such notions are only useful in teaching the history of scientfiic thought – how we currently know that these discredited ideas are wrong, and why we currently accept other theories.
Of course, not all Republicans, or even Republican candidates are creationists. In a way it’s a very useful issue – it gives a very quick window into a candidate. I feel I can infer quite a bit about Bachmann from those two comments (none of it good). But for the Republican party, this issue is a disaster. The leaders of the Republican party should lead – just say it like it is. The scientific community has spoken – we should listen to them. Teach whatever you want at home and at church – but science classrooms are for teaching accepted science.
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