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“Our Grand Old Planet And The Grand Old Party”: If The Evidence Contradict’s Faith, Suppress The Evidence

Earlier this week, GQ magazine published an interview with Senator Marco Rubio, whom many consider a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, in which Mr. Rubio was asked how old the earth is. After declaring “I’m not a scientist, man,” the senator went into desperate evasive action, ending with the declaration that “it’s one of the great mysteries.”

It’s funny stuff, and conservatives would like us to forget about it as soon as possible. Hey, they say, he was just pandering to likely voters in the 2016 Republican primaries — a claim that for some reason is supposed to comfort us.

But we shouldn’t let go that easily. Reading Mr. Rubio’s interview is like driving through a deeply eroded canyon; all at once, you can clearly see what lies below the superficial landscape. Like striated rock beds that speak of deep time, his inability to acknowledge scientific evidence speaks of the anti-rational mind-set that has taken over his political party.

By the way, that question didn’t come out of the blue. As speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Mr. Rubio provided powerful aid to creationists trying to water down science education. In one interview, he compared the teaching of evolution to Communist indoctrination tactics — although he graciously added that “I’m not equating the evolution people with Fidel Castro.” Gee, thanks.

What was Mr. Rubio’s complaint about science teaching? That it might undermine children’s faith in what their parents told them to believe. And right there you have the modern G.O.P.’s attitude, not just toward biology, but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence.

The most obvious example other than evolution is man-made climate change. As the evidence for a warming planet becomes ever stronger — and ever scarier — the G.O.P. has buried deeper into denial, into assertions that the whole thing is a hoax concocted by a vast conspiracy of scientists. And this denial has been accompanied by frantic efforts to silence and punish anyone reporting the inconvenient facts.

But the same phenomenon is visible in many other fields. The most recent demonstration came in the matter of election polls. Coming into the recent election, state-level polling clearly pointed to an Obama victory — yet more or less the whole Republican Party refused to acknowledge this reality. Instead, pundits and politicians alike fiercely denied the numbers and personally attacked anyone pointing out the obvious; the demonizing of The Times’s Nate Silver, in particular, was remarkable to behold.

What accounts for this pattern of denial? Earlier this year, the science writer Chris Mooney published “The Republican Brain,” which was not, as you might think, a partisan screed. It was, instead, a survey of the now-extensive research linking political views to personality types. As Mr. Mooney showed, modern American conservatism is highly correlated with authoritarian inclinations — and authoritarians are strongly inclined to reject any evidence contradicting their prior beliefs. Today’s Republicans cocoon themselves in an alternate reality defined by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, and only on rare occasions — like on election night — encounter any hint that what they believe might not be true.

And, no, it’s not symmetric. Liberals, being human, often give in to wishful thinking — but not in the same systematic, all-encompassing way.

Coming back to the age of the earth: Does it matter? No, says Mr. Rubio, pronouncing it “a dispute amongst theologians” — what about the geologists? — that has “has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States.” But he couldn’t be more wrong.

We are, after all, living in an era when science plays a crucial economic role. How are we going to search effectively for natural resources if schools trying to teach modern geology must give equal time to claims that the world is only 6.000 years old? How are we going to stay competitive in biotechnology if biology classes avoid any material that might offend creationists?

And then there’s the matter of using evidence to shape economic policy. You may have read about the recent study from the Congressional Research Service finding no empirical support for the dogma that cutting taxes on the wealthy leads to higher economic growth. How did Republicans respond? By suppressing the report. On economics, as in hard science, modern conservatives don’t want to hear anything challenging their preconceptions — and they don’t want anyone else to hear about it, either.

So don’t shrug off Mr. Rubio’s awkward moment. His inability to deal with geological evidence was symptomatic of a much broader problem — one that may, in the end, set America on a path of inexorable decline.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, November 22, 2012

November 26, 2012 Posted by | Science | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Weird Science”: A Guide For Republican Candidates Asked About Earth Science

Twenty years or so ago, a few politicians got caught when somebody asked them the price of a gallon of milk and they didn’t know the answer. As a consequence, campaign managers and political consultants started making sure their candidates knew the price of milk and a few similar items like a loaf of bread, should they ever be called upon to assure voters that they do in fact visit the supermarket and are thus in touch with how regular folk live their lives. In a similar but somewhat more complex game of gotcha, Marco Rubio is the latest Republican politician to express discomfort about the question of the earth’s age. Unfortunately, unlike the price of milk, that’s not a question upon which people of every ideology agree. But if you’re a politician wondering what you should answer if you get asked the question, here’s a guide to the possibilities, and what each one says about you. There are four possible answers:

1. “The earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old.” This answer says more than, “I have memorized this particular fact.” By being stated as a fact, it communicates not only that you accept that the work of physicists and geologists is a more helpful guide to this question than counting up the “begat”s in the Old Testament, but also that you also aren’t particularly afraid of those who believe otherwise. It also might indicate that you are a believing Catholic, since the Vatican, not exactly a bastion of progressive thinking, is totally fine with the science on this one.

2. “I’m not sure of the exact number, but it’s in the billions.” Much like answer number 1, this one marks you as someone who is pro-science. But it says you aren’t a know-it-all, so that might make it go down a little easier with the folks back home.

3. “I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians…” This is Rubio’s answer, and it means, “I’m a Republican with national aspirations.” You’ll notice how he cleverly offers something for everyone. By saying “I’m not a scientist,” he acknowledges that a scientist might be able to tell you the age of the earth, as opposed to telling you the approved propaganda of the International Scientific Conspiracy. But then he says “that’s a dispute amongst theologians,” which I’m not even sure is true (do theologians really argue about this?), but in any case winks to the Republican base that maybe Rubio thinks the real answer is to be found in whether you assign each “begat” 20 years or 25 years. So if you’re a Republican, this is safe territory. Although I have no idea whether this applies to Rubio, this is also what you say if you know full well how old the earth is but are afraid that you’ll offend the rubes if you say so.

4. “The earth is somewhere between 6,000 and 9,000 years old.” This answer says, “I’m a Republican from a safe conservative district.” Not all Republicans from safe conservative districts believe this, but I’m pretty sure that everyone in Congress who does believe it is a Republican from a safe conservative district. As Representative Paul Broun of Georgia recently put it so colorfully, “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior. You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don’t believe that the earth’s but about 9,000 years old.” For the record, despite what he said, Broun is not actually a scientist, though he did somehow manage to obtain a medical degree, which of course makes him an expert in geology, enabling him to sift through “a lot of scientific data” and determine that every actual scientist is wrong about this question.

So those are your options. I don’t know if any of the Republicans who will soon be lining up for 2016 will be asked this question, but if they are, I’m betting they’ll all choose answer number 3.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, November 19, 2012

November 21, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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