Mad political scientists
The intellectual blemishes of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology reflect poorly on the whole country
Almost all of the major issues facing our country today are related to science, which is of the utmost importance to our future, whether it be through technological innovation fueling our economy, medical research improving health care or superior identification of natural disasters. So it would stand to reason that our representatives in government should be well-informed and able to talk intelligently about important scientific issues, especially if they serve on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Yet a startling number of congressmen who serve on this committee hold views that are not only unfounded and unscientific, but dangerous to the well-being of this country.
The chairman of this committee is Ralph Hall (R-Texas). He has stated that he thinks the fact 97 percent of climate science researchers agree human activity has contributed to global warming is due to a conspiracy for research money, although he, by his own admission, has “no proof” of this. His vice-chairman, Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), also denies global warming and is heavily invested in oil companies. Sensenbrenner has also made the claim that global temperatures have not surpassed those from 1998, when the last 12 years have actually included 9 of the 10 hottest years ever recorded. The fact these two are the most powerful members of a committee that was created to address scientific issues illustrates the larger ignorance of our current government, where unfortunately the majority of Republican congressmen have similar views, making it almost impossible for significant action to be taken to reduce human impact on the environment.
Other members of the committee include Todd Akin (R-MO), who recently made headlines for claiming women who are raped cannot become pregnant, and Paul Broun (R-GA). Broun has also been in the news recently after a video surface in which he claimed that evolution and the big-bang theory are “lies straight from the pit of hell.” Broun is not only a member of the committee, but a medical doctor, making his statements even more shocking.
There are obviously a lot of reasons that the prevalence of these beliefs in Congress is a problem. For starters, they are wrong. Not just a little wrong, or mixed up, but completely incorrect. They are speaking against not general opinion, but overwhelming scientific evidence, which they are aware of and choose to ignore or dismiss. While I do not have enough space to fully explore the depths of their misguidedness, I will try to explain briefly some of the facts they are ignoring. As stated above, 97 percent of climate science researchers agree global warming is caused by humans, and an inter-governmental panel of scientists backed by the United Nations has come to the conclusion that human activity has directly contributed to the steady rise in global temperature over the last 100 years. Akin’s comments have been well corrected already, but the over 30,000 rape-induced pregnancies each year in the United States make it clear he was wrong as well. Broun’s comments about evolution are contradicted by a wealth of evidence found in the fossil record, comparative embryology, genetics, comparative morphology and biogeography, while the Big-Bang Theory has equally strong evidence in an analysis of the structure of the universe, the development of galaxies and the age of stars, to name a small fraction of the relevant information. If any of this is confusing to you, I am sure an astrophysics, environmental science or biology professor could give a more in-depth explanation. It is always a problem when elected officials are willing to be so blinded by their ideologies that they ignore facts, regardless of the issue. The importance of having well-informed representatives is compounded when the issue is one that must be a cornerstone of our economic recovery, is crucial to the health and well-being of the general population, and enables us to predict and address potentially catastrophic issues before they become damaging.
Not only are these men setting our scientific policy, they are the image we, as a country, are presenting to the world on these issues. In a global economy, we need to attract innovators in science and technology from around the world to do their work in the United States and to hire Americans to work with them. Giving an impression of ignorance and stupidity will do the opposite.
An even bigger problem than the current scientific beliefs of many members of our legislature is the general apathy of the public to environmental issues. The economy and health care are the two biggest issues in this election and most people do not see the perspective of a candidate on climate change or evolution as important to these issues. Until there is pressure from the voting population for candidates to be informed and educated, we will continue to have representatives decades and centuries behind modern scientific research. And as long as this is the case, scientific innovation in this country will suffer. This will affect the economy, especially in fields like manufacturing and technology. It will affect health care through diminished medical research, which will make care more expensive and less effective. There is almost no facet of everyday life that is not influenced by advances in science, or a lack thereof. So please, when deciding who to vote for this election season, make it a priority to research positions on science, not just for the headline races for Senate or president but for local government as well. We cannot afford to ignore reality any longer.
Forrest Brown’s column normally appears Thursdays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.