Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Science Denial in Political Candidates;The Importance of a Simple but Telling Question

Back in 2008 Republican presidential hopefuls gathered in an on-stage “debate”.  By debate I mean they did what all politicians do regardless of political party- they used the occasion to bend questions to fit their answers and stroke the expectations of smiling partisans counting down to that primary election.

The event was typical and boring.  Stock answers to non-issues and sidestepping issues that truly matter in our country.

But one web-submitted question resonated especially well with me and it should be a mandated question in all political debates from here on out…. “This is a yes-no question… Do you believe in evolution?”

The question should have been, “Do you accept the evidence for evolution,” because we don’t have to believe something when it has been substantiated with overwhelming evidence, but these are politicians, not scientists, so we’ll let it slide.

The question was posed to Senator John McCain, who enthusiastically said, “Yes.”

When asked to the rest of the stage with a show-of-hands, hands were slow to raise, and candidates looked back and forth at each other, thinking quickly of how their answer could be politically expedient.

Gov. Mike Huckabee was the first hand up, followed by Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Tom Tancredo.

This was a telling moment.  Here were three candidates willing to ignore evidence and brandish their ignorance in a show to placate a political base.  To me, grounds for immediate disqualification.

This year during the “debates” some pundit mentioned that such questions were useless in vetting a presidential candidate. I could not disagree more.  This is absolutely the best question to ask anyone seeking the highest office in the land, an office where they literally have their finger on the power to annihilate the planet. They also have to make many policy decisions that could benefit from objective scientific validation, and to turn a blind eye to science for political gains is detrimental to us all.

To deny that evolution happened over the last 3.6 billion years (and still happens and is ongoing) means that you have to be willing to ignore evidence.  Worse, you have to be willing to ignore evidence and accept what someone believes in the absence of evidence, but on the basis of faith.

So when an important decision needs to be made (like invade Iraq to take out Saddam Hussein in retribution for 9-11) who do we want to make that decision?  Do we want someone in power that will carefully consider and weigh all points of view, options, and evidence, and then make a decision based on the facts, or do we want someone that will default to the voice in his head, the voice he hears in prayers, the voices of his supporters, the voices of big business, the voices of his party, and/or the voices of contributors? 

Evolution is the basis of speciation and natural selection is the mechanism by which it happens.  That is not a subject of debate among the world’s scientists.  Fewer theories have more support from diverse scientists and avenues of inquiry.  To refuse to accept this evidence to placate the ignorant shows that a politician is either lying or stupid.

Anyone not accepting evolution as an established and supported theory that explains the diversity of life on earth should be immediately disqualified from holding the office of President of the USA.  The next decade will require hard decisions to be made on economic policy, energy policy, foreign policy, and many other areas.  We need leaders that are connected to science and quality information, that can make good decisions when provided with information, and accept reality over influences.

They could instead run for King of a planet that is flat, cooling and in the middle of the universe.