Why it Matters that Political Leaders Understand Science

November 21, 2012

Disturbing revelation the other day – one that I am glad has been getting a lot of exposure – GOP future hope Marco Rubio answered a science based question with a disturbingly familiar cave to the most ignorant lowest common denominator of the GOP anti-science base.

I’ve excerpted the conversation above from Chris Mathew’s Hardball program where the incident came up. This does not bode well for the future of the GOP, and for a fact based conversation in the US. Mathews discusses with former PA Governor Ed Rendell, and Tea Party operative Matt Kibbe.

Forbes:

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who many political observers think has a strong shot to be a 2016 Presidential candidate, just finished a lengthy interview with GQ that you can read here. One thing that struck my interest here, as someone who often reports on science, was Rubio’s answer when he was asked the question, “How old do you think the Earth is.”

In response, Rubio told GQ that, “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 and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”

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If the Earth is really 9,000 years old, as Paul Broun believes and Rubio is willing to remain ignorant about,  it becomes imperative to shut down our nuclear plants and dismantle our nuclear stockpiles now until such time as scientists are able to ascertain what circumstances exist that could cause deadly acceleration of radioactive decay and determine how to prevent it from happening.

The bottom line is that this economy, at its root, is built on  a web of scientific knowledge from physics to chemistry to biology. It’s impossible to just cherry pick out parts we don’t like. If the Earth is 9,000 years old, then virtually the entire construct of modern science is simply wrong. Not only that, most of the technology that we rely on most likely wouldn’t work – as they’re dependent on science that operates on the same physical laws that demonstrate the age of the universe.

Now, this doesn’t mean that our representatives to the Congress and to the Senate should be scientific experts. But if they hold ideas about the world around us that are fundamentally at odds with scientific evidence, then that will ultimately infringe on their ability to make reasoned judgments about a host of issues where the economy touches technology. And that could end up harming the economy as a whole.

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9 Responses to “Why it Matters that Political Leaders Understand Science”


  1. It is embarrassing that in the twenty-first century, in the age of quantum physics and missions to Mars, that a candidate of a major American political party still feels the need to appear as an idiot in order to preserve support from a substantial percentage of his base. This reality begs the question of why there are not literacy tests given before someone is allowed to vote.

  2. Wes Says:

    The silly part of all of this is that most church-going people in the USA have no problem with evolution or the age of the Earth at all, it’s only the vocal 20% that are literalist fundamentalists that have this problem. Unfortunately for the Republicans, these ignorant folks are the core of their base, but not numerous enough to win national elections. Unfortunately for the rest of us, they are numerous enough to win lots of Congressional seats. To have people who are deliberately scientifically ignorant chairing key committees in Congress is a recipe for disaster.


  3. [...] Disturbing revelation the other day – one that I am glad has been getting a lot of exposure – GOP future hope Marco Rubio answered a science based question with a disturbingly familiar …  [...]


  4. I think that answer would flunk a basic 7th grade science exam.

  5. andrewfez Says:

    The mathematics of radio dating is the exact same mathematics used to define how most drugs are eliminated in the body – 1st order kinetics. It is at the heart of how we know, when somebody takes a medication, that they are going to get enough med so that it is therapeutically effective, but not so much that it is toxic. This is just one miniscule example of how all science is fundamentally connected.

    Yet, I’m willing to bet that 99.9999% of these folks that deny the age of the earth, don’t have a single problem with using a hypertensive med, or a cholesterol lowering med, or a med that dissolves blood clots after an ischemic stroke, etc., because of their ignorance of the science behind such. Imagine if a fundamentalist was admitted to the hospital, and refused to take any medications because they believed the science behind first order kinetics was not yet settled, because there is a discrepancy in what they believe the Bible says and what simple mathematics says.

    “Now, this doesn’t mean that our representatives to the Congress and to the Senate should be scientific experts”

    I think there should be more scientists in Congress. They like solving problems. Folks in Congress already employ teams of underling lawyers to keep them straight regarding present laws, so it’s not like scientist representatives would be completely lost. Though all the time spent coddling to the ignorant mass’s perceptions is probably a huge turn off, for those used to using logic and reason to solve problems.


  6. Politicians pander, it’s what they do to get elected. Rubio’s latest statements are a gross example of it, but Obama has said similar things as well:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2012/11/rubio_and_obama_and_the_age_of_earth_politicians_hedge_about_whether_universe.html


  7. Science and religion are mutually exclusive. The fact that people who accept fairytales as fact are put into important positions where rational reasoned thought is required to aide the decision making process is mindboggling. Some commentators here make good points about the lack of understanding of science leading the religious to unwittingly hold two positions where one hand they reject some aspect of science yet on the other accept it through ignorance. One can only wonder if, should those people be educated about how medicine works for example, if they would refuse treatment as a testament to their faith? With climate change, refusal to accept an old Earth automatically means those people can’t accept we have a carbon problem as the carbon we are burning today was laid down more than 200 million years ago. It’s the same issue with evolution denial. Perhaps I am giving them too much credit? Do they actually put much thought into it or is it simpler for them to choose wilful ignorance?

    Anyway, on the medicine/religion internal conflict… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTSRBLd5ae4

  8. heijdensejan Says:

    Sad that a major part of a major western country has such a problem with science that a possible future president has to deny the age of the earth in order to gather enough votes to be electable by his base. America is held hostage by these people.

    In Netherlands fundamentalist Christians have 2 out of 150 votes in our lower house, I imagine there are a substantial part of them who are either not interested or believe the science on this.

    Long live a multi party system!


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