The political assault on science

Republican presidential hopefuls are undermining scientific facts with baseless claims.

by David Steinberg

Last week, we had the opportunity to watch the first couple debates of the GOP primary, including the CNN/Tea Party debate. And while we may not have heard anything more than talking points, this was the first time we could see the candidates face off against each other directly.

We got a chance to see Michele Bachmann speculating that the human papillomavirus vaccine can cause severe harm, such as mental retardation and kept calling it a âÄúgovernment injection.âÄù For one, the state of Minnesota has been mandating vaccines since 1967 when the Minnesota School Immunization Law was passed and there are many vaccines that are mandated under federal and state statute.

And it has always been known that vaccines have potential to cause some secondary effects, and yes, that also applies to the HPV vaccine, which has, for example, the rare chance of causing allergic reactions. However, a quarter of all girls ages 14 to 49 have HPV, and with BachmannâÄôs careless and unfounded comment, scientists envision a drastic drop in those taking the vaccine in the future. This, in turn, would cause more people to contract cervical cancer, of which there are already 12,000 cases a year. By making these comments, Bachmann is undermining the doctorâÄôs task of keeping the people of our country as safe as possible.

With one irresponsible comment, Bachmann managed to contradict every reputable medical organization. WhatâÄôs most surprising, however, is that despite insisting she is not a scientist or doctor, she feels the need to speak with the same authority.

That was not the only example of a candidate sidestepping science in this debate either. Rick Perry had a moment concerning global warming when he seemingly compared his denial of climate science to Galileo GalileiâÄôs insistence that the sun did not revolve around the earth. He rebuts science in this argument by saying that itâÄôs a âÄúscientific theory that has not been proven and from my perspective is more and more being put into question.âÄù He continued by saying that these scientists are manipulating data and skewing results to get more money for their projects.

And earlier in this election cycle, Perry said that evolution is another âÄútheory thatâÄôs out there,âÄù that it has âÄúgaps in it,âÄù and that they teach both evolution and intelligent design in TexasâÄô schools. One should consider, however, that only one of these concepts actually has evidence in its favor, and only one is based on scientific fact.             

This is all from the same candidate who when asked the earthâÄôs age said, âÄúpretty old,âÄù and followed up with: âÄúIâÄôm not sure anybody actually knows completely and absolutely how old the earth is.âÄù Well, if the child who asked Perry this question were to ask any scientist, they would undoubtedly say around 4.5 to 6 billion years old.

ItâÄôs frustrating to everyone that these two Republicans must contradict known scientific theories with speculative pandering, especially when we should all be having responsible debates about ideas that are far more uncertain.

Perhaps the other candidates could take note of what Jon Huntsman said in the CNN/Tea Party Debate: the Republican Party shouldnâÄôt lead with âÄúcomments that fly in the face of what 98 out of 100 climate scientists have saidâÄù and âÄúcall to question evolution [sic].âÄù And most of all they shouldnâÄôt âÄúrun from science.âÄù Fielding questions about science should be easy for politicians, and they should not be challenging genuine scientists and basic fact with their own groundless claims.


David Steinberg welcomes comments at [email protected]