21 November 2012

I'm not a scientist either, but...

UPDATE: I was wrong about something - seems I may have been snookered by a Slate post and should have done more research.  People I respect in both politics and science appropriately point out that President Obama and Senator Rubio were NOT asked the same question, as I wrongly said below.    So while I still think the GQ question should have been more direct, and I still think politicians will try to be diplomatic and show respect to people who hold different sides of an argument, it's clear that my post is misleading.  Senator Rubio was asked a science question and gave a somewhat evasive answer with religious overtones.  President Obama was asked a religion question and gave a more direct answer, given the context.  Original post is below.
Anti-evolution is anti-education, Senator.
So I think this "scoop" from GQ -  Senator Marco Rubio (i.e., "tea-party favorite" and "2016 Presidential contender") says he's not a scientist when asked how old the earth is - isn't a big deal.  The way I read it, he was actually deferring to the scientific consensus while trying not to offend his more religious constituents. "I'm not a scientist, man" sounds a lot like "hey, ask someone who knows the exact number" to me.

At some point you have to understand that diplomacy is an important part of a politician's job.When asked a provocative question, a politician will give due respect to people who occupy different sides of an argument.   My proof: when asked the same question, President Obama said basically the same thing as Senator Rubio.

Senator Rubio's other point - that the age of the earth is irrelevant to many of the large economic challenges we face today - rings true to me as well.  In the years I worked on economic policy for a US Senator, I never heard anyone on either side of the aisle bring up the age of the earth in any of our discussions.  The GQ interviewer, quite frankly, asked a silly question, and in doing so diminished the point I think so many scientists and science advocates are trying to make right now.

The issue at hand is this: our political leaders are ignoring scientific consensus when making policy decisions. They are, at times, rejecting or even censoring scientific reports from legitimate, competent researchers.  They are making stuff up to justify their political positions.  In the short term this may make some people feel better or make some people more financially well-off.  In the longer term, this hurts everyone.

So rather than ask a too-cute question about the age of the earth, maybe we should ask our political leaders why they would place our students at an enormous disadvantage by diluting our science classes with the demonstrably false idea of young-earth creationism.

Senator Rubio is reportedly preparing to announce a new approach to winning over Latino voters - one that focuses on affordable, high-quality education and workforce training.   I think that's a brilliant strategy - it focuses squarely on what working families need.  Our economy is increasingly reliant on workers with training in science, technology, engineering and math.  The jobs that require this training pay good wages.

But many of those jobs need people who understand that evolution happens, regardless of who "believes in it." As Dr. Bondar says, teaching science without evolution is like teaching sentence structure without the alphabet.  If your religious beliefs dictate fealty to the idea that evolution is a "lie from the pit of hell," that the earth isn't 4.5 billion years old but only a few thousand years old, that dinosaurs and people lived together, and the way things are today is pretty much the way they were at the beginning, then you can't really support education and training in a meaningful way.

In other words, if this is the education you want to make sure Latinos get, you really want Latinos to be ignorant and paid less than the rest of us.

1 comment:

Michele said...

I think there is another nuance to his response that a lot of people seem to have missed, and that is Rubio is (finally) acknowledging the theological controversy over this issue.

Rubio is Catholic, and most of the Latino constituency he is attempting to appeal to is also Catholic. Catholics have no problem with evolution and the Vatican theologians do not take kindly to New Earth creationists.

I think that in his response he is deferring more to Catholics than to scientists, and he is bringing them into the fold by not presenting fundamentalism as the only "correct" Christianity.

I think his response is pretty similar to when Christie said his views on evolution were none of our business. Neither has a theological basis for believing in Creationism, but neither wants to offend the national Republican base.

But I don't know if either response is particularly pro-science.