Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dissing science

Jon Huntsman, responding to Rick Perry's claim that climate change is bunk and climate scientists are manipulating data to make money:
I think there's a serious problem. The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party - the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012. When we take a position that isn't willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Science - Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man's contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and, therefore, in a losing position.
The Republican Party has to remember that we're drawing from traditions that go back as far as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, President Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and Bush. And we've got a lot of traditions to draw upon. But I can't remember a time in our history where we actually were willing to shun science and become a - a party that - that was antithetical to science. I'm not sure that's good for our future and it's not a winning formula [emphasis added].
I appreciate what Huntsman is doing here, and it's a rather sad state of affairs that Perry is perceived as courageous for endorsing the scientific consensus. But I can't help noting that what Huntsman keeps suggesting is that by taking such anti-scientific stances, the Republicans might lose. Let me just suggest a bigger problem: they might win. That is, it is far from implausible that a president and a substantial chunk of the majority party in Congress could be sworn in in 2013 believing (and publicly avowing) that scientists are con artists and any finding that undermines the beliefs of the petroleum industry is criminally suspect.

Regardless of the absurdity of these allegations, they are substantially more extreme than what Bush was pushing in the last decade. To be sure, the Bush White House was not particularly welcoming to scientists, but it rarely demonstrated the profound hostility that Perry and others are demonstrating today.

What of Huntsman's suggestion that these stances hurt his party electorally? I think Perry is calculating, correctly, that such stances help him among voters in the early Republican primaries, and they help him win over Bachmann's supporters when her campaign folds, as it almost surely will. Yes, such stances might help to portray him as an extremist in the general election, but I think the short term bonus is more certain than the long term penalty.

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