At a breakfast meeting yesterday in New Hampshire, Governor Rick Perry of Texas, now a candidate for U.S. President, announced that he does not believe in anthropogenic global warming. He said,
I do believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized. I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. I think we’re seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change. Yes, our climates change. They’ve been changing ever since the earth was formed.
So not only does our governor not believe in human-caused climate change and global warming, he thinks scientists are fraudulently manipulating data to cash in and get rich quick. Yes, vilifying and maligning scientists is a sure way to win the Republican nomination in today’s partisan environment. It always worked in Texas, the state whose Republican Party is totally controlled by religious-right radicals who would rather believe in fundamentalist sectarian doctrine than what they were taught in science class. But will it work on the national stage?
Scientists are usually seen as quiet individuals who work to discover new knowledge that helps human civilization to survive, such as finding new sources of energy, new properties of matter that create better industrial materials and chemicals, and new drugs to cure diseases. Scientists also map the geology and biology of the Earth, so we know what we’re mining, drilling, and killing. But when scientists try to warn us that using fossil fuels as a major energy source is poisoning our atmosphere and changing the climate in dangerous ways, Rick Perry would rather think the worse of them: Not only are scientists wrong, they are venal, too. Indulging in baseless insults is a prerogative of some candidates, and Rick Perry is a master of this, a skill he learned during his Texas campaigns.
Perry makes his bizarre claims deliberately. Even though he sincerely believes what he says, an intelligent candidate would presumably keep his crazy thoughts hidden from the voters until after he –or she; I must not exclude Michele Bachmann – is nominated and elected. But our governor loves the publicity. He knows the nightly commentators on MSNBC won’t be able to resist him and will give him plenty of air time in front of their left-leaning viewers – a priceless opportunity to spread his message of hope to the unconverted. Already the national press (here and here) is falling all over itself to publicize his every utterance. Perry will certainly keep saying stupid things because it gains him enormous press attention and the commitment of millions of Republican voters.
Last year, Governor Perry was not shy about telling people he is a creationist:
Explain where you stand on evolution-creationism being taught in school.
I am a firm believer in intelligent design as a matter of faith and intellect, and I believe it should be presented in schools alongside the theories of evolution. The State Board of Education has been charged with the task of adopting curriculum requirements for Texas public schools and recently adopted guidelines that call for the examination of all sides of a scientific theory, which will encourage critical thinking in our students, an essential learning skill.
Perry’s answer assumes that there is more than one side to science’s explanation of biological origins, a scientific side (evolutionary biology) and a religious side (intelligent design creationism). There is not. To this end, Perry has appointed three recent members of the Texas State Board of Education – Don McLeroy, Gail Lowe, and Barbara Cargill – to be the chairman. All three are, like Perry, creationists who worked hard to push their sectarian beliefs about the natural world into the science standards and textbooks. Scientists had to leave their important work at our state’s universities and take time instead to oppose these radicals on the State Board.
At least our governor is willing to act on his beliefs about science, as backward and mistaken as they are. Image what he could do as President. He could deny scientific facts repeatedly, politicize the country’s science agencies to publish inaccurate scientific information and suppress scientists who dare to speak the truth, and continue to give federal support to corporations who make money defying environmental laws. Oh, wait….that already happened during the previous Republican administration.
Steven Schafersman is a consulting scientist, writer, and science education advocate.