(Selective) Ignorance Is Bliss

It was 1996, and then-Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, found himself increasingly frustrated by the questions posed by Katie Couric, at the time host of NBC’s “Today.” Couric, Senator Dole charged, was unfairly querying his position on the dangers of smoking cigarettes.

 “I’ve said I don’t know whether it’s addictive. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a scientist,” he asserted.

Flash forward 18 years and Governor of Florida Rick Scott, a Republican running for reelection, wouldn’t say whether or not he believes the planet is warming. His reason? “I’m not a scientist.”

If there are any truisms in American politics, one of them is Republican politicians’ humble confessions that science is not their area of expertise. From the age of the earth to the regulation of toxic chemicals, the GOP has abandoned the scientific method in all of its policy decisions.

It’s funny, because the vast majority of Republican elected officials aren’t healthcare professionals, doctors or economists, but that doesn’t stop them from voting to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act, restricting women’s ability to make their own reproductive choices or vociferously opposing raising the minimum wage. The hypocrisy of the Republican Party truly knows no bounds.

Republicans pretend to be experts on issues that their donors and they care about, but on those that threaten the profits of their contributors, suddenly they are completely ignorant. In effect, the GOP is actively engaged in an effort to shift the public conversation away from addressing the problems at hand and instead toward whether there are problems in the first place. Politicians, lobbyists and business executives employ this technique so frequently that they’ve had a book written about their activities: Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.

In their eye-opening publication, authors Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway demonstrate that history is replete with examples of corporations and their friends in government manipulating the media to make it appear as though scientists are in much less agreement about the environmental and health consequences of products ranging from fossil fuels to the pesticide DDT than they actually are. Inaction on a variety of ecological problems is among the multitudinous consequences of this strategy.

So when you watch the next Republican Party presidential debate and one of the candidates says “I’m not a scientist” in response to a question about global warming, remember that this is part of a deliberate and coordinated plan of action designed to protect the profits of fossil fuel companies at the expense of the health of the general public. I’m not a scientist, either, but I have enough sense to listen to the scientific community when it affirms a finding with overwhelming certainty. Here’s to hoping the GOP joins me.

1) “I’ve said I don’t know whether it’s addictive. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a scientist,” he asserted. : http://www.nytimes.com/1996/07/03/us/dole-criticizes-role-of-press-and-foes-in-tobacco-debate.html

2) Flash forward 18 years and Governor of Florida Rick Scott, a Republican, won’t say whether he believes the planet is warming. His reason for not doing so? “I’m not a scientist.” : http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2014/05/rick-scott-wont-say-if-he-thinks-man-made-climate-change-is-real-significant.html

3) Age of the earth: http://grist.org/climate-energy/how-to-get-republicans-to-stop-using-the-im-not-a-scientist-dodge/

4) From the age of the earth to the regulation of toxic chemicals: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/11/the-republican-party-isnt-really-the-anti-science-party/281219/


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