On Monday, Republican presidential wannabe Rick Santorum said that the Pope should “leave science to the scientists”.
What that hell does that even mean?
If taken literally, it would mean that Santorum defers to scientists, and so if a policy issue concerning climate change were to arise, he would trust in the scientists’ collective judgment. That collective judgment is overwhelmingly unanimous; the fact that 97% of scientists in a particular field agree on a particular something is well-nigh miraculous.
But of course Santorum doesn’t mean that.
It could also mean that he thinks no one should talk about anything unless they’re an expert in the field. But that’s absurd, right? If a tornado approaches, would Santorum say that only meteorologists should talk about it? Surely not. [See my last post.]
In point of fact, “leave science to the scientists” is a kind of code these days among many Republican politicians. Here’s my rough translation:
“Despite what I may personally believe, my voting base is generally against human-caused climate change, and many of these voters even deny that climate change is occurring at all. On the other hand, if I personally deny climate change, I will look like an idiot to the something like 71% of the general public who agree that climate change is happening. So I will obfuscate: by punting to unnamed scientists, I can deflect the question; I can make my voting base happy while at the same time not actually saying I’m against climate change per se.”
This kind of obfuscation is odious to me. Slimy. Maybe it’s par for the course; maybe that’s how the game is played; maybe that’s just realpolitik. But I don’t have to like it. Someone needs to take Santorum (or any other Republican who spouts such nonsense) to task, and ask the following hard questions:
- Does science ever effect policy making? If so, who do we turn to for answers? Should we listen to the experts, or listen to conspiracy-theory-soaked hate-spewing trolls?
- If we should leave science to the scientists, doesn’t that mean we should accept the answers they give us? After all, they’re the experts, not us.
- I hear, Rick, that you don’t believe in the plain fact of evolution. Do you by chance also believe in the Tooth Fairy? [OK, that was a non-sequitur, but I couldn’t help it.]
Imagine Santorum is sitting beneath a mountain, and there are 100 volcanologists around him. 97 of the volcanologists say that the mountain is about to explode; 3 of them have doubts. But Santorum doesn’t listen to any of the scientists; he’s got Rush Limbaugh whispering in his ear, telling him “it’s all bullshit.” So Santorum says: “Leave volcanology to the volcanologists. Let’s do nothing.” His fan-base cheers—at least until the pyroclastic flow hits them all at 450 mph.