Why some American politicians deny basic science

NEW YORK — During a foreign policy think tank discussion in London on Wednesday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a likely presidential candidate for 2016, was asked whether he believed in evolution.

To a British audience, it might seem an odd question to pose to a sitting governor of a US state – akin to asking whether the Earth was round, or if he believed apples fall to the ground because of gravity.

Yet the Republican demurred, unable to answer – much to the delight of the journalists in the room, who not only had a story but one that could be duly soaked in a dye of cultural snobbery.

In his defence, it was not that the governor didn’t have the correct answer. Like everyone in the room, he knew full well that evolution is a watertight scientific theory. However, it is precisely because Walker has presidential ambitions that he found himself unwilling to answer, forced to look preposterous in front of the mocking crowd.

But what witchcraft is at work that requires a man bent on becoming leader of one of the most scientifically advanced nations in the world to deny a theory so universally accepted?

Put simply, politics.

A Pew poll in 2009 found a majority (54%) of Republican voters believed in evolution.Similar polling in 2013 found far fewer Republicans (43%) believed in evolution. In just four years, disbelieving Republican voters had switched from a minority to a majority.

That’s not to say more Americans had come to question evolution. The overall percentage of disbelievers remained that same – a still staggering 40%. It was that more people that reject evolution had come to identify with the Republican brand.

But why? Pew found that older Americans are far more likely to reject Darwin’s teachings, as are white evangelicals. In recent years the Republican Party has increasingly come to rely on these twin demographics – older voters and evangelical Christians.

Most Americans still believe in evolution. It’s likely most Republican politicians believe in evolution, albeit quietly. But increasingly the party’s base, those that turn out to vote in presidential and midterm elections, do not. To remain in power, some politicians must pander to this base, regardless of how discordant it makes them look to the rest of America or indeed the Western world.

The increasing polarisation of American politics is also at play. A general mistrust of science has come to represent the default position of many Republican voters, hence similar obfuscation on matters of climate change. The longer this persists, the more entrenched these views become.

Which leads us back to Walker, forced to sit on a London stage and embarrassingly “punt” on a question, knowing that delivering an honest answer would alienate him with the very supporters he needs to corral for a White House bid.

Walker’s party has compromised on truth to retain power. It won’t last; relying on an ageing vote is unsustainable. Yet until the party itself evolves, Republican politicians will continue to be laughed at around the world.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

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London – the place Republicans go to die

London has become the elephant’s graveyard. It’s the place where Republicans go to die.

In less than a month, three of the GOP’s main presidential hopefuls have sojourned in the British capital for what should have been rudimentary exercises in statesmanship.

All three have subsequently left having soiled their credentials.

In January, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal gave a speech to a British think tank in London in which he echoed discredited Fox News reporting that said Muslims have been allowed to establish autonomous neighbourhoods in British cities run under Sharia.

He then repeated the claim on CNN, insisting he was “speaking the truth”.

Next up was Chris Christie, whose burlesque three-day trade visit to the UK peaked when the New Jersey governor said parents should have “some measure of choice” in whether their children are vaccinated (thus undercutting the entire edifice that has proved so effective in eradicating childhood diseases).

The comments ignited a firestorm in the US, which was suffering a measles outbreak, and left Christie snapping at journalists for the remainder of his trip.

Then there was Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, who was roundly mocked on Wednesday for choosing to “punt” rather than answer a question on evolution. Speaking at a British foreign policy think tank, Walker was asked: “Are you comfortable with the idea of evolution? Do you believe in it?”

For me, I am going to punt on that one as well,” he said. “That’s a question politicians shouldn’t be involved in one way or another. I am going to leave that up to you. I’m here to talk about trade, not to pontificate about evolution.”

This was greeted by mocking laughs from the assembled press corps, and subsequent headlines on both sides of the Atlantic.

And let’s not forget Mitt Romney, who travelled to the capital in 2012 to attend the Olympic games, an event for which he questioned the host’s preparedness. Romney was savaged in the British press; the London curse had struck again…

It’s 18 months before Americans go to the polls, so more prospective Republican candidates are likely to make the trip across the water. As such, the HuffPost UK has put together the following handy cheat sheet of questions and answers for any GOP candidate visiting our shores.

REPUBLICAN CHEAT SHEET:

  • What are dinosaurs?

Correct answer: A diverse group of animals that first appeared during the Triassic period and lived for around 135 million years.

Incorrect answer: Big lizards created by God that lived around the time of King Arthur.

  • Do childhood vaccinations work?

Correct answer: Yes.

Incorrect answer: Vaccines are dangerous. The government and the media have conspired to cover this up.

  • How old is Earth?

Correct answer: 4.54 billion-years-old.

Incorrect answer: By adding up the genealogies of the Bible, we know the world was made 6,000 years ago.

  • What happens if you keep sailing west?

Correct answer: You’ll eventually hit land. If you sail around it and repeat the process you’ll end up back where you started.

Incorrect answer: You’ll fall off the edge of the world or be eaten by sea beasts.

  • Is the average temperature of Earth’s climate system rising?

Correct answer: Yes.

Incorrect answer: If the climate is warming, where is all this snow coming from?

  • What’s the best way to stimulate an economy?

Correct answer: Increase government spending and cut taxes on the middle class.

Incorrect answer: Huge tax breaks for the wealthy.

  • What would be your advise to the parents of a sick child?

Correct answer: Take the child to see a trained medical professional.

Incorrect answer: Fall to your knees, singing ‘When I Survey The Wondrous Cross’.

  • What should you do if a tooth falls out?

Correct answer: Put it in the bin and make a dental appointment.

Incorrect answer: Put it in my pocket until nighttime, and then leave it under my pillow for the fairy.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.