About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
When Republicans don’t know squat about science, and proud of it
The topic was global warming and what the Republican’s “plan” to deal with it might look like (don’t laugh! Not yet). I prepared myself for the usual denial mixed with narrow minded statements to the effect that we cannot afford to save the planet during a recession, and I was not disappointed. But the real kicker came when Stephanopoulos asked Boehner: “What is the Republican plan to deal with carbon emissions, which every major scientific organization has said is contributing to climate change?”
Here is the answer, in full: “George, the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you’ve got more carbon dioxide.”
Ok, let us analyze this piece of politico-scientific flim-flammery on Boehner’s part. First, he is saying that the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen is comical. It would be, if anyone had actually made that claim. Boehner is confusing cancer with global warming, an astounding example of non sequitur that he can quickly fix by checking out the definition of greenhouse gas on Wikipedia. (Don’t these people have science advisors?) Second, Boehner claims that burping cows emit carbon dioxide. They don’t, they produce methane (which is a greenhouse gas!). Again, Mr. Boehner, please at least check Wikipedia if you can’t bother with a more highbrow source, the entry is “methane.”
The interview then concludes with an unwitting bit of humor on Boehner’s part (at least, I think it was unwitting...), when he said to Stephanopoulos: “I think you’ll see a plan from us. Just like you’ve seen a plan from us on the stimulus bill and a better plan on the budget.” Hmm, you mean like the very thin budget without numbers you came up with? Wanna go see what Wiki says about budgets? They typically include numbers.
This would be very funny if it weren’t for the fact that Boehner isn’t an irrelevant country bumpkin, he is the minority leader of a party that has been in control of the fate of this nation and of much of the world for the past eight years, a party that could regain control at any time because of the fickleness of the electorate and the vagaries of things like economies, wars and terrorist attacks.
There is absolutely no excuse for this level of ignorance by a prominent elected official. It is of course natural to disagree on political issues; it is even ok to be skeptical of a scientific consensus on the basis of one’s own honest understanding of the situation. But to say that cows discharge CO2 and that environmentalists claim that CO2 is a carcinogen is not just bizarre, it is a flagrant case of unethical and willful ignorance. Boehner should be ashamed of himself and resign his post in disgrace. Alas, that won’t happen until the cows come home. I mean, burp CO2.