On to the substance of the Palin pick

Update 9/1/08:  Ta-Nehisi Coates puts a spin on the same idea developed below shorter and stronger:  We aren’t saying that Palin is dumb, but that she’s either ignorant or playing on the ignorance of the rest of us.  Either way, not good.

I realize that there is probably something of Palin fatigue already weighing  in; my tours of the blogosphere and the MSM have been all Sarah, all the time for the last thirty hours or so.

So this is something of a placeholder for a longer, more considered post sometime next week.  But the topline I want to put out onto the intertubes is that the Republican ticket is now the most anti-science put out there by any national party since William Jennings Bryan headlined the Dems more than century ago.  (And, for all kinds of reasons, I fear I being unfair to the old bi-metallist, but that’s a post for a very different day.)

The troubles for science begin at the top.  I wrote about McCain as a hazard to the national science enterprise a few months ago in this post.  Short form:  after eight years of a range of assaults on science from the Bush led GOP — attacks in which McCain either acquiesced or participated — McCain’s budget priorities as laid out in his speeches and his issue statements would hit the American science in the gut, with its funding at great risk.

At the same time, this danger comes in the context of McCain himself appearing to be much more disinterested in than actively hostile to the actual content of science.  That is, he has a disdain for expertise — just see his repeatedly willed ignorance on such technically informed subjects as the gas tax holiday and energy policy.  But beyond that  “don’t bug me with the facts” reflex, McCain himself has not said anything that suggests he thinks the law of gravity was passed in the 81st Congress or anything like that

So the prognosis as I saw it in May was that a GOP win in November was for an ongoing cash decline of a thousand cuts, and neither rhetorical support or attack on the underlying ideas of science.

Then came Palin.  My first reaction was like that of a lot of people:  whaaat?  And then — this is an embarassment to the idea or brand of John McCain.  After a week in which Democrats rag on his judgment  he confirms his loose cannon label with this?

But the risk of such reactions is the Dan Quayle problem.  We’ve seen some very unlikey people get within a flat EKG of the Oval Office.  Palin is not just a reflection on McCain; she’s a suddenly potentially very powerful person whose own views, beliefs, and judgment matter.

There will be a lot of folks concentrating on filling in the Palin blank state, and early reports on the conventional political fronts are not promising — from her abuse of power scandal/investigation to stories of managerial incompetence as mayor of a small town; to the shock and dismay of those who politically know her best at the thought of her in the White House.

I’ll leave all that to the kind of folks linked to above.  Here, I just want to remind folks that her creationism and her global warming denialism are not just isolated oddball beliefs.  They are windows into the qualities of her mind, how she thinks and reasons.

And in the shortest form, what it tells me is that she is not someone who eagerly confronts harder truths.  It is certainly possible to have deep faith and understand the overwhelming explanatory (and useful) power of modern evolutionary biology and all its related fields.  But doing so requires hard thinking, and a willingness to sacrifice the simple comfort of Biblical literalism.  Simply saying saying that a creator did it is not the answer.

It is equally possible to have all kinds of doubts about the actual risks involved in global climate change, the scale of probable changes, and the appropriate policy response to the problem. But all but the flat-earth rump of the scientific community agree that anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases does/will produce some impact on the global climate system — even so well known a skeptic as my  MIT colleague Dick Lindzen says so, while dismissing the problem as both too uncertain and too minor to merit a policy response.  (I disagree — and have for a long time — but that’s not the point here.)

By contrast, Palin’s bald denial of the role of human actions in climate change just gives her an easy way out of confronting the complex and hard arguments about the scale, dangers, and responses to global warming.

And yet, the fact that a President Palin wouldn’t take global warming seriously  doesn’t bother me as much as the thought that the easy way out would be her preferred route on all the issues the occupant of the Oval Office has to confront.

This is tooth fairy thinking — if I want something to be true badly enough; if it is convenient or useful or comfortable for something to be true, then true it must be.

That is:  lots in the blogosphere and the mainstream media have questioned Palin as a candidate because her experience does not make her a plausible President on day one.  But on day two of the Palin era, what scares me much more is not the fact that she hasn’t done very much, nor even that she doesn’t know very much, but that the handful of data on the record that gives insight to her thinking about science tells us that her capacity for judgment is poor.

Which is, of course, exactly the same argument the Democratic National Convention made against her much more experienced, fully formally qualified running mate, John McCain.  McCain/Palin:  the Tooth Fairy ticket.

Oy.  More to come on this theme as the shock wears off.

Image:  August Malmström, “Dancing Fairies” 1861.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

Explore posts in the same categories: evolution, Fundamentalisms, McCain, Politics, Science Policy, Stupidity, Who needs science?

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6 Comments on “On to the substance of the Palin pick”


  1. If you were Sarah Palin, wouldn’t you hide the fact that you’re in favor of global warming by pretending to deny its existence? After all, you hate polar bears, you want to drill drill drill, and you’d like for Alaska to have a shorter winter. It’s win, win, win.

  2. clancop Says:

    Well I think with 33,000 scientists world wide questioning global warming, and Kyoto changing its statement from “man is to blame” to “man is to blame ONLY for the last 20 years” makes this not so odd ball. BBC put out a nice documentary on it, Global Warming; Doomsday Called Off, as well as another floating around from a guy who had his life threatened over it. No matter what Al Gore says, global warming isn’t fact.

    Next, on ANWR drilling, she has the facts down pat. http://www.gov.state.ak.us/pdf/ANWRlettertoCongress_June23-2008.pdf This letter to Washington is well researched and is backed up by the scientific findings her state conducted on the last pipeline’s impact on the caribou population. Once again, nothing wrong with this.

    Finally, don’t blame the center or the right for “Palinmania”, especially since the big story is how Obama and friends have been tearing her over the fact that she is a women. CNN’s John Roberts’ piece of her baby was a low blow, but not as low as Alan Colmes when he stated that she actually caused Trigg’s down syndrome. Classy…

    For someone who prides himself on science, you sure don’t understand its history. Before Galeleo, science stated that the Earth was the center of the universe, before Columbus, they said the world was flat, before we mapped the human brain and understood mental diseases, science lobotomized everyone with a perceived condition (don’t forget eugenics), and right now, we don’t even understand how the world works, let alone what is happening. I like to believe what the experts are saying, that global warming isn’t unnatural and man made, not what lobbyists and special interest groups are…

    P.S. This shouldn’t be listed in science


  3. For someone who prides himself on science, you sure don’t understand its history.

    Why do unscientific boneheads always make statements like this to people who obviously, obviously know much more than their cherry-picked, incoherent, and often self-contradicting nonsense? Do they really think people are going to be fooled?

  4. clancop Says:

    Unscientific? Contradicting? Have you done your research? I saw your comments on that ignorant Alaska post and I suggest you read Flopping Aces’ take on “Trooper Gate” before jumping to conclusions…

    http://www.floppingaces.net/2008/08/29/palins-troopergate-beating-msm-distortions-to-the-truth/

    I would hope you people have common sense to actually do the research, but you guys prefer cherry-picking statements and posting slander. Did you even click the link I posted concerning Palin’s letter? Guess not…

    Before even bothering to question my credentials, I would actually sit down and educate yourself. And with all this Palin smearing, do you think anyone one is really fooled about what is happening? The Dems are divided (Clinton’s tueday speech showed that), Obama supporters are grasping at straws (what does her down syndrome kid have to do with her being VP?) and it all adds up to you guys being scared. The view from Canada is great, sexist far-lefties are just so pathetic…

  5. Tom Says:

    Oh dear. I suppose the presence of persistent trolls is a compliment in its way; it means that the blog has risen to a level of notice to be worth trolling. But I do hope that the quality of trolling rises with time. Putting on full professorial pedantic snark robes, I’d note that if someone is making the argument from authority on his/her knowledge of the history of science, it would help to spell Galileo’s name correctly.

    But that said, one of the cardinal rules of blogging is Don’t Feed the Trolls. So while I hope clancop’s reading of this blog improves his digestion I think I’ll leave the quality (sic) of his offerings to condemn itself.

  6. Eratos Says:

    Cool Blog

    Wise idea to not feed the trolls.


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