Monday, September 3, 2012

Bunkum Politicians and Science

As we move into another election in the USA it's worth spotlighting politicians who decry science itself.  

There are politicians who are plain ignorant, such as the Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann who claimed that the HPV vaccine has “very significant consequences”  citing the anecdotal case of a woman who had told her that her daughter “suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine.” 

There are politicians who deny global warming, such as the Senator from Oklahoma, James Inhofe, who brilliantly states that Nature magazine is " a very liberal publication".  Then there are  the politicians who decry evolution or GM foods.  In the eyes of the German Greens, for example, and the majority of the European Parliament, GM foods, as they are controlled by big corporations, have to be evil, and the science showing GM crops are harmless has to be wrong and biased. Many of the same promote alternative medicine, which, by definition, is medicine that has been proven not to work, or not been proven to work. [These politicians want to divert money that could be spent researching actual evidence-based treatments  to quack remedies. Clever, eh?  And why should their  $60bn dollar alternative medicine industry need no external regulation? Either their remedies have a clinical effect or they don’t; and if they do they should be treated like any other drug.]

Science becomes political when it spurs political action. The divide here is not between ‘pro-science’ and ‘anti-science’ political parties at all. Rather, politicians and parties will always side with science when it suits their constituency or conforms to their interests.  When not then they deny the science is right and cherry-pick anything that seems to confirm their prejudices.

In election season, let's pinpoint those who deny science for political ends. In the words of the President of the Royal Society   Sir Paul Nurse, (a native of Norwich!) “We can’t sit by without exposing bunkum.”


  1. I don't think all parties are the same. I think it is not an accident that all your US examples are from the Right and all Europe examples are from the Left. While all parties agree with science that support their arguments, parties differ in how quickly, overtly, and often they deny science. And at least at the moment the US Right and the EU Left seem particular bad at denying science they don't like.

  2. Well, you may have a point. However, a counterexample occurred just today, when the British Conservative Government appointed Jeremy Hunt as their Health Secretary. Here's what Hunt has to say about homeopathy.

    "Homeopathic care is enormously valued by thousands of people and in an NHS that the Government repeatedly tells us is "patient-led" it ought to be available where a doctor and patient believe that a homeopathic treatment may be of benefit to the patient."

    So the leader of the UK Health Care system wishes to commit taxpayer money to funding treatments that have never been shown to work.

  3. In view of what you wrote, I'd like to draw attention to this column/editorial? in the Atlantic:

    'We're Not Going to Let Our Campaign Be Dictated by Fact-Checkers'

    one quote: "a lot less false than you think".
    Not commenting on ideas on either side of the isle, but this is simply astounding.

  4. I agree with Roland. And I'll go one step further in this direction by saying that, globally, the loonies in the US are mostly on the right and in Europe they are mostly on the left. They demonstrate that there are no such things as "left" or "right" actually, there are, to paraphrase Tony Blair, policies that work and policies that don't work. There is however one exception: the Greens, who are equally abusing science on each side of the pound.