I'm sure there are politicians who say stupid things about science and technology everywhere in the world, but you have to admit that in the United States, "the moronic science soliloquy" is practically a political art form. Over the past ten years it's gotten particularly bad, as more and more legislation deals with science — and politicians try their very best to have "scientifically informed" opinions. Here are twelve great moments of sheer scientific stupidity from U.S. politicians and political hopefuls.
1. Richard Mourdock: God Causes Women to Get Pregnant After a Rape
Let's start with the low-hanging fruit. Here's Tea Party candidate Richard Mourdock, explaining that if women get pregnant after a rape that "God intended" it. Needless to say, this is not the standard medical explanation for how the reproductive system works. Perhaps he was misled by reading about "how babby is formed" on the internets.
2. Paul Braun: Evolution, Embryology, and Physics Are All Lies
Here's another classic. Paul Braun, a former scientist, is now a congressional representative in Georgia. He explains why evolutionary biology and geology are completely incorrect because we live a "young earth."
3. Ted Stevens: The Internet Is Not A Truck
This is so profoundly unplugged that it reminds me of Sen. Ted Stevens' famous "series of tubes" speech during the Net Neutrality debates. Remember how the internet wasn't like a truck?
TL;DR? Here's the musical version of Stevens' speech.
4. Terry England: Abortion is Bad Because Chickens
And now, back to abortion. The only thing more confusing than the tubes that make up the internet are the tubes that make up the female reproductive system. Terry England, a congressional representative in Georgia, talks about abortion by first explaining that he's got some experience with this topic — after all, he's delivered dead pigs and cows and knows how tough it is when animals don't survive. Then there's a long rambling bit about chicken eggs and abortion, in which England fails to note that we eat yummy chicken eggs every morning because we prevent chicken babies from forming!
5. Todd Akin: Women Can Stop Themselves from Getting Pregnant After Rape
And then Rep. Todd Akin describes how, from what he understands "from doctors," there is a thing called "legitimate rape" and female bodies can "just shut that whole thing down" and not get pregnant. Because tubes.
6. Michelle Bachman: Carbon Dioxide Is Natural — Kind of Like Organic Fruit
Now let's move on to climate change, shall we? There are plenty of politicians who don't believe in human-caused climate change, and to be fair most of them express this believe in more or less reasonable fashion. They'll say things like "the science is inconclusive," which isn't entirely true but isn't burningly false either. One can always claim, truthfully, that science is inconclusive about some tiny aspect of how climate change is happening. And then there's Michelle Bachman, who wants us to understand that carbon dioxide is a natural part of Earth. Yep, just like acid, radiation, and plutonium. All natural parts of Earth. "There isn't even one study that shows carbon dioxide is a harmful gas. It is natural," she says. "It is not harmful. It is part of Earth's life cycle." Yep, it may be natural — but that doesn't mean you want to pour a lot of it into your lungs.
7. John Shimkus: We Are Stealing Plant Food
I think Rep. John Shimkus from Illinois has the best rejoinder to people worried about climate change destroying the planet. His contention is that God will destroy the Earth, not climate change. So he's not denying that climate change would destroy the world — he's just saying that when it comes to the apocalypse, God will supply some even more awesome disaster.
But just in case you didn't buy that argument, here is Shimkus' pal Lord Christopher Monckton, a politician and hereditary lord who has no scientific training, testifying that Earth is "carbon starved" and that we will be depriving plants of food if we cap carbon emissions. Is this guy considered an expert purely because he has a British accent? Apparently his theory is that we need to go back to a Cretaceous-era climate. Which — he may not have gotten the memo, but most of the life forms that evolved to thrive in the Cretaceous kind of died out during that mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. So almost everybody on Earth right now (including humans) evolved to thrive on an Earth with our current levels of carbon dioxide.
8. Tom Marino: Can't Google Stop the Copyrights on the Website?
Now let's go back to the internets, shall we? Rep. Tom Marino from Pennsylvania wants to know why Google can't stop the pirates "on the website." If you can get child pornography "off the website," why not copyright infringing files? "Hire some college whiz kids!" he suggests. Watching the weary Google lawyer responding to this guy is hilarious.
9. Bob Inglis: Fertility Clinics Make Fertilized Embryos "For Convenience"
So Rep. Bob Inglis from South Carolina seems pretty reasonable in this commentary about preventing the government from funding research into human embryonic stem cells. Until he gets to the explanation of why we have "extra embryos." Apparently fertilizing multiple eggs is "just a matter of convenience," for "dollars and cents." Um, what?
10. Sally Kern: Science Proves Women Don't Like to Work Hard
Rep. Sally Kern from Oklahoma has read some studies. They prove that "women don't usually want to work as hard as a man," which is why it's fair that women don't earn as much as men do for the same kinds of work. According to some sciencey things Kern saw, women think more about their families and just want more leisure time. "That's factors you have to keep in mind," she notes. "We give equal opportunity. We should not expect equal results." She also had some choice words for blacks in prison, who apparently are there because they didn't want to work hard — but she wasn't able to come up with any studies, no matter how spurious, to quote in that context.
11. Dennis Kucinich: Cell Phones Fry Your Brain
We've been picking on Republicans here because generally they say the stupidest things about science — Democrats usually reserve their stupidity for other topics. And then there's Rep. Dennis Kucinich. In this little speech, he talks about how cell phones will fry your kids' brains by showing charts of weird blue blobs and making vague references to "peer reviewed studies . . . that aren't from the sky." Well, as long as they aren't from the sky they must be real. (The World Health Organization has classified the risk for cancer from cell phones as comparable to the risk for cancer from engine exhaust — not zero risk, but not very high either.)