Huckabee and Yglesias: Sometimes the Evolution ‘Controversy’ Is About the Science

I like much of Matt Yglesias’ writing. But he still doesn’t appreciate how science and evolution affect public policy issues. As many of you know, three out of ten Republican presidential candidates stated that they don’t believe in evolution at one of the presidential debates. Yglesias comments on Huckabee’s response:

I see that Jamie Kirchick didn’t care for the reply at all: “Sorry, but if someone believes in fairy tales, I think that’s pretty relevant to their qualifications as president.” But why? The core of Huckabee’s answer is here:

It’s interesting that that question would even be asked of somebody running for president. I’m not planning on writing the curriculum for an eighth-grade science book. I’m asking for the opportunity to be president of the United States.

That’s quite right. Blitzer is just being a pain in the ass. It would be a serious problem if Huckabee were proposing to meddle in eighth-grade science textbooks, but he rightly understands that in the American system this isn’t a federal question.

Huckabee isn’t proposing to meddle in curriculum–he would do far more important things such as set health and science priorities (just ask an HIV expert how much Bush has screwed things up by ‘PEPFARizing’ everything). Many serious health problems are, at their core, problems of evolutionary biology: the emergence of new infectious diseases, antibiotic resistance, and medical genetics. Other disciplines use tools developed to study basic evolutionary questions to answer important medical questions: in my own work, I’ve used tests of natural selection to identify candidate genes (and even regions within genes) that can cause disease. We’ll be doing more of this as the field of genomics further develops. And before someone brings up the macroevolution canard, I just spent an hour yesterday talking with someone who uses macroevolutionary data (differences among species) to understand how fungal disease works.
How is a president who doesn’t ‘believe’ in evolution–and who will probably appoint some subordinates who don’t either (and are going to be ‘faith-based’, not evidence-based too)–going to act intelligently regarding these serious issues? A colleague of mine has a rough estimate that the cost of antibiotic resistance is somewhere between $30-70 billion dollars per year. That’s a serious problem that requires serious, scientifically-based thinking.
Sometimes the scientific particulars do matter–if the cornerstone of modern biology can be called a ‘particular’. Sometimes the argument about evolution is about …evolution.

This entry was posted in Antibiotics, Conservatives, Creationism, Evolution, Healthcare, Human Genetics, Microbiology, Public Health, Religion, The War on Science. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Huckabee and Yglesias: Sometimes the Evolution ‘Controversy’ Is About the Science

  1. Dunc says:

    Nah, sorry, I’m not buying it. You want to be “the most powerful man in the world” (yeah, right – that’s Rupert Murdoch), you should be able to demonstrate at least a minimally adequate education, and I regard a basic understanding of evolution as part of that. Would Matt have been so accomodating if the question they’d answered incorrectly was “what’s six times seven?”, or if they didn’t believe in electricity?

  2. stogoe says:

    But I think this question comes near the issue of religious tests for public office. Not that I disagree that having a literate, educated, intelligent president is a good thing.
    Then again, CNN had a whole program’s worth of de facto religious tests for the Dem candidates with the highest current support, so…

  3. Chromosome Crawl says:

    “just ask an HIV expert how much Bush has screwed things up by ‘PEPFARizing’ everything”
    Ramen, Mike! Count me as one of those folks that just wanted to go up & vomit all over the PEPFAR booth at the ASM meeting.
    No.place.at.a.scientific.meeting!

  4. QrazyQat says:

    Bottom line: do you want a president who can reason?
    The science that’s usually in question in these questions is a part of science that’s long been settled; we know the answer to the basic question that’s asked, and when the candidate says it isn’t, or that they disagree with it, then they are showing that they cannot reason, or that they are deliberately lying.
    Is that what we want in a president? More critically, is that what our country can survive in a series of presidents?

  5. And do we want the people who agree with him to be politically encouraged?
    This really is madness. European comedians must be having a ball with this at our expense. It is time for thinking people to take a stand on this one, and refuse to vote for anyone who denies evolution, regardless of other political concerns. Science is going to matter more in the next century than it ever did before. Having a president who is scientificially ignorant, or who promotes scientific ignorance, just won’t do.

  6. The Ridger says:

    So the followup should be: Well, sir, then will you appoint science advisors who do know the science, regardless of how you feel about it, or will you appoint people like yourself, who do not know nor care to know?

  7. Edward says:

    Anyone who does not believe in evolution is either ignorant of the scientific facts or, worse, willfully ignorant. I have seen several accounts of how people who were raised by creationists, became well versed in and strong proponents of creationist “theory,” but then came to realize that the scientific data just didn’t support creationism. I’ve never heard of anyone who was well versed in and a strong proponent of the scientific theory of evolution turning around and becoming a creationist.
    If a politician says he or she is a creationist, that suggests to me that either they cannot rationally evaluate the all the facts before them, or else they are beholden to people who do not rationally evaluate facts. This raises concerns beyond simple scientific issues, to questions like: will they rationally look at all the evidence for and potential consequences of going to war with another country.
    No, the president does not write text books, but he does appoint many many advisors and funtionaries for matters scientific, political, social, and so on. If he doesn’t have people around him who have a rational understanding of science, my area of knowledge, I become concerned that he isn’t getting rational advice and isn’t taking rational actions in other areas as well.

  8. James says:

    The wonder of democracy is that our country is ruled by the people, and the people are largely ignorant about matters of science (including, but not limited to, evolution). A president who represents the population in its ignorance is no surprise. The big question is how to combat such ignorance when so many are not only uneducated, but willfully so.

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