A Facebook friend who lives in Todd Rokita’s Congressional district attended his recent Town Hall. In a post following the event, she reported on an exchange she had with the Congressman:
My question was “What evidence do you require in order to revise your opinion on climate change?”
His response was “No evidence could ever exist that would change my mind. It’s all Liberal science.”
If the constituent who posted this conversation transcribed it accurately–and I have no reason to doubt that–this is a disturbing and revealing admission. Don’t confuse me with facts. I’m a zealot who’s impervious to evidence.
This one exchange is a (horrifying) example of what is wrong with Rokita, with today’s Republican Party, and –to the extent people of this ilk dominate our government–what’s wrong with American politics.
As appalling as I find the sentiment–“I’ve formed an opinion that cannot be altered by evidence or reality”–what is truly illuminating about this exchange is the immediate resort to labeling. Rokita and those like him find no need to engage in reasoned debate, no need to defend their positions; instead of providing grounds for their opinions, they simply dismiss opposing perspectives by labeling them “liberal.”
(Perhaps that response is inadvertent confirmation of the snarky observation that “reality has a well-known liberal bias…”.)
I cannot think of any position more disqualifying for public office–or for any responsible job–than one that refuses in advance to even consider evidence that might be inconsistent with one’s prejudices.
Of course, I shouldn’t be so surprised: evidence has never been Rokita’s strong suit.
Todd Rokita was the Indiana Secretary of State whose discovery of (vanishingly rare) “voter fraud” led to his championing of the state’s Voter ID law, which (entirely co-incidently, I’m sure) disenfranchised poor minority voters who had a deplorable tendency to vote Democratic.
I really never expected to live in a country where science and empirical research required defense, but evidently Luddites aren’t simply historical oddities. So later this morning, I will join other Hoosiers at the Statehouse to participate in a “March for Science.”
As the website for the March explains,
The March for Science is a celebration of science. It’s not only about scientists and politicians; it is about the very real role that science plays in each of our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world. Nevertheless, the march has generated a great deal of conversation around whether or not scientists should involve themselves in politics. In the face of an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery, we might ask instead: can we afford not to speak out in its defense?
People who value science have remained silent for far too long in the face of policies that ignore scientific evidence and endanger both human life and the future of our world. New policies threaten to further restrict scientists’ ability to research and communicate their findings. We face a possible future where people not only ignore scientific evidence, but seek to eliminate it entirely. Staying silent is a luxury that we can no longer afford. We must stand together and support science.
The application of science to policy is not a partisan issue. Anti-science agendas and policies have been advanced by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and they harm everyone — without exception. Science should neither serve special interests nor be rejected based on personal convictions. At its core, science is a tool for seeking answers. It can and should influence policy and guide our long-term decision-making.
As Neil DeGrasse Tyson likes to say, science is true whether we believe it or not. What he implies, but doesn’t say, is that rejecting reality is a prescription for disaster–and so is continuing to elect people who find science unacceptably “liberal.”