THIS Is What’s Wrong With America

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.”

 

42 thoughts on “THIS Is What’s Wrong With America

  1. “Liberal” science. I wonder what “conservative” science looks like. If this guy is any indication, it involves magic, bible-thumping (but I repeat myself), and listening to lobbyists from the fossil-fuel industry.

  2. Why as soon as I can, I am moving somewhere else. Life long Hoosie,r fifty four years experienced, this place is firmly on the zealous highway to totalitarian hell. Bad Schools, Bad Health, Bad Mojo Think. God will make people who like it this way, and he has.

  3. Why didn’t the constituent ask him what he meant by liberal science? We should not let these kind of statements just go by. We should not accept these kinds of answers. They need to explain themselves.

  4. Rokita is a graduate of Wabash College. He knows better than what he says :: but he also knows that he has to hide the facts in order to keep getting re-elected.
    This shows a man with no ethics, and his elections show a constituent base that is very uneducated.

  5. Proud of you for being in the March for Science. I suggest people read a book by Dr. Hayhoe at Texas Tech. She is a devout Evangelical . Her husband is a preacher. Her mission in life is to open people’s eyes to science–specifically to climate change. One person she interviewed said “it’s not in the Bible so it’s not true.” I admire her immensely. I have too many books and not enough space. If I locate her book I’ll give you the title. Going back to bed. See y’all later.
    I’m thinking this about what to say about ultra fundies of any religion.
    Science is a tool. It’s like a computer. If you have an old computer, it’s okay to keep it for whatever reason. If your family gives a super duper new one with all sorts of capabilities, are you going to say “I don’t want that one. My old one has all I’ll ever need. Besides, my daddy built it for me.”
    Something to chew on.

  6. I listened to NPR about this March for science, but whose science and are we using some figures purely. If climate change is real then why aren’t the Chineses who have smog in their cities and industrial complexes that spew billions of carbons freely not taken to task. Call Mr. Rokita and ask him if that’s what he meant or was he just frustrated by all that’s going on. Debate is extremely important but many already have their minds made up from either side on this and other issues

  7. Another example of why voter registration efforts must continue every day. I surely hope they will be registering people at the Science March.

  8. Martha, move if you like, but ignorance is not unique to Indiana. Maybe you need some new friends. My sympathies.

  9. Pat; those counted among the “conservative” science believers are probably still amazed at the fake volcano eruptions of baking soda added to water in a long ago science exhibit.

    Here in Indianapolis; how many seasonal changes have we gone through, and continue to go through, since the first of December? On the days I cannot get outside to take daily walks due to hot or cold, rain, snow or dry; my exercise consists of inside walks turning my furnace on and off or opening and closing windows. These cannot be counted as scientific proof but are, to me, strong indications of Climate Change and Global Warming no matter what your politics. We pay Rokita enough to have someone perform these duties for him; he only notices that he is comfortable no matter what is going on weather-wise outside his office or home windows.

  10. Galileo said it best: “The Bible is a book about how to go to heaven, not about how the heavens go.”

  11. John Smith, The Chinese are very actively fighting against climate change and trying to do something about the smog in their cities. Their push for solar and other alternative energy is far more aggressive than ours. And, not to put too fine a point to it, isn’t it a bit juvenile to insist somebody else take an action we agree is necessary before we do so? Isn’t it just a grown up version of a child whining, “but Billy didn’t eat all his vegetables”?

  12. David Honig; thank you for your response to John Smith. One thing I remember from Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth”, was his reporting how much further ahead China is than the U.S. on correcting their pollution problems. With Trump’s anti-EPA actions, we can look for our pollution situation to accelerate – especially with Trump’s approval to continue the Standing Rock pipeline construction with others to follow. Must be very difficult to lockstep backwards but he is accomplishing this daily with his highly photographed Sharpie signature on documents.

  13. I once questioned Congressman Luke Messer about his stance on climate change. He sent me an email quoting the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, or the largest lobbying group for corporations.

    One of your posters wants to know what “conservative science” looks like…I attached a link to “ground zero” of Koch-funded science. In Indiana, we have several universities who advocate religion over science, and Koch’s have been increasing their investment in Ball State because of Michael Hick’s, CBER, feeds state lawmakers everything they need to make policy decisions.

    Indiana is a good role model for Washington. Our environmental regulations are a joke. Follow the CAFO activists and others who call IDEM the most corrupted department in Indiana. Think about it…no state has more than one super-polluter. Indiana has two located in Southern Indiana. Study coal-related diseases in the area.

    Here’s the problem in a nutshell. Science is funded by the government, while industry (mega-corporations with deep pockets) fund lobbyists and bribe politicians to pass legislation helping the Oligarchs.

    As opposed to our “liberal government” funding universities, now we have the Koch’s and other Billionaire Oligarchs funding them. Any idea what they’ll say about climate change, or regulations impacting environment destroying businesses?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercatus_Center

  14. What does “conservative science” look like? These days it looks like Jesus riding a dinosaur on a planet that’s only 4,400 years old. If you leave out religion (yeah, I know who we’re talking about, but follow me here) it would at least be a kind of modern day Lysenkoism. Rokita’s response confirms his unfitness for office, and also my suspicion that if the same, frame-for-frame “Inconvenient Truth” film had been made by Newt Gingrich after he left government and first shown on Fox News, we’d be the global leader in clean energy development, and any doubts about the fact or causes of climate change would be heresy.

  15. “We face a possible future where people not only ignore scientific evidence, but seek to eliminate it entirely. ”

    This is already happening. Trump’s Cabinet members are destroying all govt agencies that protect our environment, our health, etc. Those agencies have benefited humans and all other forms of life, while putting a damper on corporate profits. His idea of draining the swamp is to reward greedy corporate executives with free reign to destroy whatever they want to in their quest for greater profit and power.

  16. Todd; my Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL) bill raised over 35% between early December and early February, included with the February will was the notification IPL had requested a rate increase. This rate increase was recently approved by the state. Others I spoke with had IPL bills with much higher increases; the reason given for the increase to all of us and the newscaster on RTV Channel 6 was due to the weather. This has been the 5th warmest weather since 1930 in Indiana. IPL is known to be the highest polluter in the state; obviously they are already ignoring anti-pollution standards which will be gone soon thanks to Trump. Couple that with the rate increase and their profits will soar.

  17. Todd Rokita has received information about climate change because a group of us went to his Lafayrtte office 3 years ago. He arranged for us to meet with his community organizer staff person, who indicated no expertise in climate change knowledge. At the last minute the relevant staff person appeared and was knowledgeable. Our group included at least three Purdue faculty members. We learned that other faculty declined to come, fearing repercussions. After the meeting we stood outside his office as people were leaving their offices. All were supportive of our cause.

    Included in our presentation was the statement on climate change published by Indiana’s Roman Catholic bishops. Rokita is active in his church’s activities. His response to your friend last week is polar opposite to the bishops’ statement.

    His staff at least has heard of Kathy Hayhoe because we sent information and made phone calls to them about Ms Hayhoe. We informed his staff of the “Years of Living Dangerously” series. Ms Hayhoe was featured in that series. Many other items of information were sent

    His statement “liberal science” illustrates his subservience to ideological and political forces. Think of the irony that this MOC’s district includes a bastion of scientific learning and research, Purdue University.

    The only solution to the problem of Rokita and his cohort in Congress is removal.

  18. I think that Rep. Todd Rokita lives with an immense amount of guilt. If climate denial is by his choice, may he suffer from great pangs of remorse as he goes to his grave.

  19. For what it’s worth, the same question directed to Mitch Daniels got the same answer. Did I mention he’s president of a leading research institution? Did I mention in his open letter to the Purdue Community he states (available on the Purdue website) that in essence the only research worth doing is that which creates something we can directly monetize? Says everything right there now doesn’t it? If research leads to money, it’s real and worth doing. If it costs money or challenges my paradigm, no thank you, it can’t be real. Thus, they deny the science that softens their portfolio, but embrace the science that hardens their reproductive system. (E.g. Viagra did wonders for their portfolio.)

  20. My first reaction is to cynically observe that Mr. Rokita “believes” what he’s paid to “believe.” If his political sugar-daddies told him to believe that up is down, he’d denounce the theory of gravity as “liberal science”.

    But although cynicism is surely warranted, there’s something else going on here. His sneering dismissal of “liberal science” is almost identical in tone and intention to the Nazi’s dismissal of Einstein’s work as “Jewish science.”

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-2-pro-nazi-nobelists-attacked-einstein-s-jewish-science-excerpt1/

    Unfortunately for the Axis powers, atomic physics did turn out to work more or less as Mr. Einstein predicted.

    I hope we’re not headed down the same road of deciding, as a civilization, that science means whatever the guy with the most billions and the best political connections wants it to mean. Because (as someone else already quoted Neil DeGrasse Tyson) science doesn’t care whether you believe in it or not.

    It’s kind of like the old joke involving a battleship captain. Seeing some lights in the fog ahead of his ship, he makes radio contact and demands that the other ship change course to avoid a collision. The other party declines, and advises him to change course immediately.

    “Do you know who I am?”, the captain roars in response. “I’m in command of a battleship! You better change course!”

    The reply comes back: “And I’m in command of a lighthouse…..”

  21. Unfortunately, we Liberals are also guilty of clinging to personally held beliefs and refusing to try to understand the science. Just look at the anti-vaccination and anti-GMO movements.

  22. We are told that the art-happy city of Florence was where the Enlightenment began, where humanistic philosophy and naked sculpture finally challenged papal control of peoples’ lives, their thoughts, their government, etc. It appears that we are now engaged in a backlash from that heyday of freedom for the human experience with a return to religious dampers, dampers tied, mysteriously, with the rich and greedy and their legislative toadies, all contrary to the Scriptures they pretend to be following in a blatant show of hypocrisy. Perhaps we can rename this age as the Un-Enlightenment and substitute Indianapolis for Florence.

    Madison and especially Jefferson were avid students of the Enlightenment and classical Rome and Greece, from which they extracted the democratic idealism of Athenian democracy, a system of government centuries older than Christianity itself and therefore not subject to Christian limitations. Our law professor used to lecture us in our course in Equity that the rule to be followed in determining the winning party in equity was “prior in time, prior in right.” That maxim has no application these days in a world where facts can be manipulated to fit decision-making, where science is denied its place by those who deal with algorithms and antibiotics while using science in its everyday applications yet denying its role in our society. Welcome to the new world of Un-Enlightenment this Earth Day, where even arithmetic has been politicized and pragmatism is a four-letter word

  23. There appear to be four types of “liberal” science resisted by “conservatives”, with different motives for resistance. Resistance to ideas about climate change is driven by fossil fuel and real estate money. Resistance to evolutionary science is driven by religion. Resistance to stem cell, regenerative, and reproductive biology is driven both by religion and misinformation. And resistance to vaccines and GMO foods is driven primarily by misinformation. Confirmation bias, or tribal adherence to political ideology over facts underlies all this resistance and has always been a problem for our species. We began to break out of this during the Enlightment when science began to develop, but confirmation bias seems to be part of our mental makeup. Scientific training aims to hold this bias in check, and it works because the nature of science is to challenge conclusions with new evidence and interpretations. Confirmation bias exists even within science. It took 20 years for Carl Woese to convince the “old guard” of microbiology that archebacteria represented a distinct kingdom of life, and equally long for Stanley Prusiner to convince his “betters” that neurodegenerative diseases such as mad cow disease, Kuru, and Creutzfeld-Jacob disease were infectious and caused by misfolded proteins, something that is now known for diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimers, and ALS.

    There is no liberal or conservative science, there is only science. Representatives like Rokita do everyone a disservice and, as one person says above, should be pinned down and grilled about his statements. By their standards, they should be refused access to physicians and surgeons when they become ill, because what do these experts know? The solution? Vote him and all those like him out!

    Two books were reviewed recently in Science magazine that discuss why so many people today dismiss expert opinion and think the opinions of people like Rokita and Trump, and in fact themselves are as equally valid as those of “experts”–those who have actually studied a problem. The books are “The Death of Expertise” by Tom Nichols, and “Not a Scientist” by Dave Levitan. Populist politicians encourage the death of expertise because it maintains willful ignorance and allows them to maintain control through that ignorance.

    Two years ago, I wrote an article in the Journal of Civic Literacy about this problem, and will gladly send anyone who is interested a copy of that article. Just e-mail me.

  24. Science is the accumulation of and search for human understanding of reality using the most reliable process we know. Politics is opinion of the ways and means of governance. Faith is the assumption of possibilities for things not knowable.

    When reality competes with opinion and assumptions the discussion is really superficial. Science is what we collectively know, the others are individual guesses.

    Science and reality don’t come in flavours. One either has learned what is applicable to the discussion of what is collectively known or not. If not then reality is being underrepresented.

    The issue that has the country underperforming at present is an epic battle between ignorance and education and the fact that it’s even in play is clear evidence of the failure of education. Of course I believe that the failure stems from the cultural replacement of education with entertainment, especially entertainment with purpose, advertising.

    It’s a structural flaw not easily fixed. It’s failure is guaranteed but when and how can’t be predicted.

  25. Here is what Todd Rokita has this to say via his Web Page on Heath Care: “Although not perfect, the United States of America has the best health care system in the world”.

    Sorry to inform you Todd, the USA does not have best health care system. By several measures it does not. Total expenditure on health as a percentage of GDP. Source CIA World Fact Book 2014 Australia 9.4%, Canada 10.4%, France 11.5%, Germany 11.3%, Japan 10.2%, USA 17.1%. The percentages cited by the World Bank are exactly the same as the CIA’s.

    Total health expenditure per capita (per person) in US dollars. 2015
    Source Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
    Australia $ 4,420, Canada $ 4,608, France $ 4,407, Germany $5,267,
    Japan $4,150, USA $ 9,451.

    Average life expectancy at birth in years, and rank out of 183 countries.
    Source Data List by the World Health Organization (2015)
    Australia 82.8 years rank # 4, Canada 82.2 years rank # 12, France 82.4 years rank # 9,
    Germany 81.0 years rank # 24, Japan 83.7 years rank # 1, USA 79.3 years rank 31.

    Todd, seems to have trouble with facts, that clash with his ideology. I need to write a letter to Todd and ask him to explain his statement vs facts.

  26. Today is Earth Day. How many on SSK’s site have enrolled in IPL Green Power program? We enrolled 10 years ago in IN. We have been using 100% green power ever since. Our electricity is not generated from coal; it comes from wind power, landfill power or other renewable source. It costs a few cents more per kilowatt-hour, but prevents tons of CO2 from entering atmosphere!

  27. Vote for John Dale.
    He’s not a science denier.
    He’s a teacher.

    Also, we need to get rid of Democratic science deniers
    who support the ban on marijuana.

  28. Thank you Sheila for clarifying the need to push back on those who discredit science, especially when it comes to climate change. Yes, an Organizing For Action group of climate activists visited Todd Rokitas office in Lafayette Indiana about three years ago as he was and still is a targeted climate change denier.
    It was shocking and difficult to come to grips with the fact, that three years later, we are still fighting mis-information spread by the likes of The Merchants Of Doubt crew that would have us kept in the dark ages if it meant that they could make money on the lie. They are the same group that told us in the 1070’s that cigarette smoking was not dangerous for our health. They want to keep feeding us the poison of keeping people ignorant. I say, spread the truth!

  29. Apparently, he said nearly the same thing last June.

    http://www.jconline.com/story/news/local/2016/06/28/voters-ask-congressman-guns-climate/86452966/

    It is hard to believe that anyone would not think climate change as being worth evaluating even if you don’t personally “believe” in it.

    I was a skeptical initially about Climate Change but as the environmental damage has spread from pollution and climates around the world have shifted I believe NO ONE in government can afford to be so smug as to not take an all of the above approach to utilizing science to understand our environment and save lives. Ignorance isn’t bliss, ignorance kills.

    It’s the similar to how we execute our military missions. It seems absurd to have rules of engagement for killing our enemies and sparing civilians but no rules of engagement for saving people’s lives from a different but potentially just as catastrophic a failure? Isn’t that what rules of engagement are for? Rules that are designed to prevent civilian casualties. Are US citizens not as valued as other nations civilians in times of war?

  30. Changing the subject not entirely, but from soup to nuts nonetheless…I would be interested to know if there are piles and piles of lawsuits against Trump and the so-called administration concerning his taxes, divesting himself of financial holdings, extreme and dangerous nepotism, three very, VERY expensive “White Houses” spread out across the East Coast of these United States, and all the rest of it. Is Trump just getting away with all of it at the taxpayers/ expense? Pricey, don’t you think? Surely there is something afoot that we don’t know about…something that is going to hold this man accountable for all of these misdeeds and more. Does he get to just simply walk away when all of this is over (soon, I trust) and split for the Tower or that little shack on Palm Beach or one of his 400+ real estate properties offered for sale at up to $35 million?

    Happy Earth Day while there still is one. As Pete says, “There is no Planet B.” Not yet, anyway!

  31. Todd Rokita should cease to use electricity, medications, cell phone, television, radio, automobiles, aircraft to prove his disbelief in science. Walk the walk Todd.

  32. I’m afraid I found Ms. Kennedy’s screed an exercise in projection; it is she who has revealed herself impervious to facts, as when she vacuously dismissed Randal O’Toole’s analysis of IndyGo’s Red Line. Although I disputed some of what Mr. O’Toole said, I found that his work generally bespoke careful research and analysis. Not so Ms. Kennedy’s response.

    As to Todd Rokita, it could be that his comment was a reaction to long experience with “science” like yesterday’s Indianapolis Star letter from the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. In urging adoption of a carbon tax, the Lobby’s executive director actually contended that returning the carbon-tax’s revenue “equally to all households” would shield them from the tax’s economic impact.

    After you’ve been bombarded with opinions like that for decades and your analysis always reveals them to be arrant nonsense, your patience grows thin. So I’ll admit that I now largely tune out climate catastrophists, and I can’t blame the congressman if he has, too. After all, there are only so many hours in a day.

  33. Joseph, what you and Rokita tune out is science, the most reliable process mankind has conceived for learning about reality. You can do that of course but the question remains why?

    We aren’t the creator of reality we are products of it. Not understanding reality makes it impossible to adapt to it.

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