This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.
Other than getting a major fact wrong, the worst possible feeling for a journalist is the gut-wrenching notion that all of one’s efforts are for naught. For me, it has become increasingly difficult to escape this dreadful feeling, given the state of politics in America.
Last week, it was revealed that pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who is currently one of the frontrunners for the Republican nomination, believes the Big Bang to be a fairy tale and the theory of evolution to be the work of the devil. This comes on the heels of a debate performance in which Dr. Carson voiced disagreement with the vaccine schedule for children, though there is no evidence to support his view that vaccines should be delayed. Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist, expressed similar skepticism.
Even worse, Donald Trump, who is currently leading the GOP race, announced that vaccines cause autism. This dangerous nonsense has been debunked so many times, that it’s not even fun to debunk it anymore.
Lest you come to the conclusion that only Republicans reject modern scholarship, the Democrats haven’t done any better.
Hillary Clinton, the current Democratic frontrunner, joined the anti-vaccine bandwagon during her first presidential run in 2008. Amazingly, she has done a complete about-face on the issue, something worthy of both praise (because she is endorsing good science) and ridicule (because she acts as if she can hide from what she said in 2008). More recently, Mrs. Clinton came out against the Keystone XL pipeline because of climate change, as if a single pipeline will spell doom for the planet. Notably, Mrs. Clinton’s opinion is in direct opposition to a State Department report that concluded the pipeline would have no effect on global greenhouse gas emissions.
Bernie Sanders, the champion of the far left, is also not terribly fond of science. He favors GMO food labels, even though America’s finest scientists and medical doctors disagree. Mr. Sanders also opposes building more nuclear power plants, even though they are safe and constitute a necessary part of any serious climate policy. Then there’s the whole socialism thing, even though the overwhelming majority of economists endorse capitalism as the best method to allocate resources efficiently in an economy.
We can shake our heads in disbelief at people like Dr. Carson, Dr. Paul, Mr. Trump, Mrs. Clinton, and Mr. Sanders. But, in a democratic society, our politicians are simply a reflection of who we are. They are us. Our politicians hold idiotic beliefs because a substantial proportion of Americans hold idiotic beliefs.
Until that changes, we will continue to get the government that we deserve.