Akin breakin' science

By Phil Plait | August 24, 2012 6:31 am

[NOTE: This is not my first foray into political opinion on this blog, so I expect to get a lot of comments which could charitably be called angry. BEFORE YOU COMMENT, first, read the ample links I have included in this post. These are how I back up my arguments, and reading them first may prevent you from saying something already refuted. Second, read my note about posts covering politics and religion. Third, read my commenting policy. Thank you in advance.]

Unless you’ve had your head buried in the mantle of the Earth this week, you probably heard what Missouri Congressman Todd Akin said about women’s bodies and rape. If you haven’t, my friend Matt Lowry at Skeptical Teacher has the lowdown.

But in a nutshell – apt phrasing, that – Akin claimed that:

First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare… If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

This is so appallingly ignorant – to be kind – that it makes my brain explode. Pregnancy from rape is not rare; tens of thousands occur every year. His claim about the female body is complete claptrap, nonsense. And his use of the word "legitimate" is just grossly insulting. As President Obama said the next day: "Rape is rape".

So here we have a man who has not just no knowledge of what happens during rape and conception, but actually provably wrong knowledge. And he makes laws about these things.

It’s clear that Akin’s beliefs are driven by his religious fundamentalism. This would be a matter of concern to me for any lawmaker, but you have to understand: he sits on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee!

The irony in this should be evident.

And worse, Rep. Akin is not the only woefully under- and simply miseducated person on that committee who attacks science. It’s full of such antiscience people. Examples include Mo Brooks, a global warming denier; Ralph Hall, who tried to use porn to scuttle a science funding bill; Jim Sensenbrenner, another global warming denier; Paul Broun, a creationist (a creationist on the science committee!); Dana Rohrabacher, another climate change denier, and more.

It’s mind boggling.

Today, more than ever before, we need politicians who are educated about science and technology. At the very least our economic future depends on science! Yet we have people on the Science Committee who are devoted to actively destroying it.

This is why I support Science Debate 2012. The goal of this organization is to educate the public about where politicians stand on science issues, including evolution, global warming, energy, and the economy.

We need to hold current politicians accountable when they are flatly against reality, and we need to make sure we elect ones who are reality-based. As Rep. Akin showed us clearly, this spans a broad range of political issues.

Let me leave you with this: in America, only about half the people of voting age actually go out and vote. That means there is a vast, untapped resource of people who can make a real difference in November.

If you don’t vote, then you are letting someone else decide for you what to do with your money, your life, your future, and even your very body.

Learn the issues. Vote.

Related Posts:

Erasing false balance: the right is more antiscience than the left
Republican candidates, global warming, evolution, and reality
Next up for Congress: repeal the law of gravity
Antiscience party


Comments (103)

  1. Chris

    If you let Romney and the Republicans win, you are just proving the Mayans right!

  2. guest

    A useful statistic, via http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8765248

    “The national rape-related pregnancy rate is 5.0% per rape among victims of reproductive age (aged 12 to 45); among adult women an estimated 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year.”

  3. terryp

    ugh. why’d you have to remind me of billy ray cyrus. :(

  4. Peter Eldergill

    From what I know about your electoral system, you guys vote for *everything* (do you really elect sheriffs?) so I’m not surprised that there is voter fatigue amongst the populus.

    Couple that with the two year marathon to elect a president and you get poor turnout for sure.

    Given that, however, up here in Canada, the voter turnout is not great either. So I guess there are no easy answers


  5. Barbara

    In one way, it makes sense that the House Science committee is packed with anti-science and/or scientifically ignorant members of the House because their goal is to minimize, decrease, and eventually eliminate government money in the sciences and have the Bible replace a good textbook. They use the argument that the private sector should fund or fill this “vacuum” that forms afterwards. Unless there is money to be made, it’s not going to happen.

    Furthermore on Akin, he said that “legitimate rape” does not lead to pregnancy even though there is an overload of evidence that suggests that women are actually more likely to get pregnant from rape than from consensual sex. What I inferred was that the women who got pregnant did not get pregnant from rape (after all, it’s impossible!) and they’re just suffering form a gross sense of “buyer’s remorse”; therefore, abortion should be denied to them at all times. It’s a sick belief.

  6. saphroneth

    Holy carp, that is a LOT of unscience in one committee. I’d have been shocked to have that kind of lineup on a school board in the deep south – let alone a national committee for science!

  7. Captn Tommy

    Unfortunatly there are few of us Geeks, who can justify the requirement of time/energy and the stress to go up against these congresstrogs (as in troglodyte), with out calling a bigot a bigot, thus incuring their rath even more.

    The Church*, is the source of most of this miss-thinking, fostering the “you can’t get to heaven if you don’t belong to our thinking”, Power Brokers and mongers all, which Jefferson and Adams saw in the State Religions of Europe and we see now in the State Religions of Iran, Russia, Isreal and the Republican Party.

    We are better than this, The lazyness of the congress not to compromise (our founders wrote the constitution the way it is) the bigotry to harass nay sayers into silence (moderate Republicans) is the sign of a group of selfish boys with no thought to the future. Get some Balls.

    Read Bradbury’s “Fahrenhiet 451” to get a taste of what I speak.

    *Any religious organisation that preaches hate for other religions, and other heresies.

  8. Rorgg

    Not EVERYTHING — some choices and appointments are vested in representatives and executives, but yes — Sherrifs are elected. We had a fun (R) sherrif candidate in New Hampshire talking the other day about how Sherrifs didn’t answer to anybody, how they had special constitutional power, and how that meant he could shoot doctors to prevent elective abortions.


  9. Voice of Raisins

    People like this in positions of power and authority in the American Government really damage your international image.

    As a citizen of the world I do not want the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet in the hands of a nation of people who vote for men like Akin.

    America is well on its way to becoming a bona fide theocracy that rejoices in dismissing scientific fact in favour of whatever opinion they wish to hold on to. Please, America, please don’t let it come to that. Stand up and put religion back into the church and science back into the school.

  10. Eric TF Bat

    If it helps you feel better, the view from a distance is that Obama will win the 2012 election tidily, and that it appears that the Republicans have already accepted this. It looked to us, outside your country, as if McCain only picked Palin back in 2008 because he knew winning was impossible and so he felt he need to “use up” one of the available ridiculous candidates for VP. If he thought they had a chance, he’d have picked someone credible. This time, it’s obvious that the GOP are doing the same, not just with the VP candidated but even with the Presidential candidate too. It’s pretty much like Mondale in 1984 (I suspect — could be wrong about that) or Bob Dole in 1996 (definitely). Kerry in 2004 would almost count as well, except that the actually-credible candidates all self-destructed so that was a case of a genuine loss, not of one party throwing the match as usual.

    The rule seems to be: if you think you can win, field a candidate you’d like as president. If you think you can’t win, find someone who would be embarrassing and sink their political hopes by having them lose for you. Cynical, but reasonable.

  11. Hugo

    Here in Argentina, vote is mandatory and I can assure you what the end result is not the best (just look our current President and her team I you will know it). So even with a mandatory vote there is the issue of informed voters (the another big problem), the only difference between here and the US is what here basically our government is ruining only the future of Argentina, fortunately her reach is very limited, but in the case of the US well… it can be the difference for the future of all the world.

  12. Gonzo

    Yeah, we elect sheriffs and even coroners, silly, innit?

    Voter apathy hasn’t always been, look back over presidential elections and you see a shift beginning in about 1900. For instance, in 1840 and 1876 around 80% of voters turned out. In 1900 it was about 70%, but since 1900 the highest turnouts were in 1904 and later in 1908, after that it has gone decidedly downhill.


    Anyway, yeah, Akin is ridiculous, but it looks like he is going to bow out, if he hasn’t officially yet. Surely a large number of fools in the “show-me-how-ignorant-you-are” state will still vote for him, which means a win for McCaskill as the GOP vote will be split between Akin and whomever they choose to replace him on the ballot. I noticed that even Rasmussen (generally right leaning polls) puts McCaskill up on Akin by 10 points.

    My brothers live in Akin’s district – one of their descriptions of him was basically a long tirade of profanity. Ha! He’s going to lose, and this nonsense about rape is why. Akin’s been in the House since 2001, believe it or not he’s actually been re-elected – that’s Missouri for you, I guess. But he is 65 years old and isn’t running for re-election to the House (which he won 2010 with something like 70% of the vote!!111!!! His political career is over. He can go work for some right-wing think tank but at least he won’t directly be making laws anymore. There are more anti-science lawmakers to take down though, as Phil points out. I think we can do it if we follow McCaskill’s strategy: let the idiots hang themselves.

  13. Is there ANYBODY on the Science Committee who is pro-science?
    Makes me wanna barf.
    Well written post, Phil!

  14. Wzrd1

    Capn Tommy, it isn’t laziness that prevents compromise, it’s pandering to special interests. Either to keep an extremely vocal and vitriolic minority quiet or to keep those millions in campaign contributions rolling in.
    I’d also suggest reading nineteen eighty-four. Some today seem to think it is an instruction manual.

    Rorgg, I sincerely hope that the DA and county supervisor (as well as the voters) disabused him about his notion of constitutional superiority and summary execution! Geeze, that reminds me of when the tea party began their threats of “exercising their second amendment options”. It was only after folks like myself reminded them that OTHERS also possess those same options that they STFU with their threats. What I see today is, a certain segment of the populace seems to think that the rule of the thug prevails in this country.

    Eric TF Bat, I have to agree on several historic points regarding Romney. Key is religion, for the US *IS* a nation of hypocrisy. Consider the faiths of every US president throughout US history. ALL, save one were a protestant of some variety. NONE were atheists, indeed, that has been the occasional accusation during their campaign. One was Roman Catholic, with threats of violence ensuing during the election over the “threat” of a non-protestant president. There has NEVER been a president that was non-Christian. At all.
    So, it appears that the GOP is simply silencing the extremely vocal and threatening fringe by giving them some voice and losing the election in the process, just to shut them up.
    Complete with picking running mates that either threaten violence (see “second amendment options”) or are completely out of touch with reality.
    We may not like it, but the history speaks for itself.

  15. Alex

    Voting is a completely meaningless act. Actually it is one of the reasons for the current situation because it legitimizes political lowlifes. Politics, parties and the whole “democracy” charade must be completely isolated and marginalized in the public discourse in order for any change to begin. I completely support Carlin’s point on that matter.

  16. truthspeaker

    My cat pooped in my living room. Fortunately it was a legitimate poop, and my house has ways of making sure those don’t stink.

  17. Rorgg

    @14: He’s still just a candidate and on seeing the reaction of sane people, kinda walked it back a bit yesterday (“Well, I wouldn’t ACTUALLY shoot people. Gosh. That’d be wrong.”)

    Also, the phrase you’re looking for from Sharron Angle, 2010 (R) Senate Candidate from Nevada is “Second Ammendment remedies”. And we’ve just gotten another round of that — some Texas judge talking last weekend about how we’d better prepare for another civil war if Obama wins re-election.

    … sigh ….

  18. Drew

    I am only posting this one comment, as I am still burned out on the last political type post. I will direct this primarily to #4 Peter Eldergill who said:

    “” I’m not surprised that there is voter fatigue amongst the populus.

    Couple that with the two year marathon to elect a president and you get poor turnout for sure.

    Given that, however, up here in Canada, the voter turnout is not great either. So I guess there are no easy answers””

    First, yes we vote for quite a few offices. Second, I do believe there is an easy answer. At least easy to answer but probably hard (and so far impossible) to facilitate.

    That is: have people worth voting for on the ballot in the first place.

    I do not remember a major political office with a good, let alone great elected official in my lifetime. It is sadly pathetic. Politics is ruining everything that made this country great in teh first place and putting a nanny state in it’s stead.

    Phil, you could save your fingers a lot of fatigue and just blog “politicians are stupid and harmful”. It is sound, evidence based, and pretty much unassailable.

    #18, Rorgg, as much as I think a revolt is the only way to turn this monster around, I fear that there are few Americans who have the stomach for such things. Most are content to watch thier HDTV’s and endless American Idol spinoffs.

  19. Thanks for writing this, Phil. Scary to think of all the ignorance and active hostility toward science and reality. Scary, but not surprising.

  20. “If you don’t vote, then you are letting someone else decide for you what to do with your money, your life, your future, and even your very body”
    That’s a super sentence you wrote there Phil! I must rattle that one off whenever I’m having an argument about the subject with somebody.

  21. Science debate is a great start, but as scientists we need to do even more to ensure that science makes its way into policy decisions. If you’ve got a Ph.D. take some time to consider the AAAS Science and Technology Policy fellowships (http://fellowships.aaas.org/). These positions place scientists at all career levels with various federal agencies and also with congress. If you’re an academic it’s a nice way to do a sabbatical. If you’re currently doing a “job search post-doc”, many academic institutions will let you defer appointment for a year to take these positions. In addition to AAAS, most professional organizations have similar programs — for example IEEE has a congressional fellows program that puts you on congressional staff for a year (http://ieeeusa.org/policy/govfel/congfel.asp).

  22. Buck

    Akin isn’t on the Science Committee because he’s a scientific type. He’s on the Science Committee because it’s a way to funnel Federal money to his district. He’s exactly like every other Congressman and Senator in this regard. Virtually none of them have any particular knowledge or even interest in the subject matter.

    Voting isn’t exactly completely meaningless, but it is a de facto rubber stamp approval of those anointed by the big parties. If you want to make a difference in the short term, do not vote for anyone in either of the two major parties. Reject every single one of them in favour of a third party – any third party. Let them know that their jobs are not sinecures and that we the people actually do care. For the long term we must ourselves become politically active. Don’t leave politics to professional politicians; take it back. Join committees, go to conventions, vote against the same-old same-old when your vote counts the most – nominating petitions, endorsement votes and the like. It’s too late to influence the system once the candidates have been declared – all that’s left at that point is to rubber stamp the party’s choice. We need to influence the process sooner, before the same people are mechanically declared candidates and collect their typical re-election numbers.

    Nice post Phil.

  23. John Miller

    We have anti-science people in congress and on that committee because we live in a representative democracy. Sadly, given the polling data of americans, creationists are probably under-represented on the science committee.

  24. ozprof

    The biggest problem that I see with this Akin nonsense, is that despite all of the republicans who have spoken out against him, they have just voted into their platform just what he was talking about:- an absolute ban on all abortions. So it would appear that they really agree with him.


  25. Ruth/STL

    Gonzo, I’m one of the few in West County who voted against Akin. There are lots of Fundies here, but we also have top notch public schools. My daughter’s senior class had 99 students with ACT’s over 30, and many National Merit winners. The state is trying to boost jobs in the universities/Monsanto/biotech area. Akin is not very helpful there. He also voted against funding for autism supports (my middle child has ASD and great support in our schools, but state support is poor).

  26. DanM

    @10 Eric:
    Sorry to rain on the parade, but Obama’s victory is by no means a sure thing. I strongly recommend the blog written by Nate Silver:
    Silver is certainly left-leaning (for an American, that is). But his continuing statistical analysis of the most current state-by-state polling data seems to be entirely non-partisan, dictated only by concerns of mathematical rigor and not by any policy positions held by the blogger. Therefore I judge him to be as trustworthy a source for predicting election outcomes as you could find on the internet. (And ya gotta love anybody who uses Monte Carlo methods to predict the next president.)

    Anyway, Nate is currently predicting an Obama victory with a probability of about 2/3, and with a margin of victory that is hardly a landslide. Thus, certainly not a sure thing.

    Nate’s blog and this one are my two daily reads. Go Science (and ok math too).

  27. Maria

    @13 It’s so odd isn’t it? It’s not like someone can really even be “pro-science”. Isn’t that like being pro-air? Science is. Being anti-air would require choking to death to spite one’s nose. Which, in a way, is what they are doing. I wish they had people who are simply more pro-thinking and less pro-towing-the-party-line.

    I respect my 90 year old Polish catholic grandmother’s opinion on science and medicine. “God gave us brains, hearts, and hands to use. We insult him every time we can but don’t.” I have a hard time with the ‘god gave us’ portion of the statement but I respect the power behind that sentiment. I’m not going to argue with a sick old woman about her faith or her god. But at least she’s a reminder that such faith doesn’t automatically preclude using scientific methods or understanding scientific topics, neither does it stop one from analyzing facts or accepting data. She would have been a teacher of mathematics if the war hadn’t messed that up but still managed to raise two mathematicians. She also introduced me to her favorite psalm; 111:2 “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by those who delight in them.”

    The men and women who use their religion as a reason to be “anti-science” are crass and small minded and I doubt they have the ability to think deeply about the heart of their faiths let alone their secular activities or the material world around them. They are superficial puppets who care not one iota for science OR their professed faith/god.

    Unless that god be politics, control, and money.

  28. @ozprof (#22), they aren’t mad at him for saying it, just letting it out of the bag…

    I seriously wish I was wealthy enough to run for office. Sadly, I can’t afford to buy my sentate seat like the 1% seem to be doing.

  29. Tom Suitt

    I propose that if Akin does not step down, anyone that votes for him in the election has their voting privileges taken away for 4 years or until they can prove they actually vote for a person and not the party.

  30. Phil, you’re being grossly unfair to Akin. His inflatable Jeff Gannon NEVER says no, thus it is always legitimate rape, and it’s never gotten pregnant.

  31. noen

    Chris Mooney’s recent book “The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Reject Science” is very helpful in understanding what is going on and why.

    Chris Mooney’s webiste: The Intersection

    His podcast: Point of Inquiry

    Topic of the most recent podcast is: The Science of Closed-Mindedness

    Arie Kruglanski ….. “has been a pioneer in the study of closed-mindedness-or, the “need for closure”—including how it drives fundamentalist belief systems and violent extremism. “

    Chris’s book on the Republican brain doesn’t make quite the argument that the title implies (that there is such a thing as a Republican brain) and he criticizes both liberals and conservatives.

    Take away points:
    1. Everyone does “motivated reasoning” to s0me degree. Which is reasoning towards a preconceived conclusion.
    2. While both liberals (novelty seeking personalities) and conservatives (change avoidant personalities) use motivated reasoning. It seems to be more prevalent on the right.
    3. The subject is still a matter of scientific debate.

  32. Wow! This is incredible!
    But what scares me more, is the idea that if even a USA senator (a person who supposedly had a pretty decente education) thinks this way, what’s left for politicians from other less developed countries (like my own). What ignorance our politicians lie behind their counselors?

  33. rocket.doc

    “If god had intended us to vote, he would have given us candidates” — Jay Leno

  34. Gus Snarp

    Yes, the Science Debate! Frankly, I only know about this because I’m listening to back episodes of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe (if you’re reading this and don’t listen to that podcast, go and listen and subscribe now, I don’t know what else you’ve been doing with your time..) and they talked about it back during the 2008 campaign season.

    My point is, why the hell didn’t I know about this before as a person with a fierce interest in science and skepticism? Why is this the first mention I’ve seen of the 2012 version, outside of my own Google search to see if it was still around after hearing the old SGU podcast). And more importantly, what can we do to get some publicity for it? How can we make it happen? Barack Obama and Mitt Romney need to answer the questions about the science of climate change, treatment of evolution in our classrooms, funding of scientific research and space exploration, and yes, apparently even the science of reproduction, which one would think they would have learned in 7th grade biology.

  35. Jeremy

    Interesting fun fact!

    The only female of any species (at least that I know of) that can control their own fertility and prevent a pregnancy after being raped is the female mallard. That’s right, a duck. Maybe he just mispoke… Oh I know! Maybe Todd Akin really just has a thing for ducks!

    Actually, I think Todd Akin is a disgusting excuse for a human being. I would think that of anyone who defends a rapist or his unwanted progeny (or uses the phrase “legitimate rape”) over the individual who was raped. But to be an elected official that makes laws and sits on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee??? Come on! How’d he get that committee spot with so little knowledge of science?

    It seems to me that politicians just keep getting dumber every election. But worse than their stupidity is their continually declining lack of compassion for the people of this country, the people who put them where they are. So get out there and vote! (preferably for someone with a brain)

  36. Jan

    I find it baffling that these people get elected, and that there are apparently some that take them seriously. As mentioned before, this torrent of stories about how anti-scientific the American Republicans are sets a horrible international image for the USA.

    Now I do wonder, how big of a percentage of the Science Committe is made up of these clowns? From what I’ve gathered, there are about 8~10 of them, but I have no idea how big the Commitee itself is.

    (One Google search was conducted here)

    Apparently, there are about 36 people on that committee, so around a quarter of them is blatantly anti-science. That’s horrible. That’s not even a fringe group anymore. Against the very nature of what they are supposed to lead. America, you can do better than this. What is wrong over there?

  37. Dean C. Hines

    Hi Phil:

    Thank you for posting about this. It’s stunning that such statements can be made, and even more so that so many people will gobble it up as if it was truth.

    Keep up the great work!

  38. Joe

    As a father of a 5 yr old I am truly heartbroken at the lack of education of some grown ups. Uneducated people in role model positions undermine the joy of learning and the joy of a parent watching a smiling child’s face learn some thing new.

    As a professional application developer and large scale IT project manager (out of work) I am befuddled that education has become so “attacked”. Businesses thrive on making sure it’s work force is educated about the things needed to be successful. America as a country (at its core) is a business. Education in all areas using facts, theories and tried and true processes are so essential to the survival of our country (aka business).

    My specific beef is: Climate deniers. By ignoring the facts of climate change we wind up with over bloated oil based budgets and laws and little put to alternative energies. America could be at the forefront of these emerging technologies (aka markets). Why would someone not want to corner the market of alternative energies and make a boat load of money? The answer: they weren’t taught any better, which goes back to education.

    Woe is the life of anyone choosing to not learn beyond their beliefs.

  39. Wzrd1

    A new Akin apologestic is making the rounds. It started on the 20th, but is now being entered into “debate” on G+.
    It appears to be using fictional references for “facts”, as well as several out of date references from 1977 and a call to authority argument from the Census Bureau for tracking rapes (funny, as the FBI and CDC does that, not the Census, which tracks demographics and population).

    Rather a lot like the wonderful calls to authority using ICD-6 and ICD-7 codes for homosexuality being a disease, ignoring ICD-8, 9 and 10 removed such a code. And of course, ignoring disproved prior theories in favor of the time machine argument. Nothing after a certain date can be considered valid for finding of “fact”.

  40. Gonzo

    #26 – Ruth – For you and your daughter’s sake I can only hope that your next rep. isn’t as ignorant as Akin. I don’t doubt that there are a lot of great things about Missouri and its people, I know it for a fact. I was probably being a bit overly general. But you guys seem to be vastly outnumbered by Hoosiers 😉

    Don’t worry, if it weren’t for my city the entire state of Illinois would be a bible-thumping theocracy.

  41. Vote the crap out of them!

  42. Zafod

    I propose that in order to be on a committee you should have to have a basic understanding of the committee’s function and pass a simple test to prove competence in the subject matter. e.g. science committee, how many natural elements are there? How old is the universe? In the human species who carries the ‘Y’ Chromosome? Armed services: Basic understanding of weaponry and development time. Finance: Minimum of an accounting background

  43. Gonzo

    Ruth – apologies if the middle child with ASD isn’t a daughter, I got ’em mixed up.

  44. Chris

    Unfortunately the average American has the attention span of Dug from Up
    This allows the Republicans to basically make stuff up to fit with their own narrative and hope the average voter doesn’t notice. Unfortunately the media is complicit since they let the politicians get away with just spewing their taking points instead of calling them out on it. And when they do, the other side accuses them of having some agenda. As Colbert correctly pointed out “Reality has a well known liberal bias.”

  45. Bob

    Well put, Phil! I personally believe that there should be tests for EVERY committee Congress has, and the tests should be created by (does saying that make me a creationist?) non-government citizens with expertise in the area under the “jurisdiction” of the various committees, and that no member be allowed to sit on a committee unless he/she has successfully answered 80% of the questions correctly. Such tests would be administered in the same manner as SATs and such. Of course, this could result in many committees having no members. If this should be the case, then Congress should be prohibited from considering any legislation that would come under the purview of those committees. Now wouldn’t THAT be a kick in the head?

  46. Bob

    Well wouldn’t you know it! I basically just reiterated what “Zafod Says” just said, though I took it a little further.

  47. Zafod

    Bob, I agree there would be some empty committees like the House Intelligence Committee

  48. SLC

    Re Wzrda @ #14

    Actually, we have had non-Protestant presidents beside Kennedy. John Adams was a Unitarian, Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon were Quakers.

  49. While it does worry me that Akin is in power in the first place, at least the general public reaction seems to be against him. I wish that the voters would more adequately vet their candidates before voting them into office. And for there to be a way to more easily vet candidates in the first place.

    On that note, there are many places that give political score cards and such. Maybe there should be a skeptical version of one. If there isn’t already. I’m not sure.

  50. Re: Getting Science Debate 2012 out to people, could always try to get someone like Stephen Colbert to mention it.

  51. Chris Winter

    @guest (#2): Thanks for that link; that’s very useful.

  52. Chris Winter

    Bob wrote (#47): “Well wouldn’t you know it! I basically just reiterated what “Zafod Says” just said, though I took it a little further.”

    That’s OK — it bears repeating.

  53. Chris Winter

    Very well said, Phil.

    As others have pointed out above, America has two long-standing problems with elections. One is the high percentage of people who misunderstand the nature of reality. (I mean creationists, climate-change deniers, anti-vaxxers, and others who cling to erroneous beliefs.) Science and technology grow in importance as factors in our daily lives, thus lack of knowledge in those areas (or worse, false knowledge) becomes ever more harmful. The other is well-funded special interests who happily take advantage of those ignorant people and corrupt the political process by applying various forms of monetary contributions.

    History reminds us that voter turnout in troubled countries is always higher. Take Iraq in the first election after Saddam Hussein’s overthrow (all the people with purple thumbs), or Afghanistan after the 2003 Loya Jirga. Today the distortion of the process looks to be reaching crisis proportions in America. This may be a reason for hope about our 2012 election here. At least, I hope there is reason for hope.

    Ref: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2010/0307/Iraq-election-Purple-fingers-but-hard-work-ahead

  54. Daffy

    Well said, Phil. The Publican Party’s (If they can say “Democrat Party” I can say “Publican Party”) descent into complete lunacy continues to amaze and appall me.

    The Democrats’ completely spineless response to all this is equally appalling in a whole other way.

  55. Chris Winter

    Eric TF Bat wrote (#10): “…the view from a distance is that Obama will win the 2012 election tidily.”

    I agree with DanM. It’s way too early to be complacent about an Obama win. The economy turning “south” even slightly could have a big effect, leading many to vote for the new guys.

  56. john

    Like you I enjoy reading science fiction. Some of it is bad and some of it is fertilizer. The good Senator has provided a particularly strong fertilizer with a long lasting smell. So have read any good science fiction lately?

  57. Fredeliot

    I think we’re going from a democracy to an ilithiocracy – rule by idiots.

  58. village idiot

    Republicans do not have a monopoly on science stupid!

    I must have missed your comments on Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson (Democrat):
    “My fear that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize,”

  59. mikel

    C’mon guys, give him a break. He’s apologized. Caution: is a wee bit language-y

  60. mike burkhart

    Your right I’m mad but not at Phil at Atkin, who is an dope. I”ll shock everyone I’m prolife. now before anyone cliks off let me say that rape is a horrable crime and if I had my way those who comit it would be castrated. As for abortion there is an alternitve adoption , many couples want a child and can’t have one and would love an unwanted child. You know maybe we should require all lawmakers to take science lessions before they are sworn in.

  61. noen

    Arguments and public debates are fine but they don’t affect your opponent’s opinions that much. Once someone is older their views are pretty well solidified. You can make some progress but the best way to change a large number of people is through education. Good science education simply *must* be a top priority.

    The religious right knows this. That’s why they homeschool. Racist southerners (and elsewhere) also know that early experiences mean a lot. That’s why after the 60’s civil rights movement they started charter schools and the bogus “public schools are failing” meme as a way to keep blacks away from their children so their kids don’t get any weird ideas like treating blacks and other minorities as equals.

  62. BPD

    If anything, this incident (and the many similar, lower-profile ones that have happened in American politics over the years) should serve as a wake-up call to those of us who are involved in science or otherwise scientifically-inclined.

    It’s more than just voting. If you don’t like stuff like this, you have to get involved in the process.

    You don’t have to dedicate your life to it. But start going to school board meetings and county commision meetings and legislative “town hall”-style meetings. Get to know your local representatives, and make sure they know that you 1) have a scientific background, and 2) are interested in science policy. Be friendly about it and be patient. For every Todd Akin who fails upward into Congress, there are 20 local-level politicians who are sincerely just trying to do the best job they can, and are trying to make good decisions on issues that they don’t have a lot of time to learn about. If they run into a science issue they don’t know much about and they know that you’re an active citizen and science resource, there’s a good chance you might get called on for some informal advice.

    It’s at the local level where a lot of the real governing is done, and some of those local politicians turn into national politicians. It’s a slow process, but it pays off.

    Really. The total political disconnectedness of so many of my scientist/engineer/etc. friends is really troubling. Everyone has strong opinions, but no one is ever willing to put in the time and energy to follow through.

    Vague background about myself: I come from a math/science world but I’ve also spent some time as a political activist. In college, I spent a summer as an intern with a congressional campaign, and since then I’ve had on-again/off-again contact with many of my elected officials. I’m hardly important politically, but there are a handful of people who know my name– not a lot of people show up at town hall meetings, and if you show up enough times, ask honest and intelligent questions, and treat them and their staff with respect, they start to recognize you and like you. And yes, I’ve helped educate a couple of well-meaning but misinformed local politicians on science issues. It really, really works.

  63. Keith

    “If you don’t vote, then you are letting someone else decide for you what to do with your money, your life, your future, and even your very body.”
    And, if you do vote…the same thing happens. Only you can decide what others with your money, life, future, or body, if you vote, or play into the illusion that voting changes anything, then you are putting those into other people’s hands.

  64. F16 guy

    Imagine an unbiased press that covered the repeated gaffs of the 2nd in line for the presidency, to the scrutiny they’ve given a lowly congressman.

    Biden recently didn’t know what state he was in, and in another incident, know that this was the twenty FIRST century.

    But Phil didn’t see fit to comment on that. Huh…

  65. “If you don’t vote, then you are letting someone else decide for you what to do with your money, your life, your future, and even your very body.”

    And that differs from when I do vote just how, exactly?

  66. Since there was nothing much going on in the Democratic primary, I requested a Republican ballot and voted for Akin who I thought would be the weakest candidate for the Senate among the three who were running. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had pointed out that the democratic candidate’s attack adds were worded in such a way that the far right would like what they heard, so Akin was clearly her choice for an opponent. I’ll bet there were others who voted as I did.

  67. JimmyDean Breakfastsausage

    MR F16.

    There is a world of difference between a vice president who is probably tired from traveling and made two minor gaffs to some idiot who thinks women don’t get pregnant when raped.

    If you can’t tell the difference between which is a non event and which is a serious lapse of intelligence, then I would suggest you have a serious problem.

    I do agree, this does seem to be a real problem with “The Press”, they constantly tend to concentrate on non issues and place two idiots on camera to discuss trivial topics while important issues go begging. Like the very real lack of science in political decisions on both sides, but especially on the Republican side. Climate science. Science in school. Or what Ryan’s budget is really doing to do the deficit and debt.

    And since when is Phil “The Press”? Last time I looked, this was a science blog.

  68. Gonzo

    Listen, I’m as cynical as the next guy but pretending there aren’t consequences to elections and, yes, differences between candidates is being willfully obtuse.

  69. Number 6

    After I read this paragraph….

    “And worse, Rep. Akin is not the only woefully under- and simply miseducated person on that committee who attacks science. It’s full of such antiscience people. Examples include Mo Brooks, a global warming denier; Ralph Hall, who tried to use porn to scuttle a science funding bill; Jim Sensenbrenner, another global warming denier; Paul Broun, a creationist (a creationist on the science committee!); Dana Rohrabacher, another climate change denier, and more.”

    …..I was stunned!….When another Sci-Fi movie is created in Hollywood, they just have to include these facts….yet, movie viewers will think it’s part of the fiction….they won’t realize the old cliche is operable here — truth is stranger than fic…

  70. VinceRN

    Sadly what committees congress critter get assigned to has nothing at all to do with what they know about. It’s all about prestige and favor. There are two centuries of equally absurd things in congress on both sides of the isle. Not to excuse this one, just to point out that it’s common.

    There are scientists in congress who are not on this committee, physicians who are not on committees related to healthcare, educators who are not on committees related to education, farmers who are not on committees related to agriculture and the list goes on. So far as I know not a single committee is made up of the people a sensible person would put on it.

    As for Skin’s silliness about shutting down reproduction during rape, it goes back to some research published in the early ’70s that talks about women not ovulating during stress. The study was wrong and has long been disproved and it doesn’t say what he thinks it says anyway.

  71. @69 Jimmydean – As has often been pointed out, this is not a science blog, it’s a Phil Plait blog. Sure it’s mostly science stuff, but there is also a lot of politics, and in quite a few cases he does cross over into be “the press”. Everything here, especially the “press” stuff does have a clear political bias, but since we are all told about it up front and mostly smart enough to dig further into any story (political or not), it doesn’t really matter here.

  72. Murff

    @61 Mike Burkhart…

    I’m not being a jerk or argumentative in this reply, have to put that out there since this is the inter webs…

    You figured out to severely punish the rapist (I agree), you figured out what to do with the kid (I agree again), but what about the woman that was forced to go through a forced pregnacy? I don’t like taking away a woman’s choice to have an abortion after a rapist has already taken away her choice to conceive. At that point, she would be on the same footing as livestock we breed…no choice in anything dealing with her reproduction.

    Unfortunately, in our political world of far right and far left idiots, there is no middle ground to agree upon.

  73. Daniel J. Andrews

    “The only female of any species (at least that I know of) that can control their own fertility and prevent a pregnancy after being raped is the female mallard. That’s right, a duck. Maybe he just mispoke… Oh I know! Maybe Todd Akin really just has a thing for ducks!”

    Or maybe he weighs as much as a duck. Maybe he floats? We could build a bridge out of him before he turns someone into a newt.

  74. Grand Lunar

    I think I first heard this from Skepchick.

    I have to wonder just how anyone so ignorant can be in such a position of power, especially in a science committe!

    What sort of message do people like Akin provide?

    This just angers me so much that I can hardly contain myself.

    I just hope he’s on the ballots come election day, so reasonable people can vote him and the other nutters OUT of their jobs.
    Because they have shown that they certainly don’t care for doing their own jobs.

  75. bill walker

    Akin can go on some right wing DON’T think tank.

  76. noen

    “Unfortunately, in our political world of far right and far left idiots, there is no middle ground to agree upon.”

    There is no Left in America. The Democrats would align more with the conservatives in the EU than with any left party. If you are left of center politically in the US you are really a centrist on a more objective scale.

    Fascism is coming to America. You can tell by the trail of slime they leave behind.

  77. Hmmm…

    Well if Phil Plait really feels this way then In think he needs to consider endorsing a candidate for the US congress who actually has a comprehensive space platform, pledges to increase general science funding, has stated repeatedly that he accepts global warming, is deeply concerned about our national laboratories and is generally running on a platform that puts science very high on the list of national priorities.

    But where on earth would Phil find such a candidate? Gee… I really wonder.

  78. kat wagner

    I can’t figure out what Republicans have against women. I mean, what the hell did we do? Anyway, I saw a piece about a woman who had been raped, had the baby and then the rapist took the victim to court to get custody of the child. That about put me over the top. Here’s the link: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/08/rapist-seeks-child-custody-shauna-prewitt.

    The victim, Shauna Prewitt, is now an attorney and is in a position to see a law get passed in her state. Other women are tormented for years by their attackers or otherwise get thrown under the bus. Wait, what? We’re a civilized society?

  79. Stargazer

    This is what happens when you let people, who think they can choose their own facts, vote.

    Just stop voting for the insane option.

  80. Hal

    Phil, I was curious what you thought of CO2 emissions from the US being at a 20-year low.

  81. Messier Tidy Upper

    Trio of links people may find hopefully interesting / informative in this context :

    (WARNING : NSFW LANGAUGE USE on these three articles linked.)




    For another more under the RADAR* but almost equally appalling display of wilful scientific ignorance.

    Plus :


    In a nutshell : The Republican party generally and Ryan and even Mittens himself are not very far removed at all from Akins disgusting position here.

    PS. Hope this is okay netiquette~wise BA, my apologies and please let me know if not.


    * No, I’m NOT shouting its a acronymn; dangnabbit! 😉

  82. These ladies sing what they think of Akin.
    So without further ado… Theeeeeeee Renegaaaade Raaaaagiiiiiing Graaaaanniiiiieeees ooonn Legitimate Rape!!


    (oh and a bit of a language warning)

  83. Messier Tidy Upper

    A bit old now but an indication here :


    that goes to the pattern and depths of the Republicans “war on women.”

  84. I am shocked (SHOCKED!!!!) to learn that Akin is also a global warming denier too. What were the odds?

  85. Steve Sousa

    Interesting idea of testing Congress persons for committee assignments, but it will never happen. Better idea is to give oral exams to potential candidates via real fact based debates BEFORE elections! Ask the tough questions and not allow vague replies. This may get rid of the dopes before their names appear on the ballot. Of course this would require an electorate to also be informed and willing to take responsibility to be actively engaged in the election. (Another impossibility?)

  86. token_athiest

    It is harder to harder for me to see the letters GOP is intended and not “GO” with a tongue sticking out afterwards. The party is becoming a joke.

  87. These ladies sing what they think of Akin.
    So without further ado… Theeeeeeee Renegaaaade Raaaaagiiiiiing Graaaaanniiiiieeees ooonn Legitimate Rape!!


    (oh and a bit of a language warning)

  88. noen

    Well if Phil Plait really feels this way then In think he needs to consider endorsing a candidate.

    Neil deGrasse Tyson for prez!

  89. Neil DaG Tyson???

    Hell, that´s a red button pusher. Look at what he did to Pluto.

  90. SLC

    It’s clear that Akin’s beliefs are driven by his religious fundamentalism. This would be a matter of concern to me for any lawmaker, but you have to understand: he sits on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee!

    If any of the commentors having a belly laugh over this whackjob are from Canada, youse folks ain’t much better. Gary Goodyear, Minister for Science and Technology in the current Canadian Government, is a chiropractor who rejects evolution.

  91. kat wagner

    Hey, that’s what Jon Stewart said after a wonderful rant by Neil deGrasse Tyson – this man for president!

  92. B

    “Let me leave you with this: in America, only about half the people of voting age actually go out and vote. That means there is a vast, untapped resource of people who can make a real difference in November.”

    Absolutely untrue. Most non-voters most likely live in states that are sure locks for one candidate. Obama will win my state by at least 15 percentage points. My vote is effectively worthless here. Blame the electoral college for lower turnout.

  93. Messier Tidy Upper

    @61. mike burkhart :

    .. As for abortion there is an alternitve adoption , many couples want a child and can’t have one and would love an unwanted child. You know maybe we should require all lawmakers to take science lessions before they are sworn in.

    That last line of yours there – absolutely yes! :-)

    As for the first bit quoted there, please read this story, really, please :


    by Mikki Kendall whose life was saved by an abortion and then tell me what you think of that situation and scenario?

    Plus please read and consider this one :


    as well.

    There was also an interesting philosophical website one which made a strange but interesting hypothetical analogy asking some good questions of us but I can’t find it online currently. Something about flower seeds that became real people floating into houses or suchlike?

    Anyone know the one I mean there and care to help find and link it here please?

    THIS : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Defense_of_Abortion#Pregnancy_Resulting_from_Voluntary_Intercourse_.E2.80.93_.E2.80.9CPeople-Seeds.E2.80.9D

    I think?

  94. Lancelot Link

    95 B – “My vote is effectively worthless here. Blame the electoral college for lower turnout.”

    Your vote is not worthless. Remember, the Presidency is not the only thing on the ballot. Congress and State offices really do matter – so do Sheriffs and Judges and School Boards, even. My state is a sure thing for Obama, but I’m voting to keep the only atheist in Congress.

  95. Zippy the Pinhead

    @2: Thank you for that reference and the quote of the relevant statistics. The reality is much more horrifying than mere statistics paint, since the authors go on to note that in their study, “Among 34 cases of rape-related pregnancy, the majority occurred among adolescents and resulted from assault by a known, often related perpetrator.” They go on to conclude, “Rape-related pregnancy occurs with significant frequency. It is a cause of many unwanted pregnancies and is closely linked with family and domestic violence.”

    AFAIK, Akin never apologized for the ignorant inaccuracy of his claims, merely for the “unfortunate” use of the word “legitimate”.

  96. amphiox


    Suppose enough people think as you do and the result is Obama wins by 10 points instead of the expected 15. This sends a message. To the Republicans it may signal to them that their obstructionist policies are working, and if they double down on them and continue to alienate progressive voters from voting, while energizing their own base they have a chance of flipping blue states in 10 or 20 years. Is that want you want?

    Reducing voter turnout has been an integral part of Republican strategy since Obama took office. This strategy includes voter suppression and obstructionism to disillusion the casual progressive voters whom they have calculated are a fickle demographic that though they will never win, they can drive away from voting.

    If voters do not repudiate this strategy and it results in electoral success, it is highly likely that democrats will be tempted to adopt it too. Is this what you want to happen?

    The binary win/lose result is not the only thing in an election that has consequence. Every vote sends a message, and every decision not to vote also sends a message.

    No vote is wasted.

  97. Steve Metzler

    What amphiox said. Especially since the Rethuglicans are trying to pull all this voter photo ID nonsense in a few states. Y’all really need to read this to understand what is happening in the isolationist US of A:


    ‘The Authoritarians’. It only takes an evening or two, and it’s a ripping read. Really.

  98. B


    Obviously I was talking about the presidential election. I still vote for state and local when I’m sufficiently motivated. But I have yet to vote for a president.


    You incorrectly assume that I would vote for Obama if I voted at all. But I found you so convincing that I will now vote for Romney just to narrow Obama’s margin of victory in my state. Thanks for your encouragement!

  99. Iker

    And I thought that we (spanish people) had the worse politicians ever. It seems that the plague of the ignorant people occupying responsability positions is more spread than I thought. How sad is to read that.

    PS: greetings from Spain. Nice Blog!

  100. fizz

    Actually, Adoption is not really an alternative to pregnancy. Pregnancy is dangerous, expensive (especially if you are not insured and many women who seek abortions aren’t insured!) and there are nowhere near enough infertile people/couples who want children. The chances of the finding the baby a stable home are not all that great, to be honest. Even if it were, it doesn’t negate the enormous financial expense of giving birth (just the cost of a vaginal delivery can be in excess of $7,000!) and the physiological cost to the woman, including a very real chance of death. Abortion is far less invasive, dangerous, and expensive. Besides the fact that banning will only drive it underground again, and women will continue to end pregnancies that they do not want – only they will do it far less safely.


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