The Latest Anti-Science Republican: Mike Pence

By Chris Mooney | May 6, 2009 9:12 am

The congressional global warming debate continues to expose the true colors of today’s Republicans, particularly in the House of Representatives. John Boehner, Michelle Bachmann, John Shimkus–all have stood up and said just inconceivable things about a body of science that they don’t even seem to understand.

And now, Mike Pence of Indiana is the latest to follow in this embarrassing tradition. Think Progress caught it first: MSNBC’s Chris Matthews got Pence on the record about global warming, stem cells, and evolution, and it was just outrageous:

PENCE: Well let me tell you. I think the science is very mixed on the subject of global warming, Chris.

Q: Then why should your party believe you’re going to get serious about it, if you say the science is mixed?

PENCE: Yeah, it’s a fair question. But look. I’m all for clean air. I’m all for clean coal technology. I’m sure reducing CO2 emissions would be a positive thing.

And again:

PENCE: Uh, do I believe in evolution? I embrace the view that God created the Heavens and the Earth, the Seas and all that’s in them. The means that he used to do that, I can’t say, but I do believe in that fundamental truth.

This stuff is appalling not only on a factual level, but because of what the country now faces–and just how ill-equipped people like Pence are to deal with it. Will we look back in ten years and see the 2000s as the decade that the Republican Party committed the equivalent of political suicide through its continual denial of reality?

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Comments (23)

  1. Jon

    I thought Matthews did a good job with this. Really boiled things down effectively and cornered Pence on the problem.

    Barring something unforeseen happening (god forbid) they’ll recoil onto their shrinking base and give us several cycles to fix our messes. Then I hope they’ll come back as a much more sensible party. I don’t think it’s healthy for the country to have only one sane political party…

  2. Peter Shaw

    I don’t think I see anything wrong with what he said without reading the whole interview. You can’t condemn someone’s opinions just because they don’t believe in certain things. He has a very progressive attitude from what I can tell for having a conservative platform. Not everyone has jumped on the global warming bandwagon and they are completely entitled to their opinions. And he seems to believe that no matter what, if we reduce CO2 and pollutants it wouldn’t be a bad thing. And people are also still allowed to believe in God and religion without hindering the progress of science.

  3. Jon

    completely entitled to their opinions

    Have all the opinions you want. But especially when important things are at stake, the same entitlement doesn’t extend to facts.

    Listen to the whole interview. Pence wants people to be entitled to their own facts.

    Matthews gives him every opportunity to clear up what the facts are. Pence, though, never takes the opportunity to speak up for them. (He may not knows them on climate change. If he doesn’t, he should. It’s his job.)

    Evidently, he feels his base is entitled to whatever facts they want to believe. As Matthews says it’s a “belief in belief”, not empirical reality.

    if we reduce CO2 and pollutants it wouldn’t be a bad thing

    But why? If you don’t believe climate change is happening, why would you make this a priority? (Matthews asks this.)

  4. james wheaton

    Peter Shaw –

    There is plenty “wrong” with what Pence said. And yes you can condemn people for their opinions when they are not based on facts, and when the issues are important. This is the case for global warming. Pence’s statements that the science is mixed on global warming is patently false. Never mind his absurd comments regarding evolution for the moment.

    Go ahead and see the whole interview. Chris Mooney has represented it well with the excerpts he has provided. Pence has, in that one interview, expsoed himself and his party for what they are – an anti-science party. They are anti-science because their ideologies are running counter to modern scientific findings. Big business versus global warming, minimalist government versus global warming, sanctity of life versus stem cell research, creationism versus evolution, geology, and cosmology. The list goes on and on. This is going to doom the Republican party, and the sooner the better.

    I would laugh at all this (and I do), but I am also very very concerned. Global warming is so scary that we as a society have no time to waste. The Republican party is a boat anchor which is putting an enormous drag on our progress. And there is a big electcorate out there ignorant enough to be swayed by Pence and his compadres in crime.

  5. If it is suicidal for Republicans to deny reality, it seems an awfully slow death. It started with Voodoo Economics in 1980. After more than a decade of that (the original user of the term being co-opted), they gained control of the House. They then held control there for ca. a decade, and gained it for several years in the Senate as well. Perhaps the re-election of W. Bush is the high water mark for reality-denial. But, if so, it lasted for more than a generation and with extraordinary success.

    The war on science is not over. It will not be over until denying reality becomes this election, not some generation down the road, political suicide. I’m not holding my breath.

  6. One thing many Americans don’t realize is how important domestic energy is to our country’s economic recovery and overall security. Currently, half of our electricity comes from coal—which happens to be our most abundant fuel resource.

    In fact, we recently kicked off the America’s Power Factuality Tour—a country-wide road trip in search of the people, places and technologies involved in producing cleaner, domestic electricity from coal.

    We started in Wright, Wyo., at the Powder River Basin, which produces more coal than any other site in the U.S. Take the tour for yourself and see our most abundant domestic fuel at work. factuality.org

  7. james wheaton

    OMG Monica – you just do not get it. I recognise that moving off a coal-fired grid is an enormously tough thing to do, whihc adversely impacts coal states in a big way. And I also recognize clean coal to be an unrealistic answer at least in the near term.

    If this planet is going to put us into a climate catastrophe unless the world reacts decisively and reacts now, which is the consensus view of the climate science community, then where in the equation is the importance of coal to the economic recovery of the country??? It is entirely irrelevant.

    Coal will continue to be used for some years; we cannot just shut down immediately. But vigorous steps must be taken to get us (and the rest of the world) off coal and other fossil fuels. Do you not see that?

  8. Erasmussimo

    James, I don’t think you should bother arguing with Monica; she appears to be a publicist.

  9. Jonsi

    @Monica,

    I’m not sure what your post has to do with Pence and Republicans seemingly being devoid of scientific comprehension, but if you are searching for people, places and technologies to produce coal electricity more cleanly, then you should be highly excited about the prospects of a cap and trade bill. Like sulfur and nitrous oxide emissions being capped and traded two decades earlier, such a measure will likely spur technological innovations and drive venture capital investments towards viable clean coal technologies. Therefore, if your organization was really serious about clean coal development, they’d be advocating for a price on carbon, because such a price signal would rapidly develop those possibilities leading to new jobs and technologies that America could export to other regions of the world, greatly bolstering our economy and benefiting our planet.

  10. Michael Heath

    A truly cringe-inducing segment on last night’s Hardball which was a follow-up segment to the Spence interview: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036697/

    Matthews shows that while he accepts scientific findings and explanations at a very shallow level, he’s almost totally ignorant of what evolution is and its findings. In addition, he allows his guest ex-Congressman Tom Tancredo to make the claim there is virtually no evidence that populations evolve over time sufficient enough to cause speciation.

    I recommend we write an email to the show at hardball@msnbc.com appluading their raising the issue of the Republican party both oppossing scientific findings while also remaining woefully ignorant of those findings and explanations. Here is what I wrote immediately after the Tancredo segment aired last evening:

    Dear Mr. Matthews,

    Your guest Congressman Tom Tancredo’s claims regarding science’s evidence and understanding of the origin of species was woefully ignorant and wrong-headed, doubly unfortunate was that it was not refuted by anybody on your show. We have overwhelming evidence of both transitional fossils and changes in species at the molecular level, e.g., fish to tetrapods, dinosaurs to birds, land mammals to whales, primitive primates where some evolved into humans, and even unicellular organisms ultimately evolving to humans. In addition, your casual description of evolution could best be described as theistic evolution, Tancredo’s support of intelligent design is vastly different.

    I highly recommend actually inviting an authentic, practicing biologist on the show that are good in front of TV cameras. Ken Miller happens to be a cell biologist at Brown University, writes very popular biology textbooks, understands the creationist/ID claims and how science has already discovered convincing evidence falsifying their claims, and happens to be Catholic who argues for theistic evolution. Besides Dr. Miller’s vast functional knowledge of both science and this debate he comes across as a very genial, positive everyman; I’ve found Dr. Miller to be brilliant at explaining facts in a conversant manner easily understood even by those are not well-informed on the science. He even explained a few things to Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report awhile back! By the way, contrary to your possible inference and Tandcredo’s claim, Intelligent Design by definition refutes scientific methodology, even its leading proponents admit this.

    Here is one of Miller’s websites where he provides some context to both evolution, ID, and this debate in the public square: http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/ and here is Dr. Miller’s homepage: http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/index.html . Other possible guests in lieu of Miller would be Jerry Coyne, Sean B. Carroll, and Wes Elsberry. All of them are authentic, practicing scientists who are also able to describe creationist/ID claims as they relate to scientific methodology. Journalist types that could also cover this ground would be Carl Zimmer and Chris Mooney, the latter who is also conversant in climate change and authored the book, The Republican War on Science.

  11. Michael Heath

    For some reason the Hardball link above doesn’t work, try this does: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036697/#30607082 . Sorry for the inconvenience.

  12. Trash her all you will, but Monica and her ilk do a raise a central point on which environmentalists are equally in denial – what will replace fossil fueld burning, on what timetable and at what cost. Even T. Boone Pickens – he of the political campaign like Pickens Plan ads last year – now says he’s slowing down his wind farm investments because natural gas prices have dropped so precipitiously. How, dear friends, do we get off coal, gas, and oil consumption for electric power generation and transportation uses facing a pricing/valuation structure that does not account for the real and long lasting environmental degradation from the use of the resource?

  13. More than half of our electricity could come from nuclear if some sense and facts are infused into the debate

  14. Michael Heath

    Re Philip H’s valid questions about energy policy given a human-caused warming planet:

    First we need to have a honest debate, rather than liberals and non-conservatives having to expend all their time and energy refuting false claims by conservatives. There are many ways to skin this cat, the problem is that the vast majority of conservatives, including most of its leaders, refuse to admit a cat even exists and those that do obfuscate their arguments to avoid the central policy issues of our time. The general effect is a debate with them on this topic that is every bit as dysfunctional as the debate on any other science-related matter where they argue from a premise their talking points are equal to peer-accepted findings by relevant scientific disciplines.

    For example, when discussing AGW, they revert to a tinfoil hat organization’s ‘petition’ which has ‘prominent scientists’ rebutting AGW. We never get to the point where we debate carbon taxes vs. cap and trade vs. some other possible alternative – this is merely one of many issues we need to be debating. Instead the Democrats are leaving such debates in the dust and moving forward with the policy proposals given the GOP’s unwillingness and often their inability to even debate these matters (they have many deluded members, like Rep. Bachmann and Sen. Inhofe). While I can’t blame the Democrats for moving out, it’s disappointing we have no legitimate minority party insuring we arrive at more optimal policy positions given the benefit of honest debate. At least the party that gets the science is now the majority party.

  15. re Philip H – what will replace coal?
    First, right now: efficiency–demand response programs, better motors, fridges, control systems. It’s been shown repeatedly that demand side management and efficiency are by far the lowest cost addition to make electricity supply and demand balance. After the California power crisis in the wake of the Enron scandal (set up in part by very poor design of market deregulation, with fixed retail prices but market pricing for wholesale electricity!) the state made huge strides in electricity demand management. There has been basically zero increase in peak load in California for the last decade despite large growth in population and economic output (even measured prior to the 2008 financial crisis).
    There is a vast amount of “low hanging fruit” of energy efficiency just waiting to be tapped, given the slightest price signal or incentives.
    After that, we have wind power – consider T. Boone Pickens with over 2 million supporters, at http://www.pickensplan.com Save your breath if you want to dismiss wind because it is intermittent; nobody is proposing using wind for 100% of the power system. Coordination with other dispatchable sources, including potentially power storage systems such as pumped hydro, compressed air, NaS batteries, flywheels, etc. are all options as well.
    Next, concentrating solar thermal (CSV) – what Joe Romm of http://www.climateprogress.org likes to call “baseload solar”. In this technology, you use arrays of parabolic reflectors to collect sunlight and create superheated carrier fluid such as molten salt, pipe that fluid to a central power plant and run a conventional boiler and power turbine off the heat. Add an insulated storage tank, and you have dispatchable power, 24/7, with zero fuel cost and zero emissions. This is already working on the grid at Nevada Solar One (see Wikipedia article of the same name).
    Now add in biogas methane from landfills and livestock manure; offshore wind; wave and tidal power along the coasts; oh, and we haven’t even gotten to photovoltaics yet. This is likely to be the greatest contributor in the longer term to dumping dirty coal; PV prices have resumed their long-term downward trend and many in the industry foresee “grid parity” final costs for PV electricity within the next several years. See http://www.solarbuzz.com for PV price trends and industry news.

    Okay, so, does that answer your question about what will replace coal?

    By the way, President Obama’s emphasis on clean energy jobs as a key part of the recovery package is really encouraging and timely. We’re in the very early stages of a huge clean energy revolution that will leave future generations scratching their heads over why we argued so hard to keep dirty coal for as long as we have.

    Jim Prall
    Toronto, Canada

  16. I just re-read Philip H’s comments – sorry if I sounded like you were dismissing Boone Pickens. In fact you seem to hit the critical point – people aren’t going to switch off coal as long as coal clings to its absurd free ride, with zero cost for CO2 emissions, not to mention PM2.5, mercury, cadmium, mountaintop removal mining, and lots of grandfathered dirty plants that weasled out of new source review to get free sulphur emissions as well.
    So, part of how we can get off coal is to start charging the true, full costs of all these externalities against the price of coal power. When you do that, coal is no longer the cheapest source. As for “clean coal” with CCS — still waiting…. waiting …. anybody seen it yet? No? Maybe next year, or the year after?

  17. Too many bloggers propose that Republicans are “anti-science” and at least imply that Democrats are pro-science. Politicians in general are not anti or pro science, they are generally science abusers. They cherry pick. They propose huge expenditures that will achieve little or even waste money but which will by shining symbols that attract voter moths to their flame.

    Al Gore has been abusing science as egregiously as any Republican for at least two decades. The list is long, but simply consider his offering as proof of global warming individual storms or seasons. Similarly, he is no less immune to self-interest than Republicans. Consider how many millions he has made, his investments in companies that benefit from his proposals, etc.

    Politics is an adversarial process where both sides of any question, be it about economics or science, choose information to advocate for their view and proposals.

    Journalism is not supposed to be an adversarial process, but when journalists show such a one sided commitment to labeling Republicans as anti-science, then journalists have abdicated their profession and become political operatives.

  18. @jonsi @erasmussimo @james wheaton

    I beg to differ to all of you. During the first stop on the America’s Power Factuality Tour, we toured the largest U.S. coal mine: the Black Thunder Coal Mine in the Powder River Basin in Wright, Wyo. Eight percent of America’s coal comes from Black Thunder, and the workers here spoke in great detail about how important safety, the environment and reclamation efforts are to each of them. For the most part, the reclaimed land is indistinguishable from the rest of the area. In fact, due to efforts to attract wildlife, it’s greener and full of more plants and animals than the areas around it. Don’t believe me? See the video for yourself. http://www.factuality.org

  19. Michael Heath

    Wallace Kaufman – the facts are not with you that Democrats abuse scientific findings as much as Republicans. It’s not even close and in fact is the primary reason we procrastinated when it comes to addressing energy independence is the GOP’s systemic denial of AGW.

    The problem with journalism is they commit a fallacy of balance argument when considering assertions supporting Democratic policy arguments vs. Republican ones on matters of science. What they perceive as attempt to provide balance is really the media’s mundanely collective ignorance regarding scientific methodology and scientific findings. leading to a false framing of the issues being reported. If they rebutted every false assertion by every source they quote in the stories they report, which I wish they would do even in their Editorial Section, there just is no contest who is the master of woo.

    For a good primer I suggest Chris Mooney’s “The Republican War on Science”. Also, this forum’s bloggers and ScienceBlogs.com provide ample evidence of woo from all. For non-bloggers Science, Nature, and Scientific American are all excellent publications that show the distance between the our political parties and what Science understands in terms of peer-acceptance and confidence in their explanations.

    I state this as someone who was a loyal member of the GOP from 1978 until I quit the evening the 2008 GOP Convention approved of the Palin VP nomination.

  20. Erasmussimo

    Monica, I agree that it is possible to restore some strip mines to good condition, largely because the original site is already pretty arid. However, the primary argument against the use of coal arises from its emissions from coal-burning plants. There are secondary arguments arising from the problems of disposal of the fly ash and the use of water during restoration of open-pit mines. Extolling the virtues of restoration of these mines is rather like noting that the fires in Santa Barbara are raising the value of the homes that survive by lowering the supply of homes in the area. Cold comfort.

  21. Jim,
    Thansk for you inut. I agree that there is much to be gained from taking the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” meme out of solid waste, and into energy waste, as it were. I worry, however, that too few groups are trying to get that heard in the discussion, and since many of them are utilities, they are getting run over by a tide of . . . wingnut environmentalists.

    I wrote what I wrote because the issue of paying an appropriate price for carbon emissions is another example (as if we need it) of the tragedy of the commons thery. As a fisheries oceanographer, Ideal with that issue on an almost daily basis. I’d like to think we ocean oriented folks have a few things to say about how to avoid it. but no one has as yet taken the leap of faith.

  22. nausicaa

    From what I read here, I can’t see anything “wrong” with what he said.
    But that’s just interpretation.
    It depends what he means by “mixed” science. We can’t produce 100%
    accurate numbers / projections on the fact that we are negatively
    affecting our environment. If he means that we may NOT be negatively
    affecting our environment, that’s a different story. Mixed is a rather dicey
    word choice.
    His answer about evolution is actually forward thinking in comparison
    to some. Science can’t prove what happened before the big bang (yet?? :)
    His belief does not go against science. It falls in an area that science doesn’t
    reach.
    Regardless, given the track record of politicians, it’s probably pandering and
    careful wording with the hopes of misrepresenting.

  23. nausicaa

    Gomen.
    I just re-read that he believe God created everything.
    So… I guess he is saying that evolution isn’t accurate.
    That’s rather… bold.
    Even a cursory research of recent scientific research
    coupled with a strong power of logic would show that
    no god created everything by hand.
    Did a “god” create the initial big bang? Who knows.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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