Rick Santorum's Troubling Views on Science

By Chris Mooney | June 6, 2011 3:15 pm

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum announced for president today. We just praised Mitt Romney here for his acceptance of climate science–and by the same token, there is much to criticize about Santorum’s scientific views. Namely:

1. Santorum is an anti-evolution, “intelligent design” supporter who has written that ID “is a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes.” It isn’t, and it shouldn’t.

2. Santorum is an opponent of embryonic stem cell research, and in his opposition, he cites other scientific avenues like adult stem cell research as an adequate substitute–despite the fact that scientists say we need to try all approaches, rather than limiting inquiry. Or as the International Society for Stem Cell Research puts it: “Research on human embryonic stem cells, somatic cell nuclear transfer, induced pluripotent state cells (iPS cells) and ‘adult’ or tissue-specific stem cells needs to continue in parallel. All are part of a research effort that seeks to expand our knowledge of how cells function, what fails in the disease process, and how the first stages of human development occur. It is this combined knowledge that will ultimately generate safe and effective therapies.”

3. Santorum is a global warming skeptic. Witness this 2008 column in the Philadelphia Inquirer, claiming that “global temperatures have actually cooled over the last 10 years and are predicted to continue cooling over the next 10.” No they aren’t.

All of these positions are outside the scientific mainstream and, indeed, simply out of touch.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Conservatives and Science
MORE ABOUT: rick santorum

Comments (32)

  1. There should be an outcry about this. As Sheril Kirshenbaum pointed out yesterday, why aren’t people as upset about this as when Sarah Palin goofs history? Science is at least as important to a full-functioning citizen. People have to be scientifically literate and numerate to make good calls in the voting booth.

  2. What kind of an intellectual elite response to an alternate perspective on evolution is that?

    This publication is suppose to be about science – not Political Science… Stick with what you know before you offend the few readers/subscribers you have left…

  3. My oh my. Any public official who claims that ID is a “scientific” anything needs to be escorted out of whatever public-funded premises at which he works. I agree with you, Steve Cooperman–this should absolutely garner the same response as Palin not remembering middle school history.

  4. Mark Martino

    If intelligent design is purely a political issue, then it isn’t science and shouldn’t be taught as such.

    If it is science, or at least has a scientific component, then science writers can comment on it.

  5. Jim Johnson

    What is the difference between a “climate change denier” and a “climate change skeptic”?

  6. Ian

    OMG – he’s opposes ESCR? What an outrage! Hang him! Oh no wait a minute science has proven that human life begins at conception so surely the embryo is entitled to human rights. Tell me Chris would you offer up your unborn child for research?

  7. Matt

    Agree with Rebecca. It seems like all this blogger ever posts is political issues. I always know when reading through google reader which articles are from this blogger because they’re almost always more political than scientific.
    I agree that creation (divinity) shouldn’t be taught, but I don’t see why intelligent design is considered by so many to be the same thing as creation.
    Just tell me he was hired for this reason (bringing politics into a scientific publication–with nearly EVERY post) and I’ll be quiet.
    I may have to switch these posts from “science” to “political” in my reader.

  8. Chris Mooney

    Please note that this post is getting Google news and other linkage, so we have non-regular visitors here. And, surprise, they disagree with us.

  9. RickK

    Not all of us “non-regular visitors” disagree, Chris.

    Rebecca and Matt – here’s challenge. I’ll make a list of all the natural phenomena that were originally thought to be caused by gods, demons or other supernatural forces, but were later determined to have natural causes. While I do that, you make a list of all the natural phenomena that had natural explanations that were later determined to have supernatural or divine causes. Then we’ll compare and see which is more effective at explaining how things work: science or the supernatural.

    Ready? Go!

  10. Charles

    When he talks it gives me one more reason not to vote for him, but that is just me.

  11. Ohso Anonymous

    Few thoughts:

    1. Chris: I regularly read you blog. If you’re being that elitist about your point of view then perhaps I should stop? “And, surprise, they disagree with us,” can easily be interpreted as, “I am close minded and enjoy the company of only those I agree with and who agree with me because everyone else is stupid.” That doesn’t sound like a scientist to me. That sounds like everything you appear to despise about the “deniers”, etc.

    2. Rick Santorum’s failure is the failure of the scientific community in managing the artificial nature of AGW debate. Quickly, how many people know the difference between Global Warming and Anthropogenic Global Warming? What, there’s no difference you say? Pshaw. You already lost the argument. So, deride him as you like, but beware of the propensity for science to fail all of us while promising so much. This cuts both ways: the truth in science is often not the truth in real life; the truth in real human experience often takes science years to explain, if ever. Stop blaming everyone for doubting what our experience often suggests is a hoax. In the 70’s we were going into a new Ice Age, remember? There are scores of people who will never believe. Move on and figure out what to do about it (expect allow crazy scientists to test their unproven, but perfectly modeled cooling systems on us).

    3. Intelligent Design.
    I really don’t understand why people have this huge problem with teaching God’s Engineering 101 in school. I don’t believe in a “God” and, quite frankly, I don’t think anyone else really does, but why not support the teaching of ID and ensure that all students attempt to become like the numero uno engineer? While we’re at it, since God made adult stem cells as much as He/She/It made carbon, shouldn’t all students of ID learn how to make replacement organs for humans using the same materials? And if Ricko has a problem with embryo stem cells, perhaps he just wants to make sure that there are enough of them around to be used for IVF or other birthing procedures? Frankly, I don’t care about the Stem Cell Debate. There are plenty of us around, right? What, do we really want more of us breeding like rabbits so we can mess the planet up more? Note: messing up the planet is our job number one! We are not here to make a nice planet. We are here to consume all the resources until the planet is basically uninhabitable, then move on to the next. There’s nothing wrong with that in my mind (do not be mistaken: I think being wasteful and indulgent is repulsive), so I do guess baby embryos are ok. But, then I do like the challenge that the adult cells provide. Perhaps we should do what is harder so that we may be a nation of the challenged, instead of a nation of the stupid which we are all becoming?

    So, Chris Mooney, I’m looking at you. Are you going to stand up and bring these sides together with reason, or continue to divide us all with passion? Science has no passion, only facts. Teach us how to use reason and logic to make our decisions, not offer the status quo of pointing fingers.

  12. Mark Farmer

    Matt writes “but I don’t see why intelligent design is considered by so many to be the same thing as creation.”

    Well Matt, in addition to looking at the evidence for and against this argument and concluding on my own that ID is nothing more than a religiously based form of creationism, A federal judge spent several weeks looking at the same question in Dover, PA in 2005. Judge Jones’ conclusion?

    “[ID] may be true, a proposition on which the court takes no position, ID is not science.”
    He also said that intelligent design “violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation”; it relies on “flawed and illogical” arguments; and its attacks on evolution “have been refuted by the scientific community.”

    So I guess it is because so many of us respect the laws of the United States that we tend to agree when a federal judge, who invites both parties to present their best evidence, and then concludes ID is religion, that we too conclude that ID and creationism are one in the same.

  13. RobertoQueso

    #9. RickK: You are my hero. That is a brilliant proposition that I will surely use in the future :)

  14. Al Cibiades

    Proselytization is arguing a point of view at the expense of logic and truth. There s a place for speaking about god, but it is NOT in classes in biology and genetics.
    For , , …The problem with Santorum’s position, is that as a national political entity, his statements support a trivialized view of science. A view, which if supported and promulgated within the context of “education”, places the US in a back-of-the-bus position for continued and future developments in biotechnology, and science in general.
    If you feel, like the Taliban, that all that needs to be known was written thousands of years ago, and anything which casts doubt on this ‘truth’ is heretical, maybe you should rethink your position.

  15. Dave

    Another religious lunatic, though the term is somewhat oxymoronic. The economy in the long term will not be the driving factor that undermines this country: it will be scientific illiteracy that does it.

  16. TaVo

    I completely agree with you Chris, furthermore I also think you should absolutely be closed off to people that not only ignore facts, but spout nonsense. If Ohso thinks you are being elitist, then let him. Those who are ignorant and apathetic obviously now belong to the infancy of our civilization.
    When you argue, it tends to help if you have facts, something ID completely lacks, which is why it should be looked down upon and so should anybody who tries to justify it. Any politician who states that they do not trust the same ‘scientist’, (that cured their STD from their mistress) on evolution, should have all of their political and social privileges revoked. Period.
    If any citizen does not understand that evolution is the most correct, comprehensive and logical system that we can explain with our current understanding, needs to immediately be removed from their work/home and be placed back in kindergarten. There is no place for stupidity in an advancing civilization and quite frankly, those who believe in creationism or ID, are wearing the philosophical shoe that fits.

  17. Billy Rubin

    Sounds like Santorum’s supporters are starting to get a little frothy.

  18. I am outraged you would call Santorum’s views on science “troubling.” In fact, his views on science have been clear for some time: he is opposed to it.

    I thus consider his views “unacceptable” or “ignorant” or “outrageous.” “Troubling” is not nearly strong enough.

  19. Scott

    Frothy indeed Billy

  20. Guy McLimore

    Froth is what you get when hot air bubbles up in fat heads.

  21. I agree that those that are opposed to the CONSIDERATION of ID are very closed minded and obviously anti-scientific. I would like to offer some other suggestions that I believe should be taught immediately in schools:

    1) Muslim women evolved from cheese.
    2) Eating poison on Tuesdays on the moon will not harm you.
    3) Trees should be worshipped due to their ability to deliver leaves.
    4) My dog can talk to me.
    5) Our ability to fly is based upon angels and holy water.

    These are all obviously extremely valid arguments and I recommend we start teaching our children these immediately.

  22. Richard Dandelion

    @15 Dave, I think you mean “redundant” (not “oxymoronic”). :-)

  23. John

    To #7. Matt – The reason so many people consider ID and creationism to be the same thing is because they *are* the same thing. This was proven beyond a reasonable doubt at the Dover, PA trial of 2005, where early drafts of the book “Of Pandas and People”, the primary source of ID itself, were found to refer directly to God. After the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard decision that prevented Creationism from ever being taught in public schools, the drafts suddenly took all references to God or Creationism and changed them to refer to “intelligent design(er)”. ID is not a scientific theory, or even science at all. It is just Creationism with a different brand name, trying to sneak in the back door after being told to leave.

  24. Chris Mooney

    @24 Yes, we who have written articles, books, etc, about ID have documented all of this conclusively, and the judge agreed with it.

    So let the argument begin!

  25. ron

    @3 Kristin – No, science hasn’t “proven” that human life begins at conception – there are plenty of different definitions of what constitutes a human. It’s a religious question, not a scientific one. 75% of fertilized human eggs don’t implant and thus ‘die’. Apparently when you get to your heaven you’ll be in the minority – only 25% – of the souls there who actually were born!

  26. candice

    Here’s the problem that I have with Santorum and his ilks brand of science: This is why China is beating us. This is why so many other countries are beating us. We are so busy letting the religious right control what is being taught in schools and what is eligible to receive public funding that we are falling behind the rest of the world.

  27. Brad

    Intellectual Design is a legitimate scientific theory and it doesn’t have to be religious. The theory is just that the probablity of all the variables to create a planet that can foster live as we know it is very low. It could support intraspecies evolution because it is caused by natural selection while interspecies evolution has never been documented. Ultimately, both ID and evolution are both scientific theories and both deserve to be taught.

  28. Ohso Anonymous

    @28 Brad:
    Precisely, and that is the foundation on which is should be accepted and taught. There will be nothing that changes people’s minds more than being forced to choose their reason over the beliefs. No once can convince someone that they are wrong because they choose to believe in “God” as a package deal; that they then must rationally believe the He created the world and heavens, etc., or vice-versa. However, one can allow them to drink the coolaid of science by co-opting their belief system and replacing it with reason and logic (to a certain degree). If everyone accepted that ID is in the midst of being proven/disproven as a valid *scientific* theory, then the debate of the truth of it is left to the power of the scientific method and the skillful application of those pursuing this truth (that is a little perfect world scenario, of course). And, quite frankly, that is what science is about, isn’t it? Right now the uneducated, uninformed and just plain stupid consider science a dogma, just as the reverse considers their religious beliefs. They have no argument but “God did it!”; and scientists (or the mildly educated) respond with, “That is theoretically impossible based on our theoretical evidence which is mainly accurate, but we still *believe* that the Big Bang was the beginning.” Same difference.

    So, the question is: Can a scientist convince an ID believer that God = The Big Bang, or vice-versa? I’d say that the extremes are always going to answer definively yes or no, but the middle is going to be swayed with reason and doubt from *both* sides. If this is true, then why put so much effort into calling people stupid or ignorant?

    The job, always, of the “Informed” is to educate the “Uninformed” and that is it. Complaining and calling people names gets you absolutely nowhere. Or, perhaps, that is just our culture and it does. Sad, that. Indeed.

  29. Brad

    @29 Ohso:

    In response to your question, “Can a scientist convince an ID believer that God = The Big Bang, or vice-versa?”. I would hope so. I actually believe that God could have created the world with a Big Bang because I take the first 11 chapters of Genesis to be allegorical not literal. In other words, I don’t actually think people lived to be over 900 years old, but I believe God created this world and Homo Sapiens.

  30. John

    @ 28, 29, 30…
    No, ID is very much *not* a scientific theory, much less legitimate (see my previous post @24 – a (religious!) judge found that ID was undeniably religious, and not scientific, in nature). ID absolutely has to be religious in nature, because it’s central idea is that of an all-powerful designer, creating animals left and right. That is god, and thus is religion, not science. There is no conflict for the religious in choosing to not believe in ID, because it is not necessary to believe in creationism, or even a literal interpretation in the bible, to believe in god. The problem is not belief in god, it is when people choose belief over empirical, factual reality. Evolution has been proven beyond any doubt. Anyone who says it has not is simply unaware of the proof, or has deliberately ignored/misinterpreted it. Thanks in no small part to the very attacks on it, evolution is currently one of the most well-proven, well-understood scientific theories in the world – we literally have a better understanding of evolution than we do of gravity.

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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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