Doubtless, you’ve heard Republican House Representative Todd Akin’s soundbite in which he asserted that cases of “legitimate rape” rarely lead to pregnancy because, “from what he understood from doctors,” the reproductive system has a magical ability to “shut that whole thing down.” But did you also know that Rep. Akin sits on the House Committee for Science, Space, and Technology?
It’s true! Akin somehow manages to “understand” trained scientists as saying the polar opposite of what they have actually said, and yet he is tasked with helping to shape federal policy and funding on matters of science and technology.
There is currently a petition going around asking House Speaker Boehner to remove Akin from the committee, which I think raises the question, “Why the hell do we need a petition for something like this?!” A petition implies that the people need to demonstrate political will for an action.
Is that really necessary in this case? Is there any rational argument for the opposite action, in which we continue giving oversight on science policy to the guy who believed that fallopian tubes themselves could tell the difference between a wanted and unwanted pregnancy? How many people need to see that as a bad thing in order for Boehner to agree that it might be worthwhile to fire the guy who doesn’t have a modicum of the expertise or common sense that his job requires?
The only reason I can see why anyone might hesitate to do so is because, in case of congressional appointments, politics are more important than facts. I wish I could say that I was surprised about the hesitancy to remove an absolute fool from a position that works closely with scientific data he probably doesn’t have the capacity to understand.
In today’s political climate, ideology routinely trumps everything else, including simple facts. It is an exceptionally dangerous trend, and one that has arguably been on the rise, having certainly been prominent when the Bush administration unabashedly attempted to suppress science related to global warming and the effectiveness of abstinence-only education.
If a politician is firmly committed to a policy position, that’s all well and good; let him defend it. But if scientific data comes into conflict with your preconceptions, you have to do one of three things: find a good reason to question the accuracy of the data, explain why you’re view is right in spite of it, or (gasp!) change your opinion.
We here at Green Earth News believe in bamboo. We are of the opinion that it’s an amazing crop with lots of potential for future applications in a variety of industries. We believe that it could be a tremendous help in the fight against global climate change, and that it makes a damn fine fabric. We believe these things because the news and the scientific data about bamboo suggest these conclusions. But we vigorously advocate for wider use of the resource in spite of challenges, and not in ignorance of them. And when something indicates that for all our confidence, bamboo is not perfect, we admit it. We just argue that all the benefits make up for the mitigating factors.
By contrast, what you cannot do when your views are challenged is stick your fingers in your ears, hum loudly like a four year-old, and pretend that every bit of contrary evidence is actually confirmation of what you believe. But in politics, that seems to be the increasingly predominant impulse.
And the fingers-in-ears response is apparently also the impulse when someone on the same side says something droolingly idiotic in defense of a shared position. Boehner and others evidently do their best to feign impaired hearing and let people keep the jobs for which they’re woefully unqualified as long as they keep supporting agreed-upon policies, even if their support is based on complete and utter bull crap.
Everyone who has a hand in letting people like Akin maintain their posts is responsible for more than just one man’s job. They are responsible also for influencing the entire national culture in ways that make denial of science easier and more socially acceptable. And with a petition going around to remove Akin from his committee, that responsibility now falls to everybody.
Akin has rightly been lambasted from all sides for his astonishingly anti-scientific comments, but that’s not enough if he continues to have the kind of oversight that he so swiftly proved himself unsuitable for. I can’t fathom why acting to take that away is controversial enough to require a petition. If a person categorically demonstrates ignorance of something that their job demands they be expert in, they ought to be immediately removed from that position. They cannot be expected to perform their duties effectively for even another day.
I would even go further, and I’ve made the argument before that if a person tasked with shaping policy or informing the public goes before them and lies outright or just makes things up to serve their political ends, there should be an immediate referendum or review on their job. If someone’s constituency wants to keep a liar or ignoramus in power, that is up to them, but they should make that decision immediately, while the memory of the lie or ignorance is still fresh.
Hopefully in the case of Akin, who refuses to pull out of his race for reelection, his outlandish comment came too close to the election for voters to ignore it. That remains to be seen, but his fitness to serve the state of Missouri as a duly elected idiot is a separate matter from his fitness to sit on a Congressional science committee. On that point, I would encourage Speaker Boehner and every United States citizen to immediately and without delay “shut that whole thing down.”