Marco Rubio: not a scientist

November 19, 2012 • 9:00 pm

by Greg Mayer

In an apparent effort to keep up with Rep. Paul Broun (R-Georgia), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who is being touted as a presidential candidate, produced this gem of reasoning in an interview with GQ:

I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

Andrew Sullivan responds:

No, we have answered that. The earth was not created 6,000 years ago in seven days. Period. Anyone who says anything else as a factual matter is nuts.

Rubio’s waffling was immediately noticed, and even arch religious conservative Ross Douthat, of all people, is mildly critical. Paul Krugman takes up Rubio’s claim that science doesn’t matter:

when Rubio says that the question of the Earth’s age “has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow”, he’s dead wrong. For one thing, science and technology education has a lot to do with our future productivity — and how are you going to have effective science education if schools have to give equal time to the views of fundamentalist Christians?

Importantly, Krugman notes that the underlying  problem is epistemological:

More broadly, the attitude that discounts any amount of evidence — and boy, do we have lots of evidence on the age of the planet! — if it conflicts with prejudices is not an attitude consistent with effective policy. If you’re going to ignore what geologists say if you don’t like its implications, what are the chances that you’ll take sensible advice on monetary and fiscal policy?… [T]he modern GOP [is] fundamentally hostile to the very idea of objective inquiry.

Rubio is either ignorant, lying to prevent alienating his “base”, or incapable of rational inquiry. But whether it’s ignorance, mendacity, or stupidity, surely this should disqualify this man from being put in charge of anything, let alone the United States.

Update. Alex Knapp at Forbes has a great post on Rubio, “Why Marco Rubio Needs To Know That The Earth Is Billions Of Years Old”, in which he details some of the practical consequences of the science of the age of the Earth being all wrong. Do read the whole piece. Money quote:

The bottom line is that this economy, at its root, is built on  a web of scientific knowledge from physics to chemistry to biology. It’s impossible to just cherry pick out parts we don’t like. If the Earth is 9,000 years old, then virtually the entire construct of modern science is simply wrong. Not only that, most of the technology that we rely on most likely wouldn’t work – as they’re dependent on science that operates on the same physical laws that demonstrate the age of the universe.

h/t Andrew Sullivan

58 thoughts on “Marco Rubio: not a scientist

  1. Agreeing with Greg Mayer on all points. I’ve probably posted this here before, but it is worth repeating. It’s from Chris Mooney’s book “The Republican War on Science”.


    In a famous October 2004 New York Times article on the Bush administration, journalist Ron Suskind described his encounter with a “senior adviser” to the president:
    The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now and when we act, we create our own reality.”


    It’s bad enough to be cut off from reality; doubly so to know it and do nothing about it. As the old saying goes, “neurotics build castles in the air; psychotics move in”.

  2. I agree there seems to be somewhat of a dismissal of the importance of science in Rubio’s statement which seems to be Krugman’s point. But, in regards to thinking Rubio refuses to acknowledge science and an old earth, we can’t overlook a specific part of his statement. Rubio mentions “7 actual eras” which is an appeal to an old-earth position versus a 6,000 year old-earth. At the very least, he’s indicating that he is aware that people of faith carry not just a young earth view.

    1. …seems to be somewhat of a dismissal of the importance of science…

      No. It is an unambiguous, total dismissal of the scientific method. The awareness of the views of people of faith is completely irrelevant. YEC has been disproved as a viable explanation for the history of the world. Ultimately, Krugman’s point has little to do with whether Rubio accepts that the Earth is 4.55 billion years old (± 1%, probably less). It is about taking competing views as equally valid – in the face of strong evidence to the contrary. The important point of Krugman’s comments is the fact that the GOP now chooses leaders who are “fundamentally hostile to the very idea of objective inquiry”.

      1. the Earth is 4.55 billion years old (± 1%, probably less)

        1% uncertainty would be 45 million years. The precision of dating at that distance into the past is, under optimal conditions, better than 5 million years (0.1%). However, modelling of the construction period of the solar system and planets is in the order of 20-30 million years. So to get a much better precision than your quoted 1%, you’re going to start looking at different phases of the construction of a particular planet.

    2. At the very least, he’s indicating that he is aware that people of faith carry not just a young earth view.

      . . . and that he’s scared to alienate either of the groups. Actually, “any” of the many different groups.
      Which, of course, suggests a disruptive tactic, should any rational thinkers in his constituency be able to stomach the mendacity required. At his public appearances, the rational disruption crew should infiltrate and ask awkward questions about opposing parts of irrational theological disputes, then get into a public “angel on pinhead” level of irrational debate, between themselves. Do anything that you can to make good TV-friendly shots and simultaneously guarantee lots of bad publicity for religion in general, and this politician’s straw-in-the wind vote grubbing.
      FSM, I hate politics – it brings out the manipulative worst in me!

  3. You should be worried even more because Marco Rubio is a member of a Senate science committee. Even a great mystery than the age of the earth is how people like Rubio get to be on the science committee.

    1. Even a great mystery than the age of the earth is how people like Rubio get to be on the science committee.

      What, if any, are the requirements of being on the committee. I’d suspect the answer would be “a pulse”, “a successful candidacy for (whichever house)” and … errr, that’s it?

      1. Honestly, I have no idea. I think Senators get assigned to their committees by a random number generator. Just don’t ask members of Senate science committee to explain what random number generator is. Or members of Senate Random Number Generator committee.

  4. Rubio has an undergraduate degree in political science, and a law degree. Since he’s not an “economist,” why does he think he’s qualified comment on the economy?

    1. political science
      hoi polloi – “the herd”

      Political science is the study of herd management, the law being its handmaiden.

  5. There is more than a tinge of arrogance in Rubio’s stance, to combine with his ignorance. It is the old argument from personal incredulity: “Because I PERSONALLY don’t know the age of the Earth, it MUST be one of the great mysteries.” One must always call out (and distrust) people who are that intellectually lazy. I remember when Utah tried to pass a particularly moronic creationist bill several years ago, the state HEAD OF PUBLIC EDUCATION initially came out supporting the bill (before her own state science-education office went into damage control) by saying essentially that we have no idea how the Earth was formed, and that there is no evidence connecting “the family of man” from the “family of apes.” Not surprisingly, this former head of all public schools in Utah had a PhD – in “education” from BYU.

    Can people get any lazier? I am old enough to remember when a person uncertain about the age of the Earth would have to seek out a book of some kind from a nearby library. Now, with reputable sources at one’s fingertips in seconds, people still proudly exhibit their scientific illiteracy.

  6. I’m not in Florida but I sent a brusque note to Rubio’s website. It won’t matter but it will be interesting to see if the newest crop of GOP morons will still try to cultivate “The Base.”

  7. Translation: “Knowing the age of the earth isn’t going to help me get rich so I don’t give a flying fuck. Ignorance will help me get political power, which will help make me rich, so that’s the way to go.”

    1. That’s the real issue which underlies all of these debates. Show me any public figure promoting religion and I’ll show you how he makes money or keeps a grip on power using religion.

      1. I once heard a tale of someone in the South ordering flowers to put on the pews along the center aisle for a wedding. The service rep misunderstood the caller, thinking she said “flares.” He asked, “Is the bride coming in for an emergency landing?” No doubt, she did so with “flair.”

    2. Actually, there’s good reason to think that he simultaneously boosted his chances of getting the 2016 Republican presidential nomination and of diminishing his chances of winning the election.

      We just saw Mittens play to the Republican base and how it won him the nomination but cost him the election. Rubio is simply providing us with a case study in Einstein’s definition of “insanity.”


      1. Let’s face it, the GOP is an extremist party in a way no political party in my lifetime has been. The way I argue for that statement is this:

        George McGovern was arguably the most liberal candidate the Democrats have ever run for office. He was, in large part, an antiwar candidate, in that he opposed the Vietnam war. At no time, however, did McGovern or an other mainstream Democrat ever declare that he would NEVER commit troops to the battlefield in the defense of the country. Such a candidate would be an extremist unfit to hold a federal office. By the same token, no candidate – no matter how committed to the philosophy of “limited government” in general – should ever hold legislative office if s/he has signed a pledge to NEVER raise taxes. It is the duty of legislator to consider tax legislation on its merits and to pledge to never consider any legislation raising taxes is an extremist abdication of that duty. Like most of his GOP colleagues, Mario Rubio has signed Norquist’s pledge. He and the GOP in general are extremists unfit for office. Rubio’s extremism, like most of the GOP now, is multifarious.

        1. My Dad likes to characterize taking Norquist’s pledge as treason. I’m not entirely convinced that that’s technically the correct term, but the action is every bit as contemptible.

          Incidentally, it’s that pledge that will determine how the “fiscal cliff” drama will play out. The Republicans know that taxes have to go up, but they can’t vote to raise taxes. So, January 1 will come and go; taxes will go up; and they’ll “reach a deal” with the White House and Senate whereby they “fulfill their pledge” to cut taxes, and they do exactly that: they cut the new-as-of-2013 tax rates back to today’s rates, except for the top bracket which the Kenyan President prevented them from “fairly” cutting.

          It’ll be interesting to see if this becomes the standard technique for raising taxes in the future: put into place some sort of automatic “inconceivably devastating” package that goes into place if the two sides can’t reach a deal; let the unthinkable happen; and then do what they should have done in the first place.


        2. Norquist’s pledge

          Sorry, but for us Transpondians?
          OK, I Wiki’d it. And discover that “The November 6, 2012 elections resulted in a decline in the number of Taypayer Protection Pledge signatories in both the upper and lower houses of the 113th Congress”. Which indeed makes continuing with the pledge sound like Einsteinian Insanity.

  8. Rubio: “I’m not a scientist . . . I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”

    Translation: I can’t be bothered to make the least effort to educate myself on the matter.

    1. Actually, that’s way to charitable.

      “I don’t think there’s the scientific evidence to justify it,” Rubio said. Asked whether he accepts the scientific evidence that the global climate is undergoing change, he responded, “The climate is always changing. The climate is never static. The question is whether it’s caused by man-made activity and whether it justifies economically destructive government regulation.” Tampa Bay Tribune, 2/13/10],/blockquote>

      When it suits him (and his paymasters), apparently Rubio thinks he is a scientist.

    2. Figures.
      Rubio’s theme is ignoramus et ignorabimus: “we do not know, and we shall never know”.
      The most abject surrendering of a human mind.

      As Paul Krugman keeps pointing out, the economic and financial ideology of the GOP and of its backers and commanders is entirely consistent with a world merely 6000 years old, endowed with infinite resources.

      Today would be the 88th birthday of Benoît Mandelbrot.
      Amazon made me an unexpected present: I just found in my mailbox the long-overdue copy of Mandelbrot’s posthumous memoir, “The Fractalist”.
      Part One: How I Came to Be a Scientist, begins with a quote from Galileo:

      All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.

      Marco Rubio has forfeited his brain.

  9. Let us be mindful that the the next Presidential elections are looming. The GOP seems very keen for another pro-nonsense candidate to represent them. Obama just about did it this time but he can still be blocked all-over by the GOP and their un-American agendas.

  10. Rubio:

    I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians…

    Rubio is pretty dumb.

    He doesn’t even know what a scientist is and what is the difference between a scientist and a theologian.

    The truth matters and it is important. He doesn’t know that either.

  11. Obviously I’m disgusted by the Creationist arrogance but really, is it fair to toss out a smarmy question like that during an interview that’s supposed to be political?

    1. Would you like to see the teaching of evolution be improved in schools. How exactly?

    2. Where do you think teachers should get their science information from? The Bible? Biologists?

    Those are two perfectly fair questions. Yes, technically speaking Rubio should know how old the Earth is, but to his credit the first stumbling thing he said was “um, burr, I dunno, I’m not a scientist”.

    Exactly, which indicates to me that he’d rather see scientists teach our kids rather than politicians or bible thumpers. Isn’t that what we want to hear?

    Then we could call him out on his political actions based on that statement.

    1. Exactly, which indicates to me that he’d rather see scientists teach our kids rather than politicians or bible thumpers.

      You are missing a whole lot of facts.

      Rubio has said before that he favors teaching creationism in public schools. He has also said he opposes teaching virtually all modern science in public schools, things like the age of the earth and the Big Bang astronomy.

      Rubio is a true believing fundie (Catholic) christofascist. A far right extremist and a typical religious kook.

      1. Not missing any facts at all. If you read my comment more carefully (please do, by the way) you’ll see that I suggest we use his statement “I’m not a scientist” to ask him exactly why he thinks anyone except scientists should be giving out information.

      2. Yes, Marco Rubio IS a creationist | The Way Things Break

        thingsbreak. wordpress. com/2012/…/yes-marco-rubio-is-a-creationist/

        1 hour ago – Marco Rubio voted in support of this creationist legislation. … Rubio opposes public schools teaching science that conflicts with creationist …

        There you go.

        Rubio has a history. He doesn’t care about the truth. He hates science. What he does care about is his future in politics and his base, fundie xian morons and the Tea Party (which are about the same).

    2. Yes, technically speaking Rubio should know how old the Earth is, but to his credit the first stumbling thing he said was “um, burr, I dunno, I’m not a scientist”.

      Thing is, he serves on one of the Senate science committees. And knowing that the Earth is 4 1/2 billion years old is as trivially basic as knowing that it’s eight thousand miles across and 24,000 miles ’round the equator. It’s like knowing that Australia is a continent as well as a country and Austria is a country in the continent of Europe.

      Anybody who doesn’t know that the Earth is 4 1/2 billion years old and that the Universe is a baker’s dozen billion years old is as ridiculously uneducated as somebody who thinks that storks play a role in human reproduction or that there are monsters that eat ships just before they sail off the edge of the Earth.


      1. I was more commenting on the pithiness of the interview question, not at all defending Rubio. His initial response was the correct one – I’m not a scientist. Therefore he should be asked why anyone except legitimate scientists should be informing these decisions.

        I’m certainly not defending his political decisions, I just think that the interview question was somewhat annoying. Mine were better.

        1. The interview question by the way was annoying also because it allowed him to make a blank statement that did not force him to defend his bad decisions.

        2. But that’s just it. The age of the Earth is no more a question for scientists than the length of its diameter. Sure, it took some scientists to figure out both initially, but the techniques to confirm the answer are well within even a school science lab’s capacity, and it’s the sort of thing one should “just know” or, at absolute worst, quickly look up in a standard reference. (Is it 8,000 miles or 10,000? A few billion years or several billion?)

          If he had been asked for the Earth’s diameter and hemmed and hawed in a way that made you think that he thought that maybe the Earth was flat, you wouldn’t say that his equivocation was correct because he’s not a scientist, would you?


          1. No, that wasn’t my point. My point was that he should know the answer but it was a very bad interview question.

            1. It didn’t specifically address policy. That’s his job. While he’s a moron for not knowing grade school science, it’s not really a great question for a politician. At least it should have been followed by a science policy question.

            2. More importantly, it allows him to ramble. Questions should never allow a politician to ramble. If you want to be a journalist, you need to know how to corner a politician so they can’t weasel their way out of it.

            1. Post script yes it was a two word answer however it’s a boring, predictable one that didn’t offer anything new. He’s a Creationist – we already knew that. Give me something I can work with.

            2. I disagree.

              If you had reason to think that a Senator on a science committee thought that storks deliver babies, you’d want to cut to the chase and force the matter.

              If you had reason to think that a Senator on a science committee thought that the Earth was flat, you’d want to make him come out and tell the world what an idiot he is.

              And if you have reason to think that a Senator on a science committee thinks that the Earth is 0.0001% as old as it really is, you damned well want to make sure he has no way to hide his profound lack of qualification for his job.

              Especially if you can get the Senator to ramble and dig himself in so deep he has no chance of getting out.

              Somebody so ignorant cannot possibly be trusted to address policy. His policy positions are entirely irrelevant, as irrelevant as a Moon hoaxer’s thoughts on NASA’s plans for Mars exploration.

              Rubio is a tumor of a virulent cancer, and the only way to excise the disease is by exposing him for exactly what he is (as opposed to the seemingly-benign beauty mark he tries to pass himself off as).


              1. But we already knew that Ben. The old Atheist “exposing Creationists” is so old and boring and predictable by now. What about a question that would force him to cite his evidence and explain it? What about putting his claims up against printed, published studies? On camera, even better!

                Everyone knows he’s a Creationist. Everyone knows which political party does what. Welcome to 1980. Now we have to be more cutting edge.

                He’s making science policy. Find a smart way to show he’s not qualified. Showing he believes the Bible is not the same thing as exposing the public to specific, modern material and making him comment on it.

                Age of the Earth is a number. Not a study.

              2. Apparently you missed what just happened in the election.

                Everybody knows that Republicans are “pro-life,” and we’ve all known that for ages. And that it’s common amongst Republicans to be “pro-life” in “all cases.”

                What happened this election cycle, though, was that a number of prominent Republican candidates were asked simple, pointed questions that caused them to reveal in un-ignorable language that they favor forcing women to bear their rapists’s children.

                And, as a result, every single one of those Republicans lost spectacularly. The election season started out with everybody, Democrats included, confident that the Republicans would take control of the Senate by a half-dozen seats; instead, in large part due to pro-rape statements by Republican Senate candidates, the Democrats actually gained seats, including in some very red parts of the country.

                What we’re seeing here with Rubio is a direct parallel. Sure, everybody knows that Republicans are Bible-believing Creationists. But it’s quite a different thing to have a Senator on a science committee make plain that his estimate of the age of the Earth is as primitive as Akin’s concept of conception.

                The answer is not, as you propose, to coddle the cretins and grant them undeserved respect — for that’s what it means to ask them policy questions they are unqualified to hold opinions on. The answer is to, frankly, force them to humiliate themselves by making their own positions public.


              3. Ben, don’t misconstrue my comment. I did not at any point suggest coddling them and you know it. I called for intelligent, cutting edge, modern line of questioning. Maybe some people don’t understand what that means, but they’d better learn. If merely exposing Creationists worked as well as exposing misogyny, the Bible thumpers would have been ousted a decade ago.

              4. The other problem here Ben is that no one gives a flying fuck about science. If they did we wouldn’t be in this mess. You’re up against a situation where the general public couldn’t care less about evolution or climate change for that matter. You have to make that connection between a printed published study and who’s representing the people as a decision maker. Otherwise it will just give the average American flashbacks to not enjoying science lab in high school.

              5. My point is that your given example of “modern” questioning would be unwarranted coddling.

                And Creationists haven’t been exposed — at least, not in this way. Just as the force-women-to-birth-rape-babies proponents hadn’t been exposed until this past election cycle.

                Again: the difference is being labeled a Creationist and being exposed as somebody who thinks that the Earth was created long after the Egyptians had perfected the art of brewing beer.

                This isn’t science, any more than the distance from Sydney to London is science. But, just as everybody would be horrified to have a Flat Earther on the Aviation Subcommittee, pretty much everybody is going to be horrified at having somebody on the Science committee who thinks the Earth is younger than the Middle East.


              6. Man, I bet that was some great beer. Wish I had some right now! 😀

                My issue is Ben I think that actually most people don’t care, and anyway the interviewer is preaching to the choir. We have to grill the politicians but teach along the way.

                Not easy to do. And I can see why we’re crossing signals, I’m not giving any great examples of what I mean. Dan Rather is brilliant at coming up with the type of questions I’m talking about.

  12. FWIW, I know who Rubio is but didn’t know much about him. Really, all toads look pretty much the same and who cares.

    From what I’ve seen he is a pretty typical christofascist Tea Party moron.

    1. He is a fundie (Catholic) xian True Believer. A creationist. A prayer in the schools kind of guy.

    2. He doesn’t appear to be too bright. This is a feature not a bug for his base. Among other things he has bought the Tea Party version of economics which led to the Great Recession.

    3. He is also very ambitious. He knows the 2016 nomination is up for grabs. If he can keep his reproductive organ out of women not his wife and manage to not call rape a gift from god, he has a good chance.

    Not because he has much going for him but the bar is set very low for the GOP.

  13. Curiously, GOP politicians would listen closely to geologists – when they want to know where to drill for oil in Alaska.

    1. Exactly, and as the early parts of Prothero’s book on fossils so nicely explains, those geologists rely on the fossil chronology to help them know which geological strata they’ve drilled into – the same chronology the GOP politicians are willing to deny when pandering to their fundamentalist mouth-breather base.

  14. I spent a few minutes on wolfram alpha and learned a few things. If you use Usshers date of creation you learn some interesting things using creationist math. Just try typing these in at
    (today – October 23, 4004 BC) / age of earth * us national debt
    We only owe $21.01 million! Mittens could find that in the lint in the bottom of his pockets.
    (today – October 23, 4004 BC) / age of earth * distance to sun = 121.7 miles
    (today – October 23, 4004 BC) / age of earth * distance to moon = 1673 ft
    (today – October 23, 4004 BC) / age of earth * distance new york to los angeles = 17.24 ft
    (today – October 23, 4004 BC) / age of earth * area of usa = 4.927 sq mi (small world!)

  15. I agree. After saying this, he should never be our President!  That would be scary!


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