Krauss on Trump’s anti-science cabinet (and on Rick Perry as Energy Secretary)

December 14, 2016 • 1:00 pm

Physicist Lawrence Krauss, always a writer, has now in the Age of Trump become a pro-science activist as well. Wearing that hat, he published two articles just yesterday, one in the New Yorker and the other in the New York Times, both about Trump’s missteps in choosing his cabinet.  The New Yorker piece, “Donald Trump’s war on science,” details what most of us know, but what might be outside the radar of New Yorker readers. The cabinet is loaded with people whose mission is to undermine each post, including the denial of human-caused global warming, the desire to produce more fossil fuels, and do it on public land, reduce earth-monitoring for temperature and other variables, and, as seen in Betsy DeVos (the next Secretary of Education), a general dislike of science that might extend to evolution. Although DeVos’s husband is a creationist, I’m not sure whether she is, but there’s plenty of cause for worry:

Along with her husband, DeVos is an active member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, a small Protestant denomination with the stated belief that “all scientific theories be subject to Scripture.” According to the church’s official statement on science, “Humanity is created in the image of God; all theorizing that minimizes this fact and all theories of evolution that deny the creative activity of God are rejected.” DeVos attended Calvin College, which is owned and operated by the Christian Reformed Church. She majored in business administration and political science. (She does not have a degree in education.) And although she has not spoken out directly on issues such as evolution and the Big Bang, her husband advocated teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in science classes during his 2006 gubernatorial campaign. “I would like to see the ideas of intelligent design—that many scientists are now suggesting is a very viable alternative theory—that that theory and others that would be considered credible would expose our students to more ideas, not less,” he said. Given her strong support of his campaign, and their joint investment in both conservative and religious causes, as well as her own religious background, it is reasonable to expect that her views do not significantly diverge from his. (DeVos did not respond to requests for comment.)

Mr. DeVos’s view:


Well, Krauss is probably right here, but before we go all Chicken Little, the press should ascertain what DeVos’s actual views are. Apparently the New Yorker tried, without response, but her confirmation hearing could include such inquiry. And, at any rate, teaching creationism given present law is not legal in public schools. What a 5-4 conservative-majority Supreme Court could rule, however, is another issue.

Krauss goes on to express a view familiar to readers here: “teaching the controversy” is not fruitful when there isn’t a real controversy, just a bunch of religionists who want Jesus taught in the classroom. That is not a scientific controversy, but a fight between faith and fact.. And if you’re going to teach ID and creationism, why not astrology in a psychology class, or acupuncture and prayer-healing in medical schools? Have a look at the article that Richard Dawkins and I wrote in the Guardian in 2005—”One side can be wrong”— about what the real controversies in evolutionary biology are.

Krauss goes on.

There is nothing respectable about the idea of “teaching the controversy,” as intelligent-design advocates describe it. We don’t teach modern astronomy by suggesting to students that they feel free to decide for themselves whether the sun orbits Earth or vice versa; instead, we teach them how scientists discovered the realities of our solar system, despite considerable pressure to renounce their own discoveries. Similarly, students should be encouraged to understand that evolution is not some principle laid down on high by a conclave of scientists; they should explore the various empirical tests to which it has been subjected for more than a hundred and fifty years. The purpose of education is not to validate ignorance but to overcome it. It should be easy, therefore, for Congress to make sure that DeVos isn’t planning to drive our educational system off a scientific cliff. During her confirmation hearings, DeVos should be asked whether she thinks it’s appropriate to teach intelligent design alongside evolution in biology classes, or whether young-Earth creationism should be presented alongside the reality of a 4.5-billion-year-old solar system in physics class. An answer in the affirmative to either question should disqualify her as the highest federal government official overseeing public education in this country. If Congress doesn’t exercise its obligation to insure the competence of Presidential appointees like DeVos, then voters need to hold them accountable in the next election.

But look at this data (a slide I use in some lectures). It shows the result of a Harris poll in 2005:


Here are the results of two polls published by Pew; the data aren’t identical but still depressing:


Given that, it’s unlikely that most voters (or even the benighted Congress) would give a rat’s patootie about what DeVos said. Yet Krauss is right: the new Trump cabinet is not only made up of ill-qualified plutocrats, but shows no sign of being on board with science. What we can do about that, though, only Ceiling Cat knows.

Lawrence’s other piece, in the New York Times, is “Rick Perry is the wrong choice for energy secretary,” and is well argued; I leave it to you to have a look.


61 thoughts on “Krauss on Trump’s anti-science cabinet (and on Rick Perry as Energy Secretary)

  1. Christian Reformed Churches are one of the worst when it comes to stubborn bigotry and bizarre beliefs. I’ve known many, including my parents’ former neighbour who thought that native species of plants were evil because they weren’t in the bible or some such. He tried to destroy all such plants and replace them. Their current but soon to be former neighbours are working on having their 6th baby. All the Reformed people I know view women as baby machines with their duty to make as many as possible and many I know come from families of 8 where all the siblings have around 8-12 kids as well.

    1. Christian Reformed Churches are one of the worst when it comes to stubborn bigotry and bizarre beliefs.

      [Gets stroopwaffles – a Dutch alternative to popcorn – in anticipation of some high-grade fruitloopery.]

      native species of plants were evil because they weren’t in the bible or some such

      Now that is a pretty good start on the looping of fruit. I’ve heard some mind-boggling stupidity in my time, but that really does take the stroopwaffle.
      Women as baby-factories? Pretty normal really, by the standards of religion. Makes you wish for some cunning biochemist to develop a contraceptive which you can put in the water supply. Or apply with a crop-duster. Or drone.

        1. I really wish I could repeat the Dutch for “get your hands away from my stroopwaffel!” It is a really blood-chilling sound. Passing Tyrannosaurs have heard the sound, looked very nervous, and tried to slink away. Ever seen a Tyrannosaur slink? It is not a pretty sight.

    2. I went to school in Western Michigan. The campus was surrounded by corn fields and many residents were Christian Reformed. The college was situated in a dry township so the students had to drive 20 minutes to a beer hall down the highway. Later, the school set up a beer hall on campus to prevent students having to drink and drive.
      We never had much trouble with the locals, but there was always a feeling they’d be watching us kids with our long hair and pink eyes.

  2. As a result of her love of the voucher system, educated people will probably have to start homeschooling their children in order to teach them legitimate science.

  3. “I would be surprised if Perry could speak three coherent sentences about the concept of “energy.”” -Sam Harris (via Twi##er)

    Imagine how that would go in the hearing that presumably must take place.

    The other thing I wanted to mention – : I can’t find a link to support this, I’m still looking – but I caught some second-hand Fox “News” on Monday December 12th, 2016, between 11AM and 1PM, and heard the most astonishing and destructive nonsense ever :the speaker said that she was glad to see how there were appointees who were “critical thinkers” and “skeptics” of the departments to which they were nominated. I mean I was speechless – what can you say to someone like that?! That is, she was saying that someone interested in destroying the EPA, for instance, should be praised for exhibiting “critical thinking” and “skepticism”! I don’t even!

    1. Energy is God. Silly rabbit.

      You must feel the Energy around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between Texas and Trump Tower.

    2. My giod, is this Rick “Oops!” Perry? Really? They guy who wanted to abolish the department of energy but couldn’t even remember the name of it?

      This is the same “skepticism” that is used by global warming skeptics and antivaxxers. Just being skeptical about something isn’t a virtue in itself. Everybody is a skeptic these days, just because they read something on a blog somewhere, and all scientists and experts are evil and part of a big conspiracy to hide “the truth”. Facts and evidence don’t matter, objective truth doesn’t matter. Everybody has their own reality. It’s a sad state of affairs.

  4. Perry also is on the board of the company that is trying to build the pipeline from Canada.
    You know what his position on that is going
    to be.

    1. I saw one article stating that many of his initial appointments may be in for a rough Senate approval process. One of the requirements for approval is to show that they are divested of any personal interests related to their new job. With a 51-49 split, this means that if even one or two GOPers don’t like a Trump appointee, that person might not make it through – since most of them have clear, obvious, and strong conflicts of interest (such as Perry being on the board of a company being regulated by DOE).

      Obviously that doesn’t apply to the positions that don’t need Senate approval, and it may be a bit of wishful thinking on the Dem side to think that even one GOPer will bread ranks. But I think its well within the realm of the possible that some of these folks don’t make it through.

  5. From the Krauss Meyer Debate:

    Science (as a process, taking usually decades):

    Novel Scientific Claim ->
    Research ->
    Peer Review ->
    Scientific Consensus ->
    Classroom & Textbook

    Intelligent Design (fraud):

    Intelligent Design Theory ->
    Classroom & Textbook

    I have little doubt that grassroots efforts to protect science and evolution education will workout. The DOE, however, could be in trouble. The DOE houses a large number of scientists and funds a giant portion of fundamental research in our country not to mention manages the nuclear arsenal.

    The only bright side to science is that knowledge gives advantage. If Trump sequesters science, he does so with the legitimate disadvantage that his competitors do not have to follow suit. Other nations can improve science to the point where American innovation is a distant memory. This could be the Trump legacy and it looks to be one that he is setting up.

    1. If the US falls behind economically because Trump trashes our science programs and sends us back to a 1920s energy profile, the conservative base will just blame that result on liberals.

      2040: “the reason we are using gas in cars while the Europeans and the Chinese ride around in Mr. Fusion hovering vehicles is because back in 2018, the Dems forced President Trump to spend government money on health care for those lazy poor people tax the rich at the repressive rate of 20% in order to support inner city welfare queens. It has nothing to do with Perry’s dismantling the DOE, which was paving our way to energy success!

    2. If Trump sequesters science, he does so with the legitimate disadvantage that his competitors do not have to follow suit. Other nations can improve science to the point where American innovation is a distant memory. This could be the Trump legacy and it looks to be one that he is setting up.

      But Donald “Smallhands” Trump (to give him his porn star name) needs to make America great again. So he’ll have to hire lots of Chinese research workers to continue with that programme.

      1. Sadly, that may be what he is thinking. Keep the research and the researchers in China. Buy (cough, steal) the results back under the auspices of nuclear and satellite drone deterrence. This plan will end well for everyone, not.

        1. Ending well for anyone other than Donald Smallhands is not a significant part of the agenda. (Has a Native American tribe named him this? Yet? It just sounds so … right.)
          Will this agenda of his slightly clash with the inauguration oaf? I mean “oath”. No I don’t.

          1. Donald Smallhands. My father knew many Sioux growing up in South Dakota. I wish he were here to help make the name a formal saying among them.

            1. I’ve not actually stopped to wonder what the opinions amongst the First Americans and Native Nations are of Donald Smallhands. But considering his explicit appeal to the racists of America, I doubt that it’s going to be a good opinion on average.

              1. For some of the groups, they’d tell you that Trump is a good reason why the “go off and do your own thing” if the “great talkers” don’t convince you. Unfortunately that doesn’t work when the group is almost 300 million people.

  6. Very good. The ‘Teach the Controversy’ picture is the design of a very good t-shirt that I wear often.

    1. IIRC, creationists just say that God put all the oil in the ground as a sign of his love and desire for us to use it to become prosperous. Its literally put there for us to use, according to them.

      I doubt they think too hard about where this logic leads, given that most of it is below Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran. 🙂

        1. what happened to Israel? They didn’t get any oil.

          I was being taxied back from working on the discovery well for Israel’s major new gas play in the Eastern Med (rather tight up against the median line with Cyprus) and the taxi company asked me (and the other guys I was sharing with) if we objected to him dropping off a parcel as a courier to a location en route. With about 10 hours in hand before the first of our scattering flights, we had no problems, so after some searching the taxi pulled up at a nondescript little workshop/ office, whereupon I was seen rolling around in the back of the taxi, helpless with mirth. For I recognised the name of the company – Zion Oil. To quote from their website, “Inspired by Genesis 49:25-26 and Deuteronomy 33:13-16.
          Zion is publicly traded on NASDAQ: ZN.”
          They are a rather Janus-like company who appear in the professional press from time to time. To their investors, they spout a line of “following the Bible” to inspire their search for oil and gas. When you actually read what their prospects are though, they’re not quite so … inspired. The Bible quotes are about “blessings of the deep that lieth under” and “the precious things of the lasting hills” being part of some sheep-herder’s inheritance, and really quite useless from an explorationist’s point of view. but that’s how they sell themselves to the credulous investor . nobody would be surprised to find that this is a line they play to church congregations in the “BuyBull Belt” of America. However, when they go into a little more detail trying to attract investment from oil & gas professionals, you find that after reading the BuyBull verses in the 1950s, their founder then searched the BuyBull, newspapers, traveller’s reports and even (shock! horror!)

          1. Bugger, sneezed and hit the button while flailing about.
            … geological reports, looking for reports of surface oil seeps, asphalt-cemented sandstones, reports of gas -rich springs … in short an absolutely conventional prospecting strategy. That gave them a half-dozen or so prospects, which over they years they’ve variously done detailed field surveys (water bottle, map, notebook, hammer, sample bags ; optional Indiana Jones shirt and hat), seismic reflection surveying, geochemical sampling (look for natural hydrocarbons in air water and rocks) — absolutely conventional geological exploration. They’ve even drilled a number of their prospects. In that respect, they’re a perfectly conventional small oil company. But their biggest bit of investor-appeal is still their line that they base their search for hydrocarbons on verses in the BuyBull.
            Well, after containing my rolling around with mirth and explaining all this to my colleagues, they had a mild giggle as well because we were all coming back from carrying out a conventional search for oil and gas, and those of us who had access to the geological data (it was a very “tight hole” – information very firmly on a need to know basis) were quietly confident. 3 weeks later, our well came in, and Israel’s energy budget was changed “big style”.
            Zion, meanwhile, scrabble for investors on the basis of their “Biblical inspiration”.
            Well, it made ME laugh!

        2. Actually, Israel has large deposits of shale oil which at current market prices is not exploitable. This is in addition to large natural gas fields off the Mediterranean coast. Currently, Israel is a gas exporter.

      1. I doubt they think too hard about where this logic leads, given that most of it is below Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran.

        Actually, that’s not true. On a global scale it’s relatively evenly distributed in sedimentary basins.
        Also, did you know that for almost all of the post-1950s world the largest producer of oil was Russia (1/6 of the land surface of the planet – less surprising when you look at it like that) and I don’t think it has ever been Saudi Arabia. OTOH, KSA has often been the worlds largest exporter – a testament to their comparative lack of industrial development.

  7. Anti science has its downside, as it was when the Nazi clodhoppers took over in Germany scientists will emigrate.
    Believe me, the rest of the still civilised world awaits that event with open doors.

    1. The arts, and especially the film industry in the UK benefited greatly from the Mcarthy exodus; we should be actively planning now to welcome U S scientists fleeing oppression

  8. What politicians know of science has never been much, and never been important. And there’s a doubl;e standard on display here. Al Gore had Adam & Eve on his timeline. How many of you supported Al Gore? Would President Gore have ended Science As We Know It? The real threat to science is pomo claptrap on campus.

    1. This is not really about religion. I’d much rather have a sincere but liberal creationist who maintains a strong science portfolio out of professional obligation (i.e., because he/she takes his appointment seriously and seeks to support and promote the Department he/she’s in charge of), than to have a mercenary businessperson in office that doesn’t believe any of that claptrap but “merely” destroys US federal science funding because he thinks he can make a buck from doing it.

      What an appointee does with their power – very important. What goes on inside an appointee’s head – only important insofar as it gives insight into the former.

    2. I don’t think that’s enough to conclude a double standard is on display here. Degrees do matter. I think it is safe to say that the average politician is an adherent to some brand of religion or another, to some degree, since that is the case for the general population. But some religious politicians are neutral regarding science policy, some are positive and some are very negative. And all points in between. Al Gore in charge of science policy would be significantly different than Sarah Palin.

      Also, it is not a double standard to be flexible enough to support Al Gore for certain reasons while also criticizing him for other reasons.

    1. Not to mention a presuppositionalist. Not only does she KNOW she’s right, she knows that you know she’s right too. Even if you won’t admit it. Because Satan.

  9. I think there is much to be concerned about DeVos with the main one her free market approach/interest to schooling about which much has been written.

    I hope these are probed with some vigor and in-depth during her confirmation hearings.

  10. “(T)hat many SCIENTISTS (my emphasis) are now suggesting is a very viable theory”. Who the hell are they? I had thought that Kitzmiller -v- Dover Area School District had sniffed them all out and hit them for six. I can only assume that since that celebrated case more have graduated from Bob Jones “University” or some such place!!

  11. There is a more current poll from 2013 by YouGov, which asked the question below:

    Asked, “Do you favor or oppose the teaching of creationism or intelligent design in public schools,” 40% of respondents indicated that they favored it, 32% indicated that they opposed it, and 29% indicated that they were unsure. YouGov observed that the teaching of creationism in the public schools is unconstitutional, referring to the decisions in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) and Kitzmiller v. Dover (2005).

    Since 32% opposed teaching creationism or intelligent design in schools, presumably they would favor only the teaching of evolution. So, perhaps there has been a little progress since 2005, but there is still a long way to go.

  12. In the spirit of science and math literacy and teaching, in confirmation hearings I think Perry and DeVos (and perhaps others) should be asked to:

    1. step-by-step derive -(b/2a) +/- [sqr rt(b^2-4ac)]/[2a] from ax^2 + bx + c = y.

    2. explain the basics of the process by which a star produces radiation/energy.

  13. What a 5-4 conservative-majority Supreme Court could rule, however, is another issue.

    Regardless who replaces Antonin Scalia, there won’t be five votes on the Court to overrule Edwards v. Aguillard, the 1987 SCOTUS case holding the teaching of creationism in public schools to be unconstitutional. That case was decided by a 7-2 majority, with Scalia dissenting. Notwithstanding the complete turnover in justices since then, I don’t see more than two or three votes on the current Court to change direction, even after the Scalia vacancy has been filled.

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