Darwin Day resolution introduced in U.S. House

February 3, 2013 • 7:41 am

by Greg Mayer

The New York Times reports that Rep. Rush Holt (D-New Jersey) has introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives to support the designation of February 12, 2013 as Darwin Day. Holt, a former research physicist and Jeopardy champion, represents Princeton, New Jersey, where his supporters, with a slight exaggeration, sport bumper stickers proclaiming “My Congressman IS a Rocket Scientist“. Holt worked with the American Humanist Association in introducing the resolution, H.Res. 41, on January 22, and commented:

Only very rarely in human history has someone uncovered a fundamentally new way of thinking about the world – an insight so revolutionary that it has made possible further creative and explanatory thinking. Without Charles Darwin, our modern understandings of biology, ecology, genetics, and medicine would be utterly impossible, and our comprehension of the world around us would be vastly poorer. By recognizing Darwin Day, we can honor the importance of scientific thinking in our lives, and we can celebrate one of our greatest thinkers.

Holt once told the Times, “420 [of the House’s 435 members] don’t know much about science and choose not to. … We know more than our colleagues, but not more than they could know.” (The “we” refers to Holt, Bill Foster (D-Illinois), and Vernon Ehlers (R-Michigan), the only physicists in congress; Ehlers has since retired.) Curiously, the Times chose to emphasize the fact that Holt is a Quaker in its coverage, even putting the article in its “Beliefs” section. The Times also notes in the same article that the WorstCongressmanEver ™, Paul Broun (R-Georgia), is going to run for the Senate in 2014. Here’s the text of the resolution; note that it mentions global warming denialism as well as creationism:

Expressing support for designation of February 12, 2013, as Darwin Day and recognizing the importance of science in the betterment of humanity.

Whereas Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by the mechanism of natural selection, together with the monumental amount of scientific evidence he compiled to support it, provides humanity with a logical and intellectually compelling explanation for the diversity of life on Earth;

Whereas the validity of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is further strongly supported by the modern understanding of the science of genetics;

Whereas it has been the human curiosity and ingenuity exemplified by Darwin that has promoted new scientific discoveries that have helped humanity solve many problems and improve living conditions;

Whereas the advancement of science must be protected from those unconcerned with the adverse impacts of global warming and climate change;

Whereas the teaching of creationism in some public schools compromises the scientific and academic integrity of the United States education systems;

Whereas Charles Darwin is a worthy symbol of scientific advancement on which to focus and around which to build a global celebration of science and humanity intended to promote a common bond among all of Earth’s peoples; and

Whereas February 12, 2013, is the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin in 1809 and would be an appropriate date to designate as Darwin Day: Now, therefore, be it


    That the House of Representatives–
      (1) supports the designation of Darwin Day; and
          (2) recognizes Charles Darwin as a worthy symbol on which to celebrate the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge.

Given that it’s already February 3, I suspect no action will be taken by the House on the resolution.


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

Darwin for Congress!

November 9, 2012 • 9:32 am

by Greg Mayer

You’ll remember Congressman Paul Broun (R-Georgia), who infamously called embryology, the big bang, and evolution “lies from the pit of hell.” He was re-elected on Tuesday, running unopposed, but his statements did inspire a write-in campaign for an unlikely opponent: an Englishman, and a dead one at that– Charles Darwin! According to Athens Online, Jim Leebens-Mack of the University of Georgia started a “Darwin for Congress” Facebook page in response to Broun’s comments. Blake Aued at flagpole notes that it wasn’t just a Facebook page–  Charlie himself hit the streets to campaign.

Charles Darwin, AKA Tim Denson, campaigns near the Arch with his wife, Jenny. Photo by Blake Aued, Flagpole.

And he got nearly 4000 votes! That’s nearly 2%– an enormous number for a write-in, and an unprecedented number for a dead Englishman running for Congress in northern Georgia in a presidential election year. Bill Nye, the Science Guy, who slammed Broun, a member of the House Science Committee, as “by any measure, unqualified to make decisions about science, space, and technology”, also received write-in votes. Charlie’s showing has inspired local politicians to commit to fielding a real candidate against Broun in 2014. According to Aued:

Neither Democrats nor more moderate Republicans have had any success against Broun, losing by 20-40 points in past elections. But Clarke County Democratic Committee Chairman Joe Wisenbaker says the party will “absolutely” field a candidate in 2014. “What we’re talking about doing is finding a well-qualified candidate who’s willing to change their name to Charles Darwin,” he joked.

Someone needs to run, so this national disgrace can be brought to an end.

h/t Taegan Goddard

Politician disses embryology; embryologists promptly win Nobel prize

October 8, 2012 • 12:46 pm

by Greg Mayer

Jerry beat me to posting the just announced Nobel winners, John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka (see here also), but I can’t help but note that the prize was awarded for work in embryology, Gurdon having done classic cytological (cell and nucleus) manipulation experiments 50 years ago, while Yamanaka has applied more recently available molecular tools to the same problem. Gurdon was able to place an adult nucleus inside a frog egg, and induce the egg to develop into a normal tadpole (showing that the adult nucleus retains all the information for normal embryonic development), while Yamanaka discovered the molecular signals in the egg that tell the nucleus to “start over”.

Congressman Paul Broun (R-Georgia), of course, has just become a media star (see here, here, and here for just a few examples; some background on Broun and his colleagues here) for denouncing embryology as a hellish lie. That Broun is an MD spewing such nonsense is made deliciously comic by the Nobel Prize for Medicine being awarded for work in embryology the day after Broun became infamous, but the tale becomes tragic when you realize he is a member of the House Science Committee. Andrew Sullivan‘s take:

Fundamentalism is not about being dumb; it is an act of will to over-ride reality with totalist faith, so that nothing is left unresolved and everything can be explained by a single text, or a single religious leader.

As Bill Nye told Huffpo:

Since the economic future of the United States depends on our tradition of technological innovation, Representative Broun’s views are not in the national interest… For example, the Earth is simply not 9,000 years old… He is, by any measure, unqualified to make decisions about science, space, and technology.

h/t JonLynnHarvey

Your (American) tax dollars at work

October 6, 2012 • 11:26 am

by Greg Mayer

Rep. Paul Broun (R-Georgia) is caught in the following video saying that evolution, embryology, and the big bang are “lies straight from the pit of Hell”. This is sadly no longer astonishing from a Federal officeholder. What is astonishing is that this man is a member of the Science Committee of the House of Representatives, and the chair of an important subcommittee!

He goes on

as a scientist [!!!]…  I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old…. [A]s your congressman I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that.

Alan Boyle of NBC News notes

 The Georgia Republican is already well-known as an outspoken conservative Christian, due in part to his unsuccessful campaign to have 2010 declared “the Year of the Bible.” But the latest comments have taken on an extra dab of controversy because Broun, a medical doctor, calls himself a scientist in the video and chairs the House Science Committee’s panel on investigations and oversight.

Broun believes the Earth began, as Richard Dawkins has put it, after the domestication of the dog. His remarks are astonishing not only for the profound ignorance of science they reveal in a man entrusted with a significant role in shaping the nation’s science policy, but his apparently utter lack of understanding of the foundational governing principles of the United States.

h/t C. Mayer