Anti-science US Congressman on House science Committee!

By Ken Perrott 10/07/2014 41

This guy is spouting a  bunch of simple-minded anti-scientific rubbish. Not surprising in itself – he is actually opening a climate change denial conference in th US – one of the semi-annual get-togethers of climate change denialists organised by the Heartland Institute.

No – the surprise is that this guy, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), is a member of the House Science Committee, which oversees US federal policy on science and innovation.  The House Science Committee!

Bloody hell! How does that happen. Here is someone whose standard of scientific understanding is no higher than some of the anti-science blog commenters we get here – and they are on the US House Science Committee.

Thanks to: US Congressman Opens Climate Change Denial Conference with Rant Against Water Fluoridation.

41 Responses to “Anti-science US Congressman on House science Committee!”

  • He might be expected to understand politics though, perhaps unlike some commentators here! You say [quote]Here is someone whose standard of scientific understanding is no higher than some of the anti-science blog commenters we get here[unquote]. Actually, he isn’t really talking science at all, but the implementation of scientific findings, which is more the realm of politics (his forte). So, where is the evidence for your claim about his lack of scientific understanding?

    • Sure, Stephen, he is a politician and he is acting politically. But he is making statements on the science which are patently wrong. And that is a worry as he is a member of the House Science Committee.

      One should not excuse anti-science propaganda by claiming it is politics.

  • Yes, but which statements are patently wrong? Take the example of fuoridation, he said he didn’t know whether it helps fight tooth decay or not, but, either way, the people should decide what they ingest, not the govt. This is an ethical issue, not a scientific one.

    • Yes, he hid behind a claimed ignorance on the fluoride issue – but that in itself is shocking for a member of the House Science Committee. His claimed ignorance was really just part of his political attack on fluoridation. He could have said the same about any of the other chemicals used in water treatment. He should know better than that.

      Decisions on fluoride, alum, and chlorine etc are ethical questions. But like most ethical questions they should be informed by the science and as a member of the science committee he should not separate them in that way. After all, if there were not scientific justification for treating water to remove particulates and harmful biological material or correcting a trace deficiency the question just would not arise.

  • Well, he may well have an agenda on the fluoridation issue, but what he said was still perfectly fine. He did not deny that the (ethical) issue of fluoridation implementation should be informed by the science, he just separated, and rightly so, the scientific grounds for fluoridation from the compulsory implementation of fluoridation, the latter of which, although informed by the science, is itself certainly not a scientific issue, but an ethical/political one. No doubt the chemical companies which supply the fluoride have their own agenda!

    • Stephen, it appears that fluoridation is an issue for you. I am happy to, in fact very keen to, discuss the ethics and the science of this if your want to – just make your point and we can move on to it. (But, please, something a bit more substantial than vague references to agendas of “chemical companies “and declarations of “rightly so”).

      As for the Congressman – he is a member if the House Science Committee so his ignorance if the science is really impermissible. As is his attempt to separate ten ethics from the science. After all, if he was honest he would do the same with Cl2 and alum.

  • No, I only mentioned it because I think it is one of your pet issues. I really don’t give a damn about it. I’m just trying to determine if your criticisms of this guy’s speech are fair enough or not, and I think not! He was giving fluoridation as an example. One cannot determine from the video above what his views are on other, similar examples, like CI2 or alum. You have accused him of “spouting rubbish”, and having poor scientific understanding, seemingly purely on the basis of the above video. I’m just trying to see the evidence for that, and I’m having difficulty finding much! It is actually quite normal for overseers of science to not be scientists themselves, just look at the boards of our CRIs! He is not an expert in the area of science which would allow him to fully grasp the science behind fluoridation and tooth decay. But the point he was making was an ethical/political one. He could have perhaps worded it better and said “regardless of whether fluoride in the water signicantly prevents tooth decay or not, who has the right to decide on compulsory fluoridation, the govt. or the people?”

    • Stephen – my pet issue is the misinformation and distortion of science for political and ideological reasons. Fluoridation is just one issue – and only one of the issues this guy used as examples – one that seemed to preoccupy you. He also presented the same ideological attmepts to discredit and misrepresent the science on issues like climate change, the ozone hole and acid rain. In all these he was making claims about the science which were just not true. Shoifking for a member of the House Science Committee. He is being criticised widely on social media at the moment precisely for that reason.

      Perhaps if fluoridation is not an issue for you, Stephen, his politics are – you seem to be upset by any critcisms of his political motivations. Well I havee’t gone into that – I don’t support his preoccuptation with weatlh rather than human values – if you do, that is up to you.

      My point about alum and chlorination was simply that exactly the same ethical arguments he used against fluoridation are just as valiid against clarification and disinfection. They are also just as valid against public hospitals and free secular education. Of course they are-one sided because they consider only individual freedom and wealth and ignore social need and good. I have often said ignoring either of these 2 aspects of ethics amounts to extremism in the real world. They also ignore the science.

      Forget about fluoroidation nthen. Perhaps you could make you justification for your support of his ethical/political positoion and we can discuss that as it relates to scientific issues.

      By the way, if I still worked for a CRI I would be just as critical of a board member who made such unwarranted and ideologically motivated anti-science comments. Such people, irrespective of their specific talents or education, have the advantage of being able to consult scientists who can give them the information they lack. It is irrresponsible of such people to shoot their mouth off withoiut getting the information. This guy did it for ideological reasons and is weell known for his links with the fossil fuel industry.

      By the way, as things stand in NZ your latter point applies. Regardless of the efficacy of fluoridation the actual decisions are left to communities. Our own community in Hamilton clearly wanted it and has had to deal with extremists who want to impose a minority position – deny the3 “freedom thus guy talks about. But, if we were naively consistent we should have also put disinfection and clarification to a similar vote. Somehow I suspect that this guy would still have opposed fluoridation in Hamilton because his understanding of freedoms relates more to ideology and money than the health of ordinary people.

  • Your hostility to this guy is over poltical/ethical issues, not scientific issues! He is talking about exaggeration of scientific findings for political/financial ends, and about human rights in a democracy. The debate is not about the science itself, but about how scientific findings get used/abused, and particularly how the general public gets pressured by stakeholders to do this or that in response to scientific findings, which are never certain. Quite how often this happens is a moot point, but the worry is a justified one.

    • Stephen, I do think distortion and misrepresentation in general is an ethical question. But I am motivated when it relates to science as this on the one hand amounts to a dishonest use of the authority of science and on the other undermines that authority.

      My concern with this guy is that it is a blatant example of, as you say, “how scientific findings get used/abused, and particularly how the general public gets pressured by stakeholders to do this or that in response to scientific findings, which are never certain.”

      I suppose I should take that as your endorsement if my “worry” but can’t help feeling that you support the guy for political reasons and therefore appear to be attempting to justify his abuse of science.

  • But you seem to me to be equating his warnings about the possible abuse of science as if it were itself an abuse of science on his part! This makes no sense to me! He is the one who is saying that, sometimes, scientific findings get exaggerated and/or thrust upon us in an undemocratic way, by people with an agenda. Yes, he probably has his own agenda, as do you, as do I, as does everyone, but that doesn’t negate what he has to say. He is advocating that we ought to decide for ourselves, and not necessarily follow scientific consensus, which may be agenda driven at least to the point of exaggeration. This is not an “abuse of science”. An “abuse of science” would be to mislead people using science, or to mislead people about science or specific scientific findings. But saying things like that the people should decide if they want fluoridated water is not an “abuse of science”, not unless he were to also claim that the scientific findings which indicate that fluoridation would help against tooth decay were somehow bogus, when they weren’t, but he doesn’t say that. I don’t necessarily agree with him about fluoridation, since it would involve parents without scientific training making decisions for their children, decisions that they are really not qualified to make. But that doesn’t seem to figure in your knee-jerk reaction against this guy’s speech.

    • Do your want to discuss the fluoride issues, or not. Stephen? I am quite happy to – the ethical as well as scientific, but I thought we had moved on from fluoridation

      You obviously disagree with my criticism of the guy – but can’t be specific. I have pointed out that his description of the acid rain, climate change and ozone hole issues misrepresented the science. He was in fact trying to “mislead people” by misrepresenting the science. By claiming that the ozone hole had disappeared, that acid rain was a non-issue and that climate change was not an issue. If you think I am wrong please be specific.

      I don’t think I actually said he was “abusing the science” on fluoridation. But he was certainly abusing the ethics around the concepts of individual choice and social good. Another interesting topic but you don’t seem to want to discuss that either.

  • > I have pointed out that his description of the acid rain, climate change and ozone hole issues misrepresented the science<

    Have you? Where? My reading of what he actually said leaves it open as to whether he misrepresented acid rain and the ozone hole, but he was using those two examples to suggest that climate change might go the same way, i.e. just another exaggerated doomsday prediction which came to little or nothing. If we look at the ozone hole issue, it is so difficult to know whether or not he is right that it turned out not to be a big problem. Everything you read may well be tainted with advocacy. From what I can glean quickly, the "ozone hole" refers to what is now known to be a natural seasonal phenomenon at the poles, but there is also allegedly an overall 4% decline in global ozone coverage which is not seasonal and which is allegedly "solvable" by lowered CFC levels. It would be a MASSIVE undertaking to verify that there is still a big problem with ozone depletion which is likely to have adverse affects on mankind, and which we must therefore continue to do something about. I hear him saying that there isn't a problem any more, and you saying that he is wrong, but I don't necessarily believe either of you, so show me the evidence! I probably wont have the time or the training to digest it all, but that is because nobody can be an expert on everything, and so I find it difficult to hold such strong beliefs as you one way or the other on such issues.

    • My reading on the ozone hole is that it is still a problem but ban the use of ozone depleting chemicals appears to be working and there are evidence-based predictions of a gradual decline. Of course his reference to seasonal effects was just a red herring. And he also attempts to give the impression that banning the ozone depleting chemicals was not necessary and was probably a conspiracy anyway.

      So he has definitely misrepresented the ozone hole issue in my mind (and no, I don’t think it is worth hunting out reviews at this stage to show the evidence).

      The acid rain issue, which I well remember and saw evidence of in Europe was one of the factors encouraging a clean up of emissions. These have made a substantial effect but to hear this guy it was not necessary and just imposed reductions of wealth on his mates (the industrialist in the audience).

      The climate change issue has a huge amount of evidence and consideration behind it yet he and his mates reject that. He has no scientific basis for claiming it is a non-issue.

      Many of the people involved in this conference are connected with organisations who carried out similar campaigns to discredit the scientific finding on tobacco and second hand smoke. However, they probably avoid discussing that these days.

      As for “strong belief” – yours seem to be strong enough to motivate your comment in this article. But as I say your interests are probably more in supporting the guy politically than debating the actual science.

  • Why would I want to “support politically” some politician in USA who I had never even heard of until today? I’ve never even been to USA, nor do I have any intention to go there. You keep trying to insinuate something here, but there is nothing!

  • Just a quick last comment on the “ozone hole”. Just because a problem improves after an alleged remedy is given doesn’t necessarily mean that the remedy caused the improvement, as the latter could have happened anyway. For example, a common cold will go away, whether or not you take any medicine for it. In essence, I guess what I’m really saying is that any real life issue involving science is going to be way too complex to be “clear cut”, but this does not stop people from having immovable opinions one way or the other. Science rarely, if ever, seems to be able to settle any real life issue.

    • That is just desperation on your part, Stephen. Of course there is always a small possibility of misreading the situation but humans do the best they can with the information they have. In the case of ozone depleting chemicals the evidence was pretty good and only a utter fool would actually deny the apparent success – especially without an alternative hypothesis.

      Of course many situations are extremely complex but it seems to me farcical to suggest that for that reason we should not apply a scientific approach.

      As for your last sentence you really are in the anti-science team, aren’t you. To suggest that we never, or almost never, settle real life issues. Come off it.

  • No, I’m not in the “anti-science team” at all, quite the reverse. I’m just trying to inject some balance into this site, which seems otherwise full of pro-science propaganda of a kind that could well actually damage the reputation of science. Please reread your very first sentence in the above article, i.e. This guy is spouting a bunch of simple-minded anti-scientific rubbish.

    Do you really think that this is helpful?

    • Stephen, you claim to be “injecting balance to this blog.” But how?

      If you could actually discuss the reality of the ozone hole producing evidence to counter what most scientists in this area are saying, or producing some sort of alternative hypothesis there could be a reasoned discussion.

      But it is hardly honest to appeal for “balance” as an excuse to deny the science without producing any evidence for that or advancing an alternative.

      I am all for open consideration and discussion (after scientific knowledge is never set in stone and is always provisional) but I am not fooled by empty appeals to “balance” in the absence of any evidence or reason.

    • Stephen, I stand by my “harsh assertions.” And remember the same assertions are currently very widespread on the social media – I am not a lone voice.

      As for evidence, surely that would be clear from the content of his talk to anyone familiar with the actual science of these matters. I have expanded a little in my comments but as you wish to reject the current science, at least on the ozone hole, in favour of an unevidenced and unhypothesised vague alternative just because it is a logical possibility, I can appreciate you will not find the evidence sufficient.

  • Well at least they are doing a little pro science, even if the lobby groups have their man in the whitehouse.
    Lenr a potential solution to our reliance on fossil fuels has now received some funding from the Department Of Energy.”New Energy Times has just learned that, on Sept. 27, 2013, the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) quietly announced a funding opportunity for low-energy nuclear reaction (LENR) research, among other areas.
    This first-ever direct invitation from the Department of Energy for submission of proposals to fund this research marks a significant point in the field’s history. This is one of three recent shifts in the scientific establishment’s attitude toward this new field of science.”
    So whilst they have the lobby groups man in the whitehouse, they also seem to be looking at solutions that don’t involve taxing the populace.
    Energy is the key to this, fossil fuels are an irresponsible, profit generating, war enticing industry.
    Science has worked out an answer LENR aka Cold Fusion.

  • In fairness, Ken, judging by the way Stephen is going after a post on false balance by Grant Jacobs, his crusade to “inject some balance into this site” may well encompass the whole of, rather than just your own posts here.

    Personally, Stephen, I’m sceptical that appeals to have scientific information “balanced” by non-scientific viewpoints will go down well on a science website. This may well be where you’re running into difficulties. Any scientist’s starting point in a discussion is going to be to nail down (where possible) what the science says on that topic, then use that as a springboard for further discussion. Whether that be centred around ethics, policy or economics.

    Where somebody is getting the science wrong, they can expect to be corrected. And scientists understandably take a dim view of the media (or indeed anybody else) giving such incorrect pronouncements an equal footing with the scientific consensus on the topic.

  • Depends how you define “equal footing”, and it depends on the particular example issue. People are sliding between “equal footing” and “any mention whatsoever”. Provided that a scientific consensus view is clearly indicated to be just that, I don’t see how any other opinion mentioned by the media can be said to be on “equal footing”? What annoys me is that the science may be disputed by nonscientists (e.g. creationists), but the science advocates here are lobbying for the media to side with them (i.e. the science advocates) as a matter of course. But the media are not scientists, so why should they side with scientists in any dispute between scientists and nonscientists? Clearly, scientists will want them to do so, but it would be somewhat analogous to Labour lobbying the media to always side with labour policies and not to bother even reporting National policies! If there is a dispute between scientists and non-scientists, then an impartial media should report both sides.

    • Stephen, I am finding your comments rather confused at the moment. The message they seem to give is that you wish that scientists would just STFU when creationists make their unscientific claims and allow such claims to go unchallenged.

      The media don’t have an obligation to side with anyone and we are well aware of how it can be manipulated. But scientists do have an ethos obligating them to evidence and reality. And I certainly support scientists communicating with the public via the media even if it upsets you.

      Let the media do their job and let scientists do theirs. Even to the extent of communicating their findings.

  • It seems you may be missing the point. Of course I am not suggesting that scientists let creationists go unchallenged, no more that Labour lets National go unchallenged. That kind of debate is healthy debate. What is rather more insidious, however, is scientists lobbying the media not to even report creationist (for example) views! That would be analogous to Labour lobbying the media not to report National’s policies. That is not debate, but blocking the voice of the opposition!

    • Stephen, you would make more sense if you gave specifics. Where and when did this “lobbying” take place? What demands were made? What specific media was involved?

  • I guess your blog here is getting mixed in my mind with Grant Jocobs’ blog. It is he who is trying to cut the voice of his opponents out of the media. My specific objections to you are that you are making knee-jerk accusations regarding this congressman being “unscientific”, when a lot of what he said wasn’t meant to be scientific, but rather about decision making (e.g. should we fluoridate the water or not?), which, although informed by science, isn’t itself a scientific matter. The other issues he raised, about the “ozone hole” and “acid rain” not being as serious as they were made out to be, are debatable, but just rudely ranting in vague terms about his speech is unhelpful.

  • “It is he who is trying to cut the voice of his opponents out of the media.”

    This drops all context and in doing that, your summary [sic] misrepresents what I suggested.

    You also ‘load’ your wording with “his opponents” – a characterisation and incorrect. My issue was fair and representative reporting ‘what is known’ about a subject, and was not about ‘opposition’ to anyone (you’ve loaded that on!). The issue was that a naïve audience member would be confused about what is ‘known’ if false balance is presented.

    You accepted that if the topic was clear and the issue at hand well-settled then unsound ‘alternative’ opinions wouldn’t add anything – i.e. you accepted my key point.

    I have no intention of taking this further here – aside from lacking time, I dislike where people argue across blogs, making accusations about something written on another forum.

    All I wish to do here is to let readers of this blog know that I consider Stephen’s ‘summary’ misrepresents what I suggested. Readers may draw their own conclusions:

    “My specific objections to you are that you are making knee-jerk accusations regarding this congressman being “unscientific”, when a lot of what he said wasn’t meant to be scientific, but rather about decision making (e.g. should we fluoridate the water or not?), which, although informed by science, isn’t itself a scientific matter.”

    Ignoring the correctness of this, this a (very) different thing to what I wrote about.

    Ironically, I tried to suggest to you that not seeing the difference between this point—the use of what might be known—and presenting the ‘what is known’ itself might be one reason why you were confused in your protestations on my blog comments.

  • Yes, Stephen, I think you are confused and really don’t feel like wasting time on someone who makes vague accusations, changes their mind about what they are claiming, and does not pay respect to their discussion partner by responding to what they write.

    No wonder we have been going around in are mixed up.

  • >The issue was that a naïve audience member would be confused about what is ‘known’ if false balance is presented<

    But if one (and only one) of the views is presented as the scientific view, then there is no problem. What you are saying seems to be conflating 2 rather different scenarios:

    (1) There is a minority view (or views) within the scientific community which disagrees with a consensus view (within the scientific community). If the consensus view is presented as such, then there is no problem. Sometimes (hopefully rarely, e.g. dung beetles), the consensus view is actually agenda driven and the minority view is correct (or at least plausibly so).

    (2) There are views outside of the scientific community which disagree with the scientific consensus view. In these cases, although scientists will claim that the other views are somehow obviously bogus, the media is not in any position to judge the relative merits (since the media sits outside of science). A good example is creationism vs. evolution (excepting any attempt to defend creationism with scientific methodology, but rather creationism held by "faith" or whatever …)

  • Too much (i.e. any) mucking around trying to assess risks makes it less economical for some of the institutions involved

  • Stephen, if you persist in trolling me by way of response, I shall end this discussion and leave others to draw their own conclusions.

    So. Bearing in mind that I am already coming to regret asking the question, let us try that again.

    How, exactly, does one make money off of dung beetles, and why does this necessitate building a false scientific consensus about them?

    Additionally, how much money is there in dung beetles that whoever is making the money is able to bribe or pay all the scientists concerned to deliver the consensus they want?

  • >if you persist in trolling me by way of response<

    The import and release of exotic dung beetles is a funded project for Landcare. But to make it profitable, they have to get the beetles released quickly, and then get on to other projects. If they have to spend time/money on assessing risks, it becomes less profitable. One way one might do that is to pretend that there aren't any risks to assess!

  • > Eh?
    My apologies if I am being unfair, Stephen, but in my experience, anybody who answers a question with “$$$” and an insinuation that researchers can cut corners in the name of profit without anyone noticing is trying to troll me. Perhaps this is because I have interacted with far too many people whose explanations for all manner of silly ideas begin and end with an assertion that there’s money involved.

    In all honesty, I have a number of problems with your follow-up response. Whilst I am not all that familiar with this project, a fairly minimal amount of checking indicates that Landcare claims they have investigated various risks and concluded that the overall risks of dung beetle introduction are negligible. Various papers have been produced in support of this assertion, which clashes with your own claim that they pretended there were no risks to assess.

    Now, I am sure that you would disagree with the adequacy of the research, and it’s possible you have a point. Certainly many of those who submitted on the proposal would agree with you. However, over-egging your claims does not help your case.

    It is also worth noting that the decision to allow the importation of the dung beetles was not made by Landcare, but by the EPA (formerly ERMA), in a process which involved submissions (both for and against) and public consultation. Landcare could, I suppose, have deliberately skimped on their research, but doing so would have undermined their case, and increased the chance of the decision going against them.

    I could go on in this vein, talking about motivations for and against extra research, but I think it’s worth bringing this back to the point.

    You invoked dung beetles as an example of a scientific consensus being agenda driven. Whereas the only case you tried to make was for Landcare being agenda driven, rather than the wider scientific community. Landcare does not exist in a vacuum.

  • Chris,
    Your assessment of my comments is inaccurate in some important details. The EPA (as ERMA) *initially* approved an application (a copy of which is freely available online here which simply stated:

    [Question] Can the organism cause disease, be parasitic, or become a vector for human, animal, or plant disease, (unless this is the purpose of the application)?

    [Answer] No. As these species of dung beetle feed exclusively on the waste products of herbivorous mammals, they will
    not cause disease, be parasitic, or become a vector for human, animal, or plant disease. Quarantine treatments as required under the Biosecurity Act will identify and eliminate associated organisms capable of causing diseases in animals or humans before release.

    The first sentence of the answer is just nonsense. The second sentence fails to consider vectoring of pathogens that are alreay present in the N.Z. environment (but doing little or no harm without dung beetles to spread them around).

    ERMA did end up considering some of these risks (and deciding they weren’t a problem), but only after being pushed very hard to do so (“pushing shit uphill”, one might say!) by a small group of concerned scientists. It is not uncommon for institutions to work hard to develop a “relationship of trust” with their regulatory and funding bodies, EPA in this case. This can possibly allow substandard work to be passed unchallenged.

    The debate was never that there were risks sufficient to deny the application, but rather that the potential risks hadn’t even been considered.

    The wider scientific community would, and should, I suggest, be able to have confidence that an application approved by EPA, and prepared by Landcare, settles the issue of risks in accordance with some meaningful notion of “scientific consensus”. The few scientists who raised the red flag were branded as “disgruntled”, “bearing grudges”, etc., when all they wanted was for EPA to actually consider some risks before approving an application!

  • Again, Stephen, I’m not seeing the bit where either Landcare or the EPA gets to dictate the scientific consensus. Indeed, the fact that, according to your own account, they were called on their failings and wound up having to conduct extra research indicates that they could not simply brush these concerns aside.

    I’m also not seeing the bit, in the media coverage I’ve dug up to date, where dissenting scientists were labeled as “disgruntled” or “bearing grudges,” or etcetera. Do feel free to share where you got that characterisation.

  • The point is that an EPA approved application prepared by LCR would normally be taken as settling an issue of this kind (i.e. effectively a scientific consensus, which is impossible to define exactly), if it were not for a handful of scientists noticing the flaws and having the guts to stand up and do something about it, against a much larger “consensus group”. I was one of them, and I got branded as a “grudge bearer” (but behind the scenes, not in the media). Many people have minor “grudges” of one kind or another at LCR, but it doesn’t preclude them from being right about specific issues. A lot happened behind the scenes that you are clearly not privy to (such as the on-the-spot resignation of a CRI board member whose concerns weren’t being listened to by the others). It took an unprecedented effort to get EPA to even look at the possible risks, after they has already approved the application (in the form quoted above), and it is unclear to what extent they did even in the end really consider the risks, since their decision remained unaltered, despite the likes of canine spirocercosis being a dung beetle vectored problem (killing domestic dogs) in some parts of the world (and not in others, but the reasons are not known for the variation – it isn’t simply climatic). The worm that causes the disease has turned up at least once in NZ in the past. It didn’t spread, but that could simply be because of the then lack of sufficient dung beetles to act as vectors. There is an extensive literature on canine spirocercosis, none of which was looked at initially, and who knows how thoroughly considered since by EPA?