Our Superstitious President
President Obama talks a lot about the scientific method. On climate change, he has often invoked the idea of a great divide between those on the progressive left, such as himself, who believe in “settled science” and thus a looming man-caused climatological disaster, and those, presumably on the Neanderthal Right, who are slaves to superstition, ideology, prejudice, and self-interest—and thus deny that the planet is rapidly warming due to inordinate human-induced releases of excessive carbon.
Obama’s view of science is reductionist. It relies on count-em-up numbers: if more university professors (not known to be an especially independent or courageous cohort) believe in dangerous man-caused climate change than doubt it or its seriousness, and if climate change fits a larger progressive agenda, then it becomes factual.
Would we assume thereby that Newton, Galileo, and Darwin were all exemplars of groupthink, and worked through consensus and collegiality, especially with the support of status-quo institutions and universities, in advancing majority-held theories?
When Obama signed legislation in his first weeks in office enabling human stem cell research, he pontificated that his act was about ensuring “that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.” Aside from the fact that there were and are methodologies of harvesting stem cells without resort to embryonic protocols, the president’s entire approach to science, data, and the inductive method is to privilege ideology and subordinate facts.
In short, Obama is the most anti-science, anti-factual president in modern memory.
The president has warned the nation, usually on the most inappropriate and untimely occasions, of the American tendency to succumb to Islamophobia. But to support such an assumed pathology, the president adduced no evidence that Americans are more likely to target Muslims than other groups.
If we were to rely on “scientific” research, there is statistical evidence that in general hate crimes in the U.S. are rare, and that in particular they tend to focus on Jews. The most recent survey (2014) of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program shows 58% of hate crimes were directed at Jews, while just 16% were against Muslims. Thus, if the president felt that there was a real danger of American citizens or residents harming others due to their religions, then obviously he would warn us not to attack Jews, who suffer more hate crimes than all other religious groups combined.
As a student of science, Obama should incorporate such findings in his pop editorializing and not, for example, sloppily characterize the deliberate sorting and murdering of four Jews in a Paris delicatessen as if it were a random attack on “a bunch of folks” (e.g., “violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris”).
If Obama really wished to address hate crimes in more precise scientific fashion, he would ask for data concerning not just the most likely group to suffer such attacks, but the most likely group statistically to commit them. But then again there is an anti-scientific resistance to investigating the matter further, given the likely results that would suggest an unwelcome reality.
The president also insists that the government in reaction to the San Bernardino terrorist attacks must now rush to make it illegal for anyone on the no-fly lists to buy guns. Is there any scientific evidence that such a move would have much effect in preventing or abating terrorism? Or is such a call based on folklore and ideologically driven superstition?
Over 800,000 are on the terrorist watch list, and about 64,000 of them are additionally on the no-fly list. Aside from the facts that both lists grow and do not seem to shrink, and that reasons are not always provided for adding names to the lists, there is no evidence that those included in the past on the no-fly list so far have been the perpetrators of post-9/11 terrorist attacks. Banning guns to those on a no-fly list may in theory be wise, but there is no scientific evidence to suggest that it would be. If one were to consult other various lists of the major terrorist operations in the U.S. since 9/11—and they range in number from 50-60 depending on the criteria used—the vast majority were committed by those who self-identified as acting on behalf of Islam.
In rejecting the Keystone pipeline, the president ignored the scientific conclusions of his own State Department’s body of expert consultants who found no major negative impact to the climate by building the pipeline. In fact, statistically it is likely far less deleterious to the environment to ship oil-sand products by pipeline through the United States than to transport it by existing rail and truck. The Keystone cancellation was emblematic of making scientific decisions based on ideology, not facts.
NASA, as its name implies, by all accounts is a scientific government agency devoted to the exploration of the upper atmosphere and space. Its mission is not, as its Director Charles Bolden understood his mandate from President Obama, a sociological one: “And third, and perhaps foremost, (emphasis added) he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering.” Once the U.S. again has its own rockets, such outreach may be a nice thing to do. But “feel good” is not the “foremost” mission of that government scientific organization. Envision the next present promising to use NASA to ensure that Christian nations “feel good” about past Christian “contributions to science, math, and engineering.” Almost instantaneously we would hear—and rightly so—charges leveled against an anti-science president subverting for ideological purposes and a “political agenda” an historic government scientific enterprise.
Most climatologists do not connect the California drought with global warming. To the degree that we can ascertain a cause, given the paucity of weather-related data in California dating much before 1850, scientists point to the El Niño effect. Slight changes in east-central Pacific Ocean temperatures have historically affected the formation and trajectories of West Coast storms. To the degree temperature per se is the culprit, our present drought is largely a result of oceanic temperatures being too cool—in other words, too little of an El Niño effect.
Yet Obama flew into the Central Valley of California, Ground Zero of the drought, pronounced climate change the culprit, promised federal monies for that purpose, and flew out. Aside from politicizing a natural disaster for contemporary political advantage, anti-science also plays a role in the drought. Activists and government officials, state and federal, did not calibrate rising state population with increased needs for water storage and transfers.
Instead, in an ideological and anti-science frenzy, they suspended completing the California Water Project and Central Valley Project infrastructure, and embraced romantic but unproven theories about diverting contracted irrigation water to reintroduce salmon to the San Joaquin River and to restore delta smelt populations to assumed normal levels. Both anti-scientific efforts failed to increase those populations, but only after the wastage of several million acre-feet of precious water. Releasing scarce storage water in a drought—contrary to the initial aims of the Central Valley and California Water Projects of flood control, irrigation, recreation, and power generation—on the theory of altering fish populations is about as anti-scientific and anti-human as one can get.
If one were to characterize the Obama administration approach to the natural world, it is precisely an historical effort to privilege ideology over facts. In matters of gun control, Obama ignores how, where, and why most Americans are killed by guns because the facts do not fit a preconceived narrative. In matters of the Affordable Care Act, the administration made unscientific claims about affordability, budgetary consequences, coverage, and access that were quickly proven contrary to available evidence.
In reaction to the Benghazi killings, the Obama team advanced a narrative about a right-wing video maker prompting such “spontaneous” violence that contradicted eyewitness accounts, forensic evidence, and the social media testimonies of the attackers and the reports of the attacked. Then there is the matter of racial violence such as Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson. The president evoked it as an example of police excess, even though his own Justice Department found no culpability on the part of the officer in question and the narrative of an innocent victim crying out "hands up, don’t shoot" to be an entire fabrication. For political and ideological purposes, the Obama Justice Department supports flawed studies theorizing that one in four females on campus will be a victim of sexual violence during her college years—a theory debunked by facts as often as it is resurrected for its electoral utility.
Obama does not believe in science because science is blind. In today’s political climate, disinterested inquiry is a mortal sin. We live in an age in which aims that are declared socially just require any means necessary to achieve them—even if that ensures a denial of the scientific method and facts themselves.
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(Artwork created using multiple elements from Shutterstock.com.)