July 16, 2007
Will Fred Thompson Lead
the Party of Quacks and Crackpots?
Back in March, Fred Thompson did something entirely predictable. He
blamed global warming on the sun.
I know, but I wonder what all those planets, dwarf planets and moons in
our Solar System have in common?” Thompson wrote. “Hmmmm.
Solar system. Hmmmm. Solar? I wonder. Nah, I guess we
shouldn’t even be talking about this. The science is absolutely decided.
There’s a consensus.”
The implication was that only those who think too much believe
that people are responsible. To the plain speaking, the answer didn’t
require any acts of egg-headery. One need only point to the burning
yellow ball in the sky, and scream, “Aieeeee!”
paper issued last week by a British solar physicist found what they’ve
pretty much said for the last four decades – that there is no evidence
that the sun is driving global warming.
The paper was issued the same week as testimony given before a House
committee investigating the abuses of science by the Bush
Administration. The former Surgeon General, Dr. Richard Carmona, who
served until last year, was the latest in what has become an endless
parade who’ve testified that presidential appointees have corrupted the
use of science. In particular, he told the committee that he was invited
to a meeting about global warming and concluded that public health
wasn’t the reason for his presence.
“And I said to myself, ‘I realize why I’ve been invited. They want me to
discuss the science because they obviously don’t understand the
science,’” he said. “I was never invited back.”
Scientific quackery is certainly not a new phenomenon, nor is it limited
solely to conservatives. Homeopaths and herbalists, whose political
tendencies drift toward New Agey liberalism, today tout the powers of
shark cartilage for cures to ailments as wide ranging as glaucoma to
cancer. There is no evidence for this, naturally, except for the least
reliable kind – anecdotal. What available evidence does support is that
sharks, which fill an important niche in every ecosystem in which they
are found, are growing fewer in number thanks in part to pressure to
promote quack cures.
But, while these people remain on the fringes of the Democratic Party –
put there a few decades ago – Thompson’s op-ed piece and Carmona’s
testimony remind us that they are today the face of the
The start was when Ronald Reagan came to power. Before the Reagan years,
the Republican Party could have made a credible case for the nation’s
most green-friendly party, but that was swept aside in the tide of
anti-government, anti-regulation thinking that followed the Reaganites
During the 1980s, the Republicans began to distance themselves from
environmental issues, and the same period gave us the rise of the think
tank, politically motivated and privately funded to begin questioning
science, scientists and those agencies that represented them.
Environmentalists and the environmental movement began to take fire from
talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, who mocked and derided them and
their goals (as if the desire to breath clean air and drink clean water
is something worth mocking). The apex came in 1995, when the new Speaker
of the House, Newt Gingrich, helped eliminate the Office for Technology
Assessment, a Congressional body that helped keep Congress apprised of
new scientific developments and how they might intertwine themselves
with society at large. As a result, the quality of experts testifying
before Congress on scientific issues declined, reaching a low point when
Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, who calls global warming the “greatest hoax”
ever, brought before the Senate a science fiction author.
There are signs that this could be changing. Gingrich, who can be blamed
for some of the state of science and the Republican Party today because
of this, earlier this year said that liberals were right on global
warming (of course they were . . . they were following the evidence) and
called for a rise in green conservatism. Whether this was genuine is
debatable. Gingrich’s record on this kind of stuff isn’t as bad as some
of his colleagues, but rumors that he is eyeing a presidential run
suggest that he could be trying to tap into what has been advertised as
a new awareness of the environment.
What isn’t debatable is that, if leading Republicans continue to talk
like Fred Thompson did earlier this year, they’ll solidify the GOP’s
reputation that it has become a home to quacks and crackpots.
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