Like many who care about climate change, I’ve noted with a mixture of disbelief and anger the latest trick by Republican politicians: they don’t explicitly deny climate change but attempt a kind of agnosticism. The line is to say, with great modesty, “I’m not a scientist” and therefore can’t be confident that anything needs to be done. (Meanwhile, though “I’m not an economist,” I’m sure that any proposed action would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.)
David Shiffman’s short Slate article on this is great. In particular, there’s this:
… Do they have opinions on how to best maintain our nationâ€™s highways, bridges, and tunnelsâ€”or do they not because theyâ€™re not civil engineers? Do they refuse to talk about agriculture policy on the grounds that theyâ€™re not farmers? How do they think we should be addressing the threat of ISIS? They wouldnâ€™t know, of course; theyâ€™re not military generals.
No one would ever say these things, because theyâ€™re ridiculous. Being a policymaker in a country as large and complex as the United States requires making decisions on a variety of important subjects outside of your primary area of expertise. Voters wouldnâ€™t tolerate this â€œIâ€™m not a scientistâ€ excuse if applied to any other discipline, yet politicians appear to be using this line successfully to distance themselves from experts crucial for solving many of our countryâ€™s most important problems.
I’d only add that the analogy is not quite exact. After all, the politicians saying “I’m not a scientist” aren’t actually refusing to take a stance on climate policy. They’re adducing their mock ignorance as reason to take a very firm position: against taking action to solve the problem that all the real science reveals to be urgent.
It all reminds me of one of my favorite Jewish jokes. Two men in the old country are relaxing over glasses of tea.
Yakov: You know, life is like a glass of tea.
Yitzhak: Like a glass of tea? Why?
Yakov: Why? How should I know why? What do I look like, a philosopher?
If politicians think they lack the expertise to opine on science, fine. But then they would be well advised to defer to the damn scientists instead of standing in their way.