The response to Marco Rubio’s answer to a question on the age of the earth shows why we need both a better opposition party and a better news media. Rubio’s answer:
GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?
Marco Rubio: 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.
Often ignorant comments such as this receive brief mention in the liberal blogosphere and are forgotten, but this comment continues to receive a lot of attention. Mark Halperin writes this off as an example of How the left-wing Freak Show is gearing up for ’16:
There’s one area where Democrats are really far ahead of Republicans right now. Science and technology, no. It’s doing this thing that Democrats failed to do in 2000, to stop George W. Bush, which is really, really early on using the left-wing Freak Show to define anyone who’s thinking of running for President, as quickly as possible, in negative terms on Twitter, on cable, on the Internet. They’re all over this Rubio thing because they want to control his image in a negative way and they did it this cycle too. They went after Romney early, it really hurt him. And they’re doing it now. And, you know, as a matter of just pure politics, it’s very effective because Rubio’s not full-time thinking about running for president. He’s out there dabbling but people on the Left will just be defining anyone who looks like they might be strong in four years.
Halperin has often referred to the right wing Freak Show, while far too often repeating their falsehoods as if there was some validity to them. It is even worse if he is going to call criticism of Rubio’s statement a left-wing freak show, analogous to the right-wing freak show of Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh, and others who promote a fictitious right wing narrative. There is no real comparison between these people who spread misinformation and those on the left who criticize Rubio for making a statement showing such disregard for science.
It also borders on the right wing conspiracy-theory mentality to see this as a plan to take out (or Palinize) Rubio in preparation for a possible 2016 presidential run. This response came after the interview, not part of some long-range conspiracy. This is not a quote being invented or taken out of context as we frequently see from the right wingers. This is not an attempt to dig up some long past statement or action, as right wingers often do when attempting to demonize a political foe. This is an honest response to a recently published interview on a subject which the left is quite concerned about–the Republican denial of facts and science.
In his answer, Rubio played down the importance of the question stating, “I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow.” Alex Knapp responded to this in Forbes:
…the age of the universe has a lot to do with how our economy is going to grow. That’s because large parts of the economy absolutely depend on scientists being right about either the age of the Universe or the laws of the Universe that allow scientists to determine its age. For example, astronomers recently discovered a galaxy that is over 13 billion light years away from Earth. That is, at its distance, it took the light from the Galaxy over 13 billion years to reach us.
Now, Marco Rubio’s Republican colleague Representative Paul Broun, who sits on the House Committee on Science and Technology, recently stated that it was his belief that the Universe is only 9,000 years old. Well, if Broun is right and physicists are wrong, then we have a real problem. Virtually all modern technology relies on optics in some way, shape or form. And in the science of optics, the fact that the speed of light is constant in a vacuum is taken for granted. But the speed of light must not be constant if the universe is only 9,000 years old. It must be capable of being much, much faster. That means that the fundamental physics underlying the Internet, DVDs, laser surgery, and many many more critical parts of the economy are based on bad science. The consequences of that could be drastic, given our dependence on optics for our economic growth.
Here’s an even more disturbing thought – scientists currently believe that the Earth is about 4.54 billion years old because radioactive substances decay at generally stable rates. Accordingly, by observing how much of a radioactive substance has decayed, scientists are able to determine how old that substance is. However, if the Earth is only 9,000 years old, then radioactive decay rates are unstable and subject to rapid acceleration under completely unknown circumstances. This poses an enormous danger to the country’s nuclear power plants, which could undergo an unanticipated meltdown at any time due to currently unpredictable circumstances. Likewise, accelerated decay could lead to the detonation of our nuclear weapons, and cause injuries and death to people undergoing radioactive treatments in hospitals. Any of these circumstances would obviously have a large economic impact.
If the Earth is really 9,000 years old, as Paul Broun believes and Rubio is willing to remain ignorant about, it becomes imperative to shut down our nuclear plants and dismantle our nuclear stockpiles now until such time as scientists are able to ascertain what circumstances exist that could cause deadly acceleration of radioactive decay and determine how to prevent it from happening.
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.
Now, this doesn’t mean that our representatives to the Congress and to the Senate should be scientific experts. But if they hold ideas about the world around us that are fundamentally at odds with scientific evidence, then that will ultimately infringe on their ability to make reasoned judgments about a host of issues where the economy touches technology. And that could end up harming the economy as a whole.
Politicians who are ignorant of basic science are not capable of making rational decisions on public policy in the 21st century. It is possible that Rubio might be more knowledgeable about science but feels it is necessary to deny scientific facts to maintain the support of the anti-science right wing. If this is the case, such cowardice is also not desirable from those in government.