Mike Pence Has a Very Special Scientific Method

It's called "ideology."

Getty Images / Angelo Merendino

Vice presidential candidates Mike Pence and Tim Kaine disagree on a lot of things. First and foremost, they seem to be at loggerheads over whether giving Donald Trump the nuclear codes is a good idea. But it doesn’t end there. They also seem to feel very differently about the scientific method.

Pence exists in a state of perpetual de-oxygenation because the top of the ticket sucks all the air out the room. But his beliefs still matter. Not only is Pence the bridge between Trump and the Republican mainstream, if elected he’s likely to have more say-so than your average VP given Trump’s demonstrable indifference to governing. And that’s significant if you believe in evidence-based science. Pence seems to have a few beliefs that don’t pass the laboratory sniff test.

Here are the reasons for concern.

Smoking Doesn’t Kill

“Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill,” read Mike Pence’s website in 2001. Strangely, he follows this with a fact that very directly disproves his assertion. “In fact, 2 out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness and 9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer.”

The logic that gets from “smoking kills a third of smokers” to “smoking doesn’t kill” boggles the mind. To be fair, he’s not advocating that everyone take up the habit, only advocating against Big Government taxing smokes and finger wagging cigarette lovers. “Government big enough to protect us from our own stubborn wills,” he waxes.

The inverse of Pence’s assertion that government shouldn’t take action to deter smoking is that large tobacco companies should be free to use every tool in their arsenal to get Americans addicted to their product. Strangely, he doesn’t take the same anti-interventionist approach when it comes to marijuana and other prohibited drugs.

Global Warming is a Myth

“Here’s the deal,” writes Pence. “Environmentalists claim that certain ‘greenhouse gases’ like carbon dioxide are mucking up the atmosphere and causing the earth to gradually warm. Despite the fact that CO2 is a naturally occurring phenomenon in nature, the Greenpeace folks want to blame it all on coal (another natural mineral) and certain (evil) coal burning power plants.”

Carbon dioxide is already present in the atmosphere, and so adding more of it will never be a problem, if you follow this train of thought. But human fossil fuel burning has increased an abundance of CO2 in the atmosphere by 40 percent, and that is hugely significant. By Pence’s logic, if you are already wearing a sweater, putting a light jacket on top should not make you feel any warmer.

The Cause of Climate Change is Unknown

“I think the science is very mixed on the subject of global warming,” Pence said in a 2009 interview on NBC. In the mainstream media, “there is a denial of the growing skepticism in the scientific community about global warming.”

No. Just, no.

The idea that burning fossil fuels pumps carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it acts as a greenhouse gas to warm the planet, is Science 101. Climate researchers have studied the question of the Earth’s current warming from every possible angle, over and over again, and the conclusion that it is caused by human activity is beyond settled.

There is no growing skepticism in the scientific community. The closest climate change deniers can come to real scientific authority to support their anti-science views is physicist Freeman Dyson, who admits he has no idea what he’s talking about.

God Created the Earth

“I believe with all my heart that God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that is in them,” says Pence in that same NBC interview.

Pence is free to hold his personal religious beliefs; the problem emerges when he presents creationism as a scientific theory, supported by facts and evidence, that rivals evolution as a way to understand how life came to be on this planet.

“I think, in our schools, we should teach all of the facts about all of these controversial areas and let our students — let our children and our children‘s children — decide, based upon the facts and the science,” he says.

Repeat: “The facts and the science.”

Embryonic Stem Cell Research is Obsolete

“Over the past two years, scientific breakthroughs have rendered embryonic stem-cell research obsolete, effectively removing any perceived need to destroy human embryos in the name of science,” writes Pence in a 2009 opinion article.

This is not true. Excitement over the potential for therapies from adult stem cells has not cooled the potential of embryonic stem cell research. They are fundamentally different things, with different strengths and weaknesses for different applications.

Embryonic stem cells used in research are generally leftovers from in-vitro fertilization clinics, donated with consent. It’s unclear what alternate destiny Pence envisions for these extra embryos, created in an effort to get someone pregnant, through a process that exists fundamentally as a way to bring new human life into the world.

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