Everything Trump and the Republican Debaters Got Wrong About Science

Not believing in climate change is one thing. Not believing in fact checking is another.

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Last night’s 11-person, three-hour GOP presidential debate was light on science, but a few of the questions lobbed softly stage-ward required candidates to address issues close to the research community. Facts generally took a backseat to rhetoric, but at least we now know which facts the contestants are going to cherry pick.

Here are a few of the most egregiously false things the middle-aged and elderly men (and woman) onstage said on that Wednesday night. Pour one out for the scientific process, y’all.

Planned Parenthood

CARLY FIORINA: As regards Planned Parenthood, anyone who has watched this videotape… I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.

You can watch all 12 hours of the undercover Planned Parenthood footage, but you won’t find the grisly scene Fiorina describes. In the videos, produced by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion agency, actors pose as potential fetal tissue buyers, coaxing Planned Parenthood officials to discuss selling the tissue to researchers for profit, which is a crime. But the footage doesn’t show anyone doing that or what Fiorina describes.

For GOP candidates, defunding Planned Parenthood is essential to maintaining the integrity of the American family. They’ve been trying to catch the organization red-handed for years, but Planned Parenthood simply hasn’t done anything wrong — not from a legal perspective anyway. The money they do receive for fetal tissue, which is donated to researchers, is only meant to cover costs for collection and transport, nothing more.

Climate Change

MARCO RUBIO: You can measure the climate. You can measure it. That’s not the issue we’re discussing. Here is what I’m skeptical of: I’m skeptical of the decisions that the left wants us to make, because I know the impact those are going to have and they’re all going to be on our economy…. They will not do a thing to lower the rise of the sea. They will not do a thing to cure the drought here in California. But what they will do is they will make America a more expensive place to create jobs.

Rubio and the couple others who addressed climate change denied their denials, shuffling over toward the mainstream and scientifically supported majority concerned about the fact that the Earth is demonstrably getting warmer. But many Republicans — and a few Republicans behind podiums on Wednesday — still question the degree to which human activity has contributed to changing temperatures.

Meanwhile, the fifth report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change contends that while the window is closing, humans could absolutely limit the Earth’s warming to 2 degrees Celsius by increasing the share of renewables for energy to 80 percent by 2050, and phasing out all fossil fuels by the end of the century. No candidate outlined any plans that made even the slightest effort to change U.S. energy habits.


DONALD TRUMP: Autism has become an epidemic. Twenty-five years ago, 35 years ago, you look at the statistics, not even close. It has gotten totally out of control.

Vaccines don’t cause autism — despite Trump’s little anecdote about a child he knew getting a vaccine and then coming down with autism a week later. There is no correlation. None.

But Trump hit on another misconception, that there’s an autism epidemic. That’s also not the case. Why are we seeing more diagnoses of autism than ever before? Simple: We’re better at diagnosing it. For decades, doctors were simply looking for certain, narrow criteria. As they learned more about what autism was, the symptoms expanded as well. That’s why we now refer to the “autism spectrum” when we talk about the neurobehavioral disorder — because there’s a whole range of symptoms autistic individuals can exhibit. Some can function better than others, but they all exist somewhere on it.

This is all outlined pretty well in Steve Silberman’s new book NeuroTribes.

Medical Marijuana

CARLY FIORINA: We are misleading young people when we tell them that marijuana is just like having a beer. It’s not.

The theory that marijuana use somehow “primes” the brain’s reward centers to seek out and try harder drugs has been debunked by countless studies, yet opponents of legalization won’t stop harping on about it and backing up their claims with anecdotal evidence. While it’s tragic that Fiorina lost a step-daughter to drug abuse, it’s a gross oversimplification to point at marijuana as the root of hard drug use.

Neel V. Patel contributed to this article.

What’s especially ironic about Fiorina’s comparison is that alcohol appears to be the real gateway drug. According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the data shows that 66 percent of pot smokers go on to try other drugs while an overwhelming 88 percent of the drug users surveyed claim alcohol was their way in.

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