Thursday, October 6, 2016

Pseudoscientist-in-Chief?





President Donald Trump possesses many characteristics that will make him a unique figure in American history. He, for example, is the first reality tv star and the only person without either political or military experience to get elected. He is also the first president in decades not to release his tax returns. My skeptical side, however, is far more interested in the next president's strange stances towards the sciences and critical thinking. This is because Mr. Trump, as others have put it, seems to bullshit on a level bordering confabulation (especially in regards to pseudoscience and conspiracy theories). 

To demonstrate why I think this, I decided to list five things that he has done that seem to put him in line with the David Ickes and the Jenny McCarthys of the world. Before I get started however, I want to note that I am only pointing out the five that I find to be the most concerning. There also many other examples of him seemingly embracing total bullshit. Some honorable mentions include his apparent rehashing of conspiracies about Hillary Clinton's health, Ted Cruz's citizenship, and Rafael Cruz (Sen. Cruz's father) assassinating JFK (which Trump later denied) and using Dr. Oz (lol) to calm concerns about his own health. 



On Vaccines: 

On several occasions, Donald Trump has either claimed that vaccines are linked to autism or questioned the scientific consensus about their safety. For instance, during one of the debates, he made statement that sounded like Jenny McCarthy. 
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... I am totally in favor of vaccines. But I want smaller doses over a longer period of time. Same exact amount, but you take this little beautiful baby, and you pump—I mean, it looks just like it's meant for a horse, not for a child, and we've had so many instances, people that work for me.... Just the other day, 2 years old, 2½ years old, a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.

He has also posted multiple times about this on Twitter.





The most recent news regarding this topic is that President Trump has reportedly asked anti-vaxxer Robert Kennedy Jr. to head a commission on vaccine safety. As you can imagine, skeptics and public health officials are fearful of someone with so much influence pushing such a dangerous lie. 

Birtherism:

From his potential 2012 run for president to his recent strange press conference where he blamed it on Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump was considered the most notable birther in the United States. If you are unaware, birthers maintain that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and (in many instances) that he is secretly a muslim. While he has seemingly mentioned the latter in passing, Politifact states that Mr. Trump has been very explicit and consistent about his thoughts on President Obama's citizenship:
Trump previously took credit for Obama releasing his long-form birth certificate and pledged to donate $5 million to charity if Obama released his passport records. 
A book publisher came out three days ago and said that in his written synopsis of his book, he said he was born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia. His mother never spent a day in the hospital," Trump said in 2012. 
His grandmother in Kenya said, 'Oh no, he was born in Kenya and I was there and I witnessed the birth.' Now, she's on tape and I think that tape's going to be produced fairly soon ...The grandmother in Kenya is on record saying he was born in Kenya," Trump said, incorrectly, in 2011.
He has been very vocal on Twitter about his stance on this issue. 







President Obama to famously retorted at the 2011 White House Correspondence Dinner that "Now he (Trump) can get to focusing on the issues that really matter. Like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened at Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?"

Global Warming:

Trump has also tweeted that the large scientific consensus concerning global warming is a hoax. He also apparently does not know the difference between weather and climate








This is not surprising. There are many freemarket fundamentalists who react like a vampire being shown a crucifix if you bring up any topic that might imply regulation. Before global warming, other anti-regulationists called the science behind the acid rain, Ozone depletion, DDT, and the cigarette-cancer link into question (read Conway and Oreskes' Merchants of Doubt for the history of this movement). While he has (at least on occasions) talked out the other side of his mouth and denied he thinks this, Mr. Trump has seemingly always at least maintained that global warming would be too expensive to do anything about. As Politifact has posted:
We didn’t find Trump using the word "hoax" in the months since our previous fact-check, but he hasn’t backed off his aggressive skepticism of climate change and policies designed to alleviate it. In fact, he’s enshrined opposition to climate change efforts as a key part of his platform. 
In a high-profile speech on energy policy in North Dakota on May 26, 2016, Trump attacked "draconian climate rules." He advocated rescinding "all the job-destroying Obama executive actions, including the Climate Action Plan" and said he would "cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs." 
"President Obama entered the United States into the Paris Climate Accords unilaterally and without the permission of Congress," Trump said. "This agreement gives foreign bureaucrats control over how much energy we use right here in America."
The most recent news regarding President Trump 's seeming denial is his filling of his cabinet with people who are hostile towards enviornmentalism and conservationism. For example, he has chosen Scott Pruitt, a global warming denier with no scientific credentials who has sued the Enviornmental Protection Agency, to head the EPA.

Alex Jones:

I don't believe in guilt by association, but Mr. Trump has lended a great deal of mainstream credibility to the USA's most notorious conspiracy theorist: Alex Jones. If you are shocked and believe I am being too harsh, then watch this video. It speaks for itself.




Mike Pence:

One of the worst things that Mr. Trump, has done, however, is to nominate a profoundly anti-science man as his vice president. Like other skeptics, it seems to me that Vice President Mike Pence of Indiana seldom misses a chance to dismiss any science related to his Biblical and freemarket fundamentalism.



As the video shows, Mr. Pence is a creationist who denies evolution and does not know what the word "theory" means. He also wants intelligent design taught in the classroom. To see why this is bullshit, read my guide to creationist arguments here.

FiveThirtyEight has also pointed out that he has an absolutely disastrous record with public health in regards to an HIV outbreak in southern Indiana. 
Take, for example, an ongoing outbreak of HIV in southern Indiana. From December 2014 to May of this year, 191 cases of HIV, nearly all linked to the injection of the painkiller Opana, were found in Scott County, a rural area near the Kentucky border. Before the outbreak, there had been numerous deaths and known risks from the increase in injection drug use in the area for several years. Pence had long been a vocal opponent of needle exchange programs, which allow drug users to trade in used syringes for sterile ones in order to stop the spread of diseases, despite evidence that they work. Such programs were banned in the state when the outbreak started.
Even more concerning is his apparent shilling for the tobacco industry. 
Pence has also shown a deep misunderstanding of basic public health principles in the past. In 2001, he wrote an op-ed declaring that “smoking doesn’t kill.” The evidence? “Two out of three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness.” Diseases are rarely the product of one thing. With lung cancer, for example, there’s a strong genetic component. Some people who don’t smoke will get lung cancer.1 Many people who do smoke will not. Relative risk, which measures the strength of the relationship between an exposure and a health outcome (smoking and lung cancer in this instance), is a funny thing; it can’t be used to measure the risk for an individual, only a group. And at that macro level, the risk of smoking is quite clear, as this oft-cited American Cancer Society chart shows.
They go on: 
Pence’s home state of Indiana should be particularly concerned about tobacco: 23 percent of adults are smokers, the sixth-highest statewide rate in the United States. Fifteen percent of pregnant women smoke, nearly double the national average, and the state spent $2.93 billion in 2014 on health costs caused by cigarette smoking — more per capita than 31 other states, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Still, Indiana has a cigarette tax of just 99 cents,2 lower than 35 other states, despite a wealth of evidence showing that increasing taxes on tobacco reduces smoking rates. When a tobacco tax hike was proposed this year in Indiana, Pence made it clear that he was not in favor. The tax increase was subsequently taken out of the bill.
To no surprise to anyone, he, like Trump, has talked out of both sides of his mouth in regards to global warming.  He has generally stated that he doesn't think its real. In an article he wrote, he said that "global warming is a myth. The global warming treaty is a disaster. There, I said it." He then went on to regurgitate myths like "the Earth is cooling." At all times, he has maintained that we should do nothing about it. As he stated in a recent interview he defended Trump and his do-nothing stance:
What Donald Trump said was a hoax is that bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., can control the climate of the earth and the reality is that this climate change agenda that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want to continue to expand is killing jobs in this country,
If you are a Trump supporter and you think that I have been too harsh, please keep in mind that I am merely quoting him and citing fact-checking websites who provide primary sources. If you think that is still too much, then maybe you should rethink your political commitments. 

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