Okay, this getting depressing.
First, Alberta decides that a supporter of the Discovery Institute (conditions for membership: fat wallet, gullible but preferably both) is qualified to lead provincial science policy, and to spearhead the effort of designing a provincial life sciences strategy (see ASkepticRTN Is Intelligent Design Leading Alberta Science Policy). No word on how you do that without talking about evolution but hey, this is Alberta. We don’t need no stink’n science!
Now, it turns out that Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology for Canada is a creationist. He is also a chiropractor. This means Canada’s Minister of Science is not only profoundly igorant of the subject of his portfolio, he has also spent his career promoting the abuse of science through the promotion of pseudo-scientific nonsense at the expense of those individuals sick or gullible enough to pay for snake oil.
It has to make you wonder when this country will actually get some real leadership in the field of science and technology instead of the usual granola assortment of flakes and nuts.
The Role of the Media
The story of the Hon. Mr. Goodyear came to my attention via a friendly reader of ASkepticRTN and the Globe and Mail (that bills itself as Canada’s National Newspaper). In the Tuesday March 17 edition, The Globe and Mail reported on a story in which Mr. Goodyear refused to answer a question on whether he believes in evolution, posed by a Globe and Mail reporter. Mr. Goodyear refused to answer because he said it was essentially a religous question. Mr. Brian Alters, founder and director of the Evolution Education Research Centre at McGill University in Montreal, also quoted in The Globe and Mail article, did a good job in pointing out the lunacy of the Ministers position. He noted that few people would accept refusing to answer the question: Do you believe in gravity?’ on religous grounds. Why then should the Minister be allowed a free pass on the question of evolution?
Well a free pass is exactly what the media seems to be giving politicians when they claim a question is a religous question. This trend seemed to have started in the last American primaries. When asked if he believed in evolution, Republican candidate Mike Huckabee said that it was interseting that such a question would be raised, as he was running to be President of the United States and not as a writer for the eigth grade curriculumn. It was a clever response by Mr. Huckabee and the media let is pass. But it also begged the question, Yes Mr. Huckabee, but shouldn’t the President of the United States know more than the average eigth grader?
In Canada, rather than take the Minister to task, the media have jumped to his defense, including national radio talk show host Charles Adler. I mention the Adler program only because I managed to catch a good portion of it on the radio the other day and it seems to be indicative of other media pieces that tend to display such a strong bias against science.
The set up for the Adler program, as an example, simply took it for granted that the question of evolution on earth was in fact a religious question. Yet as Mr. Brian Alters so clearly pointed out, such a claim is simply ludicrous. It is not a religious question. No more so than the age or movement of the earth, the speed of light, the presence of gravity or the number pi – all of which have been questioned in religious texts including the Bible. The very fact that Mr. Goodyear doesn’t recognize these as scientific questions as oppossed to religous ones ought to disqualify him as the Minister responsible for science in Canada. The fact that some Canadian journalists believe that the age of the earth really is a question for the local priest earns them the I Am Too Naive to be a Journalist Award, except that of course, there is no such thing as being too naive to be a journalist in Canada.
Is our Minister of Science really that ignorant?
Evidently, the Globe and Mail story created quite a stir. Minister Goodyear felt the need to do a quick retraction of sorts the day following the Globe and Mail story. During an appearance on the CTV program Power Play, he stated that of course he believes in evolution. The Minister followed this up with: But it is an irrelevant question. In other words, the Minister tried to pull a Huckabee.
Well, first off, it is not an irrelevant question. How can Mr. Goodyear argue about the strength of Canadian science policy when he can’t tell science from voodoo? How can he gain the respect of Canada’s science and technology community when he really does know less than the average Canadian eigth grader (or can’t understand why a Minister of the Crown should know more than one).
Now I could be over stating things. Maybe the Minister is a shinning light of empiricism. Maybe he has been treated unfairly by the Globe and Mail. You be the judge. Here is what Canada’s Minister of Science had to say about his understanding of evolution while defending himself on Power Play:
“We are evolving every year, every decade. That’s a fact, whether it is to the intensity of the sun, whether it is to, as a chiropractor, walking on cement versus anything else, whether it is running shoes or high heels – of course we are evolving to our environment.”
The evolutionary impact of walking on concrete???? I rest my case, the Minister of Science is too ignorant of basic science to hold the job.
The Prime Ministers Office (PMO) weighs in
It is a well understood truth of Canadian politics that the current Prime Minister does not like his Minister’s actually talking to the media because of their unfortunate habit of coming off as ignorant as most of the rest of us suspect they are. The Prime Minister, in other words, is the brightest candle in cabinet and knows it. He just wishes his Ministers didn’t make it so obvious so often.
So he must have been really pleased when Minister Goodyear defended himself with the evolutionary impact of walking on concrete argument. (Remember though, this guy Goodyear is a Chiropractor so he can probably fix that evolutionary impact for a big fee and several hundred visits). So next, Canadians were treated to the sight of the PMO trying to explain the Minister’s explanation.
Prime Minister Harper’s spokesperson, Kory Teneycke, said Minister Goodyear refused to answer the question because it would have made it appear as if religion had a role in science policy stating:
It’s a dangerous road to go down to make religious beliefs a part of science funding. Once you start going down that road, you really are opening Pandora’s box.
Ah, the Huckabee defense. Thanks for the clarification Kory. In case you hadn’t noticed, by putting someone in charge of science policy who refuses to accept science and scientific findings because of personal religious beliefs, it is the Prime Minister that has made religious beliefs officially part of scientific funding in Canada.
Meanwhile, south of the border, President Obama appears to be loosening the reigns on science. He appointed as his science advisor, John Holdren, a physicist and former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science with these words:
The truth is that promoting science isn’t just about providing resources-it’s about protecting free and open inquiry. It’s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient-especially when it’s inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us. That will be my goal as President of the United States-and I could not have a better team to guide me in this work.
What do we get in Canada?
Gary Goofball and the evolutionary impacts of walking on concrete.