Obama and McCain – Friend or Foe of Science?

In the last presidential debate there were only a few zingers. One came from John McCain who, after Barack Obama compared him to G. W. Bush, emphatically stated, “If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.”

Since the debate Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden, responded to McCain’s implications with, “If it walks like a duck, if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck!”

But regardless of the promises or perceived merits of either candidate, no one really knows what a McCain or an Obama country would look like. We listen to their words, review their records, and seek out the truth but as to the reality of their campaign promises, it’s anybody’s guess. And as to Biden’s duck analogy… well, it’s a possibility but not a guarantee.

John McCainStill though, McCain’s ties to the conservative voter base rattles me somewhat. Not that I’m against his views particularly but I worry about the attitude that seems to be prevalent among some republican supporters. In extreme cases, there seems to be an undercurrent of intolerance, sometimes to the point of crazed hatred. When your supporters yell, “Kill him,” that’s taking campaigning too far. It makes me wonder if the Republican base is healthy? Are common sensibilities and the ability to be un-objective when necessary less prevalent among this group?

I direct this question to republicans instead of democrats for two reasons. One, mentioned above, has to do with the dangerously frenzied sort of atmosphere that has been reported at republican rallies. And my second reason has to do with Bush, the current republican president. It seems that the Bush administration hasn’t exercised common sensibilities regarding health issues. In a BMJ article, Douglas Kamerow points out that over the last eight years this administration has made choices in regards to health issues and policies that seems to shrug off scientific knowledge in favor of personal views and interests. It seems that many times Bush was “an army of one” when dealing with hot-button and high-profile issues — refusing to use science as a basis for decisions and doing… well, what he (or his administration) just wanted to do. The Union of Concerned Scientist has documented many of these instances including:

  • Insisting on and publicizing the effectiveness of abstinence only sex education, despite a lack of evidence for it.
  • Censoring testimony before Congress by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the health hazards of climate change.
  • Posting erroneous data linking abortion and breast cancer on CDC’s website.
  • Distorting evidence on the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV transmission and prevention
  • “Stacking” a federal advisory committee on prevention of lead poisoning to prevent more stringent standards.
  • Adding non-scientific proponents of positions favored by the administration to sessions at scientific meetings in the guise of providing “balance.”

Along with these actions, this administration directly influenced other key issues by refusing to publish evidence, allowing invalid data to influence decisions, and changing test results. Even more disturbing is that this administration, “…prevented its own surgeon general from speaking out on topics in the areas of mental health, global health, and secondhand smoking.” In other words our health policies have been based, at least partly, on a very biased and self-serving administration.

Is this pattern related to the republican’s large evangelical christian voter base? Possibly knowing that many of your constituents agree with the outcome, if not the means, may have allowed Bush to endorse these methods. But I am going to venture to say that most members of this subgroup would not sanction these unethical methods. Most rational opponents of say, sex education or abortion would not want misinformation to lead the argument for policy changes. Logical arguments that are not based in science exist for every issue so there is no need to distort scientific results; this only leads to more governmental distrust and is misguided.

Both ideologies, support bases, and candidates have taken on a life of their own by this point in the race. Will McCain’s views cause him to do the same as his party’s predecessor? Could Obama push his views or his constituent’s views via this same avenue? I hope not. An intolerance to science is dangerous for everyone — regardless of party ties.


D. Kamerow (2008). Politics and science: a cautionary tale for the presidential candidates BMJ, 337 (oct14 4) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.a2093

  • Dick Hudson

    The intimation that the Christian Fundamentalists would not lie or offer false scientific statements is denied by actuality. They have consistently done so in their anti-abortion campaigns, e.g., showing first stage fetuses as tiny humanesque babies is but one minor example. Further, deceit was and is an accepted machination of The Church in order to gain, maintain and control adherents and a “respected” tool of Christian proselytizing down through the ages:
    “Do you see the advantage of deceit? … For great is the value of deceit, provided it be not introduced with a mischievous intention. In fact action of this kind ought not to be called deceit, but rather a kind of good management, cleverness and skill, capable of finding out ways where resources fail, and making up for the defects of the mind … And often it is necessary to deceive, and to do the greatest benefits by means of this device, whereas he who has gone by a straight course has done great mischief to the person whom he has not deceived.”
    (Treatise On The Priesthood, Book 1).
    John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople in the 5th century CE and prominent early church apologist

  • Both sides have been guilty of using questionable science to advance their political objectives. The main difference is that the Democrats have been able to spread misinformation without relying on religion.

  • I dont know about the Christian Fundamentalists, but I definitely think George Bush and his party do not rely on facts. I believe the whole “War on Terrorism” which is a non-scientific issue was also to appease one man’s ego. If I had to give that man a name I would say “George Bush”. Intolerance to science is a feudalistic thought. If we now believe that the world is round and we dont have to die of tuberculosis or any other dreaded disease, then we all have to respect science no matter what or who. I think McCain’s government is going to be a bigger bully than the Bush administration inside America and outside. I do not know if Obama would be the answer but I do know at this point that I am not going to support McCain.

  • I believe one of the things that makes our nation great is the true diversity of thought. When partisanship becomes so narrow that we as American’s start despising others, the truth is we need to look in the mirror. As someone who is a dual citizen of both the US and Canada, I have had a unique perspective. Its too easy to just hate Bush and hate McCain simply because of a political-left bias. Bush did a lot of good things, and it is disturbing and sad to me when people are so narrow in scope that they cannot possibly find one single good thing about president that in all fairness, did many good things. Yes he did things that were harmful, but my point is that when partisan politics overrides one’s ability to cast objective judgment so that it becomes a pathological judgment against an entire person, or a whole political party, we have a problem within ourselves. Usually, there will be good things about most people- even the ones we so vehmently disagree with.

J. R. White

J. R. White is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. She has over five years of experience in education and pedagogy.

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