Why politicians only believe some science

By June 19, 2017Australian Politics

You will often hear some members of parliament state that the science of global warming is not settled, or there is some doubt as to whether it is happening at all, or that it has stopped for the time being, or that it has always happened and will continue to do so1. It is funny how all these politicians suddenly become astute enough to argue about climate change when they don’t seem to bother about other fields of science.

If politicians actually know that some of these following items exist, then it would be interesting to see how much they understand of them.

It might be worth asking them if they consider the earth to be an oblate spheroid2 or flat, as some people still argue. The people that do argue for a flat earth are at least as knowledgeable as those arguing that global warming doesn’t occur. So, it would be instructive to ask why these erudite politicians believe that the earth is not flat. Could it be because it is the current scientific consensus?

It might be worth asking them if they consider that the Earth orbits the Sun (heliocentricity3) or the Sun orbits the Earth. There are still people, mostly religious, who believe that the Sun orbits the Earth. If you ask a politician whether they believe that the Earth orbits the Sun or the reverse, you should quite easily determine their knowledge of one of the basic facts of the Solar System (the hint is in the name). If they do state that it is the Earth that orbits the Sun, it is a fair bet they have finished primary school. But then you should ask them why they consider this is a better option than the Sun orbiting the Earth. Chances are that it will be because scientists tell them so; i.e. it is the current scientific consensus.

I’d also ask some of the politicians if they believe in Evolution4. There are still many religious nutters (creationists) who think that the earth is only 6,000 years old (including, apparently, Andrew Hastie, member for Canning). So, if you ask a politician why they think the planet is 4,540 million years or just 6,000 years old, and they opt for the former, you know they have probably talked to a geologist recently. If they opt for the latter, you will know that they are religious, probably protestant, and most likely one of the arm-waving, yodelling variety. Of those that say the earth is billions rather than thousands of years old, if you ask them why they consider this to be the case, they will most likely tell you that it is what the scientists tell us; i.e. it is the scientific consensus.

It may be instructive to ask some politicians whether they believe in continental drift5. They would have the option to say no, because there are still people who deny continental drift, still flapping around the fringes of the scientific community. We call them ‘fixists’ and none are taken seriously; that is because continental drift has been measured and GPS systems need to be adjusted to take account of that movement every now and again. Australia is drifting north-northeastward at approximately 6 cm per year; so since the arrival of the First Fleet, it has moved just over 13 metres further NNE. If you ask a politician whether they believe it, some will probably stamp their feet on the ground and say “it’s not moving!”, but those with a little more knowledge will say yes they do consider the continents move. If you ask them why, they will probably tell you that some scientist told them that is was the scientific consensus; either that, or they read it in Playboy.

If they do believe these concepts are real and they believe them because scientists told them so, then why do they not believe climate scientists when they tell them we have a massive problem with global warming? It seems to get down to three reasons. These are: that the politician is too stupid to read anything with polysyllabic words and will believe what their dear leader tells them; they are too religious and are convinced that whichever god they adhere to wouldn’t let them bugger up the planet (yes, seriously, some do believe this); they are too venal and are dependent on donations from fossil fuel companies, wealthy climate change deniers (Gina Rinehart, Hugh Morgan), or those who have interests in fossil fuel companies6. Unfortunately, for modern politicians, the last reason seems to be the most common. This perhaps says something about their character, or lack of it.

Which reason applies to your local member, or to your senators? Why not ask them?


  1. http://www.blotreport.com/australian-politics/climate-change-deniers-in-parliament/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Figure_of_the_Earth
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heliocentrism
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_drift
  6. http://www.blotreport.com/australian-politics/turnbull-lies-by-omission/


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