Obama's Anti-Science Appointment?

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Barack Obama should not appoint Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., to head the Environmental Protection Agency, as has been reported that he might do. This is for totally non-partisan reasons. I don't expect Obama to appoint a moderate on the environment. I would hope he doesn't choose someone who regularly presents inaccurate factual information and gives credence to discredited studies that feed panic.

He makes radical statements and then stands by them while under public criticism. For example, he claimed in 2002 that factory farming is more of a threat to American democracy than Osama bin Laden and refused to moderate his comment under pressure from those who called him on it. He has published criticisms of the Bush administration riddled with lies, distortions, and ad hominem attacks. He accepts conspiracy theories about Republicans stealing the 2004 election.

But the most important reason for me is alarmism about autism and vaccines, which is downright anti-scientific. The most that's been shown about autism and vaccines is that the symptoms of autism tend to be noticeable around an age when several vaccines tend to be scheduled. Correlation isn't causation, and in this case there's an obvious explanation for the correlation. The symptoms begin appearing at an age when, for completely independent reasons, certain vaccines are given. So Kennedy does nothing more than feed anti-scientific panic. Parents of autistic kids hear this stuff, accept it without looking into it, and end up treating their kids as having been stolen from them. Instead of accepting their kids for who they are, they spend all their time pretending they don't have any anymore and trying to make other parents feel guilty for causing their children's autism by taking steps to protect them and other kids from dangerous and life-threatening microbes. They seek to divert funds into wild goose chases instead of recognizing that autism has at least a significant genetic component (which is now very well established) and that the only thing that will likely be available to help their kids is to give them intensive help, something very hard to do if you spend all your time chasing windmills in the political blame game. Never mind the fact that they're risking their kids' lives by not vaccinating them, which has already led to a resurgence in diseases that had been nearly eradicated.

Anyone who has any sympathy for the many complaints, more from the left but also from the right, about the Bush Administration's attitude toward science should oppose Kennedy as an appointment for any important government position but especially to head the EPA. [And I note that some prominent anti-ID bloggers are avoiding hypocrisy on this issue by opposing Kennedy.] If he goes forward with this appointment, it's a huge political mistake. It will mean people can call him anti-science in more ways than just on abortion (see #3). But it's even worse as a policy mistake, given how much damage someone like Kennedy could do.

2 Comments

The 2004 election was stolen. More than 300,000 votes were not counted in Ohio alone. With all the hoopla about "voter fraud" (according to the New York times only 70 convictions for voter fraud in three years), it is ELECTION FRAUD that is the problem--dumping people from the rolls, having too few voting stations in select precincts, intimidating voters with specious challenges, calls telling people their voting location or voting day has been changed, provisional and early ballots not counted ...little things like that.

Let's see what turns up to be the truth in Alaska this year once an investigation is completed.

Not true. See here for a detailed response to RFK Jr.'s article about the 2004 election. The 300,000 figure is the number of voter registrations that by law expired between 2000 and 2004 because those voters didn't vote in the previous two elections, and Ohio law requires them to be purged. If you want to advocate lawlessness, then by all means continue to insist that those people should have been able to vote illegally, but I prefer to follow the rule of law, and by law those votes don't count.

The charges of voter suppression probably have occasional instances of truth to them, just as massive voter registration fraud probably does lead to occasional instances where the fake registrations lead to actual voter fraud, but neither side has produced substantial evidence that there's a systemic problem that has affected the outcome of any election. There have been a few instances where voter registration fraud has affected the outcome of an election, and it's been established, but it hasn't shown to be a sytemic problem, because most of them get caught or don't end up trying to vote. Similarly, there are probably cases where voter intimidation and illegal attempts to reduce voter numbers will have a noticeable effect, but there's no evidence that it's been enough to sway any election. There have been actual investigations into legitimately filed claims, and they haven't borne out.

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