For years astronomer Phil Plait has written a popular blog called “Bad Astronomy” (link). He started it to correct popular misconceptions and bogus rumors about astronomy and related branches of science, such as the mistaken notion that eggs are easier to balance on end at the equinoxes and the perennial Internet story that on some particular date Mars is going to be close enough to look as big as the Moon. Nowadays it’s more of a Good Astronomy blog, highlighting interesting news or pointing out beautiful astronomical images, but he still occasionally goes after bad astronomy and bad science in general.
This morning’s post (link) is one of those, and what concerns him this time isn’t so much the misconceptions themselves as the positions of the people holding them.
Now that the Republican Party controls the senate, Ted Cruz (R-Texas) will be taking over chairmanship of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, and as Plait points out, that committee oversees the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. While Cruz has said some things favorable to NASA (it helps that the Johnson Space Center is based in Texas), he’s not exactly a champion of science. In particular, he rejects the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming and has said things on that subject that are simply nonsense. NASA, of course, has been a major source of research demonstrating that global warming is happening.
(Plait doesn’t mention it, but Senator Cruz is so extreme in his political views and actions that many of his fellow Republicans reportedly can’t stand him, not least because his grandstanding shenanigans are seen as damaging his own party with almost everybody outside the extreme right. His chief congressional allies aren’t in the Senate but in the House Tea Party Caucus, for which he has served as a self-appointed leader.)
Meanwhile Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) is the new head of the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works (a post he held during most of the Bush administration). Inhofe claims that global warming is a deliberate hoax perpetrated by scientists and has bizarrely likened the Environmental Protection Agency — an agency overseen by that committee — to the Nazi Gestapo. The Washington Post published an article worth reading about Inhofe and the committee in November (link).
Another of the Senate’s most extreme members, Marco Rubio (R-Florida), is now in charge of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, which has responsibility for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service. Rubio is yet another denier of climate change who has expressed doubts about other areas of science.
There’s reason to think Republican control of the Senate won’t last beyond then end of next year, mainly based on the fact that many more vulnerable Republicans than Democrats will be up for reelection then, a reverse of the situation last year. On the other hand, the GOP did even better than predicted in the last election (which had the lowest turnout in 72 years), so it’s not certain they won’t retain a majority.