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Just Add Evolution to The Long List of Science Scott Pruitt Doesn't Understand

A long, long list.

SCIENCE AF STAFF
8 MAR 2018
 

When Scott Pruitt isn't busy dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that President Trump put him in charge of, the notorious climate denier spends his free time regaling us all with his absurd scientific (or rather unscientific) views.

 

In the past, he's made headlines by denying basic climate science, like the fact that carbon dioxide is a key driver of climate change. Even worse, he's suggested that global warming isn't necessarily a bad thing - because humans flourish in the warmth, right?

Still, it's not just basic climate science that Pruitt has a hard time wrapping his mind around. Now, we can add evolution to the long list of scientific concepts that the EPA chief wilfully misunderstands. 

Thanks to a thrilling audio recording uncovered by Politico, we now know that Pruitt joins the likes of Vice President Mike Pence in his refusal to accept the theory of evolution by natural selection.

"I think the basis of humanism is evolution, and there aren't sufficient scientific facts to establish the theory of evolution, and it deals with the origins of man which is more from a philosophical standpoint than a scientific standpoint," said Pruitt on an Oklahoma talk radio show in 2005.

Ahh the classic "evolution is just a theory" argument - one of the most common misconceptions among non-scientists.

But evolution isn't just some careless theory that was thrown together overnight. Instead, it draws on decades of observations, laws, hypotheses and inferences to make up the most plausible explanation for the mysteries of human existence.

 

In the words of paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould: "...facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world′s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts."

It's also pretty telling that we don't see Pruitt denying the scientific facts that make up the theory of gravity or cell theory or germ theory or atomic theory or any of the other scientific frameworks that we work within (whether consciously or not) on a daily basis.

You might be thinking, "Well, why does it matter? Understanding evolution has nothing to do with his job."

Even though Pruitt's job at the EPA has very little to do with the theory of evolution, evolution is an elemental part of environmental science, which is in turn a fundamental part of Pruitt's job. So, it's highly concerning that someone in an office that requires deep and complex scientific thinking does not understand how the scientific method works.

Evidence-based decision making is a crucial skill for anyone working in government and policymaking. Yet when a reporter asked if there could be a conflict of interest between Pruitt's anti-science beliefs and his job, the agency refused to answer and accused the reporter of "insinuating that a Christian should not serve in capacity as EPA administrator."

But asking about the way a politician plans to separate their personal beliefs from scientific fact is a legitimate question and one deserving of an answer. In fact, the separation of Church and State requires that question to be asked by any legitimate journalist.

Pruitt is free to believe whatever he wants, but the public is equally free to question him on it – especially when 98 percent of scientific experts accept the theory of evolution by natural selection.