Is Scott Walker Terrible At Science?

Emily Atkin Reporter, Climate Progress

If elected president, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker might make a very science-literate commander-in-chief. At least that’s if his high school science teacher’s memory is correct.

“I do recall that Scott was very accepting of everything in science class,” Ann Serpe, the chair of Walker’s high school science department, told TIME back in February. “He had a good sense of it.”

It would certainly be refreshing if it were true. In the vast field of Republican presidential contenders, science seems low on the collective list of priorities. Almost every Republican candidate denies that climate change exists and is caused by humans, a premise that 97 percent of climate researchers accept. Some stand by the idea that creationism should be taught in schools, and others refuse to talk about evolution at all. Nearly 100 percent of scientists accept the science of evolution.

All of which begs the question: Is Scott Walker different? Does he have a “good sense” of science?

It’s a harder question than it seems. On what are probably the two most hot-button scientific issues — climate change and evolution — Walker hasn’t actually given answers. On evolution, he has refused to say whether he accepts it, instead reasoning that it’s a question “a politician shouldn’t be involved in.” He also has never given his position on whether he thinks human-caused climate change is real, though he has has strongly opposed nearly every effort to reduce the greenhouse gases that cause it.

Indeed, science just doesn’t seem to be a driving political force for Walker. Yes, he does support policies that many would consider anti-science. But the scientific justification for those policies is generally not what convinces Walker to support them. Instead, Walker seems eager to ignore science in order to make a moral or political point.

Take the 20-week abortion ban that Walker is about to sign. It is a bill based on the unscientific idea that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks. But Walker does not talk about fetal pain when he expresses support for the ban. His “open letter on life” only cites the “sanctity of life” and his general pro-life positions. It is just the presence of the fetus — not that the fetus might feel pain — that drives his support.

The same goes for Walker’s previous support for stopping embryonic stem cell research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While he made an off-hand incorrect claim that adult stem cell research was more valuable, his main reason was moral — embryonic stem cell research results in the destruction of an embryo, he said, and therefore the destruction of a developing human being.

It’s a similar story with climate change. Walker has been called “the worst” and “most dangerous” candidate when it comes to the climate and the environment, attacking efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at every turn. But Walker’s argument is always about jobs and the reliability of the electricity grid. It’s never about the scientific reality of climate change.

It’s not like Walker has never made an unscientific statement. His support for mandatory ultrasounds is based on the belief that women will change their minds about ending a pregnancy when they see the images, and he has said as much. “We just knew if we signed that law … that more people if they saw that unborn child would make a decision to protect and keep the life of that unborn child,” he has said. Several studies have found that this is not the case.

But based on how he’s handled most science-based policy issues, it wouldn’t be surprising if Walker’s high school science teacher was right. Maybe he does have a good sense of what the science says. Whether he actually cares, though, is another question.


This has been reposted from Think Progress.


Image by DonkeyHotey.

Emily Atkin is a reporter for Climate Progress. She is a native of New York’s Hudson Valley, and holds a B.A. in Journalism from the State University of New York at New Paltz. Before joining the team at American Progress, she worked as a news-gatherer and reporter covering litigation and policy for the legal newswire Law360. Emily has also held internships with the New York Observer, the Legislative Gazette and investigative reporter Wayne Barrett.