Is Senator Rand Paul really holding herself up as an embodiment of science? After admitting she does not fully grasp flu outbreaks, she declares that she “proves science right”. Did she take a look at her opponent’s record, or the recent debate around the issue?
Paul responded to her quibble over the flu pandemic by stating that “We do know the flu’s here and it’s probably got my name on it”. She then added, “I still don’t know [why it exists]”, all of which made him laugh.
Instead of making a statement that doesn’t square with her positions elsewhere, Paul decided to use her slip as a soundbite. The message went viral, and has even been greeted with amusement by certain media outlets.
It is an easy press-release pick-up and, as with so many other wonky arguments that Paul has started, it’s not backed up by facts.
H.L. Mencken, however, made a valuable point – and not just about pandemics:
To some men, there is no harm in pretending to be the unintelligent masses; to others, the main attraction is the impossible image. So seek on us in hot conspiratorial tempers. Your treason, truly monstrous, is to speak well of ourselves.
Except that Paul has declined to answer questions about her flu vaccine views, in spite of the fact that she routinely likes to stoke the flames when it comes to scientific beliefs.
Perhaps she thinks that the right-wing, libertarian community is, when it gets it right, still pretty dumb. Perhaps she believes the left is worse than the right. Maybe she thinks people who care about scientific claims do so because they lack the ability to discriminate among useful facts and pseudoscientific myths. All the people Paul likes to play with, though, take science seriously. That’s why they’re interested in the facts of the flu, and in climate change and clean energy.
Of course Paul is playing with (and emboldening) the biggest pile of pseudoscience ever invented. Since Ron Paul, the senator’s father, backed Todd Akin’s claims about female “reproductive capabilities” during his 2012 Senate run, Paul has gotten an earful for his cave-ins on abstinence and contraception. Paul’s attempts to hide his positions on these issues (which are now considered fact or opinion depending on which side of a wedge you’re on) are just as spotty.
Most important of all, she seems to think that she’s the poster child for scientists – that she can speak for their positions. Instead of having the tough conversations about climate change that her political staff has been making for her, Paul has chosen to dismiss the issue as silly at a press conference.
• This article was first published in Geopolitical Futures, the flagship online content initiative of The Conversation, a bi-partisan news and information network.