Scientific views of new presidential candidate Ben Carson

Yesterday we received another presidential campaign announcement, and again it is from someone who has never held elected office (nothing necessarily wrong with that). Ben Carson announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination in Detroit.

Mr. Carson is a retired neurosurgeon from Johns Hopkins Hospital. Given his medical background it is tempting to hold him to a higher standard when it comes to his positions on science matters. But that wouldn’t be fair. Below are Mr. Carson’s positions on the four issues that some find controversial even though scientists have uncovered mountains of evidence to support only one side.

Climate Change

In an interview with Bloomberg news, Mr Carson said “There’s always going to be either cooling or warming going on. As far as I’m concerned, that’s irrelevant. What is relevant is that we have an obligation and a responsibility to protect our environment.” When pressed a bit further by pointing out that scientists who study climate change are nearly unanimous on this issue he added “You can ask it several different ways, but my answer is going to be the same. We may be warming. We may be cooling.” To say that the globe “may be cooling” is factually incorrect. On this issue it is clear that despite his background Mr. Carson has made up his mind based on something other than scientific evidence.

The theory of evolution

Ben Carson has been very outspoken about his complete rejection of the theory of evolution. He has even gone so far to say that scientists do not know the age of the Earth saying “carbon dating and all of these things really don’t mean anything to a God who has the ability to create anything at any point in time.” Perhaps not, but these things mean something to people who follow the evidence wherever it leads.

This is very disappointing. The theory of evolution has so much evidence supporting it that to reject it requires a great deal of ignorance on the topic or perhaps an unbreakable bias against it. A person given the power of the United States Presidency who rejects mountains of facts because he or she doesn’t like them is a frightening thing.

Vaccinations

Fortunately it’s not all bad news. Mr. Carson wrote a very thoughtful piece in the Washington Times advocating for vaccination programs and insisting that these programs need to be mandatory. In regard to the link between vaccination and autism (or other health risks) he says “I am not aware of scientific evidence of a direct correlation. I think there probably are people who may make a correlation where one does not exist, and that fear subsequently ignites, catches fire and spreads. But it is important to educate the public about what evidence actually exists.”

Well said. I wonder why he doesn’t find his own words convincing when it comes to climate science or evolution.

Science funding

Mr. Carson has no political or legislative record to look to for his position on research funding, so we’ll have to settle with his statements. He has not so far given too many specific plans (the campaign just started!), but I did come across one relevant quote from his book, America the Beautiful. “I believe the logical approach would be to have each governmental agency and department trim its budget by 10% — with no exceptions. In each subsequent year, another 10% decrease would be required and would continue as long as necessary to bring the budget back into balance. This would mean there would be no sacred cows and no sparing of entitlements. No politician, agency, or special interest group could cry foul.”

An annual 10% cut to the NIH budget would be simply disastrous. Long-term projects would run out of funding mid-way through and what is already a very unfriendly funding environment would turn even uglier. It is a little surprising that a surgeon thinks using a hatchet to solve the nation’s budget problems is a good idea.

Politicus Cerebri

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