On the scientific views of presidential candidate Jeb Bush

Just when you thought we would have a decade without a Bush running for president, Jeb – the son of 41st  president George H.W. Bush and brother of 43rd president George W. Bush – has announced that he gets a turn too. And don’t write off his chances just because his father’s presidency ended when he was unseated by Bill Clinton and his brother’s presidency ended with the lowest approval ratings of any sitting president since Nixon was forced to resign. Jeb Bush is already polling at or near the top of the field, and his campaign and SuperPAC have pulled in an astonishing 103 million dollars in the first six months.

So we know that Jeb can raise a lot of money, but we do not know how this would-be president thinks. My hopes and dreams for our next president is that he or she uses evidence to shape his beliefs, data to drive her policies, and logic to make his decisions. In other words, I hope she thinks like a scientist. With each candidate I have been examining their thoughts, opinions, statements and pontifications on science to measure what drives their thought process. I look up their views on several issues that are considered controversial to the public, but are not controversial at all when you examine the underlying data and studies. The hope is that if the candidate is looking to evidence and data to make a well-reasoned, thoughtful policy about each issue, then they will cut through the noise and land on the conclusion bolstered by mountains of scientific evidence. Here we go!

Climate Change

There is a massive consensus among climate scientists that the average global temperatures are rising, and that human activity is a major contributing factor to this warming. Jeb Bush recently remarked “I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope” A good start, but where does he get his policy from? At an event in New Hampshire, Bush laid out his views on climate science. “The climate is changing. We need to adapt to that reality.” However, in the same event he also said “I don’t think the science is clear of what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It’s convoluted,” and then went on to call those who do not feel so confused – like the 97% of climate scientists who study this – intellectually arrogant.

Given the incredibly low bar set by so frighteningly many of his competitors, let’s give this nuanced position about a B. He is by no means dismissing the mountains of data being thrown at him, and that is a relief. Ok, he’s also being hugely resistant to the conclusions from that pile of data because admitting it causes a huge conflict with his ambition to become president. Like I said, about a B.

The theory of evolution

It depresses me that this is still so controversial among the American public. Evolution is the unifying theory of biology, and probably has more evidentiary support for it than any other scientific theory in existence. Even so a majority of Americans do not think it is true. Jeb was the governor of Florida for a while, and during that time he was responsible for Florida schools. When asked if intelligent design (one of the religious theories opposing evolution) should be taught in classrooms, Governor Bush said “It’s not part of our standards. Nor is creationism. Nor is Darwinism or evolution, either.” When pressed a little further for clarifying remarks Bush added “I don’t think we need to restrict discussion, but it doesn’t need to be required, either.”

When asked directly by the Miami Herald where he personally believes in evolution or not, he said “Yeah, but I don’t think it should actually be part of the curriculum, to be honest with you. And people have different points of view and they can be discussed at school, but it does not need to be in the curriculum.”BUT, in the five-paragraph statement, the Republican governor also said “I am a practicing Catholic, and my own personal belief is God created man and all life on earth.”

Are you confused yet? Let’s recap. He does believe in evolution and he does believe that God created man and all life on earth. He does not believe personal beliefs should determine school standards, but he also does not think that evolution should be part of the school curriculum because people have different personal beliefs about it. Somewhere in that muddled mess is an honest answer to the question.

Vaccinations

In a speech in Detroit, Jeb said “Parents ought to make sure their children are vaccinated.” In that same speech he seemed pretty determined not to get spun off in any weird twists or turns regarding state’s rights, autism, mercury or any of the other silly things that this topic often gets spun into. His answer was direct: should you vaccinate your children? Yes. 

Science funding

Finally there is research funding. As a scientist myself, I always want to know how candidates feel about funding the sciences. As governor of Florida, Bush vetoed a research funding bill to fund the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute. However, in his statement regarding that veto he said “Although the Center provides outstanding research and treatment of cancer, funding for medical research is primarily a federal, not a state, responsibility.” So it would seem this veto did not signify a stance against funding research as much as a belief that science funding is a responsibility of the federal government. He is now trying to become the chief executive of the federal government, so how would a president Bush treat science funding if he were allowed to take the office? At an event in Iowa he said “I would add another long-term spending initiative that we ought to be focused on. One, of course, is these infrastructure projects. The other is research and development. As we’ve cut back with NIH funding and other types of research funding, we lose the initiative to cure diseases. And I think this is an appropriate role for government.”

To sum up the scientific views of Jeb Bush, I’d have to say Bush does fairly well. He faces a constituency that is not always friendly to openly espousing scientific views. That fact most probably accounts for the many hedges and question-dodges that he does. But overall, he seems to be fairly scientifically literate and fairly open to the scientific evidence around him, even when that evidence puts him in uncomfortable positions.

Politicus Cerebri

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