The 2016 election is heating up fast! Today we get another Republican candidate officially announcing his bid for the presidential nomination. Marco Rubio announced his candidacy at an event in Miami tonight.
Marco Rubio has been serving as a senator from Florida since 2011. Although he doesn’t have as much name recognition nationally as some of the other candidates, he’s considered by many to be one of the biggest contenders in the Republican field. This is mostly because he can check so many boxes of what a Republican primary winner needs to be. He’s a Cuban-American, and has performed better with the Latino American vote in his election in Florida than average Republicans. He has high rankings as a very conservative candidate with many conservative organizations that track such things. He has also won state-wide election in Florida, a must-win state for any presidential contender.
But how does Senator Rubio rank on science positions? I’ve been running each candidate through their positions on a handful of science issues that the scientific community has a large consensus on, but that the general population finds controversial. Those items are climate change, the theory of evolution, and vaccinations. I also look at each candidate’s position on science research funding in general.
When looking for the position on each topic, I try not to misread into a nuanced position; instead I try to mainly uncover how the candidate feels about scientific evidence. If the vast majority of research results come back a certain way, that should be very convincing for someone who shapes their opinions based on evidence. In Senator Rubio’s case he has a fantastic quote regarding climate science that shows whether he uses evidence to shape his opinions: “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.” In other words, he’s aware scientists report it, but rejects it anyway. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t offer any evidence to support his rejection.
The theory of evolution
I look at statements about the theory of evolution because it is a case where the science is so, overwhelmingly, indisputably in confirmation of the theory. With the evidence gained from the last 150 years, to deny evolution as a fact is as crazy as denying that germs cause disease or that sex is what causes babies. So when a politician doesn’t believe in evolution, it is a sign that he is out of touch with science at best, and hostile to it at worst. Mr. Rubio has said “At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all”. Indeed, you should be able to teach anything you like, but which class you teach it in matters. Science needs to be taught in the science classroom, and religion in the theology classroom. The Senator continues “I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in seven days, or seven actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.” Granted, the theory of evolution isn’t about how the Earth was created, but it’s pretty clear from his statements that he does not embrace the overwhelming evidence that all life on the planet has evolved. In that interview he did say one thing that is undoubtedly true: “I’m not a scientist, man.”
Before you think I’m out to smear Senator Rubio, I give him high marks for accepting the science which strongly suggests no link between vaccines and autism. Mr. Rubio weighed in on the topic saying “There is absolutely no medical science or data what so ever that links those vaccinations to onset of autism or anything of that nature.” Kudos!
Given some of the above views of Senator Rubio, there was a lot of concern when he was appointed the chair of the Senate subcommittee on oceans, atmosphere, fisheries, and Coast Guard. Mostly that fear is because that subcommittee determines the budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the branch of the government doing lots of research on climate change. To my knowledge, Senator Rubio has not used his position to boost or cut science funding. He has only been on the committee for a few months though. I also don’t see any direct quotes about his more general feelings on science funding. Marco Rubio opposed and voted against the sequester that devastated science research budgets (among other things), but his reasons were mainly because of the cuts on military spending. He never mentioned research as a reason the sequester was bad policy.