On the scientific views of presidential candidate Scott Walker

If you have a vague recollection that you’ve heard the name Scott Walker before, it is probably because he has been the subject of a lot of very controversial legislation in Wisconsin, the state in which he is currently the governor. The biggest controversy came when he pushed through anti-union laws that restricted their ability to bargain collectively. The outrage over this law was so great that Wisconsin citizens struck back by holding a recall election to remove Walker from office. He survived that recall effort, and then won a second term as governor in 2014. That is an impressive feat for such an aggressive Republican governor in a state that has voted for Democratic presidential candidates in every election since 1984. You can see why he thinks he can win.

As with all the presidential candidates, I have run Governor Walker’s views, statements and record past a litmus test of issues to test what influences his thinking. These issues – climate change, evolution, and vaccinations – are the source of heated controversy among the public, but have mountains of data supporting one side over the other. If a person uses hard data and results from rigorous scientific exploration, then they should have no trouble cutting through all the noise about these issues and finding the facts.

Climate Change

I was a little surprised at the difficulty of finding Governor Walker articulating a specific point of view regarding climate change. When asked direct questions about it, he responds with a very ambiguous answer, such as this one given to a young boy who asked him about it at a political convention.

If you examine his record as governor, it begins to become fairly clear that if he does accept the science that human activity is driving an increase in global temperatures, then he doesn’t care about it. Tim McDonnell wrote an article piecing together Walker’s record on environmental issues that is worth a read. The highlights are that Walker is leading the charge against President Obama’s new climate rules, cut funding for research on renewable energy, increased funding on research examining potential health impact of wind turbines, cut recycling programs, etc.

Suffice it to say, Walker’s actions speak louder than his words. He does not appear to be worried about climate change in any measurable way.

The theory of evolution

When asked if he believed in evolution, Walker dodged the question saying “That’s a question politicians shouldn’t be involved in one way or another.” Perhaps a fair point, except that it does give voters information about his thought process, and is important information when the issue of education standards gets raised.

When pressed further for his views on the issue he finally conceded “I think God created the Earth. I think science and my faith aren’t incompatible.” If you have faith that life did not evolve on planet Earth then that would set up a pretty large incompatibility with science.

Vaccinations

Walker told a reporter that “My wife and I send out a card to all newborns, in conjunction with Hallmark, to encourage people to get vaccinated.” That’s pretty clear. He went on to say that whether or not they should be mandatory is up to the States, but it seems clear that he has rejected the incorrect hypothesis that vaccines cause autism.

Science funding

Finally, I always like to look at where candidates stand regarding science research funding. As mentioned above Governor Walker is moving to cut funding for clean energy research. But perhaps that is part of his climate policy rather than a broader science research position. Perhaps more telling is Walker’s more recent budget which calls for large cuts to the State University system. As a university professor put it “We are now facing a cut that will absolutely savage the infrastructure and quality of teaching and research to this university.”

Like so many presidential candidates, Scott Walker is pretty slippery when it comes to answering direct questions about these issues. However, piecing together information from his statements, vague though they may be, and his record as governor, it does not seem like a leap to me to put Mr. Walker down as not too friendly to the sciences.

Politicus Cerebri