On the scientific views of presidential candidate Jim Webb

The Democratic primary has received far less attention than its republican counterpart, most likely because Hillary Clinton is so far ahead in terms of money, party endorsements and polls. However, there is a Democratic primary race occuring, and it is worth while getting to know the candidates running against Clinton. Jim Webb is one such candidate; he was a senator from Virginia, serving a single term from 2006-2012. He was also the Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan.

Unfortunately, because of Webb’s relatively sparse record in public office – and because he isn’t receiving as much media coverage and questioning about campaign issues – nailing down his statements, votes and positions on a variety of issues to gain insight into how science influences his thinking is a difficult task. Even so, I’ll post what I could find below, and hopefully as his campaign for president continues some of the blanks will be filled in; I’ll update this post as new information filters in.

Climate Change

Senator’s Webb’s position on climate change is a little hard to interpret. His statements, according to the many articles written about this issue seem to indicate he accepts the science that the Earth’s temperatures are rising dramatically and that human activity is a major contributing factor – although I couldn’t find that quote myself and none of the articles ever link to a source. However, as a senator, he voted against nearly every single environmental bill that was ever up for a vote. Seriously, he has a very poor record on addressing climate change. He even went so far as to say that CO2 is too ubiquitous to be a pollutant.

That statement is scientifically incorrect.

There is a good chance this apparent mismatch between his words and his actions is because there is a large coal industry in Virginia. So what should we think about him? Is it a good thing that he accepted the science vocally (apparently) even though it was very inconvenient for him as a senator? Or should we hold him to his record and say that perhaps his words were hollow simply because he feared taking the opposite position as a Democratic senator? I tend to lean towards the latter option; a candidate who allows data to influence his thinking but not his policy is useless.

The theory of evolution

Try as I may, I could not find any clues to Webb’s take on the theory of evolution. I will update this section if any information comes out during the upcoming election.

[update:8/10/15]

Astute reader Roger Bigod pointed out that Senator Webb did make a statement regarding evolution in his book Born Fighting. Indeed, with that tip I was able to track down the relevant passage:

This confrontation between religious and scientific theories is still unsettled even today, as creationists rationally argue that the living world could not have been fashioned without an “intelligent designer,” and that the theory of evolution as presented by the Darwinists still rests on scientific speculation that has yet to be proven.

That final statement is dead wrong (and was wrong in 2005 when the book was published). The theory of evolution has massive evidence behind it “proving” it beyond any reasonable doubt. The only sense in which it is unproven is the philosophical sense in which nothing can ever be truly proven. In that case, the theory that germs cause disease and that sex makes babies are also “yet to be proven.”

Thank you Roger for bringing this to my attention!

Vaccinations

I also could not find any information on Mr. Webb’s positions regarding vaccination. It appears to me that the senator needs to work harder on getting his thoughts on the issues out there to the public better.

Science funding

When the issue of increasing science funding came up in the senate, Senator Webb voted in favor of it. Tracking down hard statements of his vision for research funding and its place in American society is again difficult to do. But I suppose a vote in favor of increased funding for research is good enough.

Politicus Cerebri