Rubio Gone Rogue

Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum & Other Politicians’ Dumbest Scientific Claims (PHOTOS)

Florida senator and GOP darling Marco Rubio told GQ the age of the earth is ‘one of the great mysteries,’ never mind the research data. From Tom Coburn to Michele Bachmann and even Barack Obama, see other politicians who have advanced dubious scientific theories.

GQ magazine released an interview with Marco Rubio on Tuesday in which the Florida Republican senator brushed off a question about the age of the Earth, choosing to ignore scientific research and chalk it up to “one of the great mysteries.” Rubio is hardly the first politician to ignore, misuse, or even fabricate science. The Daily Beast takes a look at some of the most off-base scientific claims made in the name of politics.

Mandel Ngan, AFP / Getty Images

Marco Rubio on Earth’s Age

Marco Rubio is “not a scientist, man.” The senator from Florida and GOP darling made this declaration and proceeded to prove as much in a recent interview with GQ. When asked how old he thinks the Earth is, Rubio suggested that (despite the popular scientific estimation that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old) there’s really no way of answering this question. “I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States,” he said. “I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that … 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. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”

Orlin Wagner / AP Photo

Todd Akin on ‘Legitimate Rape’

Perhaps the most fascinating “scientific” statement made by a politician this year was Missouri congressman and then–Senate wannabe Todd Akin’s claim that a woman’s reproductive system shuts down in cases of “legitimate rape,” preventing her from getting pregnant. No sooner did the words “legitimate rape” came out of Akin’s mouth than they went viral. It didn’t take long for Akin to clarify his comments, but although the Republican said he “misspoke,” he did not retract—or even acknowledge—the legitimate-rape statement. Akin simply insisted that he holds “deep empathy … for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year,” but that he believes “deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action.”

 

Meanwhile, as Akin continued to pursue Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill’s seat without the help of the national Republican Party but with several well-known Republicans behind him, the media held tight to the legitimate-rape claim and set to work contradicting it. While the data on rape-related pregnancies proved difficult to decipher, one conclusion was unanimous: it’s possible and it happens. A lot. In response to Akin’s comments, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stated, “Each year in the U.S., 10,000 to 15,000 abortions occur among women whose pregnancies are result of reported rape or incest.” They also clarified that this number is only a fraction of the pregnancies caused by rape, as “an unknown number of pregnancies resulting from rape are carried to term.”

Don Emmert, AFP / Getty Images

Rick Santorum on Global Warming

Unlike his fellow Republican presidential-primary candidates, Rick Santorum was never one to bother with the “hoax of global warming” or other scientific matters. While campaigning in Mississippi in March, Santorum scoffed at the Obama administration’s approach to energy. “The dangers of carbon dioxide? Tell that to a plant, how dangerous carbon dioxide is,” he quipped. Yes, plants do absorb CO2, but even they have a limit. Studies by the University of Illinois and the Carnegie Institution for Science have found that heightened levels of carbon dioxide can hamper plants’ ability to cool the air, potentially causing some global warming. As for humans, high levels of carbon dioxide can have dangerous effects—causing “headaches, dizziness, restlessness, a tingling or pins or needles feeling, difficulty breathing, tiredness, increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, coma, asphyxia, to convulsions,” according to the Wisconsin Department of Health.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Michele Bachmann on HPV Vaccine

Rick Santorum was not the only Republican presidential candidate to take liberties with science. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota latched onto a conservative-led attack against primary opponent Rick Perry for his decision, as governor of Texas, to authorize a statewide mandate that young girls receive the HPV vaccine. But Bachmann went beyond the social-conservative argument that vaccinating young girls against HPV—a sexually transmitted disease that also can cause cervical cancer—promotes promiscuity. The then–presidential hopeful told Fox News after a debate about a woman she’d met whose daughter received the vaccine. “She said her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result. There are very dangerous consequences.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, fewer than 1 percent of people who received the vaccine experienced “adverse events”—8 percent of which were “serious,” including paralysis and muscle weakness, but not cognitive disability. Nevertheless, Bachmann continued to perpetuate the argument that the shot could cause mental retardation.

Win McNamee / Getty Images

Christine O’Donnell on Mice With Human Brains

Christine O’Donnell’s rise and fall on the national stage feels like a lifetime ago. But even before the Delaware Republican turned heads with her crusade against masturbation and her questionable curiosity about witchcraft during her 2010 Senate bid, she seemed out of touch. During a 2007 appearance on The O’Reilly Factor, O’Donnell argued against stem-cell research and cloning by declaring, “American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains.” This inaccurate warning presumably came from O’Donnell’s severe misinterpretation of a 2005 study in which California scientists injected human embryonic brain cells—not fully functioning brains—into grown mice to prove that brain cells could be grown from stem cells.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

Tom Coburn on Benefits of Breast Implants

Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn embraced silicone breast implants four years before the FDA lifted its ban on the artificial inserts. During a congressional hearing on class-action lawsuits in 2005, Coburn offered some very interesting food for thought. “I thought I would just share with you what science says today about silicone breast implants,” he began. “If you have them, you’re healthier than if you don’t. That’s what the science shows … In fact, there’s no science that shows that silicone breast implants are detrimental and, in fact, they make you healthier.”

 

Where, exactly, Coburn heard about the health benefits of silicone is unclear. And while the FDA did determine in 2009 that silicone breast implants were safe, the agency maintained that use of the synthetic substance still carries some risks, such as “ruptures, hardening in the area surrounding the implants, scarring, pain, and infections.”

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Obama and McCain on Autism in 2008

Both Barack Obama and John McCain got into hot water for comments on autism made during their 2008 presidential bids. During a Texas town-hall meeting, McCain said, “It’s indisputable that [autism] is on the rise among children, the question is what’s causing it. And we go back and forth and there is strong evidence that indicates it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines.” Just a few months later in Pennsylvania, Obama said, “We’ve just seen a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.”

 

Both presidential candidates’ comments seemed to ignore several major scientific studies finding no link between autism and thimerosal—the mercury-containing preservative used in childhood vaccines—or even a study released at the beginning of 2008 by the California Department of Public health that found the childhood autism rate continued to rise despite the fact that manufacturers hadn’t used thimerosal in childhood vaccines since 2001. The Centers for Disease Control also concluded that “there’s no convincing scientific evidence of harm caused by the low doses of thimerosal in vaccines, except for minor reactions like redness and swelling at the injection site,” as did the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Food and Drug Administration.

 

Still, Obama and Hillary Clinton, then his Democratic primary opponent, promised to increase funding for research on the possible links between vaccines and autism. 

Gregory Smith / Getty Images

Rep. Paul Broun on Scientific Lies by His Teachers

With all the hubbub surrounding Todd Akin, it was easy to miss Paul Broun’s all-out rejection of science just a few weeks later, but it happened. During a speech at the Liberty Baptist Church Sportsman’s Banquet, in Hartwell, Ga., the Georgia Republican declared, “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of  hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.” Broun, who serves on the House Science Committee and is a physician with an M.D. and a B.S. in chemistry, went on to explain, “There are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is a really young Earth. I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.”

Lauren Victoria Burke / AP Photo

Rep. Joe Barton on Wind Energy

Texas Rep. Joe Barton once was chairman of the House Energy Committee, yet remained little-known until 2010, when he publicly apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward regarding the oil company’s Gulf Coast gas-spill disaster, and it was later revealed that he had been a major recipient of Big Oil and Gas campaign contributions since 1990. But his BP comment wasn’t the first—or last—gaffe of his career. In arguing against wind energy at a 2009 hearing, Barton claimed, “Wind is God’s way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it’s hotter to areas where it’s cooler. That’s what wind is.” He went on to suggest, “Wouldn’t it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up?” A year later he expressed his belief, shared by Rick Santorum, that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.

Pete Marovich / Getty Images

Rep. John Shimkus on God’s Plan

In 2010, Rep. John Shimkus was in the running to become chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. A year earlier, while serving on the committee, the Illinois Republican made clear his disbelief in global warming, announcing at a hearing that “the Earth will only end when God declares it’s time to be over.” He used passages from the Bible to back up his argument.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Rep. Trent Franks on Fetuses

This summer, Republican Rep. Trent Franks sponsored a bill to criminalize abortions in Washington, D.C., after 20 weeks—arguing that fetuses can feel pain at that stage of pregnancy. Opponents pointed to the consensus by most medical professionals that—contrary to Franks’s claims—fetuses don’t feel pain until 23 to 24 weeks into the pregnancy. The District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act did not pass the House, but similar laws were passed in Franks’s home state of Arizona, as well as in Nebraska, Idaho, Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Louisiana.

Mark Humphrey / AP Photo

State Sen. Stacey Campfield on the Origin of AIDS

In January of this year, Tennessee State Sen. Stacey Campfield made some frighteningly uninformed comments about AIDS that sounded better suited to a politician from 1980 than one in 2012. “Most people recognize that AIDS came from the homosexual community,” Campfield said on a SiriusXM radio show. “It was one guy screwing a monkey, if I recall correctly, and then having sex with a man. It was an airline pilot, if I recall.” There is no evidence that interspecies sexual contact, i.e., bestiality, caused the transmission of HIV from chimps to humans, but that's not all Campfield claimed. “My understanding is that it is virtually—not completely, but virtually—impossible to contract AIDS through heterosexual sex.” Contrary to Campfield’s understanding, the Centers for Disease Control considers unprotected heterosexual vaginal sex a “high-risk activity,” and advises against any unsafe sex (anal, oral, or vaginal) as the only foolproof way of protecting oneself against contracting HIV.