I like much of Matt Yglesias’ writing. But he still doesn’t appreciate how science and evolution affect public policy issues. As many of you know, three out of ten Republican presidential candidates stated that they don’t believe in evolution at one of the presidential debates. Yglesias comments on Huckabee’s response:
I see that Jamie Kirchick didn’t care for the reply at all: “Sorry, but if someone believes in fairy tales, I think that’s pretty relevant to their qualifications as president.” But why? The core of Huckabee’s answer is here:
It’s interesting that that question would even be asked of somebody running for president. I’m not planning on writing the curriculum for an eighth-grade science book. I’m asking for the opportunity to be president of the United States.
That’s quite right. Blitzer is just being a pain in the ass. It would be a serious problem if Huckabee were proposing to meddle in eighth-grade science textbooks, but he rightly understands that in the American system this isn’t a federal question.
Huckabee isn’t proposing to meddle in curriculum–he would do far more important things such as set health and science priorities (just ask an HIV expert how much Bush has screwed things up by ‘PEPFARizing’ everything). Many serious health problems are, at their core, problems of evolutionary biology: the emergence of new infectious diseases, antibiotic resistance, and medical genetics. Other disciplines use tools developed to study basic evolutionary questions to answer important medical questions: in my own work, I’ve used tests of natural selection to identify candidate genes (and even regions within genes) that can cause disease. We’ll be doing more of this as the field of genomics further develops. And before someone brings up the macroevolution canard, I just spent an hour yesterday talking with someone who uses macroevolutionary data (differences among species) to understand how fungal disease works.
How is a president who doesn’t ‘believe’ in evolution–and who will probably appoint some subordinates who don’t either (and are going to be ‘faith-based’, not evidence-based too)–going to act intelligently regarding these serious issues? A colleague of mine has a rough estimate that the cost of antibiotic resistance is somewhere between $30-70 billion dollars per year. That’s a serious problem that requires serious, scientifically-based thinking.
Sometimes the scientific particulars do matter–if the cornerstone of modern biology can be called a ‘particular’. Sometimes the argument about evolution is about …evolution.