The Personal Blog of Stephen Sekula

Some planks in the platform

The Texas Republican Party platform document was amusing (and scary); as I discussed earlier, it implied that the party called for banning the teaching of critical thinking. This whetted my appetite for the National Republican Party platform, a document which was expected to take the whole party further to the right than before. That document was ratified at this week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, FL [1].

A quick search through the document on issues of interest to me:

  •  “Science”:a quick search for the word “science” turned up a few places where it appears. For instance, on page 7:“We can accelerate the process of restoring our domestic economy—and reclaiming this country’s traditional position of dominance in international trade—by a policy of strategic immigration, granting more work visas to holders of advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math from other nations. Highly educated immigrants can assist in creating new services and products. In the same way, foreign students who graduate from an American university with an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering or math should be encouraged prosperity to and remain here and contribute to economic prosperity and job creation. Highly contribute skilled, English-speaking, and integrated into their communities, they are too valuable a resource to lose. As in past generations, we should encourage the world’s innovators and inventors to create our common future and their permanent homes here in the United States.”

    It’s amusing that here, when sucking scientific prowess from other nations means making America better, they are all for immigration. That’s pretty elitist.

    On page 18, we find a section on “Protecting our Environment.” Here we find:

    “Moreover, the advance of science and technology advances environmentalism as well. Science allows us to weigh the costs and benefits of a policy so that we can prudently deal with our resources. This is especially important when the causes and long-range effects of a phenomenon are uncertain. We must restore scientific integrity to our public research institutions and remove political incentives from publicly funded research.”

    Here, one needs to watch out for vague phrases like “restore scientific integrity” – it’s left up to the reader to define this phrase, since no evidence is given that such restoration is needed. Absent evidence, this implication of misbehavior in scientific institutions is merely the sowing of doubt. Similarly, the phrase “remove political incentives” implies, absent evidence, that such incentives pollute the science of the environment. Again, doubt is their product here.

    Later, on page 23, they discuss government regulation:

    “The bottom line on regulations is jobs. In listening to America, one constant we have heard is the job-crippling effect of even well-intentioned regulation. That makes it all the more important for federal agencies to be judicious about the impositions they create on businesses, especially small businesses. We call for a moratorium on the development of any new major and costly regulations until a Republican Administration reviews existing rules to ensure that they have a sound basis in science and will be cost-effective.”

    I find it at least amusing that when it comes to regulation of industry, here they demand science. Note the logical fallacies common of all political documents, from any party. ” . . . one constant we have heard . . . ” should be critically answered with “from whom?” The values assertion here, absent evidence, is that jobs and regulations are incompatible – this is a false dichotomy. You can choose jobs, or regulations, but not both; of course, as with all economic decisions, the truth is not that simple.

    Regarding NASA, the only science agency so far mentioned in the document, they say on page 28:

    “Today, America’s leadership in space is challenged by countries eager to emulate – and surpass – NASA’s accomplishments. To preserve our national security interests and foster innovation and competitiveness, we must sustain our preeminence in space, launching more science missions, guaranteeing unfettered access, and maintaining a source of high-value American jobs.”

    This same argument could have been applied to MANY areas of research, not just the one tied closely to the aerospace industry, which has offices and factories in just about every state and in many powerful districts.

    Then we get to family structure and find this pseudoscientific gem:

    “It has been proven by both experience and endless social science studies that traditional marriage is best for children.”

    Skeptic-brain kicks into high gear. “Experience” means “anecdote” – a small statistics sampling of the world that is mistaken for a generalization of the world. Experience is useless, unless it is backed by sound and self-consistent evidence of a much stronger sort (e.g. real data, gathered from a wide sampling of the population). As for the claim that there is “social science” studies (endless, no less) backing up the claim that a one man, one woman marriage is better than any other kind . . . PROVE IT. Cite the evidence. Was it peer-reviewed? What data were used? How did they control for other factors external to the same-sex nature of the couple that might influence marriage or children (e.g. support of the wider family, friends, community, etc.)? I’d love to see the data on this, because this claim hangs in the air and demands to be assessed critically.

    “Science” appears again in criticism of the Food and Drug Administration on page 34:

    “America’s leadership in life sciences R&D and medical innovation is being threatened. As a country, we must work together now or lose our leadership position in medical innovation, U.S. job creation, and access to life-saving treatments for U.S. patients. The United States has led the global medical device and pharmaceutical industries for decades. This leadership has made the U.S. the medical innovation capital of the world, bringing millions of high-paying jobs to our country and life-saving devices and drugs to our nation’s patients. But that leadership position is at risk; patients, innovators, and job creators point to the lack of predictability, consistency, transparency and efficiency at the Food and Drug Administration that is driving innovation overseas, benefiting foreign, not U.S., patients. We pledge to reform the FDA so we can ensure that the U.S. remains the world leader in medical innovation, that device and drug jobs stay in the U.S., that U.S. patients benefit first from new devices and drugs, and that the FDA no longer wastes U.S. taxpayer and innovators’ resources because of bureaucratic red tape and legal uncertainty.”

    Then on page 35-36, they turn to education:

    “After years of trial and error, we know what does work, what has actually made a difference in student advancement, and what is powering education reform at the local level all across America: accountability on the part of administrators, parents and teachers; higher academic standards; programs that support the development of character and financial literacy; periodic rigorous assessments on the fundamentals, especially math, science, reading, history, and geography; renewed focus on the Constitution and the writings of the Founding Fathers, and an accurate account of American history that celebrates the birth of this great nation; transparency, so parents and the public can discover which schools best serve their pupils; flexibility and freedom to innovate, so schools can adapt to the special needs of their students and hold teachers and administrators responsible for student performance. We support the innovations in education reform occurring at the State level based upon proven results. Republican Governors have led in the effort to reform our country’s underperforming education system, and we applaud these advancements. We advocate the policies and methods that have proven effective: building on the basics, especially STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) and phonics; ending social promotions; merit pay for good teachers; classroom discipline; parental involvement; and strong leadership by principals, superintendents, and locally elected school boards. Because technology has become an essential tool of learning, proper implementation of technology is a key factor in providing every child equal access and opportunity.”

    It’s all pretty vague. Hey, we’re all for classroom discipline – I wish they defined that term. They use a lot of vague phrases here, whose exact meaning is left up to the reader. This is a whole paragraph of vague terminology, a great example of a massive logical fallacy. Fail to define the terms, and your viewer will define them for you in a way that maximizes their positive impact on the reader independent of your intent. So for all we know, “classroom discipline” means “corporal punishment for ill-behaving students” . . . but who can say, since it’s never defined?

    Then we get to a juicy subject – sexual education. Here, they finally say what they mean (page 36):

    “We renew our call for replacing “family planning” programs for teens with abstinence education which teaches abstinence until marriage as the responsible and respected standard of behavior. Abstinence from sexual activity is the only protection that is 100 percent effective against out-of-wedlock pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS when transmitted sexually. It is effective, science-based, and empowers teens to achieve optimal health outcomes and avoid risks of sexual activity. We oppose school-based clinics that provide referrals, counseling, and related services for abortion and contraception. We support keeping federal funds from being used in mandatory or universal mental health, psychiatric, or socio- emotional screening programs.”

    The science of abstinence-only education is clear; in states where this is the primary form of sexual education, the teen pregnancy rates are highest in the nation. For instance, see [2]. This word you use . . . “science” . . . I do not think it means what you think it means.

  • “Climate”: this word appears in the context of “climate change” only once, on page 40. Here, they complain that climate change is considered part of the overall threat to national security, and whine that the word “climate” appears more than “Al Qaeda”  in President Obama’s strategy for national security (I’d LOVE to know how they cherry-picked that statistic – I have some hypotheses on how they made that sentence a reality in their platform). It’s sad that the Republicans completely avoid this subject, either negatively or positively, in the document. They have completely abdicated any interest or responsibility on the most serious threat to the economic stability and prosperity of the United States – the predictability of the very climate upon which our entire way of life depends.