Another Perspective

Rick Perry On Science

The liberal media wants you to think Rick Perry puts ideology over science. He doesn't.

By 9.12.11

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In writing about Governor Rick Perry's approach to science, the New Republic's Jonathan Chait argues:

[Perry] rejects scientific findings when they complicate his theological or ideological worldview. He's accused climate scientists of running a corrupt scam -- a deranged belief that's increasingly common among movement conservatives.

What's more, the implications of Perry's willingness to discard science go well beyond scientific issues. It suggests a general unwillingness to acknowledge empirical results that run counter to one's ideological dispositions. That was an enormous problem in the Bush administration, but ultimately one, it seems, conservatives are happy to repeat.

Talk about deranged. Chait is claiming that Perry simply ignores reality when it is at odds with ideology. Sort of like EPA administrator Lisa Jackson continuing to link ozone levels to the risk of autism or John Holdren, Obama's science adviser, writing about global warming: "Isn't the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn't it our responsibility to bring that about?" Or maybe he was thinking about how Centers for Disease Control and Prevention delayed the rollout of the swine flu program. CDC and the White House caved in to the anti-vaccine crazies and pulled multi-dose swine flu shots because they contained thimerasol.

By contrast, Perry follows the science when it establishes a causal link between one event or mechanism and a measurable outcome. When his executive order requiring the HPV vaccine for all girls entering sixth grade was overridden by the Texas legislature, Perry rejected arguments by some social conservatives that vaccinating girls and young women against HPV might encourage premarital sex. In a written message about his decision, Perry said even if they do make wrong choices, the "greater imperative is to protect life." Perry also said that attempts to discredit the HPV vaccine amount to "hyperbole that doesn't stand up in light of clinical data."

As the headline for a National Public Radio report stated: "Perry Position On HPV Vaccine For Girls Followed Expert Medical Advice." NPR reported, "The vaccine is recommended for girls at age 11 or 12 not just by the federal government's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, but also the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, and Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine."

During the recent Republican presidential debate, Bachmann, Santorum, and Ron Paul seemed to suggest that parental rights trump immunization requirements in every case. (Do they oppose all immunization requirements for children?) Even then, this reaction against vaccines crosses party lines. The largest outbreak of vaccine preventable diseases in America took place in the most liberal of enclaves: Marin County, California.

What about stem cell research? Chait notes that Perry established the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), a $3 billion, 10-year cancer research fund. He doesn't note that CPRIT recently recruited Dr. Sean Morrison, leading stem cell researcher -- and vocal proponent of embryonic stem cell research -- to establish a pediatric cancer initiative at University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Why did Morrison come to Texas? While I have been spending the last five to six years arguing with the Michigan legislature about what kind of research would be permitted in the state, in Texas they were looking for ways to invest billions of dollars into medical research.

Perry has consistently stated he would veto any legislation to fund ESC research. But he has not supported several bills that would ban it either. More proactively Perry has sought to make Texas "the world's leader in the research and use of adult stem cells."

Regarding climate change Perry wrote: "The complexities of the global atmosphere have often eluded the most sophisticated scientists…. draconian policies with dire economic effects based on so-called science may not stand the test of time. Quite frankly, when science gets hijacked by the political Left, we should all be concerned."

Chait calls that deranged. But the estimates of climate change used by the Left in developing plans to reduce emissions are the most extreme of six different models. Even the International Panel on Climate Change notes the chance of fast and severe climate change is small. Policies based on the more severe estimates would not only reduce economic growth, particularly among the world's poorer nations, but also require a decline in living standards. As Matt Ridley notes, a warmer and richer world will be more likely to improve the well-being of both human beings and ecosystems than a cooler but poorer one.

Rick Perry supports science-based health prevention, stem cell research, and environmental regulations by balancing one set of estimates with the impact they can have on human well-being. If that approach meshes with his "theological and ideological worldview," I'm all for repeating early and often.

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About the Author
Robert M. Goldberg is vice president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and founder of Hands Off My H ealth, a grass roots health care empowerment network. His is new book, Tabloid Medicine: How the Internet is Being Used To Hijack Medical Science For Fear and Profit, was published last month by Kaplan.