In yet another controversial decision, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to reinstate the National Space Council, an agency that oversees the US space program. The council will be chaired by vice president Mike Pence, who among other things, believes evolution isn’t real, God created the Earth, and smoking doesn’t kill.
A new old council
The resurrection of the council has been in works ever since Trump won the election (and was discussed during his campaign), though it wasn’t clear who would head the council. Now, it’s been announced that Mike Pence will fill that chair. Pence is a staunch creationist whose statements have often placed him in direct opposition to the science community and NASA.
“Basically this will be Pence’s eyes and ears into our government’s actions in space, whether it’s NASA or the Pentagon,” Phil Larson, a former space policy advisor for the Obama administration, tells The Verge.
In theory, this could be a welcome move, helping to speed up some of the bureaucratic aspects of space policy, but it could also be yet another layer of bureaucracy, slowing things down even more.
“It could help break some of the log jams we’ve seen, instead of muddling through space policy right now,” says Larson. “But it will only work that way if space is a high priority for Pence.”
There’s also the matter of setting the future direction for NASA’s space exploration projects. There are two schools of thought regarding the future. The “old” school of thought believes NASA should control all aspects related to its projects, giving off more expensive contracts to government contractors, and everything overseen by NASA directly. The “new” school proposes that the agency focuses more on public-private contracts. This is a more hands-off approach and would see companies like SpaceX and Boeing play a more integral role, which would significantly reduce the costs and development time for NASA, but minimize NASA’s control and is generally regarded as a high-risk-high-reward approach. It’s not clear which way the new council will lean, but since it was basically handed to Pence on a silver platter, his input will almost certainly be decisive.
Which brings us to Pence himself.
The wolf guarding the henhouse
It’s truly disheartening to see politics interfere with science. After all, one can only feel that politics should be left to politicians, and science should be left to scientists. Alas, while the first is generally true, the second seems to be under attack. After Scott Pruitt, one of the most anti-environment people in the US was named chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, Mike Pence overseeing all things space is also a sign of the US moving backward rather than forward. Why? Well for starters, Pence is anti-science.
- Thinks God created the heavens and the Earth.
In an interview with Chris Matthews from MSNBC, Pence stated that God created everything — this in a context where he was trying to say he’s pro-science.
MATTHEWS: You want to educate the American people about science and its relevance today. Do you believe in evolution, sir?
PENCE: I — do I believe in evolution? I embrace the view that God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that’s in them.
Matthews tried to lend him a helping hand, but Pence strongly refuted it.
MATTHEWS: I think you believe in evolution but you‘re afraid to say so because your conservative constituency might find that offensive.
PENCE: No, I‘ve said to you, Chris, I believe with all my heart that God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that is in them.
- Evolution isn’t real
Of course, this stems from the first idea, but it deserves its own mention. Since at least 2002, when he spoke in Congress and asked to teach “other theories” to evolution, Pence has fought to take evolution out of the science books and replace it with one can only assume is the theory of God.
“I think, in our schools, we should teach all of the facts about all of these controversial areas and let our students, let our children and our children‘s children decide based upon the facts and the science,” Pence said in the same interview, probably unaware of the fact that this argument was said by many during Darwin’s time. Time has passed, and we are now the “children’s children” — the science has spoken overwhelmingly clear on this one and today, evolution is the core of biological research.
- Climate change isn’t real
Of course, no one in Trump’s administration is allowed to think otherwise of climate change. Seriously, the only person who seems to accept the scientific certainty that is climate change seems to be (ironically) former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson. Pence is no exception.
“I think the science is very mixed on the subject of global warming,” Pence has stated more than once.
This, this statement right here, is why science and politics shouldn’t interfere. The science is not very mixed. With a consensus varying between 97% and 100%, with tens of thousands of peer-reviewed studies documenting man-made climate change, the science is as clear as it gets. Global warming is happening, and we are causing it. It’s just as well established as smoking being bad for you. Speaking of that…
- Smoking doesn’t kill
In all honesty — and treating Pence more fairly than he ever treated science — we have to admit that he did say that smoking isn’t good for you. We’ll give him that. But in one of his Congressional campaigns, he says “Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill.” Tobacco kills an estimated 6 million people each year, ten percent through second-hand smoking. The WHO estimates that half of the people who smoke will eventually die of tobacco-related conditions.
- Abortion-inducing drugs are very dangerous
In 2013, as a governor, he signed a bill that imposed new restrictions on abortion clinics — the same type of restrictions the U.S. Supreme Court smacked down last month, as PopSci points out. Not only is the statement not correct, but the pill in this case — mifepristone — has safely been in use for 35 years, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends it not only for abortions, but also to treat miscarriages. Pence has had one of the most extreme anti-abortion positions in global politics.
- A disdain for women rights
This isn’t a scientific position, yet we can’t help but wonder what Pence’s leadership will mean for the women working in NASA and space exploration. Aside from his anti-abortion efforts, Pence has often shown a disdain for women rights, not in the least opting for a male-only team. Pence is also vehemently against homosexual rights, classifying them as a sign of “societal collapse.” Does this mean capable women and homosexuals will be discriminated in NASA? We don’t know yet.
In all fairness, Pence is not the most anti-scientific member in the Trump administration — though we’re not sure if this is a positive on Pence’s side or rather a negative on the administration. Pence has had a more moderate position on other scientific aspects and has described science as “an exploration of demonstrable fact” which is a pretty nice definition. He also stated that he “accepts the scientific method” — though given his positions on evolution and climate change, we can only take that as a false statement.