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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Trump Adviser Turns the Anti-Science Up to 11

By Phil Plait

I’ve made something of a career in debunking nonsense when it comes to science, from people who think the Moon landings were faked to hair-on-fire UFOlogists who think every lens flare and dust mote in a photo is the precursor to an alien invasion.

So when I say that Trump’s adviser Anthony Scaramucci just let loose one of the more asinine streams of anti-science garbage I’ve heard, you must appreciate the scale of what I mean.

Scaramucci—who is on Trump’s Presidential Transition Team Executive Committee—was on CNN’s Wednesday edition of New Day, interviewed by anchor Chris Cuomo. The topic was global warming, specifically a recent and terrifying effort by Trump’s team to get the names of all Department of Energy scientists who work on climate change and have attended conferences on the subject. Given how anti-science Trump’s Cabinet nominations are, and Trump’s own predilection for harassing and attacking people, this move to collect names of scientists is extraordinarily chilling. It brings up visions of Joseph McCarthy at the very least.

Cuomo starts off the interview on this topic, but then it veers wildly into nonsense so thick you couldn’t cut it with a light saber. Watch:

I’ve listened to this interview twice now, carefully, and in my opinion what Scaramucci says is nearly pure industrial grade fertilizer. I can only assume that during this interview, Scaramucci’s pants were on fire in a blaze rivaling a supernova.

Let’s start at the beginning. The first thing Scaramucci does is downplay the attempt to get scientists’ names, saying it’s “an intellectual curiosity expedition” and then pivots into wanting to provide Americans with clean air.

To understate the case, that’s a pretty difficult connection to make. Concern over clean air is only tied to the idea of global warming due to concern over pollution from burning fossil fuels. If Scaramucci is being honest then he should be saying that we need to reduce our reliance on coal, oil, and gas, and look more toward renewable energy sources and nuclear power. Instead, Trump nominates a passel of fossil fuel–driven climate change deniers to his cabinet, including Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (who has deep ties to the fossil fuel industry) for the Department of Energy.*

Actions speak louder than words here.

The good news is that the Department of Energy is resisting Trump’s requests, saying it won’t give him the names of the scientists. I hope they maintain this stance, because we have lots of evidence anti-science GOP politicians can keep the pressure on for a long time, even long past the time where they have publicly embarrassed themselves and their party.

Also, interestingly, on the day after the interview the Trump team disavowed the survey that asked for scientists’ names, saying the staffer who released was not authorized to do so. If that’s the case, why was Scaramucci not told this? Why would he have to downplay it? Between that and the breathtaking dishonesty over everything Trump’s team says and does, this disavowal doesn’t ring true.

And it goes on. Cuomo expresses again (at the 1:10 mark) his concern about Trump wanting the names of scientists, and Scaramucci deflects a second time, veering the discussion to the existence of global warming itself.

This is where Scaramucci really steps off the path of reality and starts the fire hose of disinformation. Scaramucci continues (1:40)*:

There are scientists that believe that that's not happening.

Ah, this old chestnut. Cuomo, for his part, hammers Scaramucci on the overwhelming consensus by climate scientists that global warming is both real and caused by humans, but Scaramucci is having none of it. He then makes this ridiculous statement (1:54):”

…there was an overwhelming science that the Earth was flat. And there was an overwhelming science that we were the center of the world. A hundred percent, you know, we get a lot of things wrong in the scientific community. You and I both know that. I'm not suggesting that we're not affecting the change. I honestly don't know, I'm not a scientist.

This is utterly wrong. No, there was not overwhelming science that the Earth is flat; the ancient Greeks knew we lived on a sphere more than 2,000 years ago.

And by “center of the world” I guess he means “center of the Universe,” but the best answer to that is precisely how Cuomo replied to these statements: “It’s called ignorance. You learn over time.”

That’s science. It’s not just a collection of facts, but also a process that leads us to understand the Universe and to uncover its true nature. The irony here is that Scaramucci is the one sticking to old ignorance, while accusing science of being wrong.

And then he has the gall to say, “I’m not a scientist,” that old canard used by the GOP when they’re about to cast all of science aside instead of actually listening to what scientists have to say.

Scaramucci’s statements here are nothing more than the zombies of climate change denial, the completely false claims made by deniers that reanimate over again no matter how many times you destroy them.

But then, finally, there's this (6:10):

CUOMO: But you don't accept the science. Let me just move on to something else, though, which is—
SCARAMUCCI: I didn't say that. I said I’m not certain about it—
CUOMO (talking simultaneously): You said you don't know. I'm saying the scientific community does.
SCARAMUCCI: But you're saying that you do, and you're saying the scientific community knows, and I'm saying people have gotten things wrong throughout the 5,500-year history of our planet.
CUOMO (simultaneously): I think you have to distingusihh between predictions and the fundamental proposition.
SCARAMUCCI (simultaneously, corrrecting his last statement): Human history, I should say.

[NOTE: The video embedded above cuts off before Scaramucci corrected himself. You can watch the rest of that conversation here.**]

Scaramucci's comment there is interesting; he at first says the Earth is 5,500 years old, then corrects himself to say human history is that old. First, I would say human history is far older; written history goes back about that far, but we have records of human art going back much farther than that, well over 10,000 years, and arguably much farther back than that.

Even if we give Scaramucci the benefit of the doubt here, the context is important; when discussingscience and Trump it's important to understand that Trump has enveloped himself in people who are creationists as well as climate change deniers; VP Mike Pence is one, Rick Perry appointed creationists to the Texas State School Board over and again, and Ben Carson said evolution is satanic and the Big Bang is a fairy tale.

As I’ve said many times, people have the right to believe what they want—even if it’s based on a fundamentally flawed view of science—but when politicians start using anti-science as a basis for their decision making and policies, then we’re in very, very deep trouble.

America, we have to do better than this. By his words and by his actions Trump has shown he is not only unfit to lead, he is exactly the opposite of fit to lead. He is actively seeking to destroy federal agencies we need to keep our planet clean, our energy production safe, our citizens healthy, and our future secure.

If you don’t trust the science—if you actively go out of your way to dismiss and distort it—then the legislation you will create will reflect that ideology. And that is a disaster, literally, for everyone.

Tip o' the thermometer to Robert McNees.

*Correction, Dec. 16, 2016: This post originally misstated that Scaramucci claimed Trump believes climate change may be human-caused but at that moment he was actually talking about President Obama. It also misspelled Exxon Mobil.

**Correction, Dec. 16, 2016: This post originally contained an incomplete transcript of Scaramucci’s exchange with Cuomo and thus misstated that Scaramucci said the Earth was only 5,500 years old. He said that human history is 5,500 years old. A complete transcript has been added to the post, and the analysis of Scaramucci’s remarks has been updated accordingly.

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