Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal dodged three questions on Tuesday about whether he personally believes the theory of evolution explains the presence of complex life on Earth. "The reality is I'm not an evolutionary biologist," the Republican governor and possible 2016 presidential hopeful told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Maybe a memo went out to Republicans, telling them how to respond to questions about science.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), for example, was asked how old he thinks the planet is. "I'm not a scientist, man," he replied. Gov. Rick Scott (R) was asked what he intended to do about the climate crisis threatening Florida. "I'm not a scientist," he responded. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was asked about the climate deniers in his conference. "I'm not qualified to debate the science," he replied.
And now we have another member of the chorus.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but Jindal was a biology major at an Ivy League university before becoming a Rhodes Scholar. The notion that the Louisiana Republican has doubts about evolutionary biology is very hard to believe.
Which raises the related question of why in the world Republicans keep using this ridiculous response when asked easy questions.
Jindal actually finds himself in an awkward position. The governor is probably aware of the fact that Republican voters have become increasingly hostile towards modern biology in recent years, and as the Louisianan prepares a national campaign, he can't deliberately alienate his own party's far-right base.
If he says he accepts biology, Jindal might lose some support from conservatives, If the governor says he rejects modern science, Jindal would come across as a bit of a loon. And so, he's left with a pathetic dodge: "I'm not an evolutionary biologist."
As political spin goes, this entire tack -- not just from Jindal, but from his entire party -- is unsustainable.
The fact remains that one need not be a scientist to have rudimentary beliefs about the world around us. One need not be a geologist to believe in plate tectonics. One need not be a physicist to believe electromagnetism is real. One need not be a medical doctor to have some basic sense of what's good and bad for people's health.
And one need not be an evolutionary biologist to know that evolution is real or a climate scientist to believe global warming is real.
As we've discussed before, the question isn't whether politicians are scientists; the question is whether politicians are prepared to believe scientists.
Rebecca Leber flagged a great quote from President Obama in June: "I mean, I'm not a scientist either, but I've got this guy, John Holdren, he's a scientist. I've got a bunch of scientists at NASA and I've got a bunch of scientists at EPA. I'm not a doctor either, but if a bunch of doctors tell me that tobacco can cause lung cancer then I'll say, 'OK!' It's not that hard. I'm not a scientist, but I read the science."
Well, at least someone in politics does.