POLITICS
10/03/2014 11:28 am ET Updated Oct 03, 2014

Mitch McConnell Pulls Out The 'I'm Not A Scientist' Dodge On Climate Change

ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined to elaborate on his skepticism about man-made climate change Thursday, pulling out the well-worn GOP excuse that he's not an expert.

"I'm not a scientist, I am interested in protecting Kentucky's economy, I'm interested in having low cost electricity," said McConnell Thursday in an interview with the editorial board of The Cincinnati Enquirer.

In August, McConnell gave a similar response on the issue, telling Politico, "Each side has their scientists, and they can all go in and argue." He was a bit more direct in March, telling The Cincinnati Enquirer that "for everybody who thinks [the planet is] warming, I can find somebody who thinks it isn't."

Actual scientists have weighed in, however, and have determined that man-made global warming is very real.

Dodging a direct answer on science-related questions by pointing out the obvious -- that they're not scientists themselves -- has become a popular tactic for Republican politicians.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) demurred in May when asked whether he believed in climate change, stating "I'm not a scientist" and trying to change the conversation to what his administration had done about flooding.

In 2012, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) refused to take a position on the age of the planet Earth, saying, "I'm not a scientist, man." (Scientists have long estimated the planet's age as 4.54 billion years.)

In September, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) sidestepped a question on evolution by saying, "The reality is I'm not an evolutionary biologist." Jindal is right that he's technically not an evolutionary biologist, but he is a Rhodes Scholar who studied biology at Brown University.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), who is a scientist, went to the House floor on May 30 and pointed that even non-scientists are perfectly able to weigh in on climate change:

"Yesterday, Speaker Boehner said he was not qualified to debate the science of climate change, but he was confident that all plans to deal with climate change would hurt jobs and our economy," Holt said.

"Mr. Speaker, I am a scientist, but that doesn't uniquely qualify me to debate climate change. As Members of Congress, we rely on the expertise of others to inform our decision making. And I agree with the overwhelming consensus among scientists: the climate is changing largely as a result of human activities, and we can and must act now."

President Barack Obama has in the past mocked Republicans who use the "I'm not a scientist" dodge. In June, he joked: "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, okay. Right? I mean, it's not that hard."

Jonathan Chait at New York magazine wrote in May that using this line allows Republicans to avoid alienating their science-skeptic base, while at the same time not appearing completely untethered from reality.

"'I'm not a scientist' allows Republicans to avoid conceding the legitimacy of climate science while also avoiding the political downside of openly branding themselves as haters of science," wrote Chait. "The beauty of the line is that it implicitly concedes that scientists possess real expertise, while simultaneously allowing you to ignore that expertise altogether."

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