09/18/2011 06:12 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

I Knew Bachmann Would Double Down on Antiscience

Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann is doubling down on her antiscience attack against GOP presidential frontrunner Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Bachmann appeared to have scored points at the Tampa, FL Tea Party debate by attacking Perry over an executive order requiring 6th grade girls to be immunized against human papillomavirus, a leading cause of cervical cancer, calling it "flat out wrong" to force girls to get a "government injection."

But then on Tuesday Bachmann appeared to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by claiming on the Today show that "I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Florida, after the debate. She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter."

That's false. Thirty five million preteen girls have been given the vaccine, which is most effective before the onset of sexual activity. There have been almost no cases of reported side effects, and none of what Bachmann termed "mental retardation," an archaic term that is now considered offensive to people with mental disabilities.

The American Academy of Pediatrics immediately issued a statement saying the comment had no basis in scientific fact. Bioethicists Steve Miles of the University of Minnesota and Art Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania offered financial rewards of up to $10,000 for verifiable medical evidence that the vaccine caused the child's mental retardation. "Michele Bachmann has decided to create a public health panic by bypassing the literature to advance her own career," Miles told me.

I know Michele Bachmann. I live in her district and my wife is the only Democrat to successfully be elected to the state house at a time when Bachmann was the state senator in the same district. Because of this I doubted she would back down -- to Bachmann, changing your position when you encounter new data -- considered a virtue by many -- is tantamount to defeat.

As expected, Bachmann refused to apologize, and then she doubled down on her position, getting wholesomely made up and posting a video statement on her campaign site accusing Perry once again of forcing girls to take the injection in exchange for campaign contributions:

That is also false. Perry's order was overturned by the Texas state legislature before it could be implemented. But even had it been implemented, the order, which was supported by medical experts, had an opt-out clause, so at no time would anyone have been forced or required to take the vaccine -- just encouraged.

This is a good example of the critical flaw in Bachmann's thought processes that leads her to fall victim to antiscience ideological positions. She takes stands impulsively when they fit her predetermined ideology, she pushes forward aggressively and single-mindedly to expand the intellectual argument, but she becomes so wedded to her position that reality or knowledge or data or science or outside experts no longer matter. All that matters is winning the argument -- even if she has to redefine reality to do it. That kind of thinking is common in teenagers but dangerous in elected officials. It leads to failed policies and authoritarian government, and should be antithetical to those who value America's democratic republic.

Pre-order Shawn Lawrence Otto's important new book: Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America, "a gripping analysis of America's anti-science crisis." --Starred Kirkus Review. Like him on Facebook.