Ted Cruz's junk science: GOP candidate denies climate change while citing debunked data and touting his inherited math skills

Texas senator calls climate change a "theology" and a pseudo-scientific scheme to give liberals more power

Published December 10, 2015 7:09PM (EST)

  (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

Most of the Republican presidential candidates are either vaguely skeptical of climate change or desperate to avoid talking about it. Climate change has become so ideologically charged that merely acknowledging the science is a political hazard in the GOP. It’s no surprise, then, that Republican candidates would prefer not to deal with it all.

Ted Cruz is an exception.

From the beginning of his campaign, Cruz has been conspicuously opposed to climate science, which he insists is a liberal phantasm. On March 24th (the week Cruz announced his candidacy), he gave an interview to The Texas Tribune in which he solidified himself as the intrepid science-denier in the field:

“On the global warming alarmists, anyone who actually points to the evidence that disproves their apocalyptical claims, they don’t engage in reasoned debate. What do they do? They scream, ‘You’re a denier.’ They brand you a heretic. Today, the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers. It used to be…accepted scientific wisdom that the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.”

Cruz continued:

“If you look at global warming alarmists, they don’t like to look at the actual facts and the data. The satellite data demonstrate that there has been no significant warming whatsoever for 17 years. Now that’s a real problem for the global warming alarmists. Because all those computer models on which this whole issue is based predicted significant warming, and yet the satellite data show it ain’t happening.”

There’s a lot of sophistry to unpack in those two paragraphs. To begin with, it’s absurd to equate people who accept climate change with “flat-Earthers.” There was never a scientific consensus on the earth’s flatness, because that’s a pre-scientific intuition, an intuition that was later falsified by actual science.

Secondly, Cruz calls Galileo the world’s first Flat-earther skeptic, but the earth was known to be spherical at least as early as the 3rd century BC, when Greek astronomers proved it (Side note: Galileo was born in 1564). Galileo was labeled a heretic not by scientists but by the church because he affirmed that the Earth revolved around the sun, not the other way around. Cruz is educated enough to know this, but he isn’t making a serious argument here.

To appear interested in the facts, Cruz references satellite data showing “that there has been no significant warming whatsoever for 17 years.” What he doesn’t say is that his claim is based on a single study, conducted at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, which has since been discredited because it failed to account for the fact that satellites drift in their orbits over time, an error known to distort temperature records. Conveniently, Cruz ignores the findings of NOAA and NASA and the global scientific community which show that the earth is, in fact, warming. Even Exxon Mobil now accepts the reality of climate change.

So, either Ted Cruz, a lawyer turned politician, is wrong about climate change or nearly every major country and scientific authority is wrong – which seems more likely?

Despite all of the contrary evidence, Cruz continues to peddle his casuistic non-arguments. In an interview with NPR yesterday, Cruz basically restated his claims from March, only with an interesting caveat:

“Well, I believe that public policy should follow the science and follow the data. I am the son of two mathematicians and computer programmers and scientists. In the debate over global warming, far too often politicians in Washington - and for that matter, a number of scientists receiving large government grants - disregard the science and data and instead push political ideology…The scientific evidence doesn't support global warming. For the last 18 years, the satellite data - we have satellites that monitor the atmosphere. The satellites that actually measure the temperature showed no significant warming whatsoever…Climate change is the perfect pseudoscientific theory for a big government politician who wants more power. Why? Because it is a theory that can never be disproven.”

Cruz then unironically fumed that “Anyone who questions the science – who even points to the satellite data – they call you a, quote, ‘denier.’ Denier is not the language of science. Denier is the language of religion…It’s [climate change] treated as a theology.” Even for a shameless rhetorician like Cruz, this is remarkably disingenuous.

Cruz claims to have inherited an ability to interpret science from his parents and then immediately confuses the political debate surrounding climate change with the actual science of climate change. Scientists aren’t in the business of labeling non-scientists and politicians “deniers” – though perhaps they should be. Scientists develop and test hypotheses, following the data wherever it leads. Belief and heresy have no place in a scientific context: There’s the evidence (the facts) and a working theory or framework that explains it. Cruz fatuously uses the phrase “accepted scientific wisdom,” but it’s utterly meaningless. There is no “accepted” wisdom in science. The best explanation we have is cautiously accepted until new evidence and a better theory supplants it – wisdom has nothing to do with it.

And the reality, confirmed time and again, is that the earth is warming – that part of the debate is over. But Cruz and his ideological bedfellows won’t accept that. Instead, they distract and obfuscate, pretending to care about the science, only to ignore it when it contradicts their narratives. Meanwhile, the world burns and Americans continue to debate whether or not a problem exists at all.

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By Sean Illing

Sean Illing is a USAF veteran who previously taught philosophy and politics at Loyola and LSU. He is currently Salon's politics writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Read his blog here. Email at silling@salon.com.

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Aol_on Climate Change Climate Denialism Climate Science Exxon Mobil Global Warming Npr Ted Cruz