Republicans Claim Only "Scientists" Can Understand Climate Change

"I'm not a scientist," Republican John Boener told reporters last week, to explain why he couldn't discuss climate change. This seems to be a new rhetorical strategy deployed by Republicans who don't want to comment on the fact that their stance on the environment is currently more reactionary than the Pentagon's.

Atmospheric scientist Donald Wuebbles, coordinating lead author for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2013 assessment report, said that he strongly disagreed. He told Emily Atkin of Think Progress that experts prepared the National Climate Assessment Report to explain climate change in a way that can be "readily understood by any policymaker." As for Boener demurring that he simply isn't "qualified" to talk about climate change, Wuebbles said, "Personally, I don't think it proper for any American to use that argument."

But the "I'm not a scientist" line is a favorite trope in Republican rhetoric. Several years ago, Justice Antonin Scalia noted scornfully to council, "I told you I'm not a scientist," during oral arguments for a case about regulating carbon emissions. This was after dismissing the idea that air pollution had anything to with polluting a layer of the atmosphere called the "troposphere." Michelle Bachman has reassured the press that she's not a scientist, despite her assertion that the HPV vaccine causes "mental retardation."

Former Vice President Dick Cheney used Boener's exact words back in 2007, in an interview about climate change on ABC. "I don't know. I'm not a scientist," he said at one point, though he asserted that there is "no scientific consensus" on whether humans have caused climate change. This was particularly weird, given that at the time, scientists agreed that it was 90% likely that humans had caused climate change.

And then there's Bob Inglis (R-SC), ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, who prefaced some remarks at a 2010 hearing on climate change by saying, "I'm not a scientist; I just play one in Committee."

As the growing numbers of citizen scientists demonstrate, you don't need a Ph.D. (or even a high school diploma) to understand and practice science. Still, these politicians seem to believe only experts are capable of making decisions about "scientific" matters like climate change. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that might be true. Why do they continue to make those decisions every day, without consulting the very scientists they seem to value so highly?

(Thanks to Mark Strauss for supplying "I am not a scientist" citations.)