Elephants, Arctic, Climate Change
Elephants on ice. Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Kathryn Hansen / NASA / Flickr, Taiwai Yun / Flickr (CC BY 2.0), Chris Eason / Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Do the statements on climate science that GOP candidates make on the campaign trail hold up under scientific review? Absolutely not, a panel of experts said. In fact, one of the leading Republicans seems to understands science just slightly better than a rock.

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When it comes to the subject of climate, going against science is a badge of honor for many Republicans. They seem to be trying to outdo each other in denying the conclusions of the vast majority of scientists — that climate change is real and manmade.

That might work in a presidential primary, but not in a classroom. All but one of the GOP candidates would have to be held back a year — or, in the case of Ted Cruz, be sent back to kindergarten.

Only Jeb Bush might have passed a climate science quiz — but just barely. The others would have brought home grades likely to leave them grounded for a while.

In this case, it wasn’t a teacher doing the grading but rather a panel of eight climate and biological scientists assembled by the Associated Press and chosen by professional scientific societies.

The statements they were evaluating for accuracy were stripped of names to rule out any bias. It must be noted that the panelists are among the vast majority of scientists who believe in manmade climate change, putting them at odds from the start with the positions of the Republican presidential candidates.

In the end, Hillary Clinton ended up with the top grade of 94 while Cruz brought up the rear with a score of 6.

Cruz “Understands Less about Science than Average Kindergartner”

“This individual understands less about science (and climate change) than the average kindergartner,” wrote Michael Mann, a Pennsylvania State University meteorology professor, in response to Cruz’s statements.

“That sort of ignorance would be dangerous in a doorman, let alone a president.”

While all eight experts ranked Cruz lowest, he is not alone in the academic cellar. Ben Carson scored a 13, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio 21. That quartet is leading the race for the GOP nomination.

Being out of touch with the scientific community and the rest of the world on this issue is likely no detriment for Republicans in the primary. After all, according to a multi-nation study published last month, the GOP is the lone conservative party examined that denies the existence of climate change.

At the other end of the spectrum, Clinton and Martin O’Malley got an “A.” Bernie Sanders received the lowest score among candidates running for the Democratic nomination — but his grade of 87 was still more than 20 points higher than Bush’s 64. Chris Christie was the only other Republican with a score above 50 (54). John Kasich scored 47, Rand Paul 38 and Carly Fiorina received 28 points on climate science.

Trump’s Comments “Nonsense”

The comments from Trump, the Republican frontrunner, drew some particularly interesting responses.

“Nonsense,” said Jim McCarthy of Harvard, a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in response to one of Trump’s statements.

“The candidate does not appear to have any commitment to accuracy,” commented Emmanuel Vincent, a climate scientist at the University of California, Merced.

While denying climate change may help Republicans win the primary, it could become a drawback in the general election, because a most Americans now believe that climate change is real and, more important, most believe it is manmade.


  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a writer, editor, former congressional reporter, and director of the WhoWhatWhy Mentor Apprentice Program. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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