Scott Walker versus science

     Republican presidential candidate, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Saturday, July 18, 2015. (Nati Harnik/AP Photo)

    Republican presidential candidate, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Saturday, July 18, 2015. (Nati Harnik/AP Photo)

    Scott Walker, the alleged Wisconsin wunderkind and newly declared presidential candidate, was buried in the news last week by Donald Trump and the Iran nuclear deal. No biggie. He rebooted yesterday by pandering to the Republican voters who abhor actual science.

    Mindful of his need to win the Iowa caucuses – the neighboring-state contest that’s dominated by religious conservatives – he signed a bill to ban Wisconsin abortions starting at 20 weeks, with no exceptions for women who have been raped or victimized by incest. Nothing quickens conservative pulses faster than their belief that government should intrude on women’s health decisions, and Walker wanted to make sure he checked that box.

    Most noteworthy, however, is what he said during the signing ceremony. He insisted that an abortion ban should start at 20 weeks because that’s when the fetus starts to feel pain. In his words, “At five months, that’s the time when that unborn child can feel pain.”

    Actually, no. That’s not what the science says at all.

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    But politics is politics, and Walker’s top priority is to woo the early-primary voters who think that science is some kind of liberal trick. They think the fetus feels pain at 20 weeks – period, end of story – no matter what the elitists with fancy credentials say. And Walker is happy to stoke that ignorance.

    Which means that he doesn’t know, or doesn’t care, about the scientific studies that have long dismissed the 20-week threshold as a crock.

    The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says, “Here are the scientific facts about fetal pain: A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which starts at roughly 26 weeks. “Although ultrasound monitoring can show intrauterine fetal movement, no studies since 2005 demonstrate fetal recognition of pain.” And yesterday, ACOG singled out Walker’s law: “This is bad medicine….Only a woman and her trusted doctors – not elected officials – should make decisions about her health.”

    Nor does Walker know, or want to know, that the so-called fetal pain pioneers – the people cited most often by the anti-abortion groups – don’t endorse the 20-week threshold either. Two years ago, when the National Right to Life Committee touted these purported pioneers, a New York Times reporter phoned the pioneers to hear what they actually thought. Turned out, they complained that the pro-lifers were distorting their research.

    For instance, Dr. Nicholas Fisk, a former president of the International Fetal Medicine and Surgery Society, said that fetal pain prior to 24 weeks gestation “is not possible at all.” Dr. Bjorn Merker, a neuroscientist, said his research “did not deal with pain specifically,” and that he wasn’t even aware “that I had been cited in connection with the abortion issue.”

    We could go on – a science panel appointed by Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists concluded in 2010: “most neuroscientists believe that the cortex is necessary for pain perception,” therefore “the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks – but Scott Walker knows that to win the nomination, he must dwell in the realm of magical thinking.

    Abortion aside, he similarly dwells there when he’s asked about gay people.

    Two days ago, during an appearance on CNN, Walker was asked whether being gay was a lifestyle choice. He replied: “I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that question. So, I’m saying I don’t know what the answer to that is.”

    Wow. Wake this guy up. Only fans of Breaking Bad will get this reference: We need Jesse Pinkman to tell Walker, “Yo, bitch! Science!”

    Because it has been settled science for decades that gays are hard-wired to be who they are. The American Medical Association, the American Association of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, and the rest of the major accredited medical groups – not to mention the top researchers who have published studies since the early ’90s – have all concluded that being gay is biology, not “choice.”

    It’s hard to believe that Walker hasn’t heard about this science during his two-plus decades on the government payroll; heck, even the conservative Washington Times concluded, in a story last winter, that with respect to sexual orientation, “modern science is leaning toward prenatal chemistry, genetic and hormonal factors.” Indeed, we’d like to believe that an aspiring president would voice some respect for the scientific method. As the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists remind us, “Facts are very important.”

    But hey. Scientists and factualists don’t have to run in Republican primaries.


    And hey – we have a new Republican candidate!

    Ohio Gov. John Kasich jumped in today. I think he’s number 16. But ask yourself whether this guy has a prayer in the GOP primaries: He expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and, back when he was a congressman, he voted for an assault-weapons ban.

    But back in 1999, when Kasich first tested the presidential waters, a bunch of us reporters were having lunch in Des Moines when he stopped by our table for some chitchat. What I remember most was his long monologue about how much he loved the Grateful Dead. So there’s that.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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