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Rick Perry: Science Enthusiast

By Taylor Marvin

Via Kevin Drum, here’s an illuminating exchange between Governor Perry and a young student inquiring if Perry knows the age of the Earth:

But look at that hair!

“How old do I think the earth is. You know what, I don’t have any idea. I know it’s pretty old — so it goes back a long long ways. I’m not sure anybody actually knows completely and absolutely how long ago the earth is.”

I think it’s obvious here that Perry doesn’t have any idea about the age and the planet is and is trying to cover for it, and is simultaneously attempting to avoid offending Young Earth creationists  without actually claiming the planet is 6,000 years old. What’s particularly interesting about this response is that Perry was clumsy to allow himself to be drawn into this statement in the first place — the age of the Earth isn’t exactly common knowledge, and I can’t imagine anyone holding it against Perry if he admitted to simply not knowing. Liberals have been attempting to shape Perry’s perceived unintelligence into the centerpiece of their nascent campaign against him, but I find it hard to believe that Perry’s critics could credibly pretend that knowing the age of the planet was a requirement for intelligence. Rather than evidence of Perry’s stupidity, this exchange is more of an example of his fear of appearing at all vulnerable — rather than admit to ignorance on a specific question that has nothing to do with the business of being president, Perry would rather claim that no one knows information that he’s unaware of. This is troubling in a potential president. Much of the disastrous failure of the Bush administration in the lead up to the Iraq war to consider evidence that contradicted their best-case assumptions was due to this same tendency to avoid even privately admitting to doubt or intellectual uncertainty at all costs. This aspect of Governor Perry’s character does not reflect well on his suitability for the presidency.

Of course, scientists are very aware of the age of the planet:

Update: Phil Plait has a good take on the second half of this exchange, and how Perry’s (false) assertion that “in Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools” implies he either doesn’t understand or respect the 1st Amendment.

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