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Over at Scientific American we have a list of a number of public admissions of scientific illiteracy that I thought would be fun to display here. For more examples, just do a quick Google search or visit a site like Sense about Science, who makes a list like this every year.

If anything, this should prove one of our skeptical ten commandments: always question those in authority, because many times they have no idea what they are talking about.

Popular Illiteracy

Michele Bachmann is particularly crazy, so here are a few from her:

Michele Bachmann on the HPV vaccine:

“I will tell you that I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Fla., after the debate. She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter…”

There is absolutely no proven link between vaccines and mental retardation. Perhaps she needs a few vaccination myths debunked.

Michele Bachmann on carbon dioxide:

“Carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful. But there isn’t even one study that can be produced that shows carbon dioxide is a harmful gas.”

No one said CO2 is a poison. But any chemical, even sugar, is harmful in the correct amounts. For example, too much CO2 in the air will kill you, as well as further the effects of global warming. That sounds fairly harmful.

Michele Bachmann on intelligent design:

“There are hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel Prizes, who believe in intelligent design.”

There are no reputable publishing biologists who take creationism seriously. It is not science, and it is only perpetuated by cranks and those who have no idea how biology works.

Rick Perry on his relationship to Galileo:

“Well I do agree that the science is not settled on this. The idea that we would put America’s economy at jeopardy based on … science that’s not settled yet. … Galileo got outvoted for a spell.”

Of course the difference here is that Galileo had the science and evidence on his side, Perry does not.

Sally Kern, Oklahoma State Rep. (R), presenting some skewed social statistics:

“Studies show that no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted more than, you know, a few decades. So it’s the death knell of this country.”—March 11, 2008

“While terrorism has killed more than 3,000 people in the continental United States in the last 15 years, homosexual behavior has killed more than 100,000. It’s a danger to life. It is a danger to health.”—October 8, 2008

“We have a high percentage of blacks in prison, and that’s tragic, but are they in prison because they are black or because they don’t want to study as hard in school? I’ve taught school, and I saw a lot of people of color who didn’t study hard because they said the government would take care of them.”—April 27, 2011

I’m fairly certain that there is no evidence behind any of these claims. Seems like the posturing of a racist bigot to me.

Rep. Hank Johnson, (D–Ga.), explaining why he was concerned for the U.S. territory of Guam if a new Marine contingent was sent to the island:

“My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize.”—March 25, 2010


Fox News host Bill O’Reilly recently speaking with David Silverman, president of American Atheists:

“I’ll tell you why [religion is] not a scam, in my opinion,” he told Silverman. “Tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can’t explain that. You can’t explain why the tide goes in.”—January 4th 2011

Gravity, Bill. The explanation you are looking for is gravity.

An article in O, The Oprah Magazine on a healer who calls himself “John of God” is overflowing with bad science. Susan Casey, the editor of O and author of the story, wrote:

“Despite widespread skepticism, evidence shows that energy healing not only exists but can be deeply powerful. Traditional Eastern treatments like acupuncture and Reiki act to strengthen the body’s life force, known as chi or prana. Prayer as a conduit for healing is a long-held religious ritual, along with the laying on of hands.”—December 2010 issue of O.

The evidence referred to here is nonexistent. Either there is no study, the study was poorly designed/controlled, or this is all New Age mumbo jumbo. No science here.

Model Heather Mills, promoting her newly opened vegan restaurant, told The Guardian just how unhealthy she thinks meat is:

“[Meat] sits in your colon for 40 years and putrefies, and eventually gives you the illness you die of. And that is a fact.”—July 19, 2009

I wonder what she thinks comes out of your behind 24 hours or so after you eat meat.

To the dismay of metallurgists all over the world, Rosie O’Donnell claimed that the 9/11 attacks had to have been an inside job, because heat simply cannot melt metal.

“I do believe that it’s the first time in history that fire has ever melted steel.”—March 29, 2007

Again, wow. There is a museum somewhere filled with armor, swords, and guns (for example) just waiting to make her look like an idiot.

To prove that it’s not just U.S. celebrities and politicians who trip up, here’s then–prime minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien, trying to explain what proof is:

“A proof is a proof. What kind of proof? It’s a proof. A proof is proof. And when you have a good proof, it’s because it is proven.”—September 5, 2002

Yep, no idea what he is talking about.

Last but not least, cage fighter Alex Reid has some interesting ideas about sex and sports:

“It’s actually very good for a man to have unprotected sex as long as he doesn’t ejaculate. Because I believe that all that semen has a lot of nutrition. A tablespoon of semen has your equivalent of steak, eggs, lemons and oranges. I am reabsorbing it into my body and it makes me go, ‘Raaaaahh!’.”—April 8, 2010

I guess testosterone can drive illiteracy too.