Politicians are known for saying, claiming, and promising things. Lots of things.
And while we’d like to hope that most of the things they say are true, it’s not unheard of for a politician to tout far-out claims in support of their agendas.
Unfortunately, in some of these cases, science becomes their favorite punching bag — and citizens end up suffering as a result.
Here are some examples of government officials around the world who have gone on record to back their beliefs with pseudoscience.
Matteo Salvini vs. vaccines
In 2018, Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini said that compulsory vaccination is “useless and in many cases dangerous.” Meanwhile, populist leader Beppe Grillo believes that mandatory vaccination presents more benefits for pharmaceutical companies than governments, ultimately supporting the few elites.
Much has been said about the impact of active vaccination campaigns. They have led to the reduction and even elimination of certain vaccine-preventable diseases in many countries, including the Philippines. Studies have also shown that the claim linking the measles vaccine to autism is nothing but a load of baloney.
Italy has since taken significant steps towards child immunization, including banning unvaccinated children from school. The Lorenzin law, which requires children to receive the polio, MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella), and chickenpox vaccine before enrolling at school, has reportedly had a positive impact on the country’s vaccination rate. Now, they are working towards attaining the 95 percent target set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Just in time, too, as the world may experience a massive surge in these diseases less than fifty years from now if we don’t start taking the anti-vax problem seriously.
Yoweri Museveni vs. the LGBT community
Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has been using his own brand of “science” to discredit and penalize the LGBT community, in a desire to “protect Ugandans from social deviants.”
In 2014, he signed into law a bill that imposed heavy punishment for gay sex and same-sex marriage, as well as people who “promote” homosexuality — a bill that was annulled by the courts, six months later. In an interview with CNN right after signing the bill, he made his views abundantly clear. “What sort of people are they? I never knew what they were doing. I’ve just been told recently and what they do is terrible. Disgusting.”
Recognizing that this is a grave example of how ignoring science leads governments to make harmful decisions, both the Ugandan National Academy of Sciences (Unas) and the Academy of Science of South Africa endorsed an extensive 2015 report debunking unscientific claims on homosexuality. In the report, experts agreed that a person’s stance on gender identity and biological gender expression cannot be “unnatural,” and that repressive laws preventing certain groups of people such as homosexuals from accessing healthcare facilities can contribute to the spread of STDs.
To this day, however, certain Ugandan officials continue to condemn homosexuality as a criminal act, and even uphold the mistaken belief that homosexuality is an infectious disease that should be punishable by criminal consequences.
Donald Trump vs. wind turbines
Earlier this year, United States president Donald Trump indignantly pronounced his disdain for wind turbines. He specifically mentioned how the noise they create is cancerous, despite there being absolutely no scientific precedent for this claim. Other critics of wind turbine operations have cited electromagnetic fields (EMF), shadow flicker, low-frequency noise, and infrasound as health dangers.
However, there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that wind turbines can cause cancer. In a 2014 report, experts affirmed that wind turbines pose no significant human health threat — a conclusion supported by a study published by University of Iowa researchers in January 2019. “The weight of evidence suggests that when sited properly, wind turbines are not related to adverse health,” said the researchers in the 2014 study.
Donald Trump vs. climate science
Unfortunately, President Trump has had a long history of making pseudoscientific claims. His comments on climate change, however, are perhaps the most distressing.
For starters, he asserts that he “[doesn’t] know that it’s manmade,” despite the US government’s very own Climate Science Special Report clearly stating that “it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” and that “there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence” over the last century. (Also worth noting is the fact that this report was published under his administration.)
Furthermore, Trump believes that whatever has changed will “change back again.” Unfortunately, according to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, temperatures will not stop rising unless we take drastic and urgent action.
While it may be amusing to listen to the pseudoscientific claims of these politicians and many others like them, the very real danger of their governments misusing science to propagate hatred, a false sense of security, or misinformation is hardly a laughing matter. We deserve better, and we certainly have the right to expect and demand better from our political leaders. —Co-written by Lia Angela Bote and Mikael Angelo Francisco
Cover photo: Gulf Times (Salvini); Reuters (Trump); NMG (Musevini)