2016 was a year of remarkable scientific breakthroughs. A century after Albert Einstein proposed his general theory of relativity, researchers proved him right when, for the first time ever, they were able to observe gravitational waves produced by two black holes that collided 1.3 billion years ago. Astronomers discovered a potentially habitable planet just 4.3 light-years from Earth. And scientists even came up with a good reason to put a bunch of adorable dogs in an MRI machine.
Unfortunately, there was a lot of anti-science nonsense this year, too—much of it from our political leaders. On issues ranging from climate change to criminal justice, our president-elect was a notable offender. But some of his rivals joined in as well. So did his nominees. And Congress. And members of the media. Here, in no particular order, are some of the most appalling examples. You can let us know in the comments which one you think is the worst.
Hurricane Matthew Truthers
In early October, as Hurricane Matthew approached the southeastern United States and officials ordered mass evacuations, a group of right-wing commentators alleged that the Obama administration was conspiring to exaggerate hurricane forecasts in order to scare the public about climate change. On October 5, Rush Limbaugh saidhurricane forecasting often involved “politics” because “the National Hurricane Center is part of the National Weather Service, which is part of the Commerce Department, which is part of the Obama administration, which by definition has been tainted.” He added, however, that Matthew itself was “a serious bad storm” and hadn’t been politicized.
The next day, Matt Drudge took the theory a step further, tweeting, “The deplorables are starting to wonder if govt has been lying to them about Hurricane Matthew intensity to make exaggerated point on climate.” He added, “Hurricane center has monopoly on data. No way of verifying claims.” Drudge’s tweets were widely condemned as dangerous and irresponsible. They also caught the attention of conspiracy kingpin Alex Jones:
— Alex Jones (@RealAlexJones) October 6, 2016
A day later, Limbaugh also went full Matthew Truther, declaring it “inarguable” that the government is “hyping Hurricane Matthew to sell climate change.” Matthew would ultimately kill more than 40 people in the United States and hundreds in Haiti. It caused billions of dollars’ worth of damage.
Congress Won’t Lift the Gun Research Ban
Gun violence is a public health crisis that kills 33,000 people in the United States each year, injures another 80,000, and, according to an award-winning Mother Jones investigation, costs $229 billion annually. But as the Annals of Internal Medicine explained in a 2015 editorial, Congress—under pressure from the National Rifle Association—has for years essentially banned federal dollars from being used to study the causes of, and possible solutions to, this epidemic:
Two years ago, we called on physicians to focus on the public health threat of guns. The profession’s relative silence was disturbing but in part explicable by our inability to study the problem. Political forces had effectively banned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other scientific agencies from funding research on gun-related injury and death. The ban worked: A recent systematic review of studies evaluating access to guns and its association with suicide and homicide identified no relevant studies published since 2005.
Following the June 12 terrorist shootings that killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Democrats tried once again to lift the research ban. But as the Hill reported, “Republicans blocked two amendments that would have allowed the [CDC] to study gun-related deaths. Neither had a recorded vote.”