Asked about whether he agrees with scientists that humans are changing the climate, GOP candidate for MA governor says, I absolutely am not smart enough to believe I know the answer to that question.

The argument about whether conservatives are condescending to liberals or vice versa is now officially over.  Thanks to the emerging litmus test of the right wing on climate science, conservatives are now questioning their own intellectual capabilities — they are self-condescending!

The Boston Globe buried this nugget last week:

GOP gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker has a reputation as a smart guy, but he said last week he wasn’t smart enough to form an opinion on the hottest environmental topic of the day. Climate change: Does he believe in it, or doesn’t he?

“I’m not saying I believe in it. I’m not saying I don’t,” he told the Globe on Friday, a day after dodging the question at a public forum on Thursday. “You’re asking me to take a position on something I don’t know enough know enough about.”

He added, “I absolutely am not smart enough to believe I know the answer to that question.


That should be his bumpersticker:  “I absolutely am not smart enough.”

Baker’s bio says he graduated Harvard College, later “served as Corporate Communications Director for the Massachusetts High Technology Council,” and then “decided to return to school in 1984 and earned an MBA from Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University in 1986.”

Sure climate change is complicated issue — about as complicated as, say, governing a state!  Baker is a profile in non-courage:

Asked during a speech at Suffolk Law School on Thursday whether he agrees with the “scientific majority” that climate change is caused by human activities, Baker ducked.

“I don’t think whether I believe that or not matters in this conversation,” Baker said.

Blue Mass Group has more detail on the Suffolk incident:

Speaking at the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service at Suffolk University Law School on Thursday February 5th, Charlie was snowing the crowd under with his intellectual firepower.

An admiring Globe scribe remarked on Baker’s “somewhat apologetic tutorial on energy pricing” and told how he “talked at length about regulatory overhaul, duplicative bureaucracy, and the esprit de corps he experienced at a once-foundering health plan.”  He practically sounded professorial!  But then Charlie faced a question about global warming: “I don’t think whether I believe that or not matters in this conversation,” Baker said.  He added, “I can get eight professors from MIT on both sides of this issue and no one in this room will walk away understanding what they said about climate change.”

That global warming stuff is way too complicated for anyone to understand, especially Charlie Baker. It’s a good thing he’s willing to settle for something easy like being Governor of Massachusetts.

Actually, there is precisely one MIT professor trying to obfuscate the issue and he has been utterly debunked again and again (see Lindzen debunked again: New scientific study finds his paper downplaying dangers of human-caused warming is “seriously in error”).

The other seven MIT professors would share with you their analysis — and it ain’t pretty:

M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F “” with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F

I’ll end with Blue Mass Group’s questions:

… what else is he not smart enough to know or to do properly?So, we are left to wonder:

Is Baker actually as ignorant as he claims to be?

Is he really not “smart enough?”

Or, has he simply decided that it’s good politics to pretend to be stupid?  (If Baker took truth serum before he answered the Globe does anyone honestly believe that he would maintain this pretense that he does not believe in global warming?  Yes-it’s sad but true that some, though not all Republicans (witness the exceptions like Lindsey Graham) have decided it’s good fun to reject science, but Baker headed an organization vitally dependent on the scientific progress.

So which is it: not smart enough or intellectually dishonest?  Could someone explain why either quality would make him well-suited to be governor?

Could someone explain that?

24 Responses to Asked about whether he agrees with scientists that humans are changing the climate, GOP candidate for MA governor says, I absolutely am not smart enough to believe I know the answer to that question.

  1. Dennis says:

    In one sense, the “I’m not smart enough” is correct, while in another, it’s an opportunity for a cop-out. As a non-scientist who has read through the IPCC technical summary and many of the chapters, it is very easy to get lost in technical details I do not understand. That is the nature of many scientific inquiries in our modern era. Unfortunately, the deniers can use the “I’m not smart enough” as a way to also say “gee — this thing is so complicated no one really understands what is going on.” That’s where they cue denier nonsense talk from people like Watts and Monckton and trap people into falling for the “the science isn’t clear” argument.

    They proper way to combat that is to avoid the trap of being asked to give a quick answer to a complex question. That means that more speakers need to start the debate with something like this: “I can answer your question, but for me to give an understandable answer will take about fifteen minutes. Do you have the time for that long a response? If you don’t, I recommend you read the following …”

  2. MarkB says:

    “Or, has he simply decided that it’s good politics to pretend to be stupid? ”

    That’s more or less correct. In a red state, it might be good politics to be a denier. Even in MA, he still has to appease his base. Acknowledging the virtual consensus on the topic would tick some of them off. At the same time, he doesn’t want to say anything that turns off the broader electorate down the road, such as going all-out Inhofe.

    There is of course a risk to his response. While he can play it as being “humble”, imagine if he gave that response to a question of whether or not smoking is harmful to health. He could even use that same MIT scientist Lindzen as evidence of disagreement among scientists on the issue.

  3. Jade in San Francisco says:

    Very depressing. It’s a sad day in America when our elected officials, or potentially elected officials, have to pretend to be less intelligent than they actually are to get elected. Oh wait, this is America. Only in America can anthropogenic climate change deniers have lock jaw control over people running for office.

    On a brighter note ABC News is actually back in the business of journalism!

  4. Peter Sergienko says:

    Charlie Baker’s answers seem clearly political, but this incident strikes me fundamentally as a missed opportunity for a tough follow up question by a well prepared journalist.

    As you note, MIT faculty are not split on this issue. The MIT modeling study you’ve reported on is substantively sobering. Moreover, as a non-scientist, I found the MIT webpage reporting on the study to be especially useful because it explains the modeling process clearly in laymen’s terms. I added the MIT link to my favorites so I could share it immediately with my local newspaper’s editors whenever they publish articles or editorial comments that unfairly trash computer models and projections.

    Because the Globe’s follow-up question occured the day after the Suffolk event, one might think that an enterprising journalist would check out the MIT website to see how it fit with Mr. Baker’s claimed scientific toss-up. Instead of asking Mr. Baker if he believed in climate change, the Globe reporter could have briefly summarized the MIT study and asked Mr. Baker if he knew about its findings, if he thought the findings were relevant to the people of Massachusetts and how, and if he thought the study was consistent with his claim that MIT faculty were equally split on the issue. Are Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and their staffs the only “journalists” who think like this any more?

  5. Jeff Huggins says:

    Also — i.e., in addition to thoughts in the post itself — what he says IS actually condescending.

    When a reasonably smart person, as he probably is, says something like, “I absolutely am not smart enough to believe I know the answer to that question”, part of the subtext is something like this: “I AM smarter than anyone who thinks he is smart enough to know about the matter.” Very few people actually think of themselves as “not smart enough” or call themselves “not smart enough” except when they mean, by making that statement, in part, that they ARE smarter than those who think they know something.

    According to what I read about the remarks here, I take them to be not only evasive, but also condescending. They are condescending in a subtle — but powerful — way.

    The press should also press him with clearer and persistent questions: “If you are saying that you are not smart enough to understand the science yourself, are you also saying that you ARE smart enough to disagree with the 99% of relevant scientists who say the problem is a real one, or to ignore their warnings?”

    This stuff has to be “called out”, and the press need to be clear and persistent.


  6. Leif says:

    Great stuff Folks. You getting all this Joe?
    Any “reporters” want to weigh in, in self defense?
    I would love to see what you have to say for yourselves in light of the above?

  7. dhogaza says:

    When a reasonably smart person, as he probably is, says something like, “I absolutely am not smart enough to believe I know the answer to that question”, part of the subtext is something like this: “I AM smarter than anyone who thinks he is smart enough to know about the matter.”

    I disagree – and that’s why he trots out the supposed 50-50 split of MIT scientists. He’s claiming that he’s not smart enough to figure out which set of smarter people are right. That would be an entirely reasonable response if, in fact, there actually is anything like a 50-50 split among professionals regarding AGW theory.

    There’s not, of course, it’s more like 97.5-2.5 (I like to think of Roy Spencer being 1/2% of a scientist), and even the minority dissenters among professionals don’t argue that CO2 doesn’t cause some degree of warming. It’s just a matter of how much, even with Lindzen.

    Yeah, actually Joe could’ve made even a stronger statement – even Lindzen disagrees with the candidate over the reality of CO2-forced warming He just claims, while puffing on a harmless cigarette, that climate sensitivity is far lower than the consensus value.

  8. Andy Bauer says:

    Jeff #4,
    Outstanding question. I’m going to use it, though my preference is to say ‘science’ rather than ‘scientists’.

  9. The propositions that (1) the human contribution to atmospheric CO2 has caused an increase in global temperature and (2) that, unless addressed, the increase will create significant costs greater that the costs to reduce CO2, rest on expertise from solar physics, atmospheric chemistry, geochemistry, plant physiology, paleobotany, economics and statistics. “I’m not smart enough” (to understand the entire argument) is the honest truth from everyone.

    Most people are smart enough to distrust people with a history of ad hominem argument and destruction of evidence.

  10. Leif says:

    As for the GOP Governor candidate, I would suggest that he take about a day at most out of his busy life and get a professional scientist to give him a tutorial. After all, this could be the end of humanity as we know it if we get it wrong.

  11. Ryan_T says:

    It’s fascinating that reporters in 2010 are still asking questions like “Climate change: Does he believe in it, or doesn’t he?” You’d think by now most people, and especially a potential governor, would realize what climate change means. It doesn’t take much to understand the well-established basics, or realize that the overall trend is still mixed with short-term regional variability. Something that makes it easy for people to be fooled by their immediate perceptions, and by those trying to manipulate public opinion. But I suppose there are also those politicians who’d rather not take a position, if they can help it, on an issue that remains highly contentious (i.e., something for the media to play both sides of as long as possible).

  12. Wit's End says:

    I would like to ask Charles Baker if he would be smart enough to believe a doctor that told him he needed chemotherapy for cancer.

  13. Ryan_T says:

    Malcolm sez “Most people are smart enough to distrust people with a history of ad hominem argument and destruction of evidence.

    If by “people” you’re talking about climatologists, perhaps you can provide us with some fully-vetted examples, so we can get an idea of how widespread ad hominem argument and “destruction of evidence” is, and what effect it’s had on the case.

  14. John Kazer says:

    Perhaps it says something about his opinion of scientific opinion? If asked about whether he would accept a pill from a doctor, I’m sure he’d say yes, sure. If asked “do you know what that pill does to you?” I’m sure he’d say “I’m not smart enough to answer that question”.

    Leaving aside debates about the meaning of “belief” (surely “understand”?) and “smart” (surely “knowledgeable enough”?)…

    The real problem for me is that the knowledge and opinion of many scientists is being implicitly questioned. Why this is may be because:
    – Folk can’t get their heads around the enormity of the problem and it’s implications, or
    – They instinctively disbelieve authority, or
    – They have a vested interest.

    Option 1 or 3 seem to be involved in this case…

  15. Jezrah Limon says:

    People that claim to be smart enough to have a complete answer may be the ones that are not very smart.

  16. Bob Ham says:

    Can we get those eight MIT professors to have that debate? Let the 1 denier join them (though he’d probably cop out…).

    What’s so complicated about this? CO2 in the atmosphere is at record highs, no one can deny that. And there is compelling evidence that CO2 in the environment effects the climate. Do we know exactly how? Not exactly, but the VAST majority of climate scientists suggest that it will be VERY BAD. So shouldn’t we be prudent and address the issue? And by addressing the issue, don’t we revamp our economy in a way that promotes domestic industry and stops us from funding countries with agendas we don’t like? It’s a win-win, or at least a win-draw….

    It’s pretty simple to me.

  17. Joseph says:

    That answer is more honest than most, actually. But someone once said that the honest skeptic should defer to scientific consensus if they don’t know enough about a topic, and I agree.

  18. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    I do not know all there is to know about the climate. However,I can read what reputable journals publish, look at trends, look at how people have fitted trend lines. I can read what the paleoclimatologists tell us.

    What I read scares me. I read scary analysises of past melting events only to see that they have been averaged and do not show peak melt rates.

    I do not know which trends project most validly. Winter sea ice area projected on a linear trend shows maximum winter ice down by a third at centuries end. However project the reduction in freeze up days winter sea ice is problematic mid century.

    I do not see how anyone can look at the data and not be very afraid.

  19. Michael hauber says:

    You would have to be very smart to find a hole in the climate scientists position. Smarter than they are. And if you are not smart enough to find such a hole, you are not smart enough to know that no hole exists. I am not smart enough for that, and have to trust the climate scientists.

    You don’t have to be very smart to see that the denier position is full of holes and inconsistency.

  20. paulm says:

    Very sad.

    And spineless. Fits the GOP LL profile perfectly.

  21. Mossy says:

    For some activism on this, Join Facebook “Send Charlie Baker Back to School”:!/group.php?gid=328584285324

  22. Kenneth Larsen says:

    Even in the parallel Republican universe, tarradiddles of this magnitude cannot go unchallenged.

  23. mike roddy says:

    Another good one, Mark B, #2. Brown is obviously just another phony lawyer/politician. I think he knows the truth about climate science perfectly well. A new and bigger truck is more important to him.

  24. Chris Winter says:

    The Globe also reported Baker as opining, “I don’t think whether I believe that or not matters in this conversation,” Baker said. “What I do believe is that our overreliance on foreign oil is a big problem for national security and an economic point of view.”

    Now this, well-stated though it is, appears to be one of the Republican talking points — often given voice in the crude expression, “Drill, baby, drill.” (Pun intended.) And it’s disturbing that any candidate for the governorship of a state would say his position on climate change doesn’t matter during a public forum. Clearly he’s ducking the issue.

    A similar protestation of ignorance in most other areas would doom his candidacy. Economics is perhaps the prime example. Many questions in economics are highly abstruse and technical, yet governors are expected to understand them well enough to have an opinion on such matters as whether the minimum wage increases unemployment.