December 7, 2010

A Competency Test for Government Officials Is Needed

In the recent past two examples come to mind that make it readily apparent that governmental positions may be held by people with little or no competency in the positions they hold. This isn't a US, or Canadian thing, but a systematic problem that can be easily seen in many places, but the recent example of a Canadian and American will be used.

The Canadian example is older and has circulated, dieing down recently, but it still remains in the fore-front of my mind. Gary Goodyear made headlines in 2009 when he refused to answer a question about evolution, citing religious reasons for his lack of response, and then further showed that he failed to grasp evolution when making an apology later. This would be a slight mishap for most members of government, but when it is Canada's Minister of Science and Technology it shows a major systematic failure.

Gary's background is as a former chiropractor, which isn't the best background for scientific understanding. It might be thought that a medical background would lead to someone being well versed in dealing with science, but there is often a large gap between people doing studies and the practitioner who deals with patients. Someone can treat patients as a doctor, chiropractor, or therapist and no longer be immersed in the scientific process. This situation was talked about indepthly during The Skeptics Guide to the Universes interview with Carol Tavris in episode 269.

This was shown to be the case when Canada's Science minister was asked if he believed in evolution. His response was that, "I'm not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don't think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate."

I don't think he understood that as the Minister of Science and Technology it is necessary that he be able to talk about scientific theories. He then went further to say that,

"I do believe that just because you can't see it under a microscope doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It could mean we don't have a powerful enough microscope yet. So I'm not fussy on this business that we already know everything. ... I think we need to recognize that we don't know."

Again, I'm sure that we don't know everything, but to say that, 'Just because you can't prove that it's there doesn't mean that it isn't there' is directly opposed to any scientific view. Without any evidence to believe that something is there, it shouldn't be thought of as being there or be appealed to as being there.

Until that new microscope shows that something is indeed there the question really isn't open to guess work. Everyone recognizes that there are things we don't know, but a Mister of Science and Technology should understand the need for evidence to decide if something is really there.

Than as a follow-up to make up for his obvious blunder he came out and officially demonstrated that he didn't know what he was talking about,

“We are evolving every year, every decade. That's a fact, whether it is to the intensity of the sun, whether it is to, as a chiropractor, walking on cement versus anything else, whether it is running shoes or high heels, of course we are evolving to our environment. But that's not relevant and that is why I refused to answer the question. The interview was about our science and tech strategy, which is strong.”

Evolution isn't a process where bodies get used to doing something and pass on that knowledge to future generations. That view of the process of evolution is the Lamarckian view and it is strong version of it at that. It is a view that incorrectly describes human evolution. People aren't being genetically selected because they can better walk on cement, it's a negligible factor in human reproduction. The question is relevant and Goodyear showed even in correcting himself he couldn't understand the most important scientific theory of our time (an argument could be made for general relativity).

Goodyear is a joke as a minister of science and technology, but as sometimes happens the United States has gone and one upped Canada. This 'one-upmanship' or 'down-manship', I'm really not sure, took place when John Shimkus, while running for the chair of the council on energy, brought his bible along to testify.

He then proceeded to read Genesis 8 verse 21 and 22, which states that, "Never again will I curse the ground because of man even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease." and stated that, that was the infallible word of God and it will hold true about the earth.

I guess Mr. Shimkus really wanted to pile on the 'evidence' because he also read a second verse which came from Mathew 24 which states that, "And he will send his angles with a loud trumpet call and they will gather his elect from the four winds from one end of the heavens to the other. The earth will end only when god declares its time to be over."

Wow...that's all I can say. Even if this guy isn't elected to the head of the energy council he will still be part of the council, and will share the view that nothing drastic has to be done because God won't let the earth go to ruins, and won't destroy all living creatures. This is a tragedy, as he is someone with an ingrained  and obviously hazardous view, yet he will be helping to decide the energy policy for the most powerful nation in the free world.

Something has to be done about those type of people in government. I have no problem with people holding religious positions privately, or even having them in government when they don't have a direct bearing on the matters at hand, but there are some governmental positions that require a higher standard than others.

Take, I don't know....being the Minister of Science and Technology, for instance. That person should probably have to have an understanding of the scientific method, and some of the most prominent scientific theories. Ideally a science geek should be the minister of science and technology, just as someone with a real grasp about energy and how the world works should be a member of a council on energy, but looking at the situation now I'd take anyone who could pass a simple test.

This action takes no thought at all, just like when testing someone to show that the person has the knowledge to perform a job, government officials should have to pass a test to show that they are competent at fulfilling the position they are put in. It would save a lot of embarrassment, and would ensure that people like the above wouldn't sneak through the cracks as often.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic

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