At a breakfast event today, a journalist reportedly questioned Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal about whether he believes in evolution. This is pretty pertinent. Several years ago Jindal signed into law the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act. The law, according to the National Center for Science Education, "invites lessons in creationism and climate change denial." Jindal himself has said in the past that he has "no problem" if school boards want to teach creationism or intelligent design.
Jindal's response to today's question (as reported by TPM) was all too familiar. "The reality is I'm not an evolutionary biologist," he said. Jindal went on to say that while "as a father, I want my kids to be taught about evolution in their schools," he also believes that "local school districts should make decisions about what should be taught in their classroom."
The reply brings to mind numerous other Republicans saying "I'm not a scientist" (or Marco Rubio's "I'm not a scientist, man") to dodge uncomfortable questions about scientific topics like evolution and climate change. It looks an awful lot like somebody wrote a memo, doesn't it?
Here's why this "I'm not a scientist" patter represents such an indefensible dodge. Nobody expects our politicians to be scientists. With a few exceptions, like Rush Holt, we know they won't be. But it is precisely because they are not experts that we expect them to heed the consensus of experts in, er, areas in which they are not experts.
When politicians fail to do this, claiming a lack of scientific expertise is no excuse. Rather, it's the opposite: A condemnation.