At this point, I don’t think I’m breaking any news by mentioning Todd Akin’s comments about pregnancy (or lack thereof) in the face of “legitimate” rape. What I do want to point out, though, is what really, really bothers me about this story — more than Akin’s twelfth-century views on both women’s rights and biology:
In his apology, Akin said he “misspoke.”
No. Misspeaking is referencing a wrong date, or getting a tax percentage wrong, or saying “was” instead of “were.” Misspeaking is a slip of the tongue, a mispronounced word, a stumble in a speech. Hell, I’ll even grant you a racial epithet that “just slipped in” to your talking points as misspeaking.
But what Akin said — that’s not misspeaking. He has a fundamental misunderstanding of literally everything involving the human reproductive system. But instead of admitting that — instead of admitting he had been mis-taught or just assumed incorrectly or plain forgot — he just claimed he goofed.
Now, I’d be ready to dismiss this as another misinformed policymaker (Akin is a member of the House) going off about science they don’t understand, but two things won’t allow me to do so: 1) the science Akin is completely ignorant of is human anatomy, which he presumably has had intimate experience with over the course of his sixty-five years of being a human; and 2) oh right, Todd Akin is a member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
I’m going to pause here TO LET THAT LAST REASON SINK IN.
This man is in charge of science policy in arguably the most scientifically advanced country in human history, and either he doesn’t know, well, anything about basic human physiology or he’s been listening to and agreeing with the wrong so-called experts. I can’t decide which is more frightening.
Because if Akin is so wrong about pregnancy and biology, I’m terrified to hear his views on gravity. The problem here is that Akin, like many of our members of Congress, is the type of person who is fooled by chain emails about deadly dihydrogen monoxide. I quote from a very interesting article in the New York Times a couple of years ago about the three physicists in the House (now down to one — one!), including nuclear physicist Vern Ehlers, who often stopped colleagues from disastrous votes based on complete misunderstandings:
Once it was game theory. The person seeking the cut did not seem to realize that game theory had to do with interactions in economics, behavior, and other social sciences, not sports, Mr. Ehlers recounted.
Then there was the time he rose to defend ATM research against a colleague who thought it should be left to the banking industry. In this case the initials stood for asynchronous transfer mode, a protocol for fiber-optic data transfer.
I’m not calling for a revolution here, engineers taking to the street with ergonomically designed and perfectly weighted pitchforks. I think it’s important for lawyers and careers politicians to be in Congress — knowing how government works, why the Constitution was written, what life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness mean is crucial to the country’s governance. But equally important is a 21st century understanding of 21st century issues and technology that government is tasked with regulating. That could take many forms: convincing more scientists to run for seats in Congress (currently the 112th Congress’ 541 members, including territorial representatives, contain seventeen doctors, two ophthalmologists, two dentists, a psychiatrist, an optometrist, two veterinarians, six nurses, one physicist, one chemist, six engineers, one microbiologist, and a single astronaut; this contributes to a grand — and, I believe, rather taxonomically generous — total of 7.6% scientists), or maybe a dedicated science advisor assigned to every member by the AAAS, or even a basic science literacy test for any member, like Todd Akin, placed onto a scientifically themed committee. If lawyers have to prove they know the law in order to practice it, why don’t congress members have to prove they know science in order to legislate it?
At the very least, it would mean science gets funded — but only if it’s legitimate. I think even Akin can support that.