In a quest for civilization on Mars, one Republican Congressman Tuesday left Americans worrying about how long there will be evidence of civilization on Earth. With Trump’s election came a shift in America’s stance on science, at least at the highest levels. While unscientific questions (and outright denials of evidence) about climate change and evolution were on everyone’s list of things to expect, Representative Dana Rohrabacher’s question took NASA scientists by surprise.
Rohrabacher sits on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, which made her question even more bizarre.
One of Trump’s first tasks in office was to begin dismantling the ‘science’ portion of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. CBS News reported at the end of June that this goal had been achieved, with the last three employees in the Science division leaving their ofices for the last time.
It’s not only in the White House, though, that science has been kicked to the curb, as was demonstrated Tuesday at a congressional hearing, that, according to the Planetary Society, was to focus on certain missions of NASA, including the 2020 Mars Rover, and the Europa CLipper mission, which aims to investigate conditions on one of Jupiter’s moons.
Instead, the hearing turned briefly farcical, as GOP Representative Dana Rohrabacher conflated billions of years with mere thousands, then wondered whether there might have been a recent civilization on Mars. The video below shows Rohrbacher launching his inquiry, first suggesting that Mars has changed dramatically in thousands of years, then wondering whether, in that time frame, if perhaps there was a civilization on the red planet.
Notice the heavy emphasis on the word ‘thousands’ in his speech.
Dr. Kenneth Farley, a scientist on the Mars Rover 2020 project, quickly attempted to disabuse the congressman of the notion that Mars had changed so drastically in only thousands of years, then assured him there is no evidence for civilization on Mars. Rohrabacher was not to be so easily dissuaded and pressed the point until Dr. Farley confirmed it was extremely unlikely.
It’s not an unreasonable mistake for a layperson with no background in science or space to make. However, it’s necessary to emphasize here again that Representative Rohrabacher is actually in a position of power in the United States for funding and regulating exactly those areas.
If the United States could consider staffing science and space departments with people who have backgrounds and educations in those subjects, maybe we could avoid incidents like this, along with setting the nation up for greater progress in both.
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