Anthony Scaramucci is a Wall Street guy who serves on the executive committee of Donald Trump's transition team. He was a late adopter of Trumpism, having started off backing Scott Walker and eventually migrating to Jeb Bush. But fortunes change quickly in the heat of a presidential fight, and by May, he was on board with the eventual nominee. His role was mostly fundraising, and given his connections in the finance industry — he founded SkyBridge Capital — that made sense.
On CNN on Wednesday morning, during an interview about the transition, Scaramucci gave one of the worst defenses of skepticism about climate change that I've ever seen in my life.
“I know that the current president believes that human beings are affecting the climate,” he told CNN's Chris Cuomo on Wednesday on “New Day.” “There are scientists that believe that that's not happening.”
“There was overwhelming science that the Earth was flat and there was an overwhelming science that we were the center of the world,” Scaramucci added. “We get a lot of things wrong in the scientific community.”
That first bit is the less important part, but is still worth flagging as questionable. The current president (that is, Barack Obama) does believe that human beings are affecting the climate, precisely because the overwhelming majority of scientists who study the issue think that's the case. People burn fossil fuels; that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere; that prevents heat from escaping into space; the planet slowly gets warmer. In a study of scientific analysis of climate change, 97 percent of scientific research papers considering the topic of the warming environment (which Scaramucci and Trump both accept as fact) linked that warming to human activity. There are scientists who disagree, certainly. But the broad consensus is that it's occurring.
This is a hallmark of Trump's political rhetoric, using outlier alternative viewpoints as a way of arguing that something is either-or. “Many people are saying,” he says with regularity, usually about things for which there's little to no other evidence. Sure, 99.99 percent of X says Y. But 0.01 percent say not-Y, so it's a toss-up.
But that second part of what Scaramucci said is . . . something.
“There was overwhelming science that the Earth was flat and there was an overwhelming science that we were the center of the world.” Assuming that he meant we were the center of the universe, which was a not an uncommon belief hundreds of years ago, it's critical to note that these are not what we would consider valid scientific assessments. Not because they were wrong, but because they didn't derive from science.
At some point, you learned that science is a process of proposing and testing hypotheses. This is the scientific method: applying evidence to claims and seeing how they stack up. The idea that the world was flat and that the Earth was the center of the universe derived from observation and belief. You see the sun circling overhead every 24 hours, it sure seems like the sun is revolving around the Earth. If you assume that Earth was created as home for creatures made in God's image, it is sensible that the universe would revolve around that place.
These assumptions weren't rigorously tested before being adopted. They were assumed — and when early scientists began testing them, they found that they simply weren't true. Science disproved those unscientific assumptions. The Earth is round. It orbits the sun. We know this because of science — or at least, because of scientific observations.
The science that has determined that warming is almost certainly caused by human activity looks no more like the people asserting that the Earth rotated around the sun than a modern medical doctor performing open-heart surgery looks like a man who applied leeches to drain bad blood from a sick child centuries ago. We don't assume that all medical procedures are iffy because humans once thought you could cure “bad humors,” and we don't assume all scientific analysis is iffy because once some people tried to argue that your ship would sail off the edge of the world.
Of course, science makes things harder for itself by acknowledging that it could be wrong. Science operates on theories that are tested. Some as-yet-unthought-of test could prove the theory wrong. Einstein's general relativity is a theory that includes an explanation for how gravity works — but that doesn't mean that we don't assume something will fall to the Earth when we drop it.
On Twitter, Scaramucci insisted that he wasn't denying that climate change was caused by human activity, just that he didn't know.
He presumably then also doesn't know for sure that a blood transfusion will save his life; after all, “doctors” used to use herbs that looked like body parts to cure those parts of the body. That's nonsense; ergo, who knows if an Excedrin can help your headache.
Also, if science is all up-for-grabs since people once believed incorrect things, doesn't this mean that Scaramucci necessarily has to be skeptical that the Earth isn't flat?