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In Cabinet Confirmation Hearings, Science Is a Tool of Political Harassment

In confirmation hearings for Tom Price, nominated to head the Department of Health and Human Services, New Jersey senator Bob Menendez wielded “science” as a tool of partisan harassment. Watch the video at the Huffington Post. In rapid-fire queries intended to taint Dr. Price, a Georgia congressman and respected orthopedic surgeon, Senator Menendez threw out a series of oddball science claims and demanded that Price reject each in turn.

Swerving from purported leprosy-bearing illegal immigrants to doubts about the HIV/AIDS link, Menendez was clearly trying to put “science” to political ends. On the point about whether “immigrants have led to outbreaks of leprosy in the United States,” Price responded with a politely dumbfounded expression: “I don’t know what you’re referring to…I don’t know the incident to which you refer. Are you referring to a specific incident?” I’m not sure Menendez had much of an idea either. He could say nothing more specific than, “There are statements that have been made in the public domain….”

(Left-wing sources have since tried to fill in the missing smear.)

Price went on to offer the observation that anytime anybody with an infectious disease comes in close contact with an uninfected individual, there’s a possibility of infection.

Menendez built up to a climax of indignation:

MENENDEZ: “Can you commit to this committee and the American people today that should you be confirmed you will swiftly and unequivocally debunk false claims to protect the public health?”

PRICE: “What I’ll commit to doing is doing the due diligence that the department is known for and must do to make certain that the factual information is conveyed to –“

MENENDEZ: “And that factual information will be dictated by science, I would hope.”

PRICE: “Without a doubt.”

MENENDEZ: “Okay, so let me ask you about Medicaid specifically. Let me just say I’m a little taken aback about your answer on the question of immigrants and leprosy. I think the science is pretty well dictated in that regard, too.”

What the…? He’s “a little taken aback” by the statement that infections diseases, from the common cold on up, are infectious? Menendez is a lawyer by training, not a scientist or doctor, though his name came up in connection with a physician in a legal context back in his 2015 indictment for bribery. From the Justice Department press release:

Robert Menendez, a U.S. Senator, and Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist, were indicted today in connection with a bribery scheme in which Menendez allegedly accepted gifts from Melgen in exchange for using the power of his Senate office to benefit Melgen’s financial and personal interests…

Dr. Price took a series of utterly mainstream positions, that abortions don’t seem linked to breast cancer, that vaccines don’t lead to autism, and so on. On vaccines, Price conceded that “there are individuals across our country…” — only to be cut off by Senator Menendez: “I’m not talking about individuals. I’m talking about science.”

I’m not so naïve as to expect partisanship will play no role in these hearings, but the attempt to bludgeon a physician and congressman picked to head an important department is right in step with what “science” has become in the hands of both the media and academia. It’s a weapon, little more.

H/t: Michael Medved.

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David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.