Ted Cruz, the science guy! Those are five words that tickle your tongue when spoken together. But it’s true, the senator is now America’s science guy. Senator Ted Cruz (R–TX) is the new chair of the science and space panel, a Senate commerce sub-committee. On Thursday, March 12, Cruz bugged geophysicists everywhere when he sat at a committee hearing and stated that earth sciences are not “hard science.” They are not core, he added. I suppose some geologists, hydrologists, oceanographers, and geophysicists would disagree, but what would they know about their profession?
Cruz needs to know the difference between hard and soft science. He is head of the committee that oversees most of the federal government’s science expenditures. It’s a powerful role, but the unofficial presidential candidate may soon be in an even more powerful office. The Texas senator made the claim about the ‘softness’ of earth sciences at his first-ever Q&A session as the chairman of the science and space subcommittee. You can see his comments in this 10-minute video clip. His purpose seemed to be to trivialize the people who would like to study the planet. Cruz is fed up with launching satellites that track hurricanes and with wasteful projects that investigate earthquakes. He figures the money would be better spent sending people into space. Cruz claims to be staunchly libertarian and says he has no use for pork-belly politics, but favoring manned flight over science could be related to the fact that he represents Houston, home of the manned space program.
The Senate panel chaired by Cruz is a funding committee. You don’t need to know anything about science to be on the senate science committee, apparently you just need an overwhelming desire to fix the way science is done in America. Others in the group include Senator Cory Gardner (R–CO), who strongly supports his new boss. But Gardner has never had a non-political job. He graduated with a political science degree (perhaps poli-sci is one of the ‘hard sciences’ that Cruz finds more endearing). Gardner became a lawyer, though he has been a congressman and senator nearly all his working life.
Other members of the science committee include Marco Rubio (R-FL), also educated as a lawyer and also a life-long politician; Jerry Moran (R-KS), a lawyer and career politician; Dan Sullivan (R-AK), a lawyer and politician (but was once a Marine); and Steve Daines (R-MT) who is not a lawyer. Daines actually has a chemistry degree and worked for years for Procter & Gamble, opening new factories in Asia for the company. So, the Republicans controlling science consist of 5 lawyers and a businessman with a science degree. The minority Democrats are not outfitted much better, but their top guy is the only former astronaut now in Congress – Bill Nelson (D-FL). He was an astronaut, but has spent most of his life as a lawyer and politician. I am not sure how the lawyer became a Payload Specialist, but I’m impressed. Regardless the presence of a token astronaut on the funding committee, science is in for a bumpy trajectory for the next several years.
Over at the House of Representatives, the new chair of their science spending panel is John Culberson (R–TX). In recent weeks, he has declared that the earth sciences don’t meet his definition of “the pure sciences.” That, I guess makes geophysics both an impure and a soft science. Who is Rep. John Culberson and what is his definition of pure science? He’s a lawyer. I don’t know how he defines pure science. Culberson was elected to the Texas House in 1987, while he was still a law student. He has been a professional politician for 28 years and is a leader of the Tea Party caucus. American science is in the good hands of Tea Party lawyers.
Since Ted Cruz is head of the Senate science funding committee, I’d like to focus on him and his qualifications for the job. What gave him the wisdom to decide Earth Science is not hard science? Was it his political science degree? Well, Ted Cruz is a lawyer, of course. For years, he was the governor’s chief lawyer in Texas, then he became a senator. He has no science experience.
About Ted Cruz. Cruz told the Dallas Morning News, “I’m Cuban, Irish and Italian” – but he is not. His parents were. Instead, Ted Cruz is a native-born Canadian. As late as 2014, he still held Canadian citizenship. The well-educated lawyer says he didn’t realize he held Canadian citizenship until just over a year ago, though he knew he lived the first four years of his life in Canada. This is a surprising statement from someone who makes laws affecting other people’s immigration status. He must have been aware he was Canadian, especially whenever he dug out his Canadian birth certificate to apply for passports and the like.
His parents lived here in my hometown, Calgary.* The senior Cruz ran an oil patch company from 1968 to 1974. The younger Cruz was born at the same Canadian hospital as two of my kids. (I assume his folks got the same excellent government health care, too, which probably paid for Teddy’s delivery to the world.) But Rafael Cruz did not stay in Canada. He left the oil business, moved to the USA, divorced his wife, dropped his Catholic faith, and became a fundamentalist preacher. His church, a branch of Purifying Fire Ministries (of which the elder Cruz was/is a director) is run by Suzanne Hinn, who was/is married, divorced, remarried to the ex-Canadian (now American) faith-healer Benny Hinn. (Suzanne Hinn once advocated “Holy Spirit enemas” at their Orlando-based church. One can only imagine the sacred rites involved with that.) All of this is to say that Rafael Cruz is involved with some pretty weird people.
Ah, yes, Rafael Cruz is not Senator Ted Cruz, he’s just the dad and he can be as weird as he likes. That might be true. I do not mention a politician’s family unless the politician puts them in the spotlight. Rafael was paid $20,000 last year to assist, lecture, and consult in his son’s various campaigns. He sometimes speaks for Ted. So Ted Cruz himself brought the man into the fray. Among Rafael’s notable pronouncements is this one:
“I’ve met so many Christians that tell me, ‘Evolution is a scientific fact.’ Baloney! I am a scientist, there is nothing scientific about evolution.” – Rafael Cruz
I guess we can debate whether Rafael Cruz was once a scientist. He did earn a maths degree, so maybe he has one of those elusive “hard science” degrees that his son rattled on about, but he is a preacher now and he recently said, “It takes more faith to believe in evolution than to believe in the first two chapters of Genesis.” No, it takes logic and reasoning, not faith – Holy Spirit enemas do not figure into studying genetics and biology. But this is enough about Cruz, Senior. The son, Rafael ‘Ted’ Cruz, does not bear the intellectual sins of the father. (Although there is that issue about paying the old man to stump the trail.)
It must have been difficult – divorced parents, uncertain citizenship, and a father with an odd and evolving spirituality. But it is Ted Cruz’s science that concerns us here on this blog. As head of a powerful group that could potentially stop science expenditures for ‘non-core, impure, non-hard’ sciences like geophysics, we have to hope his pre-law education included a few basic science lectures. We do know this about the senator – he says he is keen on keeping US astronauts in space. He will reduce NASA’s earth-studies budget, but he has repeatedly said he will keep funding manned space exploration.
He says that he wants to return NASA to its earlier mandate, but Ted Cruz may not realize that NASA’s original purpose was to study the planet: the first satellite, Explorer I, launched in 1958, was part of the International Geophysical Year. While the Russian Sputnik aimlessly circled the Earth and simply beeped its presence, the American Explorer was a real scientific earth-explorer. It proved the existence of the speculated Van Allen radiation belt. (Explorer carried a Geiger counter; Sputnik carried a be*ping radio transmitter.) NASA’s first foray into space was scientific, it was not a macho statement of physical conquest. Hopefully the bright and shiny new chairman of science will keep this in mind. Without using NASA’s geophysics to understand the Earth’s enveloping radiation and magnetic fields back in 1958, it would have been irresponsible to send humans aloft. If Ted Cruz, America’s new science guy, wants to safely send astronauts to space, he must also fund NASA’s earth studies so that all the potential risks can be understood.
* (Incidentally, some readers may rightfully wonder about my concern for US science: Even in Canada, where I now live, American science impacts us. But there is also this: I moved to Canada from the USA, where I was born. I was 20 when I arrived in 1974, the same year Ted Cruz moved his parents south to the States. I’m think I saw him screaming from the back seat of his family’s station wagon while my ’61 Chevy pickup truck and I crossed in the opposite direction, at the inland border port of Monchy. We were ships passing in the prairie night. Or maybe that was some other screaming kid in the wagon. I’ll never know.)