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Trump’s Pick for Health Secretary Doesn’t Believe in Basic Science

Representative Tom Price faced a lot of questions, but the point on climate change revealed the most.

Kaleigh Rogers

Kaleigh Rogers

Tom Price during his hearing. Image: Screengrab

Republican Senator Pat Roberts joked that it was an "anger management session." But Wednesday's senate hearing for President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for the secretary of Health and Human Services, Congressman Tom Price (R-Ga.), was largely par for the course.

GOP senators lobbed question-shaped praise while Democrats grilled the controversial nominee on drug prices and repealing Obamacare, sometimes forgetting to ask a question at all. But there was one moment that was particularly revealing when it comes to what kind of health leader Price will be if confirmed, and it wasn't a question about health policy. It was a question about climate change.

Even after the hearing, we still don't have much information about how he would serve as health secretary. As a seasoned politician, Price is skilled at dodging questions and, during his hearing, frequently deferred questions related to what his specific positions would be, saying that much of the questions have to do with legislation, not administration. But as the head of HHS, Price would oversee everything from the Centers for Disease Control to the National Institutes of Health, and a strong relationship with scientific evidence is crucial for leading these major institutions.

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Like many of Trump's cabinet picks, Price—an orthopedic surgeon—is a climate change skeptic. As a House Representative for Georgia, he has a track record of voting against measures to curb the US's greenhouse gas emissions, and has said that there have been "errors and obfuscation in the allegedly 'settled science' of global warming."

On Wednesday, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), raised the issue, noting that major medical associations—including the American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, National Medical Association—have taken a clear stance on climate change. Seventeen of these groups, last year, signed a joint declaration on climate change and health, sounding the alarm on the effects climate change has on our health.

"These major shifts in weather and environment have disastrous consequences for public health, including worsened symptoms of lung disease and other chronic illnesses; higher risk of heatstroke and heat exhaustion; new threats of food- and waterborne diseases; and increased hospital admissions for cardiovascular and kidney disorders," the declaration read.

Whitehouse asked Price to briefly comment on his climate change beliefs, in light of the connection to health. Price responded in a skeptical fashion.

"The climate is always changing. It's continuously changing," Price said. "The question, from a scientific standpoint, is what effect does human behavior and human activity have on that, and what we can do to mitigate that. I believe that's a question that needs to be studied and evaluated."

It's worth noting that Whitehouse is correct: the science on climate change is, in fact, settled, and humans activity is a major driving force behind it.

Beyond the impacts of climate change on health, Price's skepticism is also troubling because it demonstrates an anti-evidence perspective.

Price's relationship to evidence-based medicine has been called into question before due to his membership in an anti-evidence group called the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS).

As Whitehouse asked: "If we can't trust you on science that is as settled as climate science, how can we trust you on public health science issues, where there's a big special interest on the other side?"

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