Daniel Engber, writing for FiveThirtyEight, went to Oregon to talk with Art Robinson, a prominent denier who has been rumored to be in consideration to be the White House Science Advisor--the top advisor to the President on scientific matters. Rebekah Mercer recommended Robinson for the job, and her father Bob Mercer, the real billionaire behind the Trump campaign, has also backed Robinson. (Specifically, Mercer funded Robinson’s campaigns against Oregon representative Peter DeFazio, who was floating a bill that would have levied a tax on the sorts of stock trades Mercer has grown rich off of.)
Robinson’s Oregon Petition, which claims that “31,000 scientists dispute the consensus” on climate change, is a classic source for deniers, and the basis for 2016’s most-shared climate story. Engber’s piece delves into Robinson’s family life, the loss of his wife and his ostracization from academia, providing a more sympathetic look than we’d anticipated. After he clashed with his mentor/collaborator, Robinson seems to have retreated from reality at age 36 and has been going further off the rails ever since.
While deniers tend to describe the Oregon Petition as rigorous and Art Robinson as a scientific titan, Engber’s profile shows an isolated and embattled contrarian struggling to remain relevant.
From his combined home, sheep ranch and laboratory in Oregon, Robinson and his extremely homeschooled adult children (who apparently don’t wear shoes) run the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. In addition to propagating climate denial, Robinson and his children have been amassing a collection of urine samples, convinced they can analyze the samples to provide valuable insight into many facets of patient health.
Robinson is also a proponent of exposing people to radiation, believing that low doses would be good for health, and advances conspiracies about AIDS being due to homosexual behavior not the HIV virus. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he’s also a vaccine skeptic. (Doctors for Disaster Preparedness, the other weird organization he runs, has thrown disgraced anti-vaxx originator Andrew Wakefield a banquet reception.)
A fun detail Engber doesn’t report: Robinson spent $3 million on a printing press so he could publish a series of novels from the 1800’s “notable for their hearty imperialism, undisguised racism, and jingoistic patriotism.” That way, the kids who follow Robinson’s lesson plans for home schoolers (another product of his) can learn all about how Africans are at best as smart as 10 year old white kids, and that slavery was actually good.
These contrarian scientific stances--and, of course, the blatant racism--put him far outside the consensus of real scientists, but squarely in the middle of Trumpworld. And with a recommendation from the Mercers, there’s a decent chance Robinson could get the job.
While the science he pursues is...unconventional, Robinson is at least literate in how science works. So he wouldn’t be the best choice for Trump advisor, but if he does get the job, well, at least urine for some good comedy.
Top Climate and Clean Energy Stories: