All the hoopla over what Todd Akin said about rape and pregnancy seems to have focused on his use of the word “legitimate,” which set off a political firestorm. While there is certainly plenty to be said about what rape is and isn’t (see this fascinating article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on research showing that most of those who commit acquaintance rape are predators and serial rapists), his absurd allegation that women can block conception in the event of rape demonstrates an equally troubling problem: scientific ignorance.
Here’s what Akin actually said:
First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s [pregnancy resulting from rape] really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
He apparently believes — or at least pretends to believe in public — that women can magically shut down the biological process of conception. (I think I speak for most women when I say, “Oh, if only that were true!)
That is, he’s an educated man (he’s got a college degree), serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and running for the Senate, and he doesn’t know how babies are made.
Not only is Akin in Congress, where he has a hand in making public policy, but he serves on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
Think about that: a person who doesn’t understand basic human reproduction is part of the core group making U.S. policy on science.
No wonder this country is in trouble.
Not that Akin is the only example of such ignorance. Far from it, alas. There was a senator who proclaimed a few years back that record-breaking cold and snow in Washington, D.C., proved that global warming didn’t exist. There are all kinds of public officials nationwide trying to keep the teaching of evolution out of biology class.
The public debate over scientific issues in the United States is most frequently a debate between proven scientific theories on the one hand and made up nonsense on the other.
There are legitimate scientific issues we need to be discussing right now. For example:
- What is the best approach to climate change? Are there technological fixes?
- It’s beginning to look like we can affect evolution in the human species. How should we handle that?
- A side effect of population growth and technological advancement is the disappearance of many species. Is that a problem? If so, how do we fix it?
But due to the kind of ignorance displayed by Akin, we’re debating whether or not women can magically keep from getting pregnant if they’re raped.
I tend to be an optimist about humans eventually becoming civilized, but some days even I have my doubts.