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Donald Trump’s running mate has some truly strange views on modern science

July 15, 2016, 4:58 PM UTC

While Donald Trump’s conservative pedigree may still be in doubt, his choice for running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, is a well-established social conservative. A former member of Congress, Pence had received widespread coverage for signing a controversial “religious freedom” bill last year that many critics said amounted to a hall pass for business owners to discriminate against LGBT customers. He also inspired the wrath of women’s health advocates after approving a law requiring abortion providers to bury or cremate aborted fetal tissue and banning abortions spurred by “fetal abnormalities” such as Down syndrome.

Pence’s social views have also colored his perception of science and medicine—and that’s led him to lob some rather controversial claims against widely-accepted scientific norms like the reality of climate change and even the health effects of tobacco. Here are a few.

“Smoking doesn’t kill”

In a BuzzFeed report last year, Andrew Kaczynski chronicled some of Pence’s more unorthodox positions from his old congressional campaign website (Pence once wrote a review for the blockbuster movie Titanic arguing that it was a metaphor for the erosion of American values). But few of Pence’s missives have raised eyebrows like his 2001 defense of smoking and the tobacco industry.

At the time, Congress was debating whether or not to put tobacco products under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Pence warned that the government shouldn’t be able to regulate people’s smoking habits and that, moreover, the public health arguments against tobacco use were downright false. “Time for a quick reality check,” wrote Pence. “Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill.”

pence smoking

It’s unclear where Pence got his numbers. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has persistently said that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in America. Between 2005 and 2009, the CDC estimates that there were nearly 164,000 smoking-related cancer deaths in the U.S. and that secondhand smoke alone kills 41,000 Americans every year through lung cancer and heart disease.

Congress did eventually give the FDA authority to regulate tobacco in the landmark 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Pence was one of the 97 House of Representatives members to vote against it, and he is currently the governor of a state with one of the worst smoking problems in America.

“Global warming is a myth”

Pence is also an ardent climate change skeptic and has consistently opposed efforts to address the man-made planetary warming that’s near-unanimously accepted by scientists. He voted against environmental interests 201 times during his congressional tenure, according to Grist, versus just 18 times in favor.

The extent of Pence’s climate change denial is laid out in another one of his old congressional campaign pages written during the debate over the global Kyoto climate treaty. Pence compares concerns over a warming climate to Chicken Little crying out that the sky is falling.

pence climate change

Pence went on to claim that the Earth has actually been cooling over the past 50 years. (Nine out of the ten hottest years since 1880 have occurred in the past decade, according to NASA).

Those views have persisted over the years. “In the mainstream media, there is a denial of the growing skepticism in the scientific community on global warming,” Pence told Chris Matthews in a heated 2009 interview on MSNBC.

Last year, the Pence administration in Indiana sued the Obama administration over the Clean Power Plan, a broad set of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations meant to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Stem cell research is ‘obsolete’

In 2009, Pence wrote an op-ed published in The Hill decrying embryonic stem cell research and President Obama’s executive order lifting federal restrictions on such research. While that view may not be surprising for a politician who is devoutly pro-life, Pence went a step further, arguing that scientific advancements had already wrought embryonic stem cell research “obsolete.”

“What makes this executive order so unconscionable and offensive to so many is the fact that, thanks to science itself, there are better alternatives that uphold the sanctity of life,” wrote Pence. “Over the past two years, scientific breakthroughs have rendered embryonic stem-cell research obsolete, effectively removing any perceived need to destroy human embryos in the name of science. Adult stem cells have been used to treat an estimated 11,000 patients in the United States in the past two years alone, and over 70 diseases, including Parkinson’s and diabetes, have been treated using adult stem cells.”

While it’s true that adult stem cells have been used in promising research, the potential of embryonic stem cells has by no means faded and is still being explored by numerous academic and scientific institutions. In fact, just this week, researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine announced a breakthrough in the field, rapidly growing 12 different types of specialized cells such as heart and bone tissue from embryonic stem cells.


While Pence has shied away from directly saying that he doesn’t believe in evolution, it’s a bit of an open question.

In that same contentious 2009 interview on MSNBC, Matthews presses Pence on whether or not he subscribes to the theory of evolution. “Do I believe in evolution? I embrace the view that God created the heavens and the Earth, the seas and all that’s in them,” responded Pence.

“The means that he used to do that, I can’t say, but I do believe in that fundamental truth,” he continued.

Fortune has reached out to Pence’s gubernatorial office to ask if any of his views on these issues have changed, and will update this post if it responds.

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