Thomas Massie isn’t a scientist, either

I almost gave Thomas Massie a little credit. I won’t make that mistake ever again.

In his grilling of John Kerry, he first asks Isn’t it true you have a science degree from Yale? Kerry explains that it’s a bachelor of arts degree in political science. Then Massie asks, How do you get a bachelor of arts in a science?

If he’d been asking that as a sincere question, I’d be sympathetic. Incoming students always ask about the difference between a BA and a BS degree, and it’s a legitimate source of confusion. Basically, there is no difference. It isn’t as if one is for Artists and the other is for Scientists, and to the surprise of many, it’s not as if a BA is easier than a BS. It usually reflects how many credits outside your major you took, and what the tradition at the university is. The University of Minnesota Morris offers a BA in biology only, because we’re a liberal arts college and we require a fairly broad education for everyone. It’s still a science degree. At Temple University, we offered both the BA or the BS — they had exactly the same core requirements, the only difference being that the BA required that you take more foreign language courses, so it was actually harder to earn a BA.

But the bottom line is that there is no substantial difference between a BA and a BS, and nothing that will affect your future employment or career choices. Unless you encounter a dope like Thomas Massie, who goes on to say that a BA degree is not really science. Kerry does clearly state that he has a BA in political science from a liberal arts college, but Massie leaps on that with this ridiculous bilge:

I think it’s somewhat appropriate that someone with a pseudoscience degree is here pushing pseudoscience

No. Neither a political science degree nor a bachelor of arts degree is pseudoscience. Any sympathy with his initial expression of confusion is now thoroughly dissipated. This guy is a fool.

He has since followed through with this claim:

Everybody knows that political science is a specialty that focuses on a certain body of knowledge. “Science” is not a magic word. You can’t define the validity of a discipline by picking over the etymology of the words in the label. It’s simply idiotic.

Other Republicans, like Gosar and Steube, made similarly ignorant contributions to the conversation. As Kerry pointed out, this was not a serious discussion. It can’t be, as long as Republican dimwits are involved.

By the way, Massie has a degree in engineering…not science. I guess he is disqualified from the conversation. Or would he rather push his climate-change-denying pseudoscience on everyone?


  1. Akira MacKenzie says

    As the effects of global warming become more and more dire, it maybe morally acceptable for nations whose populaces don’t want to collapse and die because of severe climate change to use military force against the nations that won’t agree to do something about carbon emissions.

    Just sayin’, America.

  2. ajbjasus says

    I’ve got a BA in Biochemistry from Oxford. Oxford gave BAs in everything back then – you couldn’t get a Bsc. I’ve got an MA too, so he’s definitely wrong !

  3. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Welllll, … Massie was correct to call political science, “pseudoscience”. At MIT we always giggled at that subject for a degree. Took a little maturity to realize the broader definition of science beyond the boundaries of the Science we were using to be engineers.
    To clarify my first remark, I focused on the politics as being the pseudo part of the degree, not the science part.
    It is amazing how all the most stupid get collected together to “Represent” us in Congress.
    How does that happen, are we trying to give them accommodation for their disabilities?

  4. wcorvi says

    My university (NOT a ‘liberal arts’ one) only offered a BA in Physics. The difference, as PZ says, is just the amount of foreign language required. The irony is that business offered a BS in Accounting – their students couldn’t hack the extra language.

    But Political Science isn’t science, no matter the degree. Neither is Library Science!

  5. isochron says

    I’m a Doctor of Philosophy in Chemistry. Does that mean I’m only allowed to hypothesize about it? Oh, right. It was Theoretical Chemistry. Damn!

  6. MichaelE says

    Saw it, and had to turn it off, it was that stupid.

    Hell, in the comments on his Twitter feed he even jokes about “sanitation engineers”. Because that’s totally not an important and valuable education/profession.

  7. isochron says

    #3. Ironic cause when I was a Theoretical Physicist (B.Sc.) we thought engineering ‘science’ was a joke. And as for Computer ‘Science’??? Hilarious!

    Reminds me of an XKCD comic (…sounds of rummaging…)

  8. zenlike says

    We can laugh at the imbecility of Massie, but sadly, his view is widely shared by the general population. It even pops up here, on a blog with a general left-leaning pro-science audience.

  9. chrislawson says

    Political science is a really bad label for the field, but it’s not pseudoscience and it’s hardly Kerry’s fault that this is standard parlance.


    Computer science is definitely a science. They do both theorising and experimenting!

  10. sebloom says

    I have a BA that’s not in art…or even “the arts,” and an MS that isn’t in any science at all. Go figure.
    What a tool that guy is.

  11. Bruce says

    Imagine how many people in that Congressional hearing room felt insulted that their own studies in political science were now labeled as pseudoscience, from Members of Congress to their staffs to lobbyists and others in the room. And I bet 90% of the people in the room knew Massie was embarrassing himself and blowing any credibility. Of course, for the true Republicans, it is all ok. But for anyone neutral, their BS hypocracy has been further exposed, not that this would change many minds.

  12. hemidactylus says

    One of the great masters of politics whose name is synonymous with duplicity, shadowcraft, and skullduggery wasn’t a scientist in the formal sense, but an astute observer. He vicariously learned from one of the most infamous condottiero in history and an unarmed prophet who loved to burn stuff and later got burnt posthumously what politics was truly like and learned first hand, literally tied behind his back via the strappado, thanks to the power wielding Medici. Ouch!

    Thankfully political science as taught in school these days isn’t quite that demanding an experience.

  13. petesh says

    @2: I too have an MA from Oxford. Cost my dad five quid (IIRC). I didn’t even ask for it, but he thought it would impress the Americans, so he sent the cheque [sic] and told me afterwards. He was right. Little did they know that all you had to do was get your BA and wait a couple of years. Which I spent in deep contemplation of, well, um, whatever, in various interesting spots of the third world. It’s possible they have “reformed” the system by now, but I doubt they’ve improved it.

  14. drst says

    I triple dog dare this guy to call library science “pseudoscience.” We will forking end him.

  15. davidrichardson says

    British Conservatives are just as stupid. When Brian MacWhinnie became Chairman of the Conservative Party, his political enemies (i.e. other Conservatives – the people on the other side are just ‘opponents’!) sneered that he went round calling himself Dr MacWhinnie to sound more posh. “He’s not a real doctor,” they said.

    He got a Ph.D. in Radiation Physics with a thesis entitled “Studies on the effects of radiation on mammalian bone grown in vitro.”

  16. chrislawson says


    That is pathetic. Especially in Britain where most medical doctors’ degrees are MBBS not MD. (As my mother likes to remind me, she’s the only real doctor in the family!)

  17. laurence1986 says

    “Massie has a degree in engineering…not science. I guess he is disqualified from the conversation.” Bill Nye too ;)

  18. says

    Is it that Massie is clueless, or does he know better, but knows mocking Kerry’s political science degree will work with the rubes?

  19. says

    I have a B.A. in Political Science. In my discipline we create theories. We test theories. We mathmatically measure things. We predict things. We analyze things. We argue with one another about events, outcomes, methodologies. We change our outlook over time as research alters what we know about the world.

    Just like other scientists.

    Massie is a dope. What’s up with Kentucky?

  20. zetopan says

    Massie has an engineering degree, but he isn’t even doing engineering and he is also an AGW denialist. That is 2 strikes against him since many engineers are creationists and nearly all creationists are also AGW denialists. Since Massie has clearly demonstrated his idiocy I am willing to put down money that Massie is also an idiot creationist (where idiot is obviously redundant).

  21. says

    I have a BA in Chemistry from Harvard (’62). Harvard doesn’t (or, at least, didn’t) offer an BS in any subject other than Engineering, which isn’t a science either, although it has a lot of science behind it. (I also have a PhD in Chemistry from Princeton, but that’s another story.)

  22. says

    I can’t speak for other universities, but at Central Washington, the difference between a BA and a BS is that the BA covers a broad, often interdisciplinary view, while a BS typically focuses on a specialty. Biology is a good example. The BA degree is recommended to students who want to enter the school’s nursing program (which is a master’s) or in conjunction with another degree such as education (high school biology teacher) or mathematics (bio stats.) The BS degree is recommended for students who want to work as biologists in fields such as ecology or bio-medicine (the school offers degrees in both.) Some departments like Mathematics offer only BS degrees; others like History and Poli Sci offer only BA degrees, based on how narrow or broad the degree focuses. It takes the same number of credits to graduate regardless, the difference is that a BA has more room for a minor or two.

  23. psanity says

    @ 16:
    Nobody with any sense fucks with librarians. OOK.

    Re: BA/BS — When I were a lass, back in the mid-50s to mid-60s, I spent many happy hours lurking behind the sofa during faculty parties, as I had a strong anthropological interest in adults, plus, there would be a point when I could creep out and eat the rest of the peanuts without being noticed.

    Anyhow, one of the many interesting things I absorbed from these intellectual immersions was that the B.A. was the desirable degree, and the B.S. was the bonehead degree. These were fairly cosmopolitan gatherings, with folks ranging across the arts and sciences, so I don’t think it was a liberal arts bias.

    I cast no aspersions on the degrees of any individuals, nor make assumptions on what the culture is today. Just reporting.

  24. indianajones says

    How about this piece of King Canute from former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull: The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia.

  25. Hoosier X says

    Laurence1986@20: If Bill Nye weighs in with nothing but a bunch of hypocritical Trump World gibberish and brain-dead GOP sophistry about degrees and about how political science is pseudo-science and so on, then yes, he should be disqualified.

  26. leerudolph says

    My undergraduate degree is neither a B.A. nor a B.S.; it is an A.B.. Take that, Master Massie!

  27. curbyrdogma says

    #21: That’s probably exactly it.
    WRT climate change, I’ve gotten the general impression that the conservative opinionators on this subject have limited their understanding of the topic to making cartoonish assumptions about a two word phrase (“Global Warming”), with no further attempt to understand how climate works. Thus, perhaps his attention-challenged base is now paring certain concepts even further down than that – reducing them to Pavlovian keywords such as “art” and “science.”

    I’ve tried to learn more about how current climate events are tied to global warming, and it’s a complicated subject that requires understanding of physics and the complex interplay of various factors. (The takeaway is that ocean temperatures are altering the jet stream pattern, which is causing the steady succession of temperature fluctuations and severe storms we’ve been experiencing).

    It’s disheartening to consider that 50-60 years ago, the U.S. government tried to make science education a priority, and now we’ve got these clowns and shills in office who think that science can be dismissed with a snarky Twitter-length quip.

  28. Ichthyic says

    and to the surprise of many, it’s not as if a BA is easier than a BS

    I can’t vouch for UW, but it is in the UC system. I could have gotten a BS instead of a BA if I could manage to make it through physical chemistry (with all that calculus). It is indeed thus harder to get a BS than a BA. You even admit that you need to take extra units outside of your major… which makes it harder.

    so uh…??

  29. says

    As the folks at RationalWiki point out, there is a long and depressing history of engineers falling into the worst kind of pseudoscience and quackery. As someone with engineering qualifications (bachelor’s degree in Electronic Engineering, Masters Degree in Software Engineering), there is an arrogance that one often encounters in the engineering profession, that they regard themselves as “practical men” and applied scientists with real-world experience– as opposed to those mere tinkerers in their ivory towers– which blinds them to their cognitive biases. Also, IMO the emphasis on real-world application of theory without a necessarily deep analysis allows fringe beliefs like creationism to flourish unchallenged in engineering in a way that would be more difficult in the pure sciences.

  30. snuffcurry says

    No, that’s backwards. From the OP with emphasis added:

    they had exactly the same core requirements, the only difference being that the BA required that you take more foreign language courses, so it was actually harder to earn a BA.

  31. rrutis1 says

    Why is it always electrical engineers??? Does circuit analysis fry brains or something?