So Representative Michele Bachmann shrilled repeatedly in a speech at Liberty University in late September, a speech rebroadcast on C-SPAN. Curiously, she never said what she meant by that theme of her entire speech. To judge from all the recounting of her own religious experiences, she meant: “Don’t settle for less than total commitment to Jesus Christ.”
But a campaign speech must have meant more than that. By implication, anyway, Bachmann meant: “Don’t settle for less than ideal public policies; do not compromise or even discuss compromise or delay.”
Bachmann described miserable conditions in the Plymouth Colony in 1630, when the colonists were nevertheless persuaded not to return to England. The lesson she was evidently drawing was: “Stick to the projects you have embarked upon,” and, by implication: “Never change course; never recognize and learn from mistakes.”
For scientific research, “Don’t settle” is sound advice. Scientific questions are not settled by compromise, by counting scientists’ heads, by argumentum ad hominem or ad populum, by personal abuse, or by what Ayn Rand called “argument from intimidation.” Scientific questions are settled, but only provisionally, by evidence and reasoning, with scientists double-checking each others’ work and being willing to revise their own judgments.
But Bachmann was not delivering a speech on scientific method. In her political context, she meant: “Don’t compromise on ideal public policy as it has been infallibly revealed to me and to you.” Such a mindset is ominous in anyone and especially in an aspirant for high office.