Tag Archives: conservatives

Same sh|t, different year

Image courtesy of Flickr user “epSos.de”, used under Creative Commons.

Hey, look!

It’s Daniel Sarewitz recycling a column from back in 2010 about how Republicans and science don’t mix and how it’s everyone’s fault but Republicans‘.

Sarewitz wrings his hands:

That President Barack Obama chose to mention “technology, discovery and innovation” in his passionate victory speech in November shows just how strongly science has come, over the past decade or so, to be a part of the identity of one political party, the Democrats, in the United States.


President George W. Bush, according to his own scientific advisor, “included science and technology topics in his State of the Union speeches to an unprecedented extent.”

Does that mean during the Bush presidency “science was part of the identity of one political party” namely the Republicans? Would anyone make such an idiotic claim? Yet, this is the quality of “evidence” Sarewitz marshals for his “argument”.

Sarewitz seems to really love telling science what it “must” do, and it’s all rubbish. Science “must” bow down to religion for no particular reason other than Sarewitz’s own deficit of imagination. Science “must” cater to the hostile desires of Republicans for the tautological reason that Republicans are hostile to science.

As I have mentioned previously, I don’t think Democrats have some sort of special relationship with science. Far from it. I emphatically do not wish to see science as a whole become associated with any one political party, purely based on hostility from an opposition.

There are good arguments to make about how we can go about increasing Republican acceptance of science. But those arguments involve changing the way Republicans relate to science, rather than changing the institution of science itself. The only thing science “must” do is continue to get results. How people make use of the process is a vital but secondary concern.

Mainstream American Republican/conservative political ideology and self-identification has to a large extent become inextricably linked to the belief systems of unfettered industrial capitalism and to a somewhat lesser extent fundamentalist Christian religion. Both of these worldviews are hostile to scientifically-demonstrated phenomena because of the perception that said phenomena contradict their underpinnings. This is not a problem for science. It’s a problem for those ideologies, or at least the way their adherents approach science.

Berating science and scientists for problems that lie elsewhere is an easy, Slate-y piece of contrarianism and hippie-punching, but it will do nothing to fix the conflict.

How do the Sarewitz’s of the world imagine science can be even more accomodating to religion on the topic of evolution? How many other originally Republican/conservative solutions (pigovian taxation, cap and trade, etc.) to environmental problems need be proffered to Republicans?

As Alex Pareene put it, “Maybe scientists should just declare that climate change can be fixed by eliminating the estate tax, or bombing Iran. That should do it.”

At what point does the hippie-punching give way to addressing the roots of the problem where they actually lay?

Yes, Marco Rubio IS a creationist

Some people around the series of tubes are having a laugh at GOP rising star Senator Marco Rubio for saying not only does he not know how old the earth is, but that the issue is a matter of debate between science and creationism:

I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians… I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

Yes, Senator Rubio, we certainly can answer that.

Some people have taken the devil’s advocate position that what Rubio is saying should be defended, because he makes some mention of deferring to experts, and that’s a step in the right direction relative to the broad anti-science sentiment on the American right.

I don’t think even a generous parsing of Rubio’s comments can support that reading, though. It seems pretty clear that he’s saying we should give false balance between reality and creationist twaddle. And when you look at Rubio’s history, his creationism isn’t all that hard to see.

In Florida in 2008, creationists tried to water down teaching on evolution by introducing SB 2692. Marco Rubio voted in support of this creationist legislation. Moreover, although Senator Rubio seems to indicate in the above quote that he thinks children should be taught both the creationist views of the parents as well as what science actually says, in reality, Rubio opposes public schools teaching science that conflicts with creationist parenting:

The “crux” of the disagreement [over teaching evolution in public schools], according Rubio, is “whether what a parent teaches their children at home should be mocked and derided and undone at the public school level. It goes to the fundamental core of who is ultimately, primarily responsible for the upbringing of children. Is it your public education system or is it your parents?”

Rubio added, “And for me, personally, I don’t want a school system that teaches kids that what they’re learning at home is wrong.”

Senator Rubio is a creationist, who supports creationist legislation, and does not want public schools to teach scientific reality because it conflicts with creationist parenting.

And just a reminder, creationist Senators are nothing particularly new, nor are they restricted to the Republican party:

Christopher Monckton, birther – Part IV

Words fail. Previous entries here, here, and here.

Fox “News” is Beyond Parody

On the heels of what I was saying about conservative conspiracy mongering about polling data

News Corp/Fox are beyond parody. Their own polls show the same leads they’re conspiracy theorizing about:

Via Talking Points Memo.

Reality’s “Liberal” Bias – Presidential Polling Edition

I’ve been trying to avoid discussing the 2012 Presidential Election in the US for a number of reasons. I don’t think the Romney-Ryan ticket has been as terrible as the addition of Palin to the McCain ticket was in terms of climate (and science generally). I also sympathize greatly with the reluctance of non-”movement conservative” libertarians to vote for either front-runner given Obama’s foreign policy and civil liberties record and Romney’s rhetoric regarding the same.

That’s not to say I don’t have my own preferences or believe that there is no real difference between candidates. Rather this election seems to me, far more than the 2008 election, to be about issues that likely have much more to do with differing visions of the kind of America one wishes to see, rather than based on issues of objective fact.

But the above tweet, from conservative journalist Robert Stacy McCain (no relation to the 2008 Republican nominee), seemed worth commenting on. This idea that polling itself has somehow become part of the evil liberal-science nexus conspiring against conservatives is echoed by other conservative pundits and outlets, such as Townhall, Rick Wilson of Intrepid Media, the Weekly Standard, radio host Hugh Hewitt, the National Review, Fox (about 27 seconds in):

and even by the Romney campaign itself!

It has gotten to the point where conservatives have constructed an alternate reality in which the “liberal bias” has been removed from polling, showing Romney with an enormous lead:

If that sounds familiar, you might be aware of Conservapedia- the alternative to Wikipedia cleansed of filthy liberal lies about evolution, relativity, global warming, homosexuality, and the Bible.

In reality, what has changed recently isn’t so much the polling itself. Rather, it’s that the media has finally begun picking up on what the polling has been saying for quite some time. Media members will openly confess that their institutional biases (towards “balance” even where none might exist, towards conflict, towards drama, etc.) are in favor of making the race seem closer than it is. And for the most part, the media has until very recently been portraying the 2012 election as very much up in the air.

Meanwhile, polling-based election forecast models with good track records such as 538 and the Princeton Election Consortium have been projecting a likely Obama victory for months.

From 538:

And from (my preferred source for election polling) Sam Wang’s PEC:

I know that there are people who think partisanship is a zero sum game. If “your team” isn’t winning, it’s losing. The “other guys” are the enemy. And on and on. My vision of an ideal politics is similar to my vision of scientific skepticism. There is a loyal (to the advancement of knowledge or well-being) opposition between dissenting viewpoints. One that seeks to converge on solutions to problems based on an accumulation of evidence, rather than ideology. It’s probably a silly hope. But it’s what I wish for nonetheless.

So while some may cheer on the embrace of epistemic closure among many conservatives, knowing that will ultimately prove poisonous, I am saddened by it for the same reason.

Votes should be earned because of the merits of policies, not because one party loses its mind while the other (barely) does not. I don’t enjoy living in a world where scientists are pushed into the hands of a political party because the other is alienating them with this kind of idiocy.

When a party can depend on a demographic’s vote merely because it’s not the “other guys”, it becomes less sensitive to constituent needs, and democracy as a whole suffers.

Just a thought for those who might believe the conservative turning away from reality is a good thing for their team.

The conservative face of science and the role of consensus

[I realize that this has already been covered at Climate Progress and elsewhere, I am doing this more or less for archival purposes. -TB]

Image courtesy of Flickr user Scott Ableman, used under Creative Commons

The year 2011 started off with something of a surprise- George Will seemingly supporting science! Yes, this George Will. I wasn’t the only one taken aback.

Will’s journalistic colleague Andy Revkin was likewise surprised by this seeming about face from someone who all too readily attacked science when it conflicted with his conservative ideology, writing:

I think it’d make sense to devote at least as many column inches to this vital issue as you’ve expended trying to undercut decades of scientific study pointing to a growing human influence on the climate system.

This summer, Revkin again called upon Will to show how serious Will actually is about supporting science (and again at the end of August) by penning “a fresh column… building on [Will's] January rebuke of Republican lawmakers seemingly seeking to lead a charge away from federal support for science.” At the time, Revkin pointedly noted that Will was preoccupied with other topics.

Well, it appears Revkin now has Will’s response. GOP Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman recently had the gall to side with the scientific community on the issues of climate change and evolution. Today’s Republican party is infamously unique in its rejection of the scientific reality of man-made global warming. That a top-tier Republican candidate like Jon Huntsman would unabashedly stand with the scientific community was a welcome surprise.

Such apostasy was apparently sufficient to rouse Will’s attention where Revkin’s pleas to stand up for science were not. Will took to the pages of Fred Hiatt’s Washington Post to join his fellow Republicans’ assault on science.

Will sneered:

For Jon Huntsman: You, who preen about having cornered the market on good manners, recently tweeted, “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” Call you sarcastic. In the 1970s, would you have trusted scientists predicting calamity from global cooling?

Gee, Will sure does love recycling!

Setting aside the fallacy of believing that because science got something wrong in the past it follows that it’s incorrect now, Will is actually engaging in revisionist history.

Despite repeated claims by Will and others to the contrary, there was no consensus predicting cooling in the 70s. Rather predictions of warming “even then dominated scientists’ thinking” (Peterson 2008):

Had Huntsman listened to the balance of the scientific evidence in the 1970s, he would be looking pretty good 30 plus years later. Contrast that with Will, who manages to still get what was said then wrong today, even with the benefit of hindsight!

Will continues:

Are scientists a cohort without a sociology — uniquely homogenous and unanimous

I will freely stipulate that true unanimity is seldom achieved on any subject, no matter how well-established scientifically. That being said, on the question of the reality of man-made warming of the climate, it’s pretty darn close. Surveys of the primary literature show virtually no opposition (Oreskes 2004). Survey data also show that 97-98% of scientists with relevant expertise/who are actively publishing in relevant fields likewise support the consensus (Doran 2009, Anderegg 2010).

without factions or interests

On the contrary, climate science is necessarily an interdisciplinary field. And it’s precisely this patchwork, factious nature of the field that makes the aforementioned consensus all the more striking.

That scientists whose life’s work is focused on solar influence on climate are broadly in agreement with those who focus on the ocean’s role, and with those who study climatic changes in the geologic past due to orbital variation, volcanism, or plate tectonics, etc. that anthropogenic warming is driving the present climatic change is quite amazing, especially if one is as cynically-minded as Will. Self-interest (which we will see Will believes is quite the powerful motivator) is poorly served by the various alternative drivers of warming being exonerated by the scientists that study them.

and impervious to peer pressures or the agendas of funding agencies?

This is a rather pathetic appeal to motive. And it fails for much the same reason that the previous comment does. If one were interested in prolonging and maximizing the amount of funding one could receive for one’s own corner of the scientific community, swiftly and virtually unanimously reaching consensus on something is probably the worst possible way to go about it.

But if Will is genuinely interested in how scientific consensus can be reached and trusted, he could always consult an expert on the subject. Naomi Oreskes literally wrote the book on this topic as it concerns the triumph of plate tectonics (Oreskes 2001). For the truly concerned like Will, she’s also written an accessible primer on the consensus on global warming (Oreskes 2007).

Alas, given Will’s track record (e.g. here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here), the likelihood of him bothering to actually educate himself on the subject appears to be about as slim as Huntsman’s chances for the Republican nomination.

As a parting shot, Will cannot resist twisting the knife in Huntsman over his science-affirming campaign’s poor reception by today’s GOP voters:

Your chief strategist, John Weaver, says the “simple reason” the GOP is “nowhere near being a national governing party” is that “no one wants to be around a bunch of cranks.” … Although you say the country is “crying out” for a “sensible middle ground,” you have campaigned for three months on what you say is that ground and, according to the most recent Gallup poll, your support among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents is 1 percent.

The folly of codifying anti-science beliefs into a technologically-rooted nation’s political platform would seem self-evident, a “no brainer” as it were. Will and his fellow conservative elites would do well to reconsider their present course,  which is a “no brainer” of an altogether different kind.

Image courtesy of Flickr user saucy_pan, used under Creative Commons


  • Anderegg, W., et al. (2010): Expert credibility in climate change. Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (USA), 107, 27, 12107-12109, doi:10.1073/pnas.1003187107.
  • Doran, P.T., and M.K. Zimmerman (2009): Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change, Eos Trans. AGU, 90(3), 22, doi:10.1029/2009EO030002.
  • Oreskes, N., ed. (2001): Plate Tectonics: An Insider’s History of the Modern Theory of the Earth. Boulder: Westview Press, with Homer E. Le Grand.
  • Oreskes, N. (2004): Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change. Science, 306, 57021686, doi:10.1126/science.1103618.
  • Oreskes, N. (2007): The scientific consensus on climate change: How do we know we’re not wrong? Climate Change: What It Means for Us, Our Children, and Our Grandchildren, 65-99, DiMento and Doughman eds., MIT Press.
  • Peterson, T.C., et al. (2008): The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 89, 9, 1325-1337, doi:10.1175/2008BAMS2370.

[UPDATE: I see Phil Plait was having similar thoughts today.]

Credit Where Credit Is Due: Jon Huntsman Edition

Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has been earning some praise and concern for sending this reality-based tweet yesterday. Praise from those of us who wish desperately that science will not become a victim of the GOP’s identity politics. Concern from many who believe it already is, and that this effectively has ended Huntsman’s campaign.

While the beltway press seems to be obsessing over the antics of Rick Perry and Michelle Bachman, Huntsman has been flying more or less under the radar. For those who wish to know a little more about Huntsman, you could do worse than this recent Vogue profile.

As I said over at Kloor’s, it’s a sad day when politicians have to be applauded for mild acceptance of mainstream science, but applauded they should be.

Fox “News” demands employees spread disinformation about warming

Media Matters has the story.

Long story short, after someone at Fox made the mistake of reporting the reality that we’re in a warming trend, a memo was sent out that betrays both Fox’s scientific illiteracy (calling the instrumental record “theories”, really?) and its dedication to ensuring conservatives remain deluded about what’s going on in the world around them:

From: Sammon, Bill
To: 169 -SPECIAL REPORT; 036 -FOX.WHU; 054 -FNSunday; 030 -Root (FoxNews.Com); 050 -Senior Producers; 051 -Producers; 069 -Politics; 005 -Washington
Cc: Clemente, Michael; Stack, John; Wallace, Jay; Smith, Sean
Sent: Tue Dec 08 12:49:51 2009
Subject: Given the controversy over the veracity of climate change data…

…we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.

For a different- intelligent- perspective on what it means to be a journalist covering scientific issues and the idea of “choosing sides”, see Ed Yong’s articulate and inspiring call to arms:

Science journalism is a fundamentally different beast to, say, political reporting. Here, there is an objective truth. The MMR vaccine either causes autism or it doesn’t (it doesn’t). The world was either fashioned by a Creator or it wasn’t (it wasn’t).

… [T]his is about taking sides with truth. It’s about being knowledgeable enough to make a decent stab at uncovering the truth and presenting the outcomes of that quest to one’s readers, even if that outcome lies firmly on one side of a “debate”.

And obviously, the planet is either warming or it isn’t (it is). It’s not irresponsible to report facts as facts. What Fox demands of its employees is the opposite- to cast doubt on things that aren’t even in question in the scientific community due to the organization’s function as a Republican political propaganda organ.

“GOP plans attacks on the EPA and climate scientists”

For those who couldn’t see where all this was heading, read this LA Times article.

Dreams of a “post-partisan”  compromise clean energy “breakthrough” under a Republican-led House are just that- dreams.

UPDATE: Here’s James Fallows on the prospects of clean energy investment in a “divided” (i.e. GOP-led House) US government:

When a party is willing to hamstring the country’s overall prospects, as “collateral damage” in its effort to weaken the other party, the results are bad for everybody. To choose one example, about which I have more to say in an upcoming magazine article: Everybody knows that “green tech” / “clean tech” businesses of many descriptions are going to be a future source of jobs, wealth, influence, and growth. The Chinese government, as we’ve read so often, is putting a lot of money behind them — and will keep doing so over the next decade. The U.S. government has started making such investments in the past couple of years — but these will surely become hostage to “divided government,” since stopping them will be a way of “stopping Obama.” And what will really be stopped is America’s future share of such jobs, wealth, influence, and growth, since you can’t develop these projects through short-term, stop-start spending. Sigh. Rather, Grrrrrr.

“Public” opinion on global warming and solutions is not declining- conservative opinion is

Shocking, I know.

Denialism on the political right is becoming increasingly entrenched. When it comes to the basic issues of causation and general solutions there isn’t a “public acceptance” problem. There is a “right wing rejection of science incompatible with dominant conservative (anti-regulation, evangelical) ideologies” problem.

The solution is not to demonize the right wing, of course. But we can stop pretending that this is some sort of general failing of science communication and at least acknowledge where the problem audiences are. Moreover, once we all are willing to recognize this partisan divide for what it is, we need to reconsider the way we are going about seeking to change it. We can convince every “skeptic”, “lukewarmer”, what have you, and it won’t make a difference. I’ve been saying this for quite some time:

[The focus on winning them over on this narrow issue] misses the point… the short and sweet of it is that getting people to accept the mainstream… take on the science will do practically nothing to push the US (or Canada or Oz) towards meaningful policy action. This is due to the demographics of those who are unaccepting of the science, who they vote for, and the institutions that shape the type of politician these people vote for. Unless we can not only convince these people of the science and the necessity of mitigation and convince them that it’s important enough to be a top tier voting issue, such outreach is pointless.

Unfortunately being laughably wrong about science has no (or at least not nearly enough of a) social downside. Mainstream politicians can talk about literally believing in a talking snake or that the planet is “CO2 starved” and nothing bad happens to them.

… The idea that successful communication training and outreach by the scientific community will be sufficient to rollback these forces is… naive. As long as there are religious, political, and economic interests threatened by the conclusions of science, science will be under attack…

Convincing the people is not enough if the politicians they will vote for are persuaded to do nothing. Convincing politicians is not enough if they will be replaced by politicians who are persuaded to do nothing.

Even if you can overcome denialism in a constituency, that constituency may not convince their legislative representatives. Even if you convince the representatives, their larger intraparty dynamics may prevent them from acting on it. Even if these representatives are convinced to vote on it, they can and likely will still be challenged in primaries by Club for Growth, Koch Bros approved and funded candidates until they lose or change their position. There are significant institutional barriers to overcoming the partisan divide on climate at virtually every level of the political process.

And, bad news for the “breakthrough” boys and their journalistic cheerleaders, it applies to clean energy miracle funding as well:

Republican support for increased federal funding for wind, solar and hydrogen technology dropped 20 points from 2008, the survey found. There was a 13-point drop in the same time frame among GOP respondents favoring “better fuel efficiency” for vehicles.

Democratic views on the same questions changed little over the past two years, the poll found. Among independents, there was a decline, but less pronounced than with Republicans. The partisan difference likely is a result of increasing suspicion among Republicans about government spending, rather than disdain for renewable energy, said Christopher Borick of Muhlenberg College, who did not conduct the Pew poll. Carroll Doherty of the Pew Center echoed his comments about government funding.

“Anything that smacks of expansion of government budgets is unlikely to score very well with Republicans right now,” said Borick, who has studied public opinion on climate change.