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July 27 2012

21:21

Latest Pro-Keystone XL Website Backed by GOP Special Interest Group

This morning, the latest in pro-tar sands spin went live. KeystoneXLNow.com takes aim at President Obama for failing to approve the Keystone XL project (even though the White House just announced approval of the southern leg today), calling it "an affront to millions of Americans out of work and an outrage to millions more who are paying higher energy costs as a result of this administration's policies."

KeystoneXLNow.com invites users to send a message directly to the State Department to counterbalance "the crazy lefties [who] are already pouring in comments to give Obama an excuse to kill the pipeline." The site calls on users to "push back by filling the official State Department docket with comments demanding they stop stalling and approve the Keystone XL pipeline now!"

Not only is KeystoneXLnow.com rife with faulty facts, but its backers and secret funders make an oil trail back to the GOP and oil-backed right wing think tanks. 

KeystoneXLnow.com argues the U.S. State Department should expedite the review process of the Keystone XL because it could take years, and, worst case scenario, Canada will simply give up and build the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline to ship tar sands crude to Asia.

Failing to approve this tar sands pipeline project now will threaten "about 20,000 immediate jobs, a secure supply of North American oil, billions in private investment, and the global efficiency benefits of connecting a major crude source to the world’s most efficient refining center," the site claims.

Canadian oil giant TransCanada quickly tweeted about the campaign, which claims to have sent 13,000 emails and letters so far. 

A closer look at the website registration for KeystoneXLnow.com reveals the site was registered this morning to Phil Kerpen of the free market group American Commitment.


According to its website, American Commitment is "dedicated to restoring and protecting America’s core commitment to free markets, economic growth, Constitutionally-limited government, property rights, and individual freedom".

The Washington Post calls American Commitment "the latest GOP player", and notes the new group has already raised $7 million to attack Democrats, mostly at the state level. Apparently they aren't only focused on state-level battles. 

In addition to his role as the president of American Commitment, Phil Kerpen is a columnist on Fox News Opinion, chairman of the Internet Freedom Coalition, and author of the book Democracy Denied, part of the Heartland Institute's Author Series.

Kerpen previously worked for the Club for Growth, a Club offshoot called the Free Enterprise Fund and the libertarian Cato Institute.

Kerpen also spent the last five years working at Americans for Prosperity, co-founded by David Koch. Kerpen will not confirm whether the Kochtopus is bankrolling his latest front group.

As for the job creation claims that KeystoneXLnow.com touts, even TransCanada acknowledges that the claim that the project will create 20,000 immediate jobs is false.

TransCanada itself claims the project will create 13,000 direct construction jobs, a number from a report TransCanada commissioned from the Perryman Group. The Perryman Group, however, has refused to release important data behind its estimate, and there are deep flaws in their research methodology. In reality, TransCanada is counting "job years" in its job-creation estimates. In other words, TransCanada believes the project will produce 6,500 jobs that last for two years only.

Six thousand five hundred jobs is a far cry from the 20,000 KeystoneXLnow.com claims are at stake, but according to an independent assessment by Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, even the 6,500-job estimate is exaggerated. According to their analysis, the project would produce between 2,500 and 4,650 construction jobs — and could even end up costing the country jobs.

KeystoneXLNow.com also claims that KXL will provide "a secure supply of North American oil", and blames the Obama Administration's policies can for high energy prices. But according to TransCanada, KXL will increase the price of heavy crude oil in the Midwest by almost $2 to $4 billion annually, and those prices could further escalate over several years. This is because tar sands crude that now supplies Midwest refineries will be diverted so it can be sold at higher prices to the Gulf Coast and other export markets.

Consumers in the Midwest could pay 10 to 20 cents more per gallon for gasoline and diesel — adding $5 billion to annual US fuel costs.

In case there was a shadow of a doubt, KeystoneXLnow.com is little more than a secretly funded special interest group backing GOP candidates, using misinformation that is delaying our transition to a clean energy future. 

July 25 2012

14:19

If Conservatives Were Really “Conservative,” They Would Want to Do Something About Global Warming

Originally, when I asked MIT atmospheric scientist Kerry Emanuel to be a guest on the Point of Inquiry podcast, my goal was simple. I wanted someone who could give an expert take on the relationship between climate change and all the freakish weather we’ve been seeing. As for having this individual also be a self-described conservative and onetime voting Republican, and someone who fell under attack from Tea Party types because of his stance on climate change…well, that it was kind of icing on the cake.

As the interview progressed, though, I came to feel something quite different. I felt, ever so tentatively at least, that there is a real persuasive case to be made by conservatives to other conservatives about climate change, one that just might help bring them around to seeing the need for real policy solutions. What’s more, such a case might even prevail if conservatives in the U.S. today truly embraced the principles of their Burkean intellectual forefathers—which one can conclude almost by definition that they don’t, since they largely deny the science of global warming.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

At the start of the interview, Emanuel expertly detailed why we know climate science is reliable, how climate change manifests itself in extreme weather—statistically, of course, and not anecdotally—and why outright skepticism of global warming caused by humans just isn’t a credible intellectual position for one to hold any longer. So far, so good.

But where things got really interesting was around minute 14, where the conversation shifted towards policy and Emanuel made a conservative case for taking the science of climate change seriously, and finding a solution to the problem. “The thing to do is to get [conservatives] to understand how much they could potentially bring to the table in trying to figure out how we deal with these risks,” Emanuel explained.

What did he mean? Well, if one is a Burkean conservative, then one by definition wants to prevent risk to the existing order of things. One wants to conserve, to ensure stability. And since climate change is clearly a grave risk to economic, ecological, and overall planetary order, Emanuel naturally sees addressing global warming as a conservative idea. As he explained at minute 16 or so of the podcast:

It’s conservative in the little C sense that most people mean when they say, a conservative family insures itself, for example, and doesn’t take unnecessary risks and gambles. And that’s an important point, because what we’re dealing with here is risk. And a conservative approach to risk is, to take out an insurance policy, for one thing. And that’s the way we ought to be thinking about this problem.

Are you listening to that, conservatives?

But that was only the beginning of Emanuel’s conservative argument that today’s U.S. conservatives are doing global warming all wrong. Emanuel then went on to explain how the current state of affairs on energy policy is anything but…conservative:

On the energy side, there are a lot of things [going on] that aren’t conservative at all, that are at the heart of the problem. Is it a conservative free market principle for the U.S. taxpayer to be massively subsidizing one industry at the expense of another? No, I don’t think it is, but that’s precisely what we’re doing with fossil fuels. There are huge tax subsidies.

Is it a conservative principle to permit one business to pass on a major part of its cost of doing business to some completely different industry, make them pay the bill? There’s nothing conservative about that, but we do that massively for the coal industry. The coal industry racks up somewhere around 180 billion dollars a year of health costs, that have to be absorbed by ratepayers of insurance policies, and by taxpayers who are underwriting things like Medicare.

These aren’t conservative principles.

I have to confess that at around this point in the interview, I wanted to cry out, preach it Brother Emanuel. I was getting pretty darn fired up. It all makes so much sense that a conservative wouldn’t want to put up with this kind of stuff. Subsidies? Come on.

But of course, it doesn’t really help for me to have some weird out of body experience and get all psyched up on behalf of conservatives being principled. After all, I’m still a liberal at the end of the day. It’s not me who needs psyching or convincing.

The question, then, is why today’s U.S. conservatives don’t listen to people like Emanuel, despite the fact that he speaks to them in a language that they ought to understand, and furthermore, speaks as one of them?

This is, of course, a question that takes us very deep into the Republican brain. Emanuel, in our the interview, basically blamed it all on the extremism of the Tea Party—the very same extremism that pushed him out of the Republican Party and made him call himself an Independent (although philosophically still a "conservative").

But I’m not so sure it’s that simple. I think that the natural conservative tendency to want order and stability tends to travel along with a lot of other tendencies—to want find such stability in the group, the tribe, the team; to more adhere to dogma and religious beliefs; to staunchly defend the tribe and banish outsiders (like Emanuel)—and an overall tendency towards closure and fixity of beliefs, rather than openness to new ideas. In other words, psychological conservatism all too readily undermines sensible intellectual conservatism—leading to a situation where someone like Kerry Emanuel makes a whole lot of conservative sense…and so-called conservatives want nothing to do with it, because they've gone all in on a worldview that won't allow it.

So perhaps Emanuel’s response, when I bluntly asked him why he didn’t stay around and fight to reclaim his onetime political party, makes sense. He laughed, and then frankly added,

I’m still quite willing to talk to anybody about this problem that wants to listen to it, and talk about the fact that we ought to be debating the things that are really debatable about these problems.

Here’s hoping Emanuel will find a lot of conservative people to talk with. At least in a former incarnation, I think Mitt Romney is just the sort of conservative who would have listened.

Which…yeah. Which gets at the very root of the problem.

To listen to my full interview with Kerry Emanuel, click here.

July 23 2012

13:01

It’s the Weather, Stupid: Slowly Re-Awakening the Public About Climate Change

The Yale and George Mason Centers on Climate Change Communication, collaborators on the well-known “Six Americas” studies of how the public views global warming, are out with their latest report, the fifth in the series. And it hints at an underlying theme discernible in many of these surveys: On climate change, the U.S. public is a lot like a weather vane. When there’s freaky weather—like now—people increasingly worry about global warming. When the weather is what they’re used to and expect, not so much.

Let’s start with some background on the “Six Americas” study: It began in the fall of 2008, that hopeful time when Barack Obama was soon to win the U.S. presidency and many thought he’d address the global warming problem within the short space of a year. In those days, fully half of the public fell into the two “Six Americas” audience segments that evince the most worry about global warming—the “Alarmed” and the “Concerned.” Yet by January of 2010—following “ClimateGate” and the failed Copenhagen summit—the number of Americans falling into these two segments had tumbled by 11 percentage points. Meanwhile, the denialist segment of the public—the “Dismissive” category—had ballooned dramatically, from 7 percent to 16 percent.

Those were sad and depressing days for science and environment advocates; and when it comes to public opinion, we have not yet clawed back to where we were in the fall of 2008. But what the latest survey hints at is that the public is growing more concerned again—a finding that is particularly noteworthy in that these data only run through March of 2012, and thus really only take into account the freakily warm winter (not, you know, the summer heat waves, wildfires, and drought).

I’m betting that since March 2012, Americans have gotten even more alarmed over global warming—perhaps moving all the way back to where they were in fall 2008.

Anyway, what’s interesting in the latest data is that from November 2011 to March 2012, the number of Americans falling into the “Cautious” category on global warming had gone up considerably. (See figure 1a). This is a centrist category, leaning more towards being alarmed than toward being denialist, but still not fully convinced that humans are causing global warming. At the same time, the “Disengaged” category—even more skeptical than the “Cautious,” but not particularly fired up about denialism—has shrunk, as some of its members presumably moved in the direction of feeling “Cautious.”

In other words, it looks as though on global warming, the middle ground has been subtly shifting—and again, this is only through March 2012.

What does any of this have to do with the weather? Well, as Yale and George Mason note in a message to readers about the latest survey:

93 percent of the Alarmed92 percent of the Concerned74 percent of the Cautious, and 73 percent of the Disengaged say that global warming is affecting weather in the United States. Majorities of these groups also say that global warming made several extreme weather and natural disasters in 2011 worse, including the drought in Texas and Oklahoma, floods in the Mississippi River Valley, and record high temperatures across much of the U.S.

Remember that the “Cautious” and “Disengaged” normally aren’t even sure whether humans are causing global warming. Yet nevertheless, when asked about weird weather in March of 2012, they were quite sure global warming was behind it.

How much do you want to bet that they are even more sure of this now?

Another way of thinking about this is that the “Alarmed” and the “Concerned” are keyed in to the climate issue pretty much no matter what. So, for that matter, are the “Doubtful and Dismissive”—who stick to their denialist guns in the face of all counter-evidence (especially the "Dismissive"). But the “Cautious” and the “Disengaged”—those in the middle—are less reliable, more malleable, and more sensitive to things like weather. That means they’re most likely to move, to change their views.

In recent, powerful testimony before the House of Representatives, Joe Romm called upon our government to “do its job” and tackle global warming. If legislators are up to that challenge, I’m willing to bet the public will increasingly fall in behind them. 

April 02 2012

17:17

Judith Curry Was For Me Before She Was Against Me

I first got to know Judith Curry—the Georgia Tech researcher who blogs at “Climate, Etc.,” and has been drawn into controversy for, in her words, “challenging many aspects of the IPCC consensus”—when I was working on my second book, Storm World. I spent a fair amount of time with Curry, and with the other scientists profiled in the book—interviewing them in person, getting to understand their research. This is what science writers do.

At the time, Curry and her colleagues were just coming off a media feeding frenzy after having published papers linking hurricanes to global warming right in the middle of the devastating 2005 hurricane season.

When Storm World came out, it is no exaggeration to say that Curry gave it a rave review. I want to quote in full from her Five Star endorsement at Amazon.com, which is entitled “Science writing at its very best.” Bear with me, this will all become very relevant; and I've italicized a few important parts:

To provide a frame of reference for this review, I and my colleagues Peter Webster and Greg Holland are among the scientists that are featured prominently in Storm World. Our involvement in the issue of hurricanes and global warming began when we published an article in Science shortly before the landfall of Hurricane Rita, where we reported a doubling of the number of category 4 and 5 hurricanes globally since 1970. When Chris Mooney first approached me with his idea for writing a book on this topic, I was somewhat skeptical. I couldn't see how this could be accomplished given the rapid changes in the science (I was worried the book would be outdated before it was published), the complexities of the technical aspects of the subject, a concern about how the individual scientists would be treated and portrayed, and a concern that the political aspects of the issue would be handled in a partisan way. Over the course of the past year and a half, it became apparent that Mooney was researching this issue extremely thoroughly and was developing a good grasp of both the history and technical aspects of the subject. Upon finally reading the book, I can only say Storm World has far exceeded any hope or expectation that I could have had for a book on this subject.

read more

March 26 2012

12:44

How Do You Build a Scientific Republican?

It’s widely known that Republicans, far more than Democrats, reject modern climate science. And more and more, it has become apparent that this is at least partly because Republicans have a deep distrust of scientists in general, or at least environmental scientists.

But there are many other causes for this rejection as well. These include Republicans’ strongly individualistic system of values—basically, a go-it-alone sense that government is the problem, and markets the solution—and even, perhaps, some aspects of their personalities or psychologies. This is something that I’ve argued in my new book.

There is also, of course, the huge role of Fox News in all of this: Watching it causes conservatives to have more false beliefs than they would otherwise, about issues like climate change. We’ve written about this extensively on DeSmogBlog; and I’ve highlighted a new video on the “Fox misinformation effect” here and below.

Such are some of the factors that seem to build an anti-science Republican; but now, researchers at George Mason, American University, and Yale have swooped in to ask the reverse question. Given that this is so, how do you make a pro-science one? Or in other words, what attributes or beliefs predict being an outlier Republican who actually believes that global warming is real and caused by humans?

The researchers call such Republicans “counter-normative.” That’s academic speak for “out in the cold” in their party right now.

read more

March 22 2012

13:05

The Science of Truthiness: Why Conservatives Deny Global Warming

These are notes for remarks that Chris Mooney gave recently at the Tucson Festival of Books, where he was asked to talk about his new book on a panel entitled “Will the Planet Survive the Age of Humans?” Video of the panel is currently available from C-SPAN here. Please note: Mooney’s notes do not necessarily match his spoken word perfectly. 

I want to thank you for having me.

So the question before us on this panel is, “Will the Planet Survive the Age of Humans?” And I want to focus on one particularly aspect of humans that makes them very problematic in a planetary sense—namely, their brains.

What I’ve spent the last year or more trying to understand is what it is about our brains that makes facts such odd and threatening things; why we sometimes double down on false beliefs when they’re refuted; and maybe, even, why some of us do it more than others.

And of course, the new book homes in on the brains—really, the psychologies—of politically conservative homo sapiens in particular. You know, Stephen Colbert once said that “reality has a well-known liberal bias.” And essentially what I’m arguing is that, not only is that a funny statement, it’s factually true, and perhaps even part of the nature of things.

Colbert also talked about the phenomenon of “truthiness,” and as it turns out, we can actually give a scientific explanation of truthiness—which is what I’m going to sketch in the next ten minutes, with respect to global warming in particular.  

I almost called the book “The Science of Truthiness”—but “The Republican Brain” turns out to be a better title.

The Facts About Global Warming

So first off, let’s start with the facts about climate change—facts that you’d think (or you’d hope) any human being ought to accept.

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March 14 2012

16:04

Is James Inhofe Shilling For God, or Oil? The Correct Answer is “Both”

Last week, we were treated to one of those facepalm moments that make those of us who care about the future of planet intensely frustrated. Or worse.

Senator James Inhofe, climate conspiracy theorist, was on a Christian radio program talking about his new book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. And here’s what he said (audio at link):

Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in [the book] is that “as long as the earth remains there will be springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.” My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.

Okay, forget about the biblically-based climate denial for a moment. I’m kind of fascinated by Inhofe’s statement that God is still “up there.” Really? Like, in the sun? Directly over our heads?

Is Inhofe a pre-Copernican as well as a global warming denier? Does he not realize that while “up” might have meant a great deal to Ptolemaic Christians, it has no real significance in the context of modern physics and cosmology?

What’s most frustrating, though, is this bizarre invocation of Scripture to justify the idea that we don’t need to worry about climate change. For those of us who are secular in outlook, it’s not just that this makes no sense. The idea that such sectarian notions—arguments or motivations that cannot be proved by rational argument or discussion with those who do not share Inhofe’s religious premises—could be influencing U.S. policy is, frankly, shocking.

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March 12 2012

21:07

Fox News’s Attacks on Climate Science Now Include The Denial of Basic Physics

There was a time, believe it or not, when Fox New’s Shepard Smith openly mocked global warming deniers—seriously comparing them to a man who got stuck in a portable toilet. (Hat tip to D.R. Tucker for showing me this clip.) But since then, Fox has become a veritable misinformation machine on this topic.

One way the station sows doubt about the scientific consensus on climate change is through constantly putting climate “skeptics” on the air. A study by American University’s Lauren Feldman and her co-authors, for example, found that in the period of 2007-2008, 46 percent of Fox’s guests discussing global warming were climate change doubters. By contrast, only 40 percent of guests defended the scientific consensus.

That’s not just phony "balance"—that’s coverage strongly tilted towards unreality. And if anything, I suspect that Fox has grown still more unbalanced during the Obama years.

One of Fox’s frequent doubter guests is meteorologist Joe Bastardi,  who recently said on the show that carbon dioxide “literally cannot cause global warming.” As Media Matters soon pointed out, this statement seems to throw out over 100 years of science on the greenhouse effect, and the behavior of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

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February 29 2012

12:39

New Data: 81 Percent of Climate Deniers Think Scientists Are In It “For Their Own Interests"

The Brookings Institution has a new report out on the public's views about global warming, and most commentators are going for the predictable headline. It's this: Following the post-ClimateGate decline in belief that global warming is happening, we're now seeing a bit of a rebound. More people believe the planet is warming than they did in early 2010—probably in part due to warm weather.

That is good news—not great news by any means, but surely something. People certainly seem remarkably fickle and malleable on this topic, but then, they always are in polls.

To me, though, what you’ve just read is not really the headline. I dug into the Brookings data, and found something much juicier (and newer).

In the poll, 42 percent of Republicans say there isn’t solid evidence that the Earth is warming, and another 11 percent say they are unsure. In contrast, only 15 % of Democrats are out and out deniers. (Note: People were not being asked whether humans are causing global warming, which would have made these numbers much worse.) 

And here’s the thing: Of the deniers—Democrat or Republican, but mostly Republican—81 percent also think that “scientists are overstating evidence about global warming for their own interests.” That's a finding I've never seen before—and a very disturbing one.

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February 27 2012

15:29

James Inhofe Takes the Climate Conspiracy Theory to New Heights—While His Home State Reels from Record Heat

James Inhofe, Republican Senator from Oklahoma, has a new book out. It is entitled The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.

I have not read it yet. So I cannot say much about its contents, but I can say this: The title suggests that Inhofe, like Rick Santorum, is endorsing the global warming conspiracy theory. Indeed, where Santorum only muttered the word “hoax” without a great deal of elaboration, it looks like Inhofe is going to put some real meat onto those paranoid bones.

Let me once again reiterate why the global warming conspiracy theory is, well, just plain ridiculous.

To believe that global warming is a “hoax,” or that there is a “conspiracy,” you must believe in coordinated action on the part of scientists, environmental ministers, politicians, and NGOs around the world. It won’t do just to situate the hoax in the United States and its own scientific and NGO community, because the idea of human-caused global warming is endorsed by scientists, and scientific academies, around the globe.

Any one of these could blow the whistle on the so-called “hoax.” That this has not happened either means there is no hoax, or that the degree of conspiracy and collusion—among people who are notoriously individualistic and non-conformist, by the way—is mindboggling. We're talking about some serious cat-herding going on.

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February 13 2012

16:21

Republicans Aren’t the “Truth Party,” Mr. Santorum. They’re the “Certainty Party.”

Rick Santorum has been talking about the “politicization of science” a lot lately—although (a pet peeve of mine) he seems to have a problem with pronouncing the phrase. He says “polititization.” Check it out here.

Not as bad as the people who say "political-ization," but don't get me started.

Anyway, this is part of a broader narrative Santorum has woven, one in which the left wants to misuse science in order to exert control over you and quash your freedoms. This is particularly apparent in Santorum’s recent CPAC speech, where he once again hints at a climate conspiracy theory: Global warming was made up to help leftists take control of the global economy.

In another recent speech in Oklahoma, meanwhile, Santorum said similar things but made a point of asserting that Republicans are not the ones politicizing science. “You hear all the time, the left: ‘The conservatives are the anti-science party,’” Santorum said. “No. No we’re not. We’re the truth party.”

Well, actually, the data clearly show that Republicans distrust the scientific community more than Democrats do, at least on environmental issues. They really are more “anti-science,” at least when the term is defined in this manner—based on trust in the scientific community.

Nevertheless, I understand what Santorum means.

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February 08 2012

14:19

Santorum Calls Global Warming a “Hoax,” Suggesting a Full-Fledged Climate Conspiracy Theory

Conservatism is a political philosophy that is, at its most fundamental, about resisting change.

So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that an outrageous and absurd line uttered about global warming in 2003—Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe’s assertion that it is the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people”—has not, nearly a decade later, been discredited on the right. Instead, this idea has persisted.

Indeed, the “hoax” charge was recently reiterated by Rick Santorum—who uttered it in Colorado on Monday en route to his three state primary triumph yesterday.

This raises at least two points for me that bear addressing:

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February 06 2012

15:38

A Conservative Ignores the Science on Why…Conservatives Ignore the Science

David Klinghoffer, of the anti-evolutionist Discovery Institute, has a revealing article in the conservative American Spectator entitled: “Republicans and Science (as opposed to liberals and the science they’ve politicized).”

Why “revealing”? Klinghoffer seeks to explain the real reason why conservatives like himself resist certain scientific findings. But in the process, he shows a surprising, er, inattentiveness to the scientific research on this very topic.

At the same time, Klinghoffer also strikingly affirms the results of that research by…denying science for ideological reasons that are quite obviously rooted in deep-set (and even gut level) conservative moral impulses.

In other words, he’s doing precisely what the science tells us he is going to do.

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January 27 2012

16:23

The Uneasy Relationship Between Explaining Science to Conservatives...and Explaining Conservatives Scientifically

Over the past year or more, I’ve profited from a series of conversations and exchanges with Yale’s Dan Kahan, the NSF supported researcher who has made great waves studying how our cultural values predispose us to discount certain risks (like, say, climate change). Kahan’s schematic for approaching this question—dividing us up into hierarchs versus egalitarians, and individualists versus communitarians—is a very helpful one that gets to the root of all manner of dysfunctions and misadventures in the relationship between politics, the U.S. public, and science.

Kahan says that his goal is to create a “science of science communication”: In other words, understanding enough about what really makes people tick (including in politicized areas) so that we know how to present them with science in a way that does not lead to knee-jerk rejections of it. Thus, for instance, presenting conservatives with factual information about global warming packaged as evidence in favor of expanding nuclear power actually makes them less defensive, and more willing to accept what the science says—because now it has been framed in a way that fits their value systems.

This is a very worthy project—but it doesn’t only tell us how to communicate science to conservatives. It tells us something scientific about who conservatives are. They are people who are often motivated—instinctively, at a gut level—to support, default to, or justify hierarchical systems for organizing society: Systems in which people aren’t equal, whether along class, gender, or racial lines. And they are motivated to support or default to individualistic systems for organizing (or not organizing) society: People don’t get help from government. They’re on their own, to succeed or fail as they choose.

It is one thing to accurately and scientifically explain how these values motivate conservatives. And it is another to reflect on whether one considers these values to be the ones upon which a virtuous and just society really ought to be built.

Kahan’s way of explaining conservatives, based on their moral values, is closely related to other approaches, like the well known one of University of Virginia social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. Haidt does it a little differently, talking about the different “moral foundations” of liberals and conservatives. But there’s a heck of a lot of overlap. For Haidt, liberals care about fairness or equality, and they care about protecting people from harm. This is roughly analogous to egalitarianism and communitarianism. Conservatives, however, have other “moral foundations”: They care about respect for authority (e.g., hierarchy). They care about loyalty to the group (or to put a more negative spin on it, tribalism). And they care about purity or sanctity and whether someone does something perceived to be, you know, disgusting (especially sexually).

 Again, when one reflects on whether these values are actually, you know, good ones, I would have to answer “no.” I don’t think respecting authority is so great—authorities are too often naked emperors—and this is of course why I am an anti-authoritarian liberal. I definitely don’t like tribalism, though I do appreciate the power of loyalty in a foxhole or on a football team. And I don’t think the “yuck factor,” or someone’s personal sense of what is disgusting, is a good basis (standing on its own, anyway) for deciding how we ought to be governed.

The point is that it is one thing to understand how to reach conservatives—e.g., frame information in the context of these sorts of values—and it is another thing to understand conservatives, and to really think about what it means that human beings divide up, politically, based upon these kinds of differences.

And of course, Kahan’s and Haidt’s approaches are just two out of many scientific approaches for understanding the differences between what makes liberals, versus conservatives, tick. Other approaches have focused on left-right personality differences, on different physiological responses to stimuli and patterns of attention, on some differences in brain structure and function, and even, believe it or not, on genes.

This stuff is, if anything, even more wildly controversial than Kahan’s or Haidt’s work. But it, too, is good science: peer reviewed, insightful, important.

I bring all of this up, by the way, because Kahan has just written me a “Hey, Chris Mooney” open letter. He knows I have a book coming out on the science of liberals and conservatives, a science to which he himself has contributed, even if this is not his primary goal. He says he welcomes my project, but asks me to imagine a different one—he calls it the “Liberal Republic of Science” project—and whether it is worthy:

Imagine someone (someone very different from you; very different from me)— a conservative Republican, as it turns out—who says: "Science is so cool — it shows us the amazing things God has constructed in his cosmic workshop!"

Forget what percentage of the people with his or her cultural outlooks (or ideology) feel the way that this particular individual does about science (likely it is not large; but likely the percentage of those with a very different outlook — more secular, egalitarian, liberal — who have this passionate curiosity to know how nature works is small too. Most of my friends don't—hey, to each his own, we Liberals say!).

My question is do you (& not just you, Chris Mooney; we—people who share our cultural outlooks, worldview, "ideology") know how to talk to this person? Talk to him or her about climate change, or about whether his daughter should get the HPV vaccine? Or even about, say, how chlorophyll makes use of quantum mechanical dynamics to convert sunlight into energy? I think what "God did in his/her workshop" there would blow this person's mind (blows mine).

I actually do know how to talk to this person about climate change—though I wouldn’t be the best person to do it, since I can’t walk the walk and wouldn’t sound at all authentic. But the answer is to talk about the biblical mandate to serve as stewards of the creation. And research like Kahan’s has been critical in helping us generally understand how to frame science for different audiences—for people like this hypothetical conservative.

Kahan goes on to ask:

I look forward to reading The Republican Brain.

But there's another project out there — let's call it the Liberal Republic of Science Project — that is concerned to figure out how to make both the wisdom and the wonder of science as available, understandable, and simply enjoyable to citizens of all cultural outlooks (or ideological "brain types") as possible.

The project isn't doing so well. It desperately needs the assistance of people who are really talented in communicating science to the public.

I think it deserves that assistance.  

Wouldn't you agree?

Yes, I agree very strongly, though I don’t think the project is ailing as badly as Kahan suggests. If  you look at now, versus five years ago, there is much more openness to the project than there was before. Approaches that I got virulently attacked for advocating in 2007 and 2009—like “framing” scientific information and pushing scientists to engage in outreach, as I did in the book Unscientific America—now scarcely meet with a peep of protest within the scientific community.

So I actually think that ball—call it the “science communication” ball—has left the pitcher’s hand. People are out there trying to communicate science in all manner of sophisticated and increasingly audience sensitive ways (including conservative audience-sensitive ways). Kahan’s research is, I’d wager, having a profound influence on that enterprise.

I’m part of that enterprise, I devote myself to it every month, and I believe in it deeply.

But here’s the thing: I’ve also read my history of science. And it tells me that sometimes, when science comes along, it is fundamentally challenging to the most firmly held worldviews, and meets with adamant rejection—because people just can’t face the music.

This certainly describes global warming science today. It describes the science of evolution. And although we don’t really know yet, it may well describe the science of liberals and conservatives.

In other words, while you may well be able to use research like Kahan’s to make conservatives receptive to certain types of science, there may also be some aspects science that they are just bound to reject. And ultimately, there may be only so much you can do to blunt the force of such science through some type of frame game.

Science is, let us remember, one of the most destabilizing forces on the planet. It is relentless in its constant driving of change—change not only in how we live, but how we think. In this, it is a liberal force—always searching after the new and different. So sometimes, it can’t help but clash with conservative forces—striving to preserve and avert change.

So Hey Dan Kahan, here’s what I’ll say: Without your project we’d be much, much poorer.

But the fact is that when it comes to understanding our politics, and our politics of science, and our science of politics, we live in really….interesting times. Too interesting, I predict, for some people to handle—and too interesting for other people, including scientists, to resist.

January 20 2012

18:41

Friends with Benefits: The Harper Government, EthicalOil.org and Sun Media Connection

Just over a week before the Northern Gateway Pipeline hearings began, EthicalOil.org and its allies launched a pre-emptive PR offensive on environmental and First Nations groups who oppose the pipeline. Their new website, OurDecision.ca, and ad campaign are an attempt to invalidate opposition to the pipeline by pointing to the small amount of American funding going to some environmental groups, and claiming that pipeline opponents are actually the “puppets” of “foreign interests.”

Sun News was first to promote the campaign, and by the end of the week, numerous papers across Canada were repeating the story. After mentioning last November that "significant American interests" would line up against the pipeline, Stephen Harper eagerly picked up where he left off, touting EthicalOil.org's cause, decrying the foreign influence attempting to “overload” the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Review. By Monday, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver had penned a letter to Canadians denouncing the foreign interests trying to “hijack” the review process "to achieve their radical ideological agenda". The same ominous tone and divisive talking points were parroted over and over by EthicalOil.org, Harper, Oliver and the credulous media, driving an entire week of news coverage.  

The OurDecision.ca campaign was timed to hit national news just as many Canadians were tuning into this issue for the first time, and this frame (“foreign interests” vs. a “Canadian decision”) could have a lasting impact on how people view one of the most important debates in a generation. 

So how did a small industry front group with secretive funding sources manage to have so much impact on the national conversation? Well, it looks like the Harper government, EthicalOil.org, and Sun Media have coordinated with one another to create an echo chamber that turns industry talking points into national news. We'll show how one digital communications company intimately connects EthicalOil.org, the Harper Government and Sun Media.

Ethical Oil Echo Chamber

The 'ethical oil' echo chamber was built in 2010, after the release of Ezra Levant's book of the same name. As Donald Gutstein writes, Sun papers prominently featured three excerpts from Levant's book, giving it national exposure. Through a series of articles and appearances in Sun-owned papers, the National Post and right wing talk shows, an echo chamber of voices amplified the 'ethical oil' message. Then came bloggers like Alykhan Velshi, who helped to turn Levant's book into the ethicaloil.org website, and before long it reached the mouths of politicians.

From Gutstein's perspective, ideas often take years to percolate through public opinion filters before they end up on national policy agendas. But in this case, it appears that industry and government synced up messaging very rapidly. 

Go NewClear

Last week, we reported an extensive web that connects EthicalOil.org with oil interests, the Harper government, and other conservative leaders and groups. At the centre is Go Newclear, a Vancouver-based digital communications agency with a focus on public affairs and politics. An analysis of the web server hosting of gonewclearproductions.com reveals an intricate network of over 50 websites connected primarily to the Conservative Party of Canada, the Wildrose Alliance Party, EthicalOil.org, and other right wing causes and politicians.

Go Newclear’s President and COO is Hamish Marshall, the husband of current Ethical Oil spokesperson Kathryn Marshall, and a former Conservative campaigner, former PMO staffer and Conservative strategist deeply connected to oil interests. The other two principals in the company have deep connections to the Harper government as well.

One of the principals, Brendan Jones, worked as a website administrator for the Office of the Leader of the Opposition from August 2005-February 2006. Following Harper's election, he worked as the special assistant for the Prime Minister from February 2006-November 2007. Jones then moved to the Conservative Resources Group, or Conservative Caucus Research Bureau, an agency responsible for developing political communication products, branding and marketing decisions and liaising between the federal Conservative caucus and Prime Minister’s Office, until 2009. In that role, he was a television and radio specialist. The third principal of Go Newclear, Travis Freeman, is still listed with the Conservative Resources Group.

Now that we know that EthicalOil.org and the Conservative government are deeply connected, what about the other part of the Conservative echo chamber, Sun Media?

Digital fingerprints

A follow-up analysis of the network neighborhood around the Go Newclear server revealed some amazing coincidences. Almost right beside their "birds of a feather" server is another server that hosts suntvnews.ca, suntvnewchannel.ca, suntvnewschannel.com, suntvnewschannel.net and suntvnewschannel.org. The IP addresses for these servers are different by only two numbers, and it is highly likely they are sitting right next to each other.
 
Deepclimate notes some considerable similarities between the websites. In addition, an analysis of many of the websites either currently or previously on the neighboring servers show a number of striking similarities at the code level including naming conventions and comment style. Of particular interest is the CSS Reset. The sites we have analyzed use the exact same derivative of Eric Meyer's classic CSS Reset.
 
Go Newclear's Brendan Jones also has the same CSS Reset on his personal website. 
 
The websites of KathrynMarshall.ca, abingdon.ca, campusPC.ca, JohnParker.ca, DavidYager.ca, DustinNau.comVoteDougCooper.ca and axethegastax.ca also have the same CSS Reset, and are all listed as authored by Newclear. 
 

As Evan Leeson, the Principal of Catalyst Internet (which is DeSmogBlog's IT team) and a 19 year veteran of website development writes: 

Developers have their bag of reusable tricks to make coding efficient. In this case, all of these sites use precisely the same CSS reset - same elements, same formatting, down to the character. Many sites will use something similar to this one, but this is exact. It's even used on Newclear's own custom home page. It is highly likely the same developer did all these sites.

Connecting the Dots

The aforementioned Sun TV News websites were registered in December of 2008, prior to Sun Media’s application with the CRTC (the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission) in 2010. SunTVNews.ca was a promotional website that invited Canadians to pledge to watch the channel when it was launched. It appears that GoNewclear registered these websites while both Brendan Jones and Travis Freeman were working directly for the Conservative Caucus Research Bureau.  

At the time of the website registration, Kory Teneycke was Prime Minister Stephen Harper's director of communications. He had been the director of the Conservative Caucus Research Bureau while both Jones and Freeman worked there. 

On March 30, 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper went to New York to meet with Ruport Murdoch. The meeting did not appear on Harper's itinerary, and was intended to be secret, according to reporting by Bruce Cheadle of the Canadian Press. The pair were joined by the President of Fox News (and legendary Republican communications expert), Roger Ailes, and Kory Teneycke.

Within four months of this meeting, Kory Teneycke took a contract with Quebecor to explore the creation of a new Canadian media outlet. Then, ten months later, Quebecor launched Sun Media. Teneycke is now the vice president of the Sun News Network.

This new information sheds some new light on this meeting, and provokes a few fundamental questions. Why does a website for our new conservative-leaning media institution, dubbed "Fox News North," appear to have a direct link to government staffers? On whose orders were these websites created by Go Newclear? Were any of these orders from government? From oil companies?

It's time for the media to ask some hard questions about the relationships that are powering the EthicalOil.org echo chamber. 

 

Check out this funny Rick Mercer video mocking the "foreign influence" campaign:

January 13 2012

18:32

Cozy Ties: Astroturf 'Ethical Oil' and Conservative Alliance to Promote Tar Sands Expansion

As the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project Joint Review Panel begins hearing over 4,000 comments submitted by community members, First Nations, governments, and environmental groups, the tar sands front group EthicalOil.org has launched its latest PR offensive in support of the pipeline. OurDecision.ca, the new astroturf ad campaign, is another dirty PR attempt to undermine the real and growing grassroots opposition to Big Oil’s plans to ram through this destructive pipeline. 

The controversial Northern Gateway project is opposed by 70 First Nations and a majority of British Columbians, who fear the inevitable oil spills that will accompany tar sands expansion, and in particular the threat of offshore tanker accidents on BC’s coast.

Viewers of Ethical Oil’s disingenuous new ad campaign aren’t being told about the intricate web of industry influence peddlers behind the effort and their connections to the Harper government and oil interests. In the middle of this web is Hamish Marshall, a Conservative strategist deeply connected to oil interests as well as both the Conservatives and ultra-right wing Wildrose Alliance Party. In this case, the lines between politics and big business interests are so blurred, it is nearly impossible to distinguish them.

OurDecision.ca is the Ethical Oil Institute's attempt to dupe northern BC citizens into supporting the Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker infrastructure, claiming that it’s “our choice” as Canadians to exploit the tar sands and pipe it to foreign export terminals. The fact that the oil boom will actually enrich foreign investors from China, Europe and the multinational oil companies with a major stake in Alberta oil patch is nowhere to be seen in Ethical Oil’s propaganda. (The hypocrisy of their arguments here is reminiscent of their previous attempt to claim the mantle of women's rights to greenwash the tar sands.)

Since the overwhelming public opposition to the project is hard to argue with directly, Ethical Oil decided to change the subject entirely by claiming a foreign conspiracy because some of the environmental organizations working to oppose tar sands expansion receive funding from U.S. foundations. 

Stephen Harper was quick to echo EthicalOil.org’s talking points by decrying the foreign influence that is “overloading” the Northern Gateway review process. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver took a page from Harper's playbook, writing that environmental groups "threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda," using funding from "foreign special interest groups."

The “foreign special interests” in question are progressive American foundations that fund a wide range of initiatives: from education and infrastructure in developing countries, to the performing arts and urban poverty in North America and around the world.

Since climate change recognizes no political borders, the foundations have supported the efforts of a wide range of Canadian and American groups to raise awareness about the consequences of expanding tar sands development. This is a global issue, no doubt about it, and that's why people from all over the world are watching Canada and weighing in on this. Tyler Mccreary covers this point well today at Rabble.

Yet, Ethical Oil's OurDecision.ca website refers to these foundations and environmental groups as “foreigners and their local puppets.”

ETHICAL OIL

Ethicaloil.org is a classic case of dirty energy industry astroturf. Visit OurDecision.ca’s donation page, and you’ll be linked to a PayPal account for the Ethical Oil Institute. As previously noted, the Ethical Oil Institute was incorporated to the Edmonton law firm McLennan Ross, which has many tar sands industry clients.

The Ethical Oil Institute's Board of Directors has two members, Ezra Levant (the creator of the 'Ethical Oil' myth) and Thomas Ross, Levant’s lawyer and a McLellan Ross partner. Thomas Ross is also one of ten lead partners in McLellan Ross’s OilSandsLaw.com initiative, a “slick new oilsands cross-selling strategy" and marketing campaign.

But that's just the beginning of the connection. The websites of both OurDecision.ca and EthicalOil.org are hosted on exactly the same server and IP address as strategicimperativesonline.com. Normally this wouldn’t be surprising – it's common for many websites to be hosted on the same server. But this isn't a coincidence. Strategicimperativesonline.com is registered to GoNewClear Productions, a business incorporated in British Columbia to Travis Freeman, Brendan Jones, and Hamish Marshall.

WHO IS HAMISH MARSHALL?

Hamish Marshall is the President and COO of GoNewClear Productions. He is a well-known strategist and activist trainer within Conservative circles, and also served as one of two British Columbia representatives on the federal Conservatives' national council between 2008 and 2010.

He started his political career working for Canadian Alliance MP Joe Peschisolido from 2001-2002, and for the Conservative Party doing outreach for the Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition from 2002-2003. He then left his position at the Conservative-Party connected NaiKun Energy in 2006 to work in the Prime Minister's Office as Harper's Manager of Strategic Planning until September 2007. In 2008, he managed polling for the Conservative re-election campaign.

The Ethical Oil-Harper government revolving door doesn’t end there. Hamish Marshall is married to EthicalOil spokeswoman Kathryn Marshall, who took over last fall when her predecessor Alykhan Velshi moved into the Prime Minister’s Office as the director of planning.

Hamish Marshall, through strategicimperativesonline, has registered 32 websites. Nearly all are connected to EthicalOil.org, the Conservative Party of Canada, and the right wing Alberta Wildrose Alliance Party.

Both ethicaloil.org's americans4opec.com and chiquitaconflict.com are hosted on the server, as is Kathryn Marshall’s personal website, kathrynmarshall.ca.

DEEP TIES TO CONSERVATIVES

The web gets really interesting when you look at the other sites registered on Marshall's server.

Conservative Party candidates with websites hosted on Hamish Marshall’s server include Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, one of the most vocal proponents of the tar sands. Oliver's open letter last week refers to the "environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade". See the WhoIs profile for www.JoeOliver.ca.

Pierre Poilievre's www.ResultsForYou.ca website is hosted on the strategicimperativesonline server as well. A Calgary-school graduate, Poilievre is Harper's former Parliamentary Secretary, and is currently the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. Poilievre also worked for Jason Kenney, whose site www.JasonKenney.com is hosted on the same server. 

Former EthicalOil.org spokesman Alykhan Velshi used to serve as the Director of Communications for Kenney. And Velshi's mother, Rumina Velshi, was just appointed by John Oliver to the national nuclear safety commission, raising ethics questions among critics. 

For the pro-tarsands Wildrose Alliance Party, Hamish Marshall hosts both the official party websites, wildroseallancecaucus.ca and wildrosecaucus.ca, as well as numerous Wildrose Party candidate websites. This includes former leader Paul Hinman, and candidates Doug Cooper, Corrie AdolphDave Yager, Heather Forsyth, and Richard Dur. Dur is also the Chairman of Policy for Jason Kenney’s Conservative Party constituency association.

Toronto City Councillor John Parker's website is also hosted on Marshall's server. 

Back in BC, Marshall hosts the website of former BC Liberal candidate Kevin Falcon. After working on Falcon’s unsuccessful run for BC Premier, Marshall went to work for BC Conservative leader hopeful John Cummins as his campaign manager. His website is also registered on Marshall’s server. Hamish Marshall is now one of the directors of the BC Conservative party

Finally, Marshall’s server hosts a website that makes campaign signs for Conservative MPs, as well as the website of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Association (OPCCA), the campus youth wing of the PC Party of Ontario is hosted on this server (campuspc.ca).

This is certainly only the beginning of an expansive web of connections between EthicalOil.org and the Conservative Party. The dizzying connections between them suggest that EthicalOil.org and the Ethical Oil Institute are acting as shadow arms of the Harper government and its desire to protect tar sands interests ahead of the public interest.

(Update: See DeepClimate's extensive look at this entangled web.)

What is most disingenuous about EthicalOil.org’s campaign is its work to systematically discredit the hard-working individuals in the Canadian environmental movement who work to protect public health, robust ecosystems and the global climate from the tar sands threat. The real threat to Canadian sovereignty is the greedy foreign corporations and governments buying up financial stakes in the Alberta oil patch, and EthicalOil.org’s support of them.

Ask yourself: who are the real patriots in this scenario?

Will the Harper government and ethicaloil.org own up to their cozy connections and finally recognize the importance of a rapid transition away from an oil-addicted economy towards a clean energy economy that relies on the robust, renewable resource of Canadian ingenuity and sustainability know-how? The clock is ticking.

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January 06 2012

19:58

Santorum Misrepresents Climate Science. Again.

Rick Santorum was asked about climate change recently, while campaigning in New Hampshire. The video of his response, as well as the transcript, can be found here.

Suffice it to say that while Santorum sounds thoughtful and rational in his response, in fact he gravely misrepresents scientific knowledge and understanding.

Let's turn to the tape.

Santorum starts off well enough:

The question is on how do I get my policies with climate change science.

I get asked this question a lot, and you look at the data and you can see some change in the climate.

But then again, pick a point in history where you haven’t seen a change in the climate.

The climate does change.

The question is, what is causing the climate to change.

And I think most scientists, in fact, I assume all scientists would agree there are a variety of factors that cause the climate change.

I don’t think any scientist in the world would suggest there isn’t a variety of factors, and I think the vast majority of scientists would say there’s probably a hundred factors that cause the climate to change.

A hundred factors? Well, there are a lot of factors that can influence the climate, that's for sure. So far, Santorum is pretty accurately representing climate science. But he continues:

And so why have we decided that this one particular factor, carbon dioxide, is in fact that tip of the tail that wags the entire dog.

Why from a scientific point of view do we make the assertion that this is in fact what is the case when there is a whole lot of other factors out there that could be affecting it?

So, that’s the question.

Notice the trick here. Up until this point, Santorum is accurately reflecting what scientists think. But now he isn't any more. Now he's contradicting them.

It's true there are lots of factors that can influence climate. But the chief factor that, scientists agree, is currently driving global warming is human induced greenhouse gas emissions.

Why does Santorum trust scientists to determine which different factors influence the climate, but not to determine the relative importance of these factors? Why would scientists be more trustworthy on one score than the other?

In my view, you either trust scientists or you don't. You don't get to pick and choose which parts of the scientific consensus you accept, and which part you don't. The whole point of trusting scientists is that they’re better than non-scientists at figuring out what findings can be reliably believed.

And the reality is that scientists both agree that many factors influence the global climate, and think global warming is mostly driven by human activities. There's no contradiction here—except perhaps in Santorum's willingness to head one scientific conclusion but not another.

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Gage Skidmore)

January 04 2012

13:49

Rick Santorum and Science: Bad Combination!

As Republican primary season schizophrenia continues, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum is now in the spotlight, having very nearly beaten Mitt Romney in Iowa. So what do we people who care about science, and global warming in particular, know about Santorum?

Whoa boy.

None of the Republican candidates, with the possible exception of pro-science Tweeter Jon Huntsman, have distinguished themselves as science allies. Even sometime moderate Mitt Romney famously flip-flopped and cast doubt on human caused global warming; Rick Perry, meanwhile, thinks climate researchers are making it all up.

But Santorum? Arguably, his attacks on science surpass all of theirs.

Santorum, let us not forget, not only denies evolution, but has been an active anti-evolutionist in the past. In other words, he has made attacking fundamental scientific knowledge a key priority.

In 2002, Santorum wrote an op-ed calling the doctrine of “intelligent design” (ID) “a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes.” He even pushed an amendment to the 2001 education bill to support ID. For more on Santorum’s anti-evolution advocacy, see here.

On global warming, meanwhile, Santorum isn’t just a science denier. He goes far beyond many climate "skeptics" and actually argued, in a 2008 op-ed, that “global temperatures have actually cooled over the last 10 years and are predicted to continue cooling over the next 10”!

Needless to say, Santorum is also a big opponent of embryonic stem cell research.

Perhaps even more disturbing than these stances however, is a broader way of thinking on Santorum’s part. Consider this passage from the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, reporting on some completely fact-free remarks by Santorum in Iowa:

In Perry, Santorum gave his opinion that President Obama was more of a divisive figure than Richard Nixon, keeper of the enemies list: “I suspect President Nixon, although I don’t know, would talk and work with people and wouldn’t go out and demonize them as this president has done.” Santorum doesn’t know it, but that doesn’t stop him from asserting it.

At the same stop, he played loose with the facts when contrasting Ronald Reagan’s vacation schedule with Obama’s.

I don’t know if it’s true, but somebody told me this,” he began, “that Ronald Reagan never left the White House at Christmas, and the reason was he wanted all the staff to be able to spend that time at home.”

check of the record would have revealed to Santorum that in 1988, Reagan was in Los Angeles during Christmas, and that he spent the week after nearly every Christmas (and more than a year of his presidency) in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Reading this, I would say at minimum that Santorum would appear to lack accuracy motives.

Pundits are saying that the GOP race may now be down to Santorum and Romney, and speculating that social conservatives may, at last, have found their candidate.

If so, we should probably prepare for regular bursts of unreality, at least up through the New Hampshire primary.

January 03 2012

14:35

New Proof: Republicans Really Are Anti-Science

As readers know, I’m a regular monitor of polls capturing various aspects of the public’s views on science. These polls consistently show that for the most part, even if people don’t know a ton about it, they basically think science rocks. Americans know very well that science has made their lives immeasurably better, and they show high levels of trust in the scientific community.

There are, however, a few caveats.

Although people like science in general, they’re more than willing to spike it in any particular instance, on any particular pet issue. Evolution, global warming, vaccines—otherwise “pro-science” people will happily deny reality on these subjects, and not necessarily even experience any cognitive dissonance in doing so.

For the most part, I have tended to feel it is unfair to call such individuals “anti-science." If someone denies science on one particular topic, but nevertheless thinks science is a groovy thing in general, I figure they’re not being anti-science, so much as just being human.

However, new polling data from Lawrence Hamilton, of the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, suggests that the “anti-science” epithet really does apply to many U.S. Republicans—at least on environmental issues.

Hamilton’s data once again show that Republicans, in New Hampshire and elsewhere, doubt and deny climate science, doubt there is consensus on the issue among scientists, and are bizarrely confident that they know a lot about the issue. Dunning-Kruger, anyone?

When it comes to the specific issue of global warming, such things have been shown before. But Hamilton also included a question you don’t see as much in these polls:

Would you say that you trust, don’t trust, or are unsure about scientists as a source of information about environmental issues?

When you ask Americans this particular question, and break the result down by political party, you find a dramatic asymmetry. 67 percent of Democrats trust environmental scientists, 26 percent are unsure, and only 6 percent don’t trust them. But then look at the Republicans: 42 percent trust environmental scientists, 35 percent are unsure, and 22 percent explicitly say they don’t trust them.

What these untrusting Republicans are saying, basically, is that scientists can’t be expected to get it right on environmental issues. They are no longer merely rejecting established science on the climate issue, then. They’re creating an “out-group” and putting all environmental scientists in it.

In turn, that means that whenever the next environmental issue comes along, we can expect these Republicans to inherently distrust what scientific experts have to say about it. In other words, their animus goes far beyond climate science. And if that isn’t anti-science behavior, I don’t know what is.

Why do Republicans behave this way? It has a lot to do, I suspect, with the vast liberalism of science and academia in general. As I have extensively documented (see previous link), Democrats today are basically the party of experts, scientists, and Ph.Ds. This is a big change from the situation that obtained 30 years ago. And Republicans have reacted against this left-clustering of knowledge by coming to dismiss much of “liberal” academia, and also much of science, across the board.

But for precisely this reason, unlike 30 years ago, many Republicans now really are fundamentally anti-science. As the campaign season heats up this year, expect to see evidence of this aplenty. 

December 21 2011

12:55

“End Medicare?” How Phony Bipartisanship Created a Fact Checking Disaster

Just last week, I wrote about the core problem facing the new breed of political fact-checkers: The political right is more factually wrong, meaning that taking a strictly “bipartisan” approach will inevitably leave the fact-checkers themselves guilty of phony “balance.” And it will also lead to them occasionally having their lunches eaten by left-leaning sites like Media Matters, as well as by sensible liberal bloggers.

Little did I know that PolitiFact, arguably the leading fact-checker, would immediately come through with a stunning validation of this point.

PolitiFact just announced its “lie of the year,” the Democratic claim that “Republicans voted to end Medicare.” However, if you peruse analyses from Paul Krugman, Steven Benen, Jason Linkins, and others, you’ll find that the very notion that this is a lie at all is highly debatable. Frankly, the repeated fact-checks of this Democratic assertion seem to boil down to little more than a matter of definition.

It all depends on what the meaning of the word “end” is.

Just briefly, the specifics: House Republicans voted for a bill that would turn Medicare, which is “essentially a government run healthcare program” according to the Washington Post, into a program where seniors would receive vouchers or credits to support their purchase of private health programs. Politifact itself reports that the GOP plan, introduced by Paul Ryan, “kept Medicare intact for people 55 or older, but dramatically changed the program for everyone else by privatizing it and providing government subsidies.”

Democrats then launched their “end Medicare” charge—and drew myriad bipartisan fact-checker rebukes. But these were pretty weak tea, given that the desired GOP changes to Medicare were, inarguably, quite dramatic. Here’s how FactCheck.org put it: “It's accurate to say the GOP plan would alter Medicare profoundly, but it's false to claim that Medicare would cease to exist.”

Whether Medicare would actually “end” under the GOP plan is thus a matter of definition. If you think changing a program “dramatically” and “profoundly” but keeping the same name means the program continues, you certainly have an argument you can make. But if someone else thinks otherwise? Your disagreement will largely be about semantics. And you can then go and have a deep “Ship of Theseus” debate about when it is that making changes to a thing means that the thing ceases to be the thing…but I really don’t think this is what we rely on our political fact-checkers for.

Honestly, I can see giving Democrats a few wrist-slaps over this, of the minor One-to-Two Pinocchio variety. And if that is all that had happened, there may have been some scattered griping, but it would have ended there.

But lie of the year? You have got to be joking.

PolitiFact's move is especially remarkable when you survey some of the clear falsehoods that were almost lie of the year:

The economic stimulus created "zero jobs." — The National Republican Senatorial Committee and other Republicans

Scientists are "questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change. … (It is) more and more being put into question." — Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry

President Obama "went around the world and apologized for America."  — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney  

The vaccine to prevent HPV can cause mental retardation. — Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann

Notably, all of these big lies were uttered by Republicans. In fact, with the exception of the Bachmann example, they were uttered repeatedly by Republicans (albeit in varying forms).

But PolitiFact’s last two “lie of the year” awards (“death panels” in 2009 and “government takeover of health care” in 2010) also went to Republicans. So tagging the GOP yet again with this most devastating of charges wouldn’t appear very “balanced.”

Here again, then, we see the Achilles heel of the bipartisan fact-checkers. Whenever they must take a step that would lend clear support to the idea that the left and right aren’t equal with respect to reality, they tend to falter.

I’ve already shown PolitiFact faltering when it came to admitting that Fox News is a misinformation machine, and its viewers are the “most consistently misinformed.” Now we’re seeing it again when it comes to admitting that Republican systematic falsehoods—like the claim that the stimulus didn’t create jobs, or that global warming isn’t real—are far worse than anything Democrats say systematically and regularly (e.g., the GOP voted to “end Medicare”).

Don't get me wrong: I fully understand why the bipartisan fact-checkers do this. If they were to be brutally honest about where the balance of evidence lies, Republican doors would close to them. Maintaining the semblance of bipartisanship surely makes them more influential.

But if you really care about facts in the current environment, having Republicans denounce you as "biased" may be good thing. In fact, it is probably inevitable.

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