Hitchens on Palin and Science

By Mark Trodden | October 27, 2008 7:22 pm

The sometimes crazy, sometimes razor-sharp Christopher Hitchens lets loose in Slate about Sarah Palin’s war on science. He hits most of the high points – fruit flies, grizzlies, and creationism (but misses the overhead projector nonsense). In any case, it’s worth a read, and I’ll just leave you with his concluding paragraph, to set the scene

This is what the Republican Party has done to us this year: It has placed within reach of the Oval Office a woman who is a religious fanatic and a proud, boastful ignoramus. Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured. And those who prate of spiritual warfare and demons are not just “people of faith” but theocratic bullies. On Nov. 4, anyone who cares for the Constitution has a clear duty to repudiate this wickedness and stupidity.

Hitchens is such an elitist, and clearly not from Real America©.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Politics, Science and Politics
  • Dylan Dog

    When has Hitchens ever been “crazy”?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Just to be clear, I’m generally a fan. I have had a soft spot for him for a very long time, and think his book “God is Not Great” is probably the best of the recent atheist offerings


    But he does have some crazy moments:


    They’re usually when he’s hammered.

  • http://www.pangeaprogress.blogspot.com/ Zachary

    Hitchens wrote,
    “The most insulting thing that a politician can do is to compel you to ask yourself: “What does he take me for?” Precisely this question is provoked by the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin.”

    Ernest Becker wrote,

    “The last thing man can admit to himself is that his life-ways are arbitrary: this is one of the reasons that people often show derisive glee and scorn over the ‘strange’ customs of other lands—it is a defense against the awareness that his own way of life may be just as fundamentally contrived as any other. One culture is always a potential menace to another because it is a living example that life can go on heroically without a value framework totally alien to one’s own.”
    I think Becker’s observation is quite relevant to the Palin mob mentality that claims exclusive USA identity and spews out hate toward Obama’s perceived otherness as if they represented what it is to be American absolutely. It is a reaction and a defense formed from their own insecurities and weak egos. Palinism, racism and xenophobia is against the spirit and the letter of the Constitution of the United States. Sadly these factions are a part of US history but in the context of the US Constitution and American diversity it is anti-american in its spirit and perspective. Palinism is intellectually bankrupt, dishonorable, and lacks the credibility to lead America into the new century in the era of global interconnectedness.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    Hitchens suffered some sort of fracturing of thought after he left the “Nation” and started to endorse the Bush administration. I think he is having doubts about that move, in particular since the GOP is heavily supported by religious fraudsters.

    When it come to politicians we all have to realize is that most of them, if not all, are people who look at the world and themselves in the mirror and say, “You know what? The problems in the world will best be solved if I am more in charge of things.” We should all be suspicious of anyone who gets those ideas in their head. If you combine religion with this things become particularly bleak. In particular with these literal forms of Christianity where in the affairs of humanity things are ultimately white and black. After all the Gospel of John has the “Sons of light and sons of darkness.” In that thinking you can’t compromise with anyone who is outside your biblico-myopic world view — that is compromising with Satan! People who think this way are dangerous, particularly if they are partisans of the religious idea that there needs to be a big final war of Armagedon go bring Jesus back. Palin as VP would only be a few vital signs away from the oval office.

    Here you go President Palin, the nuclear launch codes are … !

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Costanza

    OK, suppose I’m the guy in the black and white shirt with the yellow flag in my back pocket. Sarah Palin has her religious extremism, and Obama put up with Jeremiah Wright. Off setting penalties. On the record, I think McCain would be bad for the country, and I personally think Obama will ultimately prove to be worse. However, the thought of that woman getting anywhere NEAR the presidency is more than sufficient reason to close my eyes, hope for the best, and vote for Obama.

  • http://www.docudharma.com/ Jim Buck

    I just found your great site and would like to say Thank You all for the excellent–and thought provoking–posts.

    I’ve always been a fan of John McCain’s. His service to our country has been vast and his bucking of the Republican Ideals has given me many giggles over the years, BUT… I can tell you the exact moment he lost my support; he didn’t come out and say, “Waterboarding is torture!” And then he picked Palin…well, that ended that love affair.

  • David

    the main point about the projector was not that obama wanted it. you think he gives a f*** about overhead projectors?
    no he wanted the hundreds of thousands-millions of dollars that the director promised to raise for him (and did) if he got him a few things for the planetarium.
    yeah real change! give me a break.
    you want a projector- raise the money privately or put in a request from the city of chicago in the budget. hey but buying off obama works too.

  • David

    Jim How much are you paid by the Obama campaign to blog?
    I’m serious I do not mean this in a disparaging way. I have been trying to find out from someone how much the campaign pays and how one gets involved in the first place.

  • kletter

    Republican strategist: “Now, if we could just control what the science says, then it wouldn’t be such a problematic issue – can’t we just have all scientists run their conclusions by our PR team? Or why not just have our PR team do all the talking – they can consult with the scientists, can’t they?”

    The reason the Renaissance Church didn’t like science is really the same reason the Church didn’t like pagan religion – it threatened their authority and power. In the modern age, scientists (to some) are treated as the new high priests – and so there are political efforts to control what scientists say and do, what topics they investigate, what jobs they are given.

    “Ignorance is king. Many would not profit by his abdication. Many enrich themselves by means of his dark monarchy. There are his Court, and in his name they defraud and govern, enrich themselves and perpetuate their power. Even literacy they fear, for the written word is another channel of communication that might cause their enemies to become united.” – Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz

    The antidote? A decent basic science education for every American child (and adult!) would be the best place to start. Give the public the basic tools they need to evaluate the authoritative “scientific claims” of the PR industry. Let them know that there are always ways to figure things out for yourself, to some degree.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org RBH

    David wrote

    the main point about the projector was not that obama wanted it. you think he gives a f*** about overhead projectors?
    no he wanted the hundreds of thousands-millions of dollars that the director promised to raise for him (and did) if he got him a few things for the planetarium.

    Um, Obama was joined in that request for federal funds by three Chicago-area Republican congresscritters.

    And in contrast to Alaska, which kept the $223 million earmarked for the bridge to nowhere, spending it on other stuff, the $3 million Illinois request was not even funded.

  • David

    RBH- What is your point? Democrat Durbin also co-sponsored the request. Obama found 3 republican saps to sign a paper to co sponsor the request.
    How many republicans said no? 10? 20? 30? Further the 3 republicans and durbin CO sponsored the request. this earmark never would have had wings if not for obama.
    also did the republicans KNOWS that Frank Clark promised to raise lots and lots of money for obama’s WH run?
    Maybe Obama promised to give them a few dollars from the money raised by Frank Clark if the earmark went through?
    there are dozens of organizations in chicago that need science funding but why did Obama put this at the top of the list? i’m sure it had NOTHING to do frank clark promising obama money for his WH run.

    I know chicago very well. i know it was just ranked the murder capital of the countrya couple of days ago. i know that mayor daley comes out every two days and says we have to cut this and that. the city has a 430 million state debt. i know obama’s former distrist 13 is a complete disaster economically and politically. it’s worse now than when he represented it.
    and yet obama has said not one word about any of this. everytime he gets a job he moves to the next one.
    see obama run for president of the world about 4 months after becoming president.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Oh dear, such unfocused ranting after a classic missing of the point. When McCain went off multiple times about the “overhead projector” it was his choice of topic and the way he referred to it that revealed his anti-science slant. I personally think Obama was doing the right thing by trying to get the money for this, but that wasn’t the point here.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    URL please.
    Chicago homicides each year, as per the Chicago Tribune.
    Homicides 1990-2007
    1990: 851
    1991: 927
    1992: 943
    1993: 931
    1994: 929
    1995: 827
    1996: 789
    1997: 759
    1998: 704
    1999: 641
    2000: 628
    2001: 666
    2002: 647
    2003: 598
    2004: 448
    2005: 449
    2006: 467
    2007: 442

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    In 2006, Chicago was the 20th ranked city for murder.

    David, I don’t trust your talking points. Back them up with some citations.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun
  • http://www.spinwhip.com/palin nickpr

    I love the video on youtube where Palin says “what does a vp do???” she’s great for that kinda stuff. more of that on http://www.spinwhip.com/palin

  • TomC

    Too bad — I was hoping for an interesting debate on whether rejecting reason/rationality is necessarily intellectually and morally slothful. I mean, would you characterize Martin Luther as either of those? He believed that enlightened thinking involved deriving the answer from a set of divine axioms, and that the “harlot reason” would only tempt men to trust their own faculties and senses, which might well be deceptions of the Devil. This position is a bit harder to defend in 2008 than it was in the 16th century, but I don’t know that it is *necessarily* evidence of a deranged or lazy mind.

    Instead I get David, who knows a lot about chicago and distrist 13.

  • Otis

    Sarah Palin knows more about the science of climate change than does Joe Biden or Barack Obama. This is from the vice-presential debate:

    Palin: “I’m not one to attribute every man — activity of man to the changes in the climate. There is something to be said also for man’s activities, but also for the cyclical temperature changes on our planet. But there are real changes going on in our climate. And I don’t want to argue about the causes. What I want to argue about is, how are we going to get there to positively affect the impacts?”

    Biden: “Well, I think it is man made. I think it’s clearly man made. And, look, this probably explains the biggest fundamental difference between John McCain and Barack Obama and Sarah Palin and Joe Biden — Gov. Palin and Joe Biden”

    Sarah Palin is our only hope to save humanity from the delusion that humans can stop climate change. She truly understands the science. Biden and Obama do not have a clue.

  • Anon

    I agree with Palin on fruit flies. Science should not be funded through earmarks.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Another person missing the point. It is one thing to engage in a sensible adult argument about earmarks, entirely another to focus on science because you think it is an easy target and a way to exploit people’s ignorance.

  • kletter

    You might want to read this: Obama and McCain: the Miltonian Analogy (NYT blog)

    As far as Palin, she hired some tobacco science experts to write a report claiming that global warming had nothing to do with fossil fuels, and would be minor anyway. She needed to do that so that the offshore Alaskan Chukchi sea oil leases could get bid out (Shell got them, mostly).

    Revealed: oil-funded research in Palin’s campaign against protection for polar bear, Oct 1 2008. The paper in question is at the fossil fuel’s SPPI site. Pretty funny stuff – what is an astronomer doing writing a scientific paper about polar bears?

    Maybe she, like Mbeki and Mugabe, also believes that AIDS is not due to a virus? How about the evolution of antibiotic resistance in pathogens – right, evolution’s not real…

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Yeah – I did read that in the NYT.

  • tacitus

    She truly understands the science.

    Oh, come on now, Otis. Get serious. Palin could barely graduate college and now you have her understanding all the nuances and intricacies of the science of global warming. All she’s done is regurgitate the right-wing anti-GW talking points. You don’t need to have any understanding of science to do that.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Please don’t feed the trolls.

  • tacitus

    The main objection to the McCain/Palin opposition to science earmarks is not that they are opposed to funding science through earmarks. That position, in itself, is a reasonable position to take and has some merit (and I say this as an avowed Obama supporter).

    No, the problem is the mocking tone towards the science that they have used in their rhetoric and the ridicule of the scientific programs they use in their attacks. That is what’s anti-science and unreasonable.

  • tacitus

    Oh my, the secret’s out!

    Sarah Palin is the real socialist in this race:

    A few weeks before she was nominated for Vice-President, she told a visiting journalist—Philip Gourevitch, of this magazine—that “we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs.”

    I guess that’s what happens when you select the Governor of the People’s Republic of Alaska as your running mate.

  • Sili

    and clearly not from Real America

    Well, duh!

    He’s a Britischer!

  • John

    So, if anyone out there is still paying attention, I found this:


    Apparently this drosophila research earmark came from my very own congrescritter, Mike Thompson (D-CA), to fund (amongst other things) research at UC Davis, where I serve the good people of California!

    Apparently he got a $3.3 million grant to study the glassy winged sharpshooter, a fly that devastates olives. Very important in California to say the least…this is not a waste of public funds.

    I have to say, though, that I agree that earmarks are not the ideal way to fund basic scientific research like this. There should be standing, peer-reviewed competitive programs for funding science. And there are! We spend tens of billions annually on scientific reseach through the NIH, NSF, DOE, NIST, NOAA, etc. But earmarks like this, and that for the planetarium projector, and grizzly bears and all the rest probably aren’t an optimal funding strategy in the long run.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Hitchens was indeed born in Britain. But he is an American citizen and so will be voting for his candidate just like the rest of them.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    I don’t know if we need that sort of heated language, but in one sense you are right. Sarah Palin is somehow the “energy expert,” and who also thinks dinosaurs were with Adam & Eve and maybe failed the grade to get on Noah’s ark. To the extent that Palin, and frankly McCain as well, have any respect for science it ends where it conflicts with corporate interests, campaign rhetoric and religious convictions. In other words, there ain’t much.

    Based on what I am seeing on the ground Obama is going to landslide McCain. I just hope the GOP, and their Diebold allies, lacks the temerity to try to vote fraud and embezzle away a landslide.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Otis

    Luzid #30

    Your mother should wash out your mouth with soap.

    So you say that Sarah Palin believes that humans coexisted with dinosaurs. Well, I did not know that she believed that.

    But I do know that Joe Biden and Barack Obama think that all climate change is caused by humans. That is what Biden said in the debate. How dumb is that.

  • Adrian Burd

    “Hitchens is such an elitist, and clearly not from Real America©.”

    Ummm …. not from Real America? What gave it away? Did it have anything to do with the accent by any chance?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Ummm… read above Adrian.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    Otis on Oct 28th, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    So you say that Sarah Palin believes that humans coexisted with dinosaurs. Well, I did not know that she believed that.


    She is a member of the Assembly of God, which splintered away from the Assemblies of God for being too “liberal.” The Assemblies of God are a Pentecostal Church, which puts emphassis on second chapter of Acts of the Apostles, where at the “Pentacost,” based on Savuot (50 days after Pesach) in Judaism, where the apostles were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Acceptance of Jesus is one step to salvation leading to the Holy Spirit dwelling in the believer. St. Paul makes reference to the Holy Spirit in his Epistles as the “helper” Jesus sends to those who are baptized, and the Gospels’ only major reference to the Holy Spirit is when John the Baptist baptizes Jesus.

    There is IMO a curious psychological basis for this, in that it might reflect a situation where a believer’s mind or brain has become sufficiently wired or dendritically set so the belief system has become “programmed” in their minds. Islam has a similar idea with the submission to the will of Allah.

    Needless to say the Assemblies of God believe the whole 6 day creation 6000 years ago. They basically accept the whole creationist script — hook, line and sinker. They also put considerable emphasis on the Book of Revelations, with great interest in the idea there needs to be a final war between Jesus and Satan (the camp of the Saints etc) and that prior to this the whole world needs to be brought bow before the feet of Jesus. And the Assembly of God splintered away from the Assemblies of God for being too “liberal” — take that and smoke it for a while!

    As for global warming, if you at all track this real science on this issue instead of political screeds from the GOP you should become away of how the anthropic source for this be becoming very apparent. Needless to say there is far more evidence for it than the pentacostalism Sarah Palin embraces.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Reginald Selkirk

    #11 David: “i know obama’s former distrist 13 is a complete disaster economically and politically. it’s worse now than when he represented it.”

    David agrees that district 13 was better off with Obama as their elected representative.

  • Count Iblis

    There is now some talk about Palin becoming the leader of the Republican Party after the elections. I think that the Republican party will then split.

    You’ll get a Conservative Party with Palin as the leader. The moderate Republicans will then join forces with independents (many of whom are former Republicans who ran away because of Bush) and perhaps some Democrats.

    So, the rise of Palin may not be a bad thing. She’ll give the religious nutcases their proper place in US politics by uniting them in a small party.

  • yo

    #11 David: “i know Bush’s former state is a complete disaster economically and politically. it’s worse now than when he was governor.”

    fixed it for you

  • Pingback: just another chemistry weblog · The GOP’s war against science()

  • Sili

    Hitchens was indeed born in Britain. But he is an American citizen and so will be voting for his candidate just like the rest of them.

    I know that much. So much for my attempt at facetiousness.

    Though you did say “from”.


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About Mark Trodden

Mark Trodden holds the Fay R. and Eugene L. Langberg Endowed Chair in Physics and is co-director of the Center for Particle Cosmology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a theoretical physicist working on particle physics and gravity— in particular on the roles they play in the evolution and structure of the universe. When asked for a short phrase to describe his research area, he says he is a particle cosmologist.


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