Scientists are not You and Me

By Julianne Dalcanton | March 4, 2009 2:17 pm

Well, it seems that (influenced by Sean, I’m sure) Maureen Dowd has picked up on John McCain’s twitter feed, and has placed yet another mocking stab at science in the mainstream press. (“Catfish and grape genetics”? Ha ha ha! “Promotion of astronomy”? Bwah!)

The specific line from McCain’s feed is the sarcastic “nothing says new jobs for average Americans like investing in astronomy”. And I think this is the essence of why scientific projects continue to be held up for derision.

Simply, most people assume science has absolutely nothing to do with them. Nobody blinks an eye at massive building projects that funnel money to construction workers, even though construction accounts for only 5% of the non-farm employment in the US. However, even though the “average american” is highly unlikely to work in construction, they at least imagine that they could.

In contrast, science is perceived as something that is done by an elite group of people that “average americans” could never hope to join, or even meet. So, it’s not that the government’s money is going to someone else, it’s that it seems to be going to someone they could never, ever be. I’ve always found it terribly sad that scientists are almost universally cast as a tribe of “others”, so distinct from “average americans” that they cease to be realistic aspirational figures. Pro-basketball players are equally unusual and elite in their physical attributes, training, and skill sets, but that doesn’t stop generation of kids wanting to grow up and play in the NBA. In contrast, scientists often come across as “born that way”, and not as the end products of rigorous training that a large fraction of smarter-than-average people could engage in. (And note that it’s not just the fault of the nebulous “media” — in their quest to climb to the top of the scientific heap, plenty of scientists cultivate an aura of “impressiveness”; while this may be useful for their individual careers, it can be plenty demoralizing for those on the lower rungs, who are questioning if they have what it takes.)

On top of this is a disconnect between what science actually does, and people’s perception of how it affects their own lives. Most “average americans” probably don’t have many gripes with the NIH budget, because they understand that curing disease is something that could potentially help them in the end. Most physical sciences, however, don’t present obvious, immediate connections to people’s day to day life, or to the main engines of the US economy. Those connections are of course there (grape genetics = wine production = millions of dollars in farming economy = tasty beverages produced more cheaply domestically), but they’re not obvious. Science is left playing catchup every time we’re mocked — yes, lots of articles came out pointing out that “volcano monitoring” was in fact useful, but not in time to stop the initial spurt of derision on the national stage.

Sadly, I don’t have any obvious solution to this, except the usual calls for increased outreach and better science teaching.

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  • ts

    I think it’s obvious that scientists aren’t great communicators in general. It is also true that scientists don’t usually value educating others. Doing a lot of outreach and teaching certainly doesn’t help you stay in science, in the culture of publish or perish in general. Some even consider such efforts waste of time. I like science education and all myself but on quite a few occasions I was told that it won’t help my science career at all.

    Society’s basic principle is economics and not science, art, or anything related to “search for truth.”

    It sounds silly and cheap, but If the root of the problem is the public image, I think the only direct solution is to make science as a profession more financially rewarding, and ensure that the world knows it. Unless you directly deal with people’s natural cravings (e.g., food, sex, anything visually pleasing and exciting) whoever makes more money or get publicity garners secular respect in real world — medical doctors, lawyers, CEOs, successful atheletes, etc. all make money. It doesn’t matter much what they actually do.

    More radically, we might consider not teaching science in school at all, at least not the way we do. With bad education, too many students develop bitter feeling toward science after not understanding anything and turn anti-intellectual and anti-elitists instead.

  • ascholl

    All more than fair, and point bought, apart from the ‘smarter-than-average’ bit. Natural intelligence is clearly a big advantage for scientists, but I’ve no doubt that many competent, working phds are below the 50th percentile, innate-smarts-wise.

  • CW

    Regarding stimulus funds going to science, I think the biggest objection is that most people think the “elite” of our society can better find work than those “low-skill” workers? Also another issue is the way that the stimulus bill was sold. Remember the term “shovel-ready” that was used during the campaign and proceeding months after the election? I think most people believe that shovel-ready jobs imply immediate results from stimulus-funded projects, as opposed to uncertain timetables that come with scientific pursuits?

    Science needs to do a better job of selling how their work directly helps the US economy (whether it’s detailing the American-made products/supplies that are purchased, or citing the number of jobs that are created).

  • Sean

    I think the only possible response is more and better blogging.

  • Katie

    It was much easier when doing well in science and math meant sticking it to the Commies…

  • JAK

    This is really sad. There are two things here and I am not sure which one of them is sadder.

    First, how come a subject like science that lends itself so well to human curiosity has become such a difficult thing to teach. Personally I have always felt such a rush in every science lecture in school (especially physical sciences), as it gave me an opportunity to venture beyond mundane and think and question about the larger picture (life, universe and everything I saw). It is really sad that we still are debating what and hows of teaching science in this day an age.

    Second, and equally sadder, is the fact that people who should be championing the cause of science are busy trying to act like know all smart guys for comparatively insignificant gains and in the process getting labeled as geeks and being isolated. Stop making the arguments about what science is and how it can explain better than religion can. Stop being smug in the fact that you ‘saw the light’ (pun unintended), people have genuine curiosity, that is human nature, whoever reaches out them better gets to tell them their version (we may take a leaf out of organized religion’s book here).

    The obvious solution is ‘the increased outreach’ and ‘better teaching’ but it should not be a routine call that gets tossed out at the end of each lecture on this subject, but something that should be genuinely felt by the science community. Strength is in numbers, so till a majority of scientific community rallies behind the cause these will just remain as words and coming generations would still be mired in this useless debate about science.

  • chuko

    Is science not an elite profession? It seems to me that success in science, along with several other professions, is often somewhat contingent on going to a name school and having access to the kind of high school education that gives a person a greater chance of getting into a well-known school. Not to mention the money. Maybe the disconnect is partially because of real obstacles to actually being a scientist, rather than just a lack of education about what scientists do. Just a thought.

  • Gordon Pasha


    I think you are not getting what is happening here. The public is madly in love with
    astronomy more than with any other science. They are in love because of the fascination
    and show value of it (it produces really pretty pictures). Due to this, astronomy gets
    an inordinate amount of spending in relation to its practical value.

    I am an astrophysicist. Whenever someone asks me “what do you do?”, if I’m in the
    mood for talking I say “astronomy”. If I want to be left alone, I say “physicist”.

    On the other hand, in hard times, it is natural for the public to withdraw funding from what it considers, mostly, entertainment. Astronomers seem to want to have it both ways.

    Best wishes

  • Zeno

    Scientists would get more positive strokes from politicians if the politicians had an opportunity to bask in reflected light. That is, whenever a university or lab or research facility gets funding for a major project, the local member of congress loves to issue a press release that announces that fact (as if he or she is personally responsible). If a significant result is published in a major research journal, the local congress member would not be adverse to issue a simplified version of the abstract as a press release (as if he or she sponsored the breakthrough [they will insist on using the word "breakthrough"]). If a result is cool enough or if its implications are potentially major, you can even get your U.S. Representative or U.S. Senators to show up for a media event. TV cameras attract them like flies to honey.

    But almost no members of the U.S. Congress or the various state legislatures know much about science. You have to give it to them in predigested mini-lumps and dress it up a bit so that they can see some p.r. potential in it. They won’t know, however, unless you tell them!

  • Trevor Stone

    I interpret McCain’s derision as closer to your second point than your first — it’s not obvious how research is immediately stimulative like building a highway is.

    As for your first point, I don’t think the issue is that people can picture themselves in construction but can’t picture themselves in science. Rather, I think they have a good idea of how employment cycles in construction work (there’s a boom, a bunch of folks get jobs building stuff, then nobody buys a house so everyone who was building stuff doesn’t have much to do) but they don’t know how science employment works. There might be an implicit assumption that scientists are naturally in a lab the way birds are naturally in a tree, regardless of how many grants or berries are available.

  • Nash

    There is another reason. It is purely my personal observation that many scientists are unambitious, happy to relax into a comfortable zone the moment they achieve tenure or another position in their career that is secure. The culture of science , as some people have mentioned, actually promotes lethargy after a certain point, because typically, very senior (in terms of years spent) scientists do not often have to justify themselves to anyone, much less the taxpayer.

    This astounding lack of passion on the part of such scientists is actually worse than not being good communicators . It undermines the faith people have in science, thereby, relegating science to one of those fields where smarter than average people do what they want, for their own reasons. I imagine, if Albert Einstein asked for a grant to do a certain project, the taxpayers would have no apprehension , considering his public image – wierd, brilliant, and someone who has been so right.

    As a graduate student, watching post-docs approach their mid fifties in some cases is not encouraging at all. I am not saying they are incompetent, but they certainly are not inspiring. To put it briefly, science is not “cool” to most people. Society being what it is, fostering religious dogma, not understanding what science is about and watching a fraction of uninspired lab toilers – there is no way they are going to see science as inspiring.

    Our thinking and society needs to become more technocratic , for which scientists will have to be brilliant at showing off first (something not apprieciated in today’s science culture). It is little surprise that scientists of our time, who actually thrust themselves into the limelight (Craig Venter, or Dean Kamen, for instance) leave the strongest mark on the social psyche. For the part of the non-scientists, they need to adopt science for what it is, not as a “field” , “ideology” or “competitor to religion” – but simply the systematic study of EVERYTHING.

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  • Tricia

    As a preschool teacher, I frequently make the point that we’re all scientists because science begins with looking at something closely and thinking about what you see. To the parents I explain that science, and all analytical thinking, focuses on the skills it takes to (1) know your head from your hiney and (2) know BS when you hear it. These are skills every person should cultivate. The systematic study of everything? Absolutely.

  • Will

    You (Sean too) make an easy error when you discuss politicans’ derision of explicit science earmarks. It’s not that they think science is a fruitless cash-sink plaything of the liberal scientific elite. It’s just “We have huge budget problems and very pressing national financial emergences. Why is the federal budget explicitly worried about catfish genetics?”. Frankly, they are right. If these projects really are important (even if in only long-sighted scientific ways) other ways besides federal earmarks can be found to fund them.

  • Julianne

    Will — I completely agree that these allocations should not be made through earmarks. However, there’s a difference between saying “Our limited science funding should be allocated in a careful prioritized manner, and balanced against competing needs” and open mockery.

    Of course, the second plays better as political theater.

  • Alan Kellogg

    I call troll. I very much doubt John McCain has a Twitter account, and the quoted twit is simply not his style. It sounds like college sophomore snark.

    John McCain was raised at a time when a gentleman was expected to be courteous in manner and deed. You did not act like a cad, or speak ill of another or the legitimate work that he did.

    “nothing says new jobs for average Americans like investing in astronomy”

    That sounds nothing like McCain. For one thing, he has a sharper wit than that. No, it sounds like some small brained weasel saying something certain parties would like to think McCain would say. The man has his flaws, but being a jerk is not one of them.

    Someone is using his name to impersonate the man and give him a bad reputation. It amounts to identity theft, and it is my hope whoever it is is exposed soon and pays the price for his deceit.

  • Colonel Travis

    Get this – I vote Republican and love science! Holy crap, is that possible? Here’s another reason scientists are not You and Me: The elitism is often self-imposed. And it gets beyond ridiculous when scientists start adoring politics as much as, or more than, their fields of study, which seems like 100% of the time now.

    Some of us just want to know about up quarks and down quarks and black holes and loop quantum gravity and such. We don’t care what you think about McCain or Obama or Charles de Secondat, Baron de @#$%! Montesquieu. Why?

    1.) More often than not, you don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t say this flippantly, I used to work for a member of Congress (not the Devil John McCain, but a lesser spawn of Satan). Sorry, you’re major league scientists and bush league pundits. If Phil Plait applied the same level of thinking to science as he does to political discussions he would, hands down, be the poster child of Bad Astronomy.

    2.) It’s so hard to find political opinions in this country, isn’t it? I mean, I search high and low on the web, I cruise the TV channels, the radio, the newspapers, the magazines. I can’t find a single word about politics. It’s so bad that not only do I not know who the president is, I don’t even know what the hell is a The President. I’m glad I can always turn to, say, a story about new insights on sunspots to learn how Republicans want to destroy the earth by aiding the sun into supernova 6 billion years ahead of schedule with the new I Hate Humanity Machine.

    So you science people talk about politics all you want. Scream it from the mountain tops if you must, and it seems like you really, really, really must. Funding is a bitch, I know. And I feel your pain. Honest. This country is going down the science crapper, and I hate that. Not sure if anyone at Discover noticed, though, but the grape genetics earmark (along with the 8,000-9,000 other ones) passed Congress already. Yet this blog post doesn’t really focus on that. Hmmm. The money is going to grapes. But let’s write 509 words about how it would have stunk if it didn’t.

    Do me a favor, science people: stop scratching your head wondering: “Gee, why don’t more people like us?”

    Look in the mirror.

  • Pieter Kok

    Nash said:

    It is purely my personal observation that many scientists are unambitious, happy to relax into a comfortable zone the moment they achieve tenure or another position in their career that is secure.

    It may seem that way. But getting tenure means teaching and admin. These are things that have to be done, and when the load is heavy it is almost impossible to do research the way you did it as a postdoc (long undisturbed stretches of time devoted to a single topic).

  • mjn

    I could not find any numbers for US, but a recent EU report gives that 1.44% of all employed in the EU are working in R&D, in many countries, like Germany above 2%. I would assume the US figures are similar. Of course this includes those working with R&D in industry, but it still shows that research is a quite common profession.
    Furthermore, 60% of the R&D personnel was classified as researchers. Most of those are of course not the high profile scientists as the writers of this blog, but rather toiling relatively anonymously in a lab somewhere (like I am) doing their bits and pieces to further the development of fuel cells, drugs, TV screens or what-not.
    I think some of the “science-as-elitism” comes from the focus on high-profile, successful professors as the typical scientist. Joe-the-Plumber became a celebrity, even on this side of the pond, but who ever heard of Jill-the-Physicist or Jane-the-Microbiologist? (The latter though sometimes in negative press about the danger or immorality of her research.)

  • Michael

    There are hundreds of thousands of construction workers out of work. So I guess we just give them astronomy jobs…How many astronomers have been laid off during the current economic mess? How many college professors? How many politicians?

    The money that’s not being simply wasted should go to those that are hurting the most, and I doubt that group is astronomers or bloggers.

    I love science, and I certainly agree that it’s not being taught very well in our broken public school system, but continuing to polarize science by attacking politicians of one party or the other is foolish and very non-productive. We are already seeing this happen on the global warming issue.

  • Count Iblis

    Many Americans play basketball in their free time. Many Americans play music in their free time. Many Americans read novels in their free time. Many Americans visit art exhibitions in their free time.

    A small fraction of Americans are amateur astronomers. A smaller fraction still enjoys doing recreational math or solving physics problems. The difference doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that doing math is hard, because many people like to solve puzzles (e.g. Sudoku). It is caused by the lack of proper math and physics education in schools.

  • PiddlyD

    So many of the problems of science are the fault of science itself. The attitude of elitism prevalent among scientists is simply a part of the problem. The infighting between different branches of science (for example, the long running feud between forensic and biological scientists) only erodes the public confidence in science more.

    For so long, the public looked toward science to provide “all the answers”, and the atomic powered, bright-new-future science of tomorrow from the 50s and 60s promised just that. I’ve heard more scientists recently educating the public that science doesn’t *prove* anything, it *disproves* the least likely. That is a good start – and a big part of that is about science acting with less arrogance and more humility, as a community.

    Finally, science obviously has clear ties to academia, and academia is perceived as having a strong political bias. Science seems to believe that they have a “bypass accusations of political bias” card – but it seems that even here, this argument is generally proposed by scientists accused of bias toward the left. Those same scientists will trot out accusations of bias toward the right against “bad science” that they disagree with. We know the topics that these issues surround. The problem is, the layperson simply sees two sides, arguing different points, and accusing the other of political bias. Frankly, it discredits science in general in the public eye.

    The fact that the scientific community, full of such allegedly brilliant people, has trouble identifying and dealing with these challenges, points out another stereotype about the sciences and scientists that makes it less desirable for a young child to aspire to science than to professional sports. Scientists simply aren’t very good with social nuances. They’re binary people who do not do well in the analog world of reality. The see something as “factual or disproven” and simply can’t let their minds wrap around metaphysical concepts of right and wrong and real and false. Generally, they also think everyone else should think exactly like them. I mean, honestly, this article does a bunch of complaining about the issue, but doesn’t even begin to address what some of the root causes may be.

    Basically, I see this as a no win situation for science. The type of people attracted to the sciences do not endear empathy or support from the public, the issues have become highly politicized (and the type of people attracted to the sciences are not generally politically skilled) and as often as not, science tends to make the issues worse, not better, whenever they try to deal with their problem public image.

  • Count Iblis

    Even at the undergraduate university level physics education is deeply flawed.

  • PiddlyD

    Wow. And I didn’t even bother to read the comments first, to see that there is an amazing trend here in the flavor of the responses to this article.

    Maybe the sciences should listen up. They know they have a PR problem, and they’ve been told time and time again what the cause is, but they can’t seem to take the tough medicine and admit that the problem is themselves.

    How many people saying basically the same thing is it going to take?

  • Flaming Pope

    You make an excellent point of public relations. One of the most troubling parts of research is getting public approval. You have to clearly state the reason and public linkage your research has to society, which is absolute bull in the end. But that’s only because the majority of Americans can only view the world through a forth grade level.

    “Science is doomed by the ones it’s meant to protect”

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  • Sili

    There are hundreds of thousands of construction workers out of work. So I guess we just give them astronomy jobs…How many astronomers have been laid off during the current economic mess? How many college professors? How many politicians?

    Pardon my stupid question, but just who builds observatories and laboratories?

    Grad students are regularly abused as cheap cheap labour, yes, but I wouldn’t trust many chemists to lay bricks or pour concrete.

  • Phil Plait

    Colonel Travis: I hear that same sort of thing from people often enough, but I find that they have little evidence to support their claims that I am a fool when it comes to politics. What I do find funny is that this claim always comes from people who disagree very strongly with me. Now is that because everyone who agrees with me is a fool as well (they don’t seem to complain), or is it because people who disagree with me can’t bring themselves to admit that they might be wrong?

    Of course, someone who agrees with my politics would be less likely to tear apart a given argument of mine. But people who use ad hominems against me never seem to have any actual facts. I am clear and back up my points — McCain has, repeatedly, used science in a derogatory fashion to make his points, and I have links to prove it — yet that always seems to get ignored.

  • Colonel Travis

    Phil, I know you’re a bright guy and I honestly enjoy your insight on science. But McCain hates earmarks, not science. I know you know this because you’ve written the following about McCain not liking earmarks: “I think that’s ridiculous.” Well, gee-willikers, some of us science-loving lovers of science think that in the era of $3,600,000,000,000 budgets, a no earmarks policy is kind of admirable.

    I used to be a flaming liberal. Then one day (and I do remember the day) I started thinking seriously for the first time about why I was like that – kind of applied the scientific method to my own brain. I started thinking differently about myself and the world. It’s something I still do. I don’t pretend to be a know-it-all at anything. And I’m not saying you are, and for heaven’s sake I’m not saying you or anyone else needs to think like me. I’m just wondering why so many science people fail to apply the same discretion, the same analysis, the same rationalization, which they rightly DEMAND in their own field to other subjects, including but not limited to, politics.

    By the way, why does anyone here bother discussing McCain, period? He lost a big election in November, his political power is all-but sapped, he doesn’t control the Senate, he doesn’t command his own party. There’s a lefty president, a lefty House, a lefty Senate – this should be the happiest party time for Discover magazine folks in, I would guess – ever! Why focus on all the crap that McCain and/or the Republicans don’t want to do? Who cares. They’re not in the way any more. Think positive, you sourpusses. NASA just got $1 billion. Kepler’s going up tomorrow. The office water cooler should be permanently replaced with champagne. Is it not? Has the margarita machine not been delivered?! Is it really that hard to stay positive about anything for more than half a blog post?

  • Phil Plait

    For one thing, he may hate earmarks, but he uses science an awful lot as examples of bad ones. Also, his hatred of earmarks is somewhat debatable given his voting history, but that’s not for this discussion.

    And the fact is, while the Republicans may be out of power, they will continue to have a voice through mouthpieces like Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, and others of their ilk for quite some time. And as long as they have a voice, and use it to fight against science, then I will make sure people know about it. I do that for anyone I think is antireality, Repub, Dem, or Independent.

    And I have been very positive for quite some time on my blog, if you actually read it. Cautiously so, since I am not at all convinced the Obama Administration will do the right thing at the right time.

    I do apply critical thinking to what I do, all the time. That’s why I still need to speak out against those who would fight science, fight reality. They may not be in power over the Federal gov’t right now, but they run lots of states (cough cough Jindal cough) and, as I recall, we have elections in this country every 2 years for various offices.

    Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

  • macho

    Two key points need to be emphasized:

    The money is not for astronomy research (or professional astronomers or scientists) but for astronomy education — it will go to support the activities of the Imiloa Astronomy Center. This includes salary support for the center staff — most of whom are not professional astronomers. This includes a wide range of jobs, from maintenance to education. I don’t know the details of the IAC, but in general, in difficult economic periods it’s difficult for non-profit organizations to maintain staff levels — these positions are not protected or insulated by tenure, etc. This is very much in line with the focus of the current administration for creating jobs (including entry level positions).

    Supporting science education is also building the infrastructure of this country — we need to encourage (and support) talented young students in science, and that often starts with expanding their understanding of what science is — and how exciting it can be. This is one of the key missions of science museums. Our economy needs an educated and scientifically/technically literate workforce; and while we definitely need to make major changes/improvements in k-12 science education, museums and planetariums also have a key role to play.

    And a final note — if pundits and politicians want to object to earmarks, there is a honest discussion and debate that should be conducted. Tossing out comments that work directly against the current and future needs of this country (disparaging science/technology at a time when we need to be building our human resources in this area for economic reasons) is simply wrong.

  • coolstar

    Wow, I had to read a LONG way down the comments before I found much in the way of right- to-the -point good sense (as opposed to “I’m smarter than you, No, you’re not….)”:
    THANKS macho!

  • Andrew

    If I may, I’d like to say this in defense of what McCain said. He didn’t say it because he doesn’t see the point in funding science, but because he doesn’t like doling out lots of cash from the public trough ~period~. I know that a lot of science publications have taken up the “bash GOP” craze these days because they feel that they must defend their fellows getting funding for various things(and I don’t want anyone to mention their “other” reasons). I think however that they are, in the process, doing a disservice to the debate about public spending as a hole (How much we should spend generally being the bigger question than on what) in which it often looks like scientists are taking sides in favor of big spending. It might make more sense, to my mind, to encourage private support of science, though in ways which would not influence any results. The problem with the public money is that at the rate spending is occurring, all the money for scientific projects isn’t going to be worth jack squat.

  • jackal

    Perhaps its time we had a Vannevar Bush for our era. He or She could write “Science the Endless Frontier II: Back to the Future”. Ok, that’s a bit much..

    In a representative democracy like the US, successful science policy demands that the public understand what gets funded, at least in some sense. This is one reason why great science communicators are so profoundly important, and also why science education is so critical. There are very complex and interdependent multipliers that exist between governmental funding of scientific research, industrial development of said technology and capital flows back into academia from these industries; alas, I fear this is becoming less and less well understood.

    If you’re going to criticize earmarks, fine, but for gods’ sake pick something truly egregious, not something that actually has value towards the long-term competitiveness of the United States. Innovation, and I mean real, genuine innovation that increases productivity and changes the way we live, is America’s central long-term advantage, if a pittance spent on science education gets a few kids hooked onto empirical reasoning and thinking about the world, more power to them.

    By the way, to that last comment, good luck getting private funding of ANYTHING right now, let alone high-risk basic science research. Government has a profoundly important, if not central, role to play now that so many industries are deathly afraid to invest in anything, let alone basic science, as it had a central role to play in the science and engineering explosion post-WWII (see NSF, DOE, DARPA etc.). Even when private companies undertake basic research through their labs/research divisions these projects often only exist because the govt is willing to pony up funds.

  • Winter Solstice Man

    Read Richard Greenberg’s new book Unmasking Europa if you want some idea how unscientific some scientists can be.

    It amazes me the human race has accomplished as much as it has despite our greed and stupidity.

    Perhaps science should be approached and treated akin to the priesthood. You need full devotion to the subject and follow the Golden Rule, which is to be objective and stick to the evidence.

    Since most scientists can’t get laid, focusing on their work should not be a problem. :^)

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    Needless to say, I expected this sort of thing to happen in short order, and predict it will continue to happen as long as it’s a politically valuable strategy.

    I think y’all are kidding yourselves, though, if you think outreach is the answer, at least in the foreseeable future. There’s a now centuries-old tradition of “anti-elitism” (i.e. self-serving rich people duping poor people into thinking intellectuals are the real enemy) in American conservatism, and it’s so firmly entrenched I see little hope in attacking the problem head-on. My sense is the path forward consists of clever end-runs around the conservative “base”, and part of that strategy means picking your battles wisely, and supporting legislation that makes it easy for the opposition to give you what you want. I doubt very much that McCain cares about Volcano research one way or the other. If he could score political points mocking it, he would; if not, he’d mock something else. Same goes for most of them. Look at Mitt Romney, for crying out loud. Here’s a guy who’s clearly smart enough to know how absurd he ought to sound, except he’s also smart enough to know he’s doing and saying the right things to remake himself as a “real” conservative, and eventually he’ll shed the taint of MA moderation. These folks understand your opposition. They know how to fool them, and that opposition wants nothing more fervently than to believe the lies they’re fed. Gotta factor these dad truths in, or else.

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    gah, “sad truths”.

    (sorry dad)

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  • Paul Murray

    So, it’s not that the government’s money is going to someone else, it’s that it seems to be going to someone they could never, ever be.

    Whereas every american likes to imagine that they might become super-rich, and so bailouts and tax-cuts for the top .1% are a great idea.


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