The Tea Party's War on Science

By Chris Mooney | September 15, 2010 9:41 pm

Following on this post, I want this to be the topic of a future Point of Inquiry show.

My question: Who’s the guest? Who’s best equipped to speak to this?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Comments (44)

  1. Roscoe Bartlett? (R-Md)

    Other possibilities:

    John H. Marburger III

    Christie Todd Whitman (which actually might be my best suggestion!)

  2. Jackson

    The Tea Party is more an anti-tax movement (or at least the best definition of it is not an anti-science party).

    I think the interview is being framed to use a strawman argument to support Democrats in the fall election — something inappropriate for CFI. If Chris wants to do this, he should do it after the elections.

  3. Eric the Leaf

    You have to love Roscoe Bartlett for this efforts on energy. He is a courageous figure and one that I have frequently recommended as a subject for interview. Perhaps Chris could seek him out, not necessarily for POI, but at the upcoming ASPO-USA conference in Washington D.C., Oct. 7-9. A terrific agenda and line-up of speakers: http://www.aspousa.org/worldoil2010/Speakers.cfm?requesttimeout=500

  4. Andy

    I agree Jackson. The proof is in the post.

    He cited Limbaugh and Beck as representatives of an entire party (cited in that EDITORIAL from Nature) when they’re simply political commentators or pundits. How is that not political spin? What if someone cited Chris Matthews and Ed Schultz as representative of the entire Democratic party and went on to smear their opposition? This is simply playing politics with the issue.

    The Tea Party has nothing in their platform about science or religion, they’re all about limited government and fiscal conservatism, that’s it. They’re not a racist, religious group touting the return of slavery. There is no such thing as the Republican and now Tea Party “War on Science”. Republicans have also come out in favor of curbing emissions and alternative energy sources as a means to ensure air quality and cut our use of foreign oil. They’ve voted to approve Federal grants for R&D in such fields. Did everyone also forget that Republicans were the original party to craft and enact a Cap and Trade bill back in 1989 to combat acid rain? The reason they reject it today it due to the large scale negative effect it would have on individual energy costs under the current proposals and we currently have no other “clean” sources of energy to supplement fossil fuel power plants (but hopefully nuclear is coming soon).

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Presence-of-Mind-Blue-Sky-Thinking.html?c=y&page=1

    And don’t forget about Bush and Kyoto. Ethanol subsidies (which is a waste of money IMO, costs more than gas to produce and market with no significant reduction in emissions, it’s only approved to limit the amount of oil we import). Approving grants for auto battery research (especially in the case of the Big 3, before the bailouts: Ford, GM, Chrysler). All supported by Republicans.

    Why hasn’t there been any coverage of how the majority of Republicans have supported clean nuclear power over the last 50 years, while the majority of Democrats have vehemently opposed it? Well, those Democrats are waging a war on science I tell you.

  5. Sideshow Bill

    @Jackson, But you will find that most of the candidates pushed by the Tea Party are also very anti-science. Look at Angle, O’Donnell, Palin, Etc.

  6. Sorbit

    The correct title should be “The Tea Party’s War on Rationality”. There are some people in the TP who are genuinely disgruntled small-government proponents (although they conveniently ignore the fact that Republicans in the last two decades have been anything but fiscal conservatives). But their voices will always be drowned out by the “birthers”, libertarian extremists and utter lunatics. Sadly these people are taken seriously.

  7. Jon

    Jackson: The Tea Party is more an anti-tax movement…

    It’s an anti tax movement that got its taxes lowered. What’s up with that? I think Sam Tanenhaus gets it about right–there’s something else going on:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tetAGcKRAf4

    The GOP’s base and the strange relationship of its elite to its base is a longstanding interest of Chris’s. I don’t think he invented it to support the Dems in the 2010 midterms.

    So Chris, I have 4 suggestions of possibilities. One is Sam Tanenhaus, who seems like a really good interview, if you can get him. He seems good at tailoring his spiel for his audience, and would probably be good at discussing ressentiment and its use by elites–he’s an expert at the history and ideas that instituted the culture wars.

    My second choice would be Rick Perlstein, a historian with an interest in the history of right wing populism and its use by elites. His books are long, but he’s got an encyclopedic knowledge of the personalities on the right, with less of the interest in ideas that Tanenhaus has.

    My third choice would be Susan Jacoby, who I think is at CFI in New York. I don’t think her work is as rich as the other two I listed above, but she’s published a couple of books on right wing populism dating back to the McCarthy era. I think it’s hard for intellectuals to get perspective on anti-intellectualism, and I think Perlstein and Tanenhaus have been more successful than Susan Jacoby, but I still liked her book on Alger Hiss.

    Lastly, you might be able to book the guy who wrote this article, Mark Lilla. I don’t know much about him, but I liked his article…

  8. Nullius in Verba

    Perhaps the title should be the Tea Party war on Democrat-Science?

    We have already noted that scientific beliefs are correlated to political ones; some scientific claims are supported more by Republicans, and others by Democrats. So maybe it’s not that they’re anti-science, it’s that they’re anti-Democratscience.

    We all have our unconscious biases.

  9. FUAG

    Really depends on what you want.

    If you want to look good and make republican’s look bad, find an evangelical republican.
    If you want to talk in circles and get nowhere, get a big business lobbyist.
    If you want someone to challenge you in real debate, find someone that is neither.

    This is why I hate the title of your book. There are many republicans that are only republicans because they see it as the lesser of two evils. I’m a republican but I support stem cell research, abortion (to an extent), and gun control. Painting all republicans as “anti-science” is like saying all democrats live in communes.

    As for a suggestion, how about Ben Stein?

  10. Jon

    A big difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, is that Republican science hate is *institutionalized*, as Paul Krugman noted a few years ago:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/05/opinion/05krugman.html

    And various parts of the Republican ideological base are natural adversaries of science–the traditionalists, libertarians, culture warring neoconservatives, etc. So Republican populism naturally pulls against science.

    There are Democratic bases on the left that can be anti-science (anti-GMOers, Anti-Vaxers) and Chris has covered those. But they’re much less organized with much smaller soapboxes, and have little if any political clout when Dems are in power.

    And Nullius, I didn’t know there was Republican and Democratic science. As Winston said in 1984, you should be able to say 2 + 2 = 4 without getting retribution from political interests. 4 isn’t left or right, it’s just the given you start from.

  11. FUAG

    @6 – Sorbit:
    “although they conveniently ignore the fact that Republicans in the last two decades have been anything but fiscal conservatives”

    This is exactly why the tea party movement has had such success. There is no longer a fiscal conservative party. They are not ignoring it, they are taking it on directly!

  12. FUAG

    @10 – Jon:

    What Nullis (sorry to speak for you Nullis, but given your name, you won’t care what I say anyway) and I are both saying is that there are whack jobs on the far ends of both sides, and there are rational people that fall in between.

    If you don’t see this, then guess where that puts you?

    And, BTW, we are all shocked that the NYT has an article supporting your argument… guess where they land?….

  13. JJ

    As a Tea Party supporter and Libertarian, I’d like to recommend Ron Paul.

    I agree FUAG, I share similar views, but I consider myself Libertarian over Republican because I’m not religious, and generally support non-interventionist foreign policy and liberal social issues: stem cell research, gay rights, abortion (with the exception of late term and partial birth), all while supporting smaller government and fiscal conservatism. There’s not many of these types in the mainstream of the Republican party, but hopefully there will be soon. The overly close minded religious wing is very much the downfall of the Republican party in my opinion.

  14. JJ

    “A big difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, is that Republican science hate is *institutionalized*, as Paul Krugman noted a few years ago”

    Krugman is a well known Liberal Keynesian economist, of course he’s going to bash the opposition. I think Andy, #4, got it right. Take a look at the overall facts and it’s clear that Republicans are not against science anymore than Democrats. It’s an issue by issue basis. Republicans are often (incorrectly) labeled that way because of the focus on the small overly religious wing of the party.

    Furthermore, most of the issues that are directed at appeasing the religious right are social and personal in nature. I’ve never known an instance where Republicans said they can’t support a scientifically backed piece of legislation because their religion doesn’t permit them to do so. The only issues where that happens are social issues: abortion, stem cell research, marriage, etc. They’re not going to argue that modern medicine doesn’t help people or against the laws of physics. Labeling the entire party anti-science because they won’t agree on how to handle the emissions issue is an irrational generalization. All of the controversy surrounding the IPCC doesn’t help either, it’s no wonder why so many are skeptical to their claims.

  15. Jon

    …there are whack jobs on the far ends of both sides, and there are rational people that fall in between.

    There’s some truth to that, but it’s abstract. You have to consider things case by case. If Joe says a cup of coffee should be free and you say it should be a thousand dollars, the sane view is not that it should be $500, or even $50. The sane view is what the market pays for a cup of coffee, which is well under $5. Just like the sane view is that climate change is a serious problem, that the health care system needs an overhaul, that the investment banking system needs regulation just like they did with traditional banking in the 1930′s, and that you need a stop sign in an intersection or some people won’t stop. At a certain level, brute fact is brute fact–politics has nothing to do with it unless you involve a conspiracy theory or some such…

  16. JJ

    “But you will find that most of the candidates pushed by the Tea Party are also very anti-science. Look at Angle, O’Donnell, Palin, Etc.”

    I’d like to see exactly where these candidates are anti-science…and don’t give me something anecdotal like: well, they’re openly religious, so they must be against science or they don’t support the Liberal/Democrat version of Cap and Trade so they’re anti-science…

  17. Nullius in Verba

    Jon #10,

    “And Nullius, I didn’t know there was Republican and Democratic science. As Winston said in 1984, you should be able to say 2 + 2 = 4 without getting retribution from political interests. 4 isn’t left or right, it’s just the given you start from.”

    And as Winston discovered, it is actually possible for people to genuinely believe the equivalent of 2 + 2 = 5 because The Party/Society/A Consensus of Intergovernmental Scientists says so. And the problem with unconscious biases is that you can’t actually tell if you’re doing so at the time.

    Chris has noted on many occasions that the more intelligent, educated and informed a Republican is, the more likely they are to disbelieve in catastrophic global warming. He assumes they’re wrong about that, but then of course he would, because he’s an intelligent and educated Democrat, and such Democrats are more likely to believe in catastrophic global warming. Being a Democrat, he believes the Democrats are right.

    Nineteen eighty four was a complex and complicated book. Most people understand the first half, but seem to miss out the significance of the ending where, with his illusions stripped away, knowing exactly what Big Brother was and how it worked, with nothing to win or lose, knowing even that it meant his own death, Winston came to understand and love Big Brother.

    It’s not just a trite twist in the tale, or a trivial consequence of his brainwashing. It is, in a way, what the book was really about. I’m not going to try to explain. I doubt you would understand if I tried. (Not for lack of intelligence, but because of the nature of explanation.) But you might like to think about it.

    Orwell recognised the duality – having at one time fought passionately for the Communists in Spain, and then been disillusioned when he found out what sort of people the Stalinists and indeed left-wingers generally really were. He understood about beliefs and worldviews; and how people can genuinely believe mutually contradictory facts, switch, and forget – and not even realise they’re doing it. It was not intended totally as a prediction of the future; it was about his own time, and world – as all such fiction is.

    FUAG #12,

    I don’t mind at all. But I would add that rationality needs help – the rational recognise their own weaknesses, and use their enemies to test and temper their armour.

  18. Jon

    Nullius, I know something about Orwell. And I even know something about conservatives’ views of Orwell.

    Have you heard Sam Tanenhaus on James Burnham (who in large part inspired 1984)? This talk of his from three years ago basically predicted the tea party (they’re the “revanchists” he’s talking about, no doubt):

    http://www.aei.org/event/1550

    Why is it, no matter who it is, the right turns all Democratic leaders into Emmanuel Goldstein? First, Bill Clinton, then Al Gore, then Hillary Clinton, then Barack Obama. Funny how each one of them in succession are treated like they’re the end of the world, eh? Each of them are treated to two minutes hate over and over again as soon as they emerge as leaders.

    Also, have you read Orwell’s criticisms of Burnham, particularly on the *Machiavellians*? (He criticizes the idea that leaders rhetoric about public good never means anything but grasping after power, and also Burnham’s exaggeration of the power of political figures, which he attributes to Burnham’s own power worship.) Orwell’s criticism seems particularly prescient these days, when we have such obvious manipulation of the public:

    http://orwell.ru/library/reviews/burnham/english/e_burnh

  19. Jon

    Basically, Orwell was criticizing the cynicism of seeing all political movements as nothing but pure conspiracy, necessitating creating a counter-conspiracy–your own “New Class.”

    In the above talk Tanenhaus updates that criticism for the age of George W Bush (and the later Tea Party and Dick Armey). Tanenhaus’s thesis is completely consonant with what Chris has found in his investigative reporting (and what Krugman describes in that piece). The right has developed its own class of quasi-academic institutions and media organizations (probably at this point largely forgetting their own rationales for the manifestos that started them, in favor of doing things that favor their donor base)…. These institutions and organizations don’t follow professional standards as the other institutions do, they follow *ideological* standards–but the average person on the street, of course, can’t tell the difference.

  20. JJ

    Palin was right, the latest report on the IPCC says the same thing. They’ve uncovered a number of high confidence claims lacking sufficient evidence and claims that were backed by non-peer reviewed data that were held at high confidence rates. They also found questionable practices in not disclosing data while being less than transparent. This review also didn’t take into account the actual science, only the practices in supporting the claims.

    http://www.science20.com/news_articles/interacademy_council_report_urges_fundamental_reform_ipcc

    http://reviewipcc.interacademycouncil.net/report/Chapter%205%20-%20Conclusions.pdf

    As for Chris Matthews, like I said earlier, there are probably a handful of total religious wackos on the right, but it’s a negligible number. The far left has just as many wackos, likely more (Rosie O’Donnel claiming “radical Christianity” is worse than radical Islam, all the idiots that think all white people that don’t like Obama are racist, black panthers that want to kill all the whites and their babies…)

    You cited clearly Liberal sources here in both cases, which are all about smearing the opposition. Take a look at real world facts like I said earlier. Go ask every religious right winger you know about evidence of dinosaurs and I can guarantee they won’t fight you on that. I’m also certain that when they get sick, they take medicine to get better, they don’t think God is going to cure them with some divine magic. Stop thinking on partisan lines by brainwashing yourself with Liberal propaganda and maybe it’ll open your eyes to the real world.

  21. Jon

    Look at all these brainwashed scientific organizations, JJ;

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_opinion_on_climate_change#Statements_by_concurring_organizations

    Wow, that’s quite a conspiracy. I’m going to get out my Illuminati card game and try to sort it out.

  22. Jon

    The far left has just as many wackos.

    Even if I granted that as true, as I said above, are they in *power*? They’re not–outside of Fox News talking points world. If you read Chris Mooney’s book, under Bush, they were actually in positions of power and making decisions for the government.

  23. JJ

    Don’t worry, it’s natural to fear what you can’t understand…the Libertarian/Conservative revolution is coming… :-)

  24. Jon

    And it looks like they’ll be quite a cast of characters. No shortage of material for Chris to write about. Get ready for a circus.

  25. JJ

    “Even if I granted that as true, as I said above, are they in *power*? They’re not–outside of Fox News talking points world. If you read Chris Mooney’s book, under Bush, they were actually in positions of power and making decisions for the government.”

    They’re there now! The former “Green Czar” was a self avowed communist and 9-11 truther! The head of the AFL-CIO gave a speech to the European Socialists, he’s one of Obama’s buddies! Reverend Wright, Obama’s preacher for over 20 years and Obama didn’t know he’s such an anti-American racist…come on man. Remember, facts, not propaganda. You’re quite misguided, you have a lot to learn my friend. If a Republican was associated with such characters you damn well know the “liberal media” would be all over it.

  26. DeSmogBlog has been following this really closely. I’d hit them up. The Koch funding angle in particular is an important piece. Perhaps also Jane Mayer, who wrote the recent New Yorker piece on the Koch’s front group funding.

    Aaron Huertas
    Union of Concerned Scientists

  27. Nullius in Verba

    Jon #19,

    You’ll have to narrow it down for me on Tanenhaus – that’s over an hour long, and not so interesting I want to sit through it all. But I am mildly curious as to how anyone can connect Tea Partiers to “revanchists” – it doesn’t seem a particularly apt description to me.

    “Why is it, no matter who it is, the right turns all Democratic leaders into Emmanuel Goldstein?”

    I assume you’re talking about the usual routine of American ‘attack politics’. Democrats did the same thing with Bush throughout his presidency, and are doing it again with Palin now. If you’re trying to claim that the analogy with 1984 only goes one way, that’s nonsense. Indeed, there’s a parallel with the situation in which both party and opposition are members of basically the same political class with almost identical policies, each using the other to whip up support, and to explain why even when they do get in, nothing ever changes.

    “He criticizes the idea that leaders rhetoric about public good never means anything but grasping after power”

    I assume you mean the part where Orwell asks why Burnham did not consider why people sought power in the first place. Orwell’s idea seemed to be that a hierarchical ‘slave society’ was a necessity in the Machiavellian past, but since the ‘Age of the Machine’ this was no longer so. That Burnham’s use of Machiavelli was a cover for his own obsession with power. His managerial class were “in general, middling people who feel themselves cramped by a system that is still partly aristocratic, and are hungry for more power and more prestige. These people look towards the U.S.S.R. and see in it, or think they see, a system which eliminates the upper class, keeps the working class in its place, and hands unlimited power to people very similar to themselves. It was only after the Soviet régime became unmistakably totalitarian that English intellectuals, in large numbers, began to show an interest in it. Burnham, although the English russophile intelligentsia would repudiate him, is really voicing their secret wish: the wish to destroy the old, equalitarian version of Socialism and usher in a hierarchical society where the intellectual can at last get his hands on the whip.”

    #20,
    “Basically, Orwell was criticizing the cynicism of seeing all political movements as nothing but pure conspiracy, necessitating creating a counter-conspiracy–your own “New Class.””

    Not all political movements are totalitarian. But some are, including some that claim not to be, but are only instituting such measures temporarily in the face of some imminent (and usually exaggerated) threat. You can’t deduce from this that no political movements are ‘conspiracy’, either.

    #23,

    “Look at all these brainwashed scientific organizations, JJ;”

    That’s pure Argument from Authority. If the party says two plus two equals five, and everybody around you does, and all the experts do, freedom is still the freedom to say that two plus two equals four. If you’re argument worked, then clearly Winston Smith was wrong to oppose the consensus. Consensus defines reality in 1984.

    And in any case, those “scientific organisations” have not made their judgement on the basis of any examination of the science, but because they trust other scientists implicitly, and to avoid controversy. They are basically political influence groups out to promote the social standing of their profession and to assist with making professional contacts, who sometimes do a little science on the side.

    #24,

    “Even if I granted that as true, as I said above, are they in *power*?”

    Yes. Some of John Holdren’s old statements are coming back to haunt him, for example. But of course, the judgement of who is “whacko” is an individual one, influenced by ones own politics. By excluding “Fox news talking points” and hence the opinions of people on the right, you make that clear. Your politics subconsciously moulds your judgement of what is or is not rational; I’m sure the same can be said of both sides equally. I prefer to avoid the epithets and concentrate on what they believe and whether it is right or wrong.

  28. Matteo

    Non-stop trite leftist politics here. Science!

  29. Jackson

    Peggy Noonan has a discussion of Tea Party on 9/17
    http://tinyurl.com/wsj-peggynoonan-0917
    I view the overall movement is generally more of an anti-tax thing, as she explains. A lot of people are worried about the deficits. I think the movement accretes anti-Washingtion and anti-incumbent sentiment as well. I really think the anti-science angle Chris is bringing up is kind of misdirection from the main issue of the 2010/2012 elections.

  30. Andy said:
    “The Tea Party has nothing in their platform about science or religion, they’re all about
    limited government and fiscal conservatism, that’s it.”

    From the new Maine GOP party platform: the platform was hijacked by the Tea Party
    (link:
    Maine Republicans adopt Tea Party platform
    ) and includes this:

    “g. Defeat Cap and Trade, investigate collusion between government and industry in
    the global warming myth, and prosecute any illegal collusion.”

    If global warming is called a “myth”, then they most definitely have something
    in their platform about science — and religion.

    From the Tea Party Express blog:
    “The “Tea Party Express” is a project of the Our Country Deserves Better Committee,
    one of the nation’s largest conservative political action committees. The latest
    effort marks the third national Tea Party tour that will bring citizen activism
    against Obama’s healthcare plan as well as continued opposition against
    out-of-control spending, higher taxes, bailouts and the
    “Cap & Trade” global warming fiasco.”

    Calling it “myth” and “fiasco” — definitely passing judgment on the science.

    Sarah Palin, Tea Party candidate endorser:
    “We knew the bottom line … was ultimately to shut down a lot of our development,”
    she said during her 40-minute speech, which was followed by a 20-minute
    question-and-answer session. “And it didn’t make any sense because it was
    based on these global warming studies that now we’re seeing (is) a bunch of
    snake oil science.”

    More:
    Hard-right science: Tea party leader explains the basic of global warming

    Maybe it’s not in their platform; but it’s pretty obvious what their plank would be if ’twas.

  31. Nullius in Verba

    “If global warming is called a “myth”, then they most definitely have something
    in their platform about science — and religion.”

    Not necessarily. There is a distinction between science (the scientific method), and particular conclusions arrived at by scientists. You can support and agree with scientific method in general, while disagreeing with a particular claim that you don’t consider to be sufficiently supported by the evidence.

    Indeed, informed scepticism even about well-established conclusions is an essential part of the scientific method, and unquestioning acceptance of whatever the scientific authorities say is quite definitely not. It all depends on the reasons for the belief/disbelief.

  32. Jon

    Nullius You can support and agree with scientific method in general, while disagreeing with a particular claim that you don’t consider to be sufficiently supported by the evidence.

    I doubt the tea party thinks in those terms. As Sam Tanenhaus says in the youtube video I linked to above, the tea party is about sentiment. They don’t discuss policy problems so much as protest what they see as activist government–it’s a sentimental reaction, not too much thinking about the evidence involved (except the partial evidence that some outlets are feeding them to bolster certain preconceived notions).

    As for what you were saying above about “consensus” in 1984, in Orwell’s book it is the consensus of the POLITICAL CLASS that dictates reality–the “Party,” not scientists. For instance:

    O’Brien silenced him by a movement of his hand. ‘We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull. You will learn by degrees, Winston. There is nothing that we could not do. Invisibility, levitation — anything. I could float off this floor like a soap bubble if I wish to. I do not wish to, because the Party does not wish it. You must get rid of those nineteenth-century ideas about the laws of Nature. We make the laws of Nature.’

    Scientists aren’t the party decisionmakers in 1984. Orwell has the only place where scientists’ work is allowed with doublethink-free precision is in making war. To make an obvious point, the work of scientists is quite different from the work of the Party, who are controlled largely by the manipulate of sentiment (Two Minutes Hate, etc.).

    Anyway, you asked me to boil down Tanenhaus’s speech. You really have to listen to it to get the full gist (even though now it’s dated, as it was made during the runup to the last election). But here is Jim Sleeper’s quick summary for the liberal audience at TPM Cafe:

    [Tanenhaus] noted that while conservatives once chafed under the soulless leftist managerialism of the New Deal, they let ex-leftist conservative guides such as James Burnham and Irving Kristol lead them on a long march through the institutions they despised to build a managerial class of their own…

    In Tanenhaus’ telling, Kristol showed conservative business and political leaders that New Deal managerialism had bred a liberal “new class” of academic, think-tank, and media experts who trafficked in words more than in deeds or missions accomplished. He counseled conservatives to outdo liberals at this game in order to rescue liberal education and liberal democracy for the kind of capitalism and politics conservatives can profit from and enjoy.

    Through lavishly-funded initiatives such as those I encountered in New York City’s Manhattan Institute and on college campuses, and in vast private ventures such as Rupert Murdoch’s “journalism,” conservatives generated a parody of the liberal “new class,” an on-message machine of talkers, squawkers, power brokers, and greedheads…

    Tanenhaus’ wistful pleas for a politics of decency made me wonder what conservatism can do now besides push profits and disgrace itself by spewing guns, God, racism, sexism, and war to distract us from the heartbreaking consequences for the civic-republican ethos. TPM blogger “sphealey” characterized that ethos as “a fundamental allegiance to getting along, and specifically to handling losses without developing longstanding grudges” that could be undermined “if a small group had ever gotten together and made an agreement to subvert the system and behave destructively in a coordinated manner.”

    By the way, when I linked above to a page that listed dozens of scientific organizations supporting the finding that man-made climate change is real, and zero contending it wasn’t, I was pointing to evidence, which would be extraordinary if man-made climate change wasn’t true. And extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    But the evidence you supplied us with the other day is laughable, not extraordinary. Saying climate change isn’t real because of nitpicks about a data set more than 10 years old (in studies that aren;t even the primary one for man-made climate change) is pretty unbelievable. It’s the equivalent of if the tobacco companies had said smoking doesn’t cause cancer because of one little issue with a nurse’s health study in 1980.

    You want to claim that small nitpicks blow up entire data sets, entire institutions, entire sets of independent institutions, entire fields of study. Well of course you can find nitpicks, just like the Windows operating system still has open bugs. The question is whether those nitpicks amount to anything important. But that doesn’t matter, really, does it, because what you’re aiming at is sentiment, not reason. Each thing you can find you can blow up into a little outrage–even if it’s inconsequential, scientifically speaking. If you get enough of them, it becomes a “thing”–tea partiers will see it as a thing, people will gin it up in blogs, Fox News will see it as a thing, etc. and you build up the sentiment you want, in the tradition of the Paranoid Style in Politics.

  33. Jon

    Great piece by David Frum on a tea party author who seems to channel the tea party well:

    http://www.frumforum.com/how-the-elites-became-tea-party-enemy-1

    Chris, Frum would make a great guest on this subject as well. He agrees with you that ressentiment is a problem, and is concerned about it (I’ve seen him blog about it before). I bet he’d be responsive to a query.

    In a lot of ways his views aren’t too distance from Sam Tanenhaus’s (I’ve posted it before, but here’s a great short summary by Tanenhaus of what conservatism has become):

    http://www.slate.com/id/2231128/entry/2231131/

  34. Jon

    David Frum’s review part two:

    “The Ruling Class” is not a book about governing. It’s a book about feeling: about identifying targets for blame, about mobilizing anger against those targets, about defining who is – and who is not – a proper American. The book does not aspire to be useful, but to be satisfying to those who feel most outraged and alienated.

    http://www.frumforum.com/limbaugh-and-the-imaginary-elites

    Frum is a former Bush speechwriter, by the way.

  35. Nullius in Verba

    Jon #34,

    In 1984, the Party controls the scientists, the scientists support the Party. The government funds the scientists, the scientists do the sort of research that will get them more funding. That’s contrary to the ‘classic’ scientific method, of course, but then that’s what the argument here is all about.

    Thanks for the summary of Tanenhaus, but it wasn’t particularly helpful. I still don’t know what the connection to revanchism is.

    “By the way, when I linked above to a page that listed dozens of scientific organizations supporting the finding that man-made climate change is real, and zero contending it wasn’t, I was pointing to evidence, which would be extraordinary if man-made climate change wasn’t true.”

    How many times do I have to say it? Argument from Authority is a fallacy. Argument ad populam is a fallacy. A list of people who support a hypothesis is not evidence. None of these methods of argument are in any way supported by science. To use a word that is commonly thrown around here, this is all anti-science. Everyone from Galileo, Bacon, Locke through to Popper, Kuhn, and Feynman has said so. And if any organisation makes a statement that it expects to be believed purely on the basis of its “scientific reputation” and not the evidence it presents, that is irrefutable proof that it is not a scientific organisation.
    So please, call them what they are: “organisations of scientists” – which is a completely different thing.

    The same goes for the argument that sufficiently many wrongs make a right. That if you overload the opposition with sufficiently many complicated papers with inaccessible data and/or methods so that they can’t point out the flaws in them all simultaneously, then your case is proved. As I explained repeatedly, the problem is not that they made mistakes in a paper 10 years ago, it’s that even though they now know all about the mistakes, they keep on citing it as part of the evidence. They keep on repeating the same mistakes, over and over again.

    This is not a minor matter. The whole basis of science is to throw things out when we find fatal flaws in them. Science is what survives. If you’re going to stop doing that, then whether it’s right or wrong, what’s left simply isn’t science.

  36. Jon

    A great line from a commenter at Frum’s blog: “Once the boogeymen are loosely identified and classified, all that’s left is to yell ‘boo’ over and over again.”

  37. Jon

    …the scientists support the Party…

    You must have read a different book than I did:

    In Oceania at the present day, Science, in the old sense, has almost ceased to exist. In Newspeak there is no word for ‘Science’. The empirical method of thought, on which all the scientific achievements of the past were founded, is opposed to the most fundamental principles of Ingsoc.

    By the way, if you want to read scientific works that form the basis of the IPCC’s assessments have a field day: http://www.tinyurl.com/heatisonline

    Also, I Googled for about 30 seconds and found an interview where Tanenhaus summarizes what he means by revanchism:

    http://www.alternet.org/module/printversion/142754

    Use your browser’s Find function and search for the word.

    The speech to AEI is much better than this interview, because in the Q & A at the end, Tanenhaus makes some really interesting points linking conservative revanchism to identity politics and the crazy “authenticity” that Lionel Trilling criticized in *Sincerity and Authenticity* (interesting because that was a foundational text of the Neoconservatives’ case against the New Left, and part of their march right…)

    To me, a revanchist base and a conservative Party “new class” that continually whips it up is not that hard to get. Just like it’s not hard to get that there are datasets pointing to warming that don’t involve tree rings (and that paleoclimatology isn’t the primary evidence for AGW anyway). None of this is that difficult. It’s interesting that you don’t get it.

  38. Nullius in Verba

    Jon #39,

    They’re quietly re-writing George Orwell, now? That’d be ironic…

    “The scientist of today is either a mixture of psychologist and inquisitor, studying with extraordinary minuteness the meaning of facial expressions, gestures and tones of voice, and testing the truth-producing effects of drugs, shock therapy, hypnosis and physical torture; or he is a chemist, physicist or biologist concerned only with such branches of his special subject as are relevant to the taking of life.”

    In my version of the book, it’s a bit further on in the same paragraph as the part you quoted. But was it added to mine, or taken away from yours? Something like that would make a marvellous explanation of why left and right come to such different views of the world. If only it were so simple…

    “By the way, if you want to read scientific works that form the basis of the IPCC’s assessments …”

    If you were right, then that would make me very happy. Because right in the middle of that lot is the MBH98 tree ring paper, the one we were discussing which is well-known to be incorrect and which people keep on citing anyway. (As you’ve just proved.) With such a big hole in the middle of the “basis for the IPCC assessments” you would think it would be game over, wouldn’t you?

    Sadly, you won’t find the scientific basis for the IPCC assessments that easily.

    Nevertheless, a list of papers is a much better approach than a list of supporters, although checking and actually explaining clearly what the evidence in the papers is would be best. But congratulations; it’s a big step forward.

    Thanks, that’s a much better Tannenhaus link. According to this more metaphorical usage, it seems to me that virtually any protest movement would count as “revanchist”. A campaign to “take back congress” would count as revanchist – which would seem to include most of them. I don’t see how it makes a useful distinction, or enables the tea party movement to have been predicted – except in the trivial sense that one could have predicted middle America would eventually fight back against new policies it didn’t like, which isn’t really very profound. If that’s the depth of understanding of conservative thought…

  39. Jon

    The scientist of today is either a mixture of psychologist and inquisitor

    But today climate scientists aren’t performing experiments on humans, or making poisons, they’re physical scientists studying the natural world–they’re “science in the old sense” in Orwell’s description. On the other hand PR specialists and ad men for say, tobacco companies, are much closer to the role you’re describing.

  40. Nullius in Verba

    What governments want is not new poisons (we already have plenty of those) but new taxes and more control over people’s lives and the economy, and justifications for both. The analogies with Orwell can be pushed too far, though.

    But I’m not going to pursue this any further, since it has dropped off the front page, and I expect our host gets impatient with this sort of thing.

    Until next time.

  41. Jon

    If that’s the depth of understanding of conservative thought…

    Wow, you desperately don’t want to understand anything I’m saying, do you? I pointed you to two attempts to boil down Tanenhaus’s ideas, then said the AEI talk is much richer, and told you why it was. And then you complain that the ideas lack depth. Yeah, not surprising, that’s because you wanted them masticated for you into bite sized paragraphs.

    Anyway, this has been interesting, sort of. (I probably should have stopped wasting time on this several comments ago.)

  42. Jon

    Yes, scientists are deep in their laboratories concocting… new taxes!!! They *dream* of higher taxes. Mwa ha ha ha.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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