Academia and Conservatives, Redux

By Chris Mooney | February 15, 2011 10:33 am

Jonathan Haidt, a prominent social psychologist at the University of Virginia who does great stuff about moral reasoning and the differences between left and right (see here), has made a plea for more conservatives in his field. This comes across my radar because one of his colleagues raised some complications–citing the “Republican War on Science”:

It is not implausible that there are (probably quite subtle) pressures [in academia] that bias toward liberalism. These pressures might either tend to cause students to gradually become more liberal in their views (as a consequence of something like attitude polarization) or make those who are more conservative seek less unfriendly environments. Even without the imposition of illegitmate pressures, one would expect people to tend toward the political views of those they associate with and respect, due to our tendency toward social conformity. It is also likely, though, that attraction to a field to like social psychology is correlated with being liberal. Part of the reason is that conservatives tend to be higher in just world beliefs, and those who score higher on this scale are less likely to be interested in group membership and its characteristics. Given, however, that social psychology does not seem very different from other fields of academia in its political leanings, we should look for another explanation.

Part of the reason is likely to lie in the fact that recently the Republicans have been an anti-intellectual party. Only 48% of Republicans accept that global warming is happening (compared with 87% of Democrats). This is not merely a phenomenon of the base: Chris Mooney has spoken, rightly, of a Republican War on Science. Given the pressures against intellectual activity on the right, the political bias of academia might be explained. Further, unlike members of the groups whose underrepresentation has triggered concern among social psychologists (Haidt mentioned efforts made by the organization to increase representation by “ethnic or racial minorities, first-generation college students, individuals with a physical disability, and/or lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered students”), conservatives are not in general a discriminated against group. They are wealthier and more powerful than average, not less. Given this fact, we ought to wait for (and to seek) better data on the causes of liberal political affiliation among academics, before becoming unduly worried.

I agree that academia tilts left, whatever the reason. But I find that there’s something glaringly missing in this discussion. The fact is that conservatives (who are even more convinced of leftwing academic bias than I am) have already gone out and created their own counter-academia, which is also highly influential–the think tank circuit in DC and elsewhere. So why are we not hearing calls for more liberals at right wing think tanks?

I think the question answers itself just by asking it: We know that academia, whatever its flaws, is much more rigorous and much less biased than these think tanks. Why? Because despite its many faults, it maintains quality control mechanisms and is still, at the end of the day, dedicated to truth, not a partisan goal.

In creating their think tanks, by contrast, conservatives massively over-corrected for the problem of academic bias, such as it is. And now, while good liberals worry about academic balance, these think tanks are out there trouncing reality on a regular basis. Typical example: Here’s the Heritage Foundation denying the scientific consensus on global warming. I found that link by Googling. I did not previously know it existed, but I knew I could find it within seconds.

How did I know that? Why was my assumption right? And where is the Heritage Foundation worrying that it might be biased?

Haidt is nevertheless probably correct that academia’s liberal tilt leads to some important ideas being overlooked–at least for a time. And it may also be the case that his particular field is more lefty than most. However, generally speaking academia isn’t just a fine place for liberals; it’s also a fine place for moderates, centrists, libertarians, etc. It is not generally a good environment for religious conservatives, but even they exist there–sometimes, anyway.

So I support Haidt’s intentions, but I  wonder whether academia will ever be much different–not because of its biases, but because of quality control.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Conservatives and Science

Comments (33)

  1. Jon

    There’s no reason why you couldn’t have a conservative who has read Russell Kirk and can rail against Jeremy Bentham, “social engineering”, etc., but can still be for a rigorous scientific method in the physical sciences.

    It would be nice if we actually had people like that in academia and they could actually speak out with clear, informed views on say, climate change. There’s an argument for making an extra effort to include such people in academia, even though I agree with Paul Krugman that political views and race are completely different issues as far as affirmative action goes.

    Would a person who is outspoken in this way be welcome at a think tank? I don’t think so–it seems like people who are that off message wouldn’t bring in the cash from the donor base. And people who are presently employed by a think tank and get that off message tend to be unemployed in rather short order.

  2. TTT

    Can anyone explain to me why someone who is so conservative that it is a chief part of their identity (most people have a favorite color but nobody cares about color-choice bias in academia because most people don’t significantly self-identify and self-validate based upon color choice) would want to enter the natural or life sciences?

    If you cannot grasp natural selection enough to acknowledge that it is actually true, or if you have pre-assumed that the entire fields of biology, geology, astronomy, and atmospheric chemistry are giant conspiracies being waged against Christianity and American exceptionalism, then you have no business in academia. It isn’t that people who meet the criteria aren’t allowed to express political opinions, but that people who are SO consumed by certain political opinions that they only validate facts if they align with those political opinions will never be capable of evidentiary reasoning or the scientific method. There are some areas of life where “conservative principles”–whatever those are–really and truly do not matter. If you don’t believe that, then stay out and don’t try to redefine those areas around such parochial concerns.

    Voodoo witch-doctors are underrepresented in elite medical schools. It isn’t a problem with the admissions board.

  3. TimG

    What a bizarre strawman.

    Think tanks are funded to promote a specific world view. That is their purpose in life. The basis is in the open and no one disputes it. This is true for left leaning, libertarian and conservative think tanks.

    Academics, OTOH, insist that their are not biased and motivated to find the objective truth. The reality is most universities and their ‘peer reviewed’ research is as biased as anything that comes out of a think tank.

    There are only two remedies: openly acknowledge the bias in the way think tank bias is openly acknowledged or attempt to change the culture of universities to reduce the bias.

    The former option makes most sense to me.

  4. Mike H

    TTT, thank you for succinctly demonstrating what’s wrong with academia.

    Now Mr Mooney here did his level best at what has been described as “false equivalency”, bys stating that since conservatives run all the think tanks, its only right that liberals run academia. Some problems with this though. First of all, for every Cato and Heritage, there is a corresponding People for the American Way, Institute for Policy Studies, and (one of Mooney’s favorites to be sure) Center for American Progress. While the parity may not be an exact one for one, they are pretty close. Additionally, these are all private institutions where as academia is largely public. In other words, no one is obligated to support a think tank, however we all underwrite academia. So, Mr Mooney, that’s why “why are we not hearing calls for more liberals at right wing think tanks”, no one is forced to financially support them.

    Aside from academia, as the author puts it, being “a fine place for liberals; it’s also a fine place for moderates, centrists, libertarians, etc.”, it is also a fine place for some of the most extreme left wing politics imaginable (but interestingly enough, there is no reciprocity). Imagine a university professor speaking highly of Hitler .. unthinkable to be sure, most likely to cost that person their job, but the academy is full of academics who routinely write glowingly of Stalin and Mao. Imagine a university professor downplaying the extent of the Holocaust .. once again unthinkable, but academia holds no such contempt for individuals who minimize the Cambodian genocide, Ukrainian famines or even, ironically enough, the anti-Semitic doctors plot.

    I’ll leave you with this excerpt from Clinton staffer Robert Maranto

    I know how he feels. I spent four years in the 1990s working at the centrist Brookings Institution and for the Clinton administration and felt right at home ideologically. Yet during much of my two decades in academia, I’ve been on the “far right” as one who thinks that welfare reform helped the poor, that the United States was right to fight and win the Cold War, and that environmental regulations should be balanced against property rights.
    All these views — commonplace in American society and among the political class — are practically verboten in much of academia. At many of the colleges I’ve taught at or consulted for, a perusal of the speakers list and the required readings in the campus bookstore convinced me that a student could probably go through four years without ever encountering a right-of-center view portrayed in a positive light.
    A sociologist I know recalls that his decision to become a registered Republican caused “a sensation” at his university. “It was as if I had become a child molester,” he said. He eventually quit academia to join a think tank because “you don’t want to be in a department where everyone hates your guts.”

  5. stan

    1) How many students pay huge tuitions to be educated at these conservative think tanks?

    2) The think tanks don’t pretend to be unbiased. Universities do.

    3) How many conservatives work at the liberal think tanks?

    Mr. Mooney, you point is silly. TTT’s comment is just bizarre.

  6. Nullius in Verba

    “If you cannot grasp natural selection enough to acknowledge that it is actually true…” ?!

    Do you really think that all conservatives are creationists and stupid?

    Would you think conservatives would want to enter an environment where that was the general attitude? What would you do about a right-wing liberal atheist who did understand evolution? How would that fit into your theory?

    All minorities tend to get stereotyped. It’s one of the hazards of life.

  7. TTT

    Mike, Stan, I find your lack of comprehension of my comment very revealing.

    If someone is SO conservative that they couldn’t get into academia by their fair merits because of that reason, then what does it say about their ability to actually keep up with these fields and produce and interpret results? If there aren’t “enough conservatives” in, say, paleontology, maybe that really is because someone who is conservative enough to conspicuously self-identify as such is in fact so conservative that they don’t believe in evolution. We’ve seen people just like that attempt to infiltrate and subvert academia for years, as was much whined- and lied-about in “Flunked: No Intelligence Involved.” How low must we set our standards?

    And if you don’t understand that question at all, it only shows the pernicious effects of low standards left unchallenged for far too long. “We’re here, we’re conservatives, now make us scientists because we showed up!” is a poor rallying cry.

  8. Mike H

    TTT, you seem to be under the impression that the reason the leftist monoculture exists in academia is because conservatives are too stupid to qualify for entrance despite the commentary of people like Robert Maranto who say the structural biases present in academia present too narrow a view of opinions to allow for diversity.

    Oh, and by the way, “social science” aint “science”.

  9. Connie Dobbs

    Of course there are more liberals in academia – there’s no real money to be made in it. Why would any one who believes on the core conservative value of Almighty Capitalism work for years and years working on a PhD, then more and more years as an adjunct professor, just to become tenured and make a middle class wage? The only conservative professor I had in college was my econ professor, and frankly, he wasn’t very good at it (which explains why he taught at a SUNY instead of working on Wall Street).

    And seriously, do people not pay attention to what the conservative leadership says about most academic – and especially scientific – pursuits? It appears to me that the dearth of conservatives has less to do with the “liberals not playing nice” and more to do with the conservatives being afraid of what THEIR peer groups would say. I’d say there’s probably just as many closeted evolutionists in the conservative movement as there are closeted gays.

  10. Sundance

    One aspect of this study not mentioned but worthy of consideration is to look at the ratio of conservatives to liberals in the field of social psychology at an earlier time. I listened to Haidt’s presentation and one of the alarming aspects is that a scientific field that transitions into a consensus based tribal moral community, becomes bigoted and creates barriers to entry in the field. Haidt suggests that if one sees that their research interests will expose them to discouragement, ridicule, being labeled a racist, etc.,(examples were provided in the talk) why would one want to enter the field? This is truly a barrier to entry just as skin color was a barrier to entry into many institutions. So if the ratio of conservatives was originally 50/50 and ended up 3/1,000 due to PC pressure and barriers, the idea that only liberals are attracted to the field is falsified and the case for bigotry becomes strong.

    Haidt sees the limitations of scientific advancement when a consensus TMC creates these bigoted barriers to entry and exclusionary tactics for those already in the field. This is another important point made by Haidt. It wasn’t until he became self aware of his own bigotry that he was able to become more conservative in his views and discover truth. And this is the inherent weakness of an argument based on the perception that somehow only academia is capable of unearthing truth. If one is a product of an academic TMC and unaware of one’s inherent bigotry or uninterested in correcting that bigotry, as presented by Haidt, it would be impossible to deprogram the bigots in order to see another POV or truth. Haidt’s work reminds me in a way of Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave’. He had to free himself from his chains of bias in order to see reality.

    As for Chris’s idea of conservative think tanks adding more liberals I would suggest that if there are more liberals like Haidt who could become aware of there bias, it might work and conservative think tanks would have broader appeal. The greater problem as Haidt points out though, is what do you do to end the academic bigotry that resides in academic TMCs and consciously excludes conservatives?

  11. JD Ohio

    “We know that academia, whatever its flaws, is much more rigorous and much less biased than these think tanks. ”

    Read Dotearth at http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/11/on-peer-review-and-climate-progress/ and see how Raymond Pierrehumbert makes specious claims of lying and Louis Derry’s juvenile posts and then try to claim that academia is more rigorous.

    JD

  12. Mike H

    We know that academia, whatever its flaws, is much more rigorous and much less biased than these think tanks.

    Or review 1996 Tulane’s John McLachlan pesticide study: http://www.cato.org/speeches/sp-mg121597.html

    Ironic that I could use a biased “Think Tank” to expose the outright fraud a the “rigourous” academic institute.

  13. Jon

    Consider the case of John Lott:

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1316/is_12_35/ai_111897438/

    The standards for employment at a conservative think tank are ideological first, with intellectual integrity somewhere down the list.

    Can you find cases in academia where the intellectual standards are low? Of course! The academy is a big place. But in the academy, the vice president of a major institution doesn’t get fired for, say, writing something like this:

    http://prospect.org/cs/articles?article=another_culture_war_no_thanks

    The priorities at a conservative think tank are ideological in a way that is categorically different than anything remotely like it in the academy. Again, it’s ideology first, professional standards and intellectual independence somewhere down the list.

  14. JD Ohio

    Nos 12 & 13

    Even accepting your arguments that think tanks have ideological standards first (reasonable point) at least they have some standards. Any organization that would employ juveniles like Derry and Pierrehumbert has no standards at all. These two need adult supervision and don’t have it.

    JD

  15. Can we expect someone who outrageously accuses one party of having a “war on science” to write anything credible about bias?

    Is a SCIENTIST who raises questions, even of the most quibbling sort, about the concept of anthropogenic global warming suddenly “anti-science”? How about a SCIENTIST who understands the scientific fact that a new human being’s life begins at fertilization, and therefore balks at research involving the destruction of human embryos. Would that be another “anti-science” or “anti-intellectual” Luddite? Really?

  16. TTT

    Is a SCIENTIST who raises questions, even of the most quibbling sort, about the concept of anthropogenic global warming suddenly “anti-science”?

    There are no quibbling questions about the CONCEPT of AGW. People can earnestly debate (far beyond quibbling) its extent and appropriate responses. But it is precisely when people get into the core concepts–either CO2 isn’t a greenhouse gas, or humans aren’t releasing more of it than would otherwise be there, or that will not result in a warming increase to some degree over some time–that they fall off the cuckoo cliff.

  17. Jon

    Mike H: First of all, for every Cato and Heritage, there is a corresponding People for the American Way, Institute for Policy Studies, and (one of Mooney’s favorites to be sure) Center for American Progress.

    But Chris is talking about influence above. Does People for the American Way or Institute for Policy Studies have anywhere near the *influence* on the Democratic party that Cato, Heritage or AEI have on the GOP? On comparable issues? When was the last piece of closely followed political strategy and/or coordinated messaging coming out of People for the American Way or Institute for Policy Studies?

    You could argue that Center for American Progress does have that influence, but CAP was conceived as a direct response to Cato, Heritage and AEI. Before it, nothing like it existed.

    Also, there’s no equivalent on the left to places like the Heartland Institute, or Discovery Institute. Both of these places basically have fighting science in their *mission*. On the left, here’s nothing comparable.

  18. Jon

    Question: what academic institution, or even left-leaning think tank, would hold a conference like this?

    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2009/03/shorter_heartland_conference.php

  19. Nullius in Verba

    “How about a SCIENTIST who understands the scientific fact that a new human being’s life begins at fertilization,”

    Actually, that’s incorrect. There are the counter-examples of identical twins and chimeras.

    Identical twins occur when the fertilised embryo splits into two before implantation into the womb. Each separate half grows into a distinct individual, even though they both come from the same fertilised ovum.

    Chimeras occur when two eggs are released at the same time, separately fertilised, but the embryos merge before or during implantation. The result is a single individual with a mixture of cells, some with one genetic pattern, and some with another.

    And of course there are conjoined twins where the separation or merger was partial.

    Life itself obviously applies to the cells before fertilisation, so I presume you’re talking about some concept of the inevitability of becoming a distinct individual – or the particular unique individual you will turn out to be. But individual identity isn’t determined by genetic uniqueness – identical twins being genetically identical but distinct individuals, and potentially you could have cloning from adult cells which would reproduce the same circumstance in future. So the point at which the genes shuffle is not the end of the story. Even a person’s experiences and upbringing go some way to defining who they are as an individual. With radically different experiences, you would become a different person, in some sense.

    However, whether a scientist baulks at destroying embryos (or any other sort of cell) is ultimately a moral decision, not a scientific one. Moral rules are not required to be logical, consistent, or based on truth. Science does not rule on them. It therefore wouldn’t be anti-scientific to refuse to destroy embryos, but it would be unscientific (assuming you understood the present state of the science of human development) to claim that your reason for doing so was something to do with a person becoming an individual at that point.

    It would be anti-scientific to modify or suppress the understanding of biology to fit in with the moral rule, (although not necessarily immoral – depending on the moral system).

    Of course, if nobody has ever told you about how identical twins and chimeras are born, then it’s the education system that needs to take the blame.

  20. JMW

    @Jon (#17), Mike H. I’d also add that one needs to look at relative levels of funding. Here’s my hypothesis: right-wing think tanks have higher levels of funding than left-wing think tanks.

    The hypothesis comes from the fact that right-wing think tanks would naturally be supported by those who have a vested interest in the status quo with respect to many questions such as antropogenic global warming, i.e., oil companies. Meanwhile, left-wing think tanks would naturally be supported by those who have a vested interest in reducing the oil dependency of our culture – none of whom have anywhere near the money available to the oil industry.

    If the private think tanks publish lists of donors and the amounts of donations, it will be possible to prove or disprove the hypothesis. However, let’s go with it for a moment.

    With more money at their disposal, right-wing think tanks are able to produce more studies, and publicize them more, than left-wing think tanks. Thus, by producing more material supporting their point of view, right-wing think tanks tend to dominate the discussion, in much the same way as the big stack at a poker table can dominate a hand – not by the quality of their cards, but merely by the amount of chips they have to play with.

  21. Nullius in Verba

    “…those who have a vested interest in the status quo with respect to many questions such as antropogenic global warming, i.e., oil companies.”

    Oil companies aren’t the ones with a vested interest, because they supply the oil. The people with the vested interest are all the companies and individuals that use oil.

    It’s about supply and demand. If you artificially restrict supply by regulation, the price goes up. That means that oil companies get more money and have to deliver less goods for it, which is good for them. All the government has to do to get the oil companies on side is to propose a law to set a minimum price, or a maximum total volume – the profits going to the oil companies. Any producer is – up to a point – naturally in favour of restriction/regulation of the product they sell. So long as all their competitors are subject to the same restrictions (or have higher production costs) so customers can’t escape them by going elsewhere, they can just pass all the costs and a bit more on to their customers.

    That even applies to outlawing it entirely. The drugs trade is so incredibly profitable precisely because the government has made recreational drugs illegal. Vast amounts of money are pumped in the direction of criminals because legal restrictions on supply have forced the price sky high. The biggest fans of keeping drugs illegal are the drug dealers.

    The people with the vested interest in not restricting the oil supply are the customers – energy intensive industry, road hauliers, car drivers. Those are the people who will ultimately have to pay.

    The CRU at the University of East Anglia – the climate scientists at the heart of the IPCC and Climategate – were funded by numerous energy and oil companies, of course. It makes perfect sense. And while I don’t myself use that as a reason to disbelieve them, by your logic it would seem to cast suspicion that their agenda of doom might have been influenced by their funding. But the big stack of chips at the table is government. National governments, the UN, the EU – and they are all naturally in favour of convincing new reasons for higher taxes, more regulation, and the centralisation of power. You have to rely on the honesty of politicians.

  22. Jon

    Nullius: Oil companies aren’t the ones with a vested interest, because they supply the oil. The people with the vested interest are all the companies and individuals that use oil.

    Yes, and the people have a vested interest not having oil companies make massive profits, without anyone paying for externalities coming due in the foreseeable future.

    It’s about supply and demand. If you artificially restrict supply by regulation, the price goes up.

    Why is it that the market can do absolutely miraculous things to overcome physical limitations (such as future scarcity shocks in the face of growing demand), but if human beings impose a limitation (such as due to an externality that no one is paying for) my God that has to be a total failure, automatically putting us on the Road to Serfdom!!1!

    But the big stack of chips at the table is government. National governments, the UN, the EU – and they are all naturally in favour of convincing new reasons for higher taxes, more regulation, and the centralisation of power.

    Yeah sure, scientists with their experiments are secretly planning world government. That consideration overrides all incentives for individual scientists to overthrow the paradigm and make their careers! I know, as you’ve said Nullius, it’s the scientists unconscious biases that threaten to bring us into Centralized One World Government. John Galt save us!

  23. TTT

    Why is it that the market can do absolutely miraculous things to overcome physical limitations (such as future scarcity shocks in the face of growing demand), but if human beings impose a limitation (such as due to an externality that no one is paying for) my God that has to be a total failure, automatically putting us on the Road to Serfdom!!1!

    Yeah, I’ve often wondered why the market is supposed to be powerful enough to solve global warming itself, but would be destroyed by a human-imposed regulation against global warming.

    Magical-thinking market-worship is also convenient for the powerful in that it absolves them of all responsibility and agency for their choices. “The price goes up”? No, the people who run the companies choose to raise their prices. “Those fees get passed along to the consumer?” No, the people who run the companies choose to raise their prices. Prices and fees never take action; people do.

    And yeah, at the risk of just making this one big long “me too!” post, any financial incentive any scientist could ever get from some hypothetical government grant to talk about global warming is a trivial pittance compared to the payout they would get for exposing a fraud or conspiracy. Marching along with the rest of the band goes against both their fiscal and careerist self-interest; they only settle for doing it because all the best evidence really does point the same way.

  24. Nullius in Verba

    “Yeah, I’ve often wondered why the market is supposed to be powerful enough to solve global warming itself, but would be destroyed by a human-imposed regulation against global warming.”

    The answer is the same as it was after the 1960-70 scare, when we were told environmental catastrophe was inevitable, and that civilisation would collapse and most of us would be dead by 2000. How come the democratic free market was powerful enough to overcome unavoidable over-populated resource-depletion DOOM, but would have been destroyed by a few slightly totalitarian regulations restricting births, introducing compulsory sterilisation, culling excess population, taking control of industry, and so on?

    Think I’m exaggerating?
    “The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s, the world will undergo famines. Hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. Population control is the only answer.” “In ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish.” “A cancer is an uncontrolled multiplication of cells, the population explosion is an uncontrolled multiplication of people. We must shift our efforts from the treatment of the symptoms to the cutting out of the cancer. The operation will demand many apparently brutal and heartless decisions.” “Before 1985, mankind will enter a genuine age of scarcity . . . in which the accessible supplies of many key minerals will be facing depletion.” “By 1985 enough millions will have died to reduce the earth’s population to some acceptable level, like 1.5 billion people.” “By 1980 the United States would see its life expectancy drop to 42 because of pesticides, and by 1999 its population would drop to 22.6 million.”

    ‘brutal and heartless’, eh?

    How on Earth did the market enable us to dodge that bullet? It must be magic!!

  25. Jon

    The answer is the same as it was after the 1960-70 scare, when we were told environmental catastrophe was inevitable, and that civilisation would collapse and most of us would be dead by 2000.

    When you can’t address the science on its merits, simply make a an argument by gross historical analogy. Ignoring the particulars, “Nullius in Verba” is using sheer rhetoric to compare things that are qualitatively, completely different (which is ironic, considering the name he’s giving himself).

    For instance, was the view he quotes from some obscure source from the 70’s supported by all of these scientific organizations?

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

    Nope. Not even close. That won’t stop him though. When Nullius isn’t making arguments by gross, untenable historical analogy (like the one he made above–scientists secretly want Centralized Government, just like the commies of old!) he’s spouting moot talking points on studies from more than 12 years ago (which now have been overtaken by other studies many times over).

  26. TTT

    I think you might be talking about environmental issues of the ’60s in general, in which case you’d be wrong to invoke the mystic market magic spell because actually government regulation saved us: that was when the U.S. instituted the EPA, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and Superfund, a little after the British had their own Clean Air Act and a little before the Montreal Accords.

    It’s also possible you’re just trying to make an ego-driven “Al Gore Is Fat!” non-sequitur about Paul Ehrlich, and if so you shouldn’t because it would be an ego-driven non-sequitur. There’s also the fact that averting a crisis does not mean that the crisis would always have been impossible.

    But hey, if you really want to go there, here’s a hilarious compendium of how anti-science right-wing conspiracy kooks were sure that the Montreal Accords were going to destroy the U.S. economy and force us all into living in caves again. If you want to see real examples of chicken-little doomsaying, you never have to look further than what any eco-denialist says about any piece of environmental legislation before it passes.

    http://www.wunderground.com/education/ozone_skeptics.asp

    Hmm, what was the U.S. economy in the 1990s like again?

  27. Nullius in Verba

    #26,

    I can address the science on it’s merits. But there’s no point, because you don’t know the science, you don’t rely on the science, and all you’ve got are a couple of empty Argument from Authority links that you mindlessly drag out time and time again. Feel free to try to argue the actual science with me any time.

    In this case, the question wasn’t science but economics. You wanted to know how it was possible that the market could overcome the predicted environmental doom of “future scarcity shocks in the face of growing demand” with ease while objecting to the major costs of your proposed solutions. I gave you the answer – because just as in the 1960s/70s, the predictions of future scarcity shocks are entirely imaginary – false predictions founded on basic misunderstandings of how resources, industry, and economics work. We solved them anyway, without your intervention. We were already solving them – environmental improvements started long before any of the legislation TTT mentions, and carried on through them without a blip.

    But as usual with millenarian cults, when the prophesies fail to come true the believers don’t reconsider whether they might have misunderstood; they just rearrange the details slightly, shift the prophesy another few decades down the road, and carry on. Malthusian enviro-doom was totally discredited as a theory in the 1980s, but here you still are. Talk about ‘denial’…

    I assume by the study from more than 12 years ago you mean MBH98. When you, Mann, and the IPCC admit that it was wrong and your vaunted peer review and thousands of scientists totally missed it, formally withdraw it, and stop using it everywhere as part of the “evidence” for impending catastrophe, I’ll stop talking about it. Until then, it’s still clear evidence of the serious problems remaining with the conduct and public presentation of climate science, which will be presented at every opportunity.

    You might desperately wish it could go away, but it won’t until you (meaning all AGWers) deal with it properly.

  28. Jon

    …all you’ve got are a couple of empty Argument from Authority links…

    Forget for a second that I’m making any argument at all.

    The case of a single PHD named Paul Ehrlich speculating 40 years ago, and all of those pages of scientific organizations making statements concurring on how robust AGW science is–how are those two things analogous?

    I’m honestly curious about how you argue that they are.

  29. Nullius in Verba

    #29,

    Because it was more than just Professor Ehrlich saying it. I remember that in the public political sphere at least it was the consensus, and not even a controversial one. It was considered common sense, and a lot of politicians, public figures, and even scientists made statements in support. It led to NSSM 200 and changes to US government policy on international aid. Some say this led to the downfall of Indira Ghandi. The was taken seriously in the media and in international politics, and the sceptical (if you ever heard of them) were considered to be cranks, in blind denial of the unpleasant reality.

    Ehrlich happened to be one of the most prominent and respected speakers on the subject, and advocated more than most for the unpalatable solutions, which makes him a handy source of quotes, but we’ve got plenty of choice.

    Here’s another one:
    “Indeed, it has been concluded that compulsory population-control laws, even including laws requiring compulsory abortion, could be sustained under the existing Constitution if the population crisis became sufficiently severe to endanger the society.”

    The constitutional lawyers must have been working overtime coming up with that one! This isn’t simply the knee-jerk response to the word ‘abortion’. I’ve read heart-breaking stories of where this is a reality in China.

    But there’s no doubt that the population crisis is coming, the question is how severe it might be.

    “Adding a sterilant to drinking water or staple foods is a suggestion that seems to horrify people more than most proposals for involuntary fertility control. Indeed, this would pose some very difficult political, legal, and social questions, to say nothing of the technical problems.”

    Does he feel the same horror? Does he understand why people find it horrifying? The way it is discussed here gives the impression that he might not. But perhaps that is a step too far. What else might we try?

    “A program of sterilizing women after their second or third child, despite the relatively greater difficulty of the operation than vasectomy, might be easier to implement than trying to sterilize men.”

    Because the men might fight back, perhaps? You can imagine the scenario. But who could ever have the power to implement it in the face of democratic opposition?

    “Such a comprehensive Planetary Regime could control the development, administration, conservation, and distribution of all natural resources, renewable or nonrenewable, at least insofar as international implications exist. Thus the Regime could have the power to control pollution not only in the atmosphere and oceans, but also in such freshwater bodies as rivers and lakes that cross international boundaries or that discharge into the oceans. The Regime might also be a logical central agency for regulating all international trade, perhaps including assistance from DCs to LDCs, and including all food on the international market. The Planetary Regime might be given responsibility for determining the optimum population for the world and for each region and for arbitrating various countries’ shares within their regional limits. Control of population size might remain the responsibility of each government, but the Regime would have some power to enforce the agreed limits.”

    Ah! Them!

    It seems it’s not the mad imagining of some wingnut conspiracy theorists after all! There really are greenies who have seriously considered it. And although the author here claims to have backed away from the position since, there are others who still advocate for it.

    “Government in the future will be based upon . . . a supreme office of the biosphere. The office will comprise specially trained philosopher/ecologists. These guardians will either rule themselves or advise an authoritarian government of policies based on their ecological training and philosophical sensitivities. These guardians will be specially trained for the task.”

    “It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.”

    “In my view, after fifty years of service in the United Nations system, I perceive the utmost urgency and absolute necessity for proper Earth government. There is no shadow of a doubt that the present political and economic systems are no longer appropriate and will lead to the end of life evolution on this planet. We must therefore absolutely and urgently look for new ways.”

    “Effective execution of Agenda 21 will require a profound reorientation of all human society, unlike anything the world has ever experienced a major shift in the priorities of both governments and individuals and an unprecedented redeployment of human and financial resources. This shift will demand that a concern for the environmental consequences of every human action be integrated into individual and collective decision-making at every level.”

    I will concede that it’s not the only solution on offer, though. Some show more imagination.

    “Focus must be given on how people can live WITHOUT giving birth to more filthy human children since those new additions continue pollution and are pollution. A game show format contest would be in order.”

    I’m not going to say anything…

    And what about timescales? When did they think we needed to take action to avert catastrophe?

    “Humanity cannot afford to muddle through the rest of the twentieth century; the risks are too great, and the stakes are too high.”

    Oh dear! And we just muddled through anyway! I expect that’s why we’re still here, poised on the brink of catastrophe, instead of in the loving care of the Planetary Regime. Imagine the disappointment of all the Lions, Tigers, Giraffes, Elephants, Froggies, Turtles, Apes, Raccoons, Beetles, Ants, Sharks, Bears, and, of course, the Squirrels.

  30. Jon

    So you’re saying there’s no meaningful difference in the amount of quality control between some speculative books published in the early 70’s, and all the pages and pages of scientific organizations’ supporting a very specific, exhaustively researched piece of physical science, with many independent researchers contributing.

    That’s interesting that you don’t even feel the need to analyze or explain. To you, there are just no distinctions between them worth noticing.

  31. Nullius in Verba

    #31,

    In terms of the amount of quality control – the variable you mention – no there isn’t. None of those scientific organisations actually checked the validity of the research, they took it on the basis of reputation and convention. Like you, they assume somebody else must have checked it, and would have said something if there was anything wrong with it, and therefore all those people who claim to have checked it and found something wrong with it must be liars. It’s an easy assumption to make, and not the first time. And in these days of tight research budgets, loud support for prevailing political fashions is a necessary defence of the profession’s interests.

    None of these statements actually represent the opinions (let alone the careful and informed scientific judgement) of their members. They are concocted by tiny committees of self-selected and mutually supportive volunteers, consisting of the already-convinced and concerned. And even if they were not, they are allocated no time or money to research the issues. Do you think that somebody like me would ever be able to get an invitation onto a climate change committee?! Quite unsuitable! I might waste everybody’s time asking questions!

    You find me one of those scientific organisations that gives a detailed account of the Harry_read_me file and their checks ensuring that the peer-reviewed and published science that software supports is still sound. Then you can talk to me about “quality control”.

  32. Jon

    In terms of the amount of quality control – the variable you mention – no there isn’t.

    ‘Nuff said. Alright, I’ll let you get back to your libertarian literati fantasy life…

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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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