Democrats and Republicans on Science, and on Policy Facts

By Chris Mooney | June 15, 2011 2:30 pm

This is the fourth in a series of posts elaborating on my recent American Prospect magazine article entitled “The Reality Gap: Now more than Ever, Republicans and Democrats are separated by expertise–and by facts.”

Okay: We’ve seen how expertise has gone left, the right has countered, and how the resultant expertise war leaves our public discourse seemingly fact free–or at any rate, leaves the two political camps unable to agree about what’s true about the world. Then what?

Well, there are still facts–and reliable ways of discerning them. And Colbert’s quip that reality “has a well known liberal bias” does seem to hold. Though not perfectly. From the article:

Take health care. Earlier this year, the Kaiser Family Foundation released an examination of mistaken beliefs about the new law, and misperceptions were certainly rampant. Fifty-nine percent wrongly thought the law creates a government-run health-care plan; 40 percent believed it creates “death panels” (another 15 percent were “unsure”); and 45 percent thought the law cuts benefits to those on Medicare. These misperceptions were not equally distributed in the population–Republicans were more likely to believe the last two falsehoods in particular. Indeed, just 18 percent of Republicans came up with the right answer for at least seven of the 10 factual questions the survey posed, compared to 32 percent of Democrats.

That’s not the only such study…. Shortly after the 2010 election, a group of pollsters out of the University of Maryland asked Americans how much misinformation they felt they had encountered during the campaign. Sure enough, members of both parties agreed the air had been thick with false claims–more of them, they said, than they could remember having encountered before. But when the pollsters then asked about a variety of contested factual issues in the campaign, Republicans appeared considerably more misinformed than Democrats. Out of 11 factual topics pertinent to the election, Republicans were 10 percentage points or more wrong about seven of them, including whether President Obama was born in the U.S., whether global warming is happening, whether the health-care law would increase the deficit (it would not), and whether the stimulus bill created or saved millions of jobs (it did). (One issue–whether the General Motors and Chrysler bailout happened under both Bush and Obama–it did–was nearly a wash, with Republicans only slightly more wrong than Democrats.)

….None of this is to say, of course, that Democrats are never wrong–or never more likely to be wrong. For instance, a 2006 survey found they were more likely than Republicans to endorse the wild “truther” conspiracy theory about the Bush government being complicit in the September 11 attacks. Yale law professor Dan Kahan, meanwhile, has shown that citizens with “egalitarian” and “communitarian” values (liberal Democrats, for example) are more likely to question the safety of storing nuclear waste deep underground, a view that puts them at odds with a 1990 National Academy of Sciences report on the subject.

So now we see the full “reality gap“–but what do we do about it? Because it is not like this situation is one that should make Democrats and liberals proud of themselves. If they’ve got such good facts and such hot expertise, why does no one listen to them? Why isn’t any of it helping?

That will be the subject of the last post in this series…

Comments (45)

  1. Just read this great piece on scientific analysis of the development of our reasoning ability. I think it applies to this thread: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/15/arts/people-argue-just-to-win-scholars-assert.html

    Even though it is an admittedly controversial conclusion, the idea is good fodder for conversation.

  2. Terry Emberson

    Of course, a few of those points you cite above aren’t proven facts. Projections about how much the new health care law will affect the deficits have come in on both sides. It is only AFTER the health care law comes fully into affect that we will know if it will really increase the deficit or not.

    Additionally, whether or not the stimulus created or saved jobs is conjecture. One has to first estimate how many jobs WOULD have been lost if the stimulus wasn’t there, then figure out how much of a discrepancy existed between reality and the estimate, and finally estimate how much of the discrepancy was because of the stimulus and how much was just because the model wasn’t robust enough to mimic reality.

    It is very likely that the stimulus succeeded in creating jobs that wouldn’t have been there today, but even if we take the CBO report at the maximum estimate of 3.3 million jobs, each job saved or created cost about $230k of future taxpayers money and produced a job that can be estimated at $60k. So what the stimulus did was create a net loss of $170k for every one of those 3.3 million jobs or half a trillion dollars. Whenever (if) we do manage to start paying back that debt, that will be half a trillion dollars of tax burden that will keep half a trillion dollars in jobs from being created at THAT time. We didn’t create jobs, we just took them away from the future.

  3. Chris Mooney

    Actually, if you read the study in question, you will find that they define what they consider to be a fact, and these fit their definition. You could certainly quibble…but that’s precisely the point, isn’t it? If people are attacking these well established things on a regular basis, then misinformation spreads and people think they aren’t true…and wind up misinformed. And then we can do a study and show the distribution of the public that winds up this way.

    Study here
    http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/pdf/dec10/Misinformation_Dec10_rpt.pdf

  4. Michelle

    @3 Chris Mooney

    “Actually, if you read the study in question, you will find that they define what they consider to be a fact, and these fit their definition. “

    Here’s the problem. Liberals are allowed to define what a “fact” is, while Conservatives are not.

    And your surprised that the Conservatives have a problem with your facts?

  5. Chris Mooney

    No, I am never, ever surprised when conservatives have a problem with my facts. I would be surprised if they didn’t.

  6. ╦heBigo╦

    In a free market system, a entrepreneur not only has the chance and freedom to succeed, but to fail as well. Failing is an essential part of the economy and business cycle. http://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/businesscycle.asp

    But when govt gets involved such as in gm and Chrysler then it leads to the old adage “unintended consequences” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ij4H9M55c64 (scary video).
    The bailouts could not have saved jobs as Detroit would not look like a ghost town today http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjCObHJlkiU and here http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1882089,00.html

    As well as the govt waste. http://mises.org/daily/3484

    Would you want to buy an auto manufactured by the govt?

  7. Colin

    Conservatives are just as likely to pick what facts are, hence “Global temperature records aren’t right because… um…. consistency of placement of thermometers hasn’t been assessed! Woo, pulled that one right…”

    Looking at the original study, it is impossible to perform that study is a purely balanced way because the authors of the study get to pick what questions are to be asked. If they had relied on pure economics questions (like the Department of Defense has the largest budget of any USG department [false, it's Health and Human Services], The economic welbeing of communities typically increases when Walmart’s are built nearby [true, goods are cheaper and jobs are created that typically did not exist otherwise. Local small business are not typically driven out of business by Walmart; they were mostly driven out of business by changing American habits anyways) then Democrats would fair worse and you could say that Democrats have a 10% lower adherence to truth.

    Also, just because the people who wrote the survey selected which expert opinion to call fact does not make it a fact. It makes it an expert opinion. They could ask, legitimately, “According to the CBO, is the deficit going to increase under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act?” and then it would be a fact to state one or the other. Instead they ask “Is it your impression that among economists who have estimated the effect of the health reform law on the federal budget deficit over the next ten years: A) Yada B) Yada C) Yada.” They specify “economists who have estimated” but then limit the economist to the ones who are paid and required by law to accept Congressional budgetary tricks at face value. The general survey of economists would find that left leaning economists accept the CBO assessment at face value and right leaning economists look for holes and them exploit them to make it look bigger. Either way, you don’t have facts, you have opinions, albeit expert opinions.

    This is a bad survey design in the first place, followed by loaded questions and with a deceptive limits on truthiness. It is not designed to be deceptive, I don’t think, but it certainly demonstrates some of your motivated reasoning.

  8. I think the study’s definition of “truth” as whatever certain respected agencies says it is creates a problem. The study’s conclusions would have been more credible if they phrased the questions as, for example, “According to the CBO, will the healthcare reform law increase the deficit?” Since many conservative opinion leaders routinely lie about what the CBO says, the study would have caught the pollsters in the act of being unambiguously misinformed or lying about some issues.

  9. badnicolez

    @Michelle (#4) – Liberals aren’t defining the “facts,” they’re simply inventing them.

    Let’s start quizzing liberals and conservatives on their grasp of basic economic principles and see how that goes. I’m guessing you’ll get a wildly different result than this liberal propaganda.

  10. Oh, for crying out loud! That’s really cute. The left has a “reality” bias? Really? Eugenics? Lysenkoism? Overpopulation? GM crops? The belief in a controlled economy? The one that lead to apologia for Stalin and Mao – and also, in case anyone tries to forget, Hitler and Mussolini in their heyday? Phrenology, with its ‘scientific proof’ that blacks were natural slaves with smaller brains? The belief that “gender is a social construct” that has lead to some untold misery for transsexuals amongst others? I can do this all day long, believe you me.

    As regards “liberalism”, let me just point out that the American “liberals” are absolutely fine with religious demagoguery and superstitious mumbo-jumbo as long as it is of a kind they like.

  11. Chris Mooney

    @10 are any of those recent? maybe GM, and mainstream US Democrats are effectively pro-GM today.

  12. Chris Mooney

    Since we are quibbling with the study’s definition of a fact or what is true, let me first repost their methodology, which is one that I commend

    A Note on the Question of What is “True”
    A study of misinformation raises the somewhat delicate question of what is true. When dealing with topics that have been highly politicized, it is common to default to the position that all perceptions are relative and treatment of any position as more or less true is itself inherently political. We believe that such a position is at odds with what is necessary for well-functioning democracy. It is indeed very important for a healthy democratic process to be open to a wide range of positions. At the same time, it is essential that there be means and institutions for achieving consensus about key factors that ultimately affect public policy decisions.

    On a regular basis government economists come to conclusions about the state of the economy. Such conclusions influence key decisions in the private sphere, as well as government decisions. Such government economists should be, and generally are, open to input from experts outside of government in the course of coming to conclusions.

    In the course of this study, to identify “misinformation” among voters, we used as reference points the conclusions of key government agencies that are run by professional experts and have a strong reputation for being immune to partisan influences. These include the Congressional Budget Office, the Department of Commerce, and the National Academy of Sciences. We also noted efforts to survey elite opinion, such as the regular survey of economists conducted by the Wall Street Journal; however, we only used this as supporting evidence for what constitutes expert opinion.

    In most cases we inquired about respondents’ views of expert opinion, as well as the respondents’ own views. While one may argue that a respondent who had a belief that is at odds with expert opinion is misinformed, in designing this study we took the position that some respondents may have had correct information about prevailing expert opinion but nonetheless came to a contrary conclusion, and thus should not be regarded as ‘misinformed.’

    It should also be noted that queries about expert opinion were not predicated on the idea that there is unanimity on issues. On some issues, such as climate change, there is a vocal dissenting minority among experts. Thus questions were framed in terms of whether, among experts, more had one or another view, or views were evenly divided.

  13. Chris Mooney

    Note also that the “facts” chosen were those salient to the 2010 election. and there is one clear gotcha question designed to nail Democrats (and they did): the question about whether it was “proved” that the Chamber of Commerce spent money from foreign sources to influence the election.

  14. Terry Emberson

    Chris Mooney said:

    Note also that the “facts” chosen were those salient to the 2010 election. and there is one clear gotcha question designed to nail Democrats (and they did): the question about whether it was “proved” that the Chamber of Commerce spent money from foreign sources to influence the election.

    That’s really part of the point why there are issues with this survey. If they had instead decided to pick an equal number of issues from both the left and the right, the skew would be in the middle. If they had decided to pick a number of issues more slanted to the right, the skew in adherence to truth would have been harsh to democrats. They could have chosen to skew this report anyway they wanted. Picking facts based upon the ‘salient’ issues allows them arbitrarily select what was salient and what is not.

    I don’t debate your point that those who adhere to an ideology are likely to discount evidence which counters their ideology. That is well established. I also think that the issues that have been most thoroughly discussed in the news are issues that tend toward conservative bias. I think that Republicans are using ignorance to push forward their agenda. I think the Democrats are as well, the difference is that their agenda challenges economic and geopolitical realities while the Republican challenges scientific realities. I have no particular love for conservatives or liberals; I see myself as a liberal, but I left the Democratic party because I don’t see it as liberal any longer.

  15. Connie Dobbs

    @10. Stalin and Mao leftist socialists. Hitler and Mussolini right wing fascists. Stop trying to rewrite history. AGAIN.

  16. @Michelle … is your last name Bachmann?

    @Terry 14; facts aren ‘t democratic items to be voted on. Oy.

  17. Chris,

    How about the admiration for a controlled economy? It was one of Obama’s top people who expressed admiration for Mao. Overpopulation scares were still very current throughout my childhood, which is not that long ago. The gender is a social construct thing is still going around. Postmodernism is the left’s business, as is anti-Nuclear power. And so on.

    The left’s thing isn’t anti-science, but something far more dangerous: corrupt science. You can’t win a frontal attack on science, ever, but a corrupt version of science can have devastating effects. People have died and are still dying in large numbers due to the Left’s shameful and disgraceful opposition to GM crops and the industrialization of the Third World.

  18. In fact, and I will drag you back to this if I have to, the Left is dominated by a Green movement that exalts blind nature above and beyond human needs and desires, whose roots lie in some of the darkest and most terrible philosophical rivers we have ever seen. They have succeeded in mainstreaming Heidegger in a way that I would have thought unthinkable.

  19. A scientist

    Well, our president believes in a magical space creature who created the universe, sent his human son to earth, and lives in an alternate dimension (I’m talking about god here, obviously).

    When is the rational, atheist movement going to make it’s way in politics? I’m happy democrats are the closest thing to rational beings that we have, but since many (if not all?) of our elected officials still believe in magic (religion) and aren’t afraid to proclaim it to the world we have a long way to go.

    Chris, you should write an article titled “The politician’s war on science.” Or, at the very least, recognize that even though the Left may tell people they are for science, still maintain personal beliefs that aren’t based on science at all. It appears that they only believe in science on issues that get them elected (climate change, teaching evolution in schools, etc) and then love throwing science out the window for the votes of our religious citizens.

  20. TTT

    It was one of Obama’s top people who expressed admiration for Mao.

    Karl Rove was one of Obama’s top people?

    Overpopulation scares were still very current throughout my childhood

    The right has these too–they’re just worried about brown overpopulation.

    Postmodernism is the left’s business

    Not for at least a decade. Remember the Bush advisor who said “You liberals are part of the reality-based community, but we create our own reality”? All of the doggerel of moral relativism that liberals used in the 1990s has been amped up to 11 by right-wing factual relativism today.

    nuclear power

    NIMBYism is a bipartisan defect.

    You can’t win a frontal attack on science, ever

    See Bush, G.W., and the teabaggers.

    the Left is dominated by a movement… whose roots lie in some of the darkest and most terrible philosophical rivers we have ever seen

    See Rand, Ayn.

    With all due respect, you often seem to analyze these issues from a very European perspective. This is a blog that deals predominantly with U.S. political paradigms, scientific developments, and cultural attitudes and conflicts, and I think there have been some important notions that just didn’t translate.

  21. Terry Emberson

    SocraticGadfly Said:

    @Terry 14; facts aren ‘t democratic items to be voted on. Oy.

    Um… thanks for that input?

    Since, my first point was that the ‘facts’ picked by the survey weren’t ‘facts’ I can’t say that I disagree with you.

  22. Jen Davison

    Excellent in-depth article about many topics. I think something that was missing in this analysis is what the advancement in our understanding of the world (via science and other knowledge-creation endeavors) leads those privy to that information to believe is an appropriate political or ideological viewpoint or worldview. With greater understanding of the world, new “facts” etc., shouldn’t that have a bearing on the belief systems of those who have access to those new facts? Just saying, it’s not a static world of facts and two sides of the field of politics (simplification) that shifts between sets of facts… new information is gathered every day.

  23. Hugo (#18) having spent two years as CoChair of the EcoAction Committee, Green Party US, I can tell you that you statement may apply to a few individuals,. but not to the policies of truly Green political party.

    There are two issues with GM crops that need to be addressed through science and, so far, neither has been done so adequately. First, genes are know to have multiple functions. Thus, the gene that encodes for producing a particular chemical may have other effect. In most cases, these are never tested for and thus can not be identified. Second, once a GM crop has been given approval for use, the genetic material now can sporead from field to field through the natural working of pollenization. So, it is possible to end up with world-wide contamination of other seed, whether it was desired or not. In fact, the studies I have read use the term “out crossing” to describe the spread of genetic material.

    To argue, as Chris does, that GM is a solved question because “mainstream Democrats are pro-GM today” makes it scientifically OK is like saying Clean Coal is the future because so many in Congress think it is a good idea.

    We still need to follow the science and the science is far less settled than that for climate change.

  24. Chris Mooney

    @17 what is admiration for a “controlled economy”? Here’s Obama with the head of GE on his jobs creation board…are you saying Democrats today are somehow anti-capitalist? That would be shocking to most of them. It’s shocking to me, certainly. I am a very pro-capitalist centrist liberal. There definitely need to be some regulations in place so you don’t have, like, financial collapses. But you’re really caricaturing here.

    @18 Neither is the left dominated by a green movement. Nor is the Democratic party today opposed to nuclear power. I could go on and on….It sounds like you’re more describing parts of Europe than the USA.

  25. Terry Emberson

    @TTT

    the Left is dominated by a movement… whose roots lie in some of the darkest and most terrible philosophical rivers we have ever seen

    See Rand, Ayn.

    Hugo is apparently referring to Agrarian Socialism, as practiced by Pol Pot, and the strain of environmentalism that is anti-human. Pol Pot was responsible for 750,000 to 3,000,000 deaths. Anti-human environmentalism is responsible for a handful of solitary terrorists like Ted Kaczynski.

    How many people has libertarianism killed?

    Ayn Rand never EVER espoused the ideal that any individual had the right to take from any other individual what was not freely given. She did espouse a pollyannaish view of unbridled capitalism but only at the requirement that it not be coercive and that government not be allowed to bend the rules for one economic actor or another.

  26. Terry Emberson

    Chris,

    what is admiration for a “controlled economy”? Here’s Obama with the head of GE on his jobs creation board…are you saying Democrats today are somehow anti-capitalist?

    By all accounts, Obama is a centrist. Well, all accounts except the Tea Party advocates. Obama has however, overseen the biggest single theft of economic freedom in American history. Bush oversaw the biggest single theft of personal freedom in American history, so I guess the scales are balanced.

    Just because Obama is a centrist, doesn’t mean that the Democratic party does not support a ‘mixed economy’. That is my only quibble, i don’t think that the leadership of the Democratic party wants a planned economy, they want a mixed economy these days. They want Keynesian economics and to pretend that stagflation never happened. Which differentiates them from the most dominant Republicans who want Keynesian economics and to pretend that stagflation never happened.

  27. Terry Emberson

    I have to correct one thing. I called Ayn Rand a libertarian, which is incorrect. She was actually objectivist, which was for the most part a rebooting of classical positivism with a touch of liberalism. She rejected the right of others to take by force what someone produced by their own labors.

  28. TTT

    Hugo is apparently referring to Agrarian Socialism, as practiced by Pol Pot, and the strain of environmentalism that is anti-human. Pol Pot was responsible for 750,000 to 3,000,000 deaths…. How many people has libertarianism killed?

    Why don’t we add up the death tolls from firearms and cigarettes, all defended according to the principles of laissez-faire libertarians? You can add in all the fatalities of all contaminated food outbreaks too. And hey, what’s the yearly death toll from heart disease and obesity nowadays–which could be prevented just with some firm regulations banning fast food and sodas? Libertarians would hate such regulations, I guess they love diabetes and heart attacks and can be blamed for them now. By the transitive reasoning demonstrated above, anything lethal that either was purchased for money or that could have been more heavily regulated than it actually was is a libertarian’s fault.

    Don’t worry, you aren’t actually supposed to take my comparison any more seriously than I take yours.

    Anti-human environmentalism is responsible for a handful of solitary terrorists like Ted Kaczynski.

    This would come as a great surprise to Kaczynski, whose own writings are very clear about his dislike of forested areas and his hatred for liberals, leftists, and leftism. And of course, even IF it WERE true, a solitary individual by definition cannot be the leader of an entire movement, which was the original risible thesis.

    Ayn Rand never EVER espoused the ideal that any individual had the right to take from any other individual what was not freely given. She did espouse a pollyannaish view of unbridled capitalism but only at the requirement that it not be coercive and that government not be allowed to bend the rules for one economic actor or another.

    Ayn Rand justified the extermination of the Native Americans–their actual deaths–on the grounds that they weren’t using the land to the greatest extent of its potential productivity. That’s actually far closer to the language of Maoist genocidal socialism at the height of the purges than any cryptic “mass-movement-individual-loner environmentalism” is. Beyond that, the whole point of “Atlas Shrugged” is that the engineered deaths of hundreds of millions of people is awesome if they didn’t share the same work ethic as the elites did–and this even extended to deliberately gassing children to death because their parents had committed the unforgivable crime of working for the government. Rand of course was no friend of children, having enthusiastically voiced her support for kidnapper and child murderer William Hickman due to the “strength of his personality” and his willingness to flaunt the rules of “ordinary society” and “common people.” Basically, it’s futile to try to defend her–let alone advocate her–to anyone who isn’t as far out along the disorder spectrum as she was.

  29. even if we take the CBO report at the maximum estimate of 3.3 million jobs, each job saved or created cost about $230k of future taxpayers money and produced a job that can be estimated at $60k.So what the stimulus did was create a net loss of $170k for every one of those 3.3 million jobs or half a trillion dollars.

    1.) The stimulus money was designed to be spent over several years. $60k would refer to an annual salary. So even by your math every $230k bought a job worth $120k over the two years to date. That’s a difference of $110k not $170k.

    2.) The stimulus money included about $280 billion in tax cuts, much of which has gone to pay off debts or into long term savings. Only a fraction would have gone back into the economy. In terms of spending, we’re now at $150k per job worth $120k so far.

    3.) You’re also forgetting that each of those workers would have been paying taxes over the last 2 years. At a real rate of between 20%-25% of income, they returned more than $25k per job so far.
    So that puts us at $125k per job worth $120k so far.

    4.) You’re also pretending that we got no value for the money spent. Much of the funding went to pave roads, build bridges, purchase equipment, all of which also involve money spent on materials rather than on wages and which will still be standing long after the stimulus program has ended.

    5.) And of course you have to pretend that all those jobs will vanish when the stimulus goes away.

  30. Terry Emberson

    @TTT:

    Why don’t we add up the death tolls from firearms and cigarettes, all defended according to the principles of laissez-faire libertarians? You can add in all the fatalities of all contaminated food outbreaks too. And hey, what’s the yearly death toll from heart disease and obesity nowadays–which could be prevented just with some firm regulations banning fast food and sodas?

    Firm regulations banning civil society. No problem. That sounds like its much better than freedom. Remind me never to vote for you.

    In Laissez-faire economics, everyone is responsible for themselves. It is tragic that things like asbestos, smoking, and contaminated food outbreaks kill people. The worst part is that they are still killing people, despite regulations and such, its just now fewer people have freedom at the same time. If there was no way for the government to issue a ban on smoking in private establishments, would the tobacco industry have as much drive to politicize the science? Maybe somewhat, but it never would have become an issue for the Republican and Democratic party.

    Now, I’m not a libertarian, so I don’t want to defend their ideology overmuch, but libertarian belief is that people are to blame for their lives. IF, according to a libertarian, someone cheats a person by taking away their ability to make a rational decision, such as in fraud or (elaborate) confidence games, that person is due legal recourse in court.

    Libertarians would hate such regulations, I guess they love diabetes and heart attacks and can be blamed for them now. By the transitive reasoning demonstrated above, anything lethal that either was purchased for money or that could have been more heavily regulated than it actually was is a libertarian’s fault.

    Okay, that is a bit of specious logic. So, if government regulates and people still die, is it now governments’ fault or is it a progressive’s fault? If that is the case, then government is responsible for almost EVERY death in the U.S. since 1900.

    Don’t worry, you aren’t actually supposed to take my comparison any more seriously than I take yours.

    Okay. At that point, I should stop and realize that no matter what I say, you won’t take seriously. Yet, I have a couple more comments to make.

    Ayn Rand justified the extermination of the Native Americans–their actual deaths–on the grounds that they weren’t using the land to the greatest extent of its potential productivity.

    Actually, her quote was that they weren’t claiming the land, just fighting for the right to any land freely as theirs without actually claiming it. She viewed it that the Native Americans were attempting to keep the natural state of America untouched so they had nomadic grounds to move into.

    And the comment was made in response to question that directly criticized the United States for its role in the ousting the Native Americans. She was not justifying the extermination of the Native Americans, she was justifying the usurping of the continent. At the time she said it, the prevailing frame was that there had been a succession of wars following harassment of settlers rather than a concerted effort to move Native Americans from the country.

    Context is important here. As a student of history, I certainly disagree with her view, but she was speaking to the existing construct of the day.

    That’s actually far closer to the language of Maoist genocidal socialism at the height of the purges than any cryptic “mass-movement-individual-loner environmentalism” is.

    When you strawman it like that, sure.

    Beyond that, the whole point of “Atlas Shrugged” is that the engineered deaths of hundreds of millions of people is awesome if they didn’t share the same work ethic as the elites did–and this even extended to deliberately gassing children to death because their parents had committed the unforgivable crime of working for the government.

    Yes, characters in a book died by her author’s hand. And they died of people REFUSING to take responsibility, not of objectivist ideals.

    Rand of course was no friend of children, having enthusiastically voiced her support for kidnapper and child murderer William Hickman due to the “strength of his personality” and his willingness to flaunt the rules of “ordinary society” and “common people.” Basically, it’s futile to try to defend her–let alone advocate her–to anyone who isn’t as far out along the disorder spectrum as she was.

    Again, context is important. She DID NOT enthusiastically voice support for William Hickman. She said that William Hickman inspired for her a character who would be “A Hickman with a purpose. And without the degeneracy. It is more exact to say that the model is not Hickman, but what Hickman suggested to me.” She goes on to talk about how the crime that Hickman committed were terrible, but the character of a man who had no concern for others presents “lightness” of soul that she admires. It was also not written in a public forum or ever stated publicly, but rather part of a PRIVATE journal. Whatever the case, neither in her works of fiction nor in her private journals could she be said to espouse violence.

    I am not a fan of Rand or objectivism, but she clearly enunciation that a complete criticism for the initiation of violence. I only ask that you think rationally and not try to twist reality to suit your frame. We may not agree, but that does mean we get to twist facts.

  31. Terry Emberson

    @Jinchi

    1) Got me there, I missed that detail. Thank you.
    2) Doesn’t make a difference, that is still a cost to the governments budget without a coinciding decrease in spending (ie. still being pushed into the future)
    3) I’ll accept that one too, since it doesn’t push it down the road. That puts us at $200k for every $120k of job.
    4) That is a good point as well.
    5) If they are directly deriving input from the government (ie. road builders, bridge builders, inventory supplier for the government) when the money dries up, so will the business. That’s why Boeing and Lockheed bribe so many senators.

    Look Keynesian economics works today, up until the hair of the dog economics leaves you with a stagflation hangover.

  32. TTT

    All I can say, Terry, is that it is quite revealing that you open-and-shut endorse the view that certain aspects of environmentalism are an “anti-human” ideology that is “one of the darkest strains of human philosophy” and that surely inspired the Killing Fields, yet compose one lyrical excuse after another when confronted by the bodycounts of libertarianism and Ayn Rand’s love-letters about infanticide and the apocalypse. “It is indeed TRAGIC that freedom kills people…” ? Do you really think you’d find a message significantly different from that in some anonymized screed in the Earth First! journal? Oh, and Rand only KIND OF justified genocide against the Native Americans, and then for a reason very marginally DIFFERENT from the one I said? Spare me.

    And of course she espoused violence–the end of “Atlas Shrugged” is functionally no different from dropping a neutron bomb on all the wretched unenlightened muggles out there, leaving them to die by the millions for lack of obstetricians, electricians, and water safety engineers–but that too is okay, because they were actually killed by “refusing to take responsibility,” in the lingo of the death cult literally washing the blood off their hands. Even National Review had an essay just a few months ago about how even they gag when reading her gleeful asphyxiation of the children of government workers. I stand by all of my characterizations of her horrid books, her cartoon “philosophy,” and her unambiguous endorsement of the deaths of anyone who displeased her. I’ve directly read all of her material that I reference here, and don’t find anyone else’s generous re-interpretations to carry any water at all.

    It’s good to know that any claim of virtue automatically bestows virtue. I wonder why radical environmentalists haven’t figured out how to compose rationalizations for their actions, because as soon as they said it, it would be okay. It’s so easy to declare other people to be the real problem in society, evil and dangerous and irredeemable as they are, isn’t it? But one’s own self, why, we can rationalize and excuse and explain away in order to remain as flawless as we know our own philosophies to be. You want to know how movements become totalitarian and genocidal? Here’s a hint: Left and Right are far less important than whether they lack the ability to perceive–or even comprehend–their own faults.

  33. Oh, I am sorry, I thought we were discussing reason and what could be proven. Let me simply point out that in every single instance where we have had a controlled experiment in free economy versus controlled – East and West Germany, North and South Korea, the free economy wins. Hands down. Experiment completed, end of discussion.

    I will come back and finish off TTT, but I simply cannot let this junk pass:

    Beyond that, the whole point of “Atlas Shrugged” is that the engineered deaths of hundreds of millions of people is awesome if they didn’t share the same work ethic as the elites did–and this even extended to deliberately gassing children to death because their parents had committed the unforgivable crime of working for the government.

    This is simply a flat-out lie. Get your facts straight. Atlas Shrugged is about what happens when those who are continually described as parasites, exploiters etc. simply say “Okay, fine. If you don’t like us we’ll go away. If your system works so well, good luck”. So there is nothing about engineering the deaths of millions. In fact, it is precisely the villains who advocate the engineering of millions of deaths, as did their real-world equivalents whom you are so busy defending. The “deliberate gassing of children” – this is another obscene deception by you. The scene in question is of a businessman who kills himself and his family due to despair brought about by the total economic collapse induced by the redistributionist system. Now, I happen to know, even if you don’t, of real stories exactly like that that happened in exactly those circumstances.

    Oh, and finally? It’s not actually that difficult to read what I wrote, which is that the environmentalists draw heavily on Heidegger and his blood-and-soil philosophy. Which is all but unarguable.

    Get. your facts. straight.

    I’ll be back to finish this.

  34. Terry, I want to thank you for your honesty. TTT‘s conduct here is unbelievable.

    Wes, no, there is one issue here. People are starving. Geddit? People are starving, and the greens are blocking the technology that can make that food. They have already been complicit in the disruption of food aid to the poorest of the poor – that, btw, is a war crime, and if there was any justice gangs like Greenpeace would be in the dock. Then there’s the matter of the blocking of the development of power plants; “Friends of the Earth” brag about how they stopped three hundred hydroelectic dams. And so on and so on.

    This is a revolting movement that needs to be thoroughly rejected. I am a conservationist; I am happy to pay for protecting, say, the Serengheti or wherever. However, what I will not see, will not countenance is any foisting of this garbage on the poorest of the poor. As Penn Jillette so admirably put it:

    “We can’t start getting picky just because we’ve got enough food. That’s just self-centered and racist. Unless you and yours are starving, you need. To. SHUT. THE FUCK. UP!”

  35. TTT

    Shorter Hugo: “Hitler was a vegetarian, therefore vegetarianism caused the Holocaust. What? What do you mean, he had a moustache too? How DARE you suggest that moustaches caused the Holocaust?!? Get your history of moustache societies straight!”

    And yes, the end of “Shrugged” is an act of genocide, written by an emotionless freak who built her career (such as it was) around masturbatory death-wishing. When you knowingly collapse civilization on purpose, people gonna die. I’ve seen scads of Randroids try to make the excuse that no, no, they aren’t CELEBRATING the engineered deaths of every NICU baby or nursing-home resident in the country just because their heroes knowingly demolished the power grid and all of civilization beyond the point of recovery–that it isn’t the elites’ fault but, rather, the fault of those stupid subintellectual preemies and geezers for not building a brand new power grid to replace it.

    It didn’t work for them any more than it does for you. And I’d say it was funny, but your histrionic warning to “come back and finish me off” redefines the term.

    Get well soon.

  36. Shorter TTT: “I have never learned how to argue or how to think, so I will resort to kindergarten level insults and robotic repetition of scurrilous accusations, to try to drown out the yawning emptiness inside.”

    Some basic factual errors about the text: there are no NICU babies mentioned, none of the heroes have a hand in engineering anything in the social system, and none of them knowingly demolishes any power grid. You haven’t read the book; in fact, I very much doubt that you can read any long book of any substance.

    I did promise to come back and finish you off rhetorically, but you have rather nicely taken care of that for me. Thank you for that.

  37. TTT

    there are no NICU babies mentioned

    So what? Do you presume none *exist* in Rand’s world? Gosh, that’s mighty convenient, since her elite heroes do things that would have immediately killed any that did exist.

    That’s the thing about civilization: it includes people who, given their circumstances, will die at once if vital infrastructural services are interrupted. If someone’s social vision calls for obliterating those services but then tries to avoid guilt by saying that such dependent souls either *do not exist* or are *worth sacrificing* or just wouldn’t be effected because *preemies dying is such a drag, man, quit dissing my favorite fanfic*, then both the vision and those who adhere to it are irredeemably myopic and misanthropic.

    As far as kabuki theater goes, your current routine–”How Returning Humanity to the Stone Age in One Day Wouldn’t Really Kill Anybody So Stop Complaining”–needs a bit more time in previews, because it sure can’t stand up to the critics.

  38. I trust that no one will consider it unreasonable if I am not going to dignify this nonsense with a response; I will simply correct any major lies that TTT comes out with and I invite you to verify this for yourselves.

    Rereading an earlier post to Wes, I should tone some of that down, but what I have never been able to stand since my childhood is solipsistic first world types who simply use the poorest of the poor as a prop in their psychodramas. Not that I think you are one of these, but the Green movement has some terrible examples of this.

  39. Terry Emberson

    @TTT

    All I can say, Terry, is that it is quite revealing that you open-and-shut endorse the view that certain aspects of environmentalism are an “anti-human” ideology that is “one of the darkest strains of human philosophy” and that surely inspired the Killing Fields, yet compose one lyrical excuse after another when confronted by the bodycounts of libertarianism and Ayn Rand’s love-letters about infanticide and the apocalypse.

    To be honest, I do endorse the view that certain aspects of environmentalism are anti-human. Intellectual honesty compels me to recognize that there are dark chains of logic in a great many philosophies that are otherwise very compelling. I do not believe ALL environmentalism is tainted by anti-human ideologies. I am also a supporter of some environmental legislation.

    At the same time, to suggest that demanding that every individual be responsible for their own conduct is somehow responsible for untold numbers of deaths is just plain disingenuous. My PROBLEM with libertarianism, had you asked, is that it assumes everyone will obey the tenets of libertarianism and does not provide adequate safeguards to prevent people from going astray. Like communism, it expects behavior that is rational but unlikely. That is why I’m a liberal, not a libertarian. I believe in freedom above all else, but recognize that limits on freedom must be imposed to protect people from each other. The problem is that the pendulum is swinging too far away from freedom for my tastes.

    “It is indeed TRAGIC that freedom kills people…” ? Do you really think you’d find a message significantly different from that in some anonymized screed in the Earth First! journal? Oh, and Rand only KIND OF justified genocide against the Native Americans, and then for a reason very marginally DIFFERENT from the one I said? Spare me.

    You are spared. You have the choice not to read my comments.

    And of course she espoused violence–the end of “Atlas Shrugged” is functionally no different from dropping a neutron bomb on all the wretched unenlightened muggles out there, leaving them to die by the millions for lack of obstetricians, electricians, and water safety engineers–but that too is okay, because they were actually killed by “refusing to take responsibility,” in the lingo of the death cult literally washing the blood off their hands.

    So… in a work of fiction… people refusing to work… is equivalent to dropping a neutron bomb. So, inaction is equivalent to action. Your philosophy means that if one fails to do something, he or she is just as guilty as someone who does something malicious?

    Even National Review had an essay just a few months ago about how even they gag when reading her gleeful asphyxiation of the children of government workers.

    Only people who hate libertarians more than Democrats are Republicans. That is dwindling, but NR remains a social conservative platform.

    I stand by all of my characterizations of her horrid books, her cartoon “philosophy,” and her unambiguous endorsement of the deaths of anyone who displeased her. I’ve directly read all of her material that I reference here, and don’t find anyone else’s generous re-interpretations to carry any water at all.

    Okay. I understand and reject your view. I’ll interpret for myself why I reject objectivism, which I generally do, but it will be for facts, not for distortions. If you find them so horrid, why do you subject yourself to them?

    It’s good to know that any claim of virtue automatically bestows virtue. I wonder why radical environmentalists haven’t figured out how to compose rationalizations for their actions, because as soon as they said it, it would be okay. It’s so easy to declare other people to be the real problem in society, evil and dangerous and irredeemable as they are, isn’t it? But one’s own self, why, we can rationalize and excuse and explain away in order to remain as flawless as we know our own philosophies to be. You want to know how movements become totalitarian and genocidal? Here’s a hint: Left and Right are far less important than whether they lack the ability to perceive–or even comprehend–their own faults.

    Your last sentence is particularly apt. I try to understand my faults and I’ve found many. When I’ve made a mistake, I’ve tried to be gracious in correcting it, as I’ve done elsewhere on this blog and even above. For instance, I’m researching Kaczynski more thoroughly because on the face of it, you seem to have been correct about him not being an environmentalist but rather an anti-industrialist. It was a distinction that I missed, but is certainly important. On the other hand, he is documented to have attended Earth First meetings, which can’t be said to be non-environmentalist.

    Now, I agree that many movements could become totalitarian, but it isn’t in recognizing or failing to recognize their own faults. That is how a movement becomes irrational. It isn’t even a precondition to totalitarianism or genocide. Many a rational philosophy has advocated genocide and totalitarianism, recognizing its own faults but believing “the ends justify the means”.

    In my opinion, regimes become totalitarian when they believe that the few have the power, brilliance, or authority to decide for the many, which is one fault you can’t ascribe to libertarianism. Movements become genocidal when they believe that the value of one life is more than the value of another, which is another fault you can’t ascribe to libertarianism. You can ascribe that fault to movements within conservatism, environmentalism, liberalism (THANKS ROBESPIERRE… grrr.), and especially Marxism, but no branch of libertarianism that I have looked at has ever thought it could justify genocide or temporary totalitarianism for the sake individual liberty.

  40. Terry Emberson

    @Hugo:

    The scene in question is of a businessman who kills himself and his family due to despair brought about by the total economic collapse induced by the redistributionist system.

    Oh… Yeah. I misunderstood TTT’s reference to be the tunnel scene. I don’t recall the scene you are referring to and I have no desire to reread the book.

    @TTT:

    That’s the thing about civilization: it includes people who, given their circumstances, will die at once if vital infrastructural services are interrupted. If someone’s social vision calls for obliterating those services but then tries to avoid guilt by saying that such dependent souls either *do not exist* or are *worth sacrificing* or just wouldn’t be effected because *preemies dying is such a drag, man, quit dissing my favorite fanfic*, then both the vision and those who adhere to it are irredeemably myopic and misanthropic.

    The social vision here is of withdrawing from the collapsing social order. Civil society in this story has been undermined by the public sector. By any imagination, a robust civil society is required for democracy to work. And again, its a story, not a clarion call. It was not calling for this action to be done anymore than Aldous Huxley was calling for thinking people to self-flagellate and hang themselves. It was an ‘if this goes on’ story about when the welfare state has deteriorated, which she felt inevitable. It does not support your original counter-argument in the slightest.

  41. TTT

    The social vision here is of withdrawing from the collapsing social order

    By enabling an even bigger collapse. Over millions of other peoples’ dead bodies.

    Your philosophy means that if one fails to do something, he or she is just as guilty as someone who does something malicious?

    It’s not just my philosophy. You’ve heard of “criminally-negligent homicide”? The case now being discussed is one of criminally-negligent genocide.

    It was not calling for this action to be done… it was an ‘if this goes on’ story…

    Much the same could have been said about Earth First! founder Dave Foreman’s own story, published in his autobiography “Confessions of an Eco-Warrior,” about his dream of time-traveling back to the pioneer days with modern weapons in order to halt the American westward expansion.

    Foreman wasn’t actually-really-literally about to go out and kill people. He himself never killed anybody. Foreman was just talking about how deterioration of a system he loved made him wish for some utopia in which the nasty people who had caused that deterioration just… y’know… weren’t there anymore. That it was actually due to their own misuse of the system that they would soon be made to suffer. Everything those people had built, and everything they needed, shouldn’t be there anymore either, or they should have found some alternate way to get by without deteriorating the system anymore. And if they didn’t, he’d be the judge of what ought to be done to them. The system he valued was more important. And if the bad peoples’ already-harsh conditions had to be made a little more harsh to protect his favored system, well, there it is.

    Every extremist ideology can be said to actually be not-that-bad, if you just don’t look at the bad parts, if you normalize the deaths of its victims because of whatever necessity or higher goal is claimed. I would point out that this whole time, I actually have never defended radical environmentalism, because I don’t defend it. I just don’t automatically privilege other philosophies that may have had more practice and institutional support in explaining away their attendant wreckage. In a recent thread here, one poster said that he really did support weakening democracy for the sake of environmental protection–and for that he was called, IIRC, a “fascist weasel.” Funny, no justification-from-ultimate-concerns seemed to be acknowledged there–which is fine, as long as it is applied *fairly*. If radical environmentalists don’t get to b.s. around their urges to strip opportunities from other people, our self-appointed Randian ubermenschen absolutely do not.

    For what it’s worth, Terry, I do think you have approached this conversation in a gracious manner, and while that had honestly been my intention in my responses towards you, I’m sorry to say that I don’t seem to have lived up to it. I will honestly try not to let it happen again.

  42. Terry Emberson

    It’s not just my philosophy. You’ve heard of “criminally-negligent homicide”? The case now being discussed is one of criminally-negligent genocide.

    It is just your philosophy. Criminally negligent homicide is where the positive actions of a person endanger the life on another. There must BE an actus reus, an act of commission. Acts of omission can be punished only when there is some contractual or societal obligation between the individuals, such as between parent and child, husband and wife, employer and employee. A doctor who leaves their place of employment or private practice maybe able to be sued for services paid but not rendered, but there is NO grounds for criminally negligent homicide without actus reus.

    Foreman was just talking about how deterioration of a system he loved made him wish for some utopia in which the nasty people who had caused that deterioration just… y’know… weren’t there anymore.

    Okay… did I claim that he did? I think your distinction here is accurate. Earth First is not calling for the death of people, but did use death as an illuminating point in a fictional account.

    I would point out that this whole time, I actually have never defended radical environmentalism, because I don’t defend it.

    No, you haven’t, but you have not been accused of such by me. You have attacked libertarianism unfairly. Attack it for what it really is, by all means, but attacking it via distortion is where I disagree wholeheartedly.

    If radical environmentalists don’t get to b.s. around their urges to strip opportunities from other people, our self-appointed Randian ubermenschen absolutely do not.

    I’m not sure that objectivism would tolerate anyone self-appointing as ubermenschen, as that would be specifically against its ethic. One is known by their deed, not their claim. As far stripping opportunities, that also isn’t objectivist as an objectivist would argue that individuals make their own opportunities. You can not be stripped of what you make yourself.

    Its a very adversarial rather than cooperative system, which is why it is so objectionable to progressives and liberals. At least, that’s why I reject it.

    For what it’s worth, Terry, I do think you have approached this conversation in a gracious manner, and while that had honestly been my intention in my responses towards you, I’m sorry to say that I don’t seem to have lived up to it. I will honestly try not to let it happen again.

    Thank you.

  43. More guff:

    In a recent thread here, one poster said that he really did support weakening democracy for the sake of environmental protection–and for that he was called, IIRC, a “fascist weasel.

    He supported the ‘temporary suspension of democracy’ – yes “temporary”, I’m sure. Also, someone who is trying to defend the heirs of Heidegger, really should not be complaining when they are called fascist. Nor does someone who throws out accusations of genocide-support with no evidence whatsoever, have much of a right to start whining in this manner.

  44. Archwright

    Hugo and TTT.
    Environmentalism as it relates to ecology is not evil. Some environmentalists are insane (like Green Peace), but that does not invalidate the whole field.

    We have learned a great deal about how not to screw up the planet. To put in place practices which ensure that we have resources to use in the future. The passenger pigeon is an example of how we failed. We hunted them to the point where their breeding strategy no longer functioned. In the last few years before they went extinct, local and regional governments put up feeble regulation to restrict the hunting of the species.

    The whole study of ecology exists to prevent that problem from cropping up in various different forms. Most ecological systems are more complex than that, and require more research. Occasionally the scientists are wrong (that’s part of scientific progress, no way around it)

    Ecology is not about valuing the environment more than people. It’s about finding a sustainable way to use environmental resources.

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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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