Bachmann Anti-Enlightenment? You're Surprised?

By Chris Mooney | August 11, 2011 3:07 pm

There is much dissecting of the New Yorker profile of Michele Bachmann, and much amazement that, hey, she digs conservative Christian thinkers who come from a different galaxy than secular liberals. So here’s the L.A. Times blog Culture Monster, discussing two of Bachmann’s intellectual influences, Nancy Pearcey and Francis Schaeffer:

Pearcey’s book lauds Schaeffer’s empathy for artists who are “caught in the trap of false and harmful worldviews” — specifically, those that have trickled down from wicked Renaissance humanism. “As the medieval period merged into the Renaissance (beginning roughly in the 1300s),” she wrote, “a drumbeat began to sound for the complete emancipation of reason from revelation — a crescendo that burst into full force in the Enlightenment (beginning in the 1700s).”

Darn that Enlightenment! Next thing you know it will be birthing truly dangerous ideas, like secular democracy.

I used to write commentary like this. I don’t any more.

The reason is that I’m no longer at all surprised to hear that the Enlightenment is what actually divides us. This reality is written all over every single aspect of American politics, after all.

If you are someone who craves “total truth” (the title of Pearcey’s book), and wants uncertainty completely vanquished, you aren’t going to opt for fricken modern science, after all. Religion is going to be a heck of a lot more consoling, and especially its most fundamentalist versions.

What we have to recognize is, despite Enlightenment achievements in knowledge and in politics, people didn’t change. They’re still the same as they always were. The irony is how the people who grok Enlightenment still manage to remain so un-Enlightened about the people who don’t.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Psychology of Ideology

Comments (35)

  1. It’s time to send her back, man.

  2. Mike H

    If God treats the tree like a tree, the machine like a machine, the man like a man, shouldn’t I, as a fellow-creature, do the same – treating each thing in integrity in its own order? And for the highest reason: because I love God – I love the One who has made it! Loving the Lover who has made it, I have respect for the thing He has made – Francis Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man

    What an unenlightend savage!

    Well, luckily for us our Fourth Estate took up the task of vetting our current president with the same level of enthusiasm.

  3. Incredulous

    Chris Mooney:

    ” she digs conservative Christian thinkers who come from a different galaxy than secular liberals.”

    While it is easy to point at the wild bible thumpers out on the fringe, I think pushing it too far will backfire when you paint all people of faith as loons. There is a large religious contingency of the Democratic party as well. There are also quite a few secular conservatives. There is a large enough portion of religious on both sides to shut out out anyone who is anti-religion in a national election no matter how much you wish it were not so.

    “If you are someone who craves “total truth” (the title of Pearcey’s book), and wants uncertainty completely vanquished, you aren’t going to opt for fricken modern science, after all.”

    I have not seen a lot of evidence supporting free thought from some of these modern scientists either. I don’t see a lot of difference from the other arguments from authority that abound. For the most part, people are told to “Be quiet. The science is settled. There is a consensus. You are not qualified to have an opinion.” if we question any single part of the articles of faith.

    But, overall, my favorite is the original author’s:

    “Darn that Enlightenment! Next thing you know it will be birthing truly dangerous ideas, like secular democracy.”

    Maybe some one should pass them a book about Greece and the birth of Democracy. I think I remember it pre-dating the Enlightenment by a couple years. But I guess it doesn’t have the same flash as trying to link it to the Enlightenment and intimating a reversal toward the Dark Ages.

  4. ThomasL

    And here I thought we were a representative republic. But what do the founders know. Can’t remember them ever saying anything very positive about “democracy” in fact, so maybe that’s part of the issue, we’ve forgotten what we actually are?

  5. Dave

    It’s too bad Bachman (and the batsh*ts like her) doesn’t consume content like this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8P1Y1a7-L4

  6. bad Jim

    A Pearcey quote from the New Yorker article:

    the overall systems of thought constructed by nonbelievers will be false–for if the system is not built on Biblical truth, then it will be built on some other ultimate principle. Even individual truths will be seen through the distorting lens of a false world view.”

    You can see the authoritarian mind at work in the assumption that there must be an underlying dogma, since everyone must be following some authority.

    Although authoritarians reject Enlightenment ideals, they do pay lip service to Enlightenment achievements like science and democracy, although they feel free to reject any results they find inconvenient like evolution or religious liberty.

  7. Messier Tidy Upper
  8. E.M.

    Knowledge is a very misunderstood thing. Often it is derived through reason. Sometimes through more mysterious, less transparent processes. Animal behavior and intelligence are fascinating because they demonstrate extremely specific “knowledge” without an apparent broader capacity for reason. Of course, much of our knowledge cannot be derived from reason. Why do we trust or love some people and not others? Reason cannot tell us some of the most important things: what we should care about; what matters and what is the meaning of life. A rationalist might answer that precisely because reason does not answer these questions, they have no answer. Look at the rationalist’s actions and not her words and you’ll see that she answers the question continually through her life choices. Since the European Enlightenment we have celebrated reason and lost touch with other forms of knowledge. Buddhism also uses the words Enlightenment, but it describes a knowledge which is frequently irrational. “Revelation” may describe a source of particularly direct, life-changing knowledge. Ideally we would exercise our various epistemic systems harmoniously rather than at each other’s detriment.

  9. Solitha

    @3… where to start, where to start…

    How about “conservative Christian thinkers” not being anywhere near the same as “all people of faith”?

    Or perhaps in the history of democracy… which may have started in Greece, but was influenced (in its Representative form) by the Enlightenment. Not all democracy is the same. You might want to read the book you’re advocating passing around.

    Lastly…”I have not seen a lot of evidence supporting free thought from some of these modern scientists either. I don’t see a lot of difference from the other arguments from authority that abound. For the most part, people are told to “Be quiet. The science is settled. There is a consensus. You are not qualified to have an opinion.” if we question any single part of the articles of faith.”

    You’re allowed to have any opinion you want. If you want it to be qualified, try actually learning about the subject so that you can analyze the data, form and test the hypothesis, and get back to us when you actually can prove something different from the consensus you so dislike, and defend it against critique.

    Science is not about opinion. It’s about proof and facts. Take a flat-Earther, for instance. The Earth is round. This is a fact. The science is settled. An opinion otherwise does not change planetary or Earth science, not one bit.

    If you are attempting to pit yourself with armchair “knowledge” against hundreds, thousands, or millions of experts in a field, and say that your opinion is worth the same as their data, their experiments, their hypotheses, their experiences, their observations, and their theories… then yes. Your opinion is not qualified.

  10. varcher

    “I don’t see a lot of difference from the other arguments from authority that abound.”

    It’s not that there are arguments from authority. Science is the first thing to question itself, and encourage its own questioning (publishing a paper that refutes correctly some established theory gets you fame, where no one is much interested in the Nth paper establishing that, yes, this fact appears to still be true).

    But after a while, trying to disprove something becomes no longer profitable. You try, people rip your study to shred, point out your methodology mistakes. Someone else’s tries, and get a similar fate. After a few, you think some people would get the point that, maybe, if you fail to persuade scientists that “theory X isn’t true”, it’s because, maybe, it is true. And at one point, people stop bothering to analyze your study for its mistakes, and throw it in the dustbin as soon as they come across it, because they’ve already done that a hundred times, and it’s no longer worth their efforts.

    But no. You keep on trying to make a conclusive study that shows that fact X (climate change) isn’t true, despite all attempts being savaged repeatedly. But, hey, trying to repeat the same and same thing over and over, and expecting the result to somewhat differ is the mark of the enlightened…

  11. Nullius in Verba

    #10,

    “Science is the first thing to question itself, and encourage its own questioning”

    Science ought to be like that. That’s why people get so upset when it isn’t.

    Suppose somebody publishes a paper, and you know it’s wrong. You can see the flaws in the methods, you can construct a mathematical argument showing the biases, you can demonstrate it in a practical sense by tens of thousands of Monte Carlo trials.

    You try to get your reply published, and it’s rejected because it’s “too long”. You shorten it, and people now claim it’s too terse to understand. The referees can’t find anything wrong with your paper, and agree that it’s important. The scientific record is currently in error, and your paper is needed to correct it, but it’s apparently more important to the journal to not mess up their format than to get the science right.

    Unofficially it’s well known that it’s one of many excuses journal editors use to reject papers they don’t like, like those showing how badly they did their job in letting the previous paper pass, or that disproves a hypothesis their journal has in the past made a stand supporting.

    You find a more open-minded editor elsewhere, and get it published. The response is several more papers arguing that you’re wrong, but filled with even more new errors and omissions as well as the originals. You had set out the math in your first paper, there’s nothing wrong with it, there’s no way they can get round that. You point these new errors out in another paper, and you get yet another attack, filled with yet more new errors, claims, counter-claims, and confusion.

    At what point do you give up? It takes you five times the effort to get papers past hostile journal editors than your opponents, the original authors will not admit any fault, the rest of the scientific community ignore your math and go with the more prestigious journal, and everybody continues to claim that if you were right you could publish it and become famous, ignoring the fact that you just did and you’re not.

    Trying to get corrections published in journals is a waste of effort. The current process is broken, unscientific.

    But so long as people assume that the outward appearance of science means that all the proper checks are in place, they won’t check it themselves, and they’ll assume that anyone who does check it and gets a different answer must be mistaken. This theme reoccurs time and time again. Some prestigious scientist expresses support for the standard theory; you ask them why, and they cite all the other scientists who say so. They don’t tell you about the actual evidence; it’s quite apparent with a little questioning that they don’t know what it actually is. They just went to the most prestigious journals and authorities, asked them, and judged the question purely by the air of confidence with which they answered.

    The effect snowballs. Everybody believes because it’s what everybody believes. Those few who say they have evidence it is wrong must be wrong, because if anybody had evidence it was wrong nobody would believe. But they do, so they can’t, so it isn’t. It’s an unbreakable circle.

    Science will self-correct eventually – but it sometimes takes a while to beat human nature.

  12. Messier Tidy Upper

    @7. To clarify that’s :

    No. I’m not surprised to hear that Michelle Bachman is anti-enlightenment.

    Saddened & frustrated and worried given her political prominence despite that fact but NOT at all surprised.

  13. 1985

    What we have to recognize is, despite Enlightenment achievements in knowledge and in politics, people didn’t change. They’re still the same as they always were. The irony is how the people who grok Enlightenment still manage to remain so un-Enlightened about the people who don’t.

    Two things:

    1. Yes, it’s absolutely correct that people didn’t change. What is not so much correct is to say that that’s despite the Enlightenment – the Enlightenment never even touched the majority of people in the world, and a large part of them even in the West. After all, mass literacy is a relatively recent thing, and mass scientific literacy has never existed (not even remotely close). What this does not mean though is that we should just resign to this fact. That people haven’t changed does not mean that they should not change. They absolutely should, and that’s what we should be working on. However, the “that’s how people are, do not try to change them because you’ll hurt their feeling” approach is never going to make it happen

    2. The Enlightenment was actually quite far from being enlightened enough, compared to where we need to be; there are lots of unwarranted assumption and obsolete or even harmful cultural baggage built in the philosophy.

  14. 1985

    8. E.M. Says:
    August 12th, 2011 at 1:40 am
    Reason cannot tell us some of the most important things: what we should care about; what matters and what is the meaning of life. A rationalist might answer that precisely because reason does not answer these questions, they have no answer.

    Science has answered those questions quite conclusively at this point – as far as we can tell, there is no meaning and no purpose to anything; the only “goal” of our existence is to make more copies of our genes, but that’s not really a goal, rather a consequence of the fact that organisms that didn’t evolve to follow that goal didn’t survive.

    It’s not the kind of answer most people want to hear but we can be as confident in it as we are confident in the reality of evolution, and our current understanding of physics and cosmology

  15. Jon Winsor

    #4: And here I thought we were a representative republic. But what do the founders know. Can’t remember them ever saying anything very positive about “democracy” in fact..

    They said lots of positive things about democracy, but they also were famously concerned about rule by angry mobs. You can’t read the Federalist Papers and avoid this…

    Check out Federalist 10, for instance.

  16. Sean McCorkle

    Nullius@11

    Your sense of victimization is moving beyond tinfoil-hat into the crackpot realm.

    At what point do you give up? It takes you five times the effort to get papers past hostile journal editors than your opponents,

    Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a paper published? Do you have any idea, on average, how many journals previously rejected a paper which eventually was published?

    You try to get your reply published, and it’s rejected because it’s “too long”. You shorten it, and people now claim it’s too terse to understand. The referees can’t find anything wrong with your paper, and agree that it’s important. The scientific record is currently in error, and your paper is needed to correct it, but it’s apparently more important to the journal to not mess up their format than to get the science right.

    You think this is not the experience of the average scientist?! Welcome to the big ring! Hordes of scientists can tell these horror stories, and many more. This is their daily life. Its as rough for them too. Quit whining.

    the original authors will not admit any fault,

    nor will you it seems

    the rest of the scientific community ignore your math and go with the more prestigious journal, and everybody continues to claim that if you were right you could publish it and become famous, ignoring the fact that you just did and you’re not.

    This is all assuming, of course, that you are right. You might firmly believe that you are, but you may be mistaken. Thats one of the points of taking it into the arena to test.

    You had set out the math in your first paper, there’s nothing wrong with it, there’s no way they can get round that.

    If you have flawless math, why isn’t it convincing anybody? Could it be that its not so flawless?

    You point these new errors out in another paper, and you get yet another attack,

    Of course. This is what is supposed to happen. Don’t be surprised you’re attacked; that’s supposed to happend. You think you are skeptical? Scientists are skeptical about your idea, and now you’ve got to defend it.

    Some prestigious scientist expresses support for the standard theory; you ask them why, and they cite all the other scientists who say so. They don’t tell you about the actual evidence; it’s quite apparent with a little questioning that they don’t know what it actually is. They just went to the most prestigious journals and authorities, asked them, and judged the question purely by the air of confidence with which they answered.

    Not an unreasonable thing for a scientist if its not their speciality or domain. Drawing a conclusion after reading a few papers outside one’s field is fraught with peril. Those papers are written, often tersely, for the specialists and typically assume the reader already has a broad background knowledge of the field. Non-specialists who come in without knowing the paradigms and even the vocabulary can be easily confused.

  17. Incredulous

    9. Solitha

    “How about “conservative Christian thinkers” not being anywhere near the same as “all people of faith”

    That was exactly the point I was making. Every time religion is brought up, it is used as a point of ridicule and I just stated that I thought that it was counterproductive to do so.

    “Or perhaps in the history of democracy… which may have started in Greece, but was influenced (in its Representative form) by the Enlightenment. Not all democracy is the same.”

    Did you miss the whole Roman Republic also? There were some real advances during the Enlightenment. They didn’t however just magically come from the ether.

    “You might want to read the book you’re advocating passing around.”

    Come on, that is kind of lame. Put some thought into the argument.

    “If you want it to be qualified, try actually learning about the subject so that you can analyze the data, form and test the hypothesis, and get back to us when you actually can prove something different from the consensus you so dislike, and defend it against critique.”

    Funny, isn’t part of the whole problem about analyzing the data, you have to have it ? To be able to test the hypothesis you need to know what the people did with the data? Are you going to be another one who denies that whole mess?

    “If you are attempting to pit yourself with armchair “knowledge” against hundreds, thousands, or millions of experts in a field”

    My, a bit of hyperbole there, don’t you think?

    “Take a flat-Earther, for instance. The Earth is round. This is a fact. The science is settled. An opinion otherwise does not change planetary or Earth science, not one bit.”

    I do like this though. It is a really good use of false equivalency and adding a guilt by association even without stating the association. Well written.

    ” Your opinion is not qualified.”

    But your unswerving support without the same knowledge is qualified?

  18. Incredulous

    10. varcher

    “You try, people rip your study to shred, point out your methodology mistakes. ”

    That is what is supposed to happen. That is how science works. When the climatologists hide their data and methodology and expect us to take it of faith is not how science is supposed to work.

    “And at one point, people stop bothering to analyze your study for its mistakes,”

    At least that is what they are hoping for.

  19. TTT

    Nullius @11: For goodness’ sake, we are talking about an avowed Biblical literalist and creationist who thinks sexual orientation is a deliberate choice (except when caused by demonic possession, which can of course be cured by exorcism) and who denies the very notion that CO2 is a greenhouse gas at all. And we are talking about her mentor, who says that any statements by non-evangelicals should be presumed to be lies until proven true.

    It exceeds self-parody to try to re-route a discussion of their pathological anti-science antagonism into more of your same old cut-and-pastes about how mean peer reviewers are. These people probably don’t even know what peer review is, and if you truly believe what you claim to, then they hate you and presume you to be a liar at least as much as they do us. You must believe science to have been sufficiently self-corrective, and its peer review process good enough, to have disproved Bachmann’s Young-Earth Creationism and its attendant they-all-faked-the-fossils conspiracy theories.

  20. Incredulous

    #19 TTT

    ” For goodness’ sake, we are talking about an avowed Biblical literalist and creationist who thinks sexual orientation is a deliberate choice (except when caused by demonic possession, which can of course be cured by exorcism) and who denies the very notion that CO2 is a greenhouse gas at all. And we are talking about her mentor, who says that any statements by non-evangelicals should be presumed to be lies until proven true.”

    Ok, just for the sake of argument, let’s assume complete truth in everything you say. None of the above are a legal disqualification for President. All we are left with is that you wouldn’t *like* someone in office with those beliefs. If you have a better candidate that is electable put them out there. You don’t get to just make up qualifications based on your preferences. It doesn’t work that way, no matter how much you would like it to.

  21. plutosdad

    @8 EM
    “Reason cannot tell us some of the most important things: what we should care about; what matters and what is the meaning of life. A rationalist might answer that precisely because reason does not answer these questions, they have no answer.”

    As someone pointed out, and even you yourself point out, animals show us the way. Studying animals to learn about ourselves IS reason and science. And as you say, people may say “what SHOULD we care about” but more interesting and what science rather studies is “what DO we care about”; and the answer is quite different from what we say we should. You are answering your own questions.

    But back to the original article, no people don’t grok the other side. I mean Chris you have written things where i’ve rolled my eyes and figured well you’re young and very much on one side :) But we all are like that, it’s easier to see our side of things. That doesn’t mean we have to study opposing points of view as equally valid, it just means we often dismiss ideas from the wrong camp without checking first, even if it’s not in areas of knowledge we are well versed in.

    It seems unless you’ve really walked in other people’s shoes, you can’t understand them. Look at the conflict during Bush II over arsenic in water for a good example of how neither side understood the other.

    I believe some studies suggest people follow politics and religion and many things in the same way they follow sports teams. Which makes some sense.

    What I find sad is, people read about that and assume “well that’s how the tea partiers are” or “that’s how the republicans are” or “that’s how the democrats are” but almost no one admits their own party is like that, or that we ourselves are like that : full of bias.

    I know my first reaction is always the same as the party i grew up believing in, i can’t eliminate it since i can read more and more of other opinions, but then I find myself still acting the same: just knee-jerk supporting the other side instead. Really the best I can do is keep my mouth shut and study more. But we all need to do more of that – talking less and learning more, and recognizing our own bias.

  22. TTT

    @20: that wasn’t the point at all. Nullius tried to bring up more of his “weaknesses of science” talking points in the context of a discussion that had been about Bachmann’s flamingly ignorant anti-science attitudes. You can’t find many scientific arguments weaker than “Earth is 6,000 years old and inhabited by demons.” So let’s prioritize, please.

  23. Mike H

    What makes Mooney sure that Bachman is “anti-enlightenment”? Is the only thing he bases this statement on is here affinity to Pearcey and Schaeffer.

    Sounds like guilt by association to me.

    And to that end, we must acknowledge that president Obama believes that AIDS was created by the white man and the Jews to further their genocidal aims towards people of color because his self professed “spiritual mentor” Jeremiah Wright believes it.

  24. Nullius in Verba

    #16,

    “Your sense of victimization is moving beyond tinfoil-hat into the crackpot realm.”

    Starting your argument with an insult, before having provided any logic or reason to support it, gives a bad impression.

    If you have to, it’s especially important to back it up quickly, as the evidence for it is the first thing the uncommitted reader will be looking for.

    “Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a paper published?”

    Yes. From personal experience.

    But what I was talking about was the difference in difficulty. Write in favour of the mainstream, and your pals in the community will give a softball review. They won’t ask to see any data. They won’t insist you publish enough for it to be replicable. We’ve seen several such reviews in the emails.

    “Hordes of scientists can tell these horror stories, and many more.”

    Thank you for agreeing with my point. Thank you for confirming that it’s common for journals to reject corrections for spurious reasons. Case proved, I think.

    “This is all assuming, of course, that you are right. You might firmly believe that you are, but you may be mistaken. […] If you have flawless math, why isn’t it convincing anybody?”

    If the math is not right, why does the journal have to resort to complaining it is “too long” to be published? Why do the reviewers complain privately to their friends because the math is right, and they’re struggling to come up with a reason to reject it?

    You ask a good question, though. Mathematics can be checked pretty objectively, independently of what anybody thinks about it. If people are not convinced, it’s far more likely to be the people at fault. It’s very much like experimental results in that way – if experiment says one thing, and all the experts say another, who – as a scientist – do you believe?

    Have you any idea where you’re going with this idea that mathematics and science is a matter of opinion?

    And I already said why it isn’t convincing anybody – because most of them aren’t looking at the math, they’re looking at the reputation of the scientist, or the journal it is published in, or all the other scientists who have expressed support. They’re looking at whether it is mainstream.

    “Not an unreasonable thing for a scientist if its not their speciality or domain.”

    As one climate scientist said: “No scientist who wishes to maintain respect in the community should ever endorse any statement unless they have examined the issue fully themselves.”

    As I’ve said before, if you don’t know, then as a scientist you express no opinion. You say: “I’m not an expert in that subject. I haven’t looked at the evidence. I can’t say.” That’s the only reasonable action. You do not put the reputation of science on the line with unsupported assertions. If you’re not expert enough to look at the evidence, then you’re not expert enough to say that the mainstream is right.

    #19,

    I was responding to #10, who wasn’t talking about Michele. I even put that at the top of my comment, and a quote from the relevant passage, in case it wasn’t obvious to any slow readers.

    “You must believe science to have been sufficiently self-corrective, and its peer review process good enough, to have disproved Bachmann’s Young-Earth Creationism…”

    Sigh. Haven’t you understood a single word I’ve said?

    I do not rely on the self-correction of science or peer review in coming to the conclusion that YEC is junk. Because the subject was controversial, I looked up the evidence, I checked the arguments, I made sure I understood the theory. Only then did I draw any conclusion. And when the intelligent design stuff came along, I checked the arguments and the replies for that too.

    Peer review is entirely and utterly irrelevant to the question.

    People standing up and saying “trust the experts” as the entire basis for belief in evolution, and claiming this is science, are doing tremendous damage. No wonder people reject science, if that’s what they see!

    The correct, scientific view for anyone to hold on evolution prior to having evaluated the evidence themselves is “I don’t know.” Anyone who says “I believe in evolution” is just as bad as those saying “I believe in YEC”, if it’s not based on their own examination of the question.

    Yes, Michele gets no points from me for her stance – but she’s an easy target. Far harder is to stand up for scientific principles enough to condemn equally those who hold the other opinion but for almost identically unscientific reasons. “Trust the experts” is not a line that belongs in science.

  25. Chris Winter

    Nancy Pearcey: “As the medieval period merged into the Renaissance (beginning roughly in the 1300s), a drumbeat began to sound for the complete emancipation of reason from revelation — a crescendo that burst into full force in the Enlightenment (beginning in the 1700s).”

    This, I think, lays bare the mistake at the core of Pearcey’s worldview. To say that reason became independent of revelation does not mean that it subjugated revelation. But that is the assumption Pearcey is pushing. There are things that reason cannot tell us. That is why faith (or revelation, if you prefer) persists. Many scientists adhere to some religious belief; they understand that reason and revelation operate in separate domains and are comfortable with that dichotomy.

    Opposed to this are authoritarian believers like Pearcey, who are threatened by the existence of reason and whose goal is to bring reason back under the sway of revelation.

  26. Incredulous

    #22 TTT

    That’s ok, I was really reacting to the overall articles myself. The whole point of it is trying to discredit Bachmann as a candidate by putting an anti-intellectual spin and trying to drum up opposition to her by the New Yorker and LA Times.

    This just goes beyond what I believe the press should do in so many ways. I see it as just unreported campaign contributions and abuse of the power of the press. And to top it off, it isn’t even labeled as political: Its in the “Arts” section of the LA Times.

  27. It’s not that Bachmann is anti-Enlightment. It’s that she’s anti-Renaissance.

    Let’s hear it for the Dark Ages!

  28. TTT

    @24: Exactly what in your own understanding of evolution did NOT rely on taking the word of experts? You seem to be completely taking for granted everything you have learned, to such an extent that you minimize the fact that you did have to learn it.

    You weren’t around during the Mesozoic. You’ve never directly witnessed evolution. You’ve probably never even dug up a fossil. All of the evidence you’ve ever seen for evolution has been just as thoroughly filtered through the peer-review and publication process as has anything for AGW. Even tallying up the number of pieces of evidence supporting various assertions could just as easily and snarkily be caricatured as “taking some expert’s word for it,” because all of the evidence came from others and not from you.

    Nobody says “I believe in global warming because famous experts do.” Everybody examines the question and the evidence on their own, just as they do (and you did) with evolution. But the very ability to draw evidence-based conclusions relies upon the validation of those pieces of evidence–all of which at some point had to be learned. People who do enough of their own homework on AGW can reliably be expected to see it as real once they understand the basics of atmospheric chemistry and the fact that there have been absolute net additions to the amount of carbon dioxide in the biosphere in the last few centuries. But all of that understanding came from data points and correlations collected and identified by other people, which is absolutely no different from how you yourself learned what radiocarbon dating was and why it matters. That is how education works.

  29. Incredulous

    #28 TTT

    “Nobody says “I believe in global warming because famous experts do.””

    Well, that is really contrary to what I have personally observed.

    ” Everybody examines the question and the evidence on their own, just as they do (and you did) with evolution.”

    If they file enough FOI requests.

    ” But the very ability to draw evidence-based conclusions relies upon the validation of those pieces of evidence”

    How can the validate those pieces of evidence if they can’t get access to them?

    “People who do enough of their own homework on AGW can reliably be expected to see it as real once they understand the basics of atmospheric chemistry and the fact that there have been absolute net additions to the amount of carbon dioxide in the biosphere in the last few centuries.”

    That is unless they are unable to examine the evidence.

    ” But all of that understanding came from data points and correlations collected and identified by other people”

    And sometimes identified in different locations simultaneously with the same site designation…

    The thing is, on an intellectual level, you are absolutely right. But when our trust has been abused, you expect us to overlook it. Sorry.

  30. Nullius in Verba

    “You’ve never directly witnessed evolution.”

    Wrong.

    “You’ve probably never even dug up a fossil.”

    Wrong.

    “All of the evidence you’ve ever seen for evolution has been just as thoroughly filtered through the peer-review and publication process as has anything for AGW.”

    Wrong.

    I will give you that I wasn’t around during the Mesozoic. Well done!

    “People who do enough of their own homework on AGW can reliably be expected to see it as real once they understand the basics of atmospheric chemistry and the fact that there have been absolute net additions to the amount of carbon dioxide in the biosphere in the last few centuries.”

    Possibly. But I was talking about all those people who haven’t done their homework, don’t know any atmospheric chemistry, and yet still believe.

    Yes, I will accept evidence collected by other people, if they explain how they collected it, what precautions they took, and so on. (At least – up until I’m given reason to doubt.) I will look for independent checks, to see if the observations have been replicated. I will try to check it’s consistency. I pay no attention at all to peer-review, but I will consider whether it is reasonable to expect good data from a particular source. However, when it comes to the validity of the methods or what the implications of the evidence are – those can be checked.

  31. Sean McCorkle

    Nullius@24

    “Hordes of scientists can tell these horror stories, and many more.”
    Thank you for agreeing with my point. Thank you for confirming that it’s common for journals to reject corrections for spurious reasons. Case proved, I think.

    I wasn’t talking about scientists making corrections, I was talking about trying to get published in general. Its no easy street even if you are in the “mainstream”.

    Have you any idea where you’re going with this idea that mathematics and science is a matter of opinion?

    Truely, modern science owes much of it success to measurement and quantification and the mathematical rigor which accompanied it, and the subsequent mathematical descriptions of nature, but this is what I’m getting at…

    If people are not convinced, it’s far more likely to be the people at fault.

    If the person—the would-be author—is convinced they’ve got their math and arguments right, while the majority number of others (editors, “established scientists”,etc) disagree, one of the two sides of the argument must be in error. (Granted, it may not be 100% black-and-white true-or-false, there can be degrees and subtle nuances). Everyone loves to champion those cases in history where a bright revolutionary mind overturned the conventional paradigm. Many even aspire to be like them or think of themselves as such. However, there are a lot more cases where the aspiring revolutionary got it wrong and their smack-down is another instance of the scientific institutions functioning as they were intended, weeding out the mistakes. In the latter cases, its easy for those rejected to feel that they are victims of suppression by the corrupt establishment.

  32. Nullius in Verba

    “Many even aspire to be like them or think of themselves as such.”

    Shouldn’t we all? As aspirations go, this seems like a worthy one. Better, surely, than to aspire to emulate their suppressors?

    But if that is so, there is something I still don’t understand. Why would the “smackdown” take the form of a “your paper is too long to fit our arbitrary word-count limit” letter? In what way does that count as getting it wrong?

    If the editors and establishment scientists think they got the math right too, why would it still be the right thing to do to oppose publication?

  33. Incredulous

    #32 Nullius in Verba

    “If the editors and establishment scientists think they got the math right too, why would it still be the right thing to do to oppose publication?”

    It seems to stem from an idea that “This work is too urgent to be subject to the usual rigors of science. They are just trying to slow us down and we *have* to avert the coming disaster.” This sense of mission casts everyone who says anything contradictory or even agreeing but not totally convinced as “the enemy”.

    It also seems that they collectively feel that the work they are doing is so urgent that it justifies shortcuts. If anyone wants to double check their results, they are “just stalling” because the work is “obviously right.” They dress up the predictions to make them appear more dire because they feel that if they don’t, people will just not find them compelling enough and not take their recommendations. They see the history of things that could have been done better in the past (dioxin, ddt, etc) and don’t want to have this end up taking as long to get action.

    They are also overly defensive because they are drawing from areas of science that are not their specialty. They quickly throw out “You are not a Climate Scientist and therefore unqualified.” but somehow they are themselves the select few who are masters of every other branch of science and “above such petty detractors”. Watch how vehemently they even attack even a field as closely related as Meteorology and try to cast them all as news weathermen and not *real scientists”.

    Then there is the numbers game. If every paper that is published gives agreement, it somehow makes it more compelling. If anything that gets through that contradicts anything in the slightest, it creates a chink in their collective armor and it will give detractors a foothold.

    It really is a fascinating ideology from the perspective of Philosophy of science.

  34. Incredulous

    #31 Sean McCorkle

    “If the person—the would-be author—is convinced they’ve got their math and arguments right, while the majority number of others (editors, “established scientists”,etc) disagree, one of the two sides of the argument must be in error.”

    That is an excellent point. Unfortunately it is not relevant to the example he was discussing. In that case, the editors were discussing that the mathematics was right, not wrong and looking for a way to keep the paper out regardless of correctness. This is not talking about the normal rejection of bad papers. Even good papers get rejected because of space requirements and such. There are many types of rejections. Just not liking them is not a real strong justification.

  35. Nullius in Verba

    #33,

    I don’t know. I try not to get drawn on motivations, unless there is direct evidence for them.

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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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