The Republican War on Science Returns

By Chris Mooney | August 22, 2011 4:30 pm

My latest post at DeSmogBlog is about how, unfortunately, my six year old first book remains as relevant as ever. Just look at Jon Huntsman’s recent and dramatic stand against the anti-science tilt of his own party.

However, there are at least three important updates, or considerations to add to the argument of the original The Republican War on Science. Here are two of them:

2.      It’s Not Just About Science, It’s About Reality. Whatever you may have thought of Bush, I don’t think he approached the full construction of an alternate reality that we see in the Tea Party (although Bush went quite a way towards constructing an alternate reality around the Iraq war). And this leads to the second really important thing that is different now: Even as everybody revives the “war on science” meme, we now realize that the war isn’t really on science at all, but on reality. People who can say that the government banned incandescent light bulbs when it didn’t, who can claim that the U.S. can fail to raise the debt ceiling and it won’t be any problem, or who assert that the 2009 health care bill created government “death panels” are in denial about a lot more than science.

3.      We Need Psychology To Explain This. The major new development, to my mind, has been the application of psychological and neuroscientific approaches to try to understand how people can actually behave and think like this. In particular, more and more attention focuses on motivated reasoning, a subconscious and often automatic emotional process in which people rationalize pre-existing views that are important to their identities, including in the face of direct factual refutation. So we are beginning to be able to understand the Republican denial of science as part of a motivated process in which certain scientific claims are seen as so threatening to self-identity and group affiliations that they must be rejected in order to preserve a sense of self.

You can read the full piece here.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Conservatives and Science

Comments (29)

Links to this Post

  1. My War on Science | September 3, 2011
  1. badnicolez

    What if you examined the liberal/progressive denial of the unsustainability of current and projected rates of debt accrual instead?

    Biased crap like this is the reason I no longer subscribe to this magazine.

  2. On the other hand, the political Left does not care much for Darwin’s idea that all species, humans included, adapt themselves to their environment. HBD (Human BioDiversity) seems impossible for them to accept, although the observations have been forever clear, and now along comes new analysis incorporating modern science. See for example “The 10,000 year explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution” by Cochran and Harpending (or just check its Amazon reviews).

  3. bad Jim

    We can always hope there will be a backlash against the Republican know-nothings like Perry and Bachman because of their Christian nationalism, and that their extreme views on evolution, climate change and economics will be discredited as well, as part of the same poisonous stew of ignorance and bigotry.

  4. Blamer ..

    @badnicolez, CM is reporting that human psychology makes us all vulnerable to denial, confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, identity preservation, cultural and social pressures, etc.

    He is continually making efforts on this blog to balance the misinformation of the Left against that of the Right.

    Yes prominant examples weigh down heavily on both sides, however overall it doesn’t look to be symetrical.

    Perhaps you think CM is looking at this the wrong way or has overlooked specific significant evidence, to which I’m sure he and his readers – in the interests of science – are all ears…

  5. The Republicans are not conducting a war on science. They are conducting a war on commercial regulation. Take global warming for example. If a car manufacturer was told they had to hit a target on emissions half what they currently have now in 5 years, it would be financially costly. So instead, they try and attack the science behind global warming as this is the impetus behind the push for reduced emissions. At their core, the Republican party represents corporations. They are simply reflecting what their constituents want.

  6. Loved your book Chris and agree that it’s an interesting psychological problem.

    Think about how powerful the psychological effect is when you can get candidates for high office willingly telling their audiences that all of the world’s major scientific bodies are wrong (while they have little or no science training) and the audiences gobble it up!

    Did you see the Cool White Dudes Paper? http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S095937801100104X

    When I did my undergrad Metr. degree I took a minor in Psychology and hated every minute of it- now I am glad I did!

  7. Baramos

    “What if you examined the liberal/progressive denial of the unsustainability of current and projected rates of debt accrual instead?

    Biased crap like this is the reason I no longer subscribe to this magazine.”

    Yet you still subscribe to the RSS feed or newsletter so you can complain about it?

  8. Oakden Wolf

    A climate change comment related to the Republican climate denialism:

    Two reports indicate the realities of climate change (as if we didn’t know)

  9. Chris Mooney

    I am interested in all kinds of denial, left and right. This is an interesting claim–that economically the left is in denial about the unsustainability of our entitlement programs. Or I think that’s the claim. I’d like to hear more, but for now I see it like this. I’m willing to buy that there’s a problem with the debt we are accruing, long term–but I am not at all convinced that it is something to address in the midst of a looming double dip recession.

  10. bad Jim

    Not to mention that the last president to balance the budget was Bill Clinton, thanks to the increase in income tax rates passed in his first two years in office and the ensuing economic growth. Our debt resumed the climb it began under Reagan after Bush passed a series of tax cuts chiefly benefiting the wealthy, and started two wars and added a Medicare drug subsidy without providing funding for any of them. It is decidedly odd that those who now most strenuously object to deficits were silent then.

    The biggest contributor to the deficit is the recession. People who aren’t making money don’t pay taxes. They also aren’t buying things, so people selling things aren’t paying taxes either. It’s so bad that the federal government can borrow money for free, and it’s positively sinful that they aren’t borrowing as much as they can productively spend, where “productively” includes unemployment benefits or anything that gets money into the hands of people who need it desperately. Teachers, firemen, policemen, every sort of worker who is being laid off because state governments are broke. The market is telling us to throw money at them (real interest rates are between zero and negative, people are disinvesting in free enterprise and stashing their money with Uncle Sam) and it’s right.

  11. TerryEmberson

    @Chris Mooney:

    I’m willing to buy that there’s a problem with the debt we are accruing, long term–but I am not at all convinced that it is something to address in the midst of a looming double dip recession.

    There is still a lot of debate, but largely speaking, Keynesian economics has been disproved. Granted, in some circumstances Keynesian economics can achieve results, but it fails in the long term because of the complexity of economic systems and the inability of humans to reliably predict the future. In order to get out of a recession, therefore, the effort should be to allow natural systemic responses to occur rather than assume that we just have to wait for the right individual to plan our way out of trouble.

    Also, other things you shouldn’t do in the midst of a looming double dip recession which don’t seem to concern the left (although I wouldn’t say our author) include:
    * apply onerous new regulations on small businesses,
    * build healthcare requirements that give impetus to avoiding hiring,
    * creation of uncertainty with the excessive use of waivers for businesses who are on the governments good side,
    * increasing taxes in ANY form,
    * failing to face problems that guarantee future instability (with the unique exception of global climate change),
    * valuing potential future problems of real modern problems, and
    * advocating protectionist policies and barriers (except when Republican’s promote them).

    Now, don’t get me wrong, the right is more guilty of reality denial, but if we get the economics right, there will be more people free to do things at their leisure such as research and development of solutions to the problems that plague society.

  12. TTT

    Whatever you may have thought of Bush, I don’t think he approached the full construction of an alternate reality that we see in the Tea Party (although Bush went quite a way towards constructing an alternate reality around the Iraq war)

    Yeah, “we’re fighting them over THERE so we don’t fight them over HERE” is just as much an aggressively insulting braindead fiction as anything the teabaggers have come up with subsequently.

    And speaking of constructing alternate realities, the most shamefully stupid and intelligence-insulting lie ever, ever, ever stated by any leader in the history of the English-speaking world also belongs to Bush:

    “No one could have foreseen that the levees would fail.”

    Two minutes of research on the topic reveals that the levees had failed many times earlier. The very presence of a levee implicitly warns of a flood risk. And we’ve since seen footage of Bush being warned ahead of time that the levees might fail. It’s like being told by your auto mechanic that your car’s airbag is broken, and then saying that you couldn’t have been expected to anticipate a fatal injury because it never occurred to you that it was possible for cars to crash into things or that the airbags used during car crashes needed to work. It’s like a FRACTAL of anti-knowledge and anti-reality stupidity, laziness, and dishonesty.

    The teabaggers are no different from Bush, which is why they loved intrusive expensive wealth-redistributionist big government when he was doing it.

  13. 4freemind

    Republicans and their platform Fox News (news???) continue not only war on science but also misinforming American population. It’s scary to think science-denying republican candidates may be a president…

  14. Did the Tea Party decide to do the bidding of the mega wealthy because the mega wealthy had similar scientific disbeliefs? Or did the Mega wealthy seek out the Tea Party because the party provides the means to defend their behavior? Honestly asking.

  15. max

    The thing that’s different about the debt issue is that there’s a legitimate disagreement about how to deal with it, raise revenue or cut spending (or a mix, but what level of each?) Despite what those on the right would try to convince you, the economics of something like a large country is not a science with hard quantifiable results. The denial of science is much worse, there is no real legitimate argument about the facts, they’re just trying to throw dust in your face.

  16. vel

    to me it seems quite simple, the religious have all of their self-worth bound up in their religion. They have been told and believe that they are the only special people in the universe and that a omnipotent/omniscient/omnibenevolent being cares for them and only them. Of course, they have to do anything they can to retain this delusion. They are willfully ignorant, spread lies, use superseded information in their desperate search for evidence to support their so-called “faith”, etc. They are authoritarians who can’t think for themselves and who hold onto dogma long after it’s been demonstrated to be wrong: http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

  17. TerryEmberson

    The teabaggers are no different from Bush, which is why they loved intrusive expensive wealth-redistributionist big government when he was doing it.

    Evidence, please? Please show me how all of the tea party members are like Bush. Show me how they or even the majority of their membership loved intrusive and expensive wealth redistributionist big government. Perhaps you could do it without puerile and childish names that call to abusive sexual practices too while meanwhile degrading the historical roots of my country.

    I do not agree with the tea party because many of them are defense hawks as well, while I think that the DoD and CIA should be shrunk and the US Trade Representative, State Department (blech… I hate them) and Office of the US Representative to the United Nations are increased. I also think that open democratic processes should be increased, immigration should be opened wide, and sanctions on Cuba, Iran, and North Korea should be focused ONLY on direct defense industries, while state control in our lives at home needs to be drawn back, where the tea party would generally disagree with all of those things except the open democratic processes. Even so, I can recognize that their arguments represent a legitimate trend in the American public and avoid from denigrating them while still vehemently disagreeing with some of their beliefs.

  18. Ben

    The simple answer is that Noam Chomsky is right in his movie MANUFACTURED CONSENT.

    Plus, I’ve long felt that while the truth might be important, what people think is the truth is even more important. God may not exist, but his followers do.

  19. The Factor Back

    check out: http://faculty.virginia.edu/haidtlab/jost.glaser.political-conservatism-as-motivated-social-cog.pdf

    basically outlines the same argument, however this was a ‘science’ thingy that the right fears. shows that conservatism is an ideology based on fear, the irrational response to fear and the need for the world to be in black and white. interesting stuff.

  20. Netmonger

    @badnicolez: The United States had a budget *surplus* after the previous Democratic president: Clinton – i.e. no deficit. And much less debt. We were being fiscally responsible and paying off our debt until 4 things enacted by Bush: Iraq, Afghanistan, Bush tax cuts, and the prescription benefit program for seniors. Fact – check it with CBO. None of these things were paid for. All added to the debt, and caused us to go back to having a deficit. These are facts that you can easily check with CBO. Oh.. Are you going to tell me the non partisan government agency is ‘in league’ with the liberals too? Did FOX tell you that? This is precisely the fallacy and distortion and *sickness* the article is talking about! Democrats these days are infintely more fiscally responsible then GOP. Why would you pass tax cuts for the wealthy when the result would be a deficit huh? And look at the good they did: the worst recession in decades. Wake up.

  21. danf

    @Alex
    “The Republicans are not conducting a war on science. They are conducting a war on commercial regulation.”

    Yes, and in the process, smart but cynical and ruthless republicans (Rove, Koch Brothers) are pushing out so much misinformation that they have undermined the public trust in our scientific institutions. So while Rove might know better, his followers no longer do. Look no further than Perry and Bachmann for evidence. It is the “get a short term win, no matter what the long term impact” mentality that is destroying our government and our planet.

  22. blt

    The more we fight the more we lose. Most conservatives I know aren’t conducting a war on climate change, but they would like to see an real and open discussion about it. Twenty yeas ago climatologists were convinced we were doomed from global cooling. Then they embraced global warming until it looked like some science was indicating that there has actually been a cooling trend the past few years, so it became climate change. Haven’t we been taught since we were all wee children that the earth was coming off an ice age? Wouldn’t you expect the earth to have a warming trend in that case? And isn’t change the only constant in the earth’s history?

    Is the climate changing? Of course it is. Are we contributing to it, probably. But when we do things like subsidize ethanol production from our corn stocks (which people need to eat) and even Al Gore admits he was wrong about it, we need to rethink what we’re doing.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/23/al-gore-corn-ethanol-subsidies_n_787776.html

    All most of us are asking for is some common sense. I hate pollution, I hate to see the countryside get trashed by idiots, but there’s a balance, and we’re not going to find it by being reactionary and having the mantra, “oh no, there’s a problem, do something, anything!”

    On the other hand, I’m not too proud of what the right does in many cases. We can’t rely on our leaders to do right by us on either side. All they are really concerned with is getting reelected.

    Let’s stop being so polarized and pressure the government to do some things that make sense, like geothermal (where is makes sense), solar (where it makes sense) and converting government fleet vehicles and public transportation to natural gas which is cleaner, and which we have an almost unlimited supply of.

    Can you imagine what we could do TOGETHER if the entire voting base of the country could make some sense of this?

    blt

  23. Chris Winter

    BLT wrote: “Twenty years ago climatologists were convinced we were doomed from global cooling. Then they embraced global warming until it looked like some science was indicating that there has actually been a cooling trend the past few years, so it became climate change. Haven’t we been taught since we were all wee children that the earth was coming off an ice age? Wouldn’t you expect the earth to have a warming trend in that case?”

    The problem is that none of those assertions is true.

    * There was never a consensus that an ice age was imminent. The American Meteorological Society investigated; they found that 7 papers considered global cooling, versus 44 that supported warming. Time magazine and other media may have hyped the story, but that’s not scientific sources.

    * There has been no global cooling trend in the past few years. Some local areas may have cooled.

    * The scientific consensus is still that the globe is warming, and that we are causing it.

    It is true that the Milankovich cycles would have us in a slow cooling trend, if greenhouse gases had not overpowered it.

    So for you to ask for a real and open discussion based on those facts is like me inviting you to have a real and open discussion about why you’re still beating your wife.

    Your advocacy of geothermal and solar, however, is right on the money.

  24. Marion Delgado

    Terry Emberson, above, is confusing his economic cult with reality and science – thus reinforcing the point he’s attempting to refute.

  25. jin choung

    totally agree.

    according to the GOP and the right, reality itself has a liberal bias (!)

    the only kind of information they can parse or understand is that which is spoon fed to them by fox news and their propaganda lackeys.

    and taking it down to the common man, the most honest answer to most of the really big problems of the world is “i don’t know”. the sanest thing to possibly do for the layman is to DEFER to the opinions of ACADEMICS on complex and technical issues.

    and yet, the right consistently GETS INTO A SHOUTING MATCH with THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO CAN KNOW!

    sure, experts have disagreements among themselves but they generally aren’t foundational and there is the CONSENSUS OPINION OF EXPERTS!

    sure! they COULD be wrong… but if things work out such that you were right and they were wrong, it would only be INCIDENTALLY SO! not to mention HIGHLY UNLIKELY IN THE FIRST PLACE.

    i believe that it is psychological.

    i believe that it is epistemological.

    i believe that it is even biological.

    the benighted right are wrong and they will never ever have the scales fall from their eyes.

  26. Berkana

    @badnicolez:

    The reason we *must* borrow to continue to operate is because the Bush tax cuts and the corporate tax loopholes are unsustainable; if you are really concerned about unsustainable debt, the issue of tax cuts for the highest income earners must be addressed.

    We put up with all sorts of stuff that is not sustainable because it lets us operate in the short term. Refusing to increase the debt ceiling would cause an immediate collapse of the system. I agree that the system of money being made out of debt is unsustainable, as is our fossil fuel economy, but forcing its immediate collapse at the cost of great suffering is stupid. Any transition away from our debt-based system must be done in an orderly fashion. The Republicans hijacked this issue to gut social spending; they are not interested in sustainability, or we would not have gone to two wars while massively cutting taxes, which forced us to borrow money to fund the wars. All this happened under the watch of many of the same Republicans who raised hell over the debt ceiling.

  27. Gabriel
  28. Nullius in Verba

    #26,

    The Bush tax cuts increased government revenue. The problem was that Bush increased spending even faster.

    Going deeper into debt doesn’t prevent suffering, it delays it. You will be hit with all the suffering later on, plus interest, when you have to pay it back. For the past twenty years you’ve been putting it off, spending more than you can earn, and thinking that borrowing to cover it makes the problem magically go away. You can’t spend more wealth than you create, and taxes create no wealth, they redistribute it – mostly away from the bits that are creating that wealth towards the bits that are not. It’s unsustainable.

    Every day that it continues, the more suffering there will be. The faster you shut it down, the less suffering you will eventually have to face. I’m not sure if you realise just how big a future debt your welfare laws have already committed you to – but it’s big enough to make a couple of wars look trivial, and the whole Ponzi scheme will eventually collapse. Why would you want to incur more suffering by delaying the inevitable?

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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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