Category: Conservatives and Science

Facts Don't Persuade Climate Skeptics–So What Does?

By Chris Mooney | September 14, 2011 10:54 am

The answer, according to a new study, is making them feel better about themselves. As I report:

…the contested issues under examination were whether the 2007 troop “Surge” decreased insurgent attacks in Iraq (it did), whether the U.S. economy added jobs during 2010 under President Obama (it did), and whether global average temperatures have risen since 1940 (they have). Those who opposed the Iraq war and supported troop withdrawals were disinclined to credit George W. Bush’s surge with having worked. Those who oppose President Obama are disinclined to credit him on the economy, or to generally believe in global warming—especially that it is human caused.

Nyhan and Reifler once again confronted partisans with information on these subjects that (presumably) contradicted their beliefs—but there was a twist. This time, the contradictory information was sometimes presented in the form of a convincing graph, showing a clear trend (in attacks, jobs, or temperatures). And second, sometimes the individuals went into the manipulation after having undergone a “self-affirmation” exercise, in which they were asked to describe a positive character attribute or value that they possessed, and a situation in which showing that attribute or trait made them feel good about themselves.

And in both cases, the manipulation worked—although by different means.

Presenting an unequivocal graph was powerful enough to change people’s views, even as presenting technical text (at least in the rising temperatures case) was not. Meanwhile, getting people to affirm their values and sense of self also decreased their resistance, presumably because they felt less threatened by challenging information after having had their egos reinforced and their identities bolstered.

Read on here. Huge implications for effective science communication.

How the HPV Vaccine Splits the Economic and Social Right

By Chris Mooney | September 13, 2011 9:16 am

I was fascinated by this exchange from the Tea Party debate last night, as reported on by CNN:

Bachmann and Perry squared off on the vaccination situation, with Bachmann saying, “We cannot forget that in the midst of this executive order there’s a big drug company that made millions of dollars because of this.” She added that a former Perry aide was a lobbyist for the company and asked if the issue was about saving lives or money.

Perry responded that the company, Merck, made a $5,000 contribution and said to Bachmann: “If you’re saying I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended.”

“I’m offended by what happened to all those girls, ” Bachmann said of the required vaccination of girls as young as 12 against cervical cancer.

Traditionally, Republicans have managed to be both pro-business and also pro-religious right, despite rumbling contradictions between the two stances on key issues like the HPV vaccine–where a big drugmaker is making money helping to improve people’s health, but the moralistic Christian right is opposed.

But here the contrast is so strong that you find a right winger making a traditional left wing argument against another politician–e.g., you were bought and paid for by that Big Company. (Hmm, how consistent would Bachmann be in using that logic?)

I don’t think Republicans today are really the allies of corporate America any more, and I think exchanges like this–and the whole debt ceiling battle, and the shifting of energy companies to support cap-and-trade, and much else–prove it.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Conservatives and Science

Galileo and the Tea Party

By Chris Mooney | September 12, 2011 2:41 pm

I’ve done my latest DeSmogBlog piece on the Rick Perry Galileo flap. I say a lot, but I particularly liked this part of it:

The misuse and abuse of Galileo’s story, in other words, is a case study in how people reason about history—just as they do with science—in a biased, motivated way, seeking to cast themselves as the good guys, the victors, and their foes as the opposite.

And once you see things in this way, you realize there’s a very close analogy in our politics to the Perry-Galileo flap. Climate “skeptics” invoking Galileo is really quite a lot like right wingers calling themselves the “Tea Party.”

The great architects of the United States—Jefferson, Franklin, Madison—were men of reason and the Enlightenment, just as Galileo was a man of the Scientific Revolution. They were freethinkers and, in Jefferson’s and Franklin’s case, scientists and inventors. And they didn’t want religion shoved down anybody’s throat.

And yet we now find a movement in America that wants more religion in politics, and that rejects science on climate change and evolution alike, trying to claim the mantle of the country’s founding.

Rick Perry’s invocation of Galileo, then, is much more than merely ridiculous. It gives us quite the window on the right wing mind, and demonstrates just how much it has managed to turn reality upside-down.

Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength…and Galileo and Rick Perry ride off together into the Texas sunset.

Full piece here.

Global Warming, the Tea Party, and Unwavering Certainty

By Chris Mooney | September 9, 2011 9:16 am

With such an amazing guest post on Wednesday, I didn’t get to post my own DeSmogBlog piece (which is actually related to, but far less consequential than, Andrea Kuszewski’s). So I thought I would do it now.

Basically, the piece looks at new data showing that Tea Partiers are considerably worse than mainline Republicans in their rejection of global warming. What I find most disturbing about this is the level of certainty among Tea Party members that they’re right–e.g., the people who are most wrong are most sure of themselves.

Once again, reminds me of Yeats:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Yeats thought this state of affairs signaled the Second Coming was at hand. Unfortunately, I think it’s part of human nature and will be with us as long as we’re on this rock.

Anyway, more specifically with regard to Tea Partiers’ certainty:

“Tea Party members are much more likely to say that they are ‘very well informed’ about global warming than the other groups,” according to the Yale study. “Likewise, they are also much more likely to say they ‘do not need any more information’ about global warming to make up their mind.”

What do we make of this? Why would this be? Here’s my attempt to answer:

Well, the study also shows that Tea Partiers are more likely than other Republicans to be “born again” Christians and to doubt evolution, and highly individualistic and anti-egalitarian in their moral values.

In short, what we appear to be seeing in them is a kind of merger of right wing free market views on the one hand, and the unwavering certainty associated with certain forms of fundamentalist religion on the other.

They know they’re right, they know that liberals and scientists—and most of all, President Obama—are wrong, and there is no swaying them in that. (There is also some reason to think that Tea Party members are authoritarian in their outlook, wanting to impose various types of Christian views in government.)

When you merge this with previous data on white male conservatives and climate change, it becomes apparent that the person least likely to change his mind on this issue and accept the science is a 1) white 2) male 3) conservative 4) Tea Party American.

You can read the full DeSmogBlog item here.

Tons of News: My New Book; Research Help; Move to Science Progress

By Chris Mooney | September 8, 2011 3:15 pm

It is time for an announcement. Well, two actually. Or maybe three.

What can I say: I’m a liberal. I have an unfortunate and ill-advised tendency to data dump.

So…for the past year, I’ve been working on a book that I’ve remained mum about, though you have definitely seen me blogging and doing articles on related themes (and publishing guest posts on them)–because one can hardly help oneself. And those of you that enjoyed my first book, The Republican War on Science, will be pretty interested, I think, in the new one. Especially as the campaign heats up.

Now, the deadline is approaching, even as my travel threatens to pick up again–and I find that I could use some research assistance.

In particular, I’m looking for someone willing to help me collect a set of easily available data together into a “study” format where these data can be analyzed—nothing very painful or intensive, but still a little laborious. (But oh, what we shall find! Uh, I think.)

Preferably, this will be someone with statistics training or a social science background. But it doesn’t have to be. Just someone organized would do.

Aspiring helpful folks can email me or contact me on Twitter or Facebook.


Second, and also kind of important: The blog known as “The Intersection” has been through many changes and iterations over its nearly 10 year existence. And now it is time for another.

We’ve been showing sustained traffic highs here over the past several months, with the help of some great guest bloggers (Jon, Jamie, and occasional others). But Discover & I are nonetheless parting ways.

“The Intersection” is instead relocating to become the central blog of Science Progress, the science policy website of the Center for American Progress.

My intention is certainly to continue to have lots of guest bloggers over there, in addition to myself. So contact me if you want to get involved (links above).

The move will take effect, if all goes swimmingly, on September 12/13. Old posts will remain here, and a permanent redirect update post will be put up. There is no URL yet for the new blog, so stand by on that.

I will also continue my twice weekly climate science posts at DeSmogBlog. And hosting Point of Inquiry once every two weeks, on Monday.

Okay, that’s a lot….but I hope you will all continue to tune in for the new book and new blog!

Two Reporters Discuss Dominionism and the 2012 Campaign

By The Intersection | September 6, 2011 2:20 pm

By Jon Winsor

The New York Times Chief Editor’s piece that proposed asking candidates about their religious beliefs made quite a splash. On Bloggingheads last week, two reporters did a diavlog discussing how religion should be handled in on the campaign trail.

On the right is The American Conservative’s Michael Dougherty, a Ron Paul supporter who is also sympathetic to Jon Huntsman. On the left is Sarah Posner, a religion beat reporter who has written exposés on Dominionism for Slate.

One exchange, I think, captured the tensions over Keller’s op-ed:

I think Posner is right to focus on candidates’ systems of belief, and how open they are on empirical policy questions, such as evolution and climate change–as well as civil liberties questions, such as separation of church and state. If I understand Dougherty, he objects to the media deliberately hyping the religiously exotic and threatening, which for him is analogous to the way Glenn Beck makes crazy statements about art and architecture in downtown New York, or the way Fox News continually hammered Obama for the same two or three outrageous statements made by Reverend Wright.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Conservatives and Science

A Questionable Paper Published, an Editor Resigns…What Else is New?

By Chris Mooney | September 6, 2011 11:38 am

My latest DeSmogBlog piece is about the flap over the Roy Spencer paper in Remote Sensing, which was covered by conservatives as if it was a paradigm shift overturning all of climate science, but turned out to be substantially less than that…and now an editor has resigned over it being published at all.

The thing is, this kind of stuff happens now and again–regularly enough that we ought to expect it. It has happened before on climate, it has happened on “intelligent design,” and it outright caused the whole vaccine-autism flap.

Here’s what I have to say over there:

The real problem here, for the most part, is not the journals or the scientists. They police themselves adequately, albeit rather slowly. The real problem are the media.

Any well trained science journalist knows that one study proves nothing—precisely because of motivated reasoning, confirmation bias, and so on. If there aren’t a bunch of studies out there, by a bunch of different authors, all converging on a point—or if there isn’t a meta-analysis, a consensus assessment report, and so on—you had better be very careful. Humans are too prone to biases—even scientists—to treat any single study as a new truth.

It’s just looking for trouble.

But who cares about science journalists these days, and the skills they’ve learned over those long careers? The media is shedding them like dandruff. And then there’s Fox News, where they cover the climate issue as if every day is scientific opposite day. (Thereby, of course, playing to the biases and self-serving motivations of their viewers.)

You can read the full item here.

Updated:Ron Paul Doesn't "Accept Evolution as a Theory"

By The Intersection | August 29, 2011 12:40 pm

By Jon Winsor

Updated: See below.

Update 2: Commenter Thomas J. Webb points me to Ron Paul’s latest book, where Paul lays out his current position on evolution–which differs from what he says below. Paul writes, “My personal view is that recognizing the validity of an evolutionary process does not support atheism, nor should it diminish one’s view about God and the universe.” (Earlier, I checked Paul’s website and could not find his position on evolution.) In his book, Paul still has doubts about science questions being relevant to the presidency (as he does in the video below).


Et tu, Ron Paul?

This is very disappointing. I always thought of the Ron Paul wing as made up of Republicans that were largely immune to this kind of motivated reasoning.

You might fault the Ron Paul people for their heterodox theories on going back to the gold standard, or their insistence that government intervention caused the Great Depression, or their sometimes quirky, youthful enthusiasm for their candidate. But at least the Austrian economists Ron Paul wrote about had some faith in the rationality of individuals.

But how rational is it to deny the theory of evolution? Read More


Who Knew "Anti-Reflexivity" Could be, Uh, Interesting?

By Chris Mooney | August 28, 2011 5:16 pm

I called it a war on science, some academics call it anti-reflexivity–either way, I thought this video was pretty entertaining and also informative:

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Conservatives and Science

Rick Perry Doesn't Believe Much in Science, But He Sure Believes in His Social Science "Eggheads"

By The Intersection | August 24, 2011 4:46 pm

Egghead Minions

By Jon Winsor

Rick Perry leaves a lot to be desired on science policy. But paradoxically, his campaign makes rigorous use of the scientific method–more than any other campaign. According to reporter Sasha Issenberg, the Perry campaign has a team they call “the eggheads” who advise them on what campaign appearances they should schedule and when. Here’s Issenberg interviewed in the New York Times:

No candidate has ever presided over a political operation so skeptical about the effectiveness of basic campaign tools and so committed to using social-science methods to rigorously test them.

As the 2006 election season approached, the governor’s top strategist, Dave Carney, invited four political scientists into Perry’s war room and asked them to impose experimental controls on any aspect of the campaign budget that they could randomize and measure. Over the course of that year, the eggheads, as they were known within the campaign, ran experiments testing the effectiveness of all the things that political consultants do reflexively and we take for granted: candidate appearances, TV ads, robocalls, direct mail. These were basically the political world’s version of randomized drug trials, which had been used by academics but never from within a large-scale partisan campaign… Read More


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