Category: Political Misinformation

Washington Examiner Defends Light Bulb Misinformation… with More Misinformation

By The Intersection | July 22, 2011 10:00 pm

by Jon WinsorLight Bulbs

The Washington Examiner’s Ron Arnold is a bit perturbed that anyone is calling out the misinformation campaign about the “incandescent light bulb ban.” So he’s trying to turn the tables:

Time claims: “Philips and other manufacturers are already making more efficient incandescent bulbs.” That’s short of an outright lie but it’s way beyond hogwash. What Philips is making is halogen lamps, which are incandescent alright, but complex electronic circuit devices about as close to an ordinary incandescent lamp as a third-degree burn, which you can efficiently obtain from a halogen lamp.

To all appearances it works just like an ordinary incandescent bulb, and looks almost the same (see upper right). If there are any weird, “complex electronic circuit devices” (CECDs), you can’t tell by looking at it.

Arnold continues:

Philips’ 36-page “product information” manual, shows on page 23 that their “Clickline” halogen lamp operates at temperatures as high as 480 degrees Fahrenheit (on the contacts), and 1,650 degrees F. (on the bulb). All aren’t that hot, but not by much. By the way, aluminum melts at 1,220.58 degrees Fahrenheit.

1,650 degrees F on the bulb? Melts Aluminum? Now you’ve got me scared. Only, not:

MORE ABOUT: Light Bulbs

The Light Bulb Wars: Lots of Heat, Very Little Light Coming from Conservative Talk Radio

By The Intersection | July 16, 2011 12:24 am

by Jon Winsor

Conventional incandescent light bulbs are tremendously inefficient. Only about 10% of the energy used to power the light bulb actually goes to producing light, and the remaining 90% is emitted as heat. And it’s easy to see why. An incandescent bulb filament relies on the fact that it’s a poor conductor of electricity. It’s essentially the same concept used by inexpensive space heaters. So doubtless, the technology could be improved—the same way that many appliances have been improved by efficiency standards over the years.

At least that was the way Fred Upton (R – MI) was thinking when he helped craft a provision of the Energy Independence and Security Act (ESIA), which was signed into law by George W. Bush in 2007with support from manufacturers, who have since invested millions in retooling their factories. The provision didn’t choose “winners and losers” as far as light bulb technology goes. Incandescent bulbs were fine, as long as they met the standard. Under the law, as the Christian Science Monitor reported,

…general-purpose light bulbs must become about 30 percent more energy efficient. Different bulb classes face different deadlines, all between 2012 and 2014. The old Edison bulb gets killed on January 1, 2012. But more-efficient incandescent bulbs, which use only 72 watts to give the same output as an old 100-watt Edison bulb, will still be sold.

While Edison bulbs today are about 30-50 cents apiece, updated versions cost $1.50. But the latter pay for themselves in energy savings in about six months.

These bulbs also last about 50% longer, and households were expected to save $100 to $200 per year under the new standards. Not to mention the power plants that wouldn’t need to be built, the gains in US energy independence, and the gains in US jobs (the Guardian reports that presently no US factory manufactures the old 100 watt light bulbs).

Enter Rush Limbaugh.

Read More

Closing the Fox News-Misinformation Debate…For Now

By Chris Mooney | June 29, 2011 9:30 am

Despite the fact that I conclusively refuted Politifact last week over the Fox News-Jon Stewart affair, the site does not seem intent on reversing itself and affirming reality. Facts, in this case, don’t seem to matter–not even to the fact checkers.

My latest DeSmog item is just to provide a summary of this state of affairs–because this is not the last we are going to hear of this matter, I’m quite confident. But there won’t really be anything more to say until there is more evidence, either in support of me or otherwise–or until there is another controversy about Fox and the misinformation believed by its viewers.

The item begins like this:

My two posts about Fox News and misinformation are probably the most popular items I’ve contributed here. They’ve been widely linked, Tweeted and Facebooked hundreds of times, and viewed well over ten thousand times. That’s because they perform a simple task that, at least as far as I had seen when I wrote the first one, hadn’t been done elsewhere: They list studies (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) showing that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed about an array of factual—but politicized—issues.

In these posts, I’ve tried to be as dispassionate as one can be on such a matter. I’ve repeatedly said that the studies don’t prove that Fox causes people to be misinformed; they just show a correlation, but the causal arrow could run in either direction (or both). I’ve also said that there may well be other studies out there than the 6 that I’ve found; and there may even be studies out there showing some cases where Fox News viewers are not the most misinformed. Indeed, I could design such a study myself–though it would have to be politically skewed by only asking about topics where liberals and Democrats are likely to be misinformed….

You can read on here.

Let’s remember why this matters–there are facts about the world, and ways of determining what they are, and these facts have significance and consequences. That’s why we have to hold the misinformers to account–and also, sadly, do the same for the fact-checkers.

Al Gore and the Enlightenment Ethic

By Chris Mooney | June 23, 2011 1:18 pm

Everybody is talking, and rightly so, about the big Al Gore piece in Rolling Stone on science, reason, and the climate crisis. And it is, indeed, quite a tour de force. Gore is not only a charismatic leader (now that he’s not running for president), he’s a great writer.

Nevertheless, I’m afraid to say that Gore is operating, big time, in liberal Enlightenment mode–precisely what I critiqued in The American Prospect. Let’s give some examples of Gore’s Enlightenment rhetoric:

Admittedly, the contest over global warming is a challenge for the referee because it’s a tag-team match, a real free-for-all. In one corner of the ring are Science and Reason. In the other corner: Poisonous Polluters and Right-wing Ideologues.


We haven’t gone nuts — but the “conversation of democracy” has become so deeply dysfunctional that our ability to make intelligent collective decisions has been seriously impaired. Throughout American history, we relied on the vibrancy of our public square — and the quality of our democratic discourse — to make better decisions than most nations in the history of the world. But we are now routinely making really bad decisions that completely ignore the best available evidence of what is true and what is false. When the distinction between truth and falsehood is systematically attacked without shame or consequence — when a great nation makes crucially important decisions on the basis of completely false information that is no longer adequately filtered through the fact-checking function of a healthy and honest public discussion — the public interest is severely damaged.

I agree with one part of Gore’s message whole heartedly. We really have lost our grip on reality and this really is endangering our politics and our civilization. Without facts, we’re  screwed. We’re dysfunctional.

But I don’t agree with Gore’s account of why this happened. He blames the “powerful.” He blames the “Polluters.” He blames the media. But most of all, for him it’s special interests–money in politics, money in the fossil fuel industry, is blocking our progress and sowing misinformation.

Gore seems to assume that if these pernicious effects were vanquished–or controlled by better policy–then the “public interest” would triumph again and we would all rally around it–just as we would all embrace the same facts again. But that just isn’t true.

The truth is that we are psychologically programmed not to accept the facts; and moreover, we don’t all want the same things–liberals and conservatives, in particular, have different value systems and psychological needs. And liberals, in particular, need to think that society can be rational, and that science can fix our problems–and that if it isn’t working out that way, it must be due to some kind of wrongdoing or nefariousness.

But alas, while our state of dysfunction is very real, the cause is not some evil Machiavellian group of special interests (an argument that works less and less well, by the way, as more and more fossil fuel companies become supporters of climate action). No: the cause lies within ourselves, and our brains.

On the Subject of Fox News, Jon Stewart Shouldn't Have Backed Down

By Chris Mooney | June 22, 2011 8:49 am

Here’s a great segment from Jon Stewart last night–although it has one flaw. But watch first:

The problem is, Stewart wasn’t actually wrong, not even in the teeny way that he confessed to. Politifact cited the wrong studies to refute him, while ignoring numerous studies that I have found, all of which support Stewart. For a full explanation, see my latest DeSmogBlog item. Brief excerpt:

It is of course around contested political facts, and contested scientific facts, where we find active, politically impelled, and emotionally laden misinformation campaigns—and it is in the latter realm that Fox News viewers are clearly more misinformed. Once again, I’ve cited 5 studies to this effect—concerning the Iraq war, the 2010 election, global warming, health care reform, and the Ground Zero Mosque. By contrast, Politifact only cites two of these studies, and attempts to critique one of them (the 2010 election study)—misguidedly to my mind, but who really even cares. It is obvious where the weight of the evidence lies at this point, unless further, relevant studies are brought to bear.

As a result of all of this, Politifact should either produce relevant research to rebut Stewart, or run a far more forthcoming retraction than has been issued so far. Note, however, that the issue grew a tad more complicated last night when Stewart did an excellent segment on all of this, where he both dramatized how much Fox misinformed viewers and yet also kind of conceded Politifact’s point, when he didn’t actually have to. He wasn’t wrong. They were wrong.

When the fact checkers fail—and in this case, they not only failed, they generated a falsehood of their own–they have a special responsibility to self-correct.

Again, full post here.

Why the "Enlightenment Ethic" Blinds the Left

By Chris Mooney | June 16, 2011 10:06 am

This is the fifth and last 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. So now we’ve seen how academia and expertise have shifted left, how counter-expertise has moved in from the right, how this leaves us with a postmodern political culture, but how nevertheless, if you drill down on basic scientific and policy facts, you find Democrats, who are closer to expertise, much more aligned with them. There are exceptions, to be sure. But that’s the picture.

However, the final point is the one that matters most–facts and expertise aren’t helping Democrats, nor is the fact that they have them helping America. Minds aren’t being changed, consensus isn’t being formed (just look at one of the latest comment threads). And among expertise-saturated liberals, there’s a failure to see why this is happening–and even, sometimes, the delusion that rational and fact-based argument is going to solve problems that are really rooted in value differences:

Liberals, to Lakoff, are just different. Science, social science, and research in general support an Enlightenment ethic–finding the best facts so as to improve the world and society and thus advance liberals’ own moral system, which is based on a caring and “nurturant” parent-run family. Read More

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…. Read More

When it Comes to Expertise, Even If You're Outnumbered You Can Always Fight a Guerilla War

By Chris Mooney | June 15, 2011 10:43 am

This is the third 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.”

In my last two posts about my American Prospect piece, I showed how the Democratic Party today has become the chosen party of experts and “empirical professionals,” but also that conservatives have plenty of experts of their own and, indeed, have made a conscious attempt to cultivate them, while also bashing liberal experts for bias. Thus, both sides have many more allied thinkers than they did in the 1970s.

Now, in the third post–this time, the bulk of it is at DeSmogBlog–I explain the psychological consequences of this dynamic. The upshot is when it comes to expertise, you can always fight a guerilla war. Why? Brief excerpt: Read More

The Left-Right Expertise Gap: Considering the Data

By Chris Mooney | June 14, 2011 11:08 am

This is the first of several 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.”

Perhaps the first thing you have to understand, in determining how America became so “truthy“–i.e., unable to agree on what reality even is on contested issues–is the changing political alignment of academics, scientists, and postgraduates in general over the last several decades.

Here are the data, and they are really striking (although how to interpret them is a different matter). As reported in my Prospect piece:

In one of the most comprehensive surveys of American professors, sociologists Neil Gross of the University of British Columbia and Solon Simmons of George Mason found that 51 percent described themselves as Democrats, and 35.3 percent described themselves as independents–with the bulk of those independents distinctly Democrat-leaning, rather than straddling the center. Just 13.7 percent were Republicans. Academia has long been a liberal bastion, but it hasn’t always been this lopsided. According to Gross, professors have been drifting to the left since the late 1960s, gradually carrying us into today’s very unbalanced expertise environment.

Gross and Simmons’ findings parallel the results of surveys on two overlapping groups: scientists and those with graduate degrees (whether or not they stay in academe)… Read More

Reality Bites: How the Reality Based Community Has Shifted Left

By Chris Mooney | June 14, 2011 10:05 am

I’m going to be focusing on my latest American Prospect piece and its implications–but the new URL is here. I guess it changed for web purposes.

I also got the cover image wrong so here is the right one.

Meanwhile I note that the central personage with whom I begin the article, Kerry Emanuel of MIT, recently had a great letter in the Boston Globe, debunking Jeff Jacoby, who had rewritten some skeptic talking points as a column. Here’s Emanuel:

Assessing and dealing with climate risk in an environment of highly uncertain science and expensive options is challenging enough without having to entertain the flippancy of your columnist. There is no scientific basis for his certainty that we have nothing to worry about.

It’s that old point about not being certain about uncertainty….unwarranted certainty is not a good thing on such a complex issue.


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