Category: Politics

Liberals Mislead On GOP Cuts To USGS In Wake Of Earthquake, Still Reason For Concern

By The Intersection | August 24, 2011 11:07 am

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., a research scientist, policy analyst and science communications strategist, who encourages the scientific community to get engaged in the policy-making process

My tweet deck nearly exploded yesterday during and following the earthquake. The tweets were so fast and furious that I couldn’t read my main feed. In between the humorous tweets, there were serious moments of reflection. Some folks were reporting news, others were requesting information, but the tweets that caught my attention had policy implications. One tweet in particular was posted by Michael Linden.

I retweeted it.

According to the mission on their website, “the USGS serves the Nation by providing reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life.”

In this context, cutting their budget seems, at minimum, misguided. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Politics

Richard Dawkins Takes The Crotchety Old Man Tactic To Communicate Science To Rick Perry. Will It Work?

By The Intersection | August 23, 2011 12:43 pm

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., a research scientist, policy analyst and science communications strategist, who encourages the scientific community to get engaged in the policy-making process

In response to Rick Perry’s latest comments on evolution, Richard Dawkins has chosen to revert back to the “browbeating approach” to science communication.  Dr. Dawkins has scaled the steps of the ivory tower and disdainfully shouts down at his subjects in his recent post on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog.  In the opening paragraph, he says,

“There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office. What is unusual about today’s Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP’ nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand’) is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today’s Republican Party ‘in spite of’ is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.”

In one short paragraph, Dr. Dawkins has violated nearly everything we have come to know about effective science communication.  I cannot, for the life of me, understand how Dr. Dawkins believes hurling insults, like “uneducated fools” and “ignoramus,” can advance his position. How far do you think readers of the opposite mind continued into this article? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Politics

Perry’s God Strategy May Be Effective. Science Explains Why.

By The Intersection | August 9, 2011 12:31 pm

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., a research scientist and policy watcher, who encourages the scientific community to get engaged in the policy-making process

This week Texas Governor Rick Perry took part in a prayer rally in Houston Texas.  In doing so, he may have found a recipe for success in the 2012 Republican Presidential primaries, if he chooses to run.  According to attendees, his brief remarks and his role in organizing the event garnered their admiration, which bodes well for the Governor.

Perry’s solution to America’s problems?


In his comments to the congregation, Perry laid it out quite clearly,

“I tell people, that “personal property” and the ownership of that personal property is crucial to our way of life.

Our founding fathers understood that it was a very important part of the pursuit of happiness. Being able to own things that are your own is one of the things that makes America unique. But I happen to think that it’s in jeopardy.

It’s in jeopardy because of taxes; it’s in jeopardy because of regulation; it’s in jeopardy because of a legal system that’s run amok. And I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God and say, “God, You’re going to have to fix this.”

I think it’s time for us to use our wisdom and our influence and really put it in God’s hands. That’s what I’m going to do, and I hope you’ll join me.”

Science tells us that Perry’s message combined with the current political and economic turmoil may drive voters in his direction.  Read More

The Perils of an Enraged Base

By The Intersection | July 27, 2011 6:00 am

by Jon Winsor

It goes without saying that both parties love an energized base. Energized bases vote. They raise funds. They volunteer. They can move big agendas. But dispassion is not their strong suit. The words “debt ceiling” never appear in this recent Michael Gersen column, but the subtext is pretty clear:

[There is a recent tendency to] constrain politicians with blood oaths… The imposition of oaths beyond the Constitution… assumes a certain theory of representation — the belief that politicians are merely mechanisms for the expression of public sentiment. They are, in this view, computers to be pre-programmed for desired outcomes. When Edmund Burke was presented with a similar argument, he agreed that the opinions of constituents “ought to have great weight” with a representative. “But his unbiased opinion,” Burke continued, “his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living.” This exercise of judgment, he argued, is not consistent with “authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience.”

In other words, an enraged base shouldn’t trump an informed politician’s conscience–because leaders are often closer to the facts than, say, the activists back in the district who got them elected. If a politician listens to experts and is convinced that something needs to be done about climate change, or if financial experts tell leaders about the serious consequences if the debt ceiling isn’t raised, then “mature judgement”, not “public sentiment” should determine their decisions. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Politics, Psychology of Ideology

Fox News's Attack on Media Matters…Validates Media Matters' Critique of Fox News

By Chris Mooney | July 7, 2011 9:54 am

I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the “Fox News Effect”: Why it is that Fox viewers believe more misinformation about science, and also about politics, as documented in multiple studies. But of course, I’m not the only one who has been pointing this out–so, of course, has David Brock’s organization, Media Matters, the top press watchdog coming from the progressive corner.

Apparently, Media Matters’ attacks are getting under Fox’s skin, and as Politico reports, the network has responded by arguing that Media Matters ought to lose its tax exempt status. One slight problem: that’s a weak legal argument, and one that seems specially designed to serve a political goal–just as Fox’s claims about global warming and other topics often are…just as Media Matters and others have often observed.

Why should Media Matters be tax exempt, a nonprofit? Because while it surely expresses opinions, it is centrally an organization that educates about media bias, and does not directly support campaigns, candidates, or legislation. In this, it is just like umpteen other such organizations in Washington and around the country. It is just like all the conservative think tanks, and all the liberal think tanks, and all the advocacy groups…and on, and on, and on.

Indeed, there is an exact parallel of Media Matters on the right: The non-profit Media Research Center, which calls itself “a 501(C)3 organization whose mission is to educate the public and media on bias in the media.” I don’t think any of these organizations should lose their status…neither those with which I agree, nor those with which I disagree. Rather, I simply think that Fox should stop generating questionable arguments and claims for ideological reasons–both in its treatment of climate science and other factually contested issues, and in its dealing with critics.

Could Republican Anti-Expert Sentiment Crash the Debt Ceiling Talks?

By The Intersection | July 2, 2011 11:02 am

By Jon Winsor

A theme we’ve been exploring at the Intersection is the Republican tendency to reject or disregard expertise, particularly scientific expertise, and also settled facts among experts on US history.

National Journal recently had an interesting and unsettling article on GOP freshmen in congress and their attitudes toward what experts have been telling them about the debt ceiling:

“This is probably the most whip-proof Congress we’ve seen in our lifetime,” said Mike Franc, a former aide to then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, who is vice president of government studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “They don’t defer to credentials and expertise very easily. You have to earn it big time with them. Whipping almost by its nature requires a certain amount of trust and deference that someone really knows what they’re doing and is part of a team, and in that way you’re dealing with a different kind of Republican Party.”

…[T]roubling to anyone fearing a U.S. default is the growing chorus of Republican lawmakers and leaders who openly and defiantly question whether the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling needs to be raised at all. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Politics, Uncategorized

Bachmann Palin Overdrive: More Populist Revisionism from GOP Candidates

By The Intersection | June 28, 2011 9:51 pm

by Jon Winsor

Earlier we wrote about Sarah Palin’s populist revision of Paul Revere’s ride, and about historians who were troubled by the tea party’s creative history writing. Here’s another one: Michelle Bachmann claims that “the Founding Fathers who wrote the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence worked tirelessly to end slavery.” How could this be when four of the first five presidents owned slaves?

Michelle Bachmann resolves this by drafting John Quincy Adams as a founding father:

John Quincy Adams is not too credible a founding father, considering he was only eight years old in 1776. But that didn’t stop a Bachmann supporter from backdating J. Q. Adams’ credentials as a founder on Wikipedia, or radio host Mark Levin from taking up her cause. (Somehow, for Levin, while Washington owned over 200 slaves, he “worked tirelessly to end slavery?”)

Paul Revere Rings Bells and Warns British to Let Him Keep His Guns

By The Intersection | June 6, 2011 9:44 pm

By Jon Winsor

I’m a bit late on this, but honestly, when I wrote this post I hadn’t heard about Sarah Palin’s US history gaffe last Friday:

Later, apparently, Palin’s supporters took to Wikipedia and Conservapedia, where I understand Paul Revere is getting a makeover.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Education, Politics
MORE ABOUT: Sarah Palin

"Deathers" Offer a Unique Case Study for the Formulation of the Denialist Mentality

By The Intersection | May 6, 2011 8:54 am

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., an HIV research scientist and aspiring policy wonk, who recently moved to D.C. to get a taste of the action

Climate change skeptics, 9/11 truthers and “birthers,” those who deny President Obama’s American citizenship, have provided us with an extensive record of denialism within American culture that is worth studying. Indeed, entire disciplines have been established to understand and explain these behaviors. Chris Mooney and others have begun to put the pieces together in a way that allows us to formulate communications protocols that effectively counteract the drivers of “motivated reasoning.” However, because the above mentioned examples of motivated cognition arose simultaneously with this field of study, we have lacked the benefit of observing the transmogrification of the denialist mentality as it happens.

We are currently witnessing the de novo formulation of a new denialism in regards to the death of Osama bin Laden.  As I was listening to C-SPAN radio, just yesterday, two callers a Democrat and a Republican agreed that bin Laden was not dead and the entire hullabaloo was orchestrated for political gain.  Because we are now armed with at least a superficial understanding of the mechanisms behind this type of thinking, we can ask questions and test hypotheses while observing the development of this particular case of motivated thought.

For simplicity’s sake, I’ll call them “deathers.” Of particular interest when studying the deathers is what exactly are the competing interests between which they must make a satisfactory choice and what are the ends or goals to which they strive. One would expect that there are at least two competing interests in the minds of the deathers. The first could be a desire to believe that an existing threat, that of a terrorist mastermind, has been eliminated. The second interest appears to be a desire to find fault with President Obama, regardless of the benefits that might come from his service. According to Dan Kahan, one of the thought leaders in this field, this all happens subconsciously. Therefore, the deather must undergo a series of mental operations that lead him to choose the latter in order to satisfy a desired endpoint.

We can only speculate what that desired outcome might be. One example could be the need to be a loyal Republican to the extent that this requires questioning any good outcome produced by a Democratic President.  A more sinister scenario might be that the individual harbors conscious or subconscious racist sentiments that motivate him to reject any semblance of excellence from a black President. Read More

My Failed Mission to Hold Holdren Accountable

By The Intersection | May 5, 2011 11:17 am

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., an HIV research scientist and aspiring policy wonk, who recently moved to D.C. to get a taste of the action

Last night, the George Washington University and the University of Ottawa presented the D. Allan Bromley Memorial Lecture with featured speaker Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

I attended the event with the intention of getting to the root of a problem that has been irking me for months.  I wanted to ask Dr. Holdren why the scientific integrity guidelines that he requested from all agencies have not been delivered.  This has been a drawn out process mired in inaction and delays since President Obama made his request for the guidelines more than 2 years ago.

Initially, the President assigned to Dr. Holdren “the responsibility for ensuring the highest level of integrity in all aspects of the executive branch’s involvement with scientific and technological processes.”  Dr. Holdren was to confer with “the heads of executive departments and agencies, including the Office of Management and Budget and offices and agencies within the Executive Office of the President, and recommend a plan to achieve that goal throughout the executive branch.”  This task was to be performed within 120 days of the issuance of the President’s memorandum.  That would have been approximately July 9, 2009.  Instead, it took more than 18 months before Dr. Holdren produced his own memorandum on December 17, 2010 directing the heads of the executive departments and agencies to implement the Administration’s policies on scientific integrity.  In his memo, Dr. Holdren asked that “all agencies report to [him] within 120 days the actions they have taken to develop and implement policies” in these areas.

On April 21, 2011, OSTP reported that all 30 executive branch departments, agencies and offices had responded to Dr. Holdren’s request, six of which had submitted draft or completed policies.  This announcement, however, described the responses as “progress reports,” which for me changes the meaning of Dr. Holdren’s December memo.  Whereas last year Dr. Holdren asked for a report of “the actions that have been taken to develop and implement policies,” one might assume this means more than a progress report.  Personally, I would like to see a little more action on this issue.

Why am I so concerned about the establishment of these guidelines? Read More


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