Rightwing Madness

I read many comments online. I always wonder why many rightwingers have a tendency to make extreme statements

Whenever they disagree with someone or something, they say things such as:

  • Obama is the Anti-Christ, a Muslim, a terrorist, a Nazi, Hitler, Stalin, etc.
  • Obama isn’t American. Show me his birth certificate.
  • I hope Obama gets assassinated.
  • Jim Wallis is Satan.
  • Liberals are Communists.
  • Dr. Tiller got what he deserved and Roeder is a hero.
  • Overthrow the government!
  • He is an FBI operative.
  • FEMA will put us in concentration camps.
  • Violent militia groups are just defending their rights.
  • America is a Christian nation and the Founding Fathers meant the govt to be a fundamentalist theocracy.

They’re particularly obsessed with their xenophobia. They constantly live in fear of fags, blacks, and immigrants. They’re blind to their own bigotry and love to allege reverse racism. They conflate beliefs and facts, rhetoric and logic. They think the opinions of anyone else is equal to or greater than the opinion of the consensus of experts. They think they have the right to their own ‘facts’. They just know they’re right and you’re wrong. They often see conspiracies all around them:

  • New World Order
  • Liberal Elites
  • Hidden Communist conspiracy
  • Jewish Cabal
  • Immigrant invasion
  • Black helicopters

It’s not that all conservatives think and act this way, but there is a surprising number who do. More importantly, mainstream conservatives apparently are afraid of their own fringe. Conservative politicians and media personalities rarely criticize the fringe and often instead fan the flames instead. When a Tea Party leader asked about the fringe, he agreed they existed in the party but he thought they had a rightful place in the movement. They welcome the fringe and help give the extremists a voice. It’s not surprising that this filters into the mindset of the average conservative and so that is why you see all these crazy rightwing comments all over the web.

I’m trying not to over-generalize here. I know there are intelligent and rational conservatives. There are some who will criticize the fringe sometimes. I give credit for Bill O’Reilly in that he will on occasion make attempts to distance himself from the crazies and he’ll even sometimes directly criticize them. I just wonder why the ‘normal’ conservatives tend to be so silent. Is it the same reason why average Muslims too rarely speak out against the violence and oppression of Muslim extremists? Is it fear to speak out or is there an element of complicit agreement?

There is always a way to rationalize away or ignore evidence to the contrary. The federal report about rightwing militias is a smear campaign, but when righwing militias start conspiring violence against the government it’s automatically assumed these groups have been innocently framed. ACORN and Climategate are liberal conspiracies and they must be destroyed. The conservative media goes batshit over it and gets the rest of the media to jump on the bandwagon. After organizations and reputations are destroyed, investigations conclude that all involved were innocent. The conservatives use lies and deceit to destroy their enemies, but they don’t care about the truth. Will ACORN and the CRU scientists get vindicated in the media? No, probably not. Scandals get attention, but innocent victims of rightwing hatred don’t make for entertaining news. So, the media waits to get carried away by the next ‘scandal’.

Why is it so rare than anyone gets held responsible for any of this kind of immoral behavior? Yes, Roder gets life in prison and the guy who slandered ACORN ended up in prison as well. But Dr. Tiller can’t be brought back to life and who knows how many women will die or suffer serious health conditions because there is now one less doctor to help them. ACORN is permanently villified in the public eye and the organization is no more. What about all the people that Dr. Tiller and ACORN helped? Why doesn’t the media obsess over the real victims?

I know that, in response, rightwingers will argue that leftwingers are just as bad. They’ll point out a couple examples they once saw in the news. That is fair in that there are extremists of all ideological varieties, but there is a difference that makes a difference. First, I doubt people toting guns and screaming racial slurs wouldn’t feel very welcomed at most liberal protest and I could imagine the politically correct police asking them to leave. Second, the loony left doesn’t get a platform from the “liberal media” in the way that loony right gets a platform from conservative media such as Fox News. All news have agendas, but Fox News takes it to a new level of outright political spin and propaganda. I’m not sure why a media corporation would want to fan the flames of rightwing fear and hatred. I suppose it must be serving some purpose of theirs or of the GOP.

There seems to be a different attitude between the left and the right. On the left, different opinions are embraced as long as they’re respectful. On the right, different opinions aren’t embraced, but as long as your remain within the in-group ideology it doesn’t matter if you voice your opinions respecfully. In fact, rightwingers seem to pride themselves on being disrespectful. Anger, hatred and bigotry are seen as strengthening and consolidating the group. It’s the us vs them attitude. As long as the disrespectful message is directed outside of the group at the enemy, it doesn’t matter what a rightwinger says or how they say it.

Part of why I bring all this up is because I’ve noticed how it’s changed me. I feel unable to let it just roll of me. I’ve never called George W. Bush the Anti-Christ or Glenn Beck the devil, but it has become more common for me to call someone an asshole when someone is being offensive or aggressive, when someone is acting righteous or bigoted. I’ve learned to respond this way because some people don’t seem to understand how mean-spirited their comments are until you confront them in a forceful manner. Why should I respect the opinion of someone who claims Roeder is a hero for committing murder and terrorism? If they want to say they’re against abortion fine, but there is no excuse for what Roeder did. What Roeder did goes against everything our country stands for. Why should liberals try to be understanding towards such hatred and violence? Why shouldn’t stand up for the rights of everyone? For that matter, why shouldn’t it be expected that conservatives should stand up for the rights of everyone?

This isn’t just about my being a liberal. What rightwing extremists are doing and what mainstream conservatives are (implicitly or explicitly) supporting is stupid just from the perspective of strategy. They’re turning a whole generation of youth against the conservative movement. All the shootings and militias are just going to deservedly bring down hard the hammer of the law. In their fear of the government, they’re forcing the hand of the govenment. It’s as if they want a war. The culture war has failed. So, what they couldn’t accomplish through politics they’ll now try to accomplish through violence. I don’t what strategy would work for conservatives trying to get their message out, but what they’re doing right now is not working. Yes, it feels empowering to rant and rave, to fear-monger and use hate speech, to brandish guns at political gatherings. But this sense of empowering is just reactionary, just a shortterm gain. Conservatives were successful in the past because they took the longterm view, but they seem to have forgotten the lesson of their past success.

If you’re a Christian and you don’t like another Christian’s views, don’t call them the Anti-Christ or the Devil. If you’re a libertaraian and you don’t like Democrats being in power, don’t call Obama Hitler or a Commie. If you’re worried about our employment or your economic security, don’t attack immigrants and blame the poor. If you want to make a difference, reach out to others and not just to the small group of people who are just like you.

I realize I’m offering you liberal advice. But guess what? The world has become a liberal place. We no longer live at a time when white Christians monopolize all power. We no longer live at a time when minorities, immigrants and the poor knew their place. It’s just a fact of life. Accept it or not, but the world isn’t going to return to simpler times. Anyways, your idealizing of the past is just a fantasy. It’s time to stop fighting the inevitable. Change happens and there is nothing you can do to stop it. You either join in and work together or else you become obsolete. It’s your choice.

When Obama voices bipartisan values, I don’t know if he actually means it or not. However, people voted him into office because they believed in the message. The young generation that voted Obama into office doesn’t want partisan bickering, doesn’t want angry ranting and fear-mongering. The young generation looks for what we all share in common and they don’t care about parties, they don’t even care about the Tea Party. Many liberals and many conservatives as well were inspired by Obama’s message of hope and change. This is what people want. Obama was voted in by a majority of Americans. He may not be living up to his speeches, but the point is that people want to believe in the vision he spoke of.

Interesting Stuff on the Web: 4/1/10

You’d be mad to support climate change science

In a recent forum debate, a poster suggested I wouldn’t look at science that didn’t agree with my position – that I displayed confirmation bias. I have a standard response to this, which is that I’ll look at anything that isn’t junk science. If it’s credible science, why would I not study it?

The poster who challenged me did so on the basis of how he sees things. To him, this is a debate to win, and because he thinks that’s what I’m here to do, that I have an agenda, it seems obvious to him I’m going to select only that science which supports it (and I have to add that in all likelihood, that’s what he’s doing). This assumption is made because the denialists do have an agenda, and it is largely political. They attack the science, because for them, climate change science is a proxy for socialism, or a token of some movement towards a ‘world government’ that is essentially socialist in nature.

They oppose this, and because the basis for climate change is scientific, they end up attacking the science because they take it as a tool of ideologues. In making this unfortunate conflation, they also project the same motives and concerns on people like me, because if their agenda is to oppose the left, in their eyes I must be another lefty ideologue opposing the right, supporting climate change as a means to my own ideological ends.

Parliament’s investigation: Stolen e-mails reveal no wrong-doing by climate scientists

As Galileo might have said, “Still the planet warms.”

A committee of England’s Parliament released its report on Hadley Climate Research Unit’s (CRU) stolen e-mails earlier today.  The reports you heard that the scientific case showing global warming with human causation had died, were exaggerated, significantly in error, and hoaxes themselves.

The report comes from the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee.  Press release with links and previous releases from the Committee, below:

The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia

[…] The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. On the accusations relating to Professor Jones’s refusal to share raw data and computer codes, the Committee considers that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community but that those practices need to change.

On the much cited phrases in the leaked e-mails—”trick” and “hiding the decline”—the Committee considers that they were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead.

Insofar as the Committee was able to consider accusations of dishonesty against CRU, the Committee considers that there is no case to answer.

The Committee found no reason in this inquiry to challenge the scientific consensus as expressed by Professor Beddington, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, that “global warming is happening [and] that it is induced by human activity”. […]

How to split up the US


As I’ve been digging deeper into the data I’ve gathered on 210 million public Facebook profiles, I’ve been fascinated by some of the patterns that have emerged. My latest visualization shows the information by location, with connections drawn between places that share friends. For example, a lot of people in LA have friends in San Francisco, so there’s a line between them.

Looking at the network of US cities, it’s been remarkable to see how groups of them form clusters, with strong connections locally but few contacts outside the cluster.

Millennials and Postmodernism in TV Comedies

I recently read a fantastic but dense essay by David Foster Wallace drawing connections between fictional literature and television, emphasizing the commonalities between the genres’ narrative structures. The essay was written in the early 90s but is oddly premonitory, particularly with reference to reality shows and on-demand programming. He frequently cites the increasingly self-referential nature of television programs (and fiction), and it piqued my interest in postmodernist television narratives. So I wanted to think and write a bit about how postmodernist comedy writing on several contemporary TV shows shares many elements with the Millennial Generation’s defining traits. This isn’t really a new revelation, but it’s one worth exploring in more depth – it may help us supply Millennial qualities with some context.

So, first, a few key factors of literary postmodernism that I will consider, as described in Literary Theory:

  1. a tendency toward reflexivity, or self-consciousness, about the production of the work of art, so that each piece calls attention to its own status as a production, as something constructed and consumed in particular ways.
  2. an emphasis on fragmented forms, discontinuous narratives, and random-seeming collages of different materials, and, contrary to modernism, celebrates the ensuing incoherence and nonsense.

Millennials —yes, they can

They have not generally gotten involved with candidates or issues because “Millennials perceive politics as a polarized debate with no options for compromise or nuance,” in the words of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. They don’t want to be limited by political party affiliation. They care about issues important to their “community” and will work with anyone who can get something done.

But they are impatient. That is why so many seemed to drift away from President Barack Obama as the healthcare debate dragged on and partisanship in Washington got out of hand. For nearly a year and a half their parents’ and grandparents’ generations argued over what — to many — seemed like petty details. They tuned out not because they didn’t care but because they were bored.

Now that there actually is a healthcare bill, it will be fascinating to see if they are willing to re-engage. The Obama campaign showed how to communicate with and motivate this generation in 2008. Re-engaging them will be crucial to the president’s reelection and, arguably, to Democrats’ congressional future. There are 44 million Millennials eligible to vote, which is about 20 percent of the electorate. Most of them are independents — at least in their voting patterns. Recent polls show independents drifting away from the Republican Party as a result of the angry debate in Washington.

Millennials do faith and politics their way

[…] The core finding of Pew’s “Religion Among the Millennials” report is that young Americans are “less religiously affiliated” than their elders. In fact, one in four of Americans ages 18 to 29 do not affiliate with any particular religious group. This is not entirely unexpected, since it is a sociological truism that young people cultivate some distance from the religious institutions of their parents, only to return to those institutions as they marry, raise children and slouch toward retirement. According to Pew, however, “Millennials are significantly more unaffiliated than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their life cycle … and twice as unaffiliated as Baby Boomers were as young adults.”

This is an important finding because it provides strong evidence for the loosening of religion’s grip on American life. Or does it?

[…] This liberal turn will not necessarily convert young people into Democrats, however, because “Democrat,” too, is a brand most Millennials are unwilling to call their own. Even so, the new data do lay bare the so-called new conservatism of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party not as the next new thing but as the last paroxysm of a spent revolution.

Both the Tea Party activists and their beloved Palin are as white as Alaskan snow, but the American population is increasingly brown; 19% of Millennials are Hispanic and 14% are black. No religious or political movement propelled by white rage (or for that matter by the fury of retirees) will have legs in the America this new generation is making.

One of the big stories of the past few decades in American religion has been the decline of the mainline denominations at the expense of evangelical megachurches. One of the big stories of the next few decades in American politics could be the decline of the major political parties at the expense of grassroots (and “cyberroots”) initiatives. As Boomers yield power to Millennials, the political movements that succeed will look less like the Southern Baptist Convention and more like your local non-denominational church. They will be browner, more comfortable with rapid change, higher tech, more upbeat and unworried by tattoos.

The Coming End of the Culture Wars

The term “culture wars” dates back to a 1991 book by academic James Davison Hunter who argued that cultural issues touching on family and religious values, feminism, gay rights, race, guns, and abortion had redefined American politics. Going forward, bitter conflicts around these issues would be the fulcrum of politics in a polarized nation, he theorized.

It did look like he might have a point for a while. Conservatives especially seemed happy to take a culture wars approach, reasoning that political debate around these issues would both mobilize their base and make it more difficult for progressives to benefit from their edge on domestic policy issues such as the economy and health care. This approach played an important role in conservative gains during the early part of the Clinton administration and in the impeachment drama of the late 1990s, which undercut progressive legislative strategies. And the culture wars certainly contributed to conservative George W. Bush’s presidential victories in 2000 and 2004.

Yet these issues have lately been conspicuous by their absence. Looking back on Barack Obama’s historic victory in 2008, culture wars issues not only had a very low profile in the campaign, but where conservatives did attempt to raise them, these issues did them little good. Indeed, conservatives were probably more hurt than helped by such attempts— witness the effect of the Sarah Palin nomination.

Attempts to revive the culture wars have been similarly unsuccessful since the election. Sarah Palin’s bizarre trajectory, culminating in her surprise resignation from the Alaska governorship, has only made culture war politics appear even more out of touch. And culture warriors’ shrill attacks on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor have conspicuously failed to turn public opinion against her.

Denialism: Skepticism isn’t a river in Egypt

I’ve had some discussions about science online. I even managed to find some intelligent people to debate with. However, these discussions have caused me to lose faith in human reason. I’ve come to realize that even intelligent people aren’t necessarily well-informed, aren’t necessarily open-minded about other people’s views, aren’t necessarily critical-minded about their own assumptions… nor necessarily desire to be so.

I find myself in an odd position. I’m not a fan of scientific materialism. I don’t claim science is perfect or that it has everything figured out, but the skepticism of many people I’ve met online verges on Nihilism or Pyrrhonism… but, despite this attitude of radical doubt, what makes it particularly irrational is that it’s selective. This selective mistrust falls apart under scrutiny. Part of the reason it falls apart is because of the narrowness of this skepticism. These people are skeptical of everything they disagree with, but oddly completely trusting in everything they agree with. That isn’t true skepticism. I don’t trust anything even when or especially when I agree with it. I think skepticism should even be turned towards our own biases, and skepticism should particularly be turned towards our use of skepticism. 

Some of these people are rightly called Denialists because any evidence I bring up they find a way to dismiss. They don’t need any evidence themselves because from their view all scientific evidence is suspect. They just have a vague intuition. They’ve heard one critical scientist or some other supposed expert and they assume that somehow disproves all of the science. Don’t they realize all science is skeptical. The skepticism of a few scientists doesn’t disprove the consensus of the majority. It’s important to consider the 3% of climatologists who don’t support Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), but it’s even more important to consider the 97% of active climatology researchers who do support it. A recent IPCC report was shown to have a couple of mistakes. The critics argue that these few minor mistakes (one being a typo) disprove a report that is thousands of pages long and which was contributed to by hundreds of scientists.

One recent discussion, I was able to get the skeptic to agree that maybe just maybe 97% of active climatology researchers support AGW. But he still thought the scientists were biased. I pointed out that these scientists work in different organizations in different countries with funding from many sources. But he still thought the scientists were biased. This is basically a conspiracy theory mindset. No matter what evidence is provided, there is always a reason it can’t be trusted. It’s not that they can’t sometimes bring up a few facts here and there (some connection involving financing or whatever), but the facts they use is very selective.

To counter my conspiracy theory allegation, one person denied this by saying it was more like something that got started and then all the climatologists jumped on. This person couldn’t explain how something just gets started and why climatologists would risk their entire careers to join in on this non-conspiracy conspiracy. For example, climatologists get no payment for submitting research to the IPCC. Climatologists don’t get wealthy off of their research and so what would they get out of deceiving the public? Many of these skeptics argue that the government is intentionally biasing research by which research they fund, but scientists get their funding from non-government organizations as well. One skeptic argued that climatology researchers who propose disaster scenarios will get more funding because the government will want to fund research that might help avoid disasters. That might be true to an extent, but scientists are doing research about all kinds of things. If something doesn’t prove true or potentially true, then it loses funding. Why would the government fund and why would 97% of researchers support a theory that had absolutely no evidence in support of it? It’s simply absurd to make such a claim.

I’m fine with being skeptical in terms of using good critical thinking skills, but Denialism goes way beyond that. The skeptic who I managed to get to grudgingly agree that the 97% might be true wouldn’t even admit to slight doubt about his own position. I admitted to him that there were skeptical scientists and that these skeptics played a valid role in the scientific method, but he wouldn’t return the favor by admitting that scientific consensus also plays a valid role. The only reason he held to his position is because he had his mind made up before the debate started. He didn’t care what scientists think or what scientific research concludes. He only mentioned scientists when they agreed with him. He was merely using the minority of scientific skeptics to outright deny the majority of scientific supporters, but he didn’t really care what any of these scientists said. It was just convenient that some scientists happened to agree with him on this issue.

What he refused to understand is that skepticism goes both ways (or rather goes many directions). Yes, the 3% are skeptical of the 97% consensus, but the 97% are also skeptical of the 3%. Furthermore, even within the 97% there are those who are skeptical because they think the mainstream doesn’t go far enough in support of AGW. Scientific institutions such as the IPCC are very conservative. These institutions represent the consensus, represent the slow and conservative process of the scientific method, represents decades of  peer-reviewed research. There are scientists with all kinds of opinions outside of the consensus, but it would be utterly stupid to base public policies on the minority of scientists rather than on the consensus. In the past, there wasn’t a consensus about AGW, but then the data changed and so through painstaking discussion a consensus developed. That is quite significant.

Michael Specter makes a very good point at the beginning of that video. He says there are two topics he doesn’t discuss: Creationism and Global Warming. If someone believe humans and dinosaurs co-existed, then there is absolutely no basis for a rational discussion. If someone dismisses the mountain of data on climate change, then one more intelligent presentation of the data will be pointless. I probably should follow his example. I’m sure I’d be happier if I didn’t waste my time with these extreme representatives of denialism.

I’ve written about all of this before. There is a long history to my irritation towards rampant irrationality, anti-intellectualism, ideological rhetoric, apologetics, and general ignorance.

Climategate, Science Funding, Public Ignorance
Online Debates: Ideology, Education & Psychology
Denialism & Anti-intellectualism (AGW)
Uncommon Talents: Research & Critical Thinking
Liberal Facts vs Conservative Ideology
Head in the Sand Syndrome
Climate Change, Scandalous E-mails, and Wendell Berry
Denialism: Science and Public Debate
Righteousness: Ignorance and Inauthenticity
What is Intellectuality?
Intelligence & Curiosity
Lies and Truth: why care?
Reality and Rationality: a discussion
Debate b/t Religion and Science: Theists, Atheists, Agnostics, Integralists
Love of Truth: Discussing vs Arguing
Re: All Evidence to the Contrary
NT Scholarship and Discussions: limits, failings
The Love of Truth vs. the Sophistry of Apologetics

Considering I’ve already written so many posts along these lines, what does this post add? I don’t know. I’m just continually frustrated and just need to vent. But there is one thing that was new on my mind.

I was recently reading Charles Fort… now, he is a real skeptic. He is an important example because he was very critical of science, but why I respect him is because he was critical of everything. Fort wasn’t an anti-intellectual. My respect for him, though, goes beyond just his equal opportunity skepticism. Fort didn’t just doubt for his doubt was motivated by wonder. He wasn’t denying for the sake of playing Devil’s Advocate and he certainly wasn’t denying other view points in defense of a Sacred Cow. He was truly curious and he followed the facts. His skepticism was more about interpretations than the facts themselves.

Fort is my kind of thinker. I put him in the same category as John Keel, Jacques Vallee, Robert Anton Wilson, John C. Lilly, Terrence McKenna, William S. Burroughs, and Philip K. Dick. These people thought outside of the box which sometimes means questioning mainstream science but more than anything it means using critical thinking skills and being independent-minded.

I’m not sure what any of them would think about Global Warming. They’re all dead now. Fort died before the really amazing advances of modern science. I too probably would’ve been more skeptical of science if I lived when he did. It’s possible that Fort or any of these others might’ve had doubts about Global Warming. I too have doubts. Any intelligent person has doubts. But I imagine that, even if these thinkers were skeptical of climate change, I still wouldn’t be irritated whether or not I agreed with their assessment. The reason I say this is because all of these people seemed to have been true skeptics rather than denialists.

From my perspective, denialism seems like a defensive attitude motivated by fear and uncertainty. Scientists are saying the world is changing. Science is about true skepticism. So, what are the denialists trying to defend? I see a number of possibilities. Some might be defending the status quo. People like the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to and they don’t want to consider the possibility that their lifestyle isn’t sustainable. Similarly, some are just afraid of the unknown. The paranoia of the conspiracy mindset is motivated by this kind of fear. There is this sense of an invisible or elusive enemy whether scientists, liberal elite, one world order, the anti-Christ, or whatever. Another possibility is that some people might be defending against complexity. In a global world, life is no longer simple. The easy answers of the past no longer seem to work. Society seems to be breaking down. The environment may be more precarious than we previously thought. It’s a scary world.

From a psychological perspective, denialism is understandable… but that is all the more reason we shouldn’t ignore the denialists and dismiss them as merely ignorant. Denialists aren’t necessarily stupid, but many of them do seem to at least lack critical thinking skills. I think our education system has failed… as have many things in our society (politics, corporations, communities, etc). I think we need to try to understand this from a larger perspective that can include all of the diverse pieces. I don’t know what the answer is, but I wish curiosity (especially intellectual curiosity) were promoted more in our society. It depresses me that people seem more motivated by ideology than by a love of knowledge.

That is the issue I’m personally dealing with. I’ve met many intelligent people online, but I’ve come to realize that a deep sense of open-minded curiosity is a rare thing. Maybe I shouldn’t be so critical of the failings of others… no doubt I have failings of my own. If even intelligent people can fall into the trap of denialism, then maybe a more compassionate and understanding response is required.

If people are this afraid of the world (of the government, of the elites, of modern life in general), then throwing facts at them isn’t likely to lessen their fears. They sense something is wrong with the world and they’re trying to understand the cause. I agree that there is a lot wrong. How can I blame them for looking for an easy answer? By creating an enemy that can be fought, the world can feel safer. Someone like Glenn Beck may be more of a symptom than a cause of this collective sense of fear. Of course, he wants to blame Obama, the socialists, and the liberal elite. Of course, people want some single thing to be the problem (statism, socialism, fascism, etc) or some combination of problems held together by that singular sense of fear.

Even some environmental alarmists get pulled into this overwhelming sense of fear. It can be found in all sectors of society. I guess that is why I think science is so important. The purpose of the scientific method is to filter out the biases, the assumptions, the emotions. The scientific method isn’t perfect, but it’s one of the best things we’ve got going for us. If we can’t trust science, then we can’t trust anything and we are just fucked. If we can’t trust human reason, if fear is greater than hope, if denialism is greater than the wonder we’re born with, then we might as well just give up right now. We have to be willing to face our fears, both personal and collective… and that is the hardest thing to do. The world is a scary place. There are no easy answers. But what is clear is that knowledge is better than ignorance… even imperfect, partial knowledge is better than ignorance.

Climategate, Science Funding, Public Ignorance

There was a forum at MIT about the scandal involving the stolen e-mails of some climate scientists.  A video of it is available at the MIT World website:

The Great Climategate Debate

It was a helpful discussion about the specific issue of Climategate and the general issues of science, education and media. 

One particular point stood out to me.  One of the participants explained one of the problems with East Anglia where the e-mails were stolen from.  The skeptics argue that the the scientists were being devious because they wouldn’t publicly release the data, but the skeptics conveniently ignore one factor.  The East Anglia scientist sold the rights to the data to an outside organization.  This is apparently a practice that is sometimes used in Europe in order to get funding.  The problem is that a contract was signed where the scientists legally weren’t allowed to share the data with third parties.

What is interesting is that the skeptics claim government funding is causing the data to be skewed, but in this particular case the problem was that the scientists were being funded by way of capitalism and not government grants.  In the US, this practice isn’t done because scientists get public funding and so US scientific data is open to the public.  The skeptics argument falls apart here because they seem to imply that there wouldn’t be problems if scientists got their funding from sources other than the government.

The skeptics don’t explain why capitalist funding would be more trustworthy than government funding.  If you look a capitalist funding, a lot of money has been invested lobbying politicians and creating front groups to sway public opinion.  For example, ExxonMobil has given millions of dollars to dozens of organizations that argue against the climate change science.  This capitalis propaganda is very successful.  Even though there is a scientific consensus among active researchers in climatology, most Americans believe that no consensus exists.  It’s one thing to believe the consensus is fraudulent, but to believe it doesn’t exist shows both a failure of the media and the education system.  The scientific consensus does exist.  That is just a simple fact.

This isn’t surprising.  Polls also show a large percentage of Americans believe in Creationism or otherwise doubt Darwinian evolution.  Darwinism is one of the most credible theories with one of the strongest of scientific consensuses.  If Americans even doubt such solid science as that, then what hope is there?  The American public is largely ignorant on many scientific issues.  Why?  Another poll might give a clue.  A large percentage of highschool biology teachers believe that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time.  There you go.  Even many teachers are ignorant of science and so the students of those teachers are unlikely to get a high quality science education.


Climatology and Conspiracy Theorists

If you’re a person who prefers intelligent analysis over conspiracy theorizing, then check out this blog post about quote mining code

Let me be straight about the facts. 

The e-mails were supposedly stolen by hackers, but all of the e-mails haven’t yet been confirmed as authentic.  There is an investigation in determining their authenticity.  Assuming they’re authentic, the investigation will also determine precisely what was written in what context and what was the intended meaning of the comments (see above linked post for some preliminary analysis).  As such, the scientists in question are innocent until proven guilty.  Libelous attacks by climate change contrarians (what some call ‘denialists’) should be ignored.

Furthermore, I’ve so far seen no evidence that anything stated in the e-mailes contradicts or undermines the entire field of climatology.  The allegations are directed at a small number of scientists and all of the e-mails came from just one organization.  Assuming the allegations are true, it would be conspiracy theorizing to assume that these few scientists have enough control of the entire climatology field to alter all of the data in the world or that there is a secret cabal of climatologists controlling all research and publications. 

It is only fair and rational to ignore the conspiracy theories, but let us consider the implications of the more reasonable allegations against the specific scientists in question.  Even if we dismiss the data from these few scientists, there still is plenty of data from other sources that confirms the exact same conclusions of these scientists.  The consensus of climatologists includes scientists from all over the world including many highly respected scientists.  If anyone plans on trying to attack every climatologist in the world and dismiss all climatology research ever done, I’d love to see them try.

I think it’s time that people look at the facts instead of trying to run away from them.  Just my humble opinion.

Head in the Sand Syndrome

I was just perusing the blog posts about the e-mail scandal known as swifthack or climategate.  There are so many people unable or unwilling to face the scientific facts of the truly dire situation we humans face. 

What is the cause of this head-in-the-sand reaction?  Anti-intellectualism?  Scientific illiteracy?  Or just plain old fear of reality?

It’s not just about global warming/climate change.  Species are becoming endangered or going extinct at a faster rate.  Worldwide human population keeps increasing.  Clean freshwater is turning into an ever more scarce resource.  Certain important ecosystems such as coral reefs could entirely die out in the near future.  There are massive deadspots in the ocean and massive ozone holes.  The world’s ice is melting, ocean levels are rising and there is erosion of topsoil.  The numbers of people sickened and killed by pollution-related diseases is high.

Assuming one could somehow absolutely disprove global warming with hard scientific facts, that is just one of many problems we face.  Wake up to reality, folks!

Climate Change, Scandalous E-mails, and Wendell Berry

The issue of global warming/climate change has been in the news.

The Copenhagen climate change conference is coming up and some emails from scientists have been revealed which some consider scandalous.  I’ve already skimmed about a dozen articles about these emails and for the most part it all seems rather stupid.  Yes, some scientists have agendas.  As for these particular scientists, even assuming they are guilty of the allegations, so what?

There is no reason to dismiss the consensus opinion of an entire field based on a few scientists.  The scientific method isn’t dependent on every single scientist being honest and unbiased.  If that was the case, we should dismiss all medical research as that field is probably more corrupt than climatology.  Just follow the money as they say.

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Here’s what we know so far: CRU’s emails were hacked, the 2000s will easily be the hottest decade on record, and the planet keeps warming thanks to us! The NY Times blows the story.

FOXNews: Do E-Mails Reveal Scientist Claims On Climate Change are... BUNK?

As many of you will be aware, a large number of emails from the University of East Anglia webmail server were hacked recently (Despite some confusion generated by Anthony Watts, this has absolutely nothing to do with the Hadley Centre which is a completely separate institution).

So begins the RealClimate post on this hack-heard-round-the-blogosphere.   At the end, I’ll excerpt that post, which makes clear this is much ado about not bloody much.  I’ll also look at the

The predictable FoxNews take is here (screen capture of their front page is above).  At the end, I’ll post some truly amazing quotes from the anti-scientific side of the blogosphere, from Brad Johnson’s Wonk Room post, including this from the Telegraph’s James Delingpole:

If you own any shares in alternative energy companies I should start dumping them NOW.

Whatever smoke the anti-scientific disinformers are able to blow into people’s faces over this bunch of emails dating back over a decade, it doesn’t change the basic facts about human-caused warming:


Figure: Time series of global mean heat storage (0–2000 m), measured in 108 Jm-2.

The NYT’s Revkin has a piece whose headline and lede, typically, misses the entire point, “Hacked E-Mails Fuel Climate Change Skeptics.”  Note to Andy:  Everything fuels the disinformers! And that includes studies and data that prove the exact opposite of what they assert.

The CRU hack (continued: The CRU hack: Context)

Since emails are normally intended to be private, people writing them are, shall we say, somewhat freer in expressing themselves than they would in a public statement. For instance, we are sure it comes as no shock to know that many scientists do not hold Steve McIntyre in high regard. Nor that a large group of them thought that the Soon and Baliunas (2003), Douglass et al (2008) or McClean et al (2009) papers were not very good (to say the least) and should not have been published. These sentiments have been made abundantly clear in the literature (though possibly less bluntly).

More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid of the MWP’, no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords. The truly paranoid will put this down to the hackers also being in on the plot though.

Instead, there is a peek into how scientists actually interact and the conflicts show that the community is a far cry from the monolith that is sometimes imagined. People working constructively to improve joint publications; scientists who are friendly and agree on many of the big picture issues, disagreeing at times about details and engaging in ‘robust’ discussions; Scientists expressing frustration at the misrepresentation of their work in politicized arenas and complaining when media reports get it wrong; Scientists resenting the time they have to take out of their research to deal with over-hyped nonsense. None of this should be shocking.

It’s obvious that the noise-generating components of the blogosphere will generate a lot of noise about this. but it’s important to remember that science doesn’t work because people are polite at all times. Gravity isn’t a useful theory because Newton was a nice person. QED isn’t powerful because Feynman was respectful of other people around him. Science works because different groups go about trying to find the best approximations of the truth, and are generally very competitive about that. That the same scientists can still all agree on the wording of an IPCC chapter for instance is thus even more remarkable.

No doubt, instances of cherry-picked and poorly-worded “gotcha” phrases will be pulled out of context. One example is worth mentioning quickly. Phil Jones in discussing the presentation of temperature reconstructions stated that “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” The paper in question is the Mann, Bradley and Hughes (1998) Nature paper on the original multiproxy temperature reconstruction, and the ‘trick’ is just to plot the instrumental records along with reconstruction so that the context of the recent warming is clear. Scientists often use the term “trick” to refer to a “a good way to deal with a problem”, rather than something that is “secret”, and so there is nothing problematic in this at all. As for the ‘decline’, it is well known that Keith Briffa’s maximum latewood tree ring density proxy diverges from the temperature records after 1960 (this is more commonly known as the “divergence problem”–see e.g. the recent discussion in this paper) and has been discussed in the literature since Briffa et al in Nature in 1998 (Nature, 391, 678-682). Those authors have always recommend not using the post 1960 part of their reconstruction, and so while ‘hiding’ is probably a poor choice of words (since it is ‘hidden’ in plain sight), not using the data in the plot is completely appropriate, as is further research to understand why this happens.

The timing of this particular episode is probably not coincidental. But if cherry-picked out-of-context phrases from stolen personal emails is the only response to the weight of the scientific evidence for the human influence on climate change, then there probably isn’t much to it.The CRU hack

Paul Krugman and George Will Discuss SwiftHack Scandal on ABC’s This Week

STEPHANOPOULOS: And meanwhile, he is also going to be dealing with health care, right now on the floor of the Senate. He announced this week to Copenhagen to deal with climate change. And it comes at a time when the politics seem to be changing a little bit in this.

Let me show our latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. It shows whether people believe global warming is occurring. That number is going down. July 2008, 80 percent of the public; down to 72 percent now. And there’s been a sort of a real partisanship. Look at Republicans, 74 percent believed global warming was occurring back in 2008. Now, a 20-point drop to 54 percent.

George, there has been a partinizing of this issue, and let me turn to one more complication we’ve had over the last week. This Climate Research Institute at East Anglia University, someone hacked into their e-mail account and showed a bunch of emails between scientists, which opponents of climate change legislation said proves that they are rigging the science and trying to hide information that runs counter to their theories.

WILL: It raises the question of — we’re being asked to wage trillions of dollars and substantially curtail freedom on climate models that are imperfect and unproven. And the consensus far from being as solid as they say it is, and the debate as over as they say it is. The e-mails indicate people are very nervous about suppressing criticism, gaming the peer review process for scholarly works and all the rest. One of the e-mails said it is a travesty, his word, it is a travesty that we cannot explain the fact that global warming has stopped. Well, they shouldn’t be embarrassed about that. It’s a complicated business, and that’s why we shouldn’t be (inaudible).

KRUGMAN: All those e-mails — people have never seen what academic discussion looks like. There’s not a single smoking gun in there. There’s nothing in there. And the travesty is that people are not able to explain why the fact that 1988 was a very warm year doesn’t actually mean that global warming has stopped. I mean, that’s loose wording. Right? Everything is about — we’re really in the same situation as if there was one extremely warm day in April. And then people are saying, well, you see, May is cooler than April, there’s no trend here. And that’s what — the travesty is how hard it has been to explain…

WILL: One of the emails, Paul, said he wished he could delete, get rid of the medieval warming period. That lasted 600 years…

KRUGMAN: It’s not — read — this has all been explained. What he meant is they want to put a start on it. We have an end to it, we don’t have a start on it. There’s a lot of loose use of language when you’re just talking among each other. And what (inaudible) really meant, deleting would be meant that, you know, we don’t know when this thing started, because we don’t have very good data back then. There weren’t any weather stations. And that’s what the context was.

– – –

What is interesting is that the polling results have changed despite the science not having changed which demonstrates that most people aren’t basing their opinions on the actual science.  A consensus of scientists and scientific organizations in the world agree that climate change exists and is a major problem, and I personally trust scientists when it comes to scientific issues.

The naysayers can’t disprove the science and so they attack the scientists and the entire field.  It’s interesting that this is the same tactic apologists use.  If they don’t have a rational argument based on facts and consensus opinions of experts, then the only way they can win a debate is by attacking their opponent and distract from the real issues.  It’s rather pathetic, but unfortunately it can be very effective in muddying the water and emotionally swaying the general public.

– – –

November 30th SwiftHack Updates

As always, the full Swifthack Scandal: What You Need to Know document can be found here.

In the statements from scientists section:

Marine-Mammal Biologist Peter Watts:

Science doesn’t work despite scientists being asses. Science works, to at least some extent, because scientists are asses. Bickering and backstabbing are essential elements of the process. Haven’t any of these guys ever heard of “peer review”?

There’s this myth in wide circulation: rational, emotionless Vulcans in white coats, plumbing the secrets of the universe, their Scientific Methods unsullied by bias or emotionalism. Most people know it’s a myth, of course; they subscribe to a more nuanced view in which scientists are as petty and vain and human as anyone (and as egotistical as any therapist or financier), people who use scientific methodology to tamp down their human imperfections and manage some approximation of objectivity.

In the pieces of general interest section:

Changes in the Weather

On “ClimateGate”

The Manufactured Doubt Industry and the Hacked Email Controversy

Using Karl’s Trick To Hide The Consensus

ClimateGate: Addressing the ‘Not a Hacker’ Meme

With ‘ClimateGate,’ Some Republicans Embrace Thug Politics

The Global Warming Emails Non-Event

Climate Science Data Sources

Tell it to the Ice Caps

– – –

I was listening to NPR at work last night.  Diane Rehm had an interesting two part show. In the first part, she had a discussion with several people about the Copenhagen conference and the email issue.  In the second part, she talked with Wendell Berry.  The first part is the one of the few intelligent and in-depth discussions about climate change I’ve heard recently in the news.

– – –

Penn State’s Michael Mann on Diane Rehm Show: Timing of Hacked Science Emails is Rather Suspect

It’s important to understand here that the timing of this event is rather suspect. We’re one week away from this historic summit in Copenhagen, where leaders from around the world will be meeting to discuss how to combat the threat of human-caused climate change. And going into that meeting, there’s a very robust consensus among the world’s scientists that the problem is real and there’s something that we need to do about it.

Now there is, of course, a group of people and there are special interests who do not want to see any progress made at this summit. And frankly, they don’t have the science on their side. The science behind human-caused climate change is quite solid. The National Academy of Science in the U.S. has weighed in on this…there is in fact a consensus behind the reality of climate change. So, the other side doesn’t have the science on their side, and instead they’ve engaged frankly in what I believe is a smear campaign; stolen emails, taken out of context, mined for single words or phrases that can be twisted and taken out of context, in many cases to completely misrepresent the context of what was being discussed.

…let me stress again that there is nothing in any of these emails that in an way calls into question the consensus of the world’s scientists that the problem of climate change is real and that we need to do something to confront it. So my hope is that people will see through this fairly thinly disguised smear campaign and recognize that in no way does anything in any of these emails call into question the validity of the science behind human-caused climate change.

– – –

I’ve discussed the issue of environmental threats in a much earlier post: Human Stupidity.  Here is the basic conclusion:

“We should stop adding massive pollution to the environment not because we know what it does but because we don’t know what it does.”

So, even if the climate change contrarians were correct about the limits of what we know and can predict, that would be all the more reason we should stop taking such grand risks in polluting and destroying the environment.  It’s just plain commonsense, but it’s also known as the precautionary principle.

The reason to avoid such risks is explained very clearly by Greg Craven. The risks of not acting are greater than the risks of acting.

I also found helpful this discussion about tipping points and climate change.  There was an argument made in that discussion that explains why we should act to stop climate change no matter what the cause.  If we humans have caused or contributed to climate change, then we just need to change specific behaviors, practices, and laws.  If we humans haven’t caused or contributed to climate change, then it’s a natural process that once understood could be stopped or altered by human intervention.

I’ll end with the poem Wendell Berry read near the end of his talk with Diane Rehm:

1. How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.

2. For the sake of goodness, how much
evil are you willing to do?
Fill in the following blanks
with the names of your favorite
evils and acts of hatred.

3. What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy.

4. In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.

5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security,
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.

Wendell Berry, “Questionnaire” from Leavings.