Grand Old Planet

By PAUL KRUGMAN, New York Times, November 22, 2012

Mini-excerpt

…the mod­ern G.O.P.’s atti­tude, not just toward biol­ogy, but toward every­thing: If evi­dence seems to con­tra­dict faith, sup­press the evi­dence. The most obvi­ous exam­ple other than evo­lu­tion is man-made cli­mate change…[they] are strongly inclined to reject any evi­dence con­tra­dict­ing their prior beliefs. Today’s Repub­li­cans cocoon them­selves in an alter­nate real­ity defined by Fox News, Rush Lim­baugh and The Wall Street Journal’s edi­to­r­ial page…[their] inabil­ity to deal with geo­log­i­cal evi­dence was symp­to­matic of a much broader prob­lem — one that may, in the end, set Amer­ica on a path of inex­orable decline…

Excerpt

…his [Senator Marco Rubio] inability to acknowledge scientific evidence speaks of the anti-rational mind-set that has taken over his political party….What was Mr. Rubio’s complaint about science teaching? That it might undermine children’s faith in what their parents told them to believe. And right there you have the modern G.O.P.’s attitude, not just toward biology, but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence. The most obvious example other than evolution is man-made climate change. As the evidence for a warming planet becomes ever stronger — and ever scarier — the G.O.P. has buried deeper into denial, into assertions that the whole thing is a hoax concocted by a vast conspiracy of scientists. And this denial has been accompanied by frantic efforts to silence and punish anyone reporting the inconvenient facts…

What accounts for this pattern of denial? Earlier this year, the science writer Chris Mooney published “The Republican Brain,” … a survey of the now-extensive research linking political views to personality types. As Mr. Mooney showed, modern American conservatism is highly correlated with authoritarian inclinations — and authoritarians are strongly inclined to reject any evidence contradicting their prior beliefs. Today’s Republicans cocoon themselves in an alternate reality defined by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, and only on rare occasions — like on election night — encounter any hint that what they believe might not be true.

And, no, it’s not symmetric. Liberals, being human, often give in to wishful thinking — but not in the same systematic, all-encompassing way….We are, after all, living in an era when science plays a crucial economic role…How are we going to stay competitive in biotechnology if biology classes avoid any material that might offend creationists?

And then there’s the matter of using evidence to shape economic policy. You may have read about the recent study from the Congressional Research Service finding no empirical support for the dogma that cutting taxes on the wealthy leads to higher economic growth. How did Republicans respond? By suppressing the report. On economics, as in hard science, modern conservatives don’t want to hear anything challenging their preconceptions — and they don’t want anyone else to hear about it, either.

…Rubio’…inability to deal with geological evidence was symptomatic of a much broader problem — one that may, in the end, set America on a path of inexorable decline.

Full text

Earlier this week, GQ magazine published an interview with Senator Marco Rubio, whom many consider a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, in which Mr. Rubio was asked how old the earth is. After declaring “I’m not a scientist, man,” the senator went into desperate evasive action, ending with the declaration that “it’s one of the great mysteries.”

It’s funny stuff, and conservatives would like us to forget about it as soon as possible. Hey, they say, he was just pandering to likely voters in the 2016 Republican primaries — a claim that for some reason is supposed to comfort us.

But we shouldn’t let go that easily. Reading Mr. Rubio’s interview is like driving through a deeply eroded canyon; all at once, you can clearly see what lies below the superficial landscape. Like striated rock beds that speak of deep time, his inability to acknowledge scientific evidence speaks of the anti-rational mind-set that has taken over his political party.

By the way, that question didn’t come out of the blue. As speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Mr. Rubio provided powerful aid to creationists trying to water down science education. In one interview, he compared the teaching of evolution to Communist indoctrination tactics — although he graciously added that “I’m not equating the evolution people with Fidel Castro.” Gee, thanks.

What was Mr. Rubio’s complaint about science teaching? That it might undermine children’s faith in what their parents told them to believe. And right there you have the modern G.O.P.’s attitude, not just toward biology, but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence.

The most obvious example other than evolution is man-made climate change. As the evidence for a warming planet becomes ever stronger — and ever scarier — the G.O.P. has buried deeper into denial, into assertions that the whole thing is a hoax concocted by a vast conspiracy of scientists. And this denial has been accompanied by frantic efforts to silence and punish anyone reporting the inconvenient facts.

But the same phenomenon is visible in many other fields. The most recent demonstration came in the matter of election polls. Coming into the recent election, state-level polling clearly pointed to an Obama victory — yet more or less the whole Republican Party refused to acknowledge this reality. Instead, pundits and politicians alike fiercely denied the numbers and personally attacked anyone pointing out the obvious; the demonizing of The Times’s Nate Silver, in particular, was remarkable to behold.

What accounts for this pattern of denial? Earlier this year, the science writer Chris Mooney published “The Republican Brain,” which was not, as you might think, a partisan screed. It was, instead, a survey of the now-extensive research linking political views to personality types. As Mr. Mooney showed, modern American conservatism is highly correlated with authoritarian inclinations — and authoritarians are strongly inclined to reject any evidence contradicting their prior beliefs. Today’s Republicans cocoon themselves in an alternate reality defined by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, and only on rare occasions — like on election night — encounter any hint that what they believe might not be true.

And, no, it’s not symmetric. Liberals, being human, often give in to wishful thinking — but not in the same systematic, all-encompassing way.

Coming back to the age of the earth: Does it matter? No, says Mr. Rubio, pronouncing it “a dispute amongst theologians” — what about the geologists? — that has “has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States.” But he couldn’t be more wrong.

We are, after all, living in an era when science plays a crucial economic role. How are we going to search effectively for natural resources if schools trying to teach modern geology must give equal time to claims that the world is only 6.000 years old? How are we going to stay competitive in biotechnology if biology classes avoid any material that might offend creationists?

And then there’s the matter of using evidence to shape economic policy. You may have read about the recent study from the Congressional Research Service finding no empirical support for the dogma that cutting taxes on the wealthy leads to higher economic growth. How did Republicans respond? By suppressing the report. On economics, as in hard science, modern conservatives don’t want to hear anything challenging their preconceptions — and they don’t want anyone else to hear about it, either.

So don’t shrug off Mr. Rubio’s awkward moment. His inability to deal with geological evidence was symptomatic of a much broader problem — one that may, in the end, set America on a path of inexorable decline.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/23/opinion/krugman-grand-old-planet.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121123

Conservatives’ Reality Problem

by Timothy B. Lee, Contributor, Forbes, November 9, 2012

Excerpt

…two decades ago, conservatives liked to argue that the ivory tower had put academics out of touch with reality, and that conservatism had reason and science on its side. The recent collapse of communism seemed to confirm this view. Today the tables have turned. While academia certainly still has pockets of out-of-touch leftists, there has been a much more dramatic decline in intellectual standards on the political right…years of conservatives demonizing pointy-headed academics, including scientists. On subjects like evolution, global warming, the biology of human conception, and even macroeconomics, conservatives have been increasingly bold about rejecting the consensus of scientific experts in favor of ideologically self-serving pronouncements.

George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq was a good example of the kind of damage that can be done when elected officials choose ideology over expertise. Bush didn’t just ignore the many experts who warned that invading Iraq was a bad idea. The ideologues were so convinced the war would go well that they massively underestimated the amount of preparation that would be required for the occupation to go reasonably smoothly. As a result, the aftermath of the war was much more chaotic than it would have been if experienced experts had been more involved in the planning process. Many more people died and much more property was destroyed than would have occurred with proper planning.

I think global warming is a more complex issue than some people on the left acknowledge. But rather than accepting the basic scientific reality of climate change and making the case that the costs of action outweigh the benefits, many conservatives have taken the cruder tack of simply attacking the entire enterprise of mainstream climate science as a hoax.

….Economists across the political spectrum agree that the government ought to take action counteract major aggregate demand shortfalls…But rather than engaging this debate, a growing number of conservatives have rejected the mainstream economic framework altogether…

The world is messy and complicated, and understanding it often requires years of study and a willingness to consider evidence objectively regardless of where it comes from. Yet the conservative movement has increasingly become a hostile place for people who think for themselves, no matter how deeply they understand their subjects.

While many aspects of public policy are the subject of genuine ideological disagreements, there are also many issues where experts really do know things the rest of the public does not. A party that systematically favors ideologically convenient arguments and marginalizes dissenting voices will inevitably make costly mistakes…We should all hope the conservative movement develops a greater respect for expertise in the meantime.

Full Text

In 1996, the physicist Alan Sokal wrote a nonsensical article called “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” and submitted it to the academic journal Social Text. To Sokal’s amusement, his satirical argument was accepted. Sokal’s goal, he wrote later, was to illustrate “an apparent decline in the standards of intellectual rigor in certain precincts of the American academic humanities.” Sokal, a self-described leftist, expressed concern that the politicization of science by left-wing academics was undermining the left’s ability to make convincing, scientifically-grounded arguments for progressive policies.

I thought of the Sokal incident yesterday when I read this article about the Mitt Romney campaign being blindsided by Tuesday’s election results. Obviously, a bit of wishful thinking is inevitable in a losing presidential campaign. But the degree of cocooning portrayed in that article is surprising. You’d expect at least some of Romney’s highly-paid advisors to be competent at their jobs.

Two decades ago, conservatives liked to argue that the ivory tower had put academics out of touch with reality, and that conservatism had reason and science on its side. The recent collapse of communism seemed to confirm this view. Today the tables have turned. While academia certainly still has pockets of out-of-touch leftists, there has been a much more dramatic decline in intellectual standards on the political right.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Team Romney’s polling cluelessness comes after years of conservatives demonizing pointy-headed academics, including scientists. On subjects like evolution, global warming, the biology of human conception, and even macroeconomics, conservatives have been increasingly bold about rejecting the consensus of scientific experts in favor of ideologically self-serving pronouncements. That attitude may have contributed to their loss of the White House in 2012. It will be much more costly for the country as a whole if it doesn’t change before the GOP next captures the White House.

George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq was a good example of the kind of damage that can be done when elected officials choose ideology over expertise. Bush didn’t just ignore the many experts who warned that invading Iraq was a bad idea. The ideologues were so convinced the war would go well that they massively underestimated the amount of preparation that would be required for the occupation to go reasonably smoothly. As a result, the aftermath of the war was much more chaotic than it would have been if experienced experts had been more involved in the planning process. Many more people died and much more property was destroyed than would have occurred with proper planning.

I think global warming is a more complex issue than some people on the left acknowledge. But rather than accepting the basic scientific reality of climate change and making the case that the costs of action outweigh the benefits, many conservatives have taken the cruder tack of simply attacking the entire enterprise of mainstream climate science as a hoax.

On macroeconomics, a broad spectrum of economists, ranging from John Maynard Keynes to Milton Friedman, supports the basic premise that recessions are caused by shortfalls in aggregate demand. Economists across the political spectrum agree that the government ought to take action counteract major aggregate demand shortfalls. There is, of course, a lot of disagreement about the details. Friedman argued that the Fed should be responsible for macroeconomic stabilization, while Keynes emphasized deficit spending.

But rather than engaging this debate, a growing number of conservatives have rejected the mainstream economic framework altogether, arguing—against the views of libertarian economists like Friedman and F.A. Hayek—that neither Congress nor the Fed has a responsibility to counteract sharp falls in nominal incomes.

The conservative movement seems to have adopted the same attitude toward Nate Silver. The world is messy and complicated, and understanding it often requires years of study and a willingness to consider evidence objectively regardless of where it comes from. Yet the conservative movement has increasingly become a hostile place for people who think for themselves, no matter how deeply they understand their subjects.

While many aspects of public policy are the subject of genuine ideological disagreements, there are also many issues where experts really do know things the rest of the public does not. A party that systematically favors ideologically convenient arguments and marginalizes dissenting voices will inevitably make costly mistakes. Thankfully, in 2012 those mistakes merely helped Mitt Romney lose the White House. But sooner or later, a Republican is going to get elected president. We should all hope the conservative movement develops a greater respect for expertise in the meantime.

Timothy B. Lee writes about how technology shapes society

This article is available online at:
http://www.forbes.com/sites/timothylee/2012/11/09/conservatives-reality-problem/

The Crackpot Caucus By TIMOTHY EGAN

New York Times, August 23, 2012

Excerpt

…Take a look around key committees of the House and you’ll find a governing body stocked with crackpots whose views on major issues are as removed from reality as Missouri’s Representative Todd Akin’s take on the sperm-killing powers of a woman who’s been raped. On matters of basic science and peer-reviewed knowledge, from evolution to climate change to elementary fiscal math, many Republicans in power cling to a level of ignorance that would get their ears boxed even in a medieval classroom.Their war on critical thinking explains a lot about why the United States is laughed at on the global stage, and why no real solutions to our problems emerge from that broken legislative body…Where do they get this stuff? The Bible, yes, but much of the misinformation and the fables that inform Republican politicians comes from hearsay, often amplified by their media wing…

Full text

The tutorial in 8th grade biology that Republicans got after one of their members of Congress went public with something from the wackosphere was instructive, and not just because it offered female anatomy lessons to those who get their science from the Bible.

Take a look around key committees of the House and you’ll find a governing body stocked with crackpots whose views on major issues are as removed from reality as Missouri’s Representative Todd Akin’s take on the sperm-killing powers of a woman who’s been raped.

On matters of basic science and peer-reviewed knowledge, from evolution to climate change to elementary fiscal math, many Republicans in power cling to a level of ignorance that would get their ears boxed even in a medieval classroom. Congress incubates and insulates these knuckle-draggers.

Let’s take a quick tour of the crazies in the House. Their war on critical thinking explains a lot about why the United States is laughed at on the global stage, and why no real solutions to our problems emerge from that broken legislative body.

We’re currently experiencing the worst drought in 60 years, a siege of wildfires, and the hottest temperatures since records were kept.  But to Republicans in Congress, it’s all a big hoax. The chairman of a subcommittee that oversees issues related to climate change,  Representative John Shimkus of Illinoisis -  you guessed it  – a climate-change denier.

At a 2009 hearing, Shimkus said not to worry about a fatally dyspeptic planet: the biblical signs have yet to properly align. “The earth will end only when God declares it to be over,” he said, and then he went on to quote Genesis at some length.  It’s worth repeating: This guy is the chairman.

On the same committee is an oil-company tool and 27-year veteran of Congress, Representative Joe L. Barton ofTexas.  You may remember Barton as the politician who apologized to the head of BP in 2010 after the government dared to insist that the company pay for those whose livelihoods were ruined by the gulf oil spill.

Barton cited the Almighty in questioning energy from wind turbines. Careful, he warned, “wind is God’s way of balancing heat.”  Clean energy, he said,  “would slow the winds down” and thus could make it hotter. You never know.

“You can’t regulate God!” Barton barked at the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in the midst of discussion on measures to curb global warming.

The Catholic Church long ago made its peace with evolution, but the same cannot be said of House Republicans.  Jack Kingston of Georgia, a 20-year veteran of the House,  is an evolution denier, apparently because he can’t see the indent where his ancestors’ monkey tail used to be. “Where’s the missing link?” he said in 2011. “I just want to know what it is.” He serves on a committee that oversees education.

In his party, Kingstonis in the mainstream. A Gallup poll in June found that 58 percent of Republicans believe God created humans in the present form just within the last 10,000 years -  a wealth of anthropological evidence to the contrary.

AnotherGeorgiacongressman, Paul Broun,  introduced the so-called personhood legislation in the House – backed by Akin and Representative Paul Ryan – that would have given a fertilized egg the same constitutional protections as a fully developed human being.

Broun is on the same science, space and technology committee that Akin is. Yes, science is part of their purview.

Where do they get this stuff? The Bible, yes, but much of the misinformation and the fables that inform Republican politicians comes from hearsay, often amplified by their media wing.

Remember the crazy statement that helped to kill the presidential aspirations of  Michele Bachmann?  A vaccine, designed to prevent a virus linked to cervical cancer, could cause mental retardation, she proclaimed. Bachmann knew this, she insisted, because some random lady told her so at a campaign event.  Fearful of the genuine damage Bachmann’s assertion could do to public health, theAmericanAcademyof Pediatrics promptly rushed out a notice, saying,  “there is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement.”

Nor is there is reputable scientific validity to those who deny that the globe’s climate is changing for the worst. But Bachmann calls that authoritative consensus a hoax, and faces no censure from her party.

It’s encouraging that Republican heavyweights have since told Akin that uttering scientific nonsense about sex and rape is not good for the party’s image. But where are these fact-enforcers on the other idiocies professed by elected representatives of their party?

Akin, if he stays in the race, may still win the Senate seat inMissouri.  Bachmann, who makes things up on a regular basis, is a leader of the Tea Party caucus in Congress and, in an unintended joke, a member of the Committee on Intelligence.  None of these folks are without power; they govern, and have significant followings.

A handful of Republicans have tried to fight the know-nothings. “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming,” said Jon Huntsman, the formerUtahgovernor, during his ill-fated run for his party’s presidential nomination. “Call me crazy.”

And in an on-air plea for sanity,  Joe Scarborough, the former G.O.P. congressman and MSNBC host, said, “I’m just tired of the Republican Party being the stupid party.”  I feel for him.  But don’t expect the reality chorus to grow. For if intelligence were contagious, his party would be giving out vaccines for it.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/23/the-crackpot-caucus/?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120824