Skip to main content

Increasingly, scientific consensus is failing to influence public policy. Facts, statistics and data appear insufficient to change highly politicized minds... and science has started scrutinizing why.

Alas now, this topic inevitably devolves down to our screwy American politics. And while (as I avow repeatedly) every political wing has its anti-science flakes, growing mountains of evidence suggest that one wing has gone especially frenzied in an anti-scientific snit. Or else (as that wing contends) science itself has become corrupted, top to bottom, rendering "evidence" suspect or moot. Let's examine both possibilities.

(**A side note to Kossians: As many of you know, I am a different breed than most of you. I am an unapologetic Blue Dog, whose volcanic fury against Rupert Murdoch and Fox and the madness in the GOP has little to do with classic matters and "left-versus-right" in economic policy. I support Obama and the Democrats for one reason above all others... because they are still sane. And because only by delivering the GOP a huge shellacking will there be any hope that adults might take over conservatism and bring it back to the bargaining table. That makes you and me allies. But do NOT expect me to suddenly stop knowing and saying that there are also loons on the left.  There are.  Much less dangerous, right now.  But boy, there are.**)

Chris Mooney, author of Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future, has a new book, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Don't Believe in Science, in which he describes how firmly some of our neighbors - even moderately well-educated ones - now cling to aphorisms, assertions and just-so stories in order to
clutch a politically motivated view - or mis-view - of scientific data.  Misinformation persists – and propagates – about the dangers of vaccinations, the hazards of nuclear energy, the credibility of creation vs. evolution, and the preponderance of data supporting global warming. In case after politically-redolent case, we find that evidence has a limited power to persuade on hot button issues where deep emotions are involved.

I agree with Mooney that this delusion-conviction effect has done grievous harm to our once-scientific and rational nation. And anyone would have to be deaf, blind, and in hysterical denial not to see these trends operating, in tsunami proportions, among our Republican neighbors.

Still, let’s be fair. There are cases of conviction-delusion on the left, as well. Just look at some fantastically illogical purist stances over the nature-vs-nurture argument, in which leftists hew to absolutist positions based entirely on what is politically correct and dogmatically convenient, never bothering to notice that they claim human behaviors are completely uncontrolled by biology... except when they are completely controlled by biology.  No amount of evidence can alter the way fervent believers want the world to be. Another example, the tense alliance between liberals and leftists  crumbles over issues like the careful restart of nuclear energy, something the liberals are now willing to cautiously resume.

The key difference is not whether such delusionally subjective-selective perception occurs on both political extremes - it does. No, what should matter to us all is how thoroughly the reflexive-denialists on one side control an entire movement, political party and power complex.... and ran the entire country... off a cliff. Meanwhile, the subjectivity junkies on the other side are marginalized (if loud.)

Mooney describes in detail how bad it is - that millions of our neighbors deem facts to be malleably ignorable. Though soundly refuted by scientific studies, angry parents continue to believe their children acquired autism through vaccinations: "Where do they get their 'science' from? From the Internet, celebrities, other frantic-angry parents, and a few non-mainstream researchers and doctors who continue to challenge the scientific consensus, all of which forms a self-reinforcing echo chamber of misinformation," writes Mooney, noting that for every five hours of cable news, just one minute is devoted to science. In 2009, 15 year old U.S. students ranked 17th out of 34 developed countries in science. A firm foundation in science is fundamental to modern citizenship as well as our ability to innovate and
 succeed in a global economy.

In fact, the “war on science” has ballooned long past any mere attack upon the credibility of researchers and professors.  It now manifests as a general “war on all knowledge castes”  -- including teachers, economists, journalists, civil servants, medical
 doctors, skilled labor, judges, diplomats... everyone (in other words) who actually knows a lot. All are routinely attacked on you-know-which-murdochian-"news"-network.

Science itself is turning attention to this problem and things are not looking good.  According to one study (via Mooney): “The result was stunning and alarming. The standard view that knowing more science, or being better at mathematical reasoning, ought to make you more accepting of mainstream climate science simply crashed and burned.” It was found that conservatives who knew more tended to dig in their heels against new facts or budging their views, using what they already knew as bulwarks against changing their minds. But this did not hold for the other side. Educated liberals who were pre-disposed to be suspicious toward nuclear power nevertheless were adaptable when shown clear scientific data assuaging their fears. (I would love to see this experiment done on liberals re: nature-vs-nurture issues!)

Mooney concludes that even education fails to serve as “antidote to politically biased reasoning.”

Take a look at this excerpt of Mooney's latest book, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality  (due out in April). It shows that our current Culture War is not about left vs right at all.  It is about two very different sets of personalities and worldviews.

= It’s not all bad news =

Oh, heck, want a positive note? It may be possible to overcome this sickness, enflamed deliberately by Roger Ailes and his crew. Stanford Prof. James Fishkin and his colleagues ran an experiment in which a full spectrum of Californians were brought together and asked to soberly deliberate on state problems, negotiating a range of solutions. With their minds focused by sober responsibility, rabid partisans suddenly displayed flexibility, curiosity, willingness to learn and … (yes even the Republicans)… a readiness to negotiate with their opposing neighbors, without calling them satanic.
Fishkin and his colleague, Bruce Ackerman, call for a new holiday, Deliberation Day, when “people throughout the country will meet in public spaces and engage in structured debates about issues…”

= But the bad is still plenty bad =

All too often politicians use bad science to justify their political agenda. Both right and left have favorite conspiracy theories about Global Climate Change (which I’ve discussed in Climate Skeptics and Climate Deniers). On global warming, Rick Santorum said, “I for one never bought the hoax.”  But consider…which is more likely: A massive conspiracy involving 90% of scientists worldwide — or oil companies spending vast sums to sway opinion, and influence public policy to protect their profits? Decide for yourself.
In any case, most of the methods for reducing greenhouse gas emissions involve increasing our energy efficiency and stimulating development of new forms of energy — things we ought to be doing anyway to remain competitive and current in an ever-changing global economy.
Oh, please… you Brits over there… nail those guys who have done so much harm to America. Whose family name reminds one of the underground-dwelling cannibals of Wells’s novel The Time Machine.

=Campaign Finance: Follow the Money=

Compare numbers of campaign donations under $200 and those over $200 between Obama, Paul and Romney. Who has a broad range of support? Who is the populist candidate?  A fascinating comparison… especially when you add in super-pacs, whose average contributors (for Romney) have been in the $100,000 range.  Citizens United, anyone?
Do you think we’ve been exaggerating the degree that the super-uber-rich are buying influence in politics?  Just one small group of immensely wealthy GOP donors…almost all of whom attend twice-yearly secret meetings hosted by the billionaire Koch Brothers — have already sent gushers of cash to Super-Pacs supporting Romney, Gingrich and even Ron Paul. We’re talking upwards of One Hundred Million Dollars... and it is only March.  Tell me… is there any red line that even your fox-crazy uncle must decide is intolerable?  Can we stop this?

WhoWhatWhy reports that that Saudi prince Walid bin Talal – Rupert Murdoch’s top partner at Fox – has invested heavily in Twitter.  An event coinciding with Twitter’s recent announcement that it would cooperate with censorship of any content deemed “illegal” in any country, whatsoever.  WhoWhatWhy can get a bit “over-eager” but these facts speak for themselves.
Iceland shows the way. If the European (and American) debt crises seem endless, with Big Banks the only relentless winners, then read up about Iceland, given up for dead after their foolish bankers (who called themselves “geniuses”) leveraged the country into tsunamis of red ink.  What this article doesn’t talk about is the “gender aspect”.  In effect,, the women of Iceland simply took over.  Grabbed the reins of politics and finance out of the hands of their “genius” husbands and sent them back to the fishing boats, where they belonged.

Following those rumors of a brokered GOP convention?  A lot of simmering talk about drafting… Jeb Bush.  This survey of Bush Family “coincidences” may be a little biased… but the facts do speak.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (26+ / 0-)

    Things to repeat: "CITOKATE -- Criticism Is The Only Known Antidote to Error." "IAAMOAC -- I Am A Member of a Civilization"

    by David Brin on Thu Mar 08, 2012 at 05:51:10 PM PST

  •  Funny. (7+ / 0-)

    I was just thinking about Moynihan's famous quote today.

    If Mooney is correct, the more educated a Republican, the more entitled to their own facts they may feel.

    Fair's fair. I don't vote in your church; don't go preaching in my government New video: "The Future Just Ain't What It Used to Be"

    by Crashing Vor on Thu Mar 08, 2012 at 06:01:27 PM PST

  •  Americans are stupid and proud of it which (7+ / 0-)

    Is a dangerous combo.

    The radical Republican party is the party of oppression, fear, loathing and above all more money and power for the people who robbed us.

    by a2nite on Thu Mar 08, 2012 at 06:03:24 PM PST

  •  the analysis needs to (9+ / 0-)

    include the effect of 1000 plus coordinated right wing talk radio stations that are almost entirely dedicated to global warming denial and any other kind of denial of science and common sense and truth that will aid the GOP and  the 1% that supports and uses it.

    we'd be a lot more rational as a country if the party of lincoln hadn't morphed into the party of limbaugh.

    fix the radio problem and we'll still have the irrational and crazy and frightened but we'll be able to function like a democracy again and have rational national discussions that have been impossible the last 20 years.

    as far as how the brain works here's my favorite theory, re denial:

    This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and partisan lying by broadcasting sports on Limbaugh radio stations.

    by certainot on Thu Mar 08, 2012 at 06:09:07 PM PST

  •  Listened to Santorum and Gingrich "dogwhistle: (9+ / 0-)

    Both of them talked about "elites" this week. Those are the kids who actually took real classes and did their homework in high school. They actually went to college.

    There has been an anti-intellectual trend in this nation for 30 years, because thinking would make the 99% dangerous! Now that we have a highly intelligent president it's gotten a lot worse.

    Correlate that to the MSNBC news article tonight about the rise in "militia" types. If you are undereducated and insecure, if you want your future to be based on the amount of melanin in your skin rather than your ability, vote GOP.

  •  Blue Dogs are Solid Conservatives and There Is (6+ / 0-)

    no talk among them or Democratic leadership of addressing climate change to the degree and in the time frame science says is needed. Nor has there ever been in 20 years any serious leadership talk of working to assemble the political strength in office needed to do this or to address the array of economic crises facing the country.

    In fact during the 1st 2 years of the Admin, the talk we heard was, first, that we lacked the strength to act appropriately on the entire array of crises facing the country at the present time, but second, liberals had to expect to lose strength in the upcoming midterm.

    Just how many centuries of that kind of politicking would it take for Democratic governance to assemble the power to address climate change?

    I support the President and the Democrats against the Republicans in this imminent election.

    But it makes no difference to humanity which reason government won't act: denying the problem or denying to fight it adequately to avoid energizing the far more dangerous loons on the left.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Thu Mar 08, 2012 at 06:14:20 PM PST

  •  It took 30 years! (4+ / 0-)

    It began with (pseydo-saint) Reagan--the war against thinking.

    "Back to basics" emphasized the teaching of reading over any logical reasoning or scientific inquiry. Believe me, I've been personally involved in this fight for all that time.

    I can cite you every legislation that incrementally forced teachers to ignore logic and teach "following directions"--a very dominionist national agenda.

    The collateral damage in this decades-long effort was the entrepreneurial psychology of Americans.

  •  TED TALKS - James Hansen (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LinSea, G2geek, radarlady

    James Hansen: Why I must speak out about climate change

    the comments display the issues highlighted in this diary. I'm concerned about the GOP recent attempts to make out that educated people are the villains. History is repeating itself.

    Does Chris Mooney offer any hope to turn this trend around?

    I never could understand how people could listen or watch corporate sponsored media. Bad for your mental health IMO.

  •  The title... (4+ / 0-)

    "Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future" reminded me of the following Herbert Spencer quote...

    Our lives are universally shortened by our ignorance.
  •  Yo David- interesting findings, and now... (4+ / 0-)

    .... we can use them to full advantage.

    What I found intriguing was that increase in education among Republicans correlated with increase in rigidity of views.  

    However this is consistent with the hypothesis that emotions are the drivers of decision making: emotions lead, reason follows with an explanation; emotions decide, reason explains.  

    So here's a specific hypothesis for these new findings:  Those with high intelligence have more "brainpower" to bring to bear on "explaining" the decisions that their emotions produce.   (Embedded assumption: Education tends to correlate with intelligence, and the causal factors work both ways on that.)  


    First, we come up with an aspect of personal belief that, for a large majority of the population, has strong emotional associations and is associated with one's "sense of identity."  For now we'll call this "belief Q."

    Second, operationalize the variable "degree of completeness of explanation."  (Darn it, I'm usually pretty good at operationalizing cognitive variables, but this one has me just a bit stuck.  "Conformance to Aristotelian logic" is a tempting criterion but it's culture-bound.  "Quantity of words used" is almost an interval-scale variable but not really, and in any case one can write voluminous nonsense as I often do:-)  But anyway let's assume we can operationalize this well enough to serve.)

    Third, ask subjects to produce explanations for the "belief Q" in their lives.  Correlate the "degree of completeness of explanation" with multiple measures of intelligence such as standardized test scores, IQ test scores, grade point averages, highest level of schooling completed, etc.

    Hypothetical prediction: positive correlation between intelligence and "completeness of explanation."

    "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

    by G2geek on Thu Mar 08, 2012 at 07:33:28 PM PST

  •  putting the findings to good use: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Larsstephens, radarlady

    Clearly the findings indicate that "better science education" is not a cure for reality-denialisms of various kinds.

    Now of course we want better science education anyway, regardless of what it does for politics.  And we can use these findings to persuade Republicans that better science ed won't end up creating more Democrats.  

    But the way to apply the findings in the political arena and get results, is to look for ways to shift individuals' emotional associations and emotional composition.  This of course is what advertising does so extremely well, and there are probably metric shit-tons of published findings in the areas of advertising and marketing psychology.  

    But here's the interesting curve-ball:  We don't have to use the media to shift emotions "about" this or that "content."  All we have to do is shift the emotions in and of themselves.  Shift the composition of emotions that form the basis of personality.

    This of course is what hate radio has been so damn good at.  By promoting hate, and its partner fear, hate radio has produced a certain personality type in its audiences, with the results we see before us.

    And lo & behold, the antidotes are love and humor.  One might think that love is the antidote to hate, and that humor is the antidote to fear.  But in fact that's not the case:  Paradoxically, humor is the antidote to hate, and love is the antidote to fear.  

    This immediately tells us what our media strategy needs to be.  Promote love to neutralize and overcome fear.  Promote humor to neutralize and overcome hate.  

    The former: promoting love: can be done squarely within the framework of Christianity, since after all Jesus himself was arguably the first founder of a major religion to specifically promote love as part of a theology and ethical system.

    The latter: promoting humor: can be done as a viral meme-complex via radio:  comedy radio.  Humor is enormously viral, and comedy radio could become an enormous commercial success.  It can be entirely nonpolitical, or it can be wholly bipartisan, either way doesn't matter.  What matters is to get people laughing early and often and constantly.   The only thing that has to be off limits, is "hate humor" such as racist jokes and other expressions of overt cruelty.  But with that limitation in mind, comedy radio could be the best antidote to Rush Limbaugh this side of an arrest warrant for illegal possession of prescription narcotics.

    "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

    by G2geek on Thu Mar 08, 2012 at 07:46:54 PM PST

  •  Taking into consideration the rise in (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    G2geek, radarlady

    Fundamentalist religions of various sects, worldwide, over the past 35-50 years - and the tendency of religions to disparage or (worse) ignore what science and scientific investigations bring to the world stage...

    it's not surprising to see such a rise in the return of the Know Nothings in American politics.

    However, it's mind-boggling that the mainstream media outlets of the world have become such co-horts to the unbridled fundamentalist attitudes toward science since the era of Reagan. Our grandparents, if they were still alive today, would be astonished to see the state of US knowledge of and belief in science.

    I'm sure of it.

    * * *
    I like paying taxes...with them, I buy Civilization
    * * *
    "A Better World is Possible" - #Occupy

    by Angie in WA State on Thu Mar 08, 2012 at 09:20:10 PM PST

  •  Brin responds... good comments! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    G2geek, radarlady

    More measured than I oft find here. Calm and reasoned, mostly.

    I think it is important to go after the "ostrich" conservatives... actual adults who are in "hear no evil" denial that their party has gone mad... or who say "I know my side has gone crazy, but... well... democratsareworse!"

    If even 10% of these folks can be gotten to hear the whirring spinning in Barry Goldwater's grave. If they can be got to actually READ Adam Smith and see Smith rail against "oligarchs" as the worst enemies of free enterprise...

    ...then the GOP would be fatally weakened by the loss of adults.

    That should be the priority. Start by taking the Hannity nostrums they repeat to you and offer WAGERS!  Ask them if Rupert Murdoch's top partner at Fox is a Saudi Prince.  If they deny it, demand a bet.  Take their cash. Watch them back down.

    Things to repeat: "CITOKATE -- Criticism Is The Only Known Antidote to Error." "IAAMOAC -- I Am A Member of a Civilization"

    by David Brin on Fri Mar 09, 2012 at 12:03:48 AM PST

    •  speaking of Saudi princes (and Bug Jack Barron)... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ...check out this diary:

      Saudi princes' private planes have locked compartments for "special passengers" whose role is to be organ donors if the princes need "spare body parts" while traveling.

      No shit.

      As reported by an airport employee who got it first-hand from someone who works on one of those planes.

      Shades of Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad (black children's glands harvested for immortality drug for the rich).

      "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

      by G2geek on Fri Mar 09, 2012 at 12:57:16 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  A couple of reasons for the spread of doubt (0+ / 0-)

    about the reliability of science:  When a scientist acts not as a seeker of fact, but as an advocate for action, he taints the credibility of the facts on which he relies.  When a prediction is argued as if it were an established, indisputable fact, rather than a guess, it raises a concern as to the reliability of the facts on which the prediction is based.  Scientists would do better for science by avoiding advocacy of action.  Those who accept a prediction would do a better job of promoting their belief in the prediction by not claiming that the prediction is established fact and that the sky will fall if that guess is not accepted.

  •  I'm with you, although (0+ / 0-)

    I am so fed up with all political parties I am an unaffiliated independent voter.

    Although I am a card carrying member of the skeptical movement I don't view the problem as being ignorance of science per se, but a more fundamental one where people simply don't know how to think logically. The Greeks were on to something when they focused on grammar, logic and rhetoric as the foundation of their "classical education". The Greeks then built on that base to include "sciency" topics like geometry, arithmetic and astronomy. But the core subjects of logic and rhetoric are life skills that can be brought to bear in lots of daily decision making that do not require a knowledge of science. Too many people today confuse rationalization with reason. If people, for example, were taught about Ad Hominem arguments and the Appeal to Authority Fallacy as children, they might be more likely to formulate sane arguments as adults.

    But speaking of science, I read recently (sorry I lost the link) about a scientific paper that basically says it is all but mathematically impossible for a democratic society to pick the best, most competent leaders among its citizenry. In a nutshell, the number of people who only think they are intelligent and informed outnumbers those of us who are (/irony). That was Alexander Hamilton 's point when he strenuously argued, ultimately unsuccessfully, against giving every man the right to vote at the Constitutional Convention. Of course, the meritocratic government he was advocating would have had its own issues. Ultimately we are left with Winston Churchill's line that "Democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried." He also said, "The best argument against Democracy is a five minute discussion with the average voter."

  •  You might be a blue dog but you make (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    good common sense. I am about equally disenchanted with the liberal base as I am the republican base. Too far is simply too far.  Logical Reasoning has become the bitch of ideology. I never thought I would feel this way about people of America but it must be said as a whole we aren't looking to bright at all. Just look at some of the diaries of the hard left written here at Kos they have me cringing at how similar in rhetoric they are to the hard right. No logical reasoning to be found. I do love this site because occasionally I read something like your diary and well frankly it gives me hope.

Click here for the mobile view of the site