The Real War on Science

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New York Times reporter and best-seller John Tierny published an excellent article with City Journal in which he argues that the Left has waged a far more damaging and effective war on science than the Right, despite narratives to the contrary. The whole article is worth reading, but among his examples include:

  1. Extensive confirmation bias (and other biases) in the social sciences that result in skewed research, particularly regarding research comparing left-wing people and right-wing people.
  2. Taboos against valid research: for example, discouraging or outright condemning research that (a) explores genetic differences between genders or races (unless the genetic differences relate to differences in sexual orientation) or (b) finds negative impacts of single-parent households, LGBT parenting, or putting children in childcare versus stay-at-home parenting.
  3. Politicizing (and thus corrupting) research on (a) genetics and animal breeding (contributing to the eugenics movement of the early 20th century),  (b) overpopulation (contributing, Tierny argues, to China’s immoral and disastrous one-child policy), (c) environmental science (contributing to many different problems, such as increased death tolls from malaria when DDT was restricted or the spread of dengue and Zika virus due to needless fears of insecticides), and (d) food science (pushing low fat diets and greatly increasing American consumption of carbohydrates).

Tierny argues that possibly one of the greatest casualties of the Left’s war on science is the reputation of scientists. As he puts it: “Bad research can be exposed and discarded, but bad reputations endure.”

The whole article is worth reading, but here is a sampling:

In a classic study of peer review, 75 psychologists were asked to referee a paper about the mental health of left-wing student activists. Some referees saw a version of the paper showing that the student activists’ mental health was above normal; others saw different data, showing it to be below normal. Sure enough, the more liberal referees were more likely to recommend publishing the paper favorable to the left-wing activists. When the conclusion went the other way, they quickly found problems with its methodology.

 

The narrative that Republicans are antiscience has been fed by well-publicized studies reporting that conservatives are more close-minded and dogmatic than liberals are. But these conclusions have been based on questions asking people how strongly they cling to traditional morality and religion—dogmas that matter a lot more to conservatives than to liberals. A few other studies—not well-publicized—have shown that liberals can be just as close-minded when their own beliefs, such as their feelings about the environment or Barack Obama, are challenged.

Social psychologists have often reported that conservatives are more prejudiced against other social groups than liberals are. But one of Haidt’s coauthors, Jarret Crawford of the College of New Jersey, recently noted a glaring problem with these studies: they typically involve attitudes toward groups that lean left, like African-Americans and communists. When Crawford (who is a liberal) did his own study involving a wider range of groups, he found that prejudice is bipartisan. Liberals display strong prejudice against religious Christians and other groups they perceive as right of center.

Conservatives have been variously pathologized as unethical, antisocial, and irrational simply because they don’t share beliefs that seem self-evident to liberals. For instance, one study explored ethical decision making by asking people whether they would formally support a female colleague’s complaint of sexual harassment. There was no way to know if the complaint was justified, but anyone who didn’t automatically side with the woman was put in the unethical category. Another study asked people whether they believed that “in the long run, hard work usually brings a better life”—and then classified a yes answer as a “rationalization of inequality.” Another study asked people if they agreed that “the Earth has plenty of natural resources if we just learn how to develop them”—a view held by many experts in resource economics, but the psychologists pathologized it as a “denial of environmental realities.”

 

For his part, Holdren [a previous advocate of forced population control in the U.S.] has served for the past eight years as the science advisor to President Obama, a position from which he laments that Americans don’t take his warnings on climate change seriously. He doesn’t seem to realize that public skepticism has a lot to do with the dismal track record of himself and his fellow environmentalists. There’s always an apocalypse requiring the expansion of state power. The visions of global famine were followed by more failed predictions, such as an “age of scarcity” due to vanishing supplies of energy and natural resources and epidemics of cancer and infertility caused by synthetic chemicals. In a 1976 book, The Genesis Strategy, the climatologist Stephen Schneider advocated a new fourth branch of the federal government (with experts like himself serving 20-year terms) to deal with the imminent crisis of global cooling. He later switched to become a leader in the global-warming debate.

 

Yet many climate researchers are passing off their political opinions as science, just as Obama does, and they’re even using that absurdly unscientific term “denier” as if they were priests guarding some eternal truth. Science advances by continually challenging and testing hypotheses, but the modern Left has become obsessed with silencing heretics. In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch last year, 20 climate scientists urged her to use federal racketeering laws to prosecute corporations and think tanks that have “deceived the American people about the risks of climate change.” Similar assaults on free speech are endorsed in the Democratic Party’s 2016 platform, which calls for prosecution of companies that make “misleading” statements about “the scientific reality of climate change.” A group of Democratic state attorneys general coordinated an assault on climate skeptics by subpoenaing records from fossil-fuel companies and free-market think tanks, supposedly as part of investigations to prosecute corporate fraud. Such prosecutions may go nowhere in court—they’re blatant violations of the First Amendment—but that’s not their purpose. By demanding a decade’s worth of e-mail and other records, the Democratic inquisitors and their scientist allies want to harass climate dissidents and intimidate their donors.

 

Related reading:

 

White women and Trump.

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Photo from “9 Women on Why They’re (Still) Voting for Trump,” New York Magazine

53% of white women voted for Trump.

In the circles I run in, there was tons of coverage and discussion about the myriad comments Trump has made over the years that many of us consider blatantly sexist. When the Hollywood Access tape came out, I took (and still take) his comments as an admission of sexual predation, a topic that means a great deal to me. I was already a #NeverTrump conservative, but the Hollywood Access tapes made it much more difficult for me to understand how people of good conscience, especially women, could vote for this man.

My feed started to include articles such as The Atlantic’s “The Revolt of the Conservative Woman” and viral tweets from conservative women feeling betrayed by their party’s defense of Trump. Between his apparent gross disrespect of women and the opportunity to elect the first female president, I thought women would vote in droves for Clinton and against Trump. Article’s like FiveThirtyEight’s “Women are Defeating Donald Trump” seemed to think so too.

But clearly I was missing some major parts of the puzzle. (Apparently a lot of us were, including the pollsters.) As Walker pointed out recently, Trump’s support among (all, not just white) women was only slightly lower than the average for Republican presidential candidates since 2000 (42% compared to an average of 44.2%). Clinton’s support among women was exactly average for the Democratic presidential candidates since 2000 (54%). Women weren’t driven to the polls to vote against Trump or for Clinton—overall turnout among women was only 1% higher than in 2012.

So what happened? What pieces of the puzzle was I missing, that women were neither particularly repelled by Trump nor particularly inspired by Clinton?

 

Maybe it was bigotry.

Predictably, some of my leftist friends think the missing puzzle pieces are racism and (internalized) sexism. I’ve seen repostings of LV Anderson’s piece at Slate (“White Women Sold Out the Sisterhood and the World by Voting for Trump”), which is filled with explanations like this:

What leads a woman to vote for a man who has made it very clear that he believes she is subhuman? Self-loathing. Hypocrisy. And, of course, a racist view of the world that privileges white supremacy over every other issue.

Sarah Ruiz-Grossman at Huffington Post authored a letter to white women that started with “Fellow white women, I’m done with you.” In sync with a lot of the commentary I’ve read, it showed no curiosity as to the perspectives, hopes, fears, or values of millions of women that led them to vote for Trump (or at least not vote for Clinton). Instead, and again, it simply told them what they didn’t care about, what their moral failings were, and what they must do now.

While I appreciate the frustration, I think this approach is an awful strategy. Lambasting people, especially conservatives, for bigotry has not been terribly effective at changing their minds (or votes). Berating the other side seems to mostly get them to tune out entirely when the inevitable accusations of prejudice begin. And the rampant shaming of Trump supporters clearly did nothing to dissuade them throughout the primaries (when shaming was coming from conservatives and liberals alike) or the rest of the election. Why would it work now, when they’ve won? They have less reason than ever to be concerned about the opinions of people who show no understanding of their perspectives or interest in their wellbeing.

But it’s not just that I think accusing people of bigotry is poor strategy; I think it’s poor reasoning too. In this post I go through three theories of how voting for Trump was bigoted and explain whether I think those theories make sense.

 

Theory 1 – Internalized sexists: women voted for Trump instead of Clinton because they are sexist against female candidates.

How Trump measured against Clinton is a major factor. The pantsuit nation adored Clinton, of course, so for them this was no contest at all. But we aren’t looking into what HRC’s biggest fans thought; we’re exploring the millions of women who disagreed.

It’s not that everyone who voted for Trump thought he was wonderful: exit polls show that 20% of people who voted for Trump had an overall unfavorable opinion of him. Nearly a quarter of Trump voters said he wasn’t qualified for or did not have the temperament to be president, and a full 17% of people who voted for Trump to be President said they would be “concerned” if he were elected!

But 28% of Trump voters said they chose him mainly because they disliked Clinton. Trump received about 60M votes, which would mean about 17M cast their votes primarily as a vote against Clinton. Along the same lines, while voter turnout for Trump was slightly lower than it had been for Romney, voter turnout for Clinton was much lower than it had been for Obama.

Some will argue that these numbers show sexism: people so rejected the idea of a female leader they either stayed home or voted for someone they despised just to stop Clinton. Actually women get accused of sexism no matter which way they vote: Women who backed Clinton are accused of bias, just “voting with their vaginas,” and the rest of us are accused of not voting for her because we’re misogynists. It’s a lose-lose.

But these theories ignore the fact that women don’t generally vote based on gender, and gender stereotypes end up being less relevant than party affiliation in voting decisions. In other words, we vote based on political positions. The reality is that most of the women voting for or against Clinton did so based on a variety of competing concerns and priorities, just as most men choose their candidates.

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CNN reported that millennial women in particular “rejected the notion that gender should be a factor in their vote.” As FiveThirtyEight put it:

Clinton’s stunning loss Tuesday night showed that issues of culture and class mattered more to many American women than their gender. The sisterhood, as real sisterhood tends to be, turned out to be riddled with complications.

On average, for the last 5 presidential elections, 89% of Democrats chose the Democratic nominee and 91.4% of Republicans chose the Republican. Last week 89% of Democrats chose Clinton and 90% of Republicans chose Trump. If internalized sexism were a major factor in terms of female nominees, we’d expect 2016 to show a drop in Democrats voting for the Democrat (as internally sexist Democratic women abandoned Clinton) and perhaps even a jump in Republicans voting for the Republican (as internally sexist Republican women were motivated to stop Clinton). But there was no such change.

Similarly, if internalized sexism was a major factor we’d expect Clinton to get a lower proportion of women’s votes compared to previous Democratic nominees. Yet, as mentioned above, she got exactly the average proportion of women Democratic nominees have had in the last five presidential races. Or, if we’re operating under the idea that only conservatives can be bigots, we’d at least expect a higher proportion of women to vote for Trump in order to stop Clinton. Yet Trump got just slightly less than the average proportion of women Republican nominees have had for the last five races.

If anything, these stats suggest women weren’t influenced by gender at all.

 

Theory 2 – Indifference to sexism: women cared more about party lines than taking a stand against Trump’s misogyny.

There are several assumptions embedded in this line of thinking: (A) The women who voted for Trump accessed the same information we did about him. (B) When they assessed that information, they came to the same conclusions we did about the degree of Trump’s misogyny. (C) There was nothing else in the balance for them in this election that could have meant more to them than Trump’s misogyny.

2a. Trump voters were likely accessing different information.
Hopefully it’s not a secret that conservatives and liberals consume different media. I wish I had time to do an entire blog post on how drastically this impacts our views of each other and of our political landscape. But the main point is we should be very careful when assuming that everyone else—especially people that run in different social circles and already hold different perspectives—“knows” the same “truths” we know. Which stories get reported and how they’re described varies a lot, and sadly, at least in my experience, most people don’t look for sources from worldviews they don’t hold. Or, if they do, it’s not in an attempt to observe and understand, but to feel outraged and argue.

So when John Oliver does a witty, biting piece on “making Donald Drumpf again” and you see it reposted over and over, that doesn’t mean everyone saw it. The people who already hated Trump were a lot more likely to see it than anyone else. Late night comedy is, after all, a bastion of liberal derision.

Pictured: Echo Chamber with John Oliver
Pictured: Echo Chamber with John Oliver

2b. Trump voters were likely interpreting information in different ways.
That’s not to suggest Trump supporters were wholly unaware of criticisms against him. I think it’s unlikely, for example, that many Trump supporters didn’t at least hear about the Hollywood Access recording. But the context in which conservatives in general, and enthusiastic Trump supporters specifically, interpreted that was often quite different than how leftists saw it.

Many people (including me) were disgusted and horrified by Trump laughingly talking about getting away with kissing and groping women without their consent. But many others mostly heard politically-motivated faux outrage. The same people so focused on Trump’s comments and the sexual assault allegations against him remained dismissive or defensive about the long history of sexual misconduct and assault allegations against Bill Clinton—and Hillary Clinton’s role in silencing Bill’s accusers. Clinton fans retorted that Hillary isn’t responsible for Bill’s behavior, but that misses the point. She’s responsible for her behavior: she referred to these women as “floozy,” “bimbo,” and “stalker,” and put great effort into “destroying” their stories.

Yeah, okay.
Yeah, okay.

Good luck telling conservatives they must take a principled stand against sexual assault while refusing to acknowledge that the Clintons basically embodied rape culture.

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Of course the Hollywood Access tapes are only one example of Trump’s sexism, but the pattern remains the same. Whatever example you point to, if outraged accusations of bigotry are coming from leftists or the media, conservatives are extremely skeptical. In fact, getting back to point 2a, conservative circles are more likely to have articles about people who made up stories of hate crimes – stories which, before being shown to be false, often caused viral online outrage (as well as extensive donations to the alleged victim).

I find this problem very frustrating. I do believe the left is too quick to claim bigotry, but I believe the right is therefore too quick to dismiss actual bigotry. Robby Soave of Reason.com summarized this view well:

[It’s] the boy-who-cried-wolf situation. I was happy to see a few liberals, like Bill Maher, owning up to it. Maher admitted during a recent show that he was wrong to treat George Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain like they were apocalyptic threats to the nation: it robbed him of the ability to treat Trump more seriously. The left said McCain was a racist supported by racists, it said Romney was a racist supported by racists, but when an actually racist Republican came along—and racists cheered him—it had lost its ability to credibly make that accusation.

Kirsten Powers explained the same idea in terms of misogyny:

After all, these same voters have watched as every Republican candidate in recent memory has been accused of waging a “War on Women.” If Democrats are going to claim that Mitt Romney and John McCain hate women (and they did), then they shouldn’t be surprised when voters ignore them when they say Donald Trump hates women. If every Republican is a misogynist, then no Republican is.

I don’t believe the right’s resistance to recognizing bigotry is all the left’s fault. I think that’s a factor, but ultimately we’re all responsible for assessing each situation and trying to be fair-minded about it.

Even so, I think many conservatives viewed the outrage over Trump as nothing more than yet another chapter in a long history of selective and manufactured leftist outrage, and so they discounted it. So even if they had watched John Oliver, they probably would have just rolled their eyes at another leftist show mocking conservatives again.

2c. Trump voters were weighing a lot of additional concerns apart from bigotry.
But there were a lot of conservatives who heard about the problems with Trump and were seriously concerned. Many of them became the #NeverTrump crowd, but others still voted for Trump. Why? Because they weren’t balancing the problems of racism and sexism against nothing. They were taking those issues and factoring them in with a lot of other issues, weighing each one, and coming to a decision. Even women who voted against Trump had other concerns they considered more important than sexism.

Many reject as ridiculous this concept of weighing multiple factors, saying it’s a weak excuse to try to cover up bigotry. They assert nothing could outweigh the civil rights threats Trump represents, and therefore the people who came down on Trump’s side, by definition, just didn’t care enough about civil rights.

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Keep lecturing people about what they don’t care about while showing no understanding of what they do care about. That’s been so effective so far.

Interestingly, I saw the same reductive thinking from conservatives trying to berate #NeverTrump people into voting for him. If you didn’t vote for Trump—if you voted for Clinton, or even if you voted third party—you must not care about massive government abuse and corruption, our country’s impending economic collapse under an overregulated welfare state, and, possibly above all, the killing of tens of thousands of babies.

Does that last part sound hyperbolic to you? Because, for a huge portion of the pro-life movement, that was the assertion. Many pro-lifers view abortion as morally equivalent to any other unlawful human death. If you want to imagine the abortion debate from a pro-life perspective, just replace the concept of “fetus” with “toddler,” and listen to how the arguments sound. So when Hillary Clinton campaigned on a platform of no restrictions through all three trimesters and requiring Medicaid to cover abortions, that was an absolute deal breaker for many people. Abortion happens in this country roughly 1 million times a year. Imagine for a moment you were choosing between (1) a candidate who stirs racial animosity and blatantly disrespects women and (2) a candidate who unapologetically embraces policies making it legal to murder a million toddlers a year. Who would you pick?

If your first response is to explain why that second description is false, you’re missing the point. Yes, I understand that for many, abortion is nothing at all like killing a toddler and even the comparison is offensive. I’m not trying to convince anyone here how to feel about abortion. I’m trying to convince people that you can’t sincerely talk about what motivates others if you refuse to acknowledge their actual perspectives. People who voted for Trump could (a) recognize Trump’s racism and sexism, (b) care greatly about those issues, and (c) still believe the threats Clinton represented were more dire. The only way you can genuinely believe that every single vote for Trump represented at minimum a callous disregard for civil rights is if you ignore or dismiss the circumstances and value systems of millions of people.

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Passion about abortion likely affected many of women who voted for Trump. LV Anderson was aghast that more than half of white women would vote for a man who said he’d appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. It is amazing to me that so many people are still taken off guard when women are antiabortion. Half of American women are against abortion, and that has been true since long before Trump entered the primaries. Yet each time thousands or millions of women don’t go for the pro-choice position, pro-choice people are just so surprised. This is another example of the same pattern: be totally unaware of what people have repeatedly said they care about, and then be surprised and angry when they vote for the things they said they cared about all along.

I’ve used abortion as an example of competing values, but it’s only one of many. A recent New York Times article profiled women who voted for Trump. While 22-year-old Nicole Been mentioned her deep opposition to abortion as part of her stance, other women discussed Trump’s approach to veterans, their own dire financial situations, and their disillusionment with Democratic efforts to improve their lives. Another New York Times article profiled college-educated women who voted for Trump; they, too, opposed abortion, but focused more on economic security and job and college prospects for their children.

Article after article about the parts of the nation that went wholeheartedly for Trump (including many counties that had previously voted for Obama twice) describe recurring themes of economic and cultural despair, resentment at being derided by the rest of us, and the way economic and racial anxiety intertwine. (Here’s one or two more.)

Note that racial anxiety is one of the recurring themes. The left seems to want to reduce this narrative to bigotry and nothing more, and I’ve spent a lot of time here explaining why I think that’s inaccurate. But the right seems to want to reflexively deny bigotry had any part to play, and I don’t think that’s true either. At minimum there was certainly a racial component to Trump’s candidacy. Looming large in the support of Trump were concerns about minority groups getting unfair preferential treatment and resources, immigrants taking resources and increasing criminal activity, and terrorists threatening our safety.

 

Theory 3 – Institutionalized sexism and racism – regardless of personal motivation, women who voted for Trump supported a platform that would disproportionately harm minority groups.

A major hurdle with discussions of racism and sexism is the use of the same words to mean very different things. In my right-leaning circles, “racism” generally means an individual’s disdain or animosity towards others based on race. Same thing with “sexism,” but based on sex. In my left-leaning circles, “racism” and “sexism” often mean individual disdain or animosity, but can also mean cultural norms and systemic and institutionalized systems that disproportionately negatively impact minority groups.

So when someone claims that a vote for Trump was racist, they could either mean (a) the person casting the vote has disdain or animosity toward people of other races or (b) the person casting the vote, regardless of his or her motivations, helped to uphold systems that have major negative impacts on women and nonwhite people.

The interesting thing about the “effects not intentions” version of racism is that it can be empirically verified. Motivations can be pretty complicated, multifaceted, and irrational. Effects can be objectively measured. So if “racism” (or sexism or Islamophobia or homophobia) is defined as “policies and practices that hurt these groups,” and if electing Trump ends up hurting these groups, then it follows that electing Trump was racism, by this definition.

3a. It’s reasonable to believe electing Trump will end up hurting these groups.
Trump campaigned on ending sanctuary cities, suspending visas, and deportation. If implemented, those policies would disproportionately affect undocumented immigrants (about half of which are Hispanic or Latino, followed by Asian) as well as American citizens from families with mixed citizenship statuses. Whether you agree with these policies or not, and whether you personally care how these policies affect others or not, it’s hard to deny that they will negatively impact immigrants and their family members who are American citizens.

Trump has talked about requiring immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries to register upon entering the U.S.  Alternatively he called for a ban on Muslims immigrating to the country; while he clarified this would not apply to American citizens, it’s hard to believe such policies and related rhetoric about Muslims won’t affect public perception of and reaction to Muslims already living here. The FBI has released data showing a 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslims in 2015. Some are worried this trend is related to Trump’s rise and campaign rhetoric; others say there are other factors–such as 2015 terrorist attacks–that likely played a part. But I think either of those reasons underscores the central point: when the public increasingly perceives a group as dangerous, violence against innocent people in that group becomes more likely.

It seems like Trump’s potential effects on African American communities have been less of a focus, but there are reasons for concern. (This link includes some reasons I think conservatives will dismiss as more faux outrage, but, for what it’s worth, I believe some of these points are pretty valid.)

While Trump didn’t propose specific policies against LGBT folk, the 2016 Republican Party platform did object to legalized gay marriage and take other positions seen as anti-gay. Because Trump was the Republican nominee and can now nominate SCOTUS judges, many believe he will work to adopt those Republican positions. I think it’s unlikely gay marriage will get overturned, but I don’t think it’s a certainty, and I see why many people are worried their marital status could be threatened.

Trump has a history that suggests a pretty disrespectful view of women, not to mention (again) his statements in the Access Hollywood recordings. To the extent women believe support for Trump signals societal dismissal of sexual assault, that belief could have another chilling effect on women reporting assaults and seeking help. I watched this play out on both the national level and with women I know personally after the Access Hollywood firestorm. Women (and men, for that matter) who have experienced sexual assault listened as friends and family who were Trump supporters minimized, dismissed, and, in my opinion, very generously interpreted Trump’s statements. That was difficult. Victims of sexual assault hear those reactions and believe the reactions would be the same if they came forward with their own stories. I can understand why people fear this kind of dismissal of sexual misconduct will only get worse now that Trump will be president.

A vote for Trump lent support to these policy proposals and attitudes, even if the person voting didn’t personally support one or any of the above. In this sense I think Theory 3 is truer than the other theories—I think a Trump administration will very likely make life harder for these groups.

3b. First problem: negative effects count as racism regardless of what they’re being weighed against.
Consider Trump’s campaign regarding Islamic terrorism. I do believe requiring (mostly) Muslim immigrants to register upon entering the country, or refusing to let them enter at all, will negatively affect the public’s views and behavior toward Muslim Americans and Muslim immigrants already here.

But I also recognize that the people who support these measures believe they will significantly increase our national security and safety. Based on my understanding of Theory 3, what Trump voters believe about these measures (and how those beliefs speak to their motivations) is irrelevant, because Theory 3 is all about effects on minority groups, not the intentions of the people pushing these policies. Whether they sincerely believe these measures will save American lives doesn’t change whether or not this approach is defined as racist.

And we’ve only talked about what they believe, not what is objectively true. Apparently NSEERS, the similar Bush-era program that required immigrant registration, was ineffective at preventing terrorism; it sounds like it was just more security theater, but in this case directed at specific groups. But suppose, hypothetically, immigrant registration made a huge difference in national security. Suppose—as I suspect is the belief of some who support this idea—that without immigrant registration we’d have more San Bernadino and Pulse nightclub shootings. Or another World Trade Center.

If these policies actually prevented terrorism deaths in our own country, does that change whether they are racist? If I understand Theory 3 correctly, it does not. In this way Theory 3 rings a bit hollow for me, because while it is at least technically accurate and objectively measurable (does X policy negatively impact Y community or not?), if it ignores all other factors I still consider it misleading.

3c. Second problem: conflating Theory 3 with Theories 1 & 2.
In my experience, the left frequently blurs the line between “negative impacts” and “personal animosity.” A great example is the Slate article “There’s No Such Thing as a Good Trump Supporter.” Chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie argues that Trump supporters do not merit empathy because they “voted for a racist who promised racist outcomes.” He cites other authors who have claimed Trump’s victory does not reveal an “inherent malice” in the populace (referring to the “personal animosity” definition of racism). Bouie counters with the “negative impacts” definition:

Whether Trump’s election reveals an “inherent malice” in his voters is irrelevant. What is relevant are the practical outcomes of a Trump presidency…If you voted for Trump, you voted for this, regardless of what you believe about the groups in question.

But, as the title of the piece suggests, Bouie is not condemning only the effects of voting for Trump; he’s condemning the Trump voters themselves. He asserts that it is myopic and even “morally grotesque” to suggest Trump supporters are good people. He compares Trump voters to the men in the early 20th century who organized lynchings (they “weren’t ghouls or monsters. They were ordinary.”) and the people who gawked and smiled at those lynchings (“the very model of decent, law-abiding Americana.”) He sums up: “Hate and racism have always been the province of ‘good people.’”

Note the switch here. Bouie is no longer talking about practical outcomes; he’s talking about hate. He has switched from the “negative impacts” definition of racism back to the “personal animosity” definition. So is he saying that most Trump supporters did not have inherent malice but should be condemned for the policies they supported? Or is he saying that anyone who can support Trump has to be, at least in part, motivated by hate?

And this is often how I see the conversation going. To (heavily) paraphrase:

Person A: If you voted for Trump, you’re racist.
Person B: I’m really not. I disagreed with a lot of what he said but I thought Clinton would do more damage in XYZ ways.
Person A: Yeah, you may not personally feel racist but you supported racist policies. It just shows you think the concerns of white people are more important than the actual human rights of everyone else.
Person B: That’s not what I think at all!
Person A: It’s not about what you personally think! It’s about what you supported!

And repeat.

In other words, in principle motivation is supposed to be irrelevant because racism is about effects, but in practice accusations of racism nearly always boil down to motivation—at best a selfish indifference and at worst outright malice. So, in principle, I think Theory 3 has some merit and is worth talking about. In practice, I find I just end up repeating the arguments I made for Theories 1 & 2.

 

Citizen stops potential mass shooter, Snopes quibbles.

Gotta say I’m pretty pissed at Snopes about this one.

Jody Ray Thompson shoots into a crowd, injuring three. Then a citizen with a conceal carry permit shoots Thompson. Now one side says the  citizen “stopped a mass shooting.”

When people quote the outrageous number of mass shootings that have happened in a short time frame, they’re usually using the Shootingtracker.com (FBI-derived) definition of “mass shooting”: “FOUR or more shot and/or killed in a single event [incident], at the same general time and location, not including the shooter.”

So Thompson shot three people and was stopped. He didn’t reach the level of a mass shooting (four people), but he was as close as you can get when he was stopped. So it seems pretty reasonable to say the citizen who shot him “stopped a mass shooting.”

But Snopes isn’t so sure, because now, for some reason, they’re defining “mass shooting” as: “one or more gunmen deliberately setting out to indiscriminately kill multiple randomly-selected victims.” [Emphasis added.] Snopes goes on to claim it’s unclear Thompson intended to kill anyone. So is it really a “mass shooting”?

Snopes even has a previous article discussing the different definitions of “mass shooting,” and, spoiler, none of the definitions they review discuss motive.  Yet in this Thompson article they assert that motive is “typically” part of the definition. Just not typical enough to have been mentioned in their article about mass shooting definitions.

It was annoying enough that I could only find this story on Fox and Washington Times (traditionally conservative outlets) and no other major outlets. Even more annoying that Snopes would grasp at straws so hard to avoid simply marking the story as “true.” Snopes in a nutshell:

Well technically I guess a legal gun owner stopped another dude from shooting more people but the shooter wasn’t a psychopath per se, so this is iffy.

What a bunch of crap.

Left: Playoffz night club where the shooting occurred. Right: Jody Ray Thompson, the shooter.
Left: Playoffz night club where the shooting occurred.
Right: Jody Ray Thompson, the shooter.

The Economic Illiteracy of Journalists

“Venezuela,” reported The Washington Post, “has become a failed state.” Evidence places the blame at the feet of Hugo Chavez and his socialist policies. Yet, what have journalists over the last few years been saying about the country and its president? One post sums it up nicely:

Venezuela is collapsing, with the New York Times describing it as “uncharted territory” for a semi-developed country to be so deep in economic disaster that its hospitals, schools, power plants, and basic services are simply shutting down. So it’s a good time to reflect on the media’s previous glowing Venezuela stories. In 2013, Salon praised “Hugo Chavez’ Economic Miracle, saying that “[Chavez’s] full-throated advocacy of socialism and redistributionism at once represented a fundamental critique of neoliberal economics, and also delivered some indisputably positive results” (h/t Ciphergoth). And the Guardian wrote that “Sorry, Venezuela Haters: This Economy Is Not The Greece Of Latin America. Prediction is hard, and I was willing to forgive eg the pundits who were wrong about the Trump nomination. But I am less willing to forgive here, because the thesis of these articles wasn’t just that they were right, but that the only reason everyone else didn’t admit they were right was neoliberalism and bad intentions. Psychologizing other people instead of arguing with them should take a really high burden of proof, and Salon and Guardian didn’t meet it. Muggeridge, thou should be living at this hour…

One writer over at HumanProgress described the journalist praise for Venezuela as nothing more than “mind-bending stupidity.” Inspired by these examples, economist Scott Sumner sought out how journalists had similarly “explained away the abysmal failure of statism in Greece”:

Back in 2008, when I did research on neoliberalism in developing countries, I found that Greece was the least neoliberal economy in the developed world, according to a variety of metrics. Note that at this time Greece was booming, so this was not a question of people who liked neoliberalism calling Greece statist just because they wanted to peg that tag on a failed system. Indeed I was surprised that Greece did so well until 2008, despite being so amazingly un-neoliberal.

Of course we all know what happened next. The world discovered that the Greek boom was funded by unsustainable foreign borrowing, and that the Greek government lied about how much they had borrowed. When the huge debts were exposed, Greece had to sharply curtail its borrowing. Even worse, the eurozone crisis pushed Greek into recession. Greece is now widely seen as the worst economy in the developed world, with major structural problems.

So I wondered how the left would explain the failure of statism in Greece, and decided to google “Greece crisis neoliberalism” expecting to find lots of articles about how Greece needed to move in a more neoliberal direction, like the northern European economies, in order to recover from its statist nightmare. What I found was the exact opposite:

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 12.09.32 PM.png

Notice any familiar sources? (Hint: the first hit and the second to last hit.) And despite the evidence mentioned above that found Greece to be very illiberal, all of these sources are blaming Greece’s non-existent neoliberalism for its demise. Sumner concludes,

To be clear, there are many countries that are a mix of free markets and statism, and hence there can be honest differences as to which characteristics are the most salient. But at the extremes, reasonable people should not disagree. There is no plausible argument that Hong Kong’s success is in any way a success story for statism, and there is no plausible argument that Greece’s failure has anything to do with neoliberalism. To suggest otherwise is to engage in The Big Lie.

Romney and Trump: Saying What Needs to Be Said

If you weren’t aware, Mitt Romney gave a speech this morning attacking Trump’s candidacy. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Mitt Romney, and I have been since his unsuccessful primary run in 2008. So I was looking forward to this speech enough that I queued it up on my iPhone and played it through my car speakers live as I drove. It was a great speech, in my mind, but you can see for yourself:

The New York Times also has a full transcript.

Obviously Trump fans don’t like it, but lots of Republicans and conservative are also criticizing the speech for two things: first, being pointless and second, giving ammunition to the left. So here are some thoughts.

I agree: this speech didn’t persuade a single Trump supporter. That’s not the point. Think about Trump supporters for a moment. Is there a speech that could have had an impact on that audience? No, there is not. Trump has basically two kinds of supporters at this point. There are those who take his provocative, bigoted statements at face value and approve of them. There is no decent or reasonable way to appeal to these people, because they are supporting Trump explicitly because of his lack of decency and his lack of reasonability. The Republican Party neither needs nor wants this dead weight. Then there are those who are so cynical and jaded that the content of Trump’s statements–and the content of the attacks on him–are irrelevant. These people hear political debates the same way that Charlie Brown listens to his teacher.

These folks, I believe, do not share the extreme and noxious views that have become the hallmark of Trump’s campaign. But they are still completely and totally beyond rational appeal because all they care about is who is talking not what is being said. If you come from “the establishment,” then whatever you say is a lie, no matter what you say. The point is: nobody in Trump’s corner would have listened to anything that Romney had to say, no matter what it was.

Give the man some credit. That wasn’t his goal. It’s clear from the speech that none of it was addressing Trump supporters. What was his goal, then? Who was he addressing?

If the other candidates can find some common ground, I believe we can nominate a person who can win the general election and who will represent the values and policies of conservatism. Given the current delegate selection process, that means that I’d vote for Marco Rubio in Florida and for John Kasich in Ohio and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state. [emphasis added]

Romney is addressing Republicans and conservatives who are already leery of Trump’s campaign, and his goal is to encourage these people to get out and vote (part one) and to do so strategically (part two). We can’t know just yet what effect this appeal will have, but it is certainly more tactically aware than a tone-deaf appeal to an audience defined by having their fingers jammed into their ears.

So let’s talk about this idea that Romney is giving ammunition to the left. That he represents “the establishment.” That he’s a RINO. This is the response of, for example, Rush Limbaugh and his audience, although I’ve also seen more reasonable and sophisticated Republicans (who don’t like Trump) make a similar claim.

First, I don’t think these people paid very much attention to Mitt Romney’s words. Romney was not attacking the right from the center. His attacks related primarily to the realism of Trump’s proposals and, even more so, went to Trump’s character and temperament. These are apolitical attacks. Secondly, Romney included an extended take-down of Clinton:

Now, Mr. Trump relishes any poll that reflects what he thinks of himself. But polls are also saying that he will lose to Hillary Clinton. Think about that. On Hillary Clinton’s watch, the State Department, when she was guiding it and part of the Obama administration, that State Department watched as America’s interests were diminished at every corner of the world.

She compromised our national secrets. She dissembled to the families of the slain. And she jettisoned her most profound beliefs to gain presidential power. For the last three decades, the Clintons have lived at the intersection of money and politics, trading their political influence to enrich their personal finances.

They embody the term, “crony capitalism.” It disgusts the American people and causes them to lose faith in our political process. A person so untrustworthy and dishonest as Hillary Clinton must not become president.

Of course, a Trump nomination enables her victory.

There is precious little evidence in Mitt Romney’s speech of the alleged base / establishment divide. And that’s something that we really need to emphasize with great force here: Trump does not speak for, represent, or enjoy the support of the GOP base in some kind of glorious crusade to purge the GOP of ideological heretics. Exhibit A in this case is Glenn Beck, who refers to Trump as “a pathological narcissistic sociopath,” Beck is far from the GOP establishment: he’s a social values populist who supports Cruz over Rubio, and who has little love for Romney. Or consider Matt Walsh, another representative of the social values populism that truly reflects the GOP base, and who has been attacking Trump and Trump supporters for months. He wrote articles in July 2015, Aug 2015, January 2016, and yet again last month.

Trump’s rise is not a reflection of some kind of broad-based populist revolt by ideological pure conservatives against an elite cadre of moderate establishmentarians. If that were the case, Trump would be pulling in more than a paltry one third of Republican primary voters. If that were the case, Trump would have strong, consistent, clearly articulated positions on the key conservative issues: abortion, the second amendment, limited government, and religious liberty. Instead, Trump’s positions on all of these issues are farcically out of touch with the base of the conservative movement. He keeps defending Planned Parenthood, has no credible history on gun rights, consistently threatens to abuse executive power if he gets it, and is laughably ignorant of even basic religious cultural touchstones.

As The Atlantic covered, there is a “clear ‘soft spot’ in Trump’s [evangelical] support: weekly church attendance.” In other words, the evangelicals who actually go to church, don’t trust Trump. That’s the template for every issue down the line. Politically informed conservatives who are pro-life, or pro-second amendment, or are for limited government are all skeptical of Trump because they have the depth of knowledge (on their respective issues) to spot a liar and a phony. Jonah Goldberg, writing for the National Review, has come to the same conclusion:

Until Trump descended his golden escalator, the “conservative base” generally referred to committed pro-lifers and other social conservatives. The term also suggested people who were for very limited government, strict adherence to the Constitution, etc. Most of all, it described people who called themselves “very conservative.”

While it’s absolutely true that Trump draws support from people who fit such descriptions, it’s far from the entirety of Trump’s following. According to polls, Trump draws heavily from more secular Republicans who are more likely to describe themselves as “liberal” or “moderate” than “conservative” or “very conservative.” Ted Cruz draws more exclusively from the traditional base.

One thing should be crystal clear: the Trump phenomenon is not a conservative revolt against the establishment or anything else because it’s emphatically not conservative.

So where does it come from? What’s fueling Trump’s rise? This is an important question, because it will get back to Romney’s motivation for his speech.

I believe the story goes like this:

Since the 1970s, journalists have increasingly shifted towards the left. This led to slight but universal anti-conservative bias. It was subtle because standards of professionalism kept it from getting too extreme, but it was also pervasive. Rush Limbaugh was the reaction to that. He was conservatives saying, “Fine, if our views aren’t going to get a fair hearing in your media, we will make our own.”

Party Affiliation of JournalistsUnfortunately, Limbaugh is an unprincipled, egotistical, self-aggrandizing rabble rouser. He responded to a grievance that was genuine, but the solution he proffered made things worse. This isn’t accidental, Limbaugh—as an avatar of retribution—tied his fortunes to the continuation and exacerbation of the media-bias.

An outlet like the National Review tries to provide some balance to the left-leaning conversation, but it does so while buying into the fundamental premise that the Fourth Estate is a noble calling with an accompanying sense of duty, and of pride, and of responsibility. Limbaugh could care less about any of that. From his perspective, the more outrageous he is the better, because that provokes the mainstream media into attacking him, and those attacks are the red meat he feeds his audience.

This kicked off a feedback loop of mutual polarization. Mainstream media in the 1990s was significantly more anti-conservative than in the 1980s in no small part because they were reacting to Limbaugh. This in turn fed the conservative response, leading to Fox News. This was basically just Rush Limbaugh on an industrial scale. All the commercial polish of a cable news network was used to funnel paranoia and tribalism and sophistry from the AM radios onto HD TVs.

And then the left upped the ante once more. Two examples: Although MSNBC had been founded in 1996, the shift to becoming the Fox news of the left started around 2000, and Real Time with Bill Maher launched on HBO in 2003. By this time, the mainstream media was already overwhelmingly left-leaning, and President Obama’s 2008 campaign showcased the extent to which the media had all but completely abandoned the ideals of objectivity, responsibility, and criticism that had once differentiated them from firebrands like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.

This represents just one aspect of the overall trend. Polarization has also continued apace in both academia and in social networking, with titans like Twitter engaging in “shadowbanning” of conservatives and other politically-slanted tactics. Together, this means that the public sphere in the United States today is incredibly hostile towards conservatives, as Business Insider reported.

Political Bias by Economic SectorIt is pretty common to use allegations of media bias to excuse conservatives or advocate for their perspective, but that’s not where I’m going today. Instead, I want to consider how the asymmetry of this conflict effects how it is prosecuted by both sides. It is an immutable law of human conflict that asymmetric conflicts are among the  nastiest and most vicious. The side with less conventional power is not constrained by conventional norms of conduct (because they have less to lose)  and is more willing to adopt proscribed tactics (because they can be rationalized by appeal to underdog status and also because there are fewer options to “approved” methods of fighting.) The side with greater conventional power is initially constrained in its response but–over time–begins to use the bad conduct of the insurgent force to excuse violations of their self-imposed constraints.

Case in point: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel acts with relative restraint because it has a lot to lose: a fairly prosperous, stable economy and government, Palestinian terrorist organization are classical insurgents, however, with nothing to lose they are willing to engage in reprehensible, violent tactics such as suicide bombings and indiscriminate targeting of civilians.

The same thing has unfolded in the American political arena (albeit largely without literal violence thus far). The American left, despite being outnumbered (according to most polls) occupies the position of strength: professional journalists, tenured professors, and (at least on social issues), Silicon Valley billionaires. As a result, they have often prosecuted their war with relative restraint.  Bias was omnipresent, but often extremely subtle, for example, and news outlets continued to–in word and to some extent in fact–pursue fairness and objectivity. The American right, despite broad public support, has subsisted at the margins of the public sphere and they have adopted proscribed tactics accordingly. The rhetoric is nastier and more provocative, and there is often not the slightest pretext to objectivity or, in some cases, even basic civility. At a very abstract level, the strategic logic that differentiates the tactics of Hamas and the IDF also differentiates the tactics of NPR and Rush Limbaugh.

What we have been witnessing, at least since the 1980s, is an escalating cycle of mutually-reinforcing rhetorical violence. I do not want to trivialize the horror of actual warfare, but the strategic analogy is sound. This a tribal blood feud, and such a feud will continue to spiral out of control–threatening the fabric of our entire society–unless and until the belligerents can begin to exercise self-control. One side can never browbeat, humiliate, or intimidate the other side into submission. Nobody ever wins a fight of this nature but, if we are to preserve our civil society, someone has to lead their own sides back from the brink. That–even more than the immediate tactical implications–is what Mitt Romney’s speech was truly about.

There is one last thing that we need to keep in mind. As much as folks are (understandably) transfixed by the juggernaut of awful that is the Trump movement, the man himself is irrelevant. Trump is not a demon, a genius, or an angel. He had to be rich enough, famous enough, and outrageous enough to fulfill a certain role but he’s essentially just a guy who happens to fit a costume that was already laying around, waiting for someone to put it on. Or, to use another metaphor, he’s just a guy who happened to be in the right place at the right time to hitch a ride on a particularly vicious political current. And it’s the current that’s carrying Trump along—not the man hitching a ride on it—that merits our long-term attention. Because, no matter what happens with Trump in 2016, the political forces that have brought us to this point are unlikely to dissipate any time soon. My sobering word of caution is this: as bad as you think Trump is, there is room for things to get much, much worse if the underlying political dynamics don’t change.

A two-front war is every general’s nightmare, but that’s what we have. As a committed conservative, I have two goals in mind. The first is to advocate for policies that I believe will make our country–and the world–better. I believe that all human beings deserve first and foremost the fundamental right to life, and so I am pro-life. I believe that free markets empower our economy at home and lead to poverty-eradicating growth world-wide, and so I am a capitalist. I believe that power tends to corrupt, and that corruption leads to misery and injustice, and so I support limited government. For these, and other reasons, I am a conservative. But I also believe that it is possible for decent, reasonable people to differ with me on these issues and/or to have their own legitimate agenda with their own competing priorities. And I believe that resolving the conflict should happen in a social and political atmosphere of tolerance, respect, and peace.

I am not naive enough to believe that political conflict will ever be swept away by mutual respect and admiration, and that Democrats and Republicans will all roast smores together and hold hands and sing songs while finding painless compromises to solve all our problems. But that doesn’t mean that I have to just accept an unlimited amount of vitriol, tribalism, and intolerance as the cost of doing politics. It is not only possible to fight over the direction which the good ship United States should sail without threatening to sink her, it is necessary. That, more than anything else, is what I drew from Mitt Romney’s speech, and it is why I am such a fan.

About that Oft-Married Clerk in Kentucky

838 - Kim Davis

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve heard of Kim Davis. She’s the county clerk in Kentucky who is still refusing to give out marriage licenses to same sex couples, despite losing various court battles and having her case rejected by the Supreme Court. She is currently facing contempt charges, but what you really know about Kim Davis from the news media is that she’s been married four times. The hypocrisy is delicious, and reporters cannot get enough of it. Here are a variety of tweets from professional journalists about the story:

840 - Steven Nelson tweets

839 - More Tweets

Here’s the thing: it’s not unusual to have Christians guilty of hypocrisy. Christians are guilty of lots of things. They are, as a general rule, no better or worse than anybody else from any other faith tradition or none at all. And I don’t think it’s even necessarily out of bounds to comment on it. The glee with which the journalists are relishing in it is a little unseemly, but the fact itself is fair game, in my mind.

However, this is the one thing that these journalists aren’t telling you: Davis converted to Christianity about 4 years ago and all of the behavior they are ridiculing her for–all of the divorces and affairs–happened before that point. Since becoming a Christian, Davis has been married to one and only one person. Isn’t that fact also relevant? And yet it tends to get buried in these stories about her, if it is mentioned at all.

These screenshots and the information all from an article at The Federalist, by the way: Kentucky Clerk Didn’t Follow Christianity Before Converting To It.

The article also makes the point that, in general, journalists don’t really have a clue about religion. And they don’t. It’s just another aspect of life in 21st century America. All the folks making the movies, deciding what news to cover (and how), and writing the books we read tend to come from a small class of people who don’t know the first thing about religion and yet–at the same time–have a visceral antipathy towards it and especially towards any forms of religion that bear even a passing resemblance to historical traditions. Perspectives like this one, therefore, are all too rare:

837 - Last Tweet

There is plenty of Christian hypocrisy out there, folks. And I don’t have a problem with fouls being called when they occur, even if I know the refs like one team more than the other. All I ask–and I don’t think it’s too much to ask–is to actually wait for a foul to occur before dishing out the penalties.

Media Bias: The World I Know

Complaints of media bias are tiresome. I get that. But, on the other hand, I’m really not convinced that folks are fully cognizant of exactly how far off-kilter the media is from the rest of society, or how profoundly that impacts how a lot of us see the world we live in. This chart, more than any other chart I’ve seen, conveys that reality.

860 - Political Bias by Profession

I promise to do my best not to include this image in every post that I write for the next couple of years, but let me explain why it’s so important. (The post is from a Business Insider article, by the way: These Charts Show The Political Bias Of Workers In Each Profession.)

First, I mean “media” in the most general way possible. The entertainment industry, newspapers & print media, and academics: these are the sectors that determine, if not what people think, then certainly what people are thinking about. Folks marvel at the rapidity with which the country changed its mind on gay marriage, but it’s really no mystery when you think of how committed these sectors were to the campaign. (I’m not as sure about Online Computer Services, exactly, but it sounds like you may as well toss in the Internet with the rest of the media as well.)

So why is is that conservatives often feel under siege despite their numerical superiority (according to many polls)? This is why. Why is it that liberals cannot fathom what motivates conservatives? Again: this is why. There are essentially no representatives of conservative thought in the media that dominates this country.

This simple fact explains an awful lot about the current political climate.

The Real Story Behind the Prisoner Exchange

2014-06-03 Bergdahl Parents Press Conference
Bergdahl’s parents at a White House press conference.

As I understand it, the news cycle has gone something like this:

  1. Five detainees from Guantanamo were traded for the only American POW in Afghanistan, Bowe Robert Bergdahl.
  2. Republicans cry foul, making a variety of allegations about why the exchange was a bad idea, or at least not something to celebrate without reservation.
  3. Democrats mock Republicans for being willing to criticize everything they do, even when it’s the return of a POW.
  4. News stories from mainstream outlets start to validate some (but not all) of what Republicans were complaining about.

Let me give you two examples. The first comes from The Daily Beast and the headline says it all: We Lost Soldiers in the Hunt for Bergdahl, a Guy Who Walked Off in the Dead of Night. According to the story, Bergdahl deserted his post of his own volition (bad enough), which led to a vast manhunt that resulted in American soldiers dying while looking for him (worse) and culminated in strict orders that the American soldiers not speak of the incident at all (worse still). The article, written by one of the soldiers who was out risking his life and jeopardizing the greater counterinsurgency operations looking for Bergdahl, concludes by saying:

And Bergdahl, all I can say is this: Welcome back. I’m glad it’s over. There was a spot reserved for you on the return flight, but we had to leave without you, man. You’re probably going to have to find your own way home.

It’s a really poignant, fair, eye-opening piece. Read it. And then there’s this piece, published by conservative Mormon and Islamic scholar Daniel Peterson about some of the conservative complaints that are decidedly less reasonable. Peterson shoots down the theory that Bergdahl’s father “sanctified the White House for Islam” when he said, upon entering that building, “Bi ism Allah al-rahman al-rahim whih” meaning (in Arabic): “in the name of Allah the most gracious and most merciful.” Sounds ominous (if you have no idea what you’re talking about), but Peterson explains that the phrase “is routinely used at the beginning of formal statements and speeches in Islamic societies.” Bergdahl’s next words, apparently in Pashto instead of Arabic, were “I am your father.” Why speak Arabic and Pashto to a returning American POW? Because he spent the last 5 years speaking only Arabic and Pashto and is having trouble adjusting back to English, that’s why. 

In short: this is another one of those stories where everyone who is convinced that the other side is ripe for ridicule ends up looking rather ridiculous themselves. Whether it’s Mother Jones embarrassing itself by attributing the (entirely factual) notion that Bergdahl was  a deserter to “a few fringe types” (thus making The Daily Beast, USA Today, etc. all out to be right-wing nutjobs) or conservatives with zero comprehension of Arabic language or culture concocting weird fantasies about the White House being baptized into Islam, people ought to settle down and just do a little bit of digging. And maybe a little bit of waiting.

As far as I can tell the reason that conservatives were ahead of the main stream media on this story is partially paranoia but also because conservatives are much, much more tied in to the US military and therefore knew early that something was up. I knew because I follow Michael Yon, and he issued an early warning on this story, saying:

Mixed Reaction on Bergdahl release from Taliban
Be careful with this. He needs to be welcomed home, given a full physical and time with his family, and then charges against Bergdahl should be considered.
A piece of information you likely never will see in the news: Taliban and al Qaeda shared joint custody of Bergdahl. He converted to a hardcore strain of Islam, according to reliable sources.

Yon linked to an Army Times piece citing “mixed” reaction from the military community. (He added information in further updates like this one and this one.) So the military community, which is no fan of Obama, was out early with suspicion about holding a press conference for the return of someone who had, by his own derelection of duty, ensured that other Americans never made it home. Now the Pentagon will review claims US soldiers killed during search for Bergdahl. Looks like there was at least some fire to go with all this smoke.

 

Kickstarter Censors Gosnell Documentary

Abortion Clinic Deaths

Phelim McAleer is a controversial documentarian whose past work includes FrackNation (a defense of hydraulic fracturing), Not Evil Just Wrong (a critique of global warming alarmism), and Mine Your Own Business (a critique of environmentalist opposition to the Roșia Montană mining project). He used Kickstarter to garner $212,000 from 3,305 backers for his most recent film (that was FrackNation), and so he returned to Kickstarter for his current project: a documentary about Kermit Gosnell.

Not so fast.

Kickstarter wrote to tell us that it “couldn’t” go ahead with our posting — first, we needed to remove our (utterly factual) descriptions of “thousands of babies murdered” in order to “comply with the spirit” of the site’s “community guidelines.”

Well, that sounds sort of plausible at first glance. But wait.

This was shocking — and even more so when I looked at which projects don’t violate those standards. One project about a serial killer had a photograph of a dead body. There were 43 about rape, 28 with the F-word in the title or project description and one with the “C” word. There was even one called “Fist of Jesus” (don’t ask).

McAleer switched from Kickstarter to IndieGoGo to try and get the project going. Then Kickstarter decided to accept the project, but only on condition that they could subsequently cancel it at any time if they didn’t like McAleer’s updates. McAleer stuck with IndieGoGo.

The attempt to squelch the Gosnell story is nothing new. Any other story about a serial killer would have been made into a movie by now, but when it comes to abortion no one wanted to touch the story. Just look at the empty seats at the trial that were set aside for media who never came.

2014-10-14 Gosnell Reserved Seats

It’d be nice if we could just write of the whole Gosnell incident as one isolated, horrific case. The problem is, we can’t. Just last week, Secular Pro-Life ran an article highlighting how New York state has inspected exactly 17 of its 225 abortion clinics in the last 14 years. That kind of political protection is what allowed Gosnell’s house of horrors to continue. Even if you’re not pro-life, anyone who is sincerely concerned with protecting women’s health ought to be concerned at the way the Gosnell story is being swept under the rug as though it had never occurred.

Pious Fraud and Climate Skepticism

Pious fraud is the idea that sometimes it’s a good idea to lie to serve a higher good. In religion, it may mean lying about the origins of a sacred text or witnessing a miracle. In science, it may mean lying about a useless medical treatment to try and strengthen the  placebo effect. In Disney movies, it means giving an ordinary feather to Dumbo and telling him that it will magically help him to fly.  The ethics of pious fraud are therefore hotly contested.

The most recent entrant in the long and checkered history of pious fraud is the exaggerated claim that 97% of climate scientists all agree on climate change. The claim started out as a paper (not peer reviewed, btw) and then went on to get lots of airtime. Even President Obama tweeted it:

2014-02-27 Obama Consensus Tweet

There are lots of problems with the original paper and with the way that the paper has been used by others. Before we dig in, however, it’s important to carefully define the terms. The issue that is really at stake is not just a science issue, but a policy issue as well. It has 5 core components. They are:

  1. Climate change is really happening, and will continue to happen. (Implied: human forecasts are accurate.)
  2. The principle cause of climate change is human behavior (e.g. carbon emissions).
  3. The effects of climate change will, on balance, do much more harm than good.
  4. Climate change is largely reversible (e.g. we can do something about it).
  5. The costs of reversing climate change (e.g. with slower economic development for impoverished nations) are outweighed by the benefits.

As it turns out, however, the 97% paper successfully establishes near-universal scientific consensus on exactly none of these issues. Well, maybe on point #1, if you want to be generous. There are several articles out there castigating the authors of the paper for dishonesty and other shenanigans, but by far the strongest evidence of just how fraudulent the paper is comes from Popular Technology.

First, let’s explain how the 97% paper worked. Bjørn Lomborg (as reported in WattsUpWithThat) writes that:

The paper looks at 12,000 papers written in the last 25 years (see here, the paper doesn’t actually specify the numbers, http://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/watch-the-pea/). It ditches about 8,000 papers because they don’t take a position.

They put people who agree into three different bins — 1.6% that explicitly endorse global warming with numbers, 23% that explicitly endorse global warming without numbers and then 74% that “implicitly endorse” because they’re looking at other issues with global warming that must mean they agree with human-caused global warming.

Voila, you got about 97% (actually here 98%, but because the authors haven’t released the numbers themselves, we have to rely on other quantitative assessments).

In other words, the 97% paper is based on interpreting the papers of various other climate scientists. So what Popular Technology did is actually quite simple, they asked the original authors if they agreed with how the 97% paper had characterized their articles. As it turns out: they did not. The 97% paper effectively drafted many of the most vocal and outspoken critics into the consensus regardless of their actual feelings. That would be bad enough. But, as the scientists described, the problems only get worse from there.

Let’s start with issue #2. Ostensibly, this should be the most reliable claim of the paper because it’s the whole point of the paper. Other folks, like President Obama, may have subsequently added on points 3-5 (which the paper itself didn’t claim), but surely the paper at least had some accuracy about the main issue it claimed to study? Not really. The problem is that the consensus being defended is what’s called the IPCC consensus (after the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), but the IPCC defined anthropic global warming as global warming that is caused 90%-100% by humans. That’s a pretty high bar. The 97% paper, on the other hand, lowered that bar to just 50% and it did so without explaining what they were doing or why. Dr. Scaffeta, who has a PhD in physics and whose paper was used by the 97% paper as evidence of the consensus, explains:

Cook et al. (2013) [the 97% paper] is based on a strawman argument because it does not correctly define the IPCC AGW theory, which is NOT that human emissions have contributed 50%+ of the global warming since 1900 but that almost 90-100% of the observed global warming was induced by human emission.

What my papers say is that the IPCC view is erroneous because about 40-70% of the global warming observed from 1900 to 2000 was induced by the sun. [emphasis added]

Please note that it is very important to clarify that the AGW advocated by the IPCC has always claimed that 90-100% of the warming observed since 1900 is due to anthropogenic emissions. While critics like me have always claimed that the data would approximately indicate a 50-50 natural-anthropogenic contribution at most. [emphasis added]

What it is observed right now is utter dishonesty by the IPCC advocates. Instead of apologizing and honestly acknowledging that the AGW theory as advocated by the IPCC is wrong because based on climate models that poorly reconstruct the solar signature and do not reproduce the natural oscillations of the climate (AMO, PDO, NAO etc.) and honestly acknowledging that the truth, as it is emerging, is closer to what claimed by IPCC critics like me since 2005, these people are trying to get the credit.

They are gradually engaging into a metamorphosis process to save face.[emphasis added]

This is why I say that none of the 5 points above are actually substantiated by the 97% paper. Not only do Scaffeta (and many more) reject the characterization of their papers, but they in fact have dissenting views about the causes of global warming. This has profound implications. If (to use Scafetta’s high estimate), 70% of the global warming from 1990 – 2000 is caused by the sun, then this means that the models used by the IPCC consensus are wrong and we can’t trust their forecasts (so much for points 1 and 3). It also means that we have significant reason to doubt whether or not there’s much humans can do about climate change (points 4 and 5).

This is far from the only explosive comment to come from these scientists, however. Dr. Nir J. Shaviv (PhD in astrophysics) was also cited as being a part of the 97% consensus, and also completely rejected that categorization. He wrote:

Nope… it [that the paper was part of the 97% consensus] is not an accurate representation. The paper shows that if cosmic rays are included in empirical climate sensitivity analyses, then one finds that different time scales consistently give a low climate sensitiviity. i.e., it supports the idea that cosmic rays affect the climate and that climate sensitivity is low. This means that part of the 20th century should be attributed to the increased solar activity and that 21st century warming under a business as usual scenario should be low (about 1°C).

I couldn’t write these things more explicitly in the paper because of the refereeing, however, you don’t have to be a genius to reach these conclusions from the paper. [emphasis added]

So, not only does he also find that cosmic rays must factor into some of the warming (and therefore also criticize the forecasts), he also points out that he was unable to express his true opinion because of the peer review process, which was basically censoring (albeit not very well) his true belief. Just as a quick summary of the rest of the findings, here are some additional comments from the scientists who spoke with Popular Technology about how they felt the 97% paper characterized their own work:

  • “It would be incorrect to claim that our paper was an endorsement of CO2-induced global warming.” (Dr. Craig D. Idso, Geography)
  • I think your data are a load of crap. Why is that a lie? I really think so.” and “I think your sampling strategy is a load of nonsense. How is that a misrepresentation? Did I falsely describe your sample?” (Dr. S. J. Tol, Economics, in a series of tweets to one of the authors of the 97% paper.) [emphasis original to the Popular Technology article]
  • “The paper is strongly against AGW, and documents its absence in the sea level observational facts. Also, it invalidates the mode of sea level handling by the IPCC.” (Dr. Nils-Axel Morner, Quaternary Geography, describing how his own paper is actually against the consensus.)
  • “I am sure that this rating of no position on AGW by CO2 is nowhere accurate nor correct…. I hope my scientific views and conclusions are clear to anyone that will spend time reading our papers. Cook et al. (2013) is not the study to read if you want to find out about what we say and conclude in our own scientific works.” (Dr. Willie Soon, Rocket Science, describing why the categorization of his paper as having “no position” on anthropic global warming was false. He added: “No extra comment on Cook et al. (2013) is necessary as it is not a paper aiming to help anyone understand the science.” [emphasis added])
  • “If Cook et al’s paper classifies my paper, ‘A Multidisciplinary, Science-Based Approach to the Economics of Climate Change’ as “explicitly endorses AGW but does not quantify or minimize,” nothing could be further from either my intent or the contents of my paper… I would classify my paper in Cook et al’s category (7): Explicit rejection with quantification.” (Dr. Alan Carlin, Economics) [emphasis original to Popular Technology piece]

The Popular Technology article concluded: “The Cook et al. (2013) study is obviously littered with falsely classified papers making its conclusions baseless and its promotion by those in the media misleading.” and added two followup analyses: Cook’s 97% Consensus Study Game Plan Revealed and The Statistical Destruction of the 97% Consensus.

Where does that leave us? The most charitable possible interpretation is that the 97% paper deliberately or negligently inflated consensus on this issue. The reason for doing this is obvious: it’s a policy paper rather than a scientific paper. It is designed to get people to support policies intended to curb global warming without actually proving that these policies are the right decisions to make. It is a pious fraud. When the paper is used by others who tack on issues 3-5 (harm, reversibility, and net-benefit of opposing global warming) they are compounding the same fraud which the paper was deliberately designed to initiate.

This is a very, very bad idea. It is a bad idea because it poisons the entire debate. If scientists are willing to blatantly lie and fabricate to try and win a policy war, how can we (especially we who are non-experts) trust the scientific “consensus”? If the consensus were as low as 33% of scientists but it was transparent and honest and included all 5 points, that would be enough to make the issue quite serious. If it was as high as 67% (with the same conditions) that would be enough to make me seriously consider supporting drastic policies. But to try and trick people into believing there is consensus on all 5 points when there is, at best, exaggerated consensus on just 1 or 2 points throws the entire policy argument into question. Now I know that people are lying to me, and I also know that I have no realistic way of estimating the extent of the fabrications. I have to weigh the uncertain efficacy and uncertain benefits of climate change remedies against their certain costs.

This is not a good position for someone to be in if they are truly worried about climate change. And it’s not a reasonable position to be in if you’re actually confident of the facts. The fact that we are in this position at all is the reason that I, like many other open-minded skeptics, look for other possible explanations to explain the absolutist rhetoric of the climate change alarmists.