"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On Waking Up, Or Perhaps Not

Forbes Blogs may not really be the responsibility of Forbes.

An interesting piece there by Rick Ungar, says (in part)

A Bloomberg National Poll of adults 18 and over reveals that 40% of Tea Party supporters are 55 or older. It should, therefore, come as no big surprise that, according to an April 18th Marist Poll, 70% of Tea Party members strongly oppose the Paul Ryan plan to dismantle Medicare as we know it – a plan which received the overwhelming support of the GOP Congress when put to a vote.

The fog was lifting and the death rattle of the Tea Party movement suddenly grew audible.

As Tea Partiers took a look at their own bank accounts and realized that they were, sadly, not among the millionaires and billionaires who have funded their movement, yet another light bulb switched on. Why, they began to wonder, were they being so completely supportive of continuing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy when the wealthy were leaving it to the rank and file of the movement to actually pay the bill for smaller government while the rich squirreled away another 10% in tax reductions?

While Tea Party acolytes may have been misled, they aren’t stupid. Thus, the previously unthinkable began to appear all too true.

Could it be that it was never the government who was their enemy after all? Had they been used by their wealthy sponsors as some perverse investment in a scheme to lower taxes even further for those who need it the least at the cost of those who gave their loyalty to the cause?

Even worse, supporters had to wonder if the Tea Party had inadvertently -and ironically- created government as the enemy by electing people who would take away Medicare and other entitlements that are a part of our cultural and national covenant that the Tea Partiers rely on every bit as much as the rest of us - and all so that they could allow billionaires and others who can afford high-priced lobbyists to keep more of their money?

Meanwhile, Steven Lewandowsky makes the obvious connection between birthers and climate deniers.

The McGuffin Itself

What motivates people who, based on Republican demographics, likely earn a living in business or dentistry or some other well-paying job requiring at least a modicum of literacy, to take leave of their senses and to subscribe to patent absurdities instead?

On May 19 2010, the US National Academy of Sciences, America's highest scientific body, summarised the current state of climate science particularly clearly: “Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.”

The late Stephen Jay Gould referred to a fact as something that it would be "perverse to withhold provisional assent." Notwithstanding the Academy's clear statement about the existence of global warming and its human-made causes, recent surveys reveal that the majority of US Republicans do not accept this scientific fact.

Indeed, tragically and paradoxically, among Republicans acceptance of the science decreases with their level of education as well as with their self-reported knowledge: Whereas Democrats who believe they understand global warming better also are more likely to believe that it poses a threat in their lifetimes, among Republicans increased belief in understanding global warming is associated with decreased perception of its severity. The more they think they know, the more ignorant they reveal themselves to be.
Will people eventually wake up to how badly their trust has been abused?

James Fallows thinks it will not be soon. On the birther episode (h/t Andrew Sullivan) and the recent release of the infamous "long form" birth certificate, he says:
"Here we have a wonderful real-world test: if 'actual knowledge' mattered, the number of people who thought Obama was foreign-born would approach zero by next week -- with exceptions for illiterates, the mentally disabled, paranoid schizophrenics, etc. My guess is that the figures will barely change,"
Chris Mooney agrees.

Now it can't escape our notice that Fallows' sardonic prediction seems to align with the "facts don't matter" school of communication; the idea that even if we have facts we ought to be communicating "narratives". But I think we should leave the construction of narratives to fiction, and somehow get people to understand that "science communication" by definition is about what is most true, which is almost always interesting, and not about what is most interesting, which is almost always untrue.

Update: Some examples of the denialist mindset hard at work, denying.


Lou Grinzo said...

And of course, the birthers are now engaging in an act of goalpost moving that would put climate change deniers to shame. They're saying that even if Obama was born in Hawaii when and as claimed, he's still ineligible to be prez because -- wait for it -- his father wasn't a citizen.

I can't even fathom what to say about anyone who would make such a claim in a serious manner.

Marion Delgado said...

Scientific uncertainty is a really, really hard topic. It's philosophically deep - taken wrongly to an extreme, it could lead to questioning how anyone can know anything. It distinguishes between systematic error, bias, and noise. It shows the statistical underpinnings of scientific inference, and statistics are often counter-intuitive. It distinguishes between accuracy and precision. The way scientific calculations handle decimal precision is counter-intuitive. Instead of stuffing people with facts, I think that they need to be taught about this sort of stuff, and I think it should be acknowledged at the start that it's tricky paradigm to grasp and to convey.

Alastair said...

Well perhaps we greenies should go on the offensive.

Why don't we explain that hurricane Katrina and the current tornadoes are a warning from God, and if we don't change our ways His punishment will be far worse.

Our sin is is not just that we are stealing an unfair share of the world's oil. We are also stealing it from our own children. Within a few years all the oil will have gone. Our children and grandchildren will have to live in soaring temperatures without fuel to drive their air conditioning.

You only have to vist a ghost town whose fortune was based on gold mining, to see what happens when the minerals which provided their wealth run out.

These type of people only respond when they are scared, so the only answer is to put the fear of God in them.

Cheers, Alastair.

adelady said...

Alastair, I think that's exactly the wrong way round.

These people are already scared out of their wits. Mainly of phantoms like evil greenie hippie pinko treehugger world domination. But also of any change to the world as they see it or to what they see as their way of life.

We need, somehow, to show that we are the ones with hope. And faith in people to do the right thing by each other - and all those other people they've never met and the generations of descendants we have no chance ever to see.

greenfyre said...

They're awake, and active, frenzied even. It's hard to know quite what to call this state of self-inflicted stupidity, but medical terminology seems the most appropriate.

I think Adelady has the most accurate diagnosis, although possibly the bleakest one sensu it is the mindset that is least accessible to reality.

On a more hopeful note, these same people were also terrified of the civil rights movement, the women's movement etc. We can change the world despite their paranoid delusions, but we're going to have to get as serious about fighting for a livable future as they are about preventing it.