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Thu, 2012-07-12 06:08Chris Mooney
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Anthony Watts Is Right Because He’s Older Than Me

Last week, the leading climate skeptic blogger Anthony Watts criticized my writing based upon my age and looks–and other, er, observations:

For the record, it is now official; Chris Mooney is a paid political hack disguising himself as a science writer. I’m going back to calling him a “kid blogger”, because no adult could have thought processes that give conclusions like this.

With this, Watts posted a picture of what I look like. I’m 34. 

I would like to note some reasoning fallacies here. First, there is the obvious ad hominem fallacy—trying to discredit my intellectual arguments by saying negative personal things about me. Relatedly, Watts is also poisoning the well—he throws in these negatives before beginning to evaluate any argument, thus biasing readers against me before they actually assess evidence or claims.

There is also another fallacy here that conservatives, in particular, tend to commit—indeed, it pervades their view of issues like welfare policy. It’s called the fundamental attribution error, and it entails attributing someone’s behavior to something inherent in them (why doesn’t that lazy poor person try harder to get a job), rather than to the situation in which they find themselves (debilitating conditions of poverty). Thus, e.g., I make dumb arguments because I’m young and don’t know any better. 

Why is this argument invalid?

Mon, 2012-07-09 05:51Chris Mooney
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More Evidence That Republicans Are More Factually Challenged Than Democrats

In writing The Republican Brain, I had a problem to solve. You see, it was one thing to cite all the psychological research suggesting that liberals and conservatives just think differently, because they have different personalities and cognitive styles. Sure, one could infer on this basis that certain conservatives, especially authoritarian conservatives, would simply be more factually wrong about certain deeply held beliefs. But I also needed evidence from the real world showing that, you know, conservatives or Republicans are more factually incorrect.

That’s where all the fact-checker data came in.

You see, we have paid professionals whose job it is to track just how wrong Democrats and Republicans are. They’re called fact-checkers, and as I show in The Republican Brain (and in this article for The Nation), both PolitiFact and the Washington Post’s fact-checker column do indeed rate Republicans significantly worse than Democrats overall. The data for PolitiFact had already been analyzed before I did the book (see here); I then carried out, with the help of a research assistant named Aviva Meyer, a similar analysis of 315 fact-checks by The Washington Post from 2007 through 2011. And the punchline is the same: Republicans fare worse than Democrats, especially when it comes to the worst ratings (4 Pinocchios, “pants on fire”).

I find these fact-checker data particularly compelling, by the way, for the following reason: Neither PolitiFact nor Glenn Kessler (who writes the Post’s column), think of themselves as liberal partisans. To the contrary, I would argue that both go too far in trying to ding Democrats and liberals, just to make themselves appear balanced (and, presumably, to keep getting their calls returned by the other side of the aisle). Therefore, if their data shows Republicans fare worse, that really says something.

Thu, 2012-07-05 08:36Chris Mooney
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The Politics of Ice and Fire

In late June of 1988, just under 24 years ago, NASA’s James Hansen testified before the U.S. Congress about global warming. He noted that the Earth had been remarkably warm in the months leading up to that moment, and said he was 99 percent certain that the overall warming trend in the temperature data was due to human causes. ''It is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here,” Hansen stated. (His actual testimony is here.)

Hansen’s testimony put global warming on the national agenda—and the reason for its dramatic impact isn’t hard to see. It was given during a time when Washington D.C. was suffering from sweltering heat, just as it is now; when Yellowstone National Park was ablaze due to drought-induced wildfires; and when the Atlantic Ocean would soon serve up Category 5 Hurricane Gilbert, then the most intense storm ever measured in the Atlantic basin.

In other words, events were highly conducive to climate change hitting the national agenda—and Hansen’s testimony was itself pegged to those events. Hansen even stated that the frequency of hot summers in Washington, DC had already increased enough to be noticeable to the average person.

Once again, this was 24 years ago. And I point it out because right now, we are clearly witnessing another of those agenda-setting summers—or at least, we should be.

Tue, 2012-07-03 05:46Chris Mooney
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New Study: Climate Deniers Are Emoting--Especially the Conspiracy Theorists

Anyone paying attention these last few years will have noticed that global warming denial simply isn’t a rational phenomenon. And it’s not just that if there were any reason involved, then denial it would have decreased in prevalence—rather than increased—as climate science grew more firm and certain over the past two decades.

No: It’s much more than that. It’s that so many climate deniers are, let’s face it, angry. Try talking about the issue on the radio sometime. Get ready for them to call in, ready to argue with you.

Now there’s new scientific evidence documenting this emotional aspect of climate denial. In a new paper in Risk Analysis designed to tap into the “affective” component of the climate issue, Yale’s Nicholas Smith and Anthony Leiserowitz report on four separate studies of the public’s emotional associations related to climate change, conducted from 2002 to 2010.

In the surveys, people were asked about the first “word,” “thought,” “image,” or “phrase” that popped into mind in association with global warming. It was the analysis of these rapid fire responses that showed a steep increase in emotional climate denial. As Smith and Leiserowitz put it:

Several significant trends in Americans’ associations with “global warming” over time were identified. Perhaps most notable was the large increase in the proportion of naysayer images (e.g., “hoax”). The proportion of naysayer images rose from less than 10% in 2002 to over 20% of total responses in 2010.

And even as such denier associations increased, associations involving climate impacts like melting ice and sea level rise declined over the same period (though associations related to “disasters” also increased somewhat).  

Fascinatingly, the study also looks more closely at the various associations made by the deniers.

Wed, 2012-06-27 12:10Chris Mooney
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A Court's Scientific Smackdown: The D.C. Circuit Trashes Science Deniers on Global Warming and the EPA

Tomorrow, we may see a court—the highest in the land–flout precedent for partisan ends in its ruling on President Obama’s signature health care law.

However, in the meantime, we can rejoice that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit understands how to weigh complicated science-policy issues without partisanship or bias.

The D.C. Circuit recently came down with a long expected ruling on an industry and state attorneys general challenge to the EPA’s Endangerment Finding, as well as a number of other actions regarding greenhouse gas regulations. These representatives of red states (including Ken Cuccinelli) and affected corporations argued that EPA was in the wrong to determine that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare, and thus must be regulated. Rather, they argued, EPA had come up with an arbitrary and capricious reading of climate science—and was set to unleash an onerous regulatory regime on this misguided basis.

To put it simply, for this charge to be true, all the experts on global warming would have to be wrong. Because that’s precisely who EPA relied on—including the IPCC, the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and the National Academy of Sciences.

What the D.C. Circuit opinion does, basically, is to show that EPA is absolutely right to trust the experts, and to ignore the deniers, in deciding what the science of global warming says. That makes the D.C. Circuit opinion a resounding defense of science and its relevance to policy—in many ways on a par with other such legal classics, like Judge Jones’ decision in the Dover evolution trial.

Perhaps most quotable is the court’s devastating retort to the idea that EPA shouldn’t be relying on expert scientific assessments to make its judgment about whether humans are causing global warming:

Tue, 2012-06-26 11:58Chris Mooney
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Climate Denial in Brazil: A Translation

This is a translation of the May 2, 2012 “Programa do Jo” on Globo, a half hour interview with the climate skeptic geographer Ricardo Augusto Felicio on global warming. On YouTube alone, the interview has nearly 700,000 views; in Brazil, Globo is a dominant television networkOriginal clip here; for a critique of the content, see here

Tranlated by Beatriz Vianna, a Ph.D. student in biology at West Virginia University who is originally from Brazil.

Jo Soares: Today we are also gonna talk about global warming! With a climatologist who says that global warming is B.S.[Joke that can’t be translated]. I’m gonna talk to Ricardo Felicio…come over here!

[Music]

Jo Soares: So, you are a professor at the geography department at USP [São Paulo University]. And what do you study specifically–climatology, right?

Ricardo Augusto Felicio: Antarctic climatology, from the Antarctic continent, for 20 years already.  

Jo Soares: Only the Antarctic continent?

Ricardo Augusto Felicio: Yeah, that is my area of expertise, but the other ones  too…. there is no way to separate it (laughs).

Jo Soares: Of course! And you’ve been in Antarctica a few times…

RAF: Two times already.

JS: What do you think of the global warming theory–that the continent’s [Antarctica’s] ice is melting?

RAF: Yeah, to begin with, this is not even a theory, it is a hypothesis. It  does not need scientific proof. There is no scientific proof of global warming. It’s been 26 year–in fact, it’s about 3,000 years this “story” exists. Our researchers from the Climageo team have researched about this information. This has been debated already by the ancient Greeks: “If trees were cut the planet’s climate would change….”

JS: So ancient Greece already talked about that?

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