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Mon, 2011-12-12 07:49Chris Mooney
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A Democrat Undermines Science

In my debate a few months back with Kenneth Green about the left, the right, and science, my colleague really could have used some more strong examples of left wing science abuse.

Now, he has one.

There is no other way to spin it: The Obama administration’s decision to ignore the FDA, and refuse to make Plan B emergency contraception (the “morning after” pill) available over the counter, is a clear and unequivocal case of politics interfering with science. And it is a particularly galling one because, as former FDA official Susan Wood points out, this is one of the key issues on which the last administration, that of George W. Bush, misused science. So there is every reason for the Obama administration to have known better, and to have done differently.

In fact, the bogus argument that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius used, to justify overruling her own expert agency, is the same bogus argument that was attempted during the Bush years.

Wed, 2011-11-30 09:16Chris Mooney
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The Science of Debiasing: The New “Debunking Handbook” Is a Treasure Trove For Defenders of Reason

For quite some time here at DeSmogBlog, I’ve been writing about the growing science of irrationality—in other words, our ever-better scientific understanding of why people reject clearly correct information. I believe we can’t possibly get to a better place, in debates over issues like global warming, until we understand why getting facts across turns out to be so difficult.

A large amount of psychological science has now been published on this matter—but boiling it all down into a practical, usable guide for someone who wants to communicate in a scientifically-informed way? Not so much.

Not until now.

I simply cannot believe that John Cook of Skeptical Science and psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky managed, in just 8 pages, to create something as magnificent as their new Debunking Handbook. It is packed not only with wonderful graphics, but also with a clear explanation of why many attempts to defeat misinformation fail, and what steps must be taken to do a better job.

The core issue, of course, is one that I’ve written much about—too many scientists assume that that facts win out on their own, but that isn’t actually true. If you base your communication strategy on this misconception, you will fail very badly.

Instead, Cook and Lewandowky explain that there are a variety of “backfires” that can be triggered by uninformed communication styles. Stating a myth before debunking can actually reinforce it. Debunking a myth with an overload of information can also backfire. And attacking a worldview can backfire most of all.

So what do you do? You should read their guide, but basically it boils down to several principles:

Mon, 2011-11-28 07:55Chris Mooney
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Do Developing Nation Journalists Cover Climate Science Better (or at Least Better Than U.S. and U.K. Papers)?

As the European debt crisis scrapes along, there has been talk about the possible need for developing nations, like China and Brazil, to ultimately help bail out some spendthrift “developed” nations.

A new study suggests that maybe they should also help bail out some of our media.

The study comes from James Painter of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University and his colleagues. After looking extensively at climate change coverage in major papers in six nations—the U.S., UK, France, Brazil, China, and India—the paper finds that global warming “skepticism” is “largely an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon.”

Consider a selection of findings:

Mon, 2011-11-21 02:55Chris Mooney
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Fox News Viewers are the Most Misinformed: A Seventh Study Arrives to Prove It (and to Vindicate Jon Stewart!)

Two of my most popular posts here at DeSmogBlog were a pair of items documenting 1) just how many surveys have found Fox News viewers to be more misinformed about factual reality and 2) taking PolitiFact to task for giving Jon Stewart a “false” rating when he pointed this out.

Stewart wasn’t wrong, PolitiFact was.

In these pieces, I identified 6 separate studies showing Fox News viewers to be the most misinformed, and in a right wing direction–studies on global warming, health care, health care a second time, the Ground Zero mosque, the Iraq war, and the 2010 election.

I also asked if anyone was aware of any counterevidence, and none was forthcoming. There might very well be a survey out there showing that Fox viewers aren't the most misinformed cable news consumers on some topic (presumably it would be a topic where Democrats have some sort of ideological blind spot), but I haven’t seen it. And I have looked.

There really does seem to be a “Fox News effect,” then, and one that is playing a central role in driving our political divide over reality in the U.S. And now comes a true tour-de-force seventh study showing that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed, this time once again about global warming.

Wed, 2011-11-16 07:20Chris Mooney
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Anthony Watts and Defensive Reasoning: Three Episodes

Over the last year, I’ve had numerous blogospheric encounters with the conservative climate “skeptic” Anthony Watts, the author of WattsUpWithThat. In the process, I’ve been particularly struck by how Watts handles inconvenient evidence.

Twice now, I’ve seen Watts make a mistake, and then seem to rationalize it, rather than simply correct it. I’ve also seen Watts shift the goalposts, refusing to accept inconvenient evidence even after saying he would do so.

What’s up with that?

Look: We all make mistakes. And we all adopt beliefs that later turn out to be incorrect.  There's nothing wrong with that per se; it's actually quite natural. What really matters is what we do after we’re proven wrong. So let’s see what Watts does:

Thu, 2011-11-10 05:23Chris Mooney
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Conservatives Attack and Misunderstand A Book They Haven’t Read…A Book About Flawed Conservative Reasoning

This would be sad, if it weren’t also so telling.

On Monday I announced my new book The Republican Brain, which will be due out next spring. And I provided a brief description, as well as layering on plenty of nuance, like a good liberal, to make sure it wouldn’t be misinterpreted.

So much for that!

Beginning with Roger Pielke, Jr. (not technically a conservative, but, well…), and then spreading to climate “skeptic” blogs like Watts Up With That and Marc Morano’s Climate Depot, conservatives are claiming that the book is a form of “new eugenics” and that it describes them as “genetically/mentally/psychologically inferior,” and so on.

All of this is completely without foundation, and in fact, contradicted by my own book announcement, which discusses the many strengths (as well as weaknesses) of the conservative psychology, and describes the left-right difference as a kind of necessary yin and yang. 

And none of the people saying these things (including over 100 commenters at Watts’ site) have read the book because it isn’t out yet, and won’t be for 6 months. In fact, it is still being edited.

Chalk up yet another example of conservative factual wrongness! Perhaps I can even fit it into the text.

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