Chris Mooney's blog

Wed, 2011-11-09 07:23Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

Rush Limbaugh: Meat Eater, Science Denier

Recently, Rush Limbaugh went on another of his anti-science rants. This one was particularly fascinating, though, because of the things he actually got right—even as he  simultaneously exhibited the standard cocksure blind spots.

First, what did Rush say that was true? Well, he gets the idea, supported by much research, that we all have the tendency to appropriate “science” as our own, selectively choosing those bits that support us and selectively refuting or denying those bits that don’t.

Thus, Rush goes on repeatedly about the attempt to “codify liberalism as science.” Actually, conservatives, including Rush, also try repeatedly to depict their views—including their denialist ones–as scientific. Rush thus shows a massive blind spot when he fails to recognize that he’s susceptible to the very same tendency.

In fact, I would argue that Rush is worse–because he is deeply sure of himself when he has no good reason to be. He is vastly, and baselessly, overconfident.

Thus, when Rush gets into the meat of his commentary (pun intended, as you’ll see), he draws a stunningly false parallel between a Dutch psychologist who has been seriously accused of falsifying data on the one hand, and climate change researchers on the other.

Mon, 2011-11-07 07:04Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Don’t Believe in Science (or Many Other Inconvenient Truths)

Over the last year here at DeSmogBlog, my writings have converged around a set of common themes. On the one hand, I’ve shown just how factually incorrect today’s political conservatives are, documenting the disproportionate amount of misinformation believed by Fox News watchers and the disproportionate wrongness of the right when it comes to science.

At the same time, I’ve advanced a variety of psychological explanations for why we might be seeing so much political and scientific misinformation today on the right wing. For instance, I’ve unpacked the theory of motivated reasoning; and I’ve also talked about why conservative white males in particular seem to be such strong deniers of climate science.

All of this, I’m now prepared to say, is just the iceberg tip. You see, for the last year, I’ve been working on a book on the same topic, which explains why conservatives are so factually incorrect—drawing on the latest research in social psychology, political science, cognitive neuroscience, and other fields.

The book is now finished in draft form—due out next year with Wiley—and it is long past time to formally announce its existence. You are now seeing the draft cover image (the current subtitle is likely to change, as this phenomenon goes far, far beyond science, as does the book).  I can also share the text that will soon go up to Amazon and elsewhere. Eat your heart out, Ann Coulter:

Wed, 2011-11-02 06:04Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

Score Another Victory for Scientists, Michael Mann, and the Freedom of Inquiry

Yesterday in a Virginia courtroom, Michael Mann—who is quickly becoming the Galileo of climate science—triumphed over the conservative American Tradition Institute, and ongoing attempts at scientist-harassment.

More specifically, Prince William County Circuit Court Judge Gaylord Finch both allowed Mann to join the case that ATI is pursuing against the University of Virginia to get Mann’s emails, and allowed UVA to back out of an agreement with ATI to let it review some of Mann’s emails that the university is nevertheless claiming are exempt from disclosure.

This is a bit technical, as is often the case in ongoing court proceedings, but let’s remember why it matters.

The ATI lawsuit is a follow-on to Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli’s outrageous harassment of Mann. And protecting Mann’s emails from disclosure is critical for ensuring that ideological fishing expeditions that attack and harass scientists aren’t permitted. The contrary result, as many scientific groups have asserted, could have a chilling effect on academic research and freedom of inquiry in controversial areas.

Mon, 2011-10-31 08:05Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

Is There a Bias Asymmetry Between Democrats and Republicans?

There’s a must read item today at the Huffington Post by Jonathan Weiler, co-author of the excellent book Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics. Weiler argues (as have I) that the “Republican war on science,” a term that I coined, is really just a subset of the “Republican war on reality.”

And not just that. Weiler further asserts that we’re seeing this right now because the Republican party is full of authoritarians—people who think they’re 100 percent right and everyone who disagrees with them is 100 percent wrong, and who have little tolerance for ambiguity or complexity.

All my research on ideology points to this conclusion as well—but I’m not sure Weiler fully articulates how authoritarians can be so factually wrong, and also sure of themselves and unable to admit correction.

To me, what seems to occur in authoritarian reasoning is that you firmly define in your mind an outgroup (liberals, environmentalists), and you then automatically take any claim that denigrates that outgroup (socialists, traitors) to be true. And then, if this claim is refuted, you’re outraged and you come to believe the false claim even more strongly than before. You double down. (This, of course, would explain why Tea Party climate deniers are so sure of themselves.)

And that’s not all. If you’re an authoritarian, you also probably leap to ideologically friendly conclusions to begin with. And when your ideological opponents are making an argument that’s characterized by a lot of nuance, you attack a caricatured, simplistic version of it.

Indeed, you probably find the making of nuanced arguments—and the expression of uncertainty—to be inherent signs of weakness. And you probably find people who constantly talk in nuanced ways, like President Obama or most university professors, to be suspicious, untrustworthy. Who do authoritarians trust? A strong leader who states it clearly, plainly, and toughly and doesn't waver.

If Weiler is right—and I think he is—then what this means is that we probably have a bias asymmetry in American politics. And that’s a really big deal.

Journalists, fact checkers, and so on go around acting as though there is a ‘pox on both their houses’—everybody has their own biases, everybody lies and distorts, so we need “balanced” journalism to handle this equally distributed nonsense. But Weiler suggests that this is not actually true. Rather, it should be the case that one group gets more things wrong, misrepresents and distorts more, and is less willing to admit to error or correction, or to change its mind.

Does that sound like modern American politics? Does that sound like the climate fight, or the healthcare fight, or arguments over economic policy?

It sure does to me…but don’t expect authoritarians to ever admit it!

Mon, 2011-10-24 06:47Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

Why Hard Core Climate “Skeptics” Don’t Change Their Minds

Richard Muller teaching

I’ve been watching with interest the blogosphere uproar over the release of results from the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project centered around physicist Richard Muller [pictured left], which now claims to confirm that the world is indeed warming. 

As Joe Romm notes, this is mainly newsworthy not for the finding itself—we’ve known this to be true for ages—but because Muller had talked as though he was coming from the other side, the skeptical side, and had received Koch funding. And as Romm notes, the uber-skeptic blogger Anthony Watts had said of Muller’s undertaking, “I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong.

Now, however, Watts is blasting the Muller group for releasing results short of peer review, and calling for an open peer review process and “transparency” so no “pals” handle the papers.

In other words, it appears to me as though Watts is building a series of arguments and complaints that will allow him to *not* “accept whatever results they produce, even if it prove my premise wrong.”

Wed, 2011-10-19 06:14Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

Why Communicating Science is So Money

Gavin Schmidt

I’ve been meaning to thrown in my congratulations to Gavin Schmidt of NASA and RealClimate.org, who is the first recipient of the American Geophysical Union’s new $ 25,000 annual prize for the year’s top climate science communicator.

Yes, you read that right, $ 25,000! (Full disclosure: I am on the board of directors of the American Geophysical Union, but I did not select Schmidt for the prize or have fore-knowledge of his selection; nor was I involved in the creation of the prize, which is funded by Nature’s Own.)

Schmidt is a very worthy choice—RealClimate.org has revolutionized climate science communication online since its inception in the mid-2000s. And Schmidt has built from that platform to become a major commentator, and a lucid one at that, on outlets like CNN.

But at least as newsy as Schmidt’s choice is the creation of this prize in the first place.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Chris Mooney's blog