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Wed, 2012-01-04 05:49Chris Mooney
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Rick Santorum and Science: Bad Combination!

As Republican primary season schizophrenia continues, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum is now in the spotlight, having very nearly beaten Mitt Romney in Iowa. So what do we people who care about science, and global warming in particular, know about Santorum?

Whoa boy.

None of the Republican candidates, with the possible exception of pro-science Tweeter Jon Huntsman, have distinguished themselves as science allies. Even sometime moderate Mitt Romney famously flip-flopped and cast doubt on human caused global warming; Rick Perry, meanwhile, thinks climate researchers are making it all up.

But Santorum? Arguably, his attacks on science surpass all of theirs.

Tue, 2012-01-03 06:35Chris Mooney
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New Proof: Republicans Really Are Anti-Science

As readers know, I’m a regular monitor of polls capturing various aspects of the public’s views on science. These polls consistently show that for the most part, even if people don’t know a ton about it, they basically think science rocks. Americans know very well that science has made their lives immeasurably better, and they show high levels of trust in the scientific community.

There are, however, a few caveats.

Although people like science in general, they’re more than willing to spike it in any particular instance, on any particular pet issue. Evolution, global warming, vaccines—otherwise “pro-science” people will happily deny reality on these subjects, and not necessarily even experience any cognitive dissonance in doing so.

For the most part, I have tended to feel it is unfair to call such individuals “anti-science.” If someone denies science on one particular topic, but nevertheless thinks science is a groovy thing in general, I figure they’re not being anti-science, so much as just being human.

However, new polling data from Lawrence Hamilton, of the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, suggests that the “anti-science” epithet really does apply to many U.S. Republicans—at least on environmental issues.

Wed, 2011-12-21 04:55Chris Mooney
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“End Medicare?” How Phony Bipartisanship Created a Fact Checking Disaster

Just last week, I wrote about the core problem facing the new breed of political fact-checkers: The political right is more factually wrong, meaning that taking a strictly “bipartisan” approach will inevitably leave the fact-checkers themselves guilty of phony “balance.” And it will also lead to them occasionally having their lunches eaten by left-leaning sites like Media Matters, as well as by sensible liberal bloggers.

Little did I know that PolitiFact, arguably the leading fact-checker, would immediately come through with a stunning validation of this point.

PolitiFact just announced its “lie of the year,” the Democratic claim that “Republicans voted to end Medicare.” However, if you peruse analyses from Paul Krugman, Steven Benen, Jason Linkins, and others, you’ll find that the very notion that this is a lie at all is highly debatable. Frankly, the repeated fact-checks of this Democratic assertion seem to boil down to little more than a matter of definition.

It all depends on what the meaning of the word “end” is.

Thu, 2011-12-15 07:08Chris Mooney
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Can Fact Checking be Politically “Neutral,” When Facts Are Not Equally Distributed Across the Political Spectrum?

Recently, I sat in on an off-the-record meeting about political fact-checking. I can’t report or quote from the event, but it spurred along some general thoughts that had already arisen in the context of writing The Republican Brain, which focuses a great deal on fact-checking—and thus, helped  propel this post.

Fact checking is a phenomenon that has really taken off over the last half decade or so as, more and more, media outlets as well as independent and/or partisan voices are busily pronouncing on the “truth” of political statements. The reason? Well, there are many, but I would place the growing divide over reality and what is factually true, between the left and the right, as perhaps the leading one.

By far the best known fact-checking outlets are the websites PolitiFact, a project of the St. Petersburg Times, and FactCheck.org, based at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Perhaps most prominently in the mainstream media, there is also the Washington Post’s fact-checker column, which regularly bestows one to four “Pinocchios” upon politicians’ statements.

These three main fact-checking outlets are then complemented by an ever growing number of blogs and, of course, fact-checkers on both sides of the political aisle.

Here, incidentally, arises a pretty sharp divide—between those who claim to check both political “sides” equally, and those who don’t.

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.

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:

Wed, 2011-11-09 07:23Chris Mooney
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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.

Thu, 2011-11-03 20:14Emma Pullman
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Oil Industry Co-Opts Occupy Movement to Sell the Keystone XL Pipeline

The AFL-CIO's America's Building Trades Unions and Oil and Natural Gas Industry Labor-Management Committee are attempting to co-opt the Occupy movement with a new initiative to try to get the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline approved. Jobs for the 99% likens the growing celebrity support against the Keystone XL pipeline to an occupation of sorts. “Celebrities are taking over DC” the website says, and “Hollywood’s elite 1% should stop flying to DC and speaking out against jobs that help the other 99% of America!” 

Pitting celebrity support of anti-Keystone efforts against average Americans, “Jobs for the 99%” tells us that wealthy celebrities are killing valuable jobs, and that by telling the White House to support Keystone XL, “we” can act in solidarity with the 99%. 

You gotta hand it to them, it's a bold move. But here's why it's misleading and you shouldn't buy it. Hijacking the occupy movement to create a climate killing pipeline is a boon to the 1% who will harvest the profits. The 99% only get a few short term jobs (or not), not long term sustainable employment. That's why oil and gas companies, some of the largest and most notoriously corrupt corporations in the world, are backing this astroturf campaign with some serious funding.

And they're handing down the public health and environmental costs associated with a potential spill - and the “game over” climate change that expanding tar sands production will cause - back to the 99%.

Wed, 2011-11-02 06:04Chris Mooney
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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.

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