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Conservatives versus Science: A New Scientific Validation of the Republican War on Science (and Republican Brain) Thesis

UPDATE: The paper discussed below is downloadable here.

For a while now, I’ve been aware of a powerful new paper that directly tests the central argument of my 2005 book The Republican War on Science—and also validates some key claims made in my new book, The Republican Brain. I’ve had to keep quiet about it until now; but at last, the study is out—though I’m not sure yet about a web link to it. 

The research is by Gordon Gauchat of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and published in the prestigious American Sociological Review. In the study, Gauchat uses a vast body of General Social Survey data to test three competing theses about the relationship between science and the U.S. public:

1) the cultural ascendancy thesis or “deficit model” view, according to which better education and engagement with science lead all boats to rise, and citizens across the board become more trusting of scientists and their expertise;

2) the alienation thesis, according to which modernity brings on distrust and disillusionment with science (call it the “spoiled brat” thesis if you’d like); and

3) the politicization thesis—my thesis—according to which some cultural groups, aka conservatives, have a unique fallout with science for reasons tied up with the nature of modern American conservatism, such as its ideology, the growth of its think tank infrastructure, and so on.

The result? Well, Gauchat’s data show that the politicization thesis handily defeats all contenders. More specifically, he demonstrates that there was only really a decline in public trust in science among conservatives in the period from 1974 to 2010 (and among those with high church attendance, but these two things are obviously tightly interrelated).

And not just that.

How Do You Build a Scientific Republican?

It’s widely known that Republicans, far more than Democrats, reject modern climate science. And more and more, it has become apparent that this is at least partly because Republicans have a deep distrust of scientists in general, or at least environmental scientists.

But there are many other causes for this rejection as well. These include Republicans’ strongly individualistic system of values—basically, a go-it-alone sense that government is the problem, and markets the solution—and even, perhaps, some aspects of their personalities or psychologies. This is something that I’ve argued in my new book.

There is also, of course, the huge role of Fox News in all of this: Watching it causes conservatives to have more false beliefs than they would otherwise, about issues like climate change. We’ve written about this extensively on DeSmogBlog; and I’ve highlighted a new video on the “Fox misinformation effect” here and below.

Such are some of the factors that seem to build an anti-science Republican; but now, researchers at George Mason, American University, and Yale have swooped in to ask the reverse question. Given that this is so, how do you make a pro-science one? Or in other words, what attributes or beliefs predict being an outlier Republican who actually believes that global warming is real and caused by humans?

The researchers call such Republicans “counter-normative.” That’s academic speak for “out in the cold” in their party right now.

The Science of Truthiness: Why Conservatives Deny Global Warming

These are notes for remarks that Chris Mooney gave recently at the Tucson Festival of Books, where he was asked to talk about his new book on a panel entitled “Will the Planet Survive the Age of Humans?” Video of the panel is currently available from C-SPAN here. Please note: Mooney’s notes do not necessarily match his spoken word perfectly. 

I want to thank you for having me.

So the question before us on this panel is, “Will the Planet Survive the Age of Humans?” And I want to focus on one particularly aspect of humans that makes them very problematic in a planetary sense–namely, their brains.

What I’ve spent the last year or more trying to understand is what it is about our brains that makes facts such odd and threatening things; why we sometimes double down on false beliefs when they’re refuted; and maybe, even, why some of us do it more than others.

And of course, the new book homes in on the brains—really, the psychologies–of politically conservative homo sapiens in particular. You know, Stephen Colbert once said that “reality has a well-known liberal bias.” And essentially what I’m arguing is that, not only is that a funny statement, it’s factually true, and perhaps even part of the nature of things.

Colbert also talked about the phenomenon of “truthiness,” and as it turns out, we can actually give a scientific explanation of truthiness—which is what I’m going to sketch in the next ten minutes, with respect to global warming in particular.  

I almost called the book “The Science of Truthiness”—but “The Republican Brain” turns out to be a better title.

The Facts About Global Warming

So first off, let’s start with the facts about climate change—facts that you’d think (or you’d hope) any human being ought to accept.

See No Evil At George Mason University

Image credit: Joy Brown / Shutterstock

George Mason University (GMU) has labored for 2 years on simple plagiarism complaints.  It has just written self-contradictory findings that avoided seeing plagiarism in the 2006 Wegman Report (WR) while admitting the same text elsewhere was plagiarism.

In March 2010, climate scientist Ray Bradley complained to GMU of 2.5 pages of plagiarism of his paleoclimatology book by the Wegman Report.  In May he added 5.5 pages of WR Social Networks Analysis  plagiarism  and a 1.5 -page subset in a Computational Statistics and Data Analysis (CSDA) paper.

All were based on the work of Canadian blogger Deep Climate, who kept finding more problems. The known total of 80+ pages has 4 PhD dissertations, some lectures, a patent and 7 papers.

Edward Wegman and Yasmin Said published two largely-plagiarized papers in a “peer-reviewed” Wiley journal they edit with David Scott.  Wikipedia pages they copied were better. 

In May 2011, CSDA publisher Elsevier finally forced retraction of the CSDA paper.

Is James Inhofe Shilling For God, or Oil? The Correct Answer is “Both”

Last week, we were treated to one of those facepalm moments that make those of us who care about the future of planet intensely frustrated. Or worse.

Senator James Inhofe, climate conspiracy theorist, was on a Christian radio program talking about his new book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. And here’s what he said (audio at link):

Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in [the book] is that “as long as the earth remains there will be springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.” My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.

Okay, forget about the biblically-based climate denial for a moment. I’m kind of fascinated by Inhofe’s statement that God is still “up there.” Really? Like, in the sun? Directly over our heads?

Is Inhofe a pre-Copernican as well as a global warming denier? Does he not realize that while “up” might have meant a great deal to Ptolemaic Christians, it has no real significance in the context of modern physics and cosmology?

What’s most frustrating, though, is this bizarre invocation of Scripture to justify the idea that we don’t need to worry about climate change. For those of us who are secular in outlook, it’s not just that this makes no sense. The idea that such sectarian notions—arguments or motivations that cannot be proved by rational argument or discussion with those who do not share Inhofe’s religious premises–could be influencing U.S. policy is, frankly, shocking.

Fox News’s Attacks on Climate Science Now Include The Denial of Basic Physics

There was a time, believe it or not, when Fox New’s Shepard Smith openly mocked global warming deniers—seriously comparing them to a man who got stuck in a portable toilet. (Hat tip to D.R. Tucker for showing me this clip.) But since then, Fox has become a veritable misinformation machine on this topic.

One way the station sows doubt about the scientific consensus on climate change is through constantly putting climate “skeptics” on the air. A study by American University’s Lauren Feldman and her co-authors, for example, found that in the period of 2007-2008, 46 percent of Fox’s guests discussing global warming were climate change doubters. By contrast, only 40 percent of guests defended the scientific consensus.

That’s not just phony “balance”–that’s coverage strongly tilted towards unreality. And if anything, I suspect that Fox has grown still more unbalanced during the Obama years.

One of Fox’s frequent doubter guests is meteorologist Joe Bastardi,  who recently said on the show that carbon dioxide “literally cannot cause global warming.” As Media Matters soon pointed out, this statement seems to throw out over 100 years of science on the greenhouse effect, and the behavior of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

New Data: 81 Percent of Climate Deniers Think Scientists Are In It “For Their Own Interests"

The Brookings Institution has a new report out on the public's views about global warming, and most commentators are going for the predictable headline. It's this: Following the post-ClimateGate decline in belief that global warming is happening, we're now seeing a bit of a rebound. More people believe the planet is warming than they did in early 2010—probably in part due to warm weather.

That is good news—not great news by any means, but surely something. People certainly seem remarkably fickle and malleable on this topic, but then, they always are in polls.

To me, though, what you’ve just read is not really the headline. I dug into the Brookings data, and found something much juicier (and newer).

In the poll, 42 percent of Republicans say there isn’t solid evidence that the Earth is warming, and another 11 percent say they are unsure. In contrast, only 15 % of Democrats are out and out deniers. (Note: People were not being asked whether humans are causing global warming, which would have made these numbers much worse.) 

And here’s the thing: Of the deniers–Democrat or Republican, but mostly Republican–81 percent also think that “scientists are overstating evidence about global warming for their own interests.” That's a finding I've never seen before–and a very disturbing one.

A Call to Support Michael Mann

I've been a great ally of my latest Point of Inquiry guest Michael Mann, and even called him a climate hero. I've blurbed his new book, saying the following:

“Although not initially of his own choosing, Michael Mann has been the most important, resilient, and outspoken warrior in the climate battle–responding to threats and persecution with courage and resolve every step of the way. Anyone who cares about the climate issue must read his fascinating–and enraging–story.”

My feeling is that climate scientists in general–but Mann most of all–have been unfairly attacked for ideological reasons. This has gone far beyond arguments over ideas, and has grown to involve lawsuits, congressional inquiries, and so on.

Mann has risen to the challenge in the face of this, and become a powerful science communicator, as he demonstrates in his new book and on the show. But it hasn't been easy, and my sympathies go out to him and also to his family.http://scienceprogressaction.org/intersection/wp-includes/js/tinymce/plugins/wordpress/img/trans.gif

James Inhofe Takes the Climate Conspiracy Theory to New Heights—While His Home State Reels from Record Heat

James Inhofe, Republican Senator from Oklahoma, has a new book out. It is entitled The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.

I have not read it yet. So I cannot say much about its contents, but I can say this: The title suggests that Inhofe, like Rick Santorum, is endorsing the global warming conspiracy theory. Indeed, where Santorum only muttered the word “hoax” without a great deal of elaboration, it looks like Inhofe is going to put some real meat onto those paranoid bones.

Let me once again reiterate why the global warming conspiracy theory is, well, just plain ridiculous.

To believe that global warming is a “hoax,” or that there is a “conspiracy,” you must believe in coordinated action on the part of scientists, environmental ministers, politicians, and NGOs around the world. It won’t do just to situate the hoax in the United States and its own scientific and NGO community, because the idea of human-caused global warming is endorsed by scientists, and scientific academies, around the globe.

Any one of these could blow the whistle on the so-called “hoax.” That this has not happened either means there is no hoax, or that the degree of conspiracy and collusion—among people who are notoriously individualistic and non-conformist, by the way–is mindboggling. We're talking about some serious cat-herding going on.

Rick Santorum, Attacking Scientists, Claims He’s not Anti-Science

Rick Santorum is becoming the anti-science gift that keeps on giving.

Yesterday, while speaking in his home state, the former Pennsylvania senator once again tilted at the idea of human caused global warming, saying that it is based on “phony studies,” and really a case of “political science.”

This is, you will note, a clear attack on climate scientists. It suggests 1) that climate researchers have either done bad research or, worse still, perpetrated falsified or fraudulent research; 2) that the norms of their field are somehow inadequate to prevent dubious conclusions from becoming accepted; 3) overall, climatology is a body of research that you just can’t take seriously.

Any climatologist would find this insulting. Any climatologist would consider this an affront.

Which is why it is so amazing that Santorum then went on to claim that he isn’t anti-science—no, it’s the Democrats who are the problem:

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