The Intersection

So says Roger Pielke, Jr., in a very illuminating post. He also adds: “On the very hot-button issues of climate change and the teaching of evolution, Republican political agendas require confronting current scientific consensus.”

I agree entirely–indeed, that’s the whole point of The Republican War on Science (of which Roger has been critical). This doesn’t mean partisan alignments on these issues can’t change; it doesn’t mean that the situation has necessarily been the same in other periods in history; it doesn’t mean the situation is the same in other countries. But right now, these are partisan issues–even if some would like to convince us otherwise.

The truth is that there’s a strong climate of cowardice in Washington, D.C., when it comes to the subject of partisanship. Everyone wants to cite a few token mavericks from the other side in support of their position and then claim it’s “bipartisan,” while ignoring the starkly obvious fact that by and large, the two parties split dramatically on that issue. The media reinforces this phenomenon by constantly (and brainlessly) decrying “partisanship,” as if it’s somehow a bad thing.

The truth, of course, is that it frequently makes good sense to vote down the line for a party whose positions you trust, knowing very well that if that party has more power, then more of your values are likely to be reflected in policy. By contrast, it often makes very little sense for voters to elect mavericks who buck their parties now and again on specific issues, but who by virtue of their party identification, help that party remain in power. This, you might say, is the situation with many liberal New England Republicans (or at least it was until recently).

To be sure, I don’t expect reason to prevail any time soon when it comes to partisanship. There is more cant on this matter than perhaps on any other subject in Washington. Still, I’m not going to stop stating the obvious–or at least not until, on an issue like global warming, it actually ceases to be so obvious.


  1. #1 Dark Tent
    March 30, 2007

    “The Bottom Line is That Climate Change is a Partisan Issue”
    It may be a partisan issue, but that does not necessarily mean it is a bi-partisan issue.

    Many Republicans are almost certainly voting the party line against the scientific consensus.

    But when Democrats vote on the issue, they might very well be going with what the scientists say — not because they are being good Democrats, but because they actually believe the scientists are the most knowledgeable about and therefore have the best chance of being right on the issue.

    First of all, the idea that “everyone is doing it (just going with the party line)” in this case is completely without basis. So that automatically negates the idea that some have put forward that “everyone does it so that makes it OK”.

  2. #2 Hank Roberts
    March 30, 2007

    For some of us, politics is a scientific issue.

    Before I started reading online, I had thought that political science might be of some use by studying how science might inform politicians and describing which politically active people were able to understand science and so make decisions including scientific information.

    If you’re not familiar with the study discussed here — it’s a classic, but only recently being discovered by other fields:

    Clipped from here:

    HTML here:*+oblivious%22&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us

    My excerpt:
    A friend recently brought a paper published
    in a well-known psychology journal to my
    attention: “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How
    Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompe-
    tence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”
    (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Dec.
    1999, pp. 1121-1134 [link no longer valid, search for it]).

    This article, by Justin
    Kruger and David Dunning, is fast becoming
    a classic in the field of psychology. It’s also
    brought all my past experiences into crystal-
    clear focus and provided me with a deeper un-
    derstanding than ever before of why some peo-
    ple and organizations just never seem to “get it.”
    Kruger and Dunning point out in their paper:

    “We argue that when people are incompe-
    tent in the strategies they adopt to achieve
    success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual
    burden: Not only do they reach erroneous
    conclusions and make unfortunate choices,
    but their incompetence robs them of the
    ability to realize it. Instead, … , they are
    left with the mistaken impression that they
    are doing just fine….
    “Kruger and Dunning point out that ‘incompetent
    individuals, compared with their more
    competent peers, will dramatically
    overestimate their ability and perfor-
    mance relative to objective criteria.'”

    I thought political science might take a clue from this kind of study (which is ongoing, looking at things like medical decision-making and other professional judgments) and bring to light good information about the development of scientific competence over time in our society — by voters, and by politicians, and political parties, and political platforms, and actual political practice as compared to promises made and believed.

    Boy was I wrong. From the evidence, political science is a tool for the politicians to use to obscure and devalue the work of scientists, by claiming “it’s all political.”

  3. #3 Miguelito
    March 30, 2007

    I argue with the sketpics all the time. One philosopher always turns the debate into a Kuhn thing, where those who control the ruling paradigm stifle research of people with opposing views.

    It bugs the hell out of me, because those dissenters do so little research of their own except for a very few exceptions. Most do not have the background to really provide a robust critique of our current knowledge.

    A question: is there an accurate survey out there of climatologists and their opinions of global warming?

    I know of the signing on by the various science communities, but I was hoping for something more specific.

  4. #4 Jim
    April 1, 2007

    The right has turned environmentalists (as well as “Darwinists” and others) into a convinient enemy. Whenever they need to raise money they bring out the claims that environmentalists are communist who want to destroy the free market and impose one world government. After years of this stuff, they are simply not going to join “the enemy” no matter how much evidence there is.

  5. #5 Joseph O'Sullivan
    April 2, 2007

    The Supreme Court ruled that the EPA has the authority to regulate CO2.

    The court split along ideological lines. It was a 5-4 decision, with all the conservative judges siding with the EPA and the centrist and liberal leaning judges siding with California and environmentalists.

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