Mike the Mad Biologist

…for conservative budgetary policy. From Matt Yglesias:

Their other big [conservative] idea is feigned stupidity. Michael Steele pretended not to know what a fish passage barrier removal program is. Turns out that these are programs designed to remove barriers to the passage of fish. So that fish species don’t vanish from certain habits and wreck entire ecosystems. Bobby Jindal was inspired to denounce “something called volcano monitoring”. Volcano monitoring is when you monitor volcanos to try to understand when they might erupt. And now we get this Tweet from John McCain [image converted into text]:

$650,000 for beaver management in North Carolina and Mississippi – how does one manage a beaver?

…If anyone out there wants to know why beavers could be a problem for a given area, or about different ways that you can manage the beaver population and minimize beaver-related problems I would direct them to the Beaver Control and Management Information page on the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management. I found that right away using Google.

If one were very crude, one could argue that socially conservative Republicans are all about beaver management (think about it). Fortunately, we are not crude, so onto the substantive argument. What we’re seeing is the common creationist tactic of willful ignorance entering the political mainstream. Creationists will argue that something is really complicated, so it must be The Great Vorlon the handiwork of an Intelligent Designer–even though high school students and college graduates are routinely capable of understanding evolution.

Now, we’re seeing an analogous logic cognitive process regarding budgetary policy. Rather than actually confronting the evidence (for all I know, beaver management isn’t cost-effective), conservatives just engage in willful ignorance.

Stupid is as stupid does, I suppose….

Comments

  1. #1 blader
    March 4, 2009

    Am I just being sensitive, or do wingnut tirades against pork/earmarks disproportionately attack scientific research projects?

    Here’s the money anti0intellectual screed quote from this morning’s newspaper:

    “”How does anyone justify some of these earmarks: $1.7 million for pig odor research in Iowa; $2 million ‘for the promotion of astronomy’ in Hawaii; $6.6 million for termite research in New Orleans; $2.1 million for the Center for Grape Genetics in New York,” he said.””

    How dare the government get involved in learning anything new, or putting new knowledge to use!!!

  2. #2 CRM-114
    March 4, 2009

    You do understand that they people are pretending, don’t you? They are not arguing in good faith, and they never will: they are incapable of it.

  3. #3 Joshua Zelinsky
    March 4, 2009

    I really don’t understand this sort of behavior. If I don’t know what something is, I look it up. Or I ask someone who is likely to know. Sometimes when I found out it turns out to be a dumb idea. Then I can make fun of it in detail. But there’s both no humor value and no point in taking something that you don’t know and pointing and laughing because you don’t know what it is. It just isn’t helpful. Moreover, as with volcano management this sort of behavior has a chance of erupting in your face (see Bobby, we can make bad puns too) when you mention something that many people actually care about. So this doesn’t seem pragmatically useful either. It is just the meme that is “make fun of science” has just infected the Republican leadership so much that they don’t know what else to do.

  4. #4 Ahcuah
    March 4, 2009

    They’ve taken proxmiring to a fine art.

  5. #5 Edward
    March 4, 2009

    Indeed, the basic issue is that the people who use these sorts of arguments are not being honest. They try to mystify the process – tell us that science or the budget process is hard and beyond the understanding of mere mortals. Once they convince people they can’t understand, then they can offer up nonsensical mumbo jumbo and people are more willing to accept it. This tactic is hardly new and both Democrats and Republicans have used it many times in the past. What I think has changed over the past 30-40 years is that the number of times that republicans rely on rational arguments of interpretation of the data has gotten smaller and smaller. We still hear mystification arguments from both parties, but after the great depression, McCarthyism, Watergate, and Reganomics rational Republicans seem to be almost extinct.

  6. #6 Edward
    March 4, 2009

    One more point:

    We, as scientists, don’t always help de-mystify science. Our egos like it when we are told that what we are doing is complicated and most people couldn’t understand it. When I start to try to explain my work to a non-scientist, the usual reaction I get is “Wow, that sounds really complicated.” All too frequently, I stroke my own ego by saying simply, “Yes, it is.” A better response would be:

    “Yes, it is somewhat complicated, but all the parts taken individually are a logical and consistent. While it might take a bit of effort, given enough time I could explain my work to you so that you could understand it.”

  7. #7 mark
    March 4, 2009

    Perhaps what John McCain needs is a good case of beaver fever.

  8. #8 Sam C
    March 4, 2009

    Isn’t this simply Republican anti-intellectualism, where being a “maverick” is good, and anything and everything that doesn’t agree with baseless prejudices must be ignored or vilified without any debate or justification?

    Put another way: stupid is good. Republicans like stupid.

    Stalin and Pol Pot thought like that too, perhaps anti-intellectualism is a mark of extremists generally (the USA’s “left wingers” are so right wing by any other country’s standards that sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate how off the scale the USA’s right wingers are).

  9. #9 blader
    March 5, 2009

    When I see that “it sounds too complicated” gaze as I’m answering a “what do you do for a living?” question, I just grab a stick and start drawing it out in the dirt. It probably is something deep-rooted, because everybody seems to understand stuff better when it is drawn out in the dirt.

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