Pure Pedantry

Why Republicans Reject Science

Over at Crooked Timber, John Quiggin has launched a broadside at NYTimes Science Blogger John Tierney (also here) over what he (Quiggin) considers politicization of science:

One of the big problems with talking about what Chris Mooney has called The Republican War on Science is that, on the Republican side, the case against science is rarely laid out explicitly. On a whole range of issues (evolution, passive smoking, climate change, the breast-cancer abortion link, CFCs and the ozone layer and so on) Republicans attack scientists, reject the conclusions of mainstream science and promote political talking points over peer-reviewed research. But they rarely present a coherent critique that would explain why, on so many different issues, they feel its appropriate to rely on their own politically-based judgements and reject those of mainstream science. And of course many of them are unwilling to admit that they are at war with science, preferring to set up their own alternative set of scientific institutions and experts, journals and so on.

So it’s good to see a clear statement of the Republican critique of science from John Tierney in this NY Times blog piece promoting global warming “skepticism”. The core quote is

climate is so complicated, and cuts across so many scientific disciplines, that it’s impossible to know which discrepancies or which variables are really important.Considering how many false alarms have been raised previously by scientists (the “population crisis,” the “energy crisis,” the “cancer epidemic” from synthetic chemicals), I wouldn’t be surprised if the predictions of global warming turn out to be wrong or greatly exaggerated. Scientists are prone to herd thinking — informational cascades- and this danger is particularly acute when they have to rely on so many people outside their field to assess a topic as large as climate change.

Both this quote and the rest of Tierney’s article are notable for the way in which he treats science as inseparable from politics, and makes no distinction between scientific research and the kind of newspaper polemic he produces. Like most Republicans, Tierney takes a triumphalist view of the experience of the last thirty years or so, as showing that he and other Republicans have been proved right, and their opponents, including scientists, have been proved wrong (illustrated by his blithe dismissal of complicated problems like population and energy as “false alarms”). Hence, he argues, he is entitled to prefer his own political judgements to the judgements (inevitably equally political) of scientists. (Emphasis mine. Links in the original.)

Quiggin goes on to argue that when confronted with scientific conclusions that they don’t appreciate, Republicans more inclined to surrender to their own prejudices. In order to respond to inconvenient facts, they also tend to draw the scientific method into question generally rather than arguing the facts on their merits. Thus, this tendency to politicize science is a illicit way of arguing against it.

While I sympathize with Quiggin’s frustration, I have a slightly different interpretation to offer of why Republicans are so resistant to science. I want to offer this interpretation from my own experience as a way of (maybe) healing the rift between some conservatives and science.

Let me just start by clarifying that I am neither a Republican nor a conservative. I am registered as an Independent, and I consider myself a libertarian. However, in my position as a fence-sitter, I have had significantly more access to conservative thought and Republican voters than most people I know in science. Thus, I am in a position to sympathize both with the scientist’s frustration at Republican intransigence and the conservative’s reluctance to accept the scientific establishment.

To summarize, I think some Republicans do not reject science per se, rather what they reject is the tendency for scientific facts to be used for planning. By planning, I mean active organization of a system to achieve a desirable (to some) outcome. Planning can be applied to any complex system — societies, economies, climate, etc., and it is predicated on the assumption the knowledge of how a system works gives one the ability to control the outcome.

Let’s take a step back. In my experience, there are two camps in the conservative rejection of science. (In this post, I will use the terms Republican and conservative interchangibly.)

  • The Religious Camp — The Religious camp of conservatives reject science because they do not believe that the truth can be determined empirically; rather they believe that the truth is revealed — usually from the Bible. Evangelical conservatives fall into this category. With respect to this group, Quiggin has it just right. They do not like science, and they are unwilling to accept anything that science produces insofar as it challenges their worldview. Because they cannot argue science on the merits — they do not recognize facts as the only standard on which debate can be conducted — they engage in all manner of hand-waving. One common strategy is the one that Quiggin describes: framing science as a sociopolitical construct. Others are the attempt to paint a scientific conspiracy or resort to a spiritual agency to explain events.
  • The Anti-Planning Camp — The anti-planning camp doesn’t have a problem with empirically determined facts. What they have a problem with is the use of facts for social engineering. To prove this objection, they cite all manner of historical examples — from the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany (now cliches from overuse) to more modern examples such as Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and Bangladesh. They even cite American historical examples such as the abortive National Industrial Recovery Act. What these examples have in common is that they were all historical cases where intellectuals professing to make decisions based on “science” attempted to refashion society with unfortunate results. Granted in almost all cases the nature of the social engineering was primarily economic. Granted in almost all cases the people doing engineering were not who you and I would consider scientists. However, they were speaking in the name of science and did believe that their policies were justified by science.

    The problem that the anti-planning camp has is not so much with science, but rather with scientism — the notion that scientific conclusions can be applied to other domains of human life. (For this reason, they look for philosophical support to people like Friedrich Hayek. See The Road to Serfdom and The Counter-Revolution of Science for examples of this thought.)

The core philosophical argument of the anti-planning camp is not the facts do not exist, nor is it that science is not the best method available to elucidate those facts. What they reject is the notion that facts provide predictive power over systems as complex as the climate and the economy.

Their line of reasoning goes this way: Scientists investigating a system discover a corpus of facts verified by experiment. From this corpus of facts, they develop a model to describe the behavior of that system. From this model, they attempt to predict the behavior of that system in the future — particularly as it relates to the results of further experiments. However, how well does that model predict the future? Does it include all the necessary variables? Can experiments be contrived that show unanticipated results? Could confounding factors develop in the future that might render the model inaccurate? Thus, the core problem of the anti-planning camp with science is not with facts. Rather, it is an attitude in dealing with complexity that discounts the ability of scientists to make models with high predictive accuracy.

This view of the world is fundamentally conservative. (Not in the Bush sense…you know…in the actual sense.) It reflects a humility towards the ability of human beings to influence the world around them. Further, it recommends a Burkean approach to policy based on incremental changes that emerge organically over time.

As an aside — as I can feel skepticism boiling over — let me attempt to justify this point of view. I do not even need to reference the tired old cliches of scientific failure dealt with often in the popular press. We can find historical examples in my discipline. Take B.F. Skinner and the behaviorists. The behaviorists treated animal (and human) behavior as if it were a black box wherein the outcome could be predicted exclusively by the history of the reward and penalty. The problem with this view is that it neglected a very important factor in behavior, namely cognition. Cognition — as well as the learning state that results from the interpretation of previous experiences — represents a unnamed variable that affects later behavioral outcomes. We figured this out later, but given Skinner and his disciples — who admittedly developed a very clear and internally consistent theory of behavior — I can understand the skepticism associated with scientific theories.

The Skinner example also serves to illustrate something else that the anti-planning camp finds reprehensible: theoretical overreach. Because of their experiments with animals, Skinner and his cadre sincerely believed that his theories were directly applicable to humans. Hence his quote: “Give me a child and I’ll shape him into anything.” His view of humans as completely, environmentally conditioned was incorporated into many contemporary theories of education. Sadly, humans are slightly more complicated, and these theories of education often did not work as well as intended.

That the anti-planning camp doubt the predictive capacity of models can be shown in their response to the scientific issues of the day. Take global warming. Though you may find this difficult to believe, some conservatives acknowledge the reality of global warming as a fact. What they dispute is the notion that understanding global warming as a fact allows one to predict the results of global warming abatement policies. This is not to discount the very competent modeling that been performed by climatologists. Climatologists have provided very accurate assessments of the likely changes in mean global temperature, including different trajectories according to different profiles of greenhouse gas emissions. The anti-planning camp simply responds that none of these assessments include the likely consequences of improved technology or the myriad of small changes to the economy that any policy might create.

Thus, the anti-planning camp dissociates the matter of whether global warming is real from the matter of what policy we should enact to fight it. They deny the notion that because global warming exists, policy A must be enacted. They deny the core assumption of all planners — which Hayek termed the “fatal conceit” — that knowledge of a system implies both predictive capacity and the ability to intervene.

Now, I do not deny that many conservatives also dispute global warming on the facts. However, see how this view develops from the anti-planning perspective. The anti-planners argue that knowledge of a system does not imply the ability to manipulate that system. From there, it a short rhetorical journey — particularly if it is an argument you want to win — to denying the fact of global warming. This journey is tantamount to the realization that if you can’t win on logical grounds — and the conflict between planning vs. not-planning is insoluble by logic alone — you should attack their premises. Likewise, it is a short trip from attacking the premises of global warming to attacking the scientists themselves. The scientists might be deluded or engaged in group-think. (There is also a tendency — which Quiggin points out — to conflate the views of scientific establishment with what is said about science in the press. However, I would argue that this is a bipartisan phenomena.)

It is not my intent to defend this behavior. I do not consider it productive to argue the facts of global warming. I do not consider it acceptable to attack individual scientist’s credibility. My point in this is to illustrate the fundamental difference between the anti-planners and the people Quiggin appears to describe.

Republicans as Quiggin describes them are against facts per se. They view science as socially constructed and therefore suspect in toto. I assert that many conservatives that do not reject facts per se. Rather, they reject what they perceive as the likely application of those facts in an attempt to manipulate complex systems. From this realization, many cross-over to disputing particular scientific conclusions and questioning the credibility of particular scientists.

Just to clarify, I am not saying that Republicans as Quiggin describes do not exist. There are certainly Republicans — particularly Tom Bethell — who are quite accurately described. I am sympathetic to his disdain for them. I do not acknowledge a standard for debate other than empirical fact — a standard that they dispute. This makes debating them an exceedingly frustrating exercise. Further, I do not believe that these individuals can be brought into the scientific fold.

In contrast, the anti-planning Republicans can in my view be convinced to accept science. If you are dealing with an anti-planning conservative, you can have a debate on the facts. (You will probably have a considerably more productive debate if you start by disavowing that particular facts imply particular policy conclusions.) However, this is a debate that we can win — in wild contrast to debates with religious conservatives.

The purpose of this post is to illustrate why the rift between some conservatives and science is bridgeable. I believe that the anti-planning conservatives can be divided from the religious conservatives and brought into the fold of scientific acceptance. As a first step, however, this process will require at least the recognition that conservatives are diverse in their perception of science.


  1. #1 Kevin C.
    March 6, 2008

    Right on, Mr. Young! As a registered Republican with a science background (B.S. Physics, Caltech class ’05), I find myself often frustrated with the first type of conservative, and frequently among the second type. This very much needs said.

  2. #2 PhysioProf
    March 6, 2008

    Dude, is this some kind of trick question?

  3. #3 Martin
    March 6, 2008

    That’s a fascinating insight, thanks

  4. #4 mlf
    March 6, 2008

    It seems to me that there is a third camp that needs no explanation:

    The “Whatever-you-are-proposing-it-better-not-cost-me-more-money-than-I-allready-have-to-spend” camp.

  5. #5 Rich Blinne
    March 6, 2008

    I am an evangelical and a registered Republican. I am also a member of the American Scientific Affilication, a professional society of (mostly) evangelical scientists, and the AAAS. So, I straddle both communities discussed here. As such, you got this mostly right.

    The issue is not with the scientific method per se but the whole process of peer review, falsifiability and repeatability. Add to this what is known as the “warfare model” where the so-called scientific (and liberal) elites are to be fought. This latter attitude is exacerbated by the new Atheism with its own warfare model.

    Getting back to first issue the idea of “scientific consensus” is viewed in political terms. Namely, it is a poll of the scientific elite. Add that Vice President Al Gore and the U.N. is the public face of climate change and there is a visceral appeal of self-styled “experts”. This does not promote anti-science but pro-folk-science. Tierney is the science section of the NY Times because people like him believe themselves to be pro-science. The problem is it is not the science we know.

    I have been working with the ASA’s executive director, Randy Isaac, to help promote a better understanding of science amongst evangelicals and Republicans by noting to them:

    1. Scientists are not all a bunch of atheists whose sole goal is the destruction of Christianity. BTW, PZ’s rants don’t help here.

    2. The process of peer review and repeatability is how we achieve scientific consensus. When consensus is derived this way it gets around much of the issues of bias and error and helps science to arrive at the truth.

    3. They are being scammed by the Discovery Institute and climate change “skeptics”, etc. These groups cherry pick, quote mine, and use other unethical and untruthful techniques. Their claims of persecution are likewise untruthful and promote the wrong understanding on how scientific consensus is achieved. This in turn promotes false accusations of them which is in direct conflict of the Ninth Commandment.

  6. #6 caynazzo
    March 6, 2008

    My experience with Type 2 conservatives (anti-planners) is different. They’ve always been detractors of certain issues (global warming, stem cell research, evolution, etc), but Type 2s are moved, due to the enlarging corpus of facts on the particular subject and a fear of being on the wrong side of history, to tentatively accept the theories or models, if only because they’d rather not have their ideas discounted as irrelevant in the marketplace of ideas. Rather than the slippery rhetorical slope from anti-planning to disputing the credibility of global warming for instance, I’d argue the reverse more often happens as a way to salvage an initial, politically motivated, knee-jerk reaction against these issues.

  7. #7 Rich Blinne
    March 6, 2008

    Note that the “them” in the last sentence refers to mainstream scientists. I used the third-person rather than the second-person because I wanted to speak as an evangelical and Republican rather than as a scientist. I do this despite the fact that I have been personally slandered in my effort to bridge the gaps. This is going to be difficult because the mutual distrust is so high. Yet, the cost of a destroyed planet is also high so that the personal cost is worth it.

    On a positive note, I have seen some “traction” in the last few years where some evangelicals such as Rich Cizic of the NAE have stuck their necks out. Jim Hansen, Randy Isaac, and myself have been giving information to Joel Hunter who was briefly the head of the Christian Coalition before he was kicked out for trying to broaden their agenda. Joel is trying to promote the issue of climate change from an evangelical pulpit.

  8. #8 Thotzo
    March 6, 2008

    Your article politely assumes an association of belief and behavior, e.g., those who defend science do so because they believe in science. But I suspect that many who attack science do so a) simply because they belong to a group that is attacking science, without having actually examined their own thinking, or b) simply because it furthers their self-interest, regardless of their actual belief. Many who prefer the Bible over science have never actually examined either. And you are probably too kind to the disingenuous attacks on science by big tobacco, big energy, etc. (Along these lines, I’ve often wondered if the roadblocks to government funding of stem-cell research were placed there by private interests who preferred to fund their own research and thus profit more steeply when breakthroughs are made.) But I appreciate that you’ve let me walk a little way in the other guy’s shoes.

  9. #9 Left_Wing_Fox
    March 6, 2008

    A good insight and makes a fair bit of sense, but I think Rich’s point about the “warfare” model is an important point as well. One of the things I’ve noticed about American conservatism that I don’t see here in Canada nearly as much is the purely oppositional nature of the Republican Party and it’s supporters in the punditry. The idea that if an idea is supported by liberals, leftists or the Democratic party, it needs to be rejected outright.

    And yes, that sort of dire partisanship has infected the left-wing blogosphere as well, although not the Democratic party itself. The hyper-partisanship in the US sysem isn’t really normal for a democracy.

    I can sympathize with the Anti-planning aspect, even if I don’t necessarily agree with it. At least that’s a view that can be debated on, discussed and compromised with.

  10. #10 Rich Blinne
    March 6, 2008

    The joint issues of self interest and hyper-partisanship are key in peeling evangelical voters from the anti-science cause. Evangelicals look askance at those who appear to be merely self interested. The successful rhetoric of the anti-science side has been successful in part by framing the pro-science side as being self interested, whether it’s big Pharma or the “rich” scientist who only says things because he’s employed by the government. One way to flip evangelicals is to show it is the anti-science side on the other hand, e.g. AEI and the large oil companies, that is truly self-interested.

    Evangelicals, particularly young ones, are tired of the cynical self-interested politics of the past along with the hyper-partisanship. This trend started in 2006 and is continuing to this day. A recent survey of evangelicals found a majority believed that climate change is real, humans caused it, and should be fixed even if it costs a lot. Political candidates that call for a move beyond self interest that are not hyper partisan will — I predict — do quite well with young evangelicals. This explains the support for Barak Obama amongst young evangelicals even though there still is a large ideological difference between them. Whether that continues will be determined by the extent either he (assuming he wins the Democratic nomination) or John McCain either provide post-partisan hope and mutual sacrifice or pander to their respective “bases”.

  11. #11 Mike
    March 6, 2008

    As an assistant professor with a PhD in a biological science and also a libertarian leaning Republican, I definately fall into the anti-planning camp. I wanted to believe that global warming was not real because of the massive increase in government intrusion and the resulting loss of freedoms and liberty which will be required to drop atmospheric carbon dioxide back to pre-industrial levels. History has shown how government expansions snowball over time.

  12. #12 Danielle
    March 6, 2008

    I think it could be argued that Anti-Planners are quick to invoke the social engineering specters of genocide and population control, but ignore largely successful examples scientific intervention in public policy: sewer systems, mandatory vaccination programs, food and drug oversight.

  13. #13 Chris
    March 6, 2008

    Any position such as “Anti-Planning” that is “a short rhetorical journey” from denying the facts is not a rational position, nor was this position arrived at in a primarily rationally fashion.

    There could be a rational way to arrive at the “Anti-Planning” position, but no one who followed that path would then go onto deny the facts.

    The example of Skinner is correct: the behaviorists overreached. And the scientists around then noticed this, and this has been corrected (by more studies with more facts).

    Right now climatologists see a future climate that will be changed from the one we have now. Once you expect change, then there are two follow-up questions:

    (*) is the change uncontrolled or can we affect it?

    (*) can we predict what the change will be, taking our efforts into account?

    “Anti-Planning” rejects trying to control the change because it rejects the state trying to change society.

    “Anti-Planning” answers no the second because it “discounts the ability of scientists to make models with high predictive accuracy.”

    So I see this as the usual [conservatism] == [do nothing] reaction. This is useless — one cannot even argue with this emotional stance.

    The useful conservatism tries to support the future with the best and wisest institutions of the past. It learns from history what is good and bad and bases the new upon the the strongest old foundations.

  14. #14 DH
    March 6, 2008

    Thank you, thank you for your clarifying thoughts. I have been trying to express these same idea, but without the success that I see here in your blog.

    I am a biologist who certainly finds herself in your described anti-planning group. Though I am not fond of the name anti-planner. Without planning there is little progress. Not everything can be or should be left to chance. I do not support a laissez faire attitude. But I do subscribe to the idea that if we are going to err, and we are going to err somewhere, let it be on the side of caution.

    I am an independent. I find myself on the liberal side of social issues, on the conservative side of financial issues, and a libertarian on government intervention and intrusion. I am by no means a science skeptic, but I am surely a science (and political) cynic. I object to the hyperbole, the Speaking In Upper Case, and the pundits whether they be scientific or political. I object to all those who clamor that: The facts are in. You must ACT NOW. You must ACT NOW in exactly the way I tell you, because I am the expert! I am just under fifty years old. Someday I will finish my list of all the global disasters I have survived in my lifetime so far. By my count, there must be a least a half dozen. That does not include all the threats to my health that science has exposed; threats I absolutely have to ACT NOW to defend myself against. And then there are all the threats to my health that science has caused through ignorance and hubris. That is not to say that all the problems were imaginary. Some were imaginary. Many, if not most, were real, or at least partially real under the hyperbole.

    And I am tired and I am frustrated. After more than thirty years of being personally involved in environmental activism, what exactly have any of us really accomplished? Has anybody listened? Isnt the fact that we are still facing global disaster proof of our failure?

  15. #15 John Quiggin
    March 6, 2008

    Hayek has a good statement on the general point

    I find that the most objectionable feature of the conservative attitude is its propensity to reject well-substantiated new knowledge because it dislikes some of the consequences which seem to follow from it – or, to put it bluntly, its obscurantism. I will not deny that scientists as much as others are given to fads and fashions and that we have much reason to be cautious in accepting the conclusions that they draw from their latest theories.

    But the reasons for our reluctance must themselves be rational and must be kept separate from our regret that the new theories upset our cherished beliefs. I can have little patience with those who oppose, for instance, the theory of evolution or what are called “mechanistic” explanations of the phenomena of life because of certain moral consequences which at first seem to follow from these theories, and still less with those who regard it as irrelevant or impious to ask certain questions at all. By refusing to face the facts, the conservative only weakens his own position.

    Frequently the conclusions which rationalist presumption draws from new scientific insights do not at all follow from them. But only by actively taking part in the elaboration of the consequences of new discoveries do we learn whether or not they fit into our world picture and, if so, how. Should our moral beliefs really prove to be dependent on factual assumptions shown to be incorrect, it would hardly be moral to defend them by refusing to acknowledge facts.

    Unfortunately, it’s my perception that anti-planners are even less willing to listen to Hayek on this point today than they were when he wrote.

  16. #16 John Quiggin
    March 6, 2008

    Sorry about the formatting, all but the last para are Hayek and should be indented.

  17. #17 Jake Young
    March 6, 2008

    I fixed it.

    I appreciate your response, Mr. Quiggin. I think I need to mull it over a bit more though, before I say anything about it.

  18. #18 Benjamin Franz
    March 6, 2008

    You really should note when you delete comment threads and at least say why. It comes across quite badly when multiple people’s comments are silently ‘vanished’ without so much as a note to the effect of “I don’t want that topic in this comment thread”.

    “Silent deletion” is a tactic that has been roundly criticized by SciBlogger’s when it happens to them on other sites. It is hard to hold the high moral ground if scibloggers do it as well.


  19. #19 Jake Young
    March 6, 2008


    I don’t delete comments. I do amend them if someone asks and I see it — as Quiggin’s above, and I do try to indicate when I do so.

    Is the issue that there are comments that are submitted but not showing up? If that is the case, I have to blame our spam-blocker. I personally hate the thing because it is over-vigorous. I also don’t check the spam queue nearly enough.

    If someone has a comment that was picked up by the spam blocker, just email me and I will (usually) publish it ASAP.

  20. #20 Frank O'Dwyer
    March 6, 2008

    “Thus, the anti-planning camp dissociates the matter of whether global warming is real from the matter of what policy we should enact to fight it. They deny the notion that because global warming exists, policy A must be enacted.”

    I think you have this backwards. They deny global warming exists because policy A must be enacted. No deeper thinking is going on. Some of them even say this out loud. I’ve heard at least one person say that given a choice between climate change and socialism they will take their chances with the weather.

    Interestingly this is both the moralistic fallacy, and a seeming lack of confidence that anything based on free market ideas could work as an alternate policy. Similarly you will never hear a republican suggest that the military should be left to the tender mercies of the market rather than nurtured by govt and funded by taxes. But they will typically say that almost any other problem should be solved that way.

    Similarly global warming is a complex problem that cannot be solved by cutting taxes, longer prison sentences, prayer, or bombing the middle east, so many republicans are out of ideas at that point and would prefer to deny there is a problem.

  21. #21 gbruno
    March 6, 2008

    Dr. Oreskes gives a great history of the science of global warming and the history of the right wing to fight science:


    One of the best hours you can spend.

  22. #22 Mr_G
    March 6, 2008

    Your example of Skinner as one guilty of “theoretical overreach” Is a stunning embodiment of the maxim that one cannot say anything bad about behaviorism that will not pass muster among cognitive “scientists”.

    You begin by attributing to Skinner a mangled version of a statement by Watson: “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select � doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years.”

    There is nothing exceptional in this and indeed it is quite liberal in its conception and implications.

    You go on to say that behaviorists failed to take into account “cognition”. You don’t indicate how this was in any way detrimental to the program or, indeed, what “cognition” is, how it functions, how we may identify it, and why we should think it is any more real than the ether or phlogiston.

    Everybody knows that behaviorism failed, but no one seems to be able to say exactly how it did so. You certainly provide no clue.

  23. #23 Caledonian
    March 6, 2008

    Without planning there is little progress. Not everything can be or should be left to chance. I do not support a laissez faire attitude.

    I can only agree with the first statement. The second is a non-sequitur. And the third leaves me aghast.

    Laissez faire is not “leaving things up to chance”. It’s letting people make their own plans, instead of a central authority trying to impose its plans on things, and permitting the inherent order of the system to emerge.

    Saying that laissez faire is “leaving things up to chance” is about as informed, and as intelligent, as saying that the Theory of Evolution holds that everything happened by chance. It is both ignorant and stupid.

  24. #24 Mike
    March 6, 2008

    I think you have this backwards. They deny global warming exists because policy A must be enacted. No deeper thinking is going on. Some of them even say this out loud. I’ve heard at least one person say that given a choice between climate change and socialism they will take their chances with the weather.
    Interestingly this is both the moralistic fallacy, and a seeming lack of confidence that anything based on free market ideas could work as an alternate policy.

    Wrong, and.. wrong. The author has the correct logical sequence – the scientific status of global warming does not imply, whether it is true or false, that policy A *must* be enacted. Your objection, and specifically how you have framed your belief about the “Republican” view, appears to be exactly what the article’s “anti-planners” are defending against. Policy A, in your view, *must* be implemented. Policy A is the absolute and the science, whatever it might be, is just a happy coincidence providing this season’s propaganda push for implementing it.

    Specifically, the line about socialism is what gives away the game. Why is it a sign that “no deeper thinking is going on” when someone says “out loud” that socialism is an utter failure and not a possible solution to any political problem? It is quite possible that the person in question has a principled, informed reason for rejecting socialism outright, just as they have rejected any number of unnamed possible “solutions”.

    That sort of approach is one of the reasons so many very smart and highly knowledgeable people reject global warming as a serious subject. It’s not because they have any problem, or even any particular view, of the science. It’s because they are not given a presentation arguing certain facts. They are given two things: a political program, and a propaganda stream which runs the Emperor Has No Clothes gambit. Obviously, anyone who doesn’t accept the politics must be against the science – either because they’re morally compromised (a Tool of Big Oil), or intellectually inferior (a Republican).

    So, no, the article does not get the order backwards. If anything, it’s too generous in its assumptions about how much science is being presented in the case for global warming to “the Republicans” in the first place.

  25. #25 Frank O'Dwyer
    March 6, 2008

    “the scientific status of global warming does not imply, whether it is true or false, that policy A *must* be enacted.”

    I know it doesn’t. That is the point. However the conservatives I am talking about behave as if it does. They do not behave as though they have any other answers.

    Because of that their reasoning goes as follows:

    1) If global warming is true then it has the bad consequence that policy A must (or will, if you prefer) be enacted
    2) therefore global warming is not true

    By the way I know that is not correct reasoning, and that again is the point. It is the moralistic fallacy, and it is seen time and again from a large group on the conservative side of the aisle. For example, if the topic is whether evolution is a fact, they will bring up eugenics or Hitler as though it had a bearing on the matter. I would go so far as to say that this is how much of the conservative mindset is wired to think.

    “It’s because they are not given a presentation arguing certain facts.”

    Yes they are. I know because I’ve done so. I’ve not argued for any particular solution and in fact I don’t know what the solution is. There are also uncertainties around the scale of the problem, especially timescale, however the really interesting debate regarding global warming is what to do about it, but by and large the republicans won’t have it.

  26. #26 John Quiggin
    March 6, 2008

    It’s very striking to contrast the Republican/conservative/antiplanner attitude on the science of GW with the green/social democrat attitude on the role of markets in mitigation policy.

    In the leadup to Kyoto, most greens and many social democrats were highly sceptical of cap-and-trade policies and carbon taxes, viewing them as licenses to pollute. But the evidence was overwhelming that if you want to stop global warming, this is the only route that’s economically or politically feasible. So the vast majority of greens now favour cap-and-trade which is very much not a socialist policy. Unlike the Republicans, they’ve been willing to pay attention to the evidence.

  27. #27 Benjamin Franz
    March 6, 2008

    Jake Young: Is the issue that there are comments that are submitted but not showing up?

    Hmmmm…Not quite. There were a series of comments starting from someone who said something along the line of ‘What if religiosity is the result of empathy? And what if empathy is primary genetic?’

    I replied with a moderately long comment, the person originating it replied back and to some other people a few times. It was all published in the comments.

    And it’s all missing now. I assumed you deleted them. If you didn’t, then I have to wonder if scienceblogs’ database has a problem.

  28. #28 Benjamin Franz
    March 6, 2008

    Whups. This is entirely my mistake. I confused this thread with one of Framing Science’s (‘The Scientist Delusion? Nature Column on AAAS Panel’): No one deleted anything. Either here or there.

    My deeply felt apologies all around.

  29. #29 Anna Haynes
    March 6, 2008

    > “…the most objectionable feature of the conservative attitude is its propensity to reject well-substantiated new knowledge because it dislikes some of the consequences which seem to follow from it”

    See Bob Altemeyer’s book The Authoritarians. His data show that authoritarian personalities are more susceptible to this error of reasoning.

  30. #30 Dennis
    March 7, 2008

    Even more screwy: some of the most postive steps we could take against global warming involve reducing government interference.

    One of the biggest producers of CO2 is conventional agriculture. Organic farming does the opposite, by fixing carbon into topsoil. Converting U.S. corn and soybean production to organic would meet 73% of our Kyoto targets, according to this:

    And yet, the government heavily subsidizes conventional agriculture. How does a subsidy count as conservative or anti-planning?

    The government also supports the oil industry, both directly and through military action. Without this support, prices would likely increase, and alternative fuels would be better able to compete.

    If we want conservatives to help with the global warming issue, a good first step would be to frame it as a problem which has been greatly aggravated by government interference in the market.

    But this will only work with principled conservatives, not politicians beholden to lobbyists from Exxon and Monsanto.

  31. #31 Nick Fisher
    March 7, 2008

    To “…reject the notion that facts provide predictive power over systems as complex as the climate and the economy” is not so much humble as plain unobservant.

  32. #32 Caledonian
    March 7, 2008

    His data show that authoritarian personalities are more susceptible to this error of reasoning.

    Yes, but neither conservatism in the classic sense nor modern conservatism are particularly more authoritarian than other political modes. Liberalism is often quite authoritarian, especially when confronting social and economic stances that it hasn’t decided to permit.

  33. #33 Mr_G
    March 8, 2008

    Hmm, no comment on the gross misquote of Skinner. No remarks defending the theoretical importance a “cognition”. No surprise.

  34. #34 Ed Darrell
    March 17, 2008

    Tierney forgets that one of the reasons we’ve been so successful in the past 40 years is that we took seriously the warnings of scientists, about air pollution, water pollution, the disruptions of ecosystems, the dangers of poisons in foods, the dangers of smoking, etc. In short, we avoided trouble by listening to those scientists and taking seriously their warnings, those scientists he and others now dismiss as inaccurate, or so tightly focused as to be unable to make a serious conclusion about climate change.

    Republicans need to explain why they were wrong then, but right now.

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