Thursday, August 25, 2005

Reviewing "The Republican War on Science" Part II

Reviewing The Republican War on Science, by Chris Mooney
Part II --

(This review will appear in theSan Diego Union Book Review. It is posted here entirely for comment as a working draft, for commentary by members of this community. Please do not copy elsewhere. A final version will be posted in September 2005 at

First a reprise from Part I...

cover225Stepping back, we see a common theme. "My side favors truth while your side is warped by dogma."

If I must choose sides, I’ll pick Mooney, because the perfidies that he describes are accelerating. For example, it is unambiguous that the GOP Congress cuts funding for the National Science Foundation and NOAA even while calling for "more research" on global climate change. Nothing could be more bald-faced. In any event, rightwing abuses are inherently more dangerous, because that side currently holds sway in countless boardrooms and every branch of government. 

Yet, the very title of this book - The Republican War on Science - ensures that it won’t be helpful. Providing ammo for one side, it will be contemptuously ignored by the other, while just a few -- those still with open minds -- may crack the covers with sincere interest in learning something new. This is ironic, in light of some wise words about the scientific process that Mooney quotes from cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker:

"The success of science depends on an apparatus of democratic adjudication --anonymous peer review, open debate, the fact that a graduate student can criticize a tenured professor. These mechanisms are more or less explicitly designed to counter human self-deception. People always think they're right, and powerful people will tend to use their authority to bolster their prestige and suppress inconvenient opposition. You try to set up the game of science so that the truth will out despite this ugly side of human nature."

==Now on to Part II==

In The Republican War on Science, Mooney claims a desire to be fair, so there are a few pages describing left-wing anti-scientific duplicities. He mentions the blanket and quasi-hysterical opposition by Greenpeace and other groups toward all genetic engineering of food plants, a sweeping paranoia that ignores every subtlety. (Some kinds of genetic engineering are intrinsically no more threatening than old-fashioned agricultural selection.) Going back much farther, he tells how the left was once a chief locus of anti-science political extremism, during the monstrous, Stalin era phenomenon called Lysenkoism.

Alas, as you might expect from Mooney’s chosen title, this page or two of "balance" quickly gives way to the tedious habit of all sides in the Culture War -- squeezing complex issues along a cramped left-right political axis, inherited from the French Revolution -- a dismal and demeaning metaphor that nobody can define. Especially absurd is Mooney’s oversimplification that "big business" has lined up against science. Not all capitalists or conservatives resist the notion of fine-tuning market forces to match our evolving understanding of the world. Moreover, it was Republican President George Herbert Walker Bush who said in 1990: "Science relies on freedom of inquiry, and government relies on the impartial perspective of science for guidance."

The "war on science" is better defined along a completely different axis. Future vs. past. On one side are traits that dominated nearly all other cultures and eras: nostalgia, faith in dogmatic incantations and a reactionary fear of change. On the other side are qualities compatible only with a scientific age: pragmatism, confidence, and eagerness to confront change. Plus -- perhaps - a deeper assumption. That any Creator (if one exists) will approve of children who study and use His tools.

1333202991725.cachedReactionaries of "right" and "left" differ in some ways. As Mooney points out, conservative antimodernists aim their wrath at can-know scientists. But lefty post-modernists despise can-do engineers. Some difference. *(Sharing a characteristic retro-nostalgia, one group yearns for feudalism while the other romanticizes ancient tribes.) Both despise the plan of Vannevar Bush that has worked for us so well – a commitment to experiment, question, invent, negotiate, revise and devote whatever resources it may take to try new things, solve problems, overcome inevitable errors, improve ourselves and keep making a better world.

The evident tragedy is that a modernist majority still believes in all these things. But pragmatic liberals and progressive conservatives face a starkly artificial choice between extreme left and extreme right mirror-dogmas that share the same reactionary agenda. To spread fear of tomorrow.
Will people someday learn to refuse both sets of dyspeptic incantations? That is the common nightmare of all anti-future dogmatists. And it is the hope of modern civilization.

Do pick up The Republican War on Science, if only because these are crimes being committed against us all, right now, by ideologues with real political power and fierce determination to impose their dogmatic will. In contrast, antimodernists of the left are (at present) pallid and impotent, unable even to control the Democratic Party. Mooney’s crisis is more urgent and imminent.

Still, books like this one ultimately play into myopic paranoia, instead of drawing our eyes to the horizon. Who would have imagined that the 21st Century would be a time of pulling inward, focusing on dogmas and petty limitations, when we have already accomplished so much?

And when the future is as filled with possibility as it ever was.


Side extract from the book:

"If a politician presents a fair picture of climate science, but nevertheless opposes the Kyoto Protocol on economic grounds, I leave it to economists to criticize him or her. If a president takes advice from a well-balanced panel of experts and then makes a contrary decision, that too is his or her prerogative, as long as the decision doesn't get bedecked in scientific garb.

Commentators across the political spectrum generally agree that science should inform, but not dictate political choices, in much the same way that input from the intelligence community helps to inform military strategy and foreign policy. "I don't think there are very many scientists who are naive enough to think that science should always determine outcomes, but you shouldn't defend outcomes by distorting the science," says physicist John Holdren, director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School.


See also my article: The Case for a Scientific Nation


Tony Fisk said...

(First cab off the rank again? Oh well, here goes...)

So, that pesky title *is* an accurate portrayal of what's inside?

Again, if you think all sides of the divide would benefit by perservering past the cover (and you seem to) it might help the wavering reader by suggesting an alternative title.

...As does explaining the need to think outside L-R axes (as you do... good)

See if you can reduce the 'syllabage' a little. While I feel my vocabulary is pretty good, there are a few dense terms like 'Sharing a characteristic retro-nostalgia' that could do with dilution. And bear in mind that not everyone (eg, me) has a 'classical' education.

Overall a good review. My previous comments about getting to Mooney earlier in the piece still hold. Otherwise it risks looking a bit *too* much like 'Brin holds forth on ...' (not that there's anything wrong with a bit of that, of course. After all, you are a drawcard for SDU.)

Review mode off: one final aside:
...That any Creator (if one exists) will approve of children who study and use His tools.

Which prompts the following thoughts:
...aren't children *meant* to grow up? the parable of the shepherd (and what ultimately happens to the lamb) more appropriate when describing the outlook of a certain mindset?

Wintermute said...


[A]ny Creator (if one exists) will approve of children who study and use His tools.

is nice. I always say that if G-d had wanted robots he would have made them (it's a quick argument against dogmatic theistic traditionalism).

As regards the review, I think the emphasis on Brin's opinion is fine as is. I think that you might even be able to move this paragraph:

Do pick up The Republican War on Science, if only because these are crimes being committed against us all, right now, by ideologues with real political power and fierce determination to impose their dogmatic will. In contrast, antimodernists of the left are (at present) pallid and impotent, unable even to control the Democratic Party. Mooney’s crisis is more urgent and imminent.

to the very end and still preserve the emotional appeal to modernism and human curiosity implied by:

Who would have imagined that the 21st Century would be a time of pulling inward, focusing on dogmas and petty limitations, when we have already accomplished so much? And when the future is as filled with possibility as it ever was.

if you were to tuck the bolded unbolded parts together into a single second-last paragraph (as shown above). This way you can show that the book is helpful and worth looking at/paying for, though this recommendation is first (and rightly it seems) qualified as being flawed in some major ways that any reader should be made aware of. I think it makes sense to get any qualifiers out of the way before you recommend someone "pick it up." If these qualifiers take up the bulk of the review space, so be it! What else are you to do if you are to be an honest reviewer?

Which leaves this sentence as your segue (Sp?) from the paragraph about the hope of modern civilization (i.e. that people will someday learn to dismiss dogmas that spread fear of tommorow).

Still, books like this one ultimately play into myopic paranoia, instead of drawing our eyes to the horizon

I think this needs to be slightly more robust right hear, near the conclusion. Why does it play into myopic paranoia again? because it blames only the right-hand side of the faulty political spectrum, rather than both the pomos and the anti-mos, and does not prescribe a solution to the larger pan-spectrum fear of progress, correct? I think you need to remind the reader of this here, just to make sure they get why this book in a way plays right into our same old fears. This could be another short paragraph, I guess it would be third-last, and still a segue from your input back to the recommendation of the book in the final two paragraphs.

I think the rest of the review was great, especially part II, but I do think that if you want to get critical of his book (which it sounds like you should) you should summarize it quickly at the beginning of the review and put all your thoughts in between that intro and a concluding paragraph (or two) which recommends the book after sufficient qualifications and elaborations.

These recommendations I have made are minor tinkerings in ordering that I think would help make it easiest to read while ensuring that any readers cannot mistake the important points about the book that they need to understand before reading it. I think the review's semantic content and syntactical structuring was fantastic.

Anonymous said...

But - inward turns do happen, alas. Robert Heinlein said (just before the Crazy Years hit) that progress wasn't linear, it was exponential, and that we'd finally reached a forward-looking society. Then came the reaction to it.

However - times of unreason pass, as well. The latest crop of kids look like candidates for a revised forward-looking culture.

Pat, who goes to school with people 45 years younger.

coturnix said...

David, here is a GOOD review of the book, so you can see where you go wrong:

And you have not read the link I posted in the Part I, so here it is again, because you describe some pre-1960s Liberalism that does not exist any more:

Dave Baker said...

Overall I really like it, David. One quibble. The following small point of yours,

Moreover, it was Republican President George Herbert Walker Bush who said in 1990: "Science relies on freedom of inquiry, and government relies on the impartial perspective of science for guidance."

seems very weak to me. The quote sounds like something George W. Bush could easily have said, even while opposing honest science at every turn. It sounds like lip service. So you might want to back the quote up with some evidence that George HW Bush really was a friend to science.

Rob Perkins said...

I think HW was a friend to science. I have nothing to back that up tho :-D

One thing that really troubles me about this conversation is the assumption that as the President goes, so goes the nation.

Are we really such pre-programmed fish, all of us out there, that private foundation-based science isn't even under consideration? Does the Federal Government really have to lead the way in all things?

That didn't used to be the case, I think.

I'll note, too, just as an anecdote, that I don't remember Dubya making a scientific case for much of anything. I suppose picking up Mooney's book might refute my impression. (Although, I'm loathe to buy any book at all with such a short half-life as that; I prefer to use the library.)

Rather, it seems that Dubya operates almost entirely within the realm of political consensus. People shouldn't underestimate or mischaracterize the talents of him and his team; whatever his premises are he's almost as talented as Clinton was, perhaps just exactly as talented, at swimming in the stream in D.C.

I draw that impression from the reasoning he gave for denying federal funding for new embryonic stem cell research. As I recall he didn't state scientific reasons at all. He said instead that he thought it was wrong to destroy life, that he defined those cell masses as people, and didn't want them toyed with. He didn't appeal to the science of it, as I recall.

"That any Creator (if one exists) will approve of children who study and use His tools."

That statement resonates very deeply with me. Y'know, churches used to be the willing allies and tools of the Enlightenment. Where did we all go wrong that that seems no longer to be the case?

Dylan said...

I think the book only asks one question: is the attitude expressed by the current conservative leadership different than past administrations? Everyone agrees that it is, so what's the problem with the title?

As for preaching to the converted, this is a common mistake. The ones responsible for the politicization can't be reached. The foot soldiers toss out balanced books as willingly as biased ones because balance would still allow some criticism of their side into their craniums. When they say balance, they mean it in a FOX News, we-can-do-no-wrong kind of way, so Mooney's book still wouldn't be read, no matter how much you try to reach out to them.

I think the people who most need to be reached are those non-republicans who insist politics and history are not static, and that there's no point in pointing a finger at the other guy because my guy is just as bad. To be objective is to never recognize that anything is happening today that is different from yesterday. Let Bush loose, and feed science to the dogs. No matter how low the other guy sinks, my guy must be just as low, or I'm not being objective. Everyone, rush to the bottom. There's no depths you can sink to that I must have already been, because to suggest otherwise would be partisan.

The rash of resignations, and in at least one case, suicide, over the strong-arm tactics being employed by this government to turn science into PR, ought to concern anyone who has followed this story. What is so disturbing is not that every administration tries to squelch a report every now and then, but that the conservative movement is attacking the integrity of science itself, across the board. This isn't to-mae-toe, to-mah-toe, but empiricism vs. ideology.

It's not just evolution, but mentions of global warming and unflattering history getting stripped from Texas textbooks. The Bush administration is trying to set it up so that every piece of federally funded research must first go through a political vetting process to see if it adheres to the White House line before it can be released, or at least give them a chance to have it rewritten.

But we have to say, "more of the same. Same old, same old. It's your turn, soon it will be mine."

How lopsided would it have to be before we can comment on it?

Anonymous said...

Coturnix posted a link to an essay with this passage:

"Saying that pseudoscientific excesses of the Loony Left are equivalent to the pseudoscientific excesses of the Righteous Right is just an example of such factual (and moral) relativity. The former is silly, discredited, powerless and innocuous. The latter is serious, more and more mainstream and dangerous to the Enlightment and what it gave to the human civilization. The former is laughable. The latter is the key weapon of the Republican Party (at least the faction in power right now)."

Thank you. Well said. Dead on, right on target.

The power of the flaky anti-modernist left has rarely extended beyond enthusiastic discussions in the rice cake aisle of health food stores. Their idea of effective political action is pie-throwing and rallies no one hears about unless the Young Republicans show up for a counter-march.

Their influence is nothing, nothing like the organized, deliberate, well funded, and thoughtful campaign against modern thought by the religious right.

We're talking about an actual conspiracy here folks. Read it for yourself:

"The social consequences of materialism have been devastating. As symptoms, those consequences are certainly worth treating. However, we are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source. That source is scientific materialism. This is precisely our strategy. If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, our strategy is intended to function as a "wedge" that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points. The very beginning of this strategy, the "thin edge of the wedge," was Phillip ]ohnson's critique of Darwinism begun in 1991 in Darwinism on Trial, and continued in Reason in the Balance and Defeatng Darwinism by Opening Minds. Michael Behe's highly successful Darwin's Black Box followed Johnson's work. We are building on this momentum, broadening the wedge with a positive scientific alternative to materialistic scientific theories, which has come to be called the theory of intelligent design (ID). Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

Is that unambigous enough?

We are not in a position where we'd jump from one radical extreme to another. Assuming the neocons don't engineer a state of permenant emergency that keeps them in power forever, and you can bet your sweet ass that this is exactly what they want and are working toward, they will not be replaced by shaggy leftists with peculiar ideas about vaccination and red meat. They'll be replaced by Democrats.


David Brin said...

Tony - your raising of the metaphor of the lamb is apt. Someday I shall commence serializing my essay on theology. “Twelve Modern Questions About Humanity’s Relationship With its Creator In the Context of an Age of Science”. Buckle your seat belts!

Coturnix- I see nothing that disagrees with me much at of-pseudo.htm It is an intelligent blog. But it has much more room to work in than my 2,000 word limit in a metropolitan newspaper. ANyway, I think I make the same points.

Rob - you are right that we have alternatives to the federal govt. California is the world’s seventh largest economy and even under republican GuvAhnold we are pushing research and alt-energy stimulation as hard as any European nation, and as hard as federal obstructionism will allow. (Funny, now we are the ones demanding states rights!) This may happen more and more as the Culture War makes many nations out what had formerly been one.

“ Y'know, churches used to be the willing allies and tools of the Enlightenment. Where did we all go wrong that that seems no longer to be the case?”

Goll dang freepy lefty lib’rals had to get in the faces of every single dang thing that smacked of being white, middle class, reserved, shy, demure, reticent, squeamish... you name it.

For example, most of the nation was okay (if uncomfortable) with “Civil Unions” allowing gay folks to have all the PRAGMATIC benefits of marriage. (All right, adoption was still a fight.) But the freakazoids just HAD to wage a war to get it called “marriage” didn’t they. A pure example of the romantic-nostalgic worldview in which symbolism is vastly more important than practical consequences... and indignant fury is vastly more attractive than looking your opponents in the eye and negotiating.

In so doing, they pretty much handed W another term in office. These people were Karl Rove’s fifth column. And at the underlying memic level, they are his bosom allies.

Dylan - I agree that in the long run we must hope and pray for whistle blowers. Lots and lots of them. In today’s context, these are the battlefront heroes, the men and women deserving silver stars and purple hearts. Our goal must be to find ways to encourage them. Hundreds. Thousands.


Oh, here’s an interesting white paper on future energy sources:

Dylan said...

I think in terms of the book's title, it's a bit like the evolution vs. ID debate. There has been some hoaxes of fossils and so forth, but is it therefore right to say "both sides have abused science, with plenty of finger pointing to go around"?

Are we in the midst of something scary here, or is this just more of the same? If it's the former, I applaud Mooney for saying so, and you should, too.

daveawayfromhome said...

I was surprised to reach the end and see that you were actually recommending the book (albeit, cautiously). I hadnt really gotten the impression that you would.
While I can see your point about criticising both left and right looniness, it seems like that's an unnecessarily large bite to take in one book. The bridge before us now is the Neo-Cons, and it's a really, really big one. Cross the liberal one later.
As for the title, I wonder if it was Mooney's choice, or one made for him by the publishing house. I doubt, sales-wise (and therefore say-so-wise), he's a big wheel, and this title will sell better than something more neutral. Perhaps a better title would have been "Reviewing the Neo-Con War on Science", so that moderate Republicans could read it without guilt (except for the guilt they really ought to feel for allowing their party to be hijacked).
Lastly, Tin-Foil Hat time: maybe the publisher is a neo-con, and deliberately chose the title so as to allow the Republican party to more easily dismiss it, while assuring plenty of sales to frustrated Democrats (after all, bidness is bidness).


Anonymous said...

Perhaps a better title would have been "Reviewing the Neo-Con War on Science"

This is a very good point.

I think that title would be far more accurate. Even more accurate would be to call the book The Movement Conservative War on Science.

Certainly, the G.O.P. of old wouldn't have tolerated this disingenuous nonesense.

However, the war on science wasn't a sneak attack. Anyone with half a brain could have seen it coming.

At the very least, the Republicans did nothing to oppose it.

They could have raised a red flag when Reagan blathered about having his doubts about evolution.

They could have made it a party plank to oppose Creationism in schools, back before it was prettied up as I.D.

They did nothing, and are therefore culpable.


Dylan said...

The other point I'd like to make is that I don't think this is more future vs. past than right vs. left. Although abortion and Terri Schiavo may be questions of technology, most conservative arguments against science have nothing to do with technological applications, or the future world.

Concocting a fake study that says wetlands cause pollution so you can replace it with a golf course to improve water quality has nothing to do with a fear of technology, but a desire to build a golf course. Preventing testing for cattle showing symptoms of Mad Cow is not out of fear of the future, but a disregard for the facts - a positive result would keep people from buying beef. Testing might get a positive result, therefore, ship the cow off to the rendering plant before we get a chance. Making science go through a political review process is not about the future either, but about ensuring that data is ideologically pure.

This has more to do with a group of people who value "the cause" and loyalty above all else. Science, acedamia and intelligence are all designed to gather information, which if done well is accurate rather than clearly pushing a party line. That's their problem with it. Facts aren't loyal, and if it's not loyal, it's "liberal" and must be intimidated until they come up with the right answer.

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Wintermute said...

I think Stefan is right in suggesting that we treat this as a planned and premeditated conspiracy against science. Normally conspiracy theories are frowned upon, but its not like the neo-cons haven't been extremely explicit about their goals and tactics. If you read their literature the war against science is an inevitable part of their plan; it allows goverment to become the ultimate authority for the people-to take over where the church left off.

When speaking of this situation to others who may be less knowledgeable of neo-con ambitions it may however be important to not exactly call this a conspiracy theory. The fact that this is happening is tough to swallow without using the c-word. This is more of an institutional/ideological analysis than a conspiracy theory in the traditional sense. It is not denied in neo-con literature at all; it is in fact endorsed. I bet Wolfowitz and Rove would do almost anything to be able to burn Strauss and lippman's books: not beacuse they don't believe what they say, but rather, because they wish the world didn't actually know what they were up to so that this could be nothing but another paranoid conspiracy theory. But it is not a theory, per se. It is a fact that the neo-cons have highjacked the GOP and are using to trya nd cement their power through elimination of scientific authority (among other things)

Chomsky gets accused of conspiracy theorizing, but he's really doing institutional analysis. If we explicitly treat this in the same way as conspiracy theories people won't even have to accuse us of conspiracy theorizing; we would have done it ourselves already. There is hardly a better way to loose public support than to start explicitly espousing conspiracy theories.

The main difference between the neo-con war on science (a good title suggestion, though little too late for Mooney...but maybe not for others...hint hint that title's still open Dr. Brin :) ) and traditional conspiracy theories is that, while both are usually outrageous, the neo-con war on science is undeniable to anyone familiar with the writings of strauss, lippmann, etc. and the true nature and justifications of the methods of scienctific inquiry (as opposed to the straw man of science that is so often attacked by this wedge strategy).

Jacare Sorridente said...

Dylan said:
Facts aren't loyal, and if it's not loyal, it's "liberal" and must be intimidated until they come up with the right answer.
I was with you in your last post up until this point.

The simple tactic that any debater beyond the seventh grade debate club will use is to emphasize facts which support one's position and call into question or discredit facts which challenge one's position. This is a political tactic, not a Republican or Conservative one.

This tactic is necessary- after all, what issue is so clear cut that the facts unerringly point the way for policy?

However, when policy is informed by science a good decision requires that the science be given sufficient weight to overcome prejudice. In the case of issues such as environmentalism, the prejudice to ignore the problem and hope it will resolve itself is borne on the wave of economic impetus. Clearly economic impact must be taken into account, but the real issue is that our current political system, reinforced by the voters, requires politicians to focus on the short term, and that almost always means the economic impact. We can see this in another charged issue- social security. It is clear that our current level of spending cannot be maintained indefinitely. This means that either benefits must be reduced or taxes raised- there is no other option. Yet those who are nearing retirement are unwilling to give up any benefits. To them it is an issue of fairness.

This is a direct parallel to the environmental issue- polluters, those dependent on oil etc. do not want to make any short term sacrifice in exchange for long term gain. Any politician which attempts to make the call for vision will automatically earn the enmity of those who stand to lose in the short term.

This finally brings us back to where we stand now and why the administration is apparently anti-science. The reason should be obvious- prominent members of the coalition which brought the president to power are the short term losers in environmental reform. The opposition coalition is the side which pushes for environmentalism most strongly. The Republicans have a razor-thin majority- as shown by the presidential election. In the current super-polarized politicial climate, any caving to the opposition wishes will alienate allies without winning over many new friends (anyone you know that would turn into a Bush lover if he developed a brilliant environmental plan?).

In this case we may see that the enemy of science is not the administration per se, but the polarized political climate (which the administration has definitely helped to foster).

If the response to the many blunders of the administration is further polarization, possibly with a shift in the balance of power to a razor thin margin in favor of the Democrats, the endemic problem of ignoring the science in order to please constituents will remain. It is possible that it will be less blatant, but to me it seems likely that the focus will simply shift.

If we are to focus on the long term then what is required is a complete paradigm shift. We need to get to a place in our politics where doing the right thing is more important than scoring points against the other party, where lobby groups and special interests have no power beyond the ability to make their viewpoint known, and where pragmatism and compromise are rewarded over partisanship.

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David Brin said...

It seems to me that some of our resident conservatives have been driven off. Otherwise, it would not be left to me to raise the damage done by the loony left.

And, although I have repeatedly said that the deliberate campaign of the neocon troika is vastly worse, the damage done by the left has been severe. Even if the ONLY effect was to give ammo to Cato and Heritage and their ilk.

Think about that. Right now, there is one thing that could save us. There are about two hundred august and well-known American conservatives out there who could save this republic. All by themselves. If Newt Gingrich and WmF Buckley and so on were to stand up -- the way the AFL-CIO stood up in 1947 -- to denouce the madness on their side, we could exit this era with remarkable speed and alacrity.

One of the things preventing them from doing this is human nature. Their minds will - naturally - struggle desperately to excuse inaction. This can be rationalized by splitting the neocon crimes into small sub-units and criticizing them one at a time, while desperately denying a pattern. George F Will is a master of this art.

The other half is to create strawman images of the liberals and democrats that anecdotally seem to balance out the neocon anecdotes. Emotionally, they can then tell themselves that the old enemy - the Left - would still be "even worse".

And at least W cut taxes.

In describing their rationalization process, this does not mean that I forgive them for their outrageous moral cowardice at this, the hour of their country's need. A moment when true conservatives could add gloss to their movement, the way the US Labor Movement became the stalwart bulwark of America against communism, long ago.

Nevertheless, we are left with a practical problem. HOW can we start a snowballing of prominent American conservatives, toward the Big Break with the FratboyKleptos-Apocalypts-and StraussianNeocons? What measures can we take, in order to help them find the guts to step up and save us?

I can only think of one thing that has a strong chance of working. Somehow, we must find a way to get these guys on an airplane with Bill Clinton for 12 hours... perhaps on the way to a conference in Praetoria or Delhi. Trapped aboard a plane with Clinton, no human being on the planet can escape becoming converted into Bill's Best Friend.

The most hilarious example - our best revenge so far - has been the chumminess between BC and W's father. It is adorable to watch them together now. And it sent my moral soaring just to imagine what W thinks of it.

Clinton, that lazy, brilliant SOB, could save us. We must shovel conservatives into his company relentlessly, till he charms them all.

Till then, we have GOT to get into their faces in ways that offer an alternative view of liberalism/pragmatism/modernism than the convenient strawman images. That means disassociating ourselves from the left's lunatics.

The Modernist Agenda is meant to offer these people a home.

I agree, the democratic party is the last American institution of any size that has not been taken over by anti-modernists. What I think Stefan misses is how crippled it has been, by the huge antimodernist minority within its ranks.

Dylan said...

I'm not against economic considerations, and I'm not sure what my statement implied to make you think so. I do see a problem with the politicized climate, but I don't see environmentalists having much more sway on Democrats than industry. Their are environmentalists and militant vegetarians, and a million other interest groups that make up a rutterless, powerless, spineless sideline of wannabe players.

My statement about labelling any facts as having a liberal bias has to do with a long line of evidence collected about how this administration behaves. In the lead up to the war, we have many instances of intelligence that was uncertain about WMD and so forth, and it was sent back to be rewritten. An Office of Special Plans was set up to manipulate the intelligence so that it fit their preconceived notions. Neo-con columnists Like Hogan fill the pages about the "PC" intelligence community who refused to admit the WMD or Al Qaeda connections in Iraq, and praising the leadership of the Bush administration to "make that leap". We have Brooks denouncing "scientism" in intelligence, and calling for them to be replaced by political operatives - after those political operatives were shown to be more wrong than the CIA by a factor of ten.

We see this over and over again: facts that do not agree with them are labelled "liberal" and molded to fit their preconceived ideas that have been "revealed" to them. Academics teach evolution. Their version of history does not make America look like the hero in every instance. Therefore, it is liberal and must be changed.

It probably won't suprise you to learn that the administration also forbid post-invasion planning, or any discussion of insurgencies. They also forbid allowing any academics in with experience in the Middle East or nation building because - you guessed it - they might come up with potential "problems" with invasion, and should therefore be considered anti-war. Or, if you prefer, were "liberals" who shouldn't be listened to.

So instead, they recruited young Republicans from the Heritage Foundation to set up their utopia, without any of those educated nay-sayers to point to history or human knowledge to let them know what they were doing wrong. They gave such helpful advice as not allowing "judicial review" in their Iraqi constitution because it might lead to Roe V. Wade.

Everything that has happened in the Iraq was foreseen by those who looked to facts and history. Anyone who valued knowledge saw every piece of dog doo they were going to step in five miles back. It was foreseeable to anyone with eyes who choose to see. Our leaders have willingly chosen to live in blindness. And until someone points it out, we are all going to pay the consequences for their short-sightedness.

Jacare Sorridente said...

I think there is an easier way to escape from the current trajectory our country is on: The Democrats must nominate a true moderate and back him through the primaries. Wesly Clarke could likely have trounced Bush. Joe Lieberman is highly respected by conservatives.

There are plenty of potential candidates whom I believe could draw off a significant fraction of moderate conservatives and end the neocon movement at the end of Bush's next term.

However, what I fear is that Democrats will push forward someone solidly from the "left", and thus force the next round of the ongoing culture war with electoral victory granted by 1 or 2 percentage points.

Jacare Sorridente said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dylan said...

I agree with the problem you see, but not the solution.

To get the left to denounce their own loonies, we will have to define the Democratic party as the "reality-based community", who is objective, pragmatic, sees complexity and makes decisions based on the evidence. Such a self-identity comes from the likes of Mooney's book. And once they develop that identity, the Republican fence sitters will have to show that they, too, live in reality.

The GOP will try to engage in tit for tat, but if they fabricate such examples, they will simply be feeding into the stereotype. If they find real examples, it will be up to the reality based community to own up to them. Even better, the GOP will have to demonstrate to the American public that it, too, is capable of grounding itself in reality, and basing decisions on facts rather than fancy.

If we succesfully brand ourselves as "reality-based", they have to counter it somehow.

Jacare Sorridente said...

Dylan- sorry, I used your comment as a sort of springboard into a bit of a diatribe. My entire post wasn't directed at you.

Here is what is related to your post- Sure Bush and co. massage data to fit their preconceived notions. Everyone does, though perhaps Bush et al do it more egregiously than most. The problem here is that the opposition cannot influence the neocons in any way- they have already demonized them so far that there can be no cooperation. What this means is that the neocons are guaranteed to always appeal to their base, even when to do so is horrifically wrong for the country; because to do otherwise would be to lose their slim majority and cast themselves from power.

(This blog needs an edit option)

Rob Perkins said...

I don't agree at all that leftists are better at science than rightists. Even if they deny that they're practicing a religion, they still behave in precisely the same ways about their premises as a rightist does about Bible and Creationism.

(Incidentally, there are *lots* of ways to freely believe in a Creator-God without taking the Bible so literally that you have to bend your brain around eight tons of cognitive dissonance!)

The expediency of getting 7-calendar-day Creationists to stop foisting junk science or denying real science is compelling, to be true, but the left is just as good at nonsense as the right. (And have we forgotten that ol' Jimmy Carter, that quasi socialist goodguy, believes in Creationism?)

David Brin said...

Rob has just perfectly illustrated our problem!

His post refers to "they" and the caricature that he presents certainly does apply to a version of "they"... in other words the postmodernist frekazoid lefties...

...but that only serves to comfort and assuage and distract from a fundamental fact.

The "they" that he refers to is a loud, awful and powerless minority among liberals.

Whereas their counterparts on the right OWN AND OPERATE THE ENTIRE MACHINE of the Republican party, and the government of the United State, and most media corporations and half the boradrooms in America.

We owe Rob a debt of thanks for illustrating why and how the moderate conservatives of America have been able to rationalize not standing up - as the AFL CIO did in 1947 - and denouncing a raving madness that has gripped the extremum of their movement.

They are able to rationalize it by saying "all sides have gone mad, so I might as well sit on my customary side of the fence."

Sorry Rob. While I hate using left-right.... or rather I use left-right to stand for the antimodernists... the truth is that the monstrous things you see on the left are barely there at all.

coturnix said...

THank you. I am much happier now. ;-)

Rob Perkins said...


If that's true, then where are my safe nuclear power plants, and why is general aviation very nearly and universally vilified as a vector for terrorism?

OK, the latter is a difficult one to pin on leftists. (But as a private pilot it's still really annoying....)

And I know you've raised the former point before. Thing is, it's an example of where and how the loons on the left are winning, and thus prolonging our dependence on foreign energy resources which keeps foreign policy so edgy, IMO.

(What *are* the federal restraints on energy research, anyway, that keeps CA from doing what you say it wants?)

But the reason you state is not the reason I sit. First of all, I don't sit, and I take a little umbrage at the idea that just because I claim to see an equally influential insanity on the Left as I do on the Right, today, that means I don't act when I can.

Second, you're making a comparison between the AFL/CIO, a heirarchical organization which was able to speak out about Communism, and "moderate conservatives" a group which has no such structure in place for punditry. Practically speaking, how are you (we? they?) gonna rally that group as a force, especially considering the power base on the one side and the sheer volume and provocativeness of the other?

That's an uphill battle, and, frankly, I don't see George Soros helping us with it at all. When I think of the money that man wasted on doomsaying and vilification...

(Also, I'd wager that if your context were a bit wider than the last 10 years, by going back perhaps 40 years and including soft sciences in with the hard ones, you'd find I'd have enough evidence to be right about left/right anti-science.)

Wintermute said...

the truth is that the monstrous things you see on the left are barely there at all.

I agree, as regards the political arena. However, one of the left's most powerful tools (which should be, but isn't presently, shared and appreciated by the republicans as well), academia (in particular philosophy and sociology), has been infected by postmodern memes, and needs to be purged.

Political players in the democratic party have (rightly, and luckily) avoided postmodern thinking. But the academic T-cells that are meant to criticize political thought have gotten too critical, critical of thinking itself in some ways (postmodernism rejects the idea of coming to conclusions, which I think is a inextricable part of thinking itself). Thus academic critique has been neutralized, and not by a neo-con plot, but in a conveniently timed (for the neo-cons) combination of skepticism, nihilism, idealism, anti-realism, and pragmatism called collectively "postmodernism".

Academics can try to fix this postmodern infestation (G-d knows I'm trying), but it is not something that the democratic party needs to fix. They have contained their anti-truth infestation, but evidently the republicans never saw it coming, and they may need our help with the neo-con anti-modernism/realism meme infestation of the republican party.

Wintermute said...

Practically speaking, how are you (we? they?) gonna rally that group as a force, especially considering the power base on the one side and the sheer volume and provocativeness of the other?

This is a problem. To start with, I think our best individual course of action is to go around and free as many minds as possible, to tell as many people as we can about the neo-con infestation. If we can reach a critical democratic mass then not only will the neo-cons not be able to trick us anymore, but we will be able to demand that they never come back. Only by informing enough people about what to look for and how to avoid neo-con style ideologies can we ever hope to stave off this neo-con infestation for good.

And even if this:

I'd wager that if your context were a bit wider than the last 10 years, by going back perhaps 40 years and including soft sciences in with the hard ones, you'd find I'd have enough evidence to be right about left/right anti-science

is true, it is entirely superfluous to the debate, and if anything it supports Brin's position and refutes yours. We are talking about contemporary politiking, not things that happened 40 years ago. No one is disputing that around the time of nuclear innovation lefties went a little too anti-science. But today they're way better than the right with regards to respecting science and truth.

David Brin said...

Rob, you are welcome to build a case against left-wing antimodernism! Hey, I am often the one RAISING that issue! I agree that nuclear power is an area in which they have done great harm. Indeed, their hatred of mega engineering - preferring to prescribe ONLY conservation (the prescription to “shiver in the dark”) shows why Kyoto has been unpalatable to Americans. We probably could have agreed to something Kyoto-like, if it had ALSO been accompanied by something vigorous and optimistic. A Manhattan project to replace the power we were giving up.

(Side note. Although it is staggeringly foolish for lefties to preach only conservation and reflexively resist assertive engineering projects that might add to supply, nevertheless, it is a simple fact that we would all benefit from a lot more conservation! They are half right, while being half wrong. A far better record than their opponents.)

Still, you are SO far off base in seeing these caricatures as representative of genuine liberalism. Jimmy Carter, for example, may believe the Earth is 6,000 years old on Sundays. The rest of the week, though, he has been an engineer and pal of scientific progress, and about as far from an apocalypt as you could ask.

(ALL modernists need desperately to learn the diff tween “evangelicals” and “fundamentalists”. If you do not know the difference, then it explains why you cannot distinguish between “liberals” and “lefties”.)

I do not accept that it was easy for the AFL CIO to do what it did in 47. Learn about it! The fight was huge, rancorous, bitter, and very very hard. It divided old friends, many of whom never spoke to each other again. But in the end, the policy of containment was set in motion... for which the risk-eager endgame gambler, Ronald Reagan would later be given all the credit.

Anyway, it wasn’t just the AFL CIO. They FOLLOWED a great many individual liberals who first made the break, denouncing Stalin and demanding that he be fought and/or contained. Those heroes helped to save the world (at a time when Vandenburg and the GOP leadership were preaching isolationism.)

A great many decent conservatives could stand up right now and do the same thing about rightwing madness. There are conservative organizations that could emulate the AFL CIO and state, aloud, that they stand for Barry Goldwater’s “conservatism” and not this crazy, mutant-loony version.

A conservatism that tends to our military readiness instead of squandering it.

That uses force judiciously, instead of as a fratboys’ toy.

That balances budgets instead of going on the worst pork frenzy of all time.

That welcomes the sagacity of scientists and other experts, instead of claiming that ideology can “remake reality”.

That respects the sagacity of professional soldiers, instead of engaging in rampant political meddling, purging the officer corps and claiming that ideology can “remake reality”.

That perceives new business startups as a surer sign of market health than the size of CEO bonuses.

That recognizes the vital importance of accountability, which is killed by excessive secrecy.

The sees acrimonious culture war as a sure sign of FAILED leadership, since the political leaders of a nation bear responsibility if that nation becomes divided against itself. Whether or not it is their fault. (In this case, it sure is.)

That sees us strengthened by steadfast alliances and adult diplomacy, even if it calls for compromise and addressing other nations’ heartfelt concerns.

That sees rudeness as a sure sign of immaturity. Especially the rudeness of deliberately peeing in the faces of our allies.

I could go on... but what’s the point? The surest sign that we are entering a dark age is the way people care more about incantations than measurable criteria. If you can find even one basis for Barry Goldwater to have been happy with these “conservatives” then please tell!

And then explain why the state of Arizona is drawing half its power from the spinning in his grave.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to butt in here and once again point y'all at WorldChanging, an online community which defies every trope of right wing slander of progressives trying to change the world for the better.

Right now they are running a retrospective of notable past articles.

Amusing aside: A recurring theme is water filtration technology, which a comment spammer posted about here.


Rob Perkins said...

Oh too right; I withdraw the Jimmy Carter crack; forgot he was an engineer, too.

I doubt there's enough residual iron in Barry Goldwater for power generation, but I suppose if the neocons are spinning him fast enough...

And maybe they are...

BTW, I've read Rush Limbaugh transcripts of tirades from time to time about many of the fiscally irresponsible things the Bushies are doing while in power. (Let's see who kneejerks that...) ;-)

And re the difference between "Evangelicals" and "Fundamentalists", it's hard for a Mormon to tell; both groups call me not at all Christian and expect I've an appointment with the Devil...

But I take your point. The Evangelicals *are* nicer about their ignorance on that particular subject.

Finn de Siecle said...

OK, I'm not a conservative, more a raging moderate, but there are a few arenas in which leftists misuse science to drive ideology. The biggest one of these may be the field of preventive health care, in which a whole coalition of busybody leftists is toiling to save us from (of course) ourselves.

It started with the war on Big Tobacco. No one will deny smoking is a very risky vice for its users, but what really got the ball rolling in this war was the issue of secondhand smoke. Over the past decade or so, studies (or "studies," with quotes, in some cases, as several of these have been conducted by avowed antismoking advocates) have been released linking SHS not just with general risks for nonsmokers but with, for example, sudden infant death syndrome (what hasn't been linked with SIDS by now?) or asthma (despite the fact that asthma has been on the rise for about the same amount of time that smoking rates have been declining).

But while all of these studies get trotted out by the news wire services, and treated as proven by activists thereafter, one case that didn't get a lot of press is the case the tobacco companies won: They went after the godfather of all studies, the 1993 EPA report on SHS, in court in 1998 and successfully demonstrated that the EPA had cherry-picked its data, lowered its own standards of proof and, in general, shaped the whole report to fit a conclusion the agency had decided on beforehand. (Note: This ruling was eventually overturned, but on jurisdictional grounds; the appellate court basically found that courts can't strike down reports by non-lawmaking advisory bodies.)

But the War on Tobacco is mostly old news now; the new target is "Big Food." Again, no one doubts that Mickey D's is not the place to go for three meals a day, seven days a week, but it wasn't until after the Tobacco War was largely won that the personal-health coalitions began blaming fast food for all of our ills (including more than a few people who actually blame global anti-American sentiment in part on the industry).
Now we're starting the lawsuits, the fat taxes, the menu-labeling requirements and, in some places, considering actual restrictions on what restaurants can cook up. All so we can fight the War on Obesity — i.e., force the whole populace to conform to a health standard because a portion of the populace hasn't been setting any standards for themselves.

Then there are the "safety" campaigns against "frankenfoods" (already cited on the previous thread, I forget by whom. Sorry!), power lines, cell phone use, etc., all based on studies that are ambiguous at best. And often, studies that dispute some of these cherished campaigns stir up such a backlash that their authors actually have to publicly recant (as recently happened when, IIRC, someone released a study that suggested being mildly overweight wasn't in itself unhealthy and, for some people, might actually be beneficial).

What these campaigns all have in common is that, while their results have been embraced by politicians on both sides of the aisles, the basis has been solidly rooted in the same blindly anti-technological, anti-corporate, pro-"natural" thought (see the Center for Science in the Public Interest site for examples of this obsession with Big Bad Industry) that some here are dismissing a toothless eccentricity of the left.

OK, maybe there aren't any healing-by-crystal advocates in Congress. But that doesn't mean they're necessarily marginalized; many just find other areas where they can have influence, such as lobbying groups or bureaucracies such as boards of health.

Nicole Tedesco said...

This conservative hasn't let, I've just been extremely busy (business is business)!

Returning to the topic--I'm one for voting for "more of the same." Humor me and follow my reasoning (picking it apart where it needs to be)...

Like I have said in the past, politics begin where certainty is. You know, I have never heard W deny that the globe is warming, but I have heard him acknowledge the uncertainty to the degree to which human activity since the Industrial Revolution controls that warming. Given the degree that radical conservation would hurt the US economy (as opposed to the _dirtier_ industrial base of the EU _in its entirety,__ which the Kyoto Treaty uses to judge EU responsibility), is it worth the potential impact to human life that a bad US economy would have if we were to engage on such a happy-face path to salvation? Heck, on the issue of global warming it seems that W has been more pragmatic and "scientific" (aknowledging and working within the limits of known certainty) than his critics. Is W right? I don't know, but given the uncertainty levels inherent in the science itself, I find it little wonder that politics is thick around this issue.

On the issue of federal funding for human embyo cloning: how was this "anti-science" rather than an effort to make a critical decision regarding an issue that confronts science, technology, and _a very real human propensity for many members of our species to engage in religious thinking?_ As much as I am a proponent of Russellian skepticism, scientism and rationality, I also find that I must also respect the beliefs of those who feel the need to be far more religious than I am. Since federal funding of any kind is considered a type of expression of the population of the US as a whole, what can we do when confronted with an issue that can mean so much to a significant fraction of our fellow citizens?

Part of me doesn't want to bother reading the book because I really don't want to deal with third-, forth- and fifth-hand opinions disguised as fact. On the other hand, I am curious to see if -- FINALLY -- a serious scholar has emerged. Golly, then again I don't have too much time for reading these days (I'm still trying to get through T.S. Kuhn's book, "The Road Since Structure" -- interesting thus far).

- Nicole Tedesco

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant to say that politics begins where certainty ends.

Rob Perkins said...

Thanks, Nicole and Finn, for articulating some of the things I didn't have time or energy to hunt up...

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