Monday, August 22, 2005

Reviewing a provocative book: The Republican War on Science

After doing some catch up miscellany, I find I need feedback on a little project that will actually pay some cash (a little). Feel free to comment on the following, which I’ll post in 2 parts. A book review of The Republican War on Science, by Chris Mooney

(This review will appear in the .... edition of the San Diego Union Book Review, edited by Arthur Salm. It is posted here entirely for comment as a working draft. A final version is posted on my website.)

Sixty years ago, science emerged dramatically from its ivory tower, with a flash and a bang.

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Even before Hiroshima, a multitude of technical advances - from agriculture and antibiotics to radar and rocketry - fed a burgeoning movement called Modernism, that viewed change as inevitable. But the atom bomb made it official. Science had vastly expanded the range of potential human activity, for well or ill. If used wisely, it might spill forth a cornucopia of innovations, to serve and uplift billions. On the other hand, mistakes would now have greater consequence, possibly dooming us all.

Alas, "wisdom" is seldom obvious. We rely on politics to determine policy, a definite improvement over the whim of kings. But politics, despite centuries of hard refinement, is still far more ego-driven art than craft. Habits of at least four thousand years seem to favor self-interest, hierarchies and dogma, instead of gathering evidence and cheerfully letting facts guide us.

What’s more, science has accumulated enemies. Some are put off by the ambitious and optimistic Modernist Agenda of perpetual human self improvement -- a program aimed at discovering and then applying the very tools of Creation, in order to make better societies, better lives, better generations. Some question whether this ambitious goal is possible, or ethical, or even sane.

Aldous Huxley once spoke for all grouchy intellectuals, when he derided progress as "just another idol." Grumbling that it will all come to no good, voices ranging from Bill Joy and Francis Fukayama to Osama and the Unabomber have shared a common underlying theme, protesting the West’s headlong plunge into territories and powers once left to God. Artists and authors, from Michael Crichton to Margaret Atwood, portray technological ambition as hubris, that age-old, prideful route to chaos or damnation.

It wasn’t always like this. Back in 1945, even as humanity was climbing out of the wreckage of its Nadir War, a sense of resilient, can-do determination seemed to overflow. In his famed report Science: The Endless Frontier, Vannevar Bush called upon the United States to transform and multiply its martial accomplishments with unprecedented peacetime zeal -- using both technology and perseverance to rebuild cities, refute bigotries, revitalize education, end poverty and provide more fulfillment for all.

So stirring was this aspiration that cynics and curmudgeons could do little more than bide their time.

Nor was this a partisan matter. The aspiration proclaimed by Bush was thereupon propelled as much by Harry Truman and George Marshall as by Dwight Eisenhower, who established the office of Presidential Science Advisor and gave it real clout. John F. Kennedy is remembered as a gung-ho science booster, especially regarding outer space, but Richard Nixon embarked upon just as many ambitious, science-driven endeavors, for example vastly increasing funding for biological research and responding to clear evidence of human generated ecological harm by creating the Environmental Protection Agency.

Moreover, it is plain that such endeavors were generally successful, spawning genuine achievements that did tremendous good. To name only a few, weather and communication satellites transformed our lives, while advances in medicine, biology and agriculture enabled far more people to survive and thrive. Acid rain and stratospheric ozone depletion were rapidly diagnosed, prompting measures that -- at least -- checked immediate calamity. And while there is still plenty of bad news to spur activism, anyone who grew up in Los Angeles, forty years ago, should attest that five times as many people now live there, breathing air that's five times better. (Or, rather, a fifth as bad.)

If the "greatest generation" deserves acclaim for defeating Hitler, let’s add a few more feats to their credit. Like cranking up a thousand universities, combating ancient habits of racism, liberating the ambition of girls, building interstates and internets, while turning a nation of provincially isolated tenants into globe traveling homeowners. Gathered together, these and countless other accomplishments were all rooted in the modernist-scientific agenda.

So why has the whole ambitious program lately come under fierce attack?

According to Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science, we need look no farther than an alliance of two reactionary forces. Big business and religious fundamentalism. This era’s burgeoning hostility toward rationality, skepticism, accountability and can-do ambition is little more, and no less than, a deliberate campaign against modernity on the part of "conservatism." A matter of right versus left.

1333202991725.cachedOn February 18, 2004, the conservative war on science, which had been gathering momentum for decades, finally jolted the media and American public to attention. All it took was a little star power…. Over sixty leading scientists and former government officials, among them twenty Nobel laureates, had signed a statement denouncing the administration of George W. Bush for misrepresenting and suppressing scientific information and tampering with the process by which scientific advice makes its way to government officials. Examples included distorting the science of climate change, quashing government scientific reports, and stacking scientific advisory panels. "Other administrations, have, on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systematically nor on so wide a front," the statement read.

Mooney presents a long list of cases to support his indictment, portraying a methodical campaign to politicize, ignore, twist or undermine science. His list of topic areas will sound familiar: the effects of smoking and of air pollution, the feasibility and benefits of energy savings through increased fuel efficiency standards, global warming and stem cell research, educational standards and the Drug War, all the way to a campaign aimed at teaching "alternatives to evolution" in the classroom.

Some of these matters are still under some legitimate dispute among reputable scientists, implying that we need more research, pursued promptly and professionally. Others have coalesced around deep and profound expert consensus, with clear majorities of qualified experts recommending urgent action.

Mooney shows there are countless tricks, some old and others innovative, that special interests can use when scientific consensus becomes politically inconvenient. One has been to banish science from centers of power – for example, when the GOP-led Congress dismantled its own, nonpartisan advisory tool, the Office of Technology Assessment, because its counsel kept conflicting with ideological views.

Another is for political aides to edit the reports of scientific panels, so that final versions offer conclusions quite different than panel members intended. Another method used more frequently, of late, has been to pack advisory groups with "experts" who were selected on a basis of ideology, or industry affiliation, or promises to reach a predetermined outcome.

OtherIntelligentDesignA favorite maneuver, in recent years, has been to magnify uncertainty, especially regarding contentious issues like Creationism and global climate change.

Now, unlike past dogmas, science is unafraid of uncertainty, so long as it is faced in courageous and disciplined ways. Young scientists are taught to nurse some residual doubt toward even the strongest theory. (And yes, even a widely held "consensus" can sometimes be wrong. Graduate students constantly look for these rare "faulty paradigms," which can be toppled and make a newcomer’s reputation.)

This kind of healthy skepticism accompanies -- but does not generally undermine -- the collaborative process of building ever-better and increasingly valid models of the world.

Opponents of science try to turn this strength into a weakness by exaggerating doubts, calling all theories equal, or even claiming that "scientific consensus" is a meaningless phrase. (Is it ironic that officials who were elected by the slimmest of political margins then dismiss as "uncertain" concerns that are expressed by far greater majorities of experts in a given field?)

For those who view this kind of behavior as uniquely a sickness of the right, Mooney’s book will offer powerful support. Evidence overwhelmingly points to orchestrated manipulation of both science and public opinion by groups ranging from the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute all the way to elements now running both Congress and the Executive Branch.

And yet, is this issue really as one-sided and simple as liberal partisans contend?

Not if you listen to a steady stream of punditry pouring from the other side, proclaiming that liberals are the ones betraying both science and modernity. Some of the very same arch-conservative think tanks that Mooney decries have issued their own accusations, for example, the Marshall Institute’s Politicizing Science: The Alchemy of Policymaking and the Cato Institute’s Silencing Science.

While much is specious, one of their higher-quality efforts has been to effectively demolish the left’s rigid opposition to nuclear power, a reflex that ignores real potential to reduce carbon emissions and help bridge the next few decades, while we develop sustainable technologies.

Stepping back, we see a common theme. "My side is on the side of truth while your side is warped by dogma."

If I must choose sides, I’ll pick Mooney, because the perfidies that he describes have been accelerating in profoundly disturbing ways. For example, it is unambiguous that the GOP Congress cuts funding for the National Science Foundation 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."

--------------

Continue to part II where I will show that Mooney DOES recognize a few left wing anti-science faults, but only a few. I will talk about how problematic a book like this is... telling scary truths, but not - in the long run - being much help.

See also my article: The Case for a Scientific Nation

42 comments:

Tony Fisk said...

Suggestion for draft: number the paragraphs so we can reference any issues we have.

Do you have a word/page limit in mind?

This is a review of Mooney's book so, while the introduction is good, meaty, setup stuff, its length means that Mooney doesn't get a mention until about halfway through. I think it needs to be whittled down a bit (or try and move the first reference to Mooney up a bit: is there another excerpt you can use with fits in with the narrative flow at an earlier point?)

Yet, the very title of this book - The Republican War on Science - ensures that it won’t be helpful.
I guess this is setting up for part II but, at the moment, it comes across as a rather bald message:

'Irrelevant: don't bother!'

Is that your intention? If so, it seems a long winded way to go about it (although being paid helps ;-)

Awaiting part II...

Seth said...

Ditto to Tony, you need to bring Mooney out a little bit and let him talk. Give us a sense of the writing, too, is it an easy read? Conversational with good stories? Does Mooney use a lot of interviews, or does he rely on newspaper accounts and documentation. It sounds like a very pedantic and dull book the way you are writing this, is it? How does it start out? Give me a sense of the first chapter, then a sprinkling from the rest of the book, you know?

Rob Perkins said...

No, Tony, I think David is right. The title of the book ensures that any valuable stuff in it will be ignored entirely by the very people who need to read it most.

The alternatives to evolution stuff is something I see in a different light than the reactionary view those on the "Left" are strawmanning. The people in power today recognize a fact on the ground: Significant millions of Americans don't completely believe in capital-E Evolution-origins. And they want their belief taught in school right next to what they think is just as much unprovable as "intelligent design".

Yeah, maybe they're sneaking in a statement of faith. But what the other side ignores is how completely they believe Evolution-origins, ignoring all of its own unprovables.

(It's not a comfortable place to be, believing in both Intelligent Design and in small-e evolution, but not in the mainstream Christian exegeses. People think I don't exist!)

It points to the need for better science teaching, something the country wants for in a massive way these days. One wishes Carl Sagan had cloned himself and diversified away from astronomy. And not died young. :-(

As far as Mooney's assessment that all it took was star power to make people aware of this great conspiracy, I point out that colloquia of scientists have signed documents of solidarity around this or that subject before. That's nothing new.

And, yeah, the "Left", if you buy into that silly dichotomy, has its own anti-science troubles. David points out the unreasoned opposition to developing nuclear power, in this essay, and the unfounded dogma about the causes of homosexuality in another.

Chris Mooney earns his place, IMO, as a demagogue, just by choosing his book's title. He's not helping!!!!

(BTW, I like the review as-is, and don't want to comment on its impact until I've read part 2)

W.B. Reeves said...

Well I suppose this is as good a time as any to grasp the nettle.

I've avoided suggesting that the debunking the Left/Right dichotomy might be an instance of throwing the baby out with the bath water for a number reasons. Not the least of which is that I think the arguments for such an analysis have more than a grain of validity, particularly in the context of American discourse where such terms have been so utterly debased. Another reason is that I have little to no enthusiasm for rehearsing the Left Hegelian/Right Hegelian debate.

That said, this short essay poses the question in a way that cannot be easily ignored. If there is no substantive distinction to be made along the Left/Right axis, how to explain the reality that one side of the dichotomy has become the epicenter of an earthquake of irrationality, elevating essentially religious, faith-based modes of thought in every field while rejecting the methods rational inquiry and science?

As I've indicated elsewhere, I'm dubious of the ability of ideological systems to transcend the dynamics of ingrained psychological and cultural impulses. Nevertheless, there is something to be said for distinguishing between good ideas and bad ideas when it comes to first principles.

It's worthwhile to recall that the Left/Right distinction, as inherited from the Hegelian tradition refered to above, boiled down to a conflict between two competing principles. Idealism and Materialism.

The Right Hegelians, with their worship of constructs such as the "world spirit", were practically neo-platonic in their Idealism. For them the material world was an expression Ideas or beliefs. Left Hegelians took the opposite position, arguing that such conceptions were the product of material conditions, changing and evolving as circumstances changed and evolved. As a noted exponent of Left Hegelianism put it, "Ideas do not drop from the sky."

I think it clear from this brief delineation why it was that Right Hegelians could find a snug harbor with the political status quo of the time. Hegel himself was near mystical in his adoration of the Prussian State.

On the other hand, Left Hegelians could hardly be other than hostile to the majority of governing regimes, since almost all were based to one degree or another on essentially religious notions of divine ordination. Against this ruling paradigm, the Left Hegelians came to embrace rationality, science and modernity.

Of course, movements in human thought are not produced via immaculate conception. The distance between these two poles of intellectual attraction was roiled by great eddies and cross currents of thinking. The same holds true today. Doublethink, Orwell's inspired literary invention, is in large degree simply the human proclivity for schematic, contradictory thinking.

So, can we say that the Right is, all other things being equal (which, of course, they never are), hostile to rationality and science? My answer is a qualified yes. The qualification being that we take Conservatism as the characteristic posture of the Right.

Whatever positive attributes Conservatism may be said to possess, an enthusiasm for change and innovation cannot be counted among them. It is everywhere and at all times the defender of entrenched modes of thought and systems of power. How could it be otherwise since its essential belief is that the status quo represents the unchanging verities of human existence? How this plays out in reality depends on the character of the status quo being defended. Once upon a time it was Church and Monarch. In another instance it is God and Country. In yet another, Race and Nation or even Class and Party.

In such a worldview, anything that challenges the fundamental precepts and certitudes upon which the ruling order (or disorder) is based is seen as the enemy. Any disruptive force must either be brought to heel or liquidated.

To the extent that the Left can be said to embody the legacy of the Left Hegelians, with their belief in the liberating power of science, one would think it the natural ally of the scientific community, as indeed it has been on many occaisions.

The problem with this is twofold. In the first place, the Left, as very nearly every other school of thought bequeathed by the 19th century, succumbed to the lure of Statism. In the second place, Science itself proved no exception to this trend.

I don't think I need rehearse the grotesque attrocities that flowed from the Left's fatal infatuation with Statism. Were they not widely known, Dr. Brin has very capably pointed them out.

The consequences for Science, however, are rarely emphasized.

Post Trinity, science was seen as too important to be left to the scientists. Indeed, the notion of Scientific inquiry as a field independent from politics and the State ceased to have any real substance. The stick applied to Oppenheimer and the Carrots generously supplied to the likes of Teller made it abundently clear that, thence forward, Science was to be wedded to the State. To speak of "pure research" became an exercise in Orwellian linguistic subterfuge.

The nuptials between the National Security State and the Scientific Community did not escape the attention of the public at large, regardless of whether they approved or disapproved. The case of Nuclear Power or "Atoms for Peace" illustrates the pitfalls of this marriage. The public first embraced this domesticity of convenience only to later spurn it for good reason.

The idea that the Left's anti-science prejudice was responsible for this strikes me as a canard. The anti-nuclear movement, noisy though it was, did not cause the downfall of the nuclear power industry. That was the product of the industry's own ineptitude and that of its defenders.

The industry, comprised of its State sponsors and the recipients of their largesse, responded to its critics by denouncing them as hysterical knownothings. It was asserted that Nuclear Power Plants were so well designed, the technology so reliable, that no disaster scenario had any credibility whatever. This line remained unchanged even after Chernobyl, which was smugly dismissed as the result of Soviet incompetence. Then came Three Mile Island.

In short, the public's grand disillusionment with Nuclear Power was not the result of Leftwing primitivism. It was a completely predictable outcome born of the judgement that either the powers that be, including the Scientific Community, had been lying or they didn't know what they were talking about. I don't think that it is an exageration to say that that this debacle was the single greatest factor in undermining public confidence in Science and Scientists in my lifetime. I don't think that the damage will ever be repaired by scapegoating the Left.

This isn't to deny that there are elements on the left that are, in fact, hostile to Science anymore than I would assert that are not those on the right who support Science. However, I suspect that both are minorities on their respective sides of the aisle.

I certainly don't believe that scepticism concerning nuclear power is in anyway on an equal footing with advocating so-called "intelligent design". The former has at least some basis in material experience whereas the latter has none.

In the event, I believe that the Scientific Community would do well to ask itself how it may have contributed to the current climate of hostility rather than simply calling for reality to reform itself into a more pleasing shape.

Anonymous said...

Quoting w.b. revees:
"It was asserted that Nuclear Power Plants were so well designed, the technology so reliable, that no disaster scenario had any credibility whatever. This line remained unchanged even after Chernobyl, which was smugly dismissed as the result of Soviet incompetence. Then came Three Mile Island."

You've got Chernobyl and Three Mile Island reversed: Three Mile Island was 1979, Chernobyl was 1986. That sort of historical error tends to undermine the force of your argument, particularly since nuclear power as a growing industry was pretty much dead in the US by the time Chernobyl blew up.

- David A Spitzley

firefalluk said...

A couple of quick observations:
1. I don't think the title of the book is going to alter its reception, at all - if it was titled The Liberal War on Science, then the people it's accusing would grunt approval without even reading it. Once the pernicious spirit of party takes over public discourse, everything gets viewed through this distorting lens.

2. "how to explain the reality that one side of the dichotomy has become the epicenter of an earthquake of irrationality, elevating essentially religious, faith-based modes of thought in every field while rejecting the methods rational inquiry and science?" - I would say that _both_ sides are suffering their own avalanches of irrationality: if you doubt this, try examining, say, the anti-immunisation movement, or the alternative-medicine crowd.

Jacare Sorridente said...

With reference to the book- the title itself proclaims what the real purpose is- a book which seeks to sell itself by appealing to partisanship. It is no different from a book by Al Franken, or Ann Coulter. Those who agree with the initial premise will nod sagely and those who disagree will ignore it. To say that the book is unhelpful is a vast understatement. Books of this sort are part of the very problem they are purportedly addressing.

Ken said...

"In short, the public's grand disillusionment with Nuclear Power was not the result of Leftwing primitivism. It was a completely predictable outcome born of the judgement that either the powers that be, including the Scientific Community, had been lying or they didn't know what they were talking about."

And this from a "disaster" with zero injuries, and failsafe mechanisms that actually worked?

And Chernobyl was incompetently designed, along with most everything else the Soviets built.

The left's hostility to nuclear power is a far, far greater threat to civilization than the right's reluctance to embrace the idea that (a) civilization's power source will noticeably warm the climate and (b) this warming will be catastrophically, or even slightly, detrimental to human civilization. For one thing, if global warming is real and bad, we must reflect that widespread use of nuclear power would have averterted it far better than anything else we could do without giving up on the idea of cheap travel, air conditioning, and other advantages of modernity. Second, if civilization runs out of fuel, which it will not if nuclear power can be used to fuel it across-the-board, then modernity and civilization are screwed. If the weather turns (more) hostile to human beings, then modern tools to mitigate the ravages of nature are called for, and will work as long as they have power.

Except for the intelligent design crapola, much of the right's so-called "politicization" of science is designed to ward off restrictions motivated by paternalistic impulses on the part of the state. The state wants to stop you from smoking? Confuse them with studies casting doubt on the degree of harm it causes. It's not as good as overthrowing the whole idea that most humans never grow up and need lifelong parental guidance, but it's easier.

jomama said...

Odd, those Nobel whizzes didn't see the irony in their petition to government science. I doubt many do see it.

Science is much too important to be left in the hands of government. Now there's the net so we can get over that folly.

And how is that that government, a euphemism for The Taxpayer, has spent billions on hot fusion and not one watt has been produced?

And why is it that private insurers won't insure nuclear power plants?

As for Ken's statement:

...overthrowing the whole idea that most humans never grow up and need lifelong parental guidance, but it's easier.

No matter which side of this fence you're on, what makes anyone think that you can keep all the parents on one side and all the kids on the other? ...and even if you could, all the kids would be voting, wouldn't they.

The idea is laughable.

As for Crichton, I find him anti-junk science, not anti-science.

Take a look.

David Brin said...

Sayeth W>B> Reeves: “That said, this short essay poses the question in a way that cannot be easily ignored. If there is no substantive distinction to be made along the Left/Right axis, how to explain the reality that one side of the dichotomy has become the epicenter of an earthquake of irrationality, elevating essentially religious, faith-based modes of thought in every field while rejecting the methods rational inquiry and science?”

The answer is simple. It is not “one side” that has become “the” epicenter of these things. I agree that the “right” has attracted a rare Perfect Storm of Antimodernism... and the real fault lies in honest conservatives who are not (yet) doing their duty by denouncing it. (If the AFL CIO could denounce socialism in 1945, men like Newt Gingrich must do their country a similar service in this time of need!)

Still the chief reason the right side of antimodernism is more dangerous is simply because of numbers and power. The left wing of this movement is pallid and insipid... except that they do still have power. The power to throw elections to their neocon-apocalypt-kleptocrat brethren.

“It's worthwhile to recall that the Left/Right distinction, as inherited from the Hegelian tradition refered to above, boiled down to a conflict between two competing principles. Idealism and Materialism.”

Other than the fact that almost anything associated with Hegel is loathesome, and a man could do worse than to base his life on always heading the opposite direction...

...are you actually contending that THIS is what most people mean, when they discuess “left vs right”? That we should gen mired in a debate BETWEEN styles of loony, loathesome Hegelians? What about the French assembly? Markets vs state intervention? All the ten thousand mutually contradictory things that people use for left-right?

Again, nobody can define it, even on a dare.

I do agree that liberalism and conservatism -- as opposed to left-right looniness -- do divide as much due to mani vs depressive personality types. HENCE the reason why it has been LIBERALS who have done most of the DE-regulation efforts in the last several decades. They do not mind market forces! They just have to be doing something. DOING something!

Sorry, you are dead wrong about nuclear power. It has killed or injured FAR fewer people than coal plants have. Its dangers are directly and easily addressable by CITOKATE. (Past accidents have occured in direct proportion to secrecy and criticism avoidance.; nukes must be poster boys of openness, in which case they will do much good and little harm.) Moreover, the waste is easily gathered into storage facitlities that can hold them for the necessary 100 years before they become easily usable and desireable assets.

You blithely dismiss the way that threat of infinite legal delays diverted the energy industry down a path of coal. In any event, I did not EQUATE this left mania with things like creationism. You made that up entirely in order to strawman me.

In fact, the leftwing antimodernist mania is less anti science than anti engineering. Just as lefty nostalgia is aimed at ancient tribes while theat of the right yearns for feudalism. A plague on both their houses. I yearn for tomorrow.

But let me turn this around for another guy. Crichton spreads junk science and you guys call him anti-junk science? The whole PREMISE of every novel is secrecy, scientific hubris, endless lectures that "man should not know" this or that...

His Climate Change rant was utter drivel, in the service of monsters.

Puh-lease...

Anonymous said...

To elaborate on something Tony hints at:

So far, this is more a meta-commentary on the book rather than a review.

Stefan

David Brin said...

And Stefan just sent me this link that you should all visit, elaborating on the war against science:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4172504.stm

I don't know if Michael Mandel is still participating, but his articles in Business Week are wonderful. He makes very clear that US is a great and rich nation today in large part because Ike and Truman and JFK & Johnson (and at first, Nixon) bought into the program of Vannevar Bush, propelling our civilization and economy with the greatest driver, technological progress.

Indeed, the economic doldrums of the late seventies into the eighties can be directly attributable to the Vietnam War, which not only destroyed American social/internal cohesion and confidence, but also pulled funding away from what had been a truly bold set of endeavors in science and technology.

Were it not for the war, I doubt the left would have radicalized enough to succeed in totally stopping nuclear power, but would have instead been limited to its proper role of criticizing the hell out of each plant and design, so that every new one is better, with flaws that are more challenging to find.

That is what we should have been doing and what we should be doing.

Before I go, consider this. If YOU were an enemy of the United States, and you looked across the last 60 years, what would you call our most devastating mistake? The thing that wrecked our confidence and unity and military readiness and economy...

...An idiotic, incompetently waged foreign war in a futile setting and low priority locale, guaranteed to raise insurgent resistance, demolish our alliances and leadership position, and to set our culture aflame, while wasting the surplus that might be spent on research and other investment.

If you were our ENEMY, you'd look for our achilles heel and come up with a plan... to get us to do what we are doing right now.

GreedyAlgorithm said...

@jomama

Regarding Crichton, and specifically Prey, the source of the quoted material you linked to, I suggest this review.

"It seems that Crichton is doing his best to scare the readers about real-world nanotech--he wants his audience to believe that the scenario in the novel could actually happen as described! He might succeed in scaring people ... this would be unfortunate, because the Prey scenario contains so many implausibilities--and impossibilities--that in the end, the reader will have learned nothing about the actual risks of nanotech."

Evan said...

And the problems you have brought up extend past the realms of hard sciene, into the realm of statistics, economics - anything that does not agree with this Administration's ideology must be purged and discredited. Here is a fine article from the NY Times about and incident in the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/24/politics/24profiling.html

Tony Fisk said...

Quoth David:
If you were our ENEMY, you'd look for our achilles heel and come up with a plan... to get us to do what we are doing right now.

(Sounds like the opening from BSG: Number six in a bhurka? What a waste!-)

*sigh* if only George had it in him to talk of 'an ideology of peace' after 9/11!'

But, he didn't, and it has been blatantly obvious from day one that, intentionally or not, the Bush administration has been following Bin Laden's script (or whatever pan-dimensional super mullah you wish to invoke!). I agree, things got a bit derailed in Afghanistan, but Iraq got 'em back on track.

However, as unpleasant and worrying as the current situation is, I still have hopes for the future.

You have commented several times on how the emergent behaviour of the general public on 9/11 more than covered for the dazed official response. Four years later, the bombings on the London underground, while admittedly on a much smaller scale, caused the spontaneous creation of websites like We Are Not Afraid, whose intention was to let everyone send a simple message of defiance to whoever 'dunnit'. It is the intended form of that message which is striking: 'we are *not* going to react in kind', rather than the indignant, testeronically outraged 'IT'S PAYBACK TIME!' (although there's one or two examples of that, in 6-8000 submissions. I'm in gallery 15 BTW)

Maturity! In the common citizen! Who'd have thought?

So, hope. But there's still work to be done in realising that hope.

------

OK, a couple of other items:

That BBC article pretty well reflects the Aust. gov't attitude to science too (both sides :-(. This, despite what CSIRO has achieved in relation to population size (eg: that article on macro fabrication of nanotubes?)

Speaking of the BBC and UK (and @evan), just in case y'all have been distracted by your doting patriarchs and missed this, proof of US intentions of invading Iraq prior to 9/11 are to be found at afterdowningstreet . Smoking gun with matching bullets.

Concerning social structures, check out what Cringely found one republican senator tried to sneak past congress wrt patent laws. Hell, these guys aren't after a pyramid, they want a drawing pin!

Finally, some thoughts on that open letter to biochemists.
- (re: Joe Miller's remarks on the difficulty of getting objective results) some vet friends hold the medical profession in mild disdain because they rely on what their patients tell them the symptoms are rather than finding out for themselves. It's possible animal studies might have something (an insatiably fundamentalist chimpanzee, though!? Well, I guess Hitler had a past, too!)
- I know it's not quite what you are talking about when you are seeking medical evidence for self induced indignation highs, but are you aware of the work of Babiak and Hare on corporate psychopaths? (Sound like some folk you know in US politics?)
- Have you thought of asking Crichton where he got the idea for the Terminal Man? On second thoughts...

coturnix said...

There is more to the difference between Right and Left abuses of science apart from GOP being in power right now. It is also the fact that pseudoscientific nonsense is marginalized by the Left and quacks have no say in the Democratic Party, while the currently dominant faction of the GOP has made anti-science and pseudoscience their CORE value and core method. More
here.

Rob Perkins said...

David, I found at least one of Crichton's diatribes against junk science rather convincing; his arguments seemed definitional and premise-based. I agree his books are all about anti-modernist themes, but you gotta know, that's what sells his stuff outside the sci-fi genre; you've said yourself that people buy the pyramid even if they're living the diamond.

Is there a link which deconstructs his climate change essay? Something specific *you* (or anyone here) could say about it, that might stop a reasonable person from cheering, and expose the monstrosity you claim?

Regarding climate change itself, I personally think you'd have to be daft to deny it's happening, or to correlate human activity with some of it (hello! extinctions! SoCal in the mid 20th!), but I also still think that the scope of its consequences are not proven, and that's the center of the argument, IMO.

Y'see, it seems to me that the people shouting loudest about climate change are variously marxists/pure-play socialists (considering what they want us to do about it, and whom they blame), or simply hypocrites (as were, for example, the authors of the Kyoto accords, carving out exceptions which guarantee continued climactic impact, as they understood it). And it's pretty well-known that the bulk of Americans mistrust socialists, and dispise hypocrites.

Unless I'm off-base here? Criticise away, please!

Anonymous said...

Real Climate's take on Crichton's State of Fear:

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=74

Chris Mooney analyzes Crichton's footnotes:

http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2005/02/06/checking_crichtons_footnotes/

"and that's the center of the argument, IMO"

That's where the argument SHOULD be.

It isn't.

The F.U.D. on the greenhouse effect is still flying fast and thick, and as intended has confused the public to the point where a cogent policy debate is impossible.

Stefan

David Brin said...

You seem reasonable and I'll spend a little time.

Note, you lump all the people objecting to climate change into a very big and very badly labeled box. The names you use - e.g. Marxists - are laughable, since such people are clearly left-antimodernist dopes and have NOTHING to do with the vast worldwide consensus that human beings should do something about roasting their kids' planet.

Kyoto may not please you. But it is the proposal on the table and America has enough clout to come up with alternatives and put THEM on the table. Instead, obstruction by diversion (like State of Fear) is the policy of our innane ruling troika.

(Well, one of the legs of the troika - the apocalypts - actually WANTS the end of the world... so....)

I know several atmospheric scientists and they are enraged at the dismal loonies who Crichton cites as mainstream. In some cases, like the ADVANCE of mountain glaciers... the "evidence" is simply outright and deliberate lies. There is no advance of mountain glaciers, ALL but a couple are in headlong retreat.

But the real horror of Crichton is his attack on scientific "consensus". True, consensus can be wrong and we cannot "vote" to make anything real. Still, policy must be informed by the best possible advice and that comes from relying (for now) on the best consensually built Model of the World. Crichton's logic is only an excuse to say "you believe what you want but I'll base policy on what I want."

BTW, the hypocrisy of people who were elected with AT BEST 51% majority of votes, then claiming super MANDATES to enforce weird policy (or do a huge pokr raid)...

...while disparaging "consensus" majorities of scientists that exceed 90%... That doesn't stink?

--- Now to the War ---


Tony, thanks for the news from London, confirming my belief that the public does NOT panic when under attack. Instead, they get serious.

As I have repeatedly said, I am actually not deeply concerned that the attack on Iraq was premeditated. If you provoke a rant from me (me? never!) I will tell you that my biggest complain about the neocon leg of the ruling troika (the Straussian, neoplatonist intellectuals, as opposed to apocalyptic know-nothings and fratboy kleptocrats) is that much of what they say is right!

Many of the surface rationalizations of Wolfowitz and Perle and Nitze and their ilk is completely right. The world currently has no umbrella of law, no governance that the oppressed can turn to when tormented by bastards like Saddam Hussein. For 4,000 years that only left one possible hope - short of prayer. An appeal to the era’s superpower or “pax” imperium. And while I have spoken elsewhere about what it might take to MAKE a decent world governance... we don’t have one yet. Till then, I have no objection to the US using its vast power for good, so that the world and its people will move forward and get ready for Whatever Comes Next (WCN).

We should use the power for good, with the aim always of being the LAST empire. Moreover, the track record, despite Vietnam and Pinochet and Nicaragua and this mess, is pretty damned good, compared to other empires. Just ask Europe, now at peace for the 1st time in 4,000 years, thanks to Bill Clinton and Wesley Clarke. Indeed, our diamond-pyramid logic suggests freedom sometimes does need a good hard push against other, older ways.

This logic I know offends people left of center... and many older conservatives too... but I think their very reluctance to use the word “empire” is what suits them for this role. The last empire should feel uncomfortable and not want the job.

Which shows how loony the neocons are in practice, underneath the veneer of righteous utopianism. They speak aloud of WANTING to be an empire! (Shudder!) Not of being resigned to a duty, but of being eager for a jihad! And the word “freedom” is a mockery on the lips of people who use secrecy to avoid accountability by free institutions.

Above all is the hypocrisy. Yes, we owed it to the Iraqi people to come back and save them... from a monster WE first supported... and then nearly toppled... and then DELIBERATELY LEFT IN POWER ANOTHER 12 YEARS! And these are the very same guys who made those same bozo decisions. Ex-squeeze me? Is it any wonder that we finally went after Saddam in the STUPIDEST and most incompetent way possible? Performing relentless feats of poor planning, brute force thuggery, inept execution, politician meddling, graft, poor supervision and so on....

There were dozens of ways it could have been done without getting mired in another divisive, economy-wrecking, alliance-demolishing, unity dissolving, soldier killing version of Vietnam. But then, that appears to be the point.

Steinn said...

Hey David
Interesting review.
One minor comment - relatively little climate research is done with NSF funding; funding comes from NASA Earth Science division (now amalgamated and cut to make room for exploration); US Geological Survey and NOAA. All have taken major cuts in the last 4 years, and would have taken bigger cuts had Congress (Senate generally) not restored proposed Presidential and House cuts.

Rob Perkins said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rob Perkins said...

I drew Crichton's ideas from his speech here: http://www.crichton-official.com/speeches/speeches_quote04.html

I was unaware of his other pseudoscientific, um, endeavors. Does the case he makes in that speech at all make or support a point about not ignoring out-of-the-box science being done?

And I note, just as an observation, that an argument such as "the vast worldwide consensus that human beings should do something about roasting their kids' planet," is a dual fallacy.

One, people have yet to show me this consensus.
This makes it, in my eyes, an appeal to popularity, which is not reasonable.

(That is, you've said 90% of scientists are in agreement. Someone with a link to their declaration would be totally sufficient for that, but it's still an appeal to popularity.)

You've also said, "Still, policy must be informed by the best possible advice and that comes from relying (for now) on the best consensually built Model of the World."

Step back a bit and ask yourself if that even exists. Or restate context a bit. If I've read you right, you've pinned out *why* there's no consensus on climate change; there's simply no consensus on the model of the world.

Two, almost everyone who wants me to do something appeals to the welfare of my children. It's an appeal to emotion, possibly reasonable considering the stakes, but still rendered moot by the fact that *everyone* says what they want is good for my kids.

Please cut through the FUD. The Real Climate site is interesting. And the thing is, I can think of all kinds of really good reasons to do all the things the climate scientists say we have to do to prevent climate change, but I'm of two minds on that, still. One, the human element in climate change might be unassailably proven, but there's nothing I can yet see that shows that any of the suggested remedies will reverse global warming, and nothing I can see to show what *non* human factors might be at work.

Therefore I think the optimistic approach ought to be to face climate change as a fact of science and learn how to adapt to it, and also how not to exacerbate its effects so much that the biosphere dies. Personally, I've done all I can think to do, by trying not to consume so much energy that my work on the earth (as part of a company which helps make cast metal foundries more efficient) isn't completely offset by my family's consumption of its resources.

Finally, a clarification: I point out Marxism and pure-play socialism because the solutions offered by environmentalists in the political realm seem to me to exactly match those offered by the Communist Manifesto or by the ideas championed by people like Charlotte Perkins Gilman (no close relation!) for problems that were never in evidence in the 19th and early 20th centuries!

It's almost (or exactly?) as though the Marxist and socialist loonies (if you will) have coopted climate change as reasons to do what was already in the program. It's the problem I see with Kyoto; require something of the First world (not a taxonomy I'm fond of, by the way) which will immolate it, but don't require it of the developing world, when, IMO, the best thing would be to require it of *everyone* and get engineers and scientists working on the really efficient energy technology.

The other sinister thing I see about Kyoto was that it seemed targeted to vilify our rightist factions in the U.S., as though the whole thing were done to shut them up. I thought it was a setup, you see. Make something the Americans can't swallow, and then use it to show that they're really the rapacious imperialists we've always thought they were.

(See, I took your recommendation and gave _Herland_ a read. Fascinating book. As a playbook for utopia it seems to be still in use by socialist/leftists. It was uncanny how much was there, 100 years ago, that folks today are still pining for.)

Anonymous said...

" . . . exactly match those offered by the Communist Manifesto"

"I thought it was a setup, you see."

I'm going to buy the adult version of one of these things as soon as they are available, because it will prevent bruising when I slam my forehead against my desk when I read stuff like Rob's comments above.

Anonymous said...

Rob:

If you're not going to blog, drop by my blog and put the url to your web page in one of my comment sections, please.

jomama said...

Rob:

That was me in 'anonymous' above requesting your url.

Rob Perkins said...

My web page, largely unpopulated, is located at http://www.parasiticmeme.com.

I'm woefully new to blogging, don't know the terms (trackback? huh?) or how to apply them, could really use a primer, etc.

(And I'm considering moving my stuff entirely to Blogger, since I only do this very occasionally and this is less costly...)

In any case, rather than fruitlessly banging your head against stuff, why don't you just recognize (be as sardonic as you want, I don't mind!) that it's refutable and show your work a bit?

Some context might help, since I'm talking largely about science and policy reporting; pundits who stand up and say "these facts are in record and this is what we gotta do".

And I tell you, I've read these older documents, and when the remedies suggested there for older problems are the same as those still being suggested for modern problems, well, I'm led to wonder.

And I don't put it beyond the purview of foreign diplomats to lay traps for those they consider enemies, however politely.

In any case, does anyone honestly think that the outcome from Kyoto would have been fewer emissions? A more likely outcome would have been that companies site their factories in the countries which had exceptions to the standards. Places like China.

That would place the world's manufacturing capacity even more under a pyramid governance than it is today! How is that a good thing?!

Tony Fisk said...

@Rob:
Your stand appears to be that, while you seem willing to accept global warming as a fact, you aren't convinced it is down to human activity or, at least, you haven't seen any conclusive evidence to that effect.

Nor will you.

The problem in presenting a clear case is that global warming is occurring as part of a natural cycle in Earth's climate. This natural trend masks the effect of human activity.

However, human activity is implicated since, not only are glaciers retreating, their *rate* of retreat is unprecedented. Human technology is also unprecedented, and its activities can be convincingly modelled as being significant. Guilt by association, to be sure, but a very strong link that makes for a compelling case.

Can you present any arguments for reasonable doubt?

The other sinister thing I see about Kyoto was ... I thought it was a setup, you see. Make something the Americans can't swallow, and then use it to show that they're really the rapacious imperialists we've always thought they were.

A setup by whom? (You will encounter the conspiracy theories bandied about here soon enough. All logically consistent with enough circumstantial evidence and potential for worry to take on board, but lacking that initial spark of proof. Very frustrating!)

Anyway, according to Dianne Feinstein, it's being swallowed all around the USA:
American cities and states are not waiting for the federal government either. They are moving forward with their own efforts to tackle climate change. At the Sundance Summit in Salt Lake City this month, mayors from 46 cities agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions. And last month, the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously decided to require its member cities to attempt to meet or exceed the goals of the Kyoto Protocol. So far, 167 cities have signed on to enforce the Kyoto requirements. Seeing that Congress is slow to act, nearly 40 states have developed their own climate plans, and 18 states and the District of Columbia now require that a portion of their electricity be generated with renewable fuels rather than fossil fuels.

It's happening in Australia, too.

I think the average mayor is closer than the average president/PM to local communities who might worry about industries moving offshore to China (which *is* a Kyoto signatory BTW).

So much for rapacious yankee imperialism!

In a satirical vein: is there any evidence for non-US companies moving their facilities *onshore* to avoid carbon taxes??

..almost everyone who wants me to do something appeals to the welfare of my children. It's an appeal to emotion, possibly reasonable considering the stakes..

An appeal to emotion almost *always* seems reasonable! It beats the facts and figures hands down for reasonableness. The trick is to base your appeal to emotion on facts and figures.

I'm woefully new to blogging, don't know the terms (trackback? huh?) or how to apply them, could really use a primer, etc.

Wait until you find out about wikis!!

Being woefully new to blogging probably applies to most bloggers! (I only started a year ago).
Basically, you'll find the tools run themselves, and they're continually improving. (incidentally, blogspot has just added settings to let you keep out the 'spag boggers').
Don't expect perfection straight away.
Don't be afraid to ask.
Tinker a bit here, a bit there.
You'll figure it out.

And, if you find out what 'trackback' means, let me know!

Nate said...

Trackbacks are a way to show what other blogs link to posts in your blog. They show up like comments underneath. Not all blogging systems have them yet.

As for the review, I do agree with those who mentioned that a mention of the book itself should go earlier. As for the title of the book, I'm torn, sort of.

Honestly, I doubt re-titling it would have made much difference. The anti-science portions of the Republican party are in solid control of the Republican party these days. And some of it, I'll admit, is a bit tit for tat. There's been an unending stream of books by "conservatives" attacking straw-man "liberals" as traitors, terrorists, anti-american, and any other slur they could come up with. And they've been selling, though I'm sure the numbers are inflated through schemes like having foundations buy up a bunch, and so on. But these reasonable Republicans we're supposed to be trying to convince, where are they? None of the "moderate" Republican leaders have criticized any of these hack attack books. People have called for "liberals" to be rounded up, called us sub-human, and worse. Why should we try and be reasonable with these people, and the people who carry their water? What's the point? Some of them have even come out and said they would be happy to see "liberals" all dead.

So, maybe it's not the most reasonable modernist position around or anything, but sometimes reasonable doesn't work. Maybe there's a point to trying to stick the Republican leadership with the positions and consequences of their most extreme elements, especially since they're the ones calling the tunes now. And it's hardly just a few bloggers or radio hosts (even radio hosts with millions of listeners). Some of this crap has come from elected officals. (See here)

Sorry about the somewhat off-topic rant, but people are criticizing the book for being called "The Republican War on Science," when the Republican leadership is actually at war with science.

Rob Perkins said...

"Your stand appears to be that, while you seem willing to accept global warming as a fact, you aren't convinced it is down to human activity or, at least, you haven't seen any conclusive evidence to that effect."

It's a little more than that. It's also that we don't *have* to couch our conservationism in doomsaying; there are already massively compelling reasons not to waste and emit the way we've been going on. Maybe the doomsaying is having an effect on certain factions in the Western World (why, again, is Australia considered the West? and Japan? :-) ), but in order for it to be an efficacious trand it's got to be more than the venom the loudest of conservationists seem to cry.

As far as China being a signatory to Kyoto, of course they are! The thing reorders short-term global economics in their favor.

But yeah, with geological evidence that changes like this happened long before humans came along, there is a kernel of doubt in my mind about the scope of human involvement in the change.

My arguments for reasonable doubt are largely based on the mistrust I feel for the politicos aligned with conservationist causes. I don't trust the industrialist politicos, either, for that matter. Woe is me.

And while I'll agree with David that the modernist cause deserves to draw focus on the Right these days, since they're the ones in power right now, I'm waiting to see what *you all* will do once they're out, which I predict in two or three election cycles. Too much focus on one brand of insanity might give the other brands time to regroup and demagogue their way to primacy. That's a pendulum I'd rather not swing on.

Rob Perkins said...

as re blogging, btw, if there's a way to configure WordPress 1.5 so that anonymous comments must transcribe some text from a warped graphic, that's what I could use the help on. I'd open my blog to all comers, that way

daveawayfromhome said...

sez David Brin:
"Consider this. If YOU were an enemy of the United States, and you looked across the last 60 years, what would you call our most devastating mistake? The thing that wrecked our confidence and unity and military readiness and economy... ...An idiotic, incompetently waged foreign war in a futile setting and low priority locale, guaranteed to raise insurgent resistance, demolish our alliances and leadership position, and to set our culture aflame, while wasting the surplus that might be spent on research and other investment. If you were our ENEMY, you'd look for our achilles heel and come up with a plan... to get us to do what we are doing right now."

Okay, this is a kind of a paranoid way of looking at things, a wee bit too tinfoil hat for my taste.
Despite the situation in Iraq proving to be a perfect recruitment tool for his jihad, I doubt bin Laden was thinking about dragging the U.S. into a VietNam-style war. He just wanted to bitch-slap America. Just as few people could image anyone flying fully-loaded passenger jets into buildings, fewer still could image the leader of one of the most influential countries in the world pissing away the regard of the global community in an inept attempt to steal another country's oil wealth.
This is one of the things that most boggles my mind about the whole BushCorp/Iraq fiasco. They threw away decades of wisdom about American Hegemony in order to play at Soldiers. When the Soviet Union fell, while everyone may have acknowledged that the American military might held the USSR in check, most thinking people would also say that what really felled communism was Economic power. Even as we speak, economic power continues to erode the last great bastion of Marxism, China. Why? Because whatever they may say, they crave a Western lifestyle, with all it's attendant goodies. Billions of dollars flow into Asia from America every year, but culturally they're still wallowing in our power.
BushCorp seems to think that if we just go in and blow up enough stuff, all the while making pretty talk about Democracy, that the Middle East will fall down at our feet. With a bit of patience, and a lot of marketting, we could have had them begging to be thoroughly Westernized within a generation, and paying us for the priviledge. Now they hate us more than ever, and that generation will be doing it's level best to kill us instead.

-dcc-

p.s. Rob, go to the "comments" section of your "settings" folder and click yes on "show word verification for comments"

David Brin said...

Let me correct a few misconceptions.

I personally do not believe bin Laden was the mastermind, only the tool. Still, there is no question in my mind that he DID want to draw us into a Vietnam. Think. His glory days were spent humbling one superpower in Afghanistan (while we succored and supported and built him up.)

A bitch-slap? Yes, that is how WE should have looked at it. But he had much more in mind, draing us into the killing ground that had already made him a giant-killer. Why on Earth would that NOT have been his plan? No one since Alexander ever entered Afgh without regreting it.

Until us. The incredible competence of our Afgh intervention - almost entirely planned by Clinton-Clarke (W only had time to say "go!") - stunned the world. This was smart, quick and effective use of Pax Americana power.

So no, BL's plan failed. Still, his real masters looked upon Vietnam as THE example of how to divide, diminish, impoverish and ruin America. If a clever-quick intervention in Afgh would not do it, then how about a stupid, blunderbuss, staggeringly incompetent intervention in a much bigger and less necessary place?

Hey, I know the diff between a "what-if" and a proved fact.

What's proved is that we are led by morons who have no right to lecture ANYBODY after deliberately leaving Saddam in charge, in 91.

The implication that this Iraq War is a deliberate trap, designed to demolish Pax Americana is a What-If. So don't put tinfoil hats on me yet!

Still, I am duty-bound to present it BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE IS DOING IT.

It is based upon a premise you really ought to consider. "Who has benefited? What if what you see is actually the result that somebody wanted?"

If you ask these questions, scary corelations take shape.

Dave further said: "This is one of the things that most boggles my mind about the whole BushCorp/Iraq fiasco. They threw away decades of wisdom about American Hegemony in order to play at Soldiers."

Well, yes, there is the Nasty Little Frat Boys With Toys theory. It certainly does fit.

But consider this. Under Clinton, we saw grumbles from Beijin and Moscow and Paris about a "unipolar world" but there was nothing they could do about it. They called meetings with the topic "what to do about Pax Americana"... and nobody came.

NOW they hold these meetings and the entire world sends delegates. THAT is the chief effect of the last 5 years. And whether you are a dopel lefty who hates Pax Americana, or a moderate liberal or conservative who feel uncomfortable with the concept, or a loony neocon Alcibiades-type who wants Pax Americana to sail off to Sicily... this trend oughta worry you.

It is not what smart world-tenders do with power.

Tony Fisk said...

@ Rob:
It's a little more than that. It's also that we don't *have* to couch our conservationism in doomsaying; there are already massively compelling reasons not to waste and emit the way we've been going on.

You will find your view fully supported in sites such as worldchanging. Showing how there is something in it for them is a much more productive way of persuading people to be environmental custodians!

My arguments for reasonable doubt are largely based on the mistrust I feel for the politicos aligned with conservationist causes. I don't trust the industrialist politicos, either, for that matter. Woe is me.

*thud!* (|;-)

Seriously, I've no problem with that. As DB puts it, it's just the way you choose to express your SOA.

@David Brin:
Still, I am duty-bound to present it BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE IS DOING IT.

Frothy rants, and rabid screams?
Spreading naughty memes!
The lot of the dutiful.


Apart from a few good natured jibes, I do take your theories about the Saudi Puppeteers and the Great Officer Purge seriously: they're too logically consistent, and there's enough circumstantial evidence not to. But for proof..? Well, I think you know how widespread that is!

Back to the book review:

That title seems to be a major sticking point. To try and put a more positive spin on it, do you find anything in the book that would benefit those who would be repelled by the title? If so, perhaps you could suggest an alternative title.

Dylan said...

Dave,
You seem to agree with everything Mr. Mooney says, yet you find the title unhelpful. I recognize the pitfalls of the title, yet implementing some false balance to appear "objective" at the expense of truth offers its own pitfalls. Had this been called the "Politicization of Science", it would suggest this is some kind of static continuum, that "everybody does it", and now it's Bush's term - what's the big deal?

If there is something special going on here, something unprecedented, then it would be irresponsible to muddy the waters to achieve some false sense of balance. This is not merely suppressing a particular report we do not like, but an attack on the integrity of science itself. We are dealing with a mindset that doesn't find facts inconvenient, but inconsequential. Facts don't factor into their thinking at all.

Call a spade a spade. Reading the very discussion above that this book has inspired shows me Mooney was right to title his book the way he did.

Rob Perkins said...

*Had this been called the "Politicization of Science", it would suggest this is some kind of static continuum, that "everybody does it", and now it's Bush's term - what's the big deal?*

Nobody would have bought such a titled book, I'd wager. But if it shows that the Evil Republicans are at the heart of it, then, well, about half the country also interested in political books will buy this one. And Mooney gets a paycheck.

The fact is, though, that the problem exists on both sides of the left-right. DB is compelling in saying the book is needed, because the brand of useful idiot in charge these days is chastened by it. If the otherguys were in power, though, a sufficiently scathing book directed at *them* would be just as apropos. Just because a faction denys religious motivation doesn't make it immune to the passion of religious motivation. It just takes other forms.

daveawayfromhome said...

When I used the term "tin foil hat", I was echoing you, but thinking of myself. I love a nice, juicy conspiracy theory. They're good thought exercises and always lots of fun. But most of the time I think what we call conspiracies are nothing more than pure, bastardly, bloody-minded ruthlessness. This, coupled with the informational advance warning that comes with high station, allows the wealthy and powerful of the world to take advantage of opportunities that the rest of us never see until it's too late. Not prescience, but positioning.
I do think "extreme" theories can sometimes lead to truth, or partial truth. I once thought that perhaps BushCo had invaded Iraq to deliberately create a kind of terrorist magnet, thereby Keeping America Safe; but I dismissed that as being too cynical, even for this administration. The America I liked to think I lived in would never sacrifice tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent people from an uninvolved country just to keep itself safe. Unfortunately, now I hear members of the Administration bragging about how America has been kept safe because the terrorists are going to Iraq instead of here. Worse (in an ethical sense), I know that there is a significant chunk of people in this country who have no problem with this, and a large chunk of those people who are smugly attributing their safety to having voted for the "moral" candidate. It's shameful and nauseating and I fervently hope that these are just the statements of amoral weasels trying to profit politically from the sufferings of others.
So lets just say that I'm not totally dismissing the idea that someone deliberately sucked the U.S. into a morass, but it's too big a plot with too many variables and I think it unlikely. If you break it into smaller parts, then would you say that the Plotters got lucky each time? Little Plots, maybe. Sociopathic Opportunism and "lucky" breaks? Definitely.

-dcc-

As for Crichton, there's a man who could use a tin-foil hat. And some happy pills.

Wintermute said...

First of all, as regards the review, I think I will reserve my comments until I see part II, but I like it pretty much as is (though I agree that mooney needs to be brought up earlier).

There seem to be three interesting discussions going on here. One about the Kyoto accord, another about the intentions of the 9/11 co-ordinators, and another about concensus in science.

As regards the Kyoto accord, as I understand it, China has tentatively signed it (presumably in lieu of the US's acceptance of it). The system proposed by Kyoto is one in which we take today's global emissions levels and cap them, saying that that will be our maximum emmisions levels. We are not trying to solve global warming with Kyoto, we are only trying to make a deal which might plausibly be accepted by both western and developed nations in an effort to prevent accelerating global warming further. If we were actually trying to do our best to stop gloabl wrming the Kyoto accord would be the elimination of emissions (possibly even active removal of excessive greenhouse gases). It is completely unrealistic to expect western nations to eliminate emissions, so Kyoto was designed as a pragmatic attempt to prevent further excesses. It is not an attempt to make the states look like uncompromising and greedy people, though our administration has made us seem that way to the rest of the world by denying a reasonable offer.

The Kyoto accord allows for the trading of emissions tokens. This is a great way of compensating other nations for damage done to their atmosphere by processes which have not benefited them in any way (i.e. by western industrialization). The Kyoto accord also allows nations to counteract their excessive CO2 emissions by restoring woodlands (which turn CO2 into Oxygen). The Kyoto accord would not punish the US, it would not even need to reduce its emmisions, just buy some emissions tokens and plant some trees. Because the US emits more pollutants per year than anyone else, all we need to do is buy the units alloted to other, less polluting nations. US industry would loose some money from purchasing emmisions tokens, but this money would go directly to the least industrialized nations where it is desperately needed.

So while the Kyoto accord does not benefit America more than other nation like most international treaties these days do, it is fair and it does benefit the world as a whole by not allowing for an increase in emmisions and not further excaserbating any influence we have exerted on these trends already. It also gives the third world something that the west wants (emissions tokens). If anything this will help us to develop the third world and raise the living standards of people around the world without increasing emissions through more traditional "industrialization" techniques which (granted) would make these people's lives better, but at the expense of our environment. It would also provide huge economic incentives for companies to find feasible, renewable, non-polluting solutions to our energy needs-an incentive which in no way exists today.

As regards the plans of the terrorists (possibly wanting to draw us into a disheartening and dividing proxy war) I think that there is no way that the thought didn't cross their minds. I don't, however, think that the Bush administration thought that maybe a war in Iraq (or something to that effect) may have been anticipated (and even desired) by the terrorists. However, if the Administration did realize this, then I don't think that the true motivations for the war in Iraq could have been but sinister or motivated by greed, an opportunisitic attempt to use 9/11 to further their neo-con cause. "After all", says the Straussian, "all unified nations need a war to detract them from making internal democratic decisions". Once we are all caught up with talking about Iraq we will forget about internal issues, thus allowing the undemocratic intellectual class to make these decisions for us, as Strauss and Lippmann would have it.


As regards concensus in science, I should hope that we never have it. Science progresses because their is purposefully encouraged criticism and disagreement. This does not change the fact that all the best models of our biosphere seem to point towards industrial emmisions being a contributor to undesirable climate changes. There are disagreements about which of these models is better, but we know that all of those models which predict climate change of some kind are in fact better than those that say nothing unsusual is going on here. ALL of our best theories recommend the reduction of emmisions if we want to stave off climate change.

Consensus is not (and should not be) what gives justification to our scientific theories, that would be a fallacious argumentum ad populum. Scientific theories are justified by their ability to explain our observations, and the only models which explain our observations say that human emissions accelerate (or cause) global warming.

Now while it is undeniable that it is a part of the earth's continuous natural cylces to periodically warm and cool, it is true that the present rate of warming is utterly unprecidented. This is only explainable by reference to our excessive pollution.

Take this anecdote: When our atmosphere was not oxygen rich (it was largely composed of vapourous methane) stromlites began to churn out large amounts of oxygen. These stromlites eventually became so successful that they spread to ever corner of the earth, pumping oxygen into then then methanous atmosphere (are you feeling the analogy yet?). Something which the stromlites did not see coming was that their oxygen emissions lead to a shift in the atmospheric composition of our world-to a reducing atmosphere-eventually allowing human beings to emerge. Unfortunately the stromlites killed themselves (and if they are still around they are not nearly as prolific) because of their pollution. If we become as imposing on our environment as the stromlites did on theirs it is not infeasible that we might create an environment in which we ourselves cannot survive.

Our CO2 production coupled with our clear-cutting of lush forests may send the earth's regulating feedback mechanisms into positive or negative feedback loops, leading to global warming (predicted by some models), cooling (predicted by most other models), or even a shift as drastic as that from methane to oxygen atmospheres (admittedly predicted by no models at present). NO models of climate change dispute the fact that we are having a significant impact upon our environment, on a global scale. Most models only differ in the predicted calamity, or its extent.

We can't deny that we're having an effect on the temperature of the planet, but minimizing this effect (i.e. through capping emmissions through the Kyoto accord) is a more rational strategy than just saying "well, we've probably done too much damage already, so let's just live it up and try to survive if we can." That is fatalism, essentially the antithesis of modernism.

As far as I'm concerned its not time to give up and live it up already. We can still ensure a better life for the world's future people, including our children. This requires curbing our emissions-NOW-which is a goal that can be acknowledged by signing the completely fair Kyoto accord-NOW. This requires taking science seriously, something which many powerful people are unwilling to do, until the time that we force them to take our best science seriously.

The best thing about science is that regardless of the absolute truth of our theories, any theory that is at any time tenable will have some verisimilitude (approximate truth). Even if we presently rely on a model of the biosphere when making decisions that is eventually subsumed by a better model, the very fact that our model is tenable today means that it is to a degree true and reliable. We can (and should) make decisions based on our best theories of climate change, while still seeking better theories that will help us make better predictions and prescriptions: after all, what else are we supposed to do.

But before we do this we need to make sure that scientific discoveries are unleashed into a political climate that can accept them and use them (as opposed to dogmatic ideologies) to make policy decisions. This is our first goal, to make politicians accept the scientific method as valid, and therein its current theories as good and reliable approximations to the truth worthy of informing policy. As an empirical society we should demand nothing less.

Dylan said...

Mooney agrees both sides do it. But the modern conservative movement is something unique unto itself that needs to be addressed. Every problem, from their approach to intelligence to stem cells to the war, can be traced back to the pseudoscientific thinking of the current crop of conservatives. They value loyalty, not facts, and when the facts aren't loyal, the facts have to be changed.

It would be irresponsible to suggest that because the right is suppressing research, rewriting research, stacking committees and attempting to make all research go through an 'ideology filter' to ensure that it is sufficiently loyal, that the non-republicans must be "just as bad".

Is there nothing a President or administration can do that would make you rise up and oppose it? Or must every President be "more of the same?"

Clinton slept with Interns. Bush has no place for science and information gathering of any form that doesn't agree with his "revealed" knowledge.

W.B. Reeves said...

Well it seems I struck a nerve. It also seems that I have been moved from the category of maker of good comments to that of the "Sayeth" crowd. Not to complain but, like yourself Dr. Brin, I do think I should be held accountable for what I actually said rather than for what some may imagine I said.

For example: David Spitzley is fully justified in zinging me for confusing the chronology vis a vis Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. I certainly succeeded in making myself look foolish. I'm not sure how much that effects the larger point though. To whit, the Nuclear Power Industry set itself up for a fall by insisting that there were no appreciable risks attached to Nuclear Power. It was not the anti-Nuke movement that crippled the Industry, it was public reaction to events that demonstrated such risks did, in fact, exist.

That's not to say that such risks are unmanagable. Perhaps they are. However,the Industry's lack of transparency and refusal to trust the public to make an informed judgement insured they would be deprived of credibilty at precisely the moment they required it most.

For all our technological achievements, we have not yet repealed Murphy's Law. Any advocacy which presumes otherwise will, sooner or later, suffer a train wreck. I consider this a valid message, regardless of the failings of the messenger.

Speaking of the failings of the messenger, let me address the following:

"Other than the fact that almost anything associated with Hegel is loathesome, and a man could do worse than to base his life on always heading the opposite direction...

...are you actually contending that THIS is what most people mean, when they discuess “left vs right”? That we should gen mired in a debate BETWEEN styles of loony, loathesome Hegelians? What about the French assembly? Markets vs state intervention? All the ten thousand mutually contradictory things that people use for left-right?"

The short answer to the question is no, I propose nothing of the kind. Neither do I propose to ignore history, since I don't consider that to be a pragmatic option. Likewise, I don't suggest viewing politics solely through the distorting prism of U.S. "discourse" on the subject. That would condemn us to a parochialism ill suited to critical analysis of the world at large.

For the record, I find Hegel rather loathsome myself, as I also find Edward Teller and Werner Von Braun to be. Of course this distaste on my part doesn't lessen their significance one iota. Nor does it negate any positive contributions they have made.

Continuing in the vein of the failings of the messenger:

"Sorry, you are dead wrong about nuclear power. It has killed or injured FAR fewer people than coal plants have. Its dangers are directly and easily addressable by CITOKATE. (Past accidents have occured in direct proportion to secrecy and criticism avoidance.; nukes must be poster boys of openness, in which case they will do much good and little harm.) Moreover, the waste is easily gathered into storage facitlities that can hold them for the necessary 100 years before they become easily usable and desireable assets."

I find this baffling, since I issued no opinion one way or the other about Nuclear Power as a technology, much less making any assertions about deaths attributable to it. What I tried to suggest is that the Nuclear Industry's refusal to deal honestly with criticism was a major factor in its discrediting in the eyes of the public at large. An assertion that dovetails nicely with your own call for transparency, not to mention your discription of the Industry's past sins. It's difficult for CITOKATE to operate in an industry that functions as an arm of the National Security State and denies its critics any legitimacy whatsoever. I can only assume that I did a poor job of explication.

"You blithely dismiss the way that threat of infinite legal delays diverted the energy industry down a path of coal. In any event, I did not EQUATE this left mania with things like creationism. You made that up entirely in order to strawman me."

To take the last first. I did not intend to imply or suggest that the comparison I made was your own. If I inadvertently encouraged anyone in this false notion, I repudiate it now and offer my sincere apologies. I'd assumed that the lack of attribution would have made it clear that the comparison was mine. It is also a quirk of mine to place quotation marks around "intelligent design" since I consider it a code term for Creationism. My mistake.

I don't blithely dismiss the legal challenges to the Nuclear Power Industry. However, no Industry is above the law whether civil or criminal. If an Industry finds itself vunerable to legal action, the fault lies not with the plaintiff but either with the Industry or with the law itself.

Access to legal redress is the right of every citizen. So long as this is so, it seems pointless to complain when it is exercised. The merits of specific actions are always subject to debate but after all, that's what courts are for.

Hopefully this dispells the fog generated by miscommunication.

To continue, I have to say that I'm puzzled by your reference to the AFL-CIO circa 1945. Those two organizations did not merge until 1955. Perhaps you are refering to the CIO's expulsion of Communist led unions in 1949 and 1950? If so, I have to point out that Socialism and Communism are not identical anymore than Liberalism and Socialism are, the U.S. Right's insistence to the contrary notwithstanding.

If the repudiation of Socialism is a key issue for you, does that include the Socialism of Scandinavia or that of Willy Brandt or Golda Meir? These varieties of socialism long ago made their peace with the Market and advocate mixed economies. Today the Totalizing impulse in economics is on the other side, emanating from those Eric Hobsbawm usefully describes as "Market Theocrats".

By the way, how do such Fatwahs against competing ideas fit in with the principle of CITOKATE? How do you get trenchant criticism if you suppress/expel the critics?

I can't escape the impression that the heat of your response has more to do with my holding the Scientific community culpable in the decline of its own prestige rather than the points you actually addressed. You pass over this aspect of my comments in silence. This is too bad really, because I don't think you can understand the Left's, indeed the general public's current distrust of the Scientific Community without coming to grips with this point.

Fourty odd years ago science and Scientists were the objects of popular acclaim and admiration. Technology inspired millions with vistas undreamed of by previous generations. Was this because the population of that time understood Science and Technology better than the population of today? I think not.

The difference was trust. The citizenry of that time largely trusted the institutions of their society and saw them as ultimately responsive, having passed successfully through the trials of the Great Depression and the challenges of WWII.

As we know, such trust is currently in short supply. We also can readily see why if we reflect on the trials of the last 40 years and the parts these institutions played.

What scientists and the Scientific Community as whole must come to grips with is that, while they may see themselves as independent from the ruling institutions, no one else does.

This is the price to be paid for the post-Trinity bargain. Science is synonymous in the public mind with powerful, unaccountable, heirarchic elites. As the stock of the ruling institutions declines, so does that of science. How could it be otherwise when deep pockets can insure the purchase of any research that suits them? Scientific testimony has been degraded in the popular imagination to the level of propaganda and researchers to the status of paid shills.

It's a sorry circumstance and one not easily remedied. Crucial to setting things right are critically minded people such as yourself. Equally crucial is a willingness on the part of the Scientific Community to engage in public self criticism. I believe you are hampered when you respond to differing perspectives as though they were attacks.

I think your take on the anti-Nuclear movement suffers in this way. By my recollection, that movement was neither anti-science nor anti-engineering. Part and parcel of its agenda was the advancement of new technologies both environmentally friendly and sustainable. They argued for alternatives to the ruling paradigm in the fields of Science and Engineering, not for their abolition.

That a romantic, primitivist tendency has grown in the years since is, I think, largely the result of our failure as a society to effectively pursue such alternatives.

I am well aware that many believe these alternatives are an impractible waste of time (No, I am not suggesting that you are one such). That Nukes are the only real solution. They are entitled to argue that. What I find unacceptable is not the cut and thrust of open debate but the resort to caricature. There is a fundamental difference between those arguing, however wrongheadedly, for a change of course in Science and Technology based on observable, real world effects and those who demand that Science and Technology be subjugated to the service of political,economic or even religious mythologies.

I would add that, in my opinion, the Left's present suspicion of the Scientific Community is of a piece with their opposition to heirarchical ruling elites. I've no doubt that the Left is excessive in this regard. Considering the consequences of their previous embrace of Statism, I think such excess to be an understandible over reaction. Certainly it has been, thus far, much less destructive.

"Again, nobody can define it, even on a dare."

I'm willing to take that dare, if you will provide a criteria for what you consider an acceptable standard of proof.

daveawayfromhome said...

I think that much of the public's distrust of the Scientific community stems from the Cold War. An entire generation grew up with the threat of nuclear anihilation hanging over their heads. Although this umbrella of death may have been opened up by politicians, the scientific community helped make it. Science went from being a handy thing to make your life better, to suddenly being a thing that could, with the push of a couple very stupid fingers on a couple of big, red buttons, wipe out virtually all of that life, no matter how good it was at the time.
Of course we distrust them. Politicians can destroy thousands of lives on a whim. Now, in a sense, so can scientists. This is not to say that Science has become inherently untrustworthy. But the potential is there, and it's become a very large and destructive potential, and so bears watching. It is an unfortunate Pandora situation for those of the scientific community, which I suppose they will have to get used to. Blame Mary Shelley if you want to get back to the root, but shouldnt the scientific community shoulder some of the burden also. Neo-cons dont usually pull this stuff out of their ass, they have accomplices in the sciences. If Good Scientists dont raise a hue and cry about Bad Scientists supporting the neo-cons, then how are they different from Moderate Republicans.
When I say hue and cry, I mean a real, full popular press hue and cry.

Dylan said...

I think the take on Chrichton's novels as "anti-science" are due more to formula and a desire to create conflict. The easiest way to do that in SF without thinking much is to have some technology go awry, or be misused. David Brin, he ain't.

Fiction operates by it's own laws of physics, completely seperate from those of the real world, and it's a mistake to take too many parallels from them. I'm not sure Chrichton is so anti-science as he is a hack.

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