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Thu, 2011-12-15 07:08Chris Mooney
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Can Fact Checking be Politically “Neutral,” When Facts Are Not Equally Distributed Across the Political Spectrum?

Recently, I sat in on an off-the-record meeting about political fact-checking. I can’t report or quote from the event, but it spurred along some general thoughts that had already arisen in the context of writing The Republican Brain, which focuses a great deal on fact-checking—and thus, helped  propel this post.

Fact checking is a phenomenon that has really taken off over the last half decade or so as, more and more, media outlets as well as independent and/or partisan voices are busily pronouncing on the “truth” of political statements. The reason? Well, there are many, but I would place the growing divide over reality and what is factually true, between the left and the right, as perhaps the leading one.

By far the best known fact-checking outlets are the websites PolitiFact, a project of the St. Petersburg Times, and FactCheck.org, based at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Perhaps most prominently in the mainstream media, there is also the Washington Post’s fact-checker column, which regularly bestows one to four “Pinocchios” upon politicians’ statements.

These three main fact-checking outlets are then complemented by an ever growing number of blogs and, of course, fact-checkers on both sides of the political aisle.

Here, incidentally, arises a pretty sharp divide—between those who claim to check both political “sides” equally, and those who don’t.

Mon, 2011-12-12 07:49Chris Mooney
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A Democrat Undermines Science

In my debate a few months back with Kenneth Green about the left, the right, and science, my colleague really could have used some more strong examples of left wing science abuse.

Now, he has one.

There is no other way to spin it: The Obama administration’s decision to ignore the FDA, and refuse to make Plan B emergency contraception (the “morning after” pill) available over the counter, is a clear and unequivocal case of politics interfering with science. And it is a particularly galling one because, as former FDA official Susan Wood points out, this is one of the key issues on which the last administration, that of George W. Bush, misused science. So there is every reason for the Obama administration to have known better, and to have done differently.

In fact, the bogus argument that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius used, to justify overruling her own expert agency, is the same bogus argument that was attempted during the Bush years.

Mon, 2011-11-21 02:55Chris Mooney
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Fox News Viewers are the Most Misinformed: A Seventh Study Arrives to Prove It (and to Vindicate Jon Stewart!)

Two of my most popular posts here at DeSmogBlog were a pair of items documenting 1) just how many surveys have found Fox News viewers to be more misinformed about factual reality and 2) taking PolitiFact to task for giving Jon Stewart a “false” rating when he pointed this out.

Stewart wasn’t wrong, PolitiFact was.

In these pieces, I identified 6 separate studies showing Fox News viewers to be the most misinformed, and in a right wing direction–studies on global warming, health care, health care a second time, the Ground Zero mosque, the Iraq war, and the 2010 election.

I also asked if anyone was aware of any counterevidence, and none was forthcoming. There might very well be a survey out there showing that Fox viewers aren't the most misinformed cable news consumers on some topic (presumably it would be a topic where Democrats have some sort of ideological blind spot), but I haven’t seen it. And I have looked.

There really does seem to be a “Fox News effect,” then, and one that is playing a central role in driving our political divide over reality in the U.S. And now comes a true tour-de-force seventh study showing that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed, this time once again about global warming.

Wed, 2011-11-16 07:20Chris Mooney
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Anthony Watts and Defensive Reasoning: Three Episodes

Over the last year, I’ve had numerous blogospheric encounters with the conservative climate “skeptic” Anthony Watts, the author of WattsUpWithThat. In the process, I’ve been particularly struck by how Watts handles inconvenient evidence.

Twice now, I’ve seen Watts make a mistake, and then seem to rationalize it, rather than simply correct it. I’ve also seen Watts shift the goalposts, refusing to accept inconvenient evidence even after saying he would do so.

What’s up with that?

Look: We all make mistakes. And we all adopt beliefs that later turn out to be incorrect.  There's nothing wrong with that per se; it's actually quite natural. What really matters is what we do after we’re proven wrong. So let’s see what Watts does:

Wed, 2011-11-09 07:23Chris Mooney
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Rush Limbaugh: Meat Eater, Science Denier

Recently, Rush Limbaugh went on another of his anti-science rants. This one was particularly fascinating, though, because of the things he actually got right—even as he  simultaneously exhibited the standard cocksure blind spots.

First, what did Rush say that was true? Well, he gets the idea, supported by much research, that we all have the tendency to appropriate “science” as our own, selectively choosing those bits that support us and selectively refuting or denying those bits that don’t.

Thus, Rush goes on repeatedly about the attempt to “codify liberalism as science.” Actually, conservatives, including Rush, also try repeatedly to depict their views—including their denialist ones–as scientific. Rush thus shows a massive blind spot when he fails to recognize that he’s susceptible to the very same tendency.

In fact, I would argue that Rush is worse–because he is deeply sure of himself when he has no good reason to be. He is vastly, and baselessly, overconfident.

Thus, when Rush gets into the meat of his commentary (pun intended, as you’ll see), he draws a stunningly false parallel between a Dutch psychologist who has been seriously accused of falsifying data on the one hand, and climate change researchers on the other.

Thu, 2011-11-03 20:14Emma Pullman
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Oil Industry Co-Opts Occupy Movement to Sell the Keystone XL Pipeline

The AFL-CIO's America's Building Trades Unions and Oil and Natural Gas Industry Labor-Management Committee are attempting to co-opt the Occupy movement with a new initiative to try to get the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline approved. Jobs for the 99% likens the growing celebrity support against the Keystone XL pipeline to an occupation of sorts. “Celebrities are taking over DC” the website says, and “Hollywood’s elite 1% should stop flying to DC and speaking out against jobs that help the other 99% of America!” 

Pitting celebrity support of anti-Keystone efforts against average Americans, “Jobs for the 99%” tells us that wealthy celebrities are killing valuable jobs, and that by telling the White House to support Keystone XL, “we” can act in solidarity with the 99%. 

You gotta hand it to them, it's a bold move. But here's why it's misleading and you shouldn't buy it. Hijacking the occupy movement to create a climate killing pipeline is a boon to the 1% who will harvest the profits. The 99% only get a few short term jobs (or not), not long term sustainable employment. That's why oil and gas companies, some of the largest and most notoriously corrupt corporations in the world, are backing this astroturf campaign with some serious funding.

And they're handing down the public health and environmental costs associated with a potential spill - and the “game over” climate change that expanding tar sands production will cause - back to the 99%.

Wed, 2011-11-02 06:04Chris Mooney
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Score Another Victory for Scientists, Michael Mann, and the Freedom of Inquiry

Yesterday in a Virginia courtroom, Michael Mann—who is quickly becoming the Galileo of climate science—triumphed over the conservative American Tradition Institute, and ongoing attempts at scientist-harassment.

More specifically, Prince William County Circuit Court Judge Gaylord Finch both allowed Mann to join the case that ATI is pursuing against the University of Virginia to get Mann’s emails, and allowed UVA to back out of an agreement with ATI to let it review some of Mann’s emails that the university is nevertheless claiming are exempt from disclosure.

This is a bit technical, as is often the case in ongoing court proceedings, but let’s remember why it matters.

The ATI lawsuit is a follow-on to Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli’s outrageous harassment of Mann. And protecting Mann’s emails from disclosure is critical for ensuring that ideological fishing expeditions that attack and harass scientists aren’t permitted. The contrary result, as many scientific groups have asserted, could have a chilling effect on academic research and freedom of inquiry in controversial areas.

Tue, 2011-11-01 13:26John Mashey
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Weird Anti-Science - Donna Bethell, SEPP, and Sandia National Laboratories

Back to school, dunce.

Donna Bethell recently complained to the Washington Post about an article that mentioned human causation of global warming:

It also cited two well-known skeptics of this claim. Were those skeptics allowed to explain why they are skeptics? No, they were only allowed to say that climate change is a political issue. Well, duh.”

The “skeptics” in the article were Rush Limbaugh and Marc Morano.  Lawyer Bethell's husband is political writer Thomas Bethell, whose book, The Politically Incorrect Guide(TM) to Science (2005) promoted intelligent design and AIDS denialism, but scoffed at any dangers from global warming, radiation, dioxins, DDT, loss of biodiversity, etc.  It lauded Fred Singer and fictioneer Michael Crichton.  Donna rated it highly and urged people to buy it:

Mon, 2011-10-31 08:05Chris Mooney
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Is There a Bias Asymmetry Between Democrats and Republicans?

There’s a must read item today at the Huffington Post by Jonathan Weiler, co-author of the excellent book Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics. Weiler argues (as have I) that the “Republican war on science,” a term that I coined, is really just a subset of the “Republican war on reality.”

And not just that. Weiler further asserts that we’re seeing this right now because the Republican party is full of authoritarians—people who think they’re 100 percent right and everyone who disagrees with them is 100 percent wrong, and who have little tolerance for ambiguity or complexity.

All my research on ideology points to this conclusion as well—but I’m not sure Weiler fully articulates how authoritarians can be so factually wrong, and also sure of themselves and unable to admit correction.

To me, what seems to occur in authoritarian reasoning is that you firmly define in your mind an outgroup (liberals, environmentalists), and you then automatically take any claim that denigrates that outgroup (socialists, traitors) to be true. And then, if this claim is refuted, you’re outraged and you come to believe the false claim even more strongly than before. You double down. (This, of course, would explain why Tea Party climate deniers are so sure of themselves.)

And that’s not all. If you’re an authoritarian, you also probably leap to ideologically friendly conclusions to begin with. And when your ideological opponents are making an argument that’s characterized by a lot of nuance, you attack a caricatured, simplistic version of it.

Indeed, you probably find the making of nuanced arguments—and the expression of uncertainty—to be inherent signs of weakness. And you probably find people who constantly talk in nuanced ways, like President Obama or most university professors, to be suspicious, untrustworthy. Who do authoritarians trust? A strong leader who states it clearly, plainly, and toughly and doesn't waver.

If Weiler is right—and I think he is—then what this means is that we probably have a bias asymmetry in American politics. And that’s a really big deal.

Journalists, fact checkers, and so on go around acting as though there is a ‘pox on both their houses’—everybody has their own biases, everybody lies and distorts, so we need “balanced” journalism to handle this equally distributed nonsense. But Weiler suggests that this is not actually true. Rather, it should be the case that one group gets more things wrong, misrepresents and distorts more, and is less willing to admit to error or correction, or to change its mind.

Does that sound like modern American politics? Does that sound like the climate fight, or the healthcare fight, or arguments over economic policy?

It sure does to me…but don’t expect authoritarians to ever admit it!

Tue, 2011-10-25 17:07Steve Horn
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TransCanada Spent $540,000 Lobbying in Third Quarter For Keystone XL Pipeline

TransCanada Corp, the company hoping to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, spent $540,000 on lobbying in the third quarter of 2011, according to lobbying disclosure records released this week.

In addition to $390,000 reported by Paul Elliott, TransCanada Pipelines, Ltd's infamous in-house lobbyist, two outside firms lobbied on TransCanada's behalf to promote the Keystone XL pipeline: Bryan Cave LLP, which reported $120,000 in earnings from TransCanda in quarter three; and McKenna, Long & Aldridge, which was paid $30,000 by TransCanada in the same period. 

As DeSmog readers know well, the Keystone XL pipeline would carry Alberta tar sands bitumen south to the Gulf Coast at Port Arthur, Texas, where much of it would be exported overseas.

As seen in an earlier investigation conducted by DeSmogBlog, many of the lobbyists acting as hired guns for TransCanada and the Keystone XL Pipeline have direct ties to the Obama Administration and Hillary Clinton, whose State Department has been tasked to make the final decison on the pipeline.

These latest figures come on the heels of yesterday's revelation that a former Bryan Cave LLP lobbyist for TransCanada, Broderick Johnson, has been hired to serve on the Obama for President 2012 campaign team. DeSmogBlog first reported that Johnson had lobbied for TransCanada and the Keystone XL pipeline in 2010 in our investigation into the web of lobbyists connected to Clinton and Obama.

“This is a deeply troubling development. A lobbyist who has taken corporate cash to shill for this dirty and dangerous pipeline now has even more opportunity to whisper into the president's ear,” said Kim Huynh of Friends of the Earth, in a statement.

The Obama Administration and its “State Department Oil Services” seem awfully cozy with TransCanada, and this influx of half a million more lobbying dollars over the past few months again raises questions about whether the Obama administration is listening to the will of the people of Nebraska and others concerned about the Keystone XL pipeline, or to the army of tar sands lobbyists promoting this fossil fuel boondoggle.  His campaign team's decision to hire Broderick Johnson sends a pretty clear signal.

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