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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.

Fri, 2011-10-21 00:19Richard Littlemore
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BEST busts Urban Heat Island Myth

Richard Muller not a Koch lackey after all …

During all the bad days when people were coughing up chunks of lung while the TV still touted Camels, it was never news when the Surgeon General drew the link between smoking and cancer. But it would have been BIG news if Philip Morris had funded and publicized a major study confirming the carcinogenic nature of its product.

That's pretty much what's happened - except with a climate twist - with the publication of a paper with the snappy title: Influence of Urban Heating on the Global Temperature Land Average Using Rural Sites Identified from MODIS Classifications. Update: The revised version of the paper can be found here and is attached.

The paper was partly funded by the Koch brothers, famous for the pollution their industries spew and for the money they spend funding everything from climate change denial to the founding of the Tea Party. “Leading scientists” involved in the paper included people such as Richard Muller and Judith Curry, a man apparently out of his depth in climate science and a woman dangerously in love with her growing reputation as a contrarian. Many people took one look at the funder and the guest list and concluded that anything produced by their Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) group was going to be tainted fodder for the denier hoards.

We were wrong.

Mon, 2011-10-17 08:25Chris Mooney
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Why Did Climate Progress Stall? It's Called Conservative Ideological Activation

There has been much reaction to this weekend’s Elizabeth Rosenthal New York Times piece—“Where Did Global Warming Go?” Clearly, the issue has fallen out of the news, and off the political agenda. The reasons for this are numerous: Politics, the recession, and media coverage are all at play here. But I think the New York Times piece does a stellar job of skirting the truly obvious explanation: a conservative denial machine was whipped up by “ClimateGate,” leading to a whole new and destructive brand of climate politics.

Recall the year 2007. Al Gore and the IPCC win the Nobel Peace Prize. The climate issue is riding high. Many of us assume that the next president will solve the global warming problem for good.

There was already much political resistance to climate action in the U.S. at that time, and right wing think tanks were sowing vast amounts of misinformation—as was Fox News. But the tide had clearly turned against the delayers and deniers…for good, many of us thought.

Then came a little event that the New York Times analysis does not even mention—“ClimateGate.”

Fri, 2011-10-14 08:49Emma Pullman
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Canadian Corporation Behind Efforts to Shut Down Occupy Wall Street Has Ties to Big Oil

Occupy Wall Street is about challenging the power of the richest 1%. But what happens when that 1% owns the land of the occupation? It has been revealed that a Canadian company was behind efforts to shut down the birthplace of the movement, Zuccotti Park. 

Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD notified Occupy Wall Street participants about plans to “clean the park”— the site of the occupation—starting this morning at 7am. “Cleaning” has been repeatedly as a pretense to shut down peaceful occupations. It was used to evict protesters from the Wisconsin state house. It was used by Bloomberg himself to shut down a peaceable demonstration against budget cuts. The “cleaning” was essentially a ploy to evict protesters, but in a remarkable turn of events, the company backed down from threats to evict the park.

The attempted eviction comes hours before a global day of solidarity actions. The movement is taking the world by storm with a message that resonates powerfully with the millions of regular people: growing economic inequality is corrupting our democracies and making most people’s lives worse. 

So, who is behind the eviction threats? Brookfield Asset Management, a Canadian company, owns Zuccotti Park and the adjacent office building, One Liberty Plaza. The company has an agreement with the city that the park will be open to public use. 

Thu, 2011-10-13 10:31Chris Mooney
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The Old War on Science Returns Under Rick Perry

In an August post about the return of the “war on science”—prosecuted by the political right—I drew a key distinction between attacks on knowledge that had occurred during the George W. Bush administration, and those we’re seeing now. To wit:

1.      Bottom Up v. Top Down Anti-Science Attacks. Clearly, the U.S. Republican right has remained at “war” with science—at least on the most hot button issues. Were this not the case, Huntsman’s claim would not resonate, as it so obviously does.

If anything, however, I believe matters have gotten worse. Why? Largely because we’ve swapped the relatively genteel “war on science” of the George W. Bush administration (which was prosecuted in top-down fashion from the White House and administration, largely in service of what various staff believed that the president wanted, or what should or shouldn’t be on the public agenda or in the media) for a more populist and bottom-up strain associated with the rise of the Tea Party. This is partly a function of the fact that the GOP is in the opposition right now, rather than running the country; and partly a function of the right moving further to, uh, the right; and partly also, I think, a function of the increasing influence of the blogosphere.

Either way, there are lots of consequences. For instance, the attacks on science are now nastier, aimed at individual scientists and presenting direct assaults on their integrity and their work. This goes far beyond Bush vaguely mumbling that scientists don’t have a consensus on climate change, or that it might be natural; or some aide at NOAA or NASAblocking a scientist’s media interview.

I think this distinction is fairly crucial. It’s one thing to attack science in a populist vein. You can probably get away with being nastier about it, but you’re not necessarily wielding any power over scientists. You don’t have, for instance, the ability to censor them, as you do when you’re running things.

Most of the Tea Party and GOP-debate attacks we’ve seen of late are clearly populist in nature. But let’s not forget that one of the leading GOP presidential candidates is also a governor of Texas, who therefore does hold the reins of power.

Tue, 2011-10-11 03:06Chris Mooney
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Once And For All: The Precautionary Principle is Not Unscientific

Some conservatives are immensely more fun to debate than others.

In the past month, a debate over left-right science abuse with Kenneth Green of the American Enterprise Institute led to him hurling charges of “socialism.” Not kidding.

Unfortunately, “Carol Browner is a socialist” isn’t an argument. It’s a heuristic device. It’s the kind of thing you say if you want to get emotive Tea Party reasoners whipped up.

Ron Bailey of the Reason magazine is, in contrast, full of…reason. He weighed in last week on this topic, went through the issues, and came down slightly differently than I did on some of them, but actually agreed that the GOP is doing much worse now with respect to science.

Wed, 2011-09-28 08:21Chris Mooney
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Evolution and Climate Deniers: Natural Allies?

On the face of things, there is no clear reason why the same person—like, say, Rick Perry–ought to deny accepted science about both evolution, and also global warming. After all, the fundamental reason or motivation for denying these things appears very different.

As has been clear for more than a century, the theory of evolution threatens a certain breed of religious belief. It clearly undermines a literal reading of the Book of Genesis, for instance. It suggests that God didn’t create people or make them out to be anything special. Indeed, if you think about it, it suggests that if God does exist, then God created humans through a bloody and brutal process (natural selection) that is full of death, pain, and cruelty over vast time-scales. (Great guy, this God, eh?)

Climate change has nothing—or at least nothing obvious–to do with this. That’s not to say climate science isn’t threatening; it is, but surely in a very different way. Modern climate science suggests that the free market, the source of so much economic growth and prosperity, also has a dark side. It suggests that humanity, left unchecked to exploit technology and maximize productivity, can really shoot itself in the foot sometimes. It suggests you need governments to step in and regulate, rather than letting the market rip.

In a socio-political vaccum, then, it is not at all clear why these two views should go together.

Tue, 2011-09-27 04:36Chris Mooney
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Unequivocal: Today’s Right is Overwhelmingly More Anti-Science Than Today's Left

Last week, I took to task a really poor USA Today op-ed making the following claim:

“In short, for every anti-science Republican that exists, there is at least one anti-science Democrat. Neither party has a monopoly on scientific illiteracy. Indeed, ignorance has reached epidemic proportions inside the Beltway.”

I accused the author, Alex Berezow, of constructing a false equivalence between right and left wing science abuse. The latter does occur sometimes, and I’ve given many examples (ionizing radiation risks, vaccines, GMOs, etc). But it has relatively little mainstream influence today—and can hardly compare with the sweeping denial of huge bodies of knowledge (e.g., all climate science, all evolutionary science) that we see on the right.

Joe Romm also reposted my post and weighed in, further trashing Berezow’s weak argument, and particularly on the nuclear power front. Paul Raeburn also weighed in at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, noting Berezow’s conservative media connections.

In the comments on my post (no longer available, as the blog has just moved to a new URL—please update!), and then in a subsequent post, another conservative—Kenneth Green of the American Enterprise Institute—weighed in. Who is Kenneth Green?

Wed, 2011-09-14 12:48Steve Horn
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Solyndra Solar Panel Corporation Scandal Ablaze - ThinkProgress Sets Record Straight

The ongoing scandal continues to blaze at Solyndra. Solyndra Corporation, a San Francisco Bay area solar panel start-up company, is under fire in the immediate aftermath of its August 31 filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and laying off over 1,000 workers, which is roughly one-fourth of those who were employed by Solyndra at the time.

Shortly after this development, on September 8, Solyndra was raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  

Critics, such as climate change denier and Republican Party Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, are referring to the deal as “crony capitalism” gone arwy. In an interview with Fox News' Greta Van Susteren, Bachmann stated, “This is what the American people don't want. They don't want crony capitalism. It infuriates them. We saw that with President Obama, when we saw over $500 million dollars go to Solyndra, who was a political donor of President Obama.”

The $500 million Bachmann is referring to is a loan guarantee that was given to Solyndra from the Obama Department of Energy in March 2009.

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