Smack, Unsmacked

It’s been a staple of leftybloggers for the better part of a decade, now; every so often, some social “science” organization or another will release a “study” showing some variant “liberals are smarter than conservatives”.

This blog has made a decade-long romp out of trashing these “studies” – which are inevitably junk science.

The latest to the table in debunking this little lefty conceit is that noted conservative tool…

Will Saletan?   At Slate?

Huh.

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Appeal To Authority

Over the years, I’ve been codifying bits and pieces of (mostly liberal) human behavior into what I call “Berg’s Laws”.

I’m adding a new…well, not so much “law” as corollary to a law; an observation completely supported by the law.

The Law in question is Berg’s Fourteenth:

 The more strenuously a media organization identifies itself as “fact-checkers”, the more completely their “fact checking” will actually be checking statement for congruency with liberal conventional wisdom.

I’m adding the brand-new but utterly-sensible Maddow Corollary:

The same goes for science

I did it after reading this Glenn Reynolds piece in the NYPost, pointing out the facts behind the latest blitz of self-congratulatory articles by liberals lauding themselves for their greater supposed belief in science than conservatives.

These articles always trip the BS detector, naturally; they’re like the articles pointing out the”science” showing that liberals having higher IQ, or are less racist, or other such fripperies; bad science to reinforce a bad and – more importantly – meaningless conclusion.

Of course, as Reynolds points out, the whole tendency goes a solid level of illogic deeper.  He starts by noting that in 1974, a University of North Carolina sociologist Gordon Gauchat noted that in 1974, conservatives had a demonstrably higher likelihood to trust science than liberals.  I’m going to add some emphasis: 

Gauchat points out, correctly, that you can’t lay the blame at the feet of biblical creationists and anti-evolutionists, who were no less common in 1974. Nor is sheer ignorance responsible, as the decline in trust rose with education.

So wait – the more educated a conservative, the less likely he or she is to trust science?

Why, that suggest that this lack of trust isn’t just love of snake-handling, doesn’t it?

Why yes.  It does:

Instead, he suggests that it’s the increasing use of science as ammunition for big-government schemes that has led to more skepticism.
There’s probably something to that, but if you read the actual paper something else becomes clear. Despite the language in the coverage, it’s not science as a method that people are losing confidence in; it’s scientists and the institutions that purport to speak for them.

Reynolds does what everyone needs to do when they analyze polling information; looks at the original questions.

Gauchat’s paper was based on annual responses in the General Social Survey, which asks people: “I am going to name some institutions in this country. As far as the people running these institutions are concerned, would you say you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them?” One institution mentioned was “the scientific community.”
So when fewer people answered “a great deal” and more answered “hardly any” with regard to “the scientific community,” they were demonstrating more skepticism not toward science but toward the people running scientific institutions.
With this in mind, a rise in skepticism isn’t such a surprise.

Of course, people today have less faith in general in “institutions” than they used to.  Journalism, the police, the courts, the government, all are less trusted than they used to be.

So has…not “science”, as in the “scientific method”, but the institutions that run it, and especially the ones that use it toward their political ends.

“Science” – in the form of institutions – earned that distrust.  And that’s a good thing – because the root of science is skepticism.

And the push to jam down the beliefs of institutions, simply because they’re institutions, is unskeptical and, beyond that, illogical.  It is in fact a logical fallacy, the “appeal to authority“, which is also unskeptical and unscientific:

We accept arguments not because they come from people in authority but because they can be proven correct — in independent experiments by independent experimenters. If you make a claim that can’t be proven false in an independent experiment, you’re not really making a scientific claim at all.

And saying, “trust us,” while denouncing skeptics as — horror of horrors — “skeptics” doesn’t count as science, either, even if it comes from someone with a doctorate and a lab coat.
After a century of destructive and false scientific fads — ranging from eugenics to Paul Ehrlich’s “population bomb” scaremongering, among many others — the American public could probably do with more skepticism, not less.

Conservatives aren’t less scientific.  After a few years of “debating” liberals, it’s painfully clear we’re more logical.

We’re just less likely to trust someone with a PhD and a lab coat who’s come for our freedom, simply because he has a PhD and a lab coat.

The Democrat War On Science

Kevin Williamson concludes:

But the next time you hear a chorus of “Hooray, science!” from the Left, ask them why Barack Obama’s signature health-care program is going to recognize theworst sort of quackery and pseudoscience, with no more regard for the scientific record than the most fervid young-Earth creationist, swami, or snake-handler.

Williamson is writing about the fact that Obamacare specifically covers naturopathy, chiropractic and acupuncture, “sciences” with no more scientific basis than Christian prayer therapy (which is not covered, by the way).

Read the whole journey to the conclusion.

The Dogma-Based Party

One of the Democrats’ most annoying conceits is that they are the party of empirical reason, while conservatives are a bunch of faith-based “anti-science” snake-handlers. 

Now, most of us know better.  And among them, writing at that noted conservative tool The Atlantic, is Mischa Fischer:

In his first State of the Union Address in 1790, George Washington told Congress, “There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of science and literature.” He went on to call science “essential” to our nation. Two hundred and twenty years later, in his first inaugural address, Barack Obama vowed to “restore science to its rightful place.”

The president’s insinuation plays into the common perception in the media, electorate, and research community that Republicans are “anti-science.” I encountered that sentiment routinely in nearly a decade working for Republicans on Capitol Hill, and it has become more commonplace in the broader political discussion.

And of course, it’s not that no problems exist:

I’m the first to admit that there are elected Republicans with a terrible understanding of science—Representative Paul Broun of Georgia, an M.D. who claims evolution and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell” is one rather obvious example—and many more with substantial room for improvement. But Republicans, conservatives, and the religious are no more uniquely “anti-science” than any other demographic or political group. It’s just that “anti-science” has been defined using a limited set of issues that make the right wing and religious look relatively worse. (As a politically centrist atheist, this claim is not meant to be self-serving.)

The two solitary issues on which the left banks this meme are evolution and global warming.

As to evolution?  A Christian with a literal, fundamentalist reading of the Genesis story is going to object to the idea of evolution.  But the allegorical interpretation – which is the one the vast majority of contemporary politically-conservative Christians follow – is not in any way incongruent with the idea of evolution.  People of faith – including Christians - have always been leaders at scientific enquiry:

Members of all faiths have contributed to our collective scientific understanding, and Christians from Gregor Mendel to Francis Collins have been intellectual leaders in their fields. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project and an evangelical Christian, wrote a New York Times bestseller reconciling his faith with his understanding of evolution and genetics…Yes, an embarrassing half of Republicans believe the earth is only 10,000 years old—but so do more than a third of Democrats. And a slightly higher percentage of Democrats believe God was the guiding factor in evolution than Republicans.

And I’m going to hazard a guess that that percentage breaks down along “allegorical vs. literal reading of the Genesis story” lines. 

And then there’s global warming – the left’s current “which is heavier, a witch, or a duck?” meme:

On global warming, conservative policy positions often seem to be conflated or confused with rejection of the consensus that the planet has been warming due to human carbon emissions…Of the many Republican members of Congress I know personally, the vast majority do not reject the underlying science of global warming … Conservatives believe many of the policies put forward to address the problem will lead to unacceptable levels of economic hardship. It’s not inherently anti-scientific to oppose cap and trade or carbon taxes. What most Republicans object to are policies that unilaterally make it more expensive in the United States to produce energy, grow food, and transport people and goods but are unlikely to make much long-term difference in the world’s climate, given that other major world economies emit more carbon than the United States or have much faster growth rates of carbon emissions (China, India, Russia, and Brazil all come to mind).

Beyond that?  The Left rejects science – or embraces ideas that are no less faith-based and anti-empirical than the most zealous biblical literalist, particularly under the rubric of “social science”, which is frequently less “science” than “applied rhetoric”  - on a raft of issues:

  • Pro-infanticide activists plead that life begins when a “fetus” exits the womb, whenever that is, and that a “fetus” in the uterus at 38 weeks gestation is just a mass of tissue – ignoring that preemies born as early as 22 weeks have gone on to live normal, healthy (if very difficult, early-on) lives, and that keeping preemies born after 28 weeks alive is, if not “routine”, at least very common.
  • Gender-Identity Feminists have tried for decades to obscure and ignore the fact that men and women are physiologically, biologically, emotionally and intellectually different – and to enact that enforced ignorance in policies that go beyond “equality before the law”. 
  • Gun grab activists are almost to a person allergic to valid statistics. 
  • Green Energy activistshave gotten the government to “invest” billions in “green energy” scams that can not and will not in the foreseeable future ever address our society’s base power needs, while turning hatred of nuclear power into a near-religious expression of faith over empirical fact. 

And many more; the article compares the two sides’ relative commitment to hard science, and you should read the whole thing.

Moral of the story?  Next time some lefty bobblehead calls himself part of the “fact-based” community, smack ‘em with a beaker.

A Nation Of Pathologies

One in 11 American children is diagnosed – or “diagnosed” – with ADHD in one form or another.

In France, the rate is one out of 200.

Why?

Here in the US, ADHD is considered a biological disorder with biological causes – although as with so many “biological” emotional and mental disorders, nobody has actually empirically found that cause yet.

In France, it’s another story:

French child psychiatrists, on the other hand, view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Instead of treating children’s focusing and behavioral problems with drugs, French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child’s brain but in the child’s social context. They then choose to treat the underlying social context problem with psychotherapy or family counseling. This is a very different way of seeing things from the American tendency to attribute all symptoms to a biological dysfunction such as a chemical imbalance in the child’s brain.

 French child psychiatrists don’t use the same system of classification of childhood emotional problems as American psychiatrists. They do not use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM. According to Sociologist Manuel Vallee, the French Federation of Psychiatry developed an alternative classification system as a resistance to the influence of the DSM-3. This alternative was the CFTMEA (Classification Française des Troubles Mentaux de L’Enfant et de L’Adolescent), first released in 1983, and updated in 1988 and 2000. The focus of CFTMEA is on identifying and addressing the underlying psychosocial causes of children’s symptoms, not on finding the best pharmacological bandaids with which to mask symptoms.

DSM vs. CFTMEA = Tomayto / Tomahto?  Perhaps.

But for whatever reasons, ADHD isn’t an epidemic in France: 

To the extent that French clinicians are successful at finding and repairing what has gone awry in the child’s social context, fewer children qualify for the ADHD diagnosis. Moreover, the definition of ADHD is not as broad as in the American system, which, in my view, tends to “pathologize” much of what is normal childhood behavior. The DSM specifically does not consider underlying causes. It thus leads clinicians to give the ADHD diagnosis to a much larger number of symptomatic children, while also encouraging them to treat those children with pharmaceuticals.

Also, I’m going to take a wild guess here and assume that the French system leaves the diagnosing to actual medical and mental health practicioners, and not teachers with BAs from the French equivalent of Mankato State.

Junk Science, Junk Journalism, Platinum Funding

 The MinnPost – a non-profit-run institutional blog established the the intention to get a jump on the next wave of institutional journalism – gets a whole bunch of money from the Joyce Foundation.  Joyce also bankrolls Minnesota’s “largest” gun grabber group, “Protect Minnesota”, and Michael Bloomberg’s “Mayors Against Illegal Guns”, as well as paying academics to deliver the conclusions they want

Is that financial relationship related to the fact that the MinnPost has, whenever the subject of guns and the Second Amendment is at hand, turned itself into a risible propaganda organ for the gun-grabbing extreme left?

From Eric Black’s recycling long-obscure legal theories about the origins of the Second Amendment to Doug Grow’s naked puff-piecemongering in support of Heather Martens’ checkbook advocacy group, the MinnPost would seem to be working hard to earn the $50K or so they got from Joyce. 

The latest?  Susan Perry, a “Health” reporter who has pulled her weight in the past on theMinnPost’santi-gun beat. 

Confederate soldiers! With guns! Defending slavery! This is what the MinnPost think you, the law-abiding gun owner, genuflect to.

Yesterday came this piece, entitled…

Well, no.  We’ll get to the title in a bit.  But I’m going to pull a quote from the end of the story first.  I’ll add emphasis for weasel words and a particularly dim strawman:

“Although correlation is not synonymous with causation,” write Bangalore and Messerli, “it seems conceivable that abundant gun availability facilitates firearm-related deaths. Conversely, high crime rates may instigate widespread anxiety and fear, thereby motivating people to arm themselves and give rise to increased gun ownership, which, in turn, increases availability. The resulting vicious cycle could, bit-by-bit, lead to the polarized status that is now the case with the US.”

“Regardless of exact cause and effect, however,” they add, “the current study debunks the widely quoted hypothesis purporting to show that countries with the higher gun ownership are safer than those with low gun ownership.”

So – seventeen paragraphs into a nineteen paragraph article, we hear that the reasearchers aren’t actually drawing conclusions (in attacking a “widely quoted hypothesis” that nobody quotes at all). 

Which is a bit of a letdown for a story whose headline…:

“Idea that ‘guns make a nation safer’ is debunked in study”

…fairly screams “We’ve got a big big big conclusion here!”

 The Rhetorical Slalom Between The Strawmen: I’ll throw this out to the shooters in the audience.  Was this premise…:

The idea that “guns make a nation safer”

…as new to you as it was to me?

Anyway – the “premise”…

…is not true, according to a study published today in The American Journal of Medicine.

In fact, the study found just the opposite: Countries with a low rate of gun ownership have significantly fewer gun-related deaths than those with a high rate.

Right.  In the same way that areas where couples marry have higher divorce rates than areas where they just shack up. 

The study – and Perry’s piece – are honest, in a very dishonest sense; they scrupulously point out that gun death rates are, mirabile dictu, lower in places fewer guns.  But the “study” is equally scrupulous in avoiding apples to apples comparisons, or correlating their conclusions to any data that doesn’t fit inside their razor-thin premise…

…which is to attack a case (“Nations with few guns have higher gun crime rates!”) that, for the life of me, I’ve never heard a single credible person make – about nations, anyway. 

Cherry-Picked:  Perry notes that…

The U.S. leads in gun ownership — and gun deaths

The analysis found that the United States has far and away the highest rate of gun ownership, with 88.8 privately owned guns for every 100 people (“almost as many guns as it has people,” Bangalore and Messerli note)…The United States also has the highest firearm-related death rate: 10.2 deaths per 100,000 residents…At the other end of the spectrum are Japan and the Netherlands. Japan has a gun-ownership rate of 0.6 guns per 100 people, while the Netherlands’ rate is 3.9.

Those two countries also had two of the lowest death-by-gun rates: 0.06/100,000 for Japan and 0.46/100,000 for the Netherlands.

But neither Japan nor the Netherlands is fighting a “Drug War”; neither nation has policies that have turned their inner cities into shooting galleries, controlled by people who have nothing to lose by resorting to violence to protect their markets, using entry-level employees who grow up in a culture that glorifies violence and ignores consequences. 

Neither Japan nor the Netherlands has a major geographical region dominated by a culture that was practicing duelling and honor-killing and treating violence as a way of life long before there was a United States – a culture whose crime rates are, at worst, on par with the worst of the inner cities

Indeed, both Japan and the Netherlands are extremely homogenous countries; homogenous societies tend to be pretty placid – until they have to flirt with heterodoxy (ask the Koreans and the Ainu in Japan, or the Indonesians in the Netherlands).

Indeed, Perry’s article points – unwittingly – at the truth:

The only country that was a bit of an outlier was South Africa. It had a relatively low gun ownership rate of 12.5/100, but a high (the second-highest, just below the U.S.) gun-related death rate of 9.41/100,000.

And of the countries on the list, South Africa is the only one with a significantly – indeed, pivotally – heterodox society.  One with massive urban dysfunction, to boot. 

Which might lead the rational observer to conclude – or see a correlation, anyway – that guns don’t kill people; societal dysfunction does.

Math Is Hard, And Psychiatry Is Harder:  But let’s look at the “gun death” numbers Perry actually does deign to report – the relative gun murder rates in the US, the Netherlands, Japan and…:

[...the] United Kingdom also ranked low on both lists. It has a gun-ownership rate of 6.2 per 100 people and a gun-death rate of 0.25 per 100,000.

But fully half of the US “gun death rate” is suicides.  And the suicide rate in the US (12/100,000) is half of Japans (21.7/100,000), and equal to the UK’s (11.8), and both the US and UK are 50% higher  than the Dutch, at 8.8/100,000. 

We’re not sure if the “study” concluded that guns and depressed, mentally-ill or chemically-addled people don’t mix, or not.  Perhaps the Joyce Foundation will write a grant to study that?

No?

Is This A Strawman, Or A Begged Question?: Perry’s piece continues:

Their conclusion: “There was no significant correlation between guns per capita per country and crime rate, arguing against the notion of more guns translating into less crime.”

This is the third time in Perry’s piece the “notion” that anyone is comparing national gun rates to crime – at least in nations with working legal and law-enforcement systems, which is what the “study” is limited to. 

And for the record, I’m at a complete loss as to a single credible pro-gun advocate who’s made that claim – between nations.  The variables – societal heterodoxy, cultural conditions, criminal justice issues, different judicial systems – are far too complex to make such a case in an intelligent way. 

But when you start eliminating variables?   By just considering different firearms ownership rates in the US?  It’s not rocket surgery – even I can do it, even though I don’t have to because John Lott et al already did.  At worst, in the United States, places with higher legal gun ownership are very generally safer. 

And that’s just a correlation.  I’m not ascribing causation.

And unlike Susan Perry, I’ll admit that without any obfuscation.

So Let’s Summarize:  Susan Perry’s article reports on a non-comprehensive study whose own authors admit it’s a non-”debunk”-ment, that reached no meaningful conclusion about a premise that nobody advanced. 

Follow The Money:  We mentioned the Joyce Foundation – which bankrolls both the MinnPost and the state’s “largest” gun control group. 

One might ask – is it possible to expect honest “journalism” from a publication that has a financial interest in reporting an organization’s slant on the news? 

I’ll ask – because as Perry’s article notes in its heading, in addition to the Joycers…

This content is made possible by the generous sponsorship support of UCare.

So not only is the MinnPost an organ of an anti-gun extremist group, it’s also on the payroll of…

…the State of Minnesota.

Edward R. Murrow would vomit.

And In Pediatric News

Not sure this news would have helped my kids’ mother twenty-odd years ago – but I’d have enjoyed it.

An economist looks at the studies linking alcohol and coffee to birth problems, and finds less there than meets most OB/GYNs’ eyes:

One big worry about drinking during pregnancy is that it will result in child behavior problems later. One of the best studies of this issue was published in 2010 in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. What makes it a reliable study? The sample group was large (3,000 women), and the researchers collected information about maternal drinking during pregnancy—not afterward. The study also followed the children of these women through the age of 14 and looked at behavior problems starting at age 2.

The other thing I liked about this study was that it was run in Australia, where recommendations on drinking during pregnancy are more lax than in the U.S. Because the rules are more permissive, Australian women who drink occasionally aren’t necessarily the kind of women who go against medical advice; it’s more likely that differences in drinking levels there are just random variation. Drinkers in the study were classified in five groups: no alcohol, occasional drinking (up to one drink a week), light drinking (2-6 drinks a week) and moderate drinking (7-10 drinks a week).

The researchers compared the mothers’ drinking level at 18 weeks of pregnancy with the children’s behavior issues at age 2. They found that 11% of the children whose mothers did not drink during pregnancy had behavior problems—versus 9% of the children of light drinkers and 11% of the children of moderate drinkers. (Nearly 14% of 2-year-olds whose mothers occasionally drank had behavior problems, but the difference is small and, statistically, could have occurred by chance.) The results were very similar for older kids.

There is much, much more.  Read it, and tell a pregnant friend…

…and even if you don’t have one of those, there’s a lot in there about how to read scientific studies.

Diane Sawyer, Rocket Scientist

I remember my first day of college biology class.  My professor, Doctor Claflin, said something about the scientific method that I shall never forget.  When publishing results from your experiments and your research, he said to always be respectful of the inquisitive nature of the scientific method.

He used to say of this process…:

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data, ability to repeat discredited memes, and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Also, be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor even implied. Any irrelevancies you can mention will also be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

And it was from that that I learned my respect for the rigorous inquiry of the Scentific Method.

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It’s Time For A Serious Conversation

I used to play in a band with a guy, a keyboard player.  He was a bit of a prodigy; he’d been sent off from North Dakota to the Berklee College of Music in Boston; he was one of the most amazing keyboard players you’ve ever seen.

Of course, like a lot of prodigious talents, he had some issues.  He was bipolar.  The illness left him unable to function at Berklee, so it was back to North Dakota.  Psychiatrists put him on lithium – which enabled him to function.  To thrive, really – when he was on his meds and everything was well-tempered, he would practice, perform, put on recitals that’d stun the locals, play in bands, hold a job, function in society.

Then he’d feel he could function without the meds. He’d go off ‘em…

…and, inside of a few weeks, wind up in the papers for having driven to Fargo and remodeled the inside of a Catholic church with a sledgehammer.  Followed by another bout of treatment, and then another course of lithium.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

He functioned about 95% of the time.  About 5%, he was incapacitated.  Was he a success story, or a failure?

———-

Psychotropic medication has been a boon to many people.  They’ve helped pull back the gray fog on the lives of millions who suffer from depression.  They allow many with serious mental illnesses to function, and often thrive.

But as my keyboard-playing friend showed, there’s a downside; when the medication doesn’t work, or when the doses get changed, or abruptly stopped?  Bad things can happen.

As at least one Catholic church in Fargo discovered back in the early eighties.

And sometimes, much, much worse.

The site “SSRI Stories” – it stands for “Seratonin-Specific Re-Uptake Inhibitor”, a class of anti-depressants that includes Zoloft, Paxil and Wellbutrin among many others – catalogs crimes and other violent and bizarre incidents that have some link to psychotropic meds.   The stories on the site are open to some discussion – and there is discussion – and correlation doesn’t equal causation.  But the site chronicles a hell of a lot of correlation.

The list of school shootings alone is below the jump.  The incident at the Red Lake Reservation school seven years ago is on the list.  There’s much, much more there.

Speaking of correlations that don’t necessarily equal causation – is it any wonder the Psychiatric community is so hell-bent on calling gun crime a “public health issue?”  It’d sure be more convenient than addressing their own stake in violent crime, especially spree shootings, wouldn’t it?

 

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Intellectual Snake Oil

Illuminating: See Andrew Ferguson’s The New Phrenology, in the Weekly Standard. It digs through the history (long), motivations (predictable) and methodology (laughable) of the constant dribble of “social science” that claims liberals are genetically/chemically/socially wired to be good-hearted, open-minded, whole human beings, while conservatives are clenched little demi-humans:

It is a principle of psychopunditry that the political differences between right and left—the differences, in Mooney’s scheme, between those who would fearfully deny reality and those who embrace it unafraid—originate in two personality types. As it happens, the liberal personality, as psychopunditry describes it, is a perfect representation of those traits that liberals say they most admire. Liberals are “more open, flexible, curious, nuanced.” Conservatives are “more closed, fixed, and certain in their views.” But don’t get the wrong idea: Mooney insists he is not saying “conservatives are somehow worse people than liberals.” That would be judgmental, and Science is clear: Liberals aren’t judgmental. “The groups are just different,” he goes on amiably. Indeed, he warns that the truths he reveals in his book “will discomfort both sides.” Fairness requires him to be evenhanded. On the one hand, conservatives won’t like the scientific fact that they tend to deny reality and treat their errors as dogma. On the other hand, liberals won’t like the scientific fact that all their well-meaning attempts to reason with conservatives are doomed.

Depressing:  Googling the list of psychopundits and setting how many leftybloggers take the word of the likes of Theodor Adorno seriously.  Or how many NYTimes columnists – Thomas Edsall in this case – cite the infamous ““Power, Distress, and Compassion: Turning a Blind Eye to the Suffering of Others” study as actual hard science.  Or the number of leftybloggers that think Chris Mooney is an actual scientist:

A young psychopundit called Chris Mooney has just published a book entitled The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality, which seeks to explain the Republican “assault on reality.” He is a very earnest fellow, and an ambitious one. He glances over an array of conservative political beliefs and sets himself a goal: “to understand how these false claims (and rationalizations) could exist and persist in human minds.”

His list of false claims is instructive. Along with the usual hillbilly denials of evolution and global warming, they include these, to grab a quick sample: that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009 will increase the deficit, cut Medicare benefits, and lead to the death panels that Sarah Palin hypothesized; that tax cuts increase revenue and that the president’s stimulus didn’t create jobs; that Congress banned incandescent light bulbs; and that the United States was founded as a “Christian nation.”

The list of errors is instructive because they aren’t properly considered errors, though the misattribution is in keeping with the modern ideologue’s custom of pretending that differences of opinion or interpretation are contests between truth and falsehood. It’s perfectly reasonable for conservatives to assume that offering health insurance to 43 million people will cost a lot of money, and thereby increase the deficit; and it’s perfectly reasonable to distrust notoriously mistaken budget forecasters who say it won’t. The act redirects vast sums away from Medicare, which should require cuts in service. Palin’s “death panel” was a bumper-sticker summary of a rational expectation—that the act will transfer the unavoidable rationing of health care from insurance companies, where most of it rests now, to the government, which will be forced to bureaucratically reshuffle the vast sums spent on end-of-life care. Mooney is right that Congress did not ban the incandescent light bulbs that most of us are used to; but it did ban their manufacture—a distinction without a difference. As for the Christian nation: The country was founded by Christians who nevertheless resolutely declined to create a Christian government. Mooney’s conflation of the American government with the American nation is an error that conservatives are less likely to make. Studies show.

It is a principle of psychopunditry that the political differences between right and left—the differences, in Mooney’s scheme, between those who would fearfully deny reality and those who embrace it unafraid—originate in two personality types.

Someone needs to do a “study” on why liberals are so insecure that they need to constantly puff up their own sense of intellectual entitlement with hack “science”.

Of Interest To Ocean-Front Property Owners On Grand Avenue

Joe Doakes of Como Park writes:

Mayor Chris Coleman once said in his State of the City Address that the greatest threat facing St. Paul was global warming; hence, the need to build refrigerated outdoor ice rinks.

Here’s an interview with an actual scientist talking, not a politician. It shows.

Joe Doakes

Como Park

Joe hasn’t gotten the memo; Libs only care about “science” that ridicules the GOP.

Manbearpig

More of that universal consensus on global warming in action:

Based on readings from more than 30,000 measuring stations, the data was issued last week without fanfare by…

By whom?

What bunch of tea bagging wing nuts released this bit of heresy?

…the [UK] Met[eorology] Office and the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit. It confirms that the rising trend in world temperatures ended in 1997.

Meanwhile, leading climate scientists yesterday told The Mail on Sunday that, after emitting unusually high levels of energy throughout the 20th Century, the sun is now heading towards a ‘grand minimum’ in its output, threatening cold summers, bitter winters and a shortening of the season available for growing food.

It might be lonely at those “Nuremberg Trials for Denialists”.

Lonely and cold.

In Science News

Researchers at Tufts have a single molecule that acts as an electric motor - a tiny little armature and pivot:

The motor, made from a single molecule just a billionth of a metre across, is reported in Nature Nanotechnology…The butyl methyl sulphide molecule was placed on a clean copper surface, where its single sulphur atom acted as a pivot.

Its primary applications so far are a) driving the next generation of “Smart Car”, and b) powering the printer in Tom Bakk’s office.

Your “Science” Dollar At Work

NASA “scientists” have skipped past holding “Nuremberg Trials” for “denialists”, have gone directly to invoking Krugman’s alien attack:.

It may not rank as the most compelling reason to curb greenhouse gases, but reducing our emissions might just save humanity from a pre-emptive alien attack, scientists claim.

Watching from afar, extraterrestrial beings might view changes in Earth’s atmosphere as symptomatic of a civilisation growing out of control – and take drastic action to keep us from becoming a more serious threat, the researchers explain.

No, you read that right. NASA.  Not Art Bell.

Isn’t that how your smug atheists describe religion?  ”Do what we tell you or some extra-terrestrial pseudo-mystical being will smite you?”

Just saying.

The New Tone

Ozzie envirofascist calls for tattoing “deniers”:

Surely it’s time for climate-change deniers to have their opinions forcibly tattooed on their bodies.

Not necessarily on the forehead; I’m a reasonable man. Just something along their arm or across their chest so their grandchildren could say, ”Really? You were one of the ones who tried to stop the world doing something? And why exactly was that, granddad?”

But he has a conscience:

On second thoughts, maybe the tattooing along the arm is a bit Nazi-creepy.

Did I say “conscience”?  I meant “rudimentary PR savvy”.

Oh, Great

The Good New: We will probably eventually win the war on terrorism, one way or the other.

The Bad News:  Our biggest opponent may be yet to come; scientists are learning more about the ingenuity of the Fire Ant:

Ants have exoskeletons that are naturally hydrophobic, or water repellant. A single ant can walk on water because of the buoyancy of the air bubbles trapped next to its body, and the water’s own surface tension. However, when thousands of ants stand on top of each other, their multiplied weight should cause them to sink. But for years, biologists have observed fire ant colonies floating down flood plains and rivers in their native South America.

For the first time, a group of engineers has attacked the question of ant flotation from a physics perspective. Ants float as a group because they can harness the power of nearby air bubbles. Grasping each other’s mandibles or front legs with a force 400 times their body weight, the ants are able to trap small pockets of air between them — like a group floatation device.

“The ants are so tightly knit together, that air pockets form between the water and the ants, and water cannot penetrate through any part,” said Nathan Mlot, a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and one of the study’s authors.

“Ants are like little computers, acting on a few simple rules of engagement,” said Mlot.

Today, floating.

Tomorrow – hijacking planes?

Neuropathological

Politics may not be rocket science, but apparently it is brain surgery.

Understanding the genesis of political orientation has long been a subject of biological interest, with every few years a new study suggesting our ideological differences aren’t skin-deep, they’re sub-atomic. 

Add to the list the findings of the University College London, which takes the theory of different liberal and conservative genes to another level.  Liberals and conservatives have always thought the other had their brains wired differently and, according to the University, physically speaking they’re right.

But the University’s study is also a case example in the sideshow of the politicization of science – namely, “proving” that conservatives are mentally (or genetically) deficient:

Using data from MRI scans, researchers at the University College London found that self-described liberals have a larger anterior cingulate cortex–a gray matter of the brain associated with understanding complexity. Meanwhile, self-described conservatives are more likely to have a larger amygdala, an almond-shaped area that is associated with fear and anxiety.

Using every inch of my larger amygdala, it’s hard not to notice how many of these studies inevitably lead to a conclusion that liberal physiological differences are viewed as genetically preferable – if not superior.  A similar outlook could be found just this last year with the ballyhooed discovery of a so-called “liberal gene”:

As a consequence, people with this genetic predisposition who have a greater-than-average number of friends would be exposed to a wider variety of social norms and lifestyles, which might make them more liberal than average. They reported that “it is the crucial interaction of two factors — the genetic predisposition and the environmental condition of having many friends in adolescence — that is associated with being more liberal.”

Outgoing, popular kids equals well-balanced, politically liberal adults?  Conservatives are creepy, adolescent shut-ins?  Curse my shriveled anterior cingulate cortex for reading anything into that study.

Of course, not all scientists are inferring that our political and genetic differences are so stark as to invite a Cro-Magnon/Neanderthal comparison.  In fact, some recongize the potential for political bias in such a report and actively work to tap down any broad-based partisan conclusions…including the actual authors of the study:

While the London study does find distinct differences between Democrats and Republicans, its authors caution that more research needs to be done on the subject. One unknown is whether people are simply born with their political beliefs or if our brains adjust to life experiences–which is a possibility, Kanai writes.

“It’s very unlikely that actual political orientation is directly encoded in these brain regions,” he said in a statement accompanying the study. “More work is needed to determine how these brain structures mediate the formation of political attitude.”

Talk about burying the lead.  And I thought we were just told that larger anterior cingulate cortexs led to understanding complex subjects better. 

Truthfully, we want our differences to be genetic for they absolve us of needing to convince others.  And seeking to find that absolution – that genesis of political thought – in the genius of others brings to mind the words of the discoverer of the double helix, J.D. Watson

One could not be a successful scientist without realizing that, in contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid.”

Concurrent Reactions

The ongoing disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant shows the perils of following the left’s policy on nuclear power.

The debris from the first hydrogen blast had barely settled when DFL-affiliated bloggers and tweeps started chanting “yeah, good job trying to lift Minnesota’s nuke moratorium!  Haha!  You are teh stupid!”.

We’ll come back to the DFL’s dim-witted politicization in a moment.

The headlines paint a dire (and direly confused) picture of the situation at the Fukushima plant, it’d seem nuke opponents have a point. Things sound bad.

But let’s make sure we’re clear on the facts: the Fukushima plant, like all Japanese plants, were designed to withstand ground motion equal to twice that occurring in a 1000-year quake – which in that part of Honshu is in the low 8-point Richter range (it’s not a perfect measurement scale, since Richter measures energy release, not ground motion).  The Japanese earthquake was 9 points on the Richter scale – 5-10 times as intense. And yet by all indications so far, the containment vessels – the steel, lead and concrete capsule that contains the actual reactor cores – are holding up.  It was the release of the intensely interactive fuel from the core – many thousands of times more intense than the fairly limited hydrogen and steam-borne radiation we’ve seen from Fukushima – that made Chernobyl the disaster it was.  Bear in mind, Chernobyl had no containment vessel.  The reactor cooling at Fukushima, of course, seems not to have been up to the damage it suffered in the earthquake and tsunami – or, more directly, to the complete loss of the power grid and backup diesel generators to run the cooling systems.

“Is it wise to build nuclear power plants in areas prone to very serious earthquakes and tsunamis” is a very, very valid question.  It is a fact that engineering can make almost anything withstand almost any disaster imaginable – but the costs escalate drastically, as well.  Power utilities can no more afford to buy plants that can survive every possible disaster than you can afford to buy a car that will protect you from every possible highway accident.  Perhaps building nuke plants in active high-risk quake zones, or low-lying coastal areas, isn’t so smart.

You’ll note, by the way, that Minnesota is prone to neither earthquakes nor tsunamis.

Now, according to the latest reports from Japan, the biggest radiation danger is coming from a fire in a building that contains spent nuclear fuel – uranium that no longer can support a nuclear reaction, but is still radioactive.  It’s being kept, basically, in a swimming pool – because water is an incredibly effective radiation shield…

…unless it boils away due to a fire in the building, which seems to be what may be happening.

Now, the people at Fukushima are dealing with conditions that are unimaginably difficult – even finding food to eat in that area is difficult, without having to deal with a damaged nuke plant and all the things that can go wrong.

But the best way to prevent nuclear waste from getting caught up in a building fire is to get it out of the building, and put it someplace where a fire is both impossible and irrelevant.  Say, miles underground.

Which has been proposed in the United State for over twenty years; the Yucca Flats waste storage facility would have made  disasters like the potential blazing waste plume at Fukushima impossible.  But the American left – the “environmental”  movement, in this case – scuppered that idea.  Partly because of the danger of transporting waste by rail (real, but manageable); partly because of danger to future generations thousands of years from now if the signage, for example, got obscured.

Which leaves us with fifty-odd nuclear waste sites more or less like the one at Fukushima today – including two in Minnesota – vulnerable, in extreme circumstances, to the same kind of disaster.

Thanks, Democrats.

But the issue of waste disposal can’t be laid at the feet of the DFL alone; it’s a national issue.

What we can lay at their feet is the economy-crippling shortsightedness of cutting off Minnesota’s energy-production nose because of an accident that could not be replicated in Minnesota, or for that matter most of the US; with a 45-year-old reactor design, arguably built in an inadvisable place, with backup power that couldn’t withstand twin disasters that are exceedingly rare to nonexistant away from the American west coast.

Especially given that advances in nuclear technology promise to make proposed nuke plants meltdown-proof by replacing mechanical and human safeguards -which are fallible – with the laws of physics.