Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The American Right And The Denial Of Science

I had FOX News on in the background while I was putting my house in order earlier today when I heard an anchor trying to make the point that global warming doesn't exist because of the record snow falls we're having in the American Northeast right now, and to make his point he had set a copy of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth outside in Baltimore and was following the progress of the storm by how buried the book became over an hour long broadcast. You can imagine how surprised I was to learn that a scientific theory can be so easily refuted by simply showing that a literal interpretation of its name isn't what's happening on any one spot on the planet at any one time. This got me thinking: what other scientific theories could I refute with such methods?

Well, it turns out that pretty much anything can be disproved in this manner. It seems that atoms don't actually exist because I looked at some ancient Greek scrolls and all I could see was some old crinkly paper; Democritus was obviously a lying shill tucked securely in the back pocket of Big Indivisibility. Next I proved that gravity doesn't exist by tying a bunch of helium balloons to a copy of Newton's PhilosophiƦ Naturalis Principia Mathematica and watched as it slowly floated away; indisputable, in that there was nobody else there to dispute my conclusions. And to prove that the theory of evolution never happened I meticulously thumbed through all of my family photo albums. Not only did I not come across any monkeys but I didn't even see any "transitional" relatives, and just to make sure that the theory had been thoroughly debunked I had a monkey take a crap on a copy of Darwin's On the Origin of Species; checkmate, all of you well-educated scientific experts and elitists!

This is the mindset that is inevitably produced when a society, and especially one major political party, treats education and knowledge as if they were some kind of con or scam whilst simultaneously holding up ignorance and superstition as badges of pride. I know that it's antithetical to the philosophy of a democracy in a republic and that I probably gain few friends by saying this but I still think that everyone should have to pass a test of minimal knowledge and intelligence to be able to vote in this country's elections. Our future advancements in science and education should not be subjected to the whims of philistinism and incuriousness. If believing this makes me an elitist, then it's a label that I'll wear proudly.

[Update: The Democratic Strategist apparently agrees with me:

The problem is that more severe winter weather tends to confirm rather than contradict climate change theory. Warmer overall temperatures produce moisture, which in winter tends to produce snow. Climate scientists have long predicted more turbulent winter weather as a result of climate change. And by the way, last month was the world's warmest January on record.

This won't keep conservatives from taking cheap shots at anyone who wants to deal with climate change, but it's worth knowing that this particular attack line is particularly cynical and wrong-minded.
The show that followed the anchor I mentioned previously was Glenn Beck's. It featured him making incredulous faces and loudly scoffing as he watched a video of an MSNBC anchor reading the first of the two paragraphs quoted above. Then rather than dispute these statements he instead proceeded to draw a thermometer circling back on itself on his chalkboard as if it were a mercury-filled Ouroboros. This is how one of the Right's leading voices claims to debate and understand basic science. Again, all I ask is for minimal knowledge and intelligence from our voting base; I don't think that's such a high bar to set for ourselves as a society.



Leslie Parsley said...

Should have figured you were talking about Beck in the first graph but then it could have been any one of those illiterates.

JBW said...

Actually Leslie, Beck followed the first anchor. I can't recall his name, he was filling in for Cavuto. Regardless of who sings it though, the song remains the same.

magpie said...

People like Beck (but not Beck himself) could change their collective tune in time. A lot of the American Right tacitly accepts that there is something going on but insists it's not down to man-made factors. When the effects of climate change hit farmers in America I wonder which way things will go? There might be pressure for protectionism and tariffs which both sides will scramble to defuse or absorb. That will have far reaching impacts abroad.

What will happen politically when coastlines are inundated?

From our perspective, if the sea level rises 100 centimeters over the next 30-60 years, 700,000 properties in Australia will vanish.
At the same time the lack of fresh water could mean, in one scenario presented by a scientist called Tim Flannery, the abandonment of an entire city (Perth in Western Australia), because it will simply be uninhabitable. I personally doubt that though.

Our ecology has hair-trigger sensitivities and we're still a highly agrarian and livestock based economy. Our equivalent of the Right-wing of the Republican party is a party of itself, and mostly represents farmers. They are feeling the effects of climate change already. So you have tension between that group and the center-right party they are in coalition with. It's still somewhat muted because the centrists are by far the more powerful politically because of where people live.

Similarly when the constituents of the Right in America come under direct impact, things could change. Unfortunately they'll want to keep their other agenda so they will somehow find a way to make minorities and poor people the scapegoats.
"Mexicans pollute too much"
"Cut taxes for the rich so they can invest more in carbon-neutral enterprises"

JBW said...

I also doubt that the most dire global climate change predictions will come to pass magpie, but I also doubt that the right in this country will ever willingly acknowledge the science behind it unless that party undergoes a drastic turn around in its ideology.

Thanks also for the comparisons to your homeland's own political climate. One of my favorite things about this blog is hearing your updates on Aussie politics and culture. I say it all the time but I truly do envy you living there sometimes. Gracias, mate.

magpie said...

Thanks for saying that JBW.
Make yourself welcome over at The Quiet Magpie, I've been endeavoring to devote more time to it.