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“Walker Latest To Fall Into London Quicksand”: The British Just Don’t Know What To Make Of GOP Extremism In The 21st century

Eventually, Republicans are really going to have to stop going to London.

When Mitt Romney went to the British capital, it was a disaster. When Bobby Jindal went to London, he became a laughingstock. When Chris Christie crossed the pond, he managed to stumble on vaccinations, of all things.

And so, when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) arrived in London yesterday, there was a lingering fear: how exactly would he manage to screw this up? Now we know.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Wednesday dodged a question about whether he believes in evolution. Speaking at the Chatham House foreign policy think tank London, Walker was asked: “Are you comfortable with the idea of evolution? Do you believe in it?”

“For me, I am going to punt on that one as well,” he said. “That’s a question politicians shouldn’t be involved in one way or another. I am going to leave that up to you.

If you watch the video of the exchange, note that the interviewer prefaces the question by saying the issue is of particular interest when posed to “senior Republicans when they come to London.” The subtle – or perhaps not so subtle – implication is that the British just don’t know what to make of GOP extremism in the 21st century.

Indeed, after Walker refused to answer the question about whether he’s comfortable with modern biology, the interviewer, clearly taken aback by the governor’s reticence, responded with genuine incredulity. “Really?” he said when Walker “punted” on the issue. The interviewer quickly added, “Any British politician, right- or left-wing, would laugh [at the question] and say, ‘Of course evolution’s true.’”

As well they should.

And while I can appreciate the British curiosity about American Republicans, it’s worth emphasizing that the UK simply doesn’t have a major political party as far to the right as today’s Republican Party. It’s no wonder they marvel at the oddity of the GOP’s extremism.

Closer to home, let’s not overlook the fact that the recent Republican track record on scientific issues has been quite woeful of late. Just over the last few months, we’ve seen prominent GOP officials balk at climate science, contraception, vaccinations, post-bathroom hand-washing, and now evolutionary biology.

I shudder to think what the party will come up with next, though if gravity becomes a partisan political issue, all bets are off.

Postscript: I’d just add that Walker’s response to today’s question is obviously unsustainable. If he and his staff aren’t working on a real answer for American journalists who’ll soon press the governor for a batter response, they should be.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 11, 2015

February 12, 2015 Posted by | Evolution, Science, Scott Walker | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“That ‘My Private Choice’ Thing”: What Kind Of Parent Wants To Protect Their Kid From Vaccines But Not Disney?

I went to Disneyland once. I didn’t like it. I like it even less now that 70 people, including five employees, have been infected in their measles outbreak.

I didn’t like Disneyland because I don’t like rides, but also because I don’t like fantasy of any kind – especially the fantasy that a bunch of adults waving and sweating under 800 pound carcinogenic masks only to go home with barely enough money to buy the gas it took them to get to work and maybe three gallons of Sunny Delight counts as a “magic kingdom”.

But I really don’t like the fantasy in which vaccinating your children is a private choice that you get to make for yourself and your family.

Here’s the big news flash for people who don’t vaccinate their kids: you don’t live on an island in the middle of the woods in the middle of whatever century Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in which, if you wanted pork chops, you had to fatten the hog first. Having a cartoon drawing of your family on the back window of your Honda Element doesn’t make you and them the only people in the world. Look around you. Those things with the heads and the arms and the legs are other human beings.

Some of the people around you have legitimate reasons for not being vaccinated – like they have HIV, or they recently had chemo, or they’re just old. And some of them have been vaccinated and may get sick anyway. (I hesitate to mention that because you’ll probably pretend that’s “proof” that vaccines don’t work, and they do work. The whole “vaccines working” thing is proven by the fact that in in 1953, the year the polio vaccine was developed, 35,000 Americans got polio. By 1961, there were only 161 polio cases. Saying vaccines don’t work is like dropping a casserole on the kitchen floor and throwing up your hands and saying “See, cooking doesn’t work!”.)

Also: you see those tiny little things that some of those people are carrying around? Those are what we call Other People’s Infants. (I know you know what Your Infant looks like because you have a picture of it on the same phone you use to read stupid crap written by absolute morons like Jennie McCarthy and Melanie Phillips while taking up a space in the Whole Foods parking lot.) Anyway, infants also can’t get vaccinated. This means that, if your children aren’t vaccinated, they could infect an infant (not your infant though, of course! Your infant is safe in your phone!) and it could die, and it would be your fault.

I have said this many times to people – “an infant could die, and it would be your fault” – and they look at me like I just told them it’s raining. And then they go back to the “my private choice” thing, and I am left chilled to the bone with the knowledge that whatever kind of anti-vaxxer freak they are – whether they’re the hippie “I think bone broth cures everything” kind or the urban “I’m so hypereducated that I’ve lost touch with reality” kind – they really just don’t care that their actions might hurt other people.

The thing that I don’t get about this whole Disneyland thing is this: who even are these people? In order to not vaccinate, you have to be someone who fundamentally distrusts The System, who thinks that the Government and the Scientists and Big Ag are all in collusion with Big Vaccine to plunder your children’s well-being. You’d think these parents would be kind of worried about a huge, terrifying company that mostly traffics in antiquated gender roles and the plastic that gets wrapped around them. I just don’t understand how there exists a person who says to herself, “My child’s blood is going to be as pure as the driven snow to the detriment of basic public health standards and all that modernity holds dear”, and a minute later is like, “Let’s go all the way with this Frozen thing and let’s go to the Mothership to do it”. If you’re going to be an iconoclast, at least make it make sense. It’s bad enough to put the public health at risk; now you also have to hurt everyone’s brain while we try to figure out what kind of crazy you are?

No matter how many times you sing “Let It Go” alone in the car, it won’t change the fact that being anti-vaccine is sad and fundamentally violent. Yes, violent: it’s one group of people causing physical harm to others. If you’re that antisocial, that divorced from reality, and that incapable of understanding that there are other humans in the world, just stay home. The lines are shorter, and it’s a lot safer for the rest of us.

 

By: Sarah Miller, The Guardian, January 23, 2015

January 25, 2015 Posted by | Public Health, Science, Vaccines | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Doing What They Do Best”: House Republicans Just Passed A Bill Forbidding Scientists From Advising The EPA On Their Own Research

Congressional climate wars were dominated Tuesday by the U.S. Senate, which spent the day debating, and ultimately failing to pass, a bill approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. While all that was happening, and largely unnoticed, the House was busy doing what it does best: attacking science.

H.R. 1422, which passed 229-191, would shake up the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, placing restrictions on those pesky scientists and creating room for experts with overt financial ties to the industries affected by EPA regulations.

The bill is being framed as a play for transparency: Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, argued that the board’s current structure is problematic because it  “excludes industry experts, but not officials for environmental advocacy groups.” The inclusion of industry experts, he said, would right this injustice.

But the White House, which threatened to veto the bill, said it would “negatively affect the appointment of experts and would weaken the scientific independence and integrity of the SAB.”

In what might be the most ridiculous aspect of the whole thing, the bill forbids scientific experts from participating in “advisory activities” that either directly or indirectly involve their own work. In case that wasn’t clear: experts would be forbidden from sharing their expertise in their own research — the bizarre assumption, apparently, being that having conducted peer-reviewed studies on a topic would constitute a conflict of interest. “In other words,” wrote Union of Concerned Scientists director Andrew A. Rosenberg in an editorial for RollCall, “academic scientists who know the most about a subject can’t weigh in, but experts paid by corporations who want to block regulations can.”

Speaking on the House floor Tuesday, Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., summed up what was going on: “I get it, you don’t like science,” he told bill sponsor Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah. “And you don’t like science that interferes with the interests of your corporate clients. But we need science to protect public health and the environment.”

The House, alas, is staying the course, voting this week on two other bills aimed at impeding the EPA, including one that prevents the agency from relying on what it calls “secret science” in crafting its regulations — but which in reality, opponents argue, would effectively block the EPA from adopting any new rules to protect public health. The trio, wrote Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, in an editorial for the Hill, represents “the culmination of one of the most anti-science and anti-health campaigns I’ve witnessed in my 22 years as a member of Congress.”

The White House has threatened to veto all three.

 

By: Lindsay Abrams, Salon, November 19, 2014

November 22, 2014 Posted by | Environmental Protection Agency, Republicans, Science | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bragging About Their Ignorance”: “I’m Not A Scientist” Is A Dangerous Cop-Out

The evidence for global climate change is overwhelming. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists, along with the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and more than 30 professional scientific research societies, agree that climate change is happening because of human actions and that it will be an increasingly serious problem if we don’t stop it. It is reasonable for politicians to debate the best way to solve this problem, but whether it is a problem should not be up for discussion anymore. However, in response to questions about climate change, political candidates, including high-profile politicians such as Senate Minority (for now) Leader Mitch McConnell, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio are frequently saying: “I’m not a scientist.”

When politicians say “I’m not a scientist,” it is an exasperating evasion. It’s a cowardly way to avoid answering basic and important policy questions. This response raises lots of other important questions about their decision-making processes. Do they have opinions on how to best maintain our nation’s highways, bridges, and tunnels—or do they not because they’re not civil engineers? Do they refuse to talk about agriculture policy on the grounds that they’re not farmers? How do they think we should be addressing the threat of ISIS? They wouldn’t know, of course; they’re not military generals.

No one would ever say these things, because they’re ridiculous. Being a policymaker in a country as large and complex as the United States requires making decisions on a variety of important subjects outside of your primary area of expertise. Voters wouldn’t tolerate this “I’m not a scientist” excuse if applied to any other discipline, yet politicians appear to be using this line successfully to distance themselves from experts crucial for solving many of our country’s most important problems.

American populist rhetoric has always had a dark side of anti-intellectualism, the belief that the common sense of the average man on the street is equal to or greater than the expert knowledge of people who spend years studying a particular question, and that has been on full display in recent years. Who can understand what those weird, other-worldly scientists are talking about, anyway? Somebody needs to “stand up to the experts.” Despite what any politician says, the overwhelming evidence supports the scientific consensus that climate change is happening because of human activity and that we should take action to stop it because it will be a significant threat—a position the U.S. military agrees with.

I actually am a scientist (a marine biologist), but you don’t need to be an expert on anything to pay attention when 97 percent of people who are experts in that subject agree that something is a problem and that we should do something about it. You don’t need to be a fully trained expert in the sciences to make decisions that involve science (which is good, because less than 4 percent of the representatives in Congress have any kind of scientific training, even broadly defined).

“ ‘I’m not a scientist’ is a cheap cop-out that is becoming all too common, not just on climate change but on issues like fracking and evolution, too. Politicians of both major political parties are trotting out the ‘I’m not a scientist’ remark to avoid stating where they stand on policy,” says Michael Halpern, the manager of strategy and innovation for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Lamar Smith (R-Texas), is also not a scientist, but that’s not stopping him from attacking National Science Foundation–funded scientific research. Smith has been publicly mocking grants to study topics that he doesn’t personally see the value in studying, proposing laws that would change peer review at the NSF to value studies with purported economic benefits, and attacking NSF officials in congressional hearings. Smith seems to be trying to look tough on government spending, and appealing to anti-intellectualism is an easy strategy. However, the total budget of the NSF is less than a quarter of 1 percent of the federal budget, and only the top 5 percent of proposals are funded. All research proposals submitted to NSF go through a rigorous system of peer review with experts in the field anonymously evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each, often with suggestions for how to improve the research in the future. Peer review is a critical part of free scientific inquiry, and the fact that an anti-intellectual politician doesn’t personally see the value in a particular study should be irrelevant to whether that study is funded.

The ranking Democrat on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee says she is baffled by Smith’s public attacks on the peer review process. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson has correctly pointed out that there is no evidence whatsoever of waste or fraud associated with the NSF grants that Smith is investigating, that Smith seems to be targeting NSF-funded projects that he thinks sound silly based on his limited understanding of their purposes, and that such unprecedented attacks from a high-ranking government official can have a chilling effect on the free scientific inquiry that has helped make the United States an economic powerhouse.

You don’t need to be a scientist to recognize that climate change is a problem, but you do need to be a scientist to appropriately participate in peer review. Politicians who get this backward, as well as those who disrupt the process of scientific research or willfully ignore the conclusions of that research, should be voted out of power.

 

By: David Shiffman, Ph.D. Student at The Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy at the University of Miami; Slate, October 22, 2014

October 27, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Politics, Science | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Vast Conspiracy Of Silence Against God”: Conservatives Confuse Science For Religion, And Vice Versa

Recently a friend posted a video on Facebook that he asserted would demolish the Godless theory of evolution. On it, a fellow sitting in a pickup and wearing a backward baseball cap smugly explained that Darwinian evolution contradicts the Second Law of Thermodynamics, a fundamental principle of physics.

This hoary chestnut has long been a favorite of creationist apologetics — appearing to use scientific evidence to support a theological conclusion. Never mind that the fellow’s science was as backward as his baseball cap. The Second Law states almost the opposite of his description. Indeed, if it said what creationists claim, not only evolution but life itself would be impossible.

But what struck me as equally significant was the implied attitude toward scientists. Because if what the fellow claimed was even halfway right, it could only mean that every physics professor in every university in the world was part of a vast conspiracy of silence against God.

And why would they do that? I suppose for the same reason that climate scientists worldwide all but unanimously warn that increased levels of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere are contributing to a potentially catastrophic warming of the planet.

No less an authority than Sarah Palin once characterized them as employing “doomsday scare tactics pushed by an environmental priesthood that capitalizes on the public’s worry and makes them feel that owning an SUV is a ‘sin’ against the planet.”

The ex-governor’s use of religious metaphor is no accident. To millions of Americans calling themselves “conservatives,” at least for partisan purposes, science is religion, and religion science. Hardly anybody acts on this stuff in real life. People don’t quiz their veterinarian about Darwin.

However, when it comes to climate science, people who wouldn’t dream of diagnosing the family cat feel comfortable hearing the entire worldwide scientific community described as engaged in a gigantic hoax. Supposedly for the sake of one-world government or some similar absurdity.

Clearly, such people simply don’t know what scientific inquiry consists of, how hypotheses are tested, theories arrived at, and consensus achieved — all the things about science that make large scale conspiracies impossible.

Individual scientists are certainly as prone to temptation as anybody else. However, a single instance of serious fraud — misrepresenting experiments, faking data — is fatal to a career. The higher the profile, the more dramatic the fall.

So what happens when ideologically motivated pundits single out scientists for abuse? We may be about to learn from the lawsuit filed by renowned climatologist Michael Mann against the National Review. Do defamation laws protect even famous scientists from politically motivated smears against their professional integrity and private character?

Is calling an internationally known scientist “intellectually bogus,” a “fraud” and “the Jerry Sandusky of climate science,” as National Review blogger Mark Steyn did, a First Amendment-protected opinion? Or is it libelous, a provably false allegation published with reckless disregard for the truth and the malicious purpose of harming Mann’s reputation?

“[I]nstead of molesting children,” Steyn’s post explained, Mann “has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science.” Does it need to be added that National Review provided no evidence of same? Mann asked for a retraction and apology. Receiving none, he sued.

The director of Penn State’s climatology program — hence the Sandusky reference — Mann drew the ire of climate change deniers as the inventor of the “hockey stick graph.” First published in Nature, it combined so-called “proxy records” — tree ring studies, ice core and corals — of temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere over the past 1,000 years with contemporary thermometer records.

It showed the climate trending irregularly cooler until the Industrial Revolution, when temperatures trended sharply upward — the blade of the metaphorical hockey stick. Since then, numerous studies based on different data have drawn the same conclusion: Earth’s climate is warming rapidly, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Mann’s misfortune, however, was getting caught up in the largely phony “Climategate” controversy. Admiring emails referencing “Mike’s trick” of sophisticated statistical analysis were made to appear sinister. Eight investigations by everybody from Penn State’s science faculty to the British parliament have vindicated Mann’s work in every respect.

However, Mann’s not a shy fellow. His book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, constitutes not only a lucid explanation of his own work, but a vigorous defense of climate science against industry-funded denialists. In a recent pleading filed in the D.C. Court of Appeals, National Review argues that this makes him a public figure and fair game for abuse.

In a separate article editor Rich Lowry alibied that the offending post was merely “a loose and colorful expression of opinion that did not allege any specific act of fraud in the literal sense.”

In short, accusing a respected scientist of faking data and comparing him to a child molester was just a colorful way of saying they disagree with his conclusions.

Welcome to Washington, professor.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, August 13, 2014

August 15, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Conservatives, Religion, Science | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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