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“Wallowing In Ignorance”: Epistemic Closure Comes Back To Haunt The GOP

Five years ago Julian Sanchez did us the favor of defining a pattern among conservatives that he called “epistemic closure.”

One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!) This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile…If disagreement is not in itself evidence of malign intent or moral degeneracy, people start feeling an obligation to engage it sincerely…And there is nothing more potentially fatal to the momentum of an insurgency fueled by anger than a conversation.

The entire basis for the existence of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News is the belief that the “mainstream media” cannot be trusted to tell the truth because they are all “liberals.” This fed something that we as human beings already tend to do anyway – reject information that doesn’t conform to our already-established beliefs. It feels good to not have to grapple with the cognitive dissonance that comes with consideration of conflicting facts. But the end result is that it kills curiosity and we wallow in ignorance.

The disastrous results of epistemic closure for conservatives have been on display for some time now. It explains how they continue to deny the science of climate change, assume that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is “cooking the books” on unemployment data and led to a whole movement during the 2012 election to unskew the polls. But for everyone from Murdoch to GOP leaders, it worked to keep the base angry and engaged.

And then…it got out of control. Take a look at the results of Frank Lunz’s focus group with Trump supporters.

“They’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore,'” Luntz said. “And (Trump) personifies it: Each sees in him what they want for the country. They want him to fix what makes them mad, and they believe he will.”

It is Trump’s ability to reflect back to voters their most fervent wishes for the nation, Luntz said, that makes the political outsider so dangerous to the rest of the 16 other GOP 2016 hopefuls. The main reason for this, Luntz found, was what he termed a willingness of Trump supporters to live in “an alternative universe” in which any attempt by the media to point out inconsistencies in Trump’s record or position was seen as a politically motivated conspiracy.

“When the media challenges the veracity of his statements, you take his side,” Luntz asked of his focus group. Only one person sat quietly, her hands in her lap, as 28 other arms shot up in agreement.

For these participants, the Republican establishment (and perhaps even Fox News itself) have now joined the liberal New York Times in peddling a politically motivated conspiracy when they challenge Donald Trump. That should come as no surprise when these same people have been told for years that they can pick and chose their facts based on how they make you feel. Stephen Colbert was positively prophetic when he coined the term “truthiness.” And now it’s all coming back to haunt the GOP.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 26, 2015

August 26, 2015 Posted by | Conservative Media, Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Divorced From Reality And Science”: The GOP’s “Mad Max” Fantasy”; Lindsey Graham Fires The Latest Shot In The War On Women

It turns out Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) campaign for president isn’t just about damning the torpedoes and declaring war on any nation that dares to give America the side-eye. This week, Graham transparently pandered to the far-right base by reminding everyone that he also happens to be a total ghoul on the issue of reproductive rights.

On Thursday, Graham introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate titled “The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” A version of the bill was passed in the House already and, along the same lines, Graham’s version would ban all abortions with few exceptions after the 20th week of pregnancy. The twisted reasoning goes like this: After 20 weeks, fetuses can feel pain. That’s what they say. And by “they,” I don’t mean actual doctors. We’ll circle back to that presently.

Said Graham, “Why do we want to let this happen five months into the pregnancy? I am dying for that debate. I’m going to quite frankly insist that we have that debate.”

Once again, Graham and the modern Republican Party have entirely divorced themselves from both reality and science. Before we dig into the science behind why Graham and the anti-choice base are horrendously wrong, the reality is that states where there are few if any anti-choice laws, abortion rates are dropping precipitously.

Author and activist Kimberley Johnson brought to our attention a new study conducted by the AP, showing that pro-choice states such as New York, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, New Mexico, Nevada, Rhode Island and Connecticut showed steep declines in abortions by as much as 20 to 30 percent since 2010. Elsewhere, states like Louisiana and Michigan showed increases in abortions as women seeking access to abortion services in neighboring anti-choice states, including Texas, fled the restrictive laws in their home states.

It turns out, states that restrict abortion access showed slower declines in the abortion rate than pro-choice states, chiefly due to the fact that pro-choice states tend to also provide greater access to contraception. Naturally, this makes perfect sense given how affordable, readily-available contraception not only prevents unplanned pregnancies but also prevents abortions. Incongruously, however, anti-choice Republicans and activists have zero compulsion to help make contraception more available. Indeed, the exact opposite is true. This is transparently regressive and misogynistic, given how it effectively blocks women from either having or, indeed, preventing an abortion. Graham and the others are cynically cutting off all access to reproductive services, and it’s not difficult to see this as anything other than a legislative war on women.

Back to Lindsey Graham. The newly-minted presidential candidate is not only a leading conspirator in the crusade to slowly roll back reproductive rights; he also opposes the Affordable Care Act and its mandate for free access to contraception, including morning-after birth control (which merely prevents conception, not implantation, by the way). So, what’s the deal with this arbitrary-sounding 20 week threshold? Again, Graham and the others are trying to tell us that after 20 weeks, fetuses feel pain. It turns out the Journal of the American Medical Association contradict’s Graham’s clueless take on fetal biology.

Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.

So, not only is the evidence for fetal pain sketchy in the first place, but the journal of record states quite clearly that fetuses really can’t feel pain until the third trimester — 24 weeks or later. Not 20. That said, since when do scientific experts in the field serve as any kind of bulwark against Republicans who legislate against women, the LGBT community or, come to think of it, the climate by eschewing scientific consensus?

Furthermore:

“As an ob-gyn, I know firsthand the reasons why women may need abortion care after 20 weeks, and I have seen the pain that many of these women are in when confronting these decisions,” said Dr. Mark DeFrancesco, president of ACOG, in a statement. “Yet this ban would force physicians to deny services, even to women who have made the difficult decision to end pregnancies for reasons including fetal anomalies diagnosed later in pregnancy or other unexpected obstetric outcomes. This is simply cruel.”

Obviously, the nightmarish pain that women experience while caught in the vortex of this decision is irrelevant. For Graham and his party, it’s all about shepherding unplanned pregnancies to birth, after which these babies will be entirely ignored by the GOP, which has no interest in pushing for affordable natal and post-natal healthcare; no interest in paid maternity leave; no interest in expanding aid to homeless women and children; no interest in equality for girls or gay children or transgender children; and definitely no interest in expanding education. As Barney Frank famously said (paraphrasing): Republicans believe life begins at conception and ends at birth.

As the window for legal access to reproductive services grows narrower, state-by-state, the effort to return women to an era of subjugation continues to expand and metastasize as conservative politicians return purview over intimate, personal, female decisions to those who believe women have to be controlled. It’s a real world manifestation of the “Mad Max: Fury Road” hellscape — an “Immortan Joe” post-apocalyptic utopia in which women are kept as legal property and exploited for breast milk and birthing more War Babies. But with Graham and the broader anti-choice movement, it’s cleverly packaged and sold as messianic compassion for the unborn, without any regard for women or, for that matter, the birthed children the anti-choice movement claims to be rescuing.

 

By: Bob Cesca, Salon, June 13, 2014

June 16, 2015 Posted by | Lindsey Graham, Reproductive Rights, War On Women, Women's Health | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Marco Rubio Disqualifies Himself”: ‘Hey Man’, There’s A Difference Between Climate Science And Meteorology

If American presidents need to prove a basic ability to accept facts, then Senator Marco Rubio of Florida—who’s publicly mulling a run — just disqualified himself from competition.

In an interview with ABC on Sunday, days after the release of an alarming White House report on the present and future effects of climate change on the United States, Mr. Rubio said:

“I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.”

There’s something almost cute about the last part of that sentence — a hedge he can bring out in a general election if he’s accused of willful stupidity. I’m not a climate-change denier, he might say, I just don’t think scientists are giving us an accurate picture.

Does Mr. Rubio think scientists are lying? Or that they don’t know what they’re talking about? Either way, what leads him to believe that the “portrait” of climate change offered by scientists is inaccurate?

Previously, Mr. Rubio told a GQ reporter “I’m not a scientist, man”—when asked about the age of the earth. (He went on to say we may never know “whether the earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras”).

Yet he sounded science-y, if not scientific, when — on Sunday — he argued that “our climate is always changing. And what [scientists] have chosen to do is take a handful of decades of research and — and say that this is now evidence of a longer-term trend that’s directly and almost solely attributable to manmade activity.”

He believes that climate scientists have made a schoolboy error, and that he—Marco “not a scientist, man” Rubio — knows better.

This is particularly funny since Mr. Rubio felt the need to point out last week that President Obama, who does believe in climate change, is “not a meteorologist.” Mr. Rubio may or may not know that there’s a difference between climate science and meteorology; but, setting that aside, he’s evidently aware — when it suits him — that there’s a difference between scientific and political expertise.

Rubio defenders might argue that it doesn’t matter whether or not the senator thinks “human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate” — so long as he’s willing to do something about those dramatic changes.

He’s not.

“I don’t agree with the notion that some are putting out there, including scientists, that somehow, there are actions we can take today that would actually have an impact on what’s happening in our climate,” he said on Sunday.

Later he added, “I have no problem with taking mitigation activity. What I have a problem with is these changes to our law that somehow politicians say are going to change our weather. That’s absurd.”

Here’s the kicker: Mr. Rubio sits on the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and the Subcommittee on Science and Space.

 

By: Juliet Lapidos, Taking Note, Editors Blog, The New York Times, May 12, 2014

May 14, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Troubling Dynamic”: Weather Forecasters And Climate Scientists Live On Different Planets

Here in Atlanta, we’ve had a string of days in which the temperature has hovered around 70 degrees — more representative of late spring than late autumn. The balmy weather has left me in a funk.

Sure, I’ve enjoyed the chance to put my toddler on the back of my bike and take her out for a ride. Yes, it was pleasant to don a short-sleeved shirt to put up my outdoor Christmas lights. Of course, I like the long chats with my neighbors, who walk their dogs at a leisurely pace instead of rushing to get out of the chill.

But I fear the unseasonable temperatures are a harbinger of a slow-moving disaster — a serious threat to my child’s future. What will it take to get people focused on the crisis of climate change?

It would certainly help if TV weather forecasters at least noted the possibility of a link between the un-December-like weather and disastrous global warming. They are popular figures who are embraced by their local viewers as climate authorities. If they helped the public understand the dangers of global warming, the voters, in turn, would demand solutions from their elected officials.

But there’s a troubling dynamic that helps to explain why you’re unlikely to hear about global warming when you’re watching the weather report on the 6 o’clock local news: Many TV weathermen — and weather women — dispute the science of climate change, believing it’s a “scam,” according to a recent study. Their ignorance has contributed to the public’s apathy.

Even though cooler weather is expected soon, 2012 is still on track to be among the hottest years on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization, a United Nations agency. With the exception of 1998, the hottest years on record have occurred since 2000, climate scientists say. The longstanding consensus among scientists is that greenhouse gases are warming the Earth, melting the polar ice caps, raising sea levels and creating untold environmental havoc.

Yet, many television weather forecasters — who are not climate scientists — remain skeptical. Only about 19 percent believe that human activity is the primary cause of climate change, according to a 2011 study by George Mason University and the University of Texas. A similar fraction — 18 percent — knows that scientists have concluded that human activity is warming the planet, the study said.

Quiet as it’s kept, you don’t have to know much science to be a TV weather forecaster. Those with science degrees tend to be meteorologists with expertise in short-range climate models. They can predict the weather a week from now with relative accuracy, but they know little about long-term climate trends.

By contrast, climate scientists usually have graduate degrees and are associated with research institutions and universities. They use complicated models to study long-term weather patterns.

But there is hope the two groups can come to a consensus that elevates the discussion: TV weather forecasters are often members of the American Meteorological Society, which represents a broad range of experts in atmospheric sciences. Marshall Shepherd, the group’s president-elect, wants to help to educate “our colleagues in the broader community,” including TV weathermen, he told me.

A former NASA researcher who currently heads the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia, Shepherd said: “We want to forge an environment where all viewpoints are welcome. At the end of the day, though, our position will be based on the science.”

That rankles some in the ranks. Earlier this year, when the AMS issued a strongly worded statement on human-caused climate change, Glenn Burns, the popular weatherman for the Atlanta ABC affiliate WSB, was flippant in response to a question about it.

“Our climate has been changing since the beginning of time. Only the civilizations that adapted to it have survived. That should be our goal,” he said. And Burns is by no means alone in downplaying climate change.

Here’s hoping that Shepherd and the AMS can persuade TV forecasters to accept the scientific consensus. If they engaged their viewers on the subject, they could help to elevate climate change as a political concern. We’re running out of time before those balmy December days prove costly.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, December 8, 2012

December 9, 2012 Posted by | Global Warming | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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