31 October 2010

Simple Math and Simple Politics

If you spend anytime at all perusing the blogosphere, you will find a common theme coming from self-described liberal or progressive bloggers, and that is that those on the political right are ignoramuses. The argument is that they are just too stupid to know what's what - they are even anti-science, rejecting knowledge itself -- and consequently they support dumb candidates advocating ignorant policies. Such arguments are particularly evident in the corner of the blogosphere that discusses the climate change issue.  This line of argument of course is a variant of the thinking that if only people shared a common understanding of scientific facts they would also share a common political orientation (typically the political orientation of whomever is expressing these views).

Today's New York Times explains that top Democrats, including Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have bought into this view, leading to charges of elitism from their political opponents.  Here is an excerpt:
In the Boston-area home of a wealthy hospital executive one Saturday evening this month, President Obama departed from his usual campaign stump speech and offered an explanation as to why Democrats were seemingly doing so poorly this election season. Voters, he said, just aren’t thinking straight.

“Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared,” he told a roomful of doctors who chipped in at least $15,200 each to Democratic coffers. “And the country is scared, and they have good reason to be.”

The notion that voters would reject Democrats only because they don’t understand the facts prompted a round of recriminations — “Obama the snob,” read the headline on a Washington Post column by Michael Gerson, the former speechwriter for President George W. Bush — and fueled the underlying argument of the campaign that ends Tuesday. For all the discussion of health care and spending and jobs, at the core of the nation’s debate this fall has been the battle of elitism.
 And here is what the NYT reports about Bill Clinton expressing similar views:
Former President Bill Clinton has a riff in his standard speech as he campaigns for Democrats in which he mocks voters for knowing more about their local college football team statistics than they do about the issues that will determine the future of the country. “Don’t bother us with facts; we’ve got our minds made up,” he said in Michigan last week, mimicking such voters.

But if they understood the facts, he continued, they would naturally vote Democratic. “If it’s a choice and we’re thinking, he wins big and America wins big,” Mr. Clinton told a crowd in Battle Creek, pointing to Representative Mark Schauer, an endangered first-term Democrat.
The problem with such arguments is that they are simply wrong,  Facts do not compel particular political views, much less policy outcomes.

But for the purposes of discussion, let's just assume that those on the political right are in fact ignoramuses. Even if that were the case, appeals to the wisdom of the educated (and the stupidness of others) would still be a losing electoral proposition as shown by the graph at the top of this post (data here in XLS): Americans older than 18 registered to vote with a college degree represent only 32% of the voting population.  Those with an advanced degree represent only 11% of the population registered to vote. For those smart folks on the left, I shouldn't have to explain the corresponding electoral implications.

It should also be fairly obvious that when highly educated people tell those who are less educated that they are too stupid to know better, it probably does not lead to acceptance of claims to authority, much less reinforce trust in experts.  In fact, it might even have the opposite effect.

For those on the left who spend a lot of time explaining how intelligent they are, their politics are not always so smart.


  1. What we've got here is a failure to communicate...

  2. If you have to explain how intelligent you are, you aren't.

  3. Roger,

    You are probably too young to remember the intelligencia proclaiming Reagan to be stupid to be President and how we were going to have to learn to "live with" Communism and the Soviet Union.

    As I read Michael Mann's column in the "Washington Post," the recent NYT's coverage from the hinterlands, and Katie Couric's courageous journey to cover "the great unwashed" during the past month, I kept thinking back to the 80's and how "stupid" Reagan was. We know how that turned out.


  4. Speaking of how things turned out, the election of 2004 was between two Yale alums who had similar GPA's. One was betrayed mercilously as a slow witted country bumpkin and the other as an intellectual.

  5. This is nothing new - remember "they cling to their God and their guns?" That was a slip by Obama only in the sense that he said it in a public forum, rather than behind closed doors.

    It's not so much that Clinton and Obama 'buy in' to this view - it comes to them organically through their shared prejudices, just as it comes to their supporters.

  6. Telling people they're stupid is a bad way to win an intellectual debate, or an election.

  7. This post might be discussing what could be called the "Eternal College Sophomore" syndrome: undergraduates at State U all over the country are indoctrinated with a rather uniform mindset, which is different from what is believed by their "blockheaded" high-school classmates.

    Thus the Sophomore comes to see his own mental superiority as wrapped up in these "new" ideas; he sees those low-IQ losers back in Smallsville as holding onto outdated ideas only because they are poorly educated.

  8. I remember a debate a few years back with Gavin Schmidt and two other on one side and Philip Stott, Richard Lindzen and another on the other side.

    Before the debate the group which included Gavin was in the lead.

    During his presentation Gavin said something to the effect that people in the room were not smart enough to understand what he was saying while provide very few argument in favor of his position.

    In the final vote the group a Gavin which were leading from the start were crushed.

  9. Part of my job was to coordinate academic projects to the needs of a sponsoring organization. I would coordinate the results of internal research projects and sponsor and interact with external university researchers. One thing that I did find in interacting with the university types is that many of them were of the firm opinion that they were much smarter than any of the rest of us. It was difficult to discuss aspects of research areas with some of them since they felt to compelled to demonstrate their intellectual superiority at all times. There was the story of one job interview in which a graduate student applying for a job in our group carefully explained that we would find it difficult to understand the work that he did for his degree. He was surprised when he found out that the interviewers were experienced PhDs with extensive publication records. Such an attitude was far from universal among the academics we dealt with but it was not uncommon either.

    Now there is one climate scientist/blogger who states that the public should believe in AGW because climate scientists believe in it and that they are smarter than the public. He even notes that there are climate scientists who are smarter than he is and he defers to their opinion. This, of course, is arrogant nonsense from someone who does not understand the issue.

    Anyway in dealing with such academics, I always followed the principle that if I got what I wanted then they could be smarter than me.

  10. Anyone who doesn't understand that global warming is an enormous corporate propaganda operation isn't paying attention. Notwithstanding the science.


    What is interesting is that Bush had better university results than both Gore and Kerry, but kept quiet about it. He went to Harvard and Yale, his father was the director of the CIA, President of the United States and the media portrayed him as a Christian good old boy from Texas.

    Bush's father was director of the CIA, his grandfather was a senator and banker who became notorious for business deals with the Nazis up to 1942 in New York (of all places) !

    Duncan Campbell (a journalist)


    Bush's father was director of the CIA and he was elected president because he was perceived to be a guileless, uneducated moron.

    On the other hand, the NYT couldn't find a single person at Columbia University who remembers a very striking looking black man called Barack Obama who went on to be president of the United States. Neither could Fox News who actually tracked down those who were suppose to be his classmates. Obama doesn't remember anyone at Columbia either. Is he as clever as they say ?


    There is no way that the American cartoon WWF level politics (Palin, Beck, Limbaugh)would be accepted in Britain, so the Guardian uses American political figures in its global warming coverage.

    Talking about cartoons. Homer Simpson has only won a single argument in his entire life - against AGW. South Park went with Gore and ManBearPig.

  11. This is what I was referring to:


    "A pre-debate poll of audience members indicated that by a 2 to 1 margin (57 percent to 29 percent, with 14 percent undecided) they believed global warming has become a crisis. After the debate, however, the audience indicated by 46 percent to 42 percent they do not believe it is a crisis, with 12 percent undecided."

  12. Perhaps a term for what both Bill and Obama are espousing is "progressive exceptionalism" where liberals and progressives hold a special place among rational political discourse. Conservatives of course have their "American exceptionalism". Both are self centered and self serving. Both are embraced by their respective choirs but only create resentment to any one outside their core.

  13. Current Guardian article

    "This is the central paradox of climate change politics, argued the sociologist, Anthony Giddens*, that electorates can't grasp the significance of climate change because it is too abstract, and not dramatic enough (they need catastrophe footage), and won't – until it's too late"


    Too dumb to be think abstractly is the message.

    Strangely, the Guardian has real science correspondents, but they are almost never used in global warming propaganda. They use shameless political extremists like Monbiot and lifestyle reporters like Leo Hickman. This time it is general hired hand, Madeleine Bunting.

    *Giddens is the unspeakable Blair ally who stole the term 'third way' from Mussolini.

  14. Thanks Roger. In general I don't rate academics because of my experience with university graduates.
    I am not particularly well qualified, I only hold a City & Guilds in electronics. (C&G is a UK vocational qualification.) I did however employ university graduates and was saddened that I had to teach them the practicalities of science. In one job I had many technical arguments with my university educated boss, most of which I won.
    As far as I can see, most of those advocating CAGW have never had to really apply their learning, we lesser educated may have much to teach them.


  15. Trenberth: "What looks like defensiveness to the uninitiated can just be part of the normal process of doing science..."

    All bow to the initiated ones! (That's enough, Barack; you can stand up now.) AGW elitism is, indeed, another travesty.

  16. I think the problem is that unless you have actually studied the math underlying climate change, you don't really understand climate change. There isn't really anything you would study in law school that would equipment you to have a reasoned opinion on the matter. You are just repeating the opinion of some other person.

    I would be interested if you think any member of congress actually has an informed opinion on climate issues? The climate bill last year would cause me to doubt that. Large parts of it stuck me as random acts of legislation.

  17. I am a social democrat. I think Tea Party activists are like the environmental movement - completely nutty..... but I am climate sceptic not out of conviction but out of training. I wonder where that places me in this debate.

    PS The last American politician of worth was Truman, those who have followed have all had feet of clay.

  18. Not so simple:

  19. The left own the media apparatus. They can successfully create a false image of their opponents. According to the media all Repubs are either dumb (Quayle, GWB, Palin, etc) or Senile (Ford, GHWB, Reagan, etc) When they can't make Dumb or Senile stick they just call them evil (Nixon, Rove, Cheney, Sununu, Rumsfeld, etc)

    The leftists media have the power and are inclined to use it against their foes. I only fault the public, which allows the media to lead them around by the nose.

    One problem that comes with a near deract censorship of opposing views in the MSM and popular culture is that the 'elite' left begin to believe their own BS and elevate their beliefs to the level of 'science'.

  20. Got to get over to meet you sometime when I'm up in Boulder . I am awed by the ignorant arrogance of Statists .

  21. It is equally fallacious to identify intelligence with education level.

    I'm sure we all have our favorite counterexamples.

  22. Boonie,

    I am reminded of:


  23. It drives me nuts that people whom should know better often hold out the NYT as a paragon of opinion. It is bogus that the staff at the NYT is more reliable that your local fish wrap.

  24. Roger, your theme here reminds me of Thomas Sowell's "The Vision of The Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy". A great read.

  25. Thomas Sowell captured the essence of this 'battlefield' in his 1995 book "The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy" and the more recent follow-up "Liberals and Society". I highly recommend both.

  26. As they say, totally insane, lectured on academic exceptionalism by the son of a university professor who himself is a university professor.

    Ranks right up there with being told by a multimillionaire son of an accountant that he comes from the working class.

  27. -26-Eli

    For a college professor, your reading comprehension leaves something to be desired ;-) I didn't say in this post that I am uneducated. If only you understood the facts as I do, you'd understand this post and share my values!

  28. Bill Clinton said "But if they understood the facts, he continued, they would naturally vote Democratic"

    The book of the film 'Trainspotting' by Irvine Welsh is a brilliant exposition of the deep mutual contempt of the educated and uneducated Scottish working classes. The basic reason for the contempt is indeed ignorance (of their best interests). That split is fundamental to the American cultural divide (plus the right wing think tanks that exacerbate it).

    I fell out with the lecturers on a modern Scottish literature course last year by illustrating that their favourite 'left wing' writers portrayed the working classes in a very negative light. It drove them mad, they even resorted to shouting, but eventually they had to concede that my reality was much stronger than their desperate need to believe in, and proselytise for their 'socialist' literary heroes.

  29. Roger:

    Your post could give the impression that the left is elitist and losing because of it, while the right is populist and winning on that account. I don't know whether that's what you intend, but one could read it that way.

    My take is along the lines of Machiavelli in Chapter 18 of The Prince: "But it is necessary ... to be a great pretender and dissembler; and men are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived. ... [The Prince] will be praised by everybody because the vulgar are always taken by what a thing seems to be and by what comes of it; and in the world there are only the vulgar, for the few find a place there only when the many have no ground to rest on."

    In other words, the wily and cynical pseudo-populist will beat out the sincere elitist every time. The folks who are winning today appear, except where Darwin is concerned, to be more Machiavelli than Bryan.

    On myriad subjects---including global warming, death panels, whether Iraq had a role in the 9/11 attacks, and the president's religion and birthplace---a large part of the public is woefully misinformed. Facts don't imply policy, but incorrect facts can lead people to choose policies they'd oppose if properly informed.

    One can be populist without neglecting elites and one can respect expertise without being condescending toward the general public. As Jefferson wrote, "I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education."

    This doesn't mean Jefferson thought everyone would agree with his policies if they were properly informed, but that only then could they truly decide whether or not they agreed with his policies. Schattschneider points out that while "it is not necessary to be an automotive engineer to buy an automobile or to be an obstetrician in order to have a baby... Democracy is ... a form of collaboration between ignorant people and experts." (Semisovereign People, p. 134)

  30. Well, of course, levels of education have nothing to do with raw intelligence - which has yet to be clearly defined and perhaps never will be to everyone's satisfaction. For instance, there's a certain element of society awaiting word from the "scientists" confirming their suspicions that black people are dumber than white people.

    Currently, I'm in the middle of a "scales falling from my eyes" event that will probably leave me squarely in the middle, officially a "moderate". (On the left? No. By "squarely, I mean in the middle of a square, or, better, a shape with AT LEAST four corners.) It started when I got chased off the HuffPo site for saying kind things about Hillary Clinton, and was massively accelerated when a commenter on Revkin's blog revealed that he was waiting for THAT MONTH'S temperature data to confirm global warming. The deal was sealed when Joe Romm called Freeman Dyson a "denier". Clearly, I've decided, the left has nothing on the right in terms of intelligence. In fact, I suspect that at least among the chattering classes, there are as many dumb lefties as there are dumb righties. Now, I realize any thinking person on the right will roll her eyes at this insight, but at least I hope she will admit she is observing an elitist eating crow.

    It is shocking and disheartening that the left's brightest resort to this stupid - both logically and politically - analysis. The insight, when it comes, which it will, will taste bitter and cause embarrassment, but this will pass, leaving those who get it better and wiser than before. Too late for this election cycle, unfortunately.

  31. The right thing to do in the face of intelligence is to be silent and learn.

  32. Climate science is all about politics. Thomas Frank's 2004 book, "What's the Matter with Kansas?", was embraced and praised by liberal politicians and pundits. Spent 18 weeks on the bestseller list. The thesis? Conservative voters are stupid hicks who have been tricked by the GOP into voting against their own best interests.

    Roger's point is just part of a larger phenomenon. The American people will vote tomorrow. Some will be voicing how they feel about being told they are racist, sexist, homophobes simply because they object to thousands of pages of life-altering legislation being passed, unread, by corrupt incompetents who regard them with disdain.

  33. This example of intellectual elitism likely has nothing to do with being college educated nor with any set of issues (global warming, etc.). At its heart is really the age-old city mouse versus country mouse fable, in which city dwellers consider themselves more sophisticated than their rural counterparts. This attitude comes naturally to Democrats since their main political base tends to be urban populations in the Northeast and West. Republican leaders, who are almost always portrayed as dumb, are merely seen as a reflection of their own base, who by convention are thought to be unsophisticated. The Republican base, oddly enough, buys into the same notion by being openly contemptuous of intellectualism (= populist) and by rejecting certain aspects of science, etc. It's all very amusing to watch this bizarre dance.

  34. "On myriad subjects---including global warming, death panels, whether Iraq had a role in the 9/11 attacks, and the president's religion and birthplace---a large part of the public is woefully misinformed. Facts don't imply policy, but incorrect facts can lead people to choose policies they'd oppose if properly informed." - Jonathan Gilligan said...

    woefully misinformed seems to mean unwilling to uncritically accept MSM spin.

  35. One reason the self-declared elites are losing on the climate front is that they have to avoid the results of audits of the policies they impose, like this one:

  36. -29-Jonathan Gilligan

    Thanks for your comment ... you have indeed read far more into my post than I wrote or implied.

    This comment of yours makes no sense to me, as it appears to be saying two things in opposition: "Facts don't imply policy, but incorrect facts can lead people to choose policies they'd oppose if properly informed." Would an example of this be that every right-thinking environmentalist would be opposed to cap-and-trade if they actually understood it? ;-)

    Put me down as in agreement with EE Schattsschneider, with the key word in the quote you provide being "collaboration" ... collaboration does not mean telling people that they are too stupid to know better, which is the point of this post.


  37. re 29

    In 29 Jonathan Gilliagan quotes from chapter 18 of Machiavelli's 'The Prince". If we are quoting from "The Prince" then Chapter 17 on whether it is better to be loved or feared would seem to be more appropriate. As Machiavelli points out a prince can prosper if he is loved or feared but he must do everything to a voice being hated. The current elites are finding themselves not feared or loved by the public but in a significant and growing proportion hated. This proportion feels that they are not respected by their elite-led government. This proportions perceives that the elites despise their values and will undemocratically prevent these values from being exercised.

    From Machiavelli Chapter 17

    Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated, which will always be as long as he abstains from the property of his citizens and subjects and from their women. But when it is necessary for him to proceed against the life of someone, he must do it on proper justification and for manifest cause, but above all things he must keep his hands off the property of others, because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony. Besides, pretexts for taking away the property are never wanting; for he who has once begun to live by robbery will always find pretexts for seizing what belongs to others; but reasons for taking life, on the contrary, are more difficult to find and sooner lapse.

  38. Jonathan Gilliagan

    "On myriad subjects---including global warming, death panels, whether Iraq had a role in the 9/11 attacks, and the president's religion and birthplace---a large part of the public is woefully misinformed. ."

    That is misguided class loyalty. In my opinion it is a terrible mistake to believe that those employed in journalism or science nowadays are much more than simple employees who do what they have to in order to pay the mortgage.

    Obama's personal history is a complete fabrication of reality and he smokes cigarettes, which I personally find absolutely hilarious for a petit bourgois, academic icon.

    Here is Noam Chomsky calmly explaining to the BBC's chief political correspondentn Andrew Marr that all the senior journalists he has known have admitted that they have to write and broadcast what they are told by management. They have no independence. Chomsky is of the opinion that no one with the intelligence or integrity to uncover the truth would ever be employed as a journalist.

    Andrew Marr vs Noam Chomsky


    Marr defends his profession by quoting Watergate. Marr doesn't know that Bob Woodward, his father and his boss at the Washington Post all worked for the CIA (or previous incarnation), or that Phil Graham (owner) was an enthusiastic supporter of Operation Mockingbird, a CIA project to control the American media.

    Long, long ago, CIA operations and dirty tricks were the subjects of television news and documentaries. Now they are conspiracy theories.

    Here is a BBC documentatary about Operation Gladio in which the CIA ran Europe post WWII by such means as creating false flag terrorist organisations and bombing atrocities to discredit left wing politics. Now they do it with Muslims (e.g. 1993 WTC bombing and 9/11). Former senior CIA operative Miles Copeland claims Margaret Thatcher was promoted by the CIA.


  39. In regard to the idea that the "populists" are 'anti-science" as posed to the evidence or science-based opinions of others, Channel 4 in the UK is presenting a program on what the green movement got wrong. The program will present the opinions of environmentalists that the green movement to address climate change must embrace the science and technology that they have so long opposed.

    Teh program's blurb is:

    What the Green Movement Got Wrong


    A group of environmentalists across the world believe that, in order to save the planet, humanity must embrace the very science and technology they once so stridently opposed.

    In this film, these life-long diehard greens advocate radical solutions to climate change, which include GM crops and nuclear energy.

    They argue that by clinging to an ideology formed more than 40 years ago, the traditional green lobby has failed in its aims and is ultimately harming its own environmental cause.

    As author and environmentalist Mark Lynas says, 'Being an environmentalist was part of my identity and most of my friends were environmentalists. We were involved in the whole movement together. It took me years to actually begin to question those core, cherished beliefs.

    'It was so challenging it was almost like going over to the dark side. It was a like a horrible dark secret you couldn't share with anyone.'


  40. Roger (#36):

    As always, thank you for taking the time to respond to my comment.

    My point is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. You're right that for people to act as though the public is stupid is bad. It's both bad politics (it won't get votes for your side) and a bad approach to government (populist democracy really is a better way to run things than technocracy).

    But not everyone who's worried that the public doesn't understand the issue well enough and who wants to educate the public thinks that the public is too stupid to think for itself.

    I didn't think your post was clear about the difference between informing the public respectfully and doing so condescendingly.

    Facts don't completely determine people's policy preferences, but they do play an important role. Different people, confronted with the same facts, may choose different policies; even so, an individual, learning something new, may change his mind.

    Cap and trade is not a policy goal. It's one of several tools to achieve a goal. I certainly do expect that both supporters and opponents of cap and trade would re-evaluate, as they learn new facts, whether it's the best tool for the job.

    The right thing for experts to do is to strive to properly inform the public, and then to respect the informed public's decision, whether or not the expert likes that choice. That's my view of the collaboration Schattschneider describes.

  41. Your point seems to be more that it is bad politics to say that you are smarter than the people, rather than commenting on whether or not that is true. And there is a reason that professional campaign managers say that "the voter is always right" - for just that reason.

    I'm not saying that politicians are smarter. I think that in the long run average people and politicians probably come out about equal. Sometimes one group gets it right, sometimes the other. I can certainly think of cases where I think that the average guy in the street got it right and the politicians and experts didn't, though I don't see climate as one of them.

    Arrogance on the part of non-electoral people, like scientists, is a bit different. Because while politicians are explicitly putting themselves up for a popularity contest, science is not that, or isn't supposed to be. In the short term it can be, but in the long run (which politicians are famously uninterested in), the truth or lack thereof will speak for itself.

    The real question here is the intersection of science and policy, i.e. politics. Most scientists are not good politicians - most everybody are not good politicians - and in policy, that can hurt them.

  42. dljvjbsl

    George Monbiot, the Guardian's senior climate change blogger would have to suffer an even bigger culture shock than Mark Lynas.

    Here he lays out his fundamental belief that the enemy of the human race is progess itself. He celebrates pagan cyclical cosmic metaphors and contrasts them with the dangers of Jewish originated myths of progress. By developing technology, we are ensuring our own destruction


    The peculiarities of the Abrahamic religions their astonishing success in colonising the world and their dangerous notion of progress (now inherited by secular society) - result from a marriage between the universal god of the nomads and the conditions which permitted cities to develop. The dominant beliefs of the past 2000 years are the result of an ancient migration from soils such as xerepts and xeralfs to soils such as fluvents and rendolls.

    At Easter, the Christian belief in a permanent resurrection is mixed up with the pagan belief in a perpetual cycle of temporary resurrection and death. In church we worship the Christian notion of progress, which has now filtered into every aspect of our lives. But, amid the cracking of easter eggs and the murmur of prayer, there can still be heard the small, faint voice which reminds us that our ecological hubris must eventually be greeted by nemesis.


    Godwin's law prevents me revealing who wrote the following.

    "When man attempts to rebel against the iron logic of Nature, he comes into struggle with the principles to which he himself owes his existence as a man. And this attack must lead to his own doom.

    Here, of course, we encounter the objection of the modern pacifist, as truly Jewish in its effrontery as it is stupid! 'Man's role is to overcome Nature!'

    Millions thoughtlessly parrot this Jewish nonsense and end up by really imagining that they themselves represent a kind of conqueror of Nature; though in this they dispose of no other weapon than an idea, and at that such a miserable one, that if it were true no world at all would be conceivable."

  43. It's all good.

    Until this year I never voted a straight party ticket. I don't care what the local Dog Catcher's politics are, I care whether he can catch stray dogs.

    However, since the leader of the current Dog Catcher's party thinks I'm too stupid to tell a good dog catcher from a bad dog catcher, I'm going to prove him right.

    Most folks of either political persuasion do their best to rise to whatever expectations are set for them. As our current glorious leader believes I'm a stupid ignoramus I'm going to pull the party lever for the wrong party in total disregard of the fact that the current dog catcher does a good job.

  44. -40-Jonathan Gilligan

    Thanks ... What you describe is not a collaboration, but a one-way street, from expert to the public. I think that there are plenty of experts who need to learn more about and from the public. I think that the right word for the role of the expert in a democracy is "engagement" -- it is not "informing". As you know, this is a subject I explore in depth in THB.

    For instance, the public has, for several decades, patiently explained to experts that they (at the 60-70% level) support action on emissions reductions, but at the same time, that there are lots of far more important issues to them, like the economy, jobs, war, educations, crime, etc.

    The experts (for the most part) continue to ignore these expressions in hope that they can change the public's views. I don't think that the climate issue is unique in this regard.

    The non-progress on the climate issue represents a failure of the experts, not of the public. I say the same thing in THB about the decision to go to war in Iraq.

    Schattsschenider would agree ;-)

  45. Note: I am the original Howard, not that guy upthread ;)

    I don't buy it, Roger. Obama is right when he says folks are irrational when scared. The Great Recession continues, people are scared and are voting for change... just like they did in 2006 when Iraq and Afghanistan were going down the toilet and in 2008 with the financial meltdown.

    Fear spawned hope and change. Hope and change was actually more of the same which spawned the tea party fearmeisters.

    The majority of voters are emotional and fickle, not rational. We get the politicians we diserve, so how could it be otherwise? I do agree that it seems a bit silly for a politician to be telling the truth by pointing out that rather inconvenient fact. I suspect this is just the remaining scraps of red meat for the base in a losing cause that no longer matters.

    However, a republican legislature is the key to an Obama second term.

    Machiavelli, indeed.

  46. Here is a statement to which Jonathan Gilligan (PhD) has put his name

    Ecology and Spirituality in America: Exploring Possibilities for Cultural Transformation

    The starting point for our project is concern about a consumer culture in which individuals try to satisfy non-material needs through material consumption. We seek to understand how patterns of ever-increasing consumption driven by desires for personal empowerment, social status, and spiritual and social connection might be redirected into forms more satisfying to individuals and less harmful to the environment and local and global political economies.

    In essence, we see consumer culture as an eco-spiritual problem. Our goal is to explore how contemporary American values, public discourses, and social and material practices might be reframed and reoriented to transform the dynamics of consumer culture from an eco-spiritual problem into an eco-spiritual resource.


    Does he sound like someone who's view of climate change is firmly based on rational, scientific determinism ?

    He is far from the only one to share such views. Sir John Houghton and Mike Hulme spring to mind. James Hansen has an even more extreme mindset. Can you imagine if Sarah Palin used religious reasoning to justify her position ?

    This isn't science, it is petit bourgeois culture impinging on global politics. That is from someone who is a 25 year vegan and has a deep knowledge of New Age spirituality. From Blavatsky to Bailey to Findhorn to Tolle etc. I am not opposed to the philosophy, but it mixes very badly with science.

    Again, we come down to the basic issue. Are we going forwards or backwards ? New technology or less technology ? It is preposterous and hypocritical for very high earning individuals to complain about consumer culture and propose to lower the standard of living of the poor through carbon trading.

  47. Roger, #44: Very good point about one-way streets vs. true collaboration.

  48. Also. I'd like to add while pointing out the futility of politicians telling people they know better, that some other politicians are going to areas where they have support and telling people that they are the REAL Americans. Since these areas tend to be smaller cities or rural, this is just about as futile if winning large-scale elections is the goal.

  49. I thought that 30 to 40% in polls now call themselves independent because they are disappointed with the choices on offer.

    Maybe we need less pointless anger and more pointed reasoning.

  50. The MSNBC segment with William K Black (Savings and Loans regulator)on the page below gives the impression that the Obama administration is not going to be able to keep the lid on its financial crimes much longer.

    Black sensibly says he believes Obama himself is unaware. He appears later in the first clip, but the whole thing is worth watching.

    William Black With Dylan Ratigan: "There Is Bank Fraud Everywhere And Bernanke Is Leading The Cover-Up"


  51. Obama: "We’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared.

    Pielke Jr.: "Facts do not compel particular political views, much less policy outcomes."

    Roger, you're agreeing with Obama. You're disagreeing with the false, pandering spin of Obama's words by conservative commentators.

  52. Roger: Following up on this, I re-read Semisovereign People last night, and found that in our exchange here, you had the more faithful reading of S.

    He clearly says that informing the people is neither necessary nor possible. An informed populace is not necessary for Democracy to function, and that's a good thing because we couldn't inform it adequately (he's channeling Mill on Representative Government there), and that's the proper context of the quotation I used in my original comment.

    However, I still have the worry I expressed in my original comment: you present a faithful collaboration between experts and populace as an alternative to technocratic arrogance, but in fact what American Politics gives us is the choice between disingenuous pseudo-populism, such as Machiavelli prescribed, and arrogant elitism.

    The Republican position on climate policy seems largely to fall into the same trap you express here: "If only those stupid environmentalists would understand that global warming is only propaganda from a vast left-wing conspiracy, they'd vote the way we do." Facts imply policy.

    The one Republican I see who's breaking from that and seems to share your opinion that facts don't drive policy is Frank Luntz, who recently gave NPR a very concise statement of your iron law: "What has changed [regarding popular support for a climate bill] is that the American economy went to hell. And when you ask voters are they more concerned about destroying their environment over the next 100 years or rehabilitating their economy over the next 100 weeks, they'll choose the economy over the environment any day."

    Rather than trying to deny that global warming is real, he says that even if it's real and just as bad as Jim Hansen and Joe Romm claim, people still think jobs are more important.

    What's your take on Luntz's perspective? If you're right about facts and policy, why aren't more Republicans adopting Luntz's framing instead of focusing on attacking the science of climate change?

  53. Jonathan,

    'If you're right about facts and policy, why aren't more Republicans adopting Luntz's framing instead of focusing on attacking the science of climate change?'

    I'll get in the conversation here, if you don't mind. I think there are a couple reasons.

    First, some activists (politicians and scientists included) have gone out of their way to make sure that the climate change issue is very partisan. This is done by making it a rallying cry of 'progressives' who take interest in other environmentally centered politics and policies. Once the climate change issue becomes part of the progressive platform, conservatives, in their usual reactionary ways, make opposing climate change legislation part of their platforms.

    Second, because the loudest portions of society are often mistaken for the majority of society claims like your statement,

    "If only those stupid environmentalists would understand that global warming is only propaganda from a vast left-wing conspiracy, they'd vote the way we do."

    begin to catch the ears of power-hungry would-be politicians who feel they can manipulate those fears and feelings for personal gain. Both sides of the aisle do this to certain extent, but it seems that in order to garner the resentment toward government felt by many white middle class voters, conservatives are making the science behind climate change something worth noting and disparaging. That any of these people (voters and political candidates alike) understand any of the science is worth debating, but because so many people identify climate change as a contentious, partisan issue, it will continue to be used to wedge one group of voters against another.

    Ah, democracy. I'm not sure if all of this is indicative of the fact that democracy works or that it doesn't. I also can't think of a better way to do it.

  54. This isn't entirely on topic, but I wanted to share a link to a very interesting TED talk by Jonathan Haidt on the moral mind. It's about why conservatives and liberals think the way they do, in relation to 5 basic ideas: care/harm, fairness/reciprocity, authority, in-group, and purity/sanctity. Conservatives value all 5 about the same amount, while liberals value the first 2 way more than the other three, and that division leads to the familiar differences in the 2 groups. And this relationship holds up around the world.


  55. Bill

    The problem with the liberal educated mind is that it is taught idealism, selflessness and service, often from previous cultures. However the environment they find themselves in at work screams out that selfishness, competitiveness, ambition, upward networking and sharp practices are the way to succeed, and that to succeed is everything.

    It's cognitive dissonance on a grand scale. They want to believe they are decent, honest, friendly, sharing and responsible, but another part of their consciousness knows it isn't true.

    Climategate revealed a great deal, none of which surprised me. There was a recent post on this blog about the absolute non co-operation of competing academic groups that was also very revealing.

    Robert Anton Wilson quote

    "Cynics regarded everybody as equally corrupt ... Idealists regarded everybody as equally corrupt, except themselves".

  56. Jonathon Gilligan

    That Luntz quote is not "framing". "Framing" is what people who are not making a convincing argument talk about in hopes of evenually being able to make a convincing argument. What Luntz is saying is pure, unvarnished, fact.

    And that quote about conservatives thinking environmentelists are stupid? It would be interesting to see an actual example. Misguided, scheming, even fraudulent, yes I'm sure you can find those arguments, but the stupidity claim usually comes from the left/environmentalist/elitist side.

    That's why there's often so many blank looks after election day. It's tough to lose to people you think are idiots.

  57. -45- Howard

    Sorry about the name conflict. [I'm the -21- Howard.]

    If I've done this correctly, then this comment will show up as from HowardW, and I'll stick with that nom de clavier henceforth to avoid any further confusion.

  58. "What's your take on Luntz's perspective? If you're right about facts and policy, why aren't more Republicans adopting Luntz's framing instead of focusing on attacking the science of climate change?"

    Frank Luntz is a crass political consultant and pollster. Luntz's job is to deal in the realm of what is politically expedient. He's not anymore an expert on the so-called climate science than you are, Mr. "Ecology and Spirituality in America". Luntz doesn't speak for Republicans.

    While Luntz's statement that you have put forth is basically true people will make their own personal survival and well being a priority over "climate change mitigation" many people still are unconvinced in CAGW "science".