16 August 2011

When Did Ignorance Become A Point of View

Posted by Dan Satterfield


    noun /ˌpräpəˈgandə/ 

    1. Information, esp. of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view
      • – he was charged with distributing enemy propaganda
    2. The dissemination of such information as a political strategy

There are plenty of things in climate physics that one can argue about; the climate sensitivity, the negative feed-backs that may slow down Arctic melting and many more, but Joe Bastardi’s appearance on Fox News last weekend didn’t go there. Instead, he proclaimed the moon was made of green cheese and the Earth was the center of the solar system! No, he didn’t literally make that claim, but the claims he made were just as preposterous and there is no scientific question about it. {Update- Physicist Joe Romm has  the details of just how weird the statements Bastardi made are}

His claims seem to be right off of the websites of those who sit in a dark basement wearing a tinfoil hat, and proclaim the government is spewing chem-trails across the sky as part of a great mind control experiment. Don’t even get me started on the HAARP folks, or the 2012 emails I get!

Found this on treehugger- it's apropos.

I’m being to harsh you say? Not at all, but don’t take my word for it, Davide Castelvecchi at Scientific American takes apart his arguments and leaves them in a scattered pile on the floor. John Cook at Skeptical Science does the same in even greater detail, and I highly recc. reading both.

There have been quite a few other comments in the science blogosphere about the claims he made, but what is really sad here is that Bastardi is not a tinfoil type who has never taken a college physics course, he’s a smart synoptic forecaster, and a darned good one. He just has the syndrome that seems to affect some meteorologists about climate change science, i.e. they run into a brick wall, throw science out the window and start repeating absolute silliness ( More soon on TV Mets. and climate change).

Is there an explanation for this?

There is, and the psychological name for it is identity protective cognition. It’s also called the “White Male Effect” and a paper just published in the journal Global Environmental Change presents a fascinating look at why such a large percentage of climate change deniers are conservative white males (CWM). The paper is entitled Cool Dudes: The denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United States. In short, the reason for so many conservative white males avidly denying something, (for which there is overwhelming evidence) is fear and a faulty assessment of risk.

Conservative white males are at the hierarchical peak of society and they see risks differently. They also tend to want to preserve the societal norms because they do well in the system. Think about it, this is a very powerful effect; it causes some CWM’s to insist that every major scientific body in the world is wrong, while they themselves have little or no science education in general!

Here is an excerpt from the abstract:

We examine whether conservative white males are more likely than are other adults in the U.S. general
public to endorse climate change denial. We draw theoretical and analytical guidance from the identity-protective
cognition thesis explaining the white male effect and from recent political psychology

scholarship documenting the heightened system- justification tendencies of political conservatives.

…We find that conservative white males are significantly more likely
than are other Americans to endorse denialist views… and that these differences are even
greater for those conservative white males who self-report understanding global warming very well.

Ctsy. Union of Concerned Scientists

This last line is most interesting and it’s an effect I and almost anyone in atmospheric science has noticed. Some deniers spend a great deal of time to learn just enough about the subject to deny the science of individual aspects of the science. It was never more telling when the emails of certain climate scientists were stolen and the accusations about “using a mathematical trick” were trumpeted as a smoking gun. Those words have no sinister meaning in science and mathematics, but the deniers had no way of knowing this!

More from McCright and Dunlap’s paper:

Even casual observers of denialist activities likely notice an
obvious pattern; with rare exceptions, the most prominent denialists
are conservative white males. This is
true for contrarian scientists (e.g., Patrick Michaels and Fred
Singer), media pundits (e.g., Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck), think
tank representatives (e.g., Joseph Bast and William O’Keefe), and
politicians (e.g., Senator James Inhofe and Representative Joe
Barton). Within the ranks of elites, climate change denialists are
overwhelmingly conservative white males.

The authors of this paper quote from a previous study that suggests:

Perhaps white males see less risk in the world because they
create, manage, control, and benefit from so much of it. Perhaps
women and nonwhite men see the world as more dangerous
because in many ways they are more vulnerable, because they
benefit less from many of its technologies and institutions, and
because they have less power and control.

I think this explains why the more educated someone is, the more concerned about climate change they are, while CWM’s are just the opposite.

One last thought or two.

Journalism is about giving all sides to a story, but not when one of those sides is pure silliness. Doing that is not fair and balanced reporting, it’s propaganda plain and simple. I’m not the first to call out Fox News for airing propaganda dressed up as balance, but this was an incredibly egregious case of it. Lastly, there are a lot of CWM’s who have worthy ideas and accept the scientific foundations that science rests on, please do not assume I’m labeling the group as a whole, I am most certainly not.