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The Great Library of Tlön

June 6th, 2008

Via Tim Lambert and Matt Nisbet a study in the journal Environmental Politics (here, but unfortunately paywalled) shows that at least 90 per cent of the books that have been published disputing mainstream environmental science have been produced by rightwing thinktanks or authors affiliated with such thinktanks. Symmetrically, at least 90 per cent of the rightwing thinktanks in the study contributed to this literature.

This study is an important contribution to our understanding of the emerging parallel universe which has almost completely absorbed the formerly Earth-based Republican party[1] and its networking of supporting thinktanks, media outlets and blogs. It helps to explain the otherwise surprising fact that higher levels of education make Republicans more, not less, ignorant and deluded. With their beliefs on scientific, economic and political issues derived from the Great Library of Tlön, every book they read, talk show they listen to and blog they browse actively reduces their knowledge of the real world. [2].

fn1. Represented most notably on Earth by Abraham Lincoln, but on Tlön by Jefferson Davis.
fn2. If any Tlön based readers have access to this blog, please apply your polarity reverser. Educated Tlön Democrats are more likely to hold the deluded notions that their planet is roughly spherical, billions of years old and subject to significant climatic effects from human action. Tlön social democrats are even likely to believe that income inequality is increasing and that the market-based health system of Uqbar is less then perfect.

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  1. Ikonoclast
    June 6th, 2008 at 21:38 | #1

    “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” – Hunter S Thompson.

  2. Ikonoclast
    June 7th, 2008 at 07:44 | #2

    Martin Ferguson has been reading volumes out of the great library of Tlon as well. Good old Marty’s been spruiking the ideas of coal-gas to liquid and coal solid to liquid ie making synthetic petroleum. In the next breath he says the Rudd Govt is committed to action on climate change!!!

    Well I guess he is right in a sense. Coal liquifaction is action on climate change alright… action to make it a lot worse. It strikes me that the ratbag right are the only people who are honest in their own minds about climate change. They say, “We don’t believe it and we aint gonna do anything different.”

    The Rudd-ites words say, “We accept the science,” but their actions say “we aint gonna do anything different, in fact we are gonna make it worse.”

    One of our great problems in Australia seems to be the scientific illiteracy of our politicians (and general public).

    And now we have a Christian Fundamentalist as a Prime Minister. I’m just waiting for a cartoonist to do, “Hi, I’m Kevin…. ” Then Kevvie can unzip his face and suit and out pops Joh Bjelke, “… and I’m from Queensland.” Or has it been done?

    BTW , It’s politically correct for me to make Queenslander jokes, I’m from Qld too.

  3. observa
    June 7th, 2008 at 11:56 | #3

    “..shows that at least 90 per cent of the books that have been published disputing mainstream environmental science have been produced by rightwing thinktanks or authors affiliated with such thinktanks.”
    That could be true but then perhaps we need to look at that other 10% for some illumination. They may find their books and articles there despite not being avid subscribers to the library of Tlon. Here’s one such article-
    http://carbon-sense.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/hertzberg.pdf
    Now whether you subscribe to Tlon or have just wandered in off the street to browse, there’s no doubt Mr Hertzberg has some rather different views to what you’ve been reading on the newstands recently. Perhaps most striking is the Vostok Ice Core data and the obvious correlation between atmospheric CO2 and temperature, but as he quite rightly points out the obvious, correlation doesn’t mean causality. There are clearly 2 interpretaions of the correlation and he goes on to show how perfectly logical it is to make the one you don’t read about on all the news-stands. In fact he brings up some points that might make you lean toward the other, particularly if the peruser of newspapers was around when the newspapers were warning readers about the impending Ice Age. Should our avid reader trust his newspapers now or not? Anyone care to help the newspaper readers out, or should they really be reading the sports pages instead because there are better experts to tell them why their team will win come Saturday?

  4. jquiggin
    June 7th, 2008 at 14:44 | #4

    Observa, you’re halfway into Tlon already I’d say (the Vostok and Ice Age myths are of Tlonian origin)

    On the other 10 per cent, they are nearly all by self-identified conservatives who just don’t happen to have a thinktank affiliation. The sole exception (one that proves the rule, IMHO) is Gregg Easterbrook.

  5. June 7th, 2008 at 15:17 | #5

    Well it’s the people who believe in free markets and individual liberty that are going to dispute the doomsday environmental science. Why would statists waste their time when doomsday scenarios = massive increases in the size of government, regulations and more excuses to ignore public choice theory and the libertarian literature?

    I’m sure if a similar study was done on the percentage of studies disputing the reasons to go into Iraq, it’d come up with a similarly high number of left-wing authors.

    What motivates people to research a topic has nothing to do with its veracity, of course.

  6. John Mashey
    June 7th, 2008 at 15:28 | #6

    re: #3 observa

    CARBON SENSE
    Sigh, Carbon Sense Coalition seems to be a Queensland-based amateur denier site, whose 6-page introduction has very definite views of climate science.

    Its membership isn’t exactly overflowing with climate scientists, although it has members that include a grandfather, sheep grazers, a cattleman, a mother, various mining engineers, etc. Maybe someone in Qld can identify some of these folks, although the Chairman, Viv Forbes, appears to do most or all of the posts and maybe these are people he knows.

    [Note: this is not knocking Qld, which I've enjoyed tremendously on every of a dozen visits, nor farmers, as I grew up on a farm. But with all due respect, I'd rather get my climate science from Nobel Physicists, CSIRO researchers, or US National Academy members, or UK Royal Society people.]

    In any case, this isn’t even a good denier site. If Viv Forbes just noticed the silly Hertzberg piece, he’s about a year behind. Of course, he has also written:

    “The Carbon Sense Coalition today claimed that all government efforts to stop global warming and cut carbon dioxide emissions were anti-life and against the interests of mankind.

    The Chairman of “Carbon Senseâ€?, Mr Viv Forbes, said that this generation of foolish politicians are the first in history to complain about the beneficial effects that have always accompanied the periodic but short warm eras that punctuate earth’s history.”

    It’s not clear how much work anyone else does on this. In any case, I’d suggest a serious case of Dunning-Kruger.

    ====
    HERTZBERG

    Dr. Martin Hertzberg is a combustion research scientist, who I didn’t know, but I worked at the US Bureau of Mines Pittsburgh Mining Research Center as he did, and we certainly didn’t do much, if any, climate science there. His paper is embarrassingly bad, especially for a PhD who has actually published on other topics in credible journals.

    Alexander Cockburn used Hertzberg’s piece about a year ago, see RealClimate and RealCLimiate on temperature-CO2 lags.

    Go to John Cook’s Skeptical Science, which has a nice list of long-debunked arguments, each with a link to a readable description, with many references to actual science. In his list, Hertzberg’s paper would be, approximately:

    23 [vapor]
    28 [manco2]
    10 [co2lag]
    22 [hockey]

    John’s site is a nice exposition of mainstream science. He’s a Queensland guy, so that more than balances the scales. One might actually learn something useful from reading his site.

  7. rog
    June 7th, 2008 at 15:37 | #7

    The journal Environmental Politics has, judging by the abstracts, some interesting articles.

    In the current issue is one on Classic Liberalism which argues that “the principle of ecological rationality is more likely to be met within a classical liberal framework that facilitates market-like processes of competitive spontaneous order at multiple levels.”

    Another on Liberal Democracy posists that “liberal democracy is given qualified endorsement: it typically promotes weak sustainability, and stable core autocracies perform worse on strong sustainability measures than stable core democracies. Presidentialism generally is bad for sustainability. However, there is no compelling evidence that public opinion matters, even allowing for the intervening effects of the party system and institutional structure, which raises questions about the nature of the democratic process.”

  8. jquiggin
    June 7th, 2008 at 15:40 | #8

    Sukrit, your comment illustrates the fundamental point. You assume that scientific issues are political just like the invasion of Iraq. You argue for the scientific position that suits your ideological book.

    But in fact, the scientific process actually produces reliable (not infallible) knowledge about the way the world actually works. We don’t need leftwing thinktanks to write books about global warming or the way ecosystems work; we can rely on what scientists actually say about these things.

  9. Martin
    June 7th, 2008 at 16:42 | #9

    Is there one parallel universe or more than one? Are creationists in the same universe as libertarians?

  10. jquiggin
    June 7th, 2008 at 16:50 | #10

    The same one: libertarians use school choice arguments to say that the teaching of evolution should be abandoned

  11. John Mashey
    June 7th, 2008 at 17:10 | #11

    Actually, I’d disagree slightly with JQ. I think those two universes overlap, but there seem to be plenty of creationists who are not libertarians an vice-versa, but of course, they may support each other when convenient.

    An individual may be science-based on many topics, but not all. Some individuals can be non-science-based on numerous topics, and be reflexively hostile to mainstream science.

    One can get surprised. Skeptical Inquirer magazine critically examines all sorts of non-scientific beliefs, so you would expect its readers to be science-based. Its editor Kendrick Frazier was astonished last summer when he ran a straightforward article by a NASA scientist on AGW … and he got a firestorm of ultra-negative letters from his readers [at least some of whom clearly were arguing the science by using political views.] Unsurprisingly, people are happy to laugh at the silly pseudoscience of *other* people.

  12. MontyA
    June 7th, 2008 at 18:34 | #12

    Where does one get a translation of Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. I am ashamed to admit I had never heard of this work until I plugged ‘Tlon’ into Google search. I have just waded through the Wikipedia review. I don’t know whether I am more in awe of the reviewer or Jorge Borges if the reviewer is correct.

    However JQ, you are wrong in claiming GOP evolutionists are from Tlon where the languages have no nouns. The Wikipedia reviewer claims that Tlon is a a world of Berkeleyan idealism, without nouns to create the omnipresent god Berkeley saw as necessary for an internally consistent world.

    GOP evolutionists and their unbeliever masters in Israel inhabit the impossible cubic planet of Bizarro, where the language is little more than nouns that are auto-antonyms of the word in English. This, of course, puts god (Satan/Devil) back into play and gives sense to their statements and actions.
    Check out the oxymoronic statements of the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister attributed as the reason for the spike in the oil price over the last two days and the motto on the gates of Guantanamo. Only Bizarro language gives them meaning.

  13. June 8th, 2008 at 04:19 | #13

    I think there are a number of translations of Borges’s short story. In fact I’ve been linking to a Spanish-English parallel text.

    – bi, International Journal of Inactivism

  14. Ian Gould
    June 8th, 2008 at 10:52 | #14

    “The sole exception (one that proves the rule, IMHO)…”

    We all have our quirks so I hope John that you’ll indulge one of mine.

    When the phrase “an exception that proves the rule” first came inot popular use, English usage was different and the phrase meant “The exception that puts the rule to the proof” or “…calls the rule into question”.

    Only later did it acquire it’s current – and rather illogical meaning.

  15. jquiggin
    June 8th, 2008 at 15:45 | #15

    IG, I’m aware of the history, and I think it works in this case, in both interpretations. That is, finding an allegedly liberal author who has written an anti-environmental screed puts to the proof the rule that such works are produced only by conservative delusionists. When you discover that the supposed exception is Easterbrook, the rule passes the test.

  16. philip travers
    June 9th, 2008 at 09:20 | #16

    I read Nexus Magazine from Queensland!? Never gets mentioned on blogs unless I mention it,has the hallmarks of well researched attempts sometimes!? Is Duncan Rhoads a Left winger or Right!And are his present authors in the latest edition of either persuasion!? Or are we going to fiddle while Rome burns,or play violin whilst Ferguson chews chewing gum and walks at the same time!? So as a little neat question”what about the inventors of potential solutions are they Left or Right wing..and does it matter!?

  17. James Haughton
    June 11th, 2008 at 10:13 | #17

    @ 17; Sukrit, as you are a proponent of the free market and hence the idea that people make decisions largely on monetary incentives, I’m sure you’ll understand when I say that I am not going to spend time reading Rothbard, Hayek, et al unless I’m paid a lot of money to do so.

  18. Ben
    June 12th, 2008 at 15:23 | #18

    Professor Quiggin @8.

    The politicking is going on at both ends of the political spectrum. No less in the left wing as it is in the right.

    Most of the posts on Realclimate or Tim Lambert’s site are of a political nature. I would believe that they are not playing politics if they simply ignored the to-ing and fro-ing and only reported on the facts.

    Attacking the source like you have done here and not attacking the substance is, by the way, playing politics.

  19. Ian Gould
    June 12th, 2008 at 15:47 | #19

    So Ben what you’re saying is that contrary to what John said there are multiple left wing think tanks with multi-million dollars who are the principal proponents of the anthropogenic global warming theory?

    In this area, the left doesn’t need to make shit up because the facts support our position.

  20. Ian Gould
    June 12th, 2008 at 15:49 | #20

    Oh and while I may resort to name-calling on occasion I’ve never threatened to sue someone on an internet forum or threatened them with physical violence.

    I have however been threatened by right-wingers with lawsuits (twice) and with physical violence (once).

  21. jquiggin
    June 12th, 2008 at 18:53 | #21

    Not to pile on, Ben, but there is no substance (peer-reviewed literature, replicated in subsequent work) to discuss. Tlön “research” consists primarily of opinion pieces.

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