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Links to a parallel universe

September 15th, 2010

A few stories about what theorists of postmodernism call “the social construction of reality” on the political right

* The Irish science minister, who planned to launch a book denouncing evolution as a hoax, has pulled out after a lot of criticism and some embarrassing revelations about the author

* Newt Gingrich is touting a new version of birtherism, developed by Dinesh D’Souza, formerly one of the bright young things at the Hoover Institute

* The standard ploy among anti-science amateurs has been to compare themselves to Galileo. But now Robert Sungenis and Robert Bennett have taken the War on Science to its next logical stopping place, with a work in favor of geocentrism, entitled Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right

* The tobacco industry is secretly funding a “grassroots” campaign against plain packaging for cigarettes. This is obviously close to home, but tobacco money spreads far and wide, supporting anyone willing to tell lies about health and environmental science. Among their many targets was Rachel Carson.

* On the global warming front, Lord Monckton is still at it. Here (via Tim Lambert) is a demolition of his latest nonsense, from Alden Griffiths.

A particularly interesting feature of all this is what might be called “cafeteria craziness”. I’m referring to the kind of person, common on the Australian right, who takes the anti-science line on climate change, DDT and so on, but is indignant about being associated with the (virtually identical) arguments of creationists and geocentrists. Or, even pickier, those who are embarrassed by Monckton’s claims of a plot to establish a communist world government, but still want to cite him as a scientific authority

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  1. Ken Fabos
    September 19th, 2010 at 08:49 | #1

    Isn’t a big part of this about popular media’s unwillingness to act as gatekeeper to keep out irrational nonsense? They are sources of entertainment not information and are dependent on advertising revenue that derives from corporations with their own interests, which also have no particular interest in keeping people well informed and can even find it in their interests for people’s irrational fears to be played upon. Not much mention – for example – that plain old soaps and detergents keep things clean enough to make the plethora of disinfectants unnecessary. Between newsfomation and infomercials there’s not much room for informing people in order to promote informed democratic discourse.

  2. Donald Oats
    September 19th, 2010 at 16:00 | #2

    @Alice

    Alice, everyone gets sucked in at some stage by hype, the wristband just being the latest in a long line of such things. Perhaps as a consolation you could give him the book by A. C. Grayling, titled “Skepticism”, that might cheer him up – or not – at the thought of the money he paid. Or the book “Gorillas in the Midst” which is about how we are quite easily fooled by attentional and cognitive illusions, for want of a better way to say it.

    BTW, I’ve got a deal on the Sydney Harbour Bridge going, he might want to know about it… :-D

  3. Alice
    September 19th, 2010 at 16:27 | #3

    @Donald Oats
    Don – I just could not believe it. I was laughing so hard ….until I heard the price then I just said “you have really lost it now. Next stop nursing home for you if we have any money left!”
    He is a skeptic – an old country liberal / national skeptic about everything else but protection for farmers – no free market for him (and I live with him? Weird! But on some things we agree.)
    Well – the rubber bangle made from old tyres and tinfoil just about says it all DON! Mad as a hatter. I hope he doesnt joing scientology or the brethren next.

  4. Jill Rush
    September 20th, 2010 at 12:01 | #4

    The difference with irrational believers now compared to the past is that now they think they should be taken seriously whereas in the past they knew that they weren’t too smart – at least once the population as a whole became educated.

    They like to dispute the opinion of experts because they are busy fighting feelings of inadequacy developed in the school rooms where their inability to think was evident for all to see. Finding friends on the internet who are equally as stupid they think that they weren’t stupid at all. Whereas once they would have just shut up and realised that their thoughts if expressed would be ridiculed now they think they are being brave and exposing lies.

    Belief is a wonderful thing. Today in the SMH there is a story of women who are covered from head to toe and asking their husband’s permission to speak, telling us all about how much more liberated they are than other women and because they can’t be seen they will be judged on their merits rather than their appearance. This is another kind of delusion because of course they are judged on their appearance which is why there has been so much controversy about those who hide their faces in public.

    There is a life time of work in studying this kind of phenomenon which means that inconvenient facts are dismissed, said to be lies or contradicted by “evidence” which is usually far from scientific.

  5. peterm
    September 20th, 2010 at 17:12 | #5

    Jill, it appears that irrational beliefs are a normal human condition. Apparently it is called “Backfire ‘ in the PR Spin doctoring business. Please have a listen Michael Duffy interviewing Michael Duffy on Radio National Counterpoint for some very depressing recent research:

    http://www.abc.net.au/rn/counterpoint/stories/2010/2969289.htm

    The following is the section of the interview I found depressing :

    “Michael Duffy: Right, and if they don’t I guess that’s a problem for democracy, which is why these academics were looking at it. What did they find? What happens to people when they’re exposed to more facts?

    Joe Keohane: One of the major studies published recently was by a guy named Brendan Nyhan at the University of Michigan, and he came up with this idea around 2005 amid all the calls for better fact checking in America due to the misinformation that got out about the Iraq war, about weapons of mass destruction and all that. So he gathered a group of people and he would present them with stories that touched on several hot-button issues. So it would be WMD in Iraq, it would be tax cuts, things like that, things that people tend to lose their temper about relatively quickly in America. He presented something that in the past had been presented as fact, so for example that WMD were found in Iraq, and then presented a correction right under the statement in this fake news story that he was handing out.

    So he gave these people these news stories. Before he gives them to them he asks them a series of questions about their beliefs, and the people who believed that WMDs had been found in Iraq (and bear in mind that by this point that had been demonstrated to be false) actually believed even more strongly that they had been found in Iraq after their original misperception had been contradicted.

    Michael Duffy: That’s a very depressing finding.”

    Joe Keohane: It’s awful. It’s a phenomenon known as backfire, where you believe something that’s false and someone sets you straight and you respond to that by believing even more of what was false in the first place.

  6. peterm
    September 20th, 2010 at 17:15 | #6

    Sorry I meant Michael Duffy interviewing Joe Keohane, a freelance magazine writer.

  7. Chris O’Neill
    September 20th, 2010 at 22:18 | #7

    Joe Keohane: It’s awful. It’s a phenomenon known as backfire, where you believe something that’s false and someone sets you straight and you respond to that by believing even more of what was false in the first place.

    That’s exactly what happens with climate science denialism.

  8. Alice
    September 21st, 2010 at 06:56 | #8

    Another reason people believe nonsense is because of the long history of Rupert Mudochs partisan media that has completely defaced journalistic standards…according to an article in today’s SMH even Mathew Freud, Murdoch’s son in law said he was “sickened and ashamed” by Fox’s “horrendous and sustained” disregard of journalistic standards…

    http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/unfair-and-unbalanced-how-news-failed-to-fell-government-20100920-15jo1.html?from=smh_sb

    and you heard it here first – Fox news has actually registerd “fair and balanced” as its signature trademark. What a tragic joke.

    It was also Murdochs empire that allowed clowns and charlatans like Monkton whatever status they pretend to have.

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