Republican War on Science: Science Fights Back

Via discussions at Wikipedia, this editorial in the Chemical & Engineering News, weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, The editorial notes

There really is a right-wing effort in the U.S. to discredit widely accepted science, technology, and medical information.

prominently represented by Fox News “junk science” correspondent Steven Milloy,

the tireless antiscience polemicist who started out as an apologist for the tobacco industry and spends most of his time these days claiming that all climate-change research is, of course, junk science. It’s a catchy little phrase that Milloy applies to, well, anything that doesn’t match his right-wing concept of reality

as well as those of Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (responsible for the original Oregon petition much beloved of our local delusionists) and the Journal of American Physicians & Surgeons (JAPS), the source of the most recent version of the petition.

What’s striking about this is that, as scientists go, chemists are not exactly renowned as radical extremists, and not many members of ACS would be involved in climate research. Recognition that the political right is at war with science is spreading beyond those most directly affected (such as researchers in climate change, biology, and epidemiology) to the broader community of scientists (and even, more recently engineers).

In the short run, the political costs of a war on science aren’t that great. There just aren’t enough scientists to make up a big voting bloc. But science, while fallible, is the most reliable source of truth we have, and most people know this. A party at war with science is, in the end, at war with truth, and truth will out.

Voltaire, Mill and Steyn

Via Ken Parish at Troppo it appears that well-known bigot and war advocate Mark Steyn is being prosecuted under Canadian hate speech laws. At this point it’s customary to (mis)quote Voltaire about defending to the death his right to say things. It’s much better, in general, to point to John Stuart Mill whose works such as On Liberty provide an overwhelming case against restrictions on the freedom of speech, and particularly political speech.

In this case, there’s no need to go through Mill’s arguments in detail. A case like this is obviously going to turn out badly whether Steyn wins, and gets an undeserved triumph or loses and gets to paint himself as a martyr. It will certainly do nothing to refute his claims. Rather it’s better to point out his fraudulent bigotry, starting with this ludicrous 9/11 conspiracy theory. I had a few goes at this back in the day, when people other than RWDBs took Steyn seriously. At this point, refuting Steyn is scarcely necessary (or wasn’t until this silly prosecution gave him oxygen).

US Recession: Implications for Australia

The news that the unemployment rate in the United States has risen from 5.0 to 5.5 per cent makes it clear that the US economy is now in recession, even allowing for all the usual qualifications about one months’ data, possible revisions and so on. Unemployment tends to be a lagging indicator, and the housing downturn still has a long way to go before it turns around. The long-overdue downgrading of the main mortgage insurers, MBIA and Ambac, and of course the further depreciation of the US dollar and increase in the price of oil add to the picture. Not surprisingly, this produced a big drop on Wall Street last Friday. What are the implications for Australia.

The most direct, I think, is for the Reserve Bank. It’s now virtually impossible for the US Fed to raise interest rates, so the prospects for US inflation staying low depend on the assumption that high prices for food and oil, and increasingly for US imports, won’t be reflected in prices more generally or in wages. The Australian economy is sufficiently fragile that it seems sensible to take a similar view here and not increase interest rates further (of course, that still leaves Australia with much higher interest rates, and lower inflation, than the US).

The second is for the sustainability of the economic model pursued by the whole English-speaking world for the last couple of decades with large trade and current account deficits and low to zero rates of household savings in traditional terms, offset by capital gains on housing and equity investments. Australia has followed this model even more enthusiastically than the US in some respects, and so far has not suffered any serious consequences. But a sudden loss of confidence in the US could easily spread here. I’d be a lot happier if our current account deficit was declining as a result of the mining boom. Instead, it’s now at record levels.

BrisScience tonight


BrisScience: Friend or Foe? The Ocean’s Response to Climate Change presented
by Dr Ben McNeil

Time: 6:30pm to 7:30pm (Doors open at 6pm)
Monday 8 December, 2008
Venue: Ithaca Auditorium, Brisbane City Hall
Refreshments: There will be complimentary drinks and nibblies following the
talk, and Ben will be available to answer any questions.
Questions? Contact Joel (0411 267 044 or or Nelle

The Great Library of Tlön

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.

Videoconference at LaTrobe

I’ll be appearing (on the big screen) at LaTrobe University tomorrow Friday 12-1 talking on the topic “Discounting and Intergenerational equity: the case of climate change”. Contact the School of Business for details.

I’m going to check if I can get a recording to post on YouTube. I’m also looking into streaming video, but that’s some way off.