Ideology and agnotology

The way in which I’ve generally thought about politics is in terms of ideology and particularly, the divide between the left (socialists, social democrats, labour and related groups) and the right (various strains of conservatives, market liberals and business advocates). But increasingly I doubt that this is the right way to look at things.

First, the long-heralded ‘end of ideology’ seems to arrived, but not in way its proposers imagined.

The long struggle of left and centre-left parties to maintain their relevance in the face of the resurgent market liberalism of the late 20th century gradually eroded any belief in the possibility of a fundamental transformation of capitalism, to the point where such ideas no longer receive even lip-service, let alone serious and sustained attention. Instead, these parties have found themselves lumbered with the task of managing the mixture of social democratic and market institutions that emerged from the conflicts of the 20th century, tweaking them sometimes with market-oriented reforms and sometimes with marginal new interventions. This is broadly consistent with the ‘end of ideology’ story.

On the right, however, the scene is one of complete ideological incoherence. Market liberalism has run out of steam, libertarianism has failed to produce a coherent response to the Iraq war or the Bush assault on civil liberties (to be fair, Obama has also failed here) , and the various other elements that have emerged or re-emerged as forces on the right – Christianism, aggressive nationalism, anti-feminism and so on – amount to little more than a tribalist set of hatreds of various others.

The unifying feature of the right in the 21st century is not so much ideology as an embrace of ignorance, represented most obviously by the leading figures on the right in the US, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin. Rather than reflecting an even partially coherent world view and political program, rightwing politics now consists of the restatement of talking points in favor of a set of policy positions that represent affirmations of tribal identity, rather than elements of a coherent program.

So, Christianists fight to the death on gay marriage but are unconcerned by the emergence of serial divorce and remarriage as a social norm, particularly among the Republican elite. Libertarians denounce gun control as the first step to dictatorship but, many have been unconcerned or supportive of the abrogation of most constitutional protections against arbitrary arrest and punishment. Business pushes its own barrow through continuous advocacy of tax cuts, but shows no concern about massive defense spending that is already rendering those cuts unsustainable.

Increasingly, I’ve become convinced that the best way to understand this can be summed in the term ‘agnotology’ (h/t commenter Fran Barlow), coined by Robert Proctor to describe study of the manufacture of ignorance. Proctor was referring primarily to the efforts of the tobacco lobby to cast doubt on research demonstrating the link between smoking and cancer. But the veterans of that campaign have moved on to a whole range of new issues, and their techniques have been so widely imitated that the entire political right now looks like Big Tobacco writ even bigger.

The manufacture of ignorance is most obvious in relation to climate change, where the gullibility associated with ‘scepticism’ has reached levels that would have seemed unbelievable (at least in the absence of the kind of religious commitment associated with creationism). If supporters of science had invented someone like Lord Monckton, he would have been dismissed as an absurd caricature.

In this context, it’s important to observe that, while the big oil companies initially funded the manufacture of ignorance about climate change using recycled tobacco hacks like Fred Singer, Fred Seitz and so on Steve Milloy, the process has developed its own momentum. Hostility to science and scientists on this issue is now so universal on the right that there is a ready market for additions to the supply of ignorance in the form of new talking points, manufactured scandals and so on. So, even though Exxon pulled the funding plug a few years ago, this stuff keeps on coming.

But the same pattern can be observed repeated across a vast range of issues – creationism, birtherism, the abortion-breast cancer link, the supposed WMDs in Iraq, the idea that the financial crisis was caused by the Community Reinvestment Act and others too numerous to mention. The intellectual atmosphere is one of uncritical acceptance of any talking point, no matter how absurd, that appears to support the position of the tribe.

Some of those maintaining such absurdities continue to present themselves as serious intellectuals, and indeed some of them once could have justified this claim. But now, above and beyond the abandonment of independent judgement on individual issues, they have been forced to pay obeisance virtues of ignorance, as represented by first by GW Bush and then, in even more extreme form by Palin, Limbaugh, and Beck and their Australian equivalents, such as Abbott, Minchin and the rightwing commentariat in general.

How will political contests over agnotology play out? Ignorant tribalism is not a force to be dismissed lightly. In day-to-day politics, the absence of any coherent position or relationship to reality is not a big disadvantage, while a machine capable of disseminating talking points is a big asset.

On the other hand, there are some significant long run costs associated with the embrace of ignorance. Science has been the central engine of human progress over the past century or more and anti-science political movements have rarely prospered for long. The average voter has not yet recognised the fact that the political right is now vehemently opposed to science and scientists. But both scientists and their rightwing enemies are well aware of the fact.

Stereotypical images of scientists as grant-grubbing fans of world government are routinely found in public rightwing rhetoric along with welfare queens, limousine liberals and other outgroups. These attacks are now extending to vicious campaigns of personal harassment, ranging from the overt disruption associated with the FOI and hacking campaign called ‘Climategate’ to anonymous hate mail and death threats. Rightwingers have almost universally cheered the criminality of the Climategate hack, and have tacitly or overtly supported the broader hate campaign.

Conversely, scientists are now as reliably hostile to the Republican party as African-Americans (a total of 6 per cent, according to this poll) When the general image of the political right catches up with this reality, the costs are likely to be severe.

But, in the meantime, their abandonment of reality-based politics has left managerialists like Rudd and Obama wrong-footed. Their whole approach to politics assumes that the other side shares a broadly consistent view of reality. But in John Cole’s acid metaphor, dealing with the agnotological right is like going on a dinner date where you suggest Italian and your date prefers a meal of tire rims and anthrax.

The big political problem is that while competent management commands widespread approval it does not mobilise much enthusiasm. What is needed here is a return to ideology, and a project to move beyond day-to-day management and offer the ‘light on the hill’ of a positive social transformation, based on justice and equality.

180 thoughts on “Ideology and agnotology

  1. It seems noone will join your team on this challenge Andrew, but we believe you’re in the centre between the ideological extremes because you’ve told us so.
    BTW I like your

    Science is not a political movement. Across its many disciplines it’s a process that deals in facts, theories and hypothesis. Science will always win any debate against politics – it may take time, but at the end of the day, ‘truth will always out’.

    very good!
    Now, you could turn to almost any day’s delusional output from one of JQ’s nominated anti-scientific agitators to see that his charge is correct, and certainly they are “prominent”. By contrast I’m not even sure to whom you’re referring other than for Brown, Garrett and Milne. So who are your nominees, why are their views as prominent as those of Devine, Albrechtsen et al, and which one undeniable economic consensus is it you claim they deny? Be specific or, it seems clear, you lose your challenge despite that excellent quote above.

  2. what sort of person thinks world trade is a conspiracy anyway,
    reminds me of the decision to change the name of the ‘freedom tower’ being built in NYC’s ruins
    it shall now be called
    One World Trade Center

  3. I’m not sure that it has a grip on our consciousness so much as on our unconscious.
    It shapes the limits of what we can imagine.
    It does so because it has enjoyed 20 years of unchallenged domination, blitzing our nervous systems with its intoxicants, paralysing thought.
    Put at its simplest, capitalist realism is the widespread idea that capitalism is the only “realistic” political economic system.

    Mark Fisher

  4. I think your basic thesis is hard to argue with. As an amateur historian, I can’t say I am particularly surprised. Societies in the drawn-out process of radical transition to new circumstances tend to first re-visit the past (“what made us great will work again”) and then, when that fails, fall back on “magic” – a patchwork of irrational (because self-contradictory) ideas gathered from all over the place. Two of G K Chesterton’s quotes capture it succinctly – for the mainstream media “Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference, which is an elegant name for ignorance”, and the better known “When a Man stops believing in God he doesn¹t then believe in nothing, he believes anything”.

    Add in as well as “God” the belief that infinite material progress is possible, that the US (or Britain, or the West, or liberal democracy) will always be on top, or that our children will have better lives, and you get the picture. Substantial sections of the Western population are now deeply uncertain that these and other things can be automatically accepted as true.

    The process can take be short or long – think of the revival of neo-Confucianism in late Qing China and under the Nationalists, or the insistence on orthodoxy followed by the flowering of cults in Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries. Or it can be compressed – Europe 1900 to 1945.

    It’s hard to say what will emerge from the riot. My guess would be a mix of social democracy where resource pressures are not too bad, and either very tight government or a failure of government where they bear hardest. Australia will probably go for tight government – it’s our tradition.

  5. @Andrew
    “names like Brown, Milne, Garrett, George, Cameron”

    These people may be leftwing, but they have not, to the best of my knowledge, made claims that are obviously at variance with mainstream science. More generally, I am not saying that rightwingers are inherently stupid or extreme, but that, as a matter of fact, the right in the US (and increasingly in Australia) has gone this way, abandoning coherent policy thinking in favor of spurious talking points. (After writing, I see that DD has made the same point).

    @Roger Jones, I endorse Fran’s response and have edited the post to make it clear that by agnotology I mean the study of the manufacture of ignorance not the process itself. However, agnotology may be either critical (Proctor’s implicit position) or supportive, as with the intellectuals who have argued that Palin’s virtuous ignorance is to be preferred to the reality-based policy of the left.

  6. Although anti-vaccination types were once mostly on the left, this has largely ceased to be true, I think. These days, there are at least as many rightwingers.

  7. Science will always win any debate against politics – it may take time, but at the end of the day, ‘truth will always out’.

    Wishful thinking, perhaps? And, even if does win, there’s a still a big question of when.

    It’s clear to me that science is a significantly more reliable method for getting at the truth than sitting around and talking about stuff, but, unfortunately, it’s not how humans work. The slow, qualified, skeletal, knowledge of science has a hard time against the juicy psychological quality of truthiness. How many people do you see proclaiming that they “know” when it is abundantly clear that they have no reliable basis for the claim?

    From an evolutionary point of view, science is a kind of weird aesthetic that runs contrary to a number of significant biological impulses. The very high biological energy cost of using a brain means that the human organism has evolved to make energy-efficient quick judgements of situations and then stop wasting energy collecting and processing more data. Science often works in exactly the opposite manner – remaining sceptical and collecting yet more evidence, in a potentially interminable attempt to overthrown the Known. The reason the history of science is all recent isn’t lost records, it’s the biology of survival.

    Taking it one step further, it is often the “sexiness” of knowledge that actually counts evolutionarily. On most issues, even if you’re dead wrong, the number of followers you have is the relevant number, especially if they include the better members of the opposite sex. Charisma regularly beats truth. Poetry has survived for powerful reasons that don’t include the ability to add two and two or run down a tortoise.

    There is now a growing body of neuropsychological evidence that political views are just another part of personality, despite our quaint belief that we have arrived at our political world-view through some kind rigorous analysis. Political persuasions can be predicted quite well from personality profiles, or even, according to one study, from just looking around someone’s bedroom. People are born with their political personality to a significant degree and they appear to be pretty locked-in after the first few years of life – even if they don’t know what they are at the time. From then on, for most of us, most of the time, it’s a matter of going with the confirmation bias with maybe a little tweaking at the edges and trying to get people to agree with us. Longitudinal studies find that switching sides is quite rare. Science – letting the evidence speak – provides an alternative to this acting out but it’s by no means a done deal. There are powerful forces working in opposition. Witness the number of people who believe in, say, creation (or if you’re otherwise inclined, evolution.) I don’t expect them to disappear in my lifetime. Sure, maybe one day, but we’ll need an aesthetic of following the best evidence using reliable methods, and that doesn’t seem to me to be doing very well right now.

  8. …or more wittily:

    “Nothing is so unbelievable that oratory cannot make it acceptable.”
    — Marcus Tullius Cicero

  9. Here is word (from ‘Word Spy’) which could also be useful when discussing climate change denial: nontroversy n. A false or non-existent controversy.

  10. Yes, but I don’t think you give sufficient weight to the fact that human beings, in this era at least (not just Americans, not just rightwingers) select realities we’re happy with all the time. We live that way. We do what we do not because we have calculated that these particular actions will produce that predictable outcome, but because these actions are consistent with our chosen image of ourselves. We do not say “What are the facts on global warming?” We say”If I wanted people to look at me as if I was Clint Eastwood playing Dirty Harry, what would I say about global warming?” We work outward from our fantasies, not inward from the facts.

    Australians know, looking at another example, that harm minimisation would work better to reduce drug use than tough enforcement, but we don’t want to think of ourselves as people who are soft on drugs (or soft at all, really). That’s just about what it means to hold a political opinion.

    Any time you hear the words “sending the wrong message” (which is all the time) you’re hearing an admission that characterisation is more important than outcomes.

  11. Maybe after decades of “economic rationalism” for want of a better term, right-wing pundits are capitalising on the fatigue of misconstrued “efficiency”, “stakeholder”(vested interest) consultation and bipartisan market liberalisation to the detriment of traditional sources of employment. Since the centre has moved to the right and the public is “relaxed and comfortable” with the state of affairs the remaining political debates are carried out appealing to emotionalism.

  12. People are born with their political personality
    surely they are born with a certain personality, which subsequently influences thier political alignment
    i think its roughly split between people driven by fear and hope

  13. Isn’t “agnotology” related to what Marxists call “reification” and thus another mechanism for human commodification within a system itself based on theft, contradiction and myth?

  14. “The average voter has not yet recognised the fact that the political right is now vehemently opposed to science and scientists. But both scientists and their rightwing enemies are well aware of the fact.”

    1- The average voter has been subjected to saturated pro-AGW arguments for the last 10 years. It is only the last few months that skeptics have made some inroads in the public discourse, and so far mostly on the internet. The average voter now realises that there is no reason to be afraid of the future. The end of the world isn’t nigh!

    2- The political left offered a gift to the right-wingers with all the scaremongering about the Earth’s climate. The political left’s narrative was/is this: the future looks so bad unless we do something really soon and really painful, it will be even worse! Now, where is “the light on the hill” in that narrative? We shall see whether the average voter vote with their hopes or with their fears. Not just in Australia, but across the developed world.

    3- To say that right-wingers are anti-science is as silly as to say left-wingers are anti-religion. When you put scientific method into an ideological straight-jacket (in this instance, make it the property of the Left), then you have lost touch with reality. Contrary to the AGW believers’ perceptions, the re-kindled climate debate is not a re-run of evolution vs creationism debate. The right-wingers are not thumping the Bible when they argue against the Left’s oh-so-scientific scare-mongering. AGW scepticism is based on the same scientific principles that has produced the global warming hypothesis, though the fact is that arguments from both sides have become highly politicised.

    4- A more personal note. As mentioned here several weeks ago, I was an Australian Greens voter for the last decade, and a member and party activist for several of those years. I am sorry to say to my fellow Greens that I am now an AGW sceptic. Since I decided to dip my toe into the debate for the first time six months ago, I have found the climate science underwhelming and its doom-and-gloom scenarios not credible. I simply refuse to be afraid of the future. Does that make me an anti-science right-winger? No. I still have utmost trust in science and scientific method. Not in climate science though. Climate science has lost a lot of credibility in my view.

    OK, now. What about the election? Who will I vote this time? Well, regardless of what JQ says, I still believe in the old Left-Right dichotomy. I have never voted for a right-wing party in my life, and I never will. Since the Greens will be pushing the AGW scare again during the election, I won’t be voting Green. And since small, silly groups like AGW sceptics’ party or whatever will be re-directing preferences to the Lib-Nat coalition that’s out of the question too. So my vote in this election will either be informal or go to an independent.

    Before anybody throw around the dim-witted charges of concern troll etc at me, may I add my impressions that there are a lot of left-wingers out there concerned about the AGW scare-mongering. I could not have said this six months ago but the tide has changed. After nearly two decades of dark visions of the future, voters will embrace the political movement that offers some hope, some light on the hill kind of stuff.

  15. i think that’s inaccurate shx, the scientists did their work, and from what i could gather tried very hard not to overstate their case,
    the media did the scare-mongering and the media have then turned like the whores they are in the other direction,
    al gore’s film upped the tempo and although it seemed like a good thing at the time, i think with hindsight it was a poisoned chalice,
    but lets be clear,
    doing research in multiple areas and having the results point to potentially catastrophic climate change and asking for changes to be made to avert this is not scare-mongering,
    its common sense,
    accepting that their is margin for error but erring on the side of caution since the stakes are life on earth as we know it is not scare-mongering,
    it is the application of the precautionary principle and common sense

  16. And in any event, SHx, the place where the rubber hits the road — policy — would have recommended doing very nearly all the things we are contemplating in relation to CO2.

    Does it make sense to reduce reliance on fossil fuels even if you don’t accept AGW as bona fide science? Of course it does. Think resource depletion, acid seas, biodiversity, and ecosystem services like air and water quality, equity, energy independence etc.

    Does it make sense to protect and augment forests? Of course it does. They are amongst other things a part of our oxygen supply.

    Does it make sense to make cities more energy- and water-efficient? Of course it does.

    Had the first world, in the mid-1950s, begun putting a premium on fossil energy, developed more energy-efficient cities, got people out of cars and onto public transport and ensured the cars that were on the road were appropriately sized and forced to be as thermally efficient as possible, and then rolled out these innovations to the developing world, there can be little doubt that the world would now be in far better health, whatever one makes of AGW. The fact that the magnitude of the challenge dealing with the anthropogenically-driven climate anomaly would have been much smaller, the existing damage much smaller, the measures required far more modest in scale and the voice of the enemies of good policy much more muted would have been bonuses.

    In this alternative world, the 1973 “oil shock” would have been an “oil ripple”. In that world there might have been no current Israeli-Palestinian problem, no Afghanistan or Iraq conflicts and there might not have been no Shah Reza Pahlavi or Ayatollah Khomeini, no Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. There might have been no President Ronald Reagan, no Pershings and SS20s, no Chernobyl and much less burning of coal.

    And by the early 1970s we would have quietly discovered this event looming on the long-term horizon, called AGW which we could have approached in a calm and orderly manner and dealt with by slightly accelerating what we were already doing for other reasons.

  17. @sHx

    It is completely innaccurate to suggest that skeptics have only made inroads in the last few months. I think perhaps you are new to the debate?

    I have been reading and hearing skeptic arguments to AGW since the 1980s. I remember telling people as a highschooler circa 1990 that volcanoes put out more CO2 than people do, because I’d read that in a newspaper.

    You have that point all backwards. AGW skepticism whether overt, or else quiet (in the form of inertia, inability to implement any meaningful policy) has been the rule for more than a decade. Australia never signed Kyoto until a couple of years ago remember? It has only been in the last maybe 5 years that there really was an active majority in Australia pushing more strongly for a meaningful policy on climate change.

    What you see as skeptics finally getting a say in the last few months is actually just a little oscillation. Sentiment on AGW is on a slowly rising curve that, over time, increasingly favours acceptance of the theory, and action. But from time to time there are downswings, and we are in one of them now.

  18. The excerpt below is from a Tony Abbott interview on ABC Lateline back in November. At the time, the Lib-Nat coalition seemed to be imploding under Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership due to the ETS bill. JQ was calling Tony Abbott & Co ‘delusionists’ and ‘vorticists’, and he was trumpeting Kevin Rudd’s prowess in destroying one Lib leader after another. The Climategate emails were just breaking into the news. Note Abbott’s message about the future:

    TONY JONES: Is it a left-wing conspiracy? The climate change debate, the linking of climate change and global warming – is it a left wing conspiracy as Nick Minchin says to deindustrialise the western world?

    TONY ABBOTT: I think certainly there are some people whose agenda is not just environmental who’ve leapt on this particular bandwagon, and I don’t like the theological tone that so often creeps into this debate.

    I particularly dislike the way Kevin Rudd in Parliament was running around like Torquemada, looking for heresy, trying to create his own version of the Salem witch hunts against people that don’t share his particular view on this.

    TONY JONES: Senator Minchin also says since the collapse of communism, the left has embraced environmentalism as their new religion. You seem to be hinting you think something similar – you’ve talked already about the evangelical fervour of scientists. You’ve warned this whole thing might be just a fad.

    You’ve also poked fun at the idea of sea-level rises – you’ve suggested the world is cooling, not warming. You don’t sound that far away from the Minchin brand of scepticism.

    TONY ABBOTT: Well Tony, I’m on the record on all of these things and I refuse to be terrified of the future. I think that humankind has been pretty good at coping with the challenges that we’ve been given.

    If you look at Roman times, grapes grew up against Hadrian’s Wall – medieval times they grew crops in Greenland. In the 1700s they had ice fairs on the Thames. So the world has been significantly hotter, significantly colder than it is now. We’ve coped.

    I don’t say there aren’t problems, haven’t been problems, might not be problems, but I refuse to be terrified of the court.

    TONY JONES: Do you think it’s a conspiracy.

    TONY ABBOTT: I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that I refuse to be terrified of the future.

    It is not exactly a “light on the hill” kind of statement but Abbott strikes an optimistic chord on climate change that is contrary to fear-mongering we often hear from the Labor or the Greens: “I think that humankind has been pretty good at coping with the challenges that we’ve been given… I refuse to be terrified of the future… I refuse to be terrified of the court” Several days later, quite unexpectedly, he became the leader of the Coalition, and one of the first things that he said was that he was not afraid of an election based on climate change.

    It is sad to see that it is one of Australia’s most right-wing, most reactionary political figures that offers something other than fear and loathing of the future.

  19. is it a left wing conspiracy as Nick Minchin says to deindustrialise the western world?

    i like to judge things on their effects, rather than on what people say,
    so far, as i said above,
    the strongest effect of all this is the renaissance of nuclear power,
    so if it was ever a conspiracy, i dont think it was born on the left

  20. Canadian ecologist Patrick Moore was a founding member of Greenpeace and even he felt that when the Berlin wall came down they suffered an influx of statists. I don’t think it is coincidence that the left feel more comfortable signing up to the AGW agenda for change.

  21. sHx, as you may have noticed from the Minchin quote, the delusionists, while foolishly optimistic about the consequences of doing nothing, are absurdly pessimistic about the costs of taking action to stablise the global climate. Abbott’s “Great Big Tax on Everything”, referring a scheme with a gross annual value of $10 billion a year, most of it returned the industries affected or to households is only marginally less hyperbolic. They are the ones offering fear and loathing of a feasible future, and invoking wishful thinking on a massive scale to avoid it.

  22. that last comment doesnt really make sense terje, who suffered an influx of statists? greenpeace?
    other founding members dispute his claims, although weakly i suspect,
    but they certainly dont see any real connection with his ideas now and theirs now, and they are appaled by the groups he has represented since who are on the polar opposite side to Grenpeace
    the right loves quoting irrelevant figures like Moore and lovelock,
    they should make a tribal film … “Once were Left”

  23. @TerjeP (say tay-a)

    Canadian ecologist Patrick Moore was a founding member of Greenpeace …

    This is one of the more persistent canards. Moore can claim to have been an early member of Greenpeace, but he was not a founding member, and his connection with Greenpeace was severed a long time before AGW was a significant controversy.

    Part of the reason it was severed was his dubious relationships with extractive companies seeking a house “ecologist” to lend credibility to environmentally objectionable activity.

    It should be noted that Moore comes from a family of commercial fishermen and inherited the business.

    This ought to be considered when considering Moore’s stance on environmental matters.

  24. JQ – I don’t fear the direct economic impact of a modest ETS. What concerns me is the institutional ratchet that it creates. A carbon tax would avoids this as does some modest handouts. Once emission right become property they are subject to constitutional protection. It also makes a whole class of traders deeply engrossed in the every eye movement of government. It isn’t a game I want us to join.

  25. @sHx

    I have found the climate science underwhelming and its doom-and-gloom scenarios not credible. I simply refuse to be afraid of the future. Does that make me an anti-science right-winger? No. I still have utmost trust in science and scientific method. Not in climate science though. Climate science has lost a lot of credibility in my view.

    As you’re not an anti-science left-winger either sHx, how about some insight into how you’ve recently re-educated yourself on the science of climate to arrive at your currently zesty and carefree approach to the future? You might gain some converts here, right now!

  26. re JQs comment
    “But the veterans of that campaign have moved on to a whole range of new issues, and their techniques have been so widely imitated that the entire political right now looks like Big Tobacco writ even bigger.”

    Such a good comment. I wish I had thought it up. It really is amazing to wake up these days – read opinion pieces in the media – and wonder if people have gone completely stark raving mad.
    Its “Andy Warhol style two minutes of fame to anyone mildly controversial” opinions for hire.
    Glad I am not my grandchild to have to make sense of this world…and here was me thinking the loss of grip on reality was bad in the hippy era of 1970s.

    Well its seriously worse, much worse! Yet they are not even on LSD. Work that one out!

  27. “names like Brown, Milne, Garrett, George, Cameron”

    “These people may be leftwing, but they have not, to the best of my knowledge, made claims that are obviously at variance with mainstream science. ”

    JQ – sorry I’ve been busy at work today. I’ll look up some loony quotes to attribute to them. I didn’t claim that they’d made claims ‘that are obviously at variance with mainstream science’ – I claimed that for every loony right wing quote you could find (in your case focussing on anti-science) I could find quotes from leading leading leftys that are equally loony on other topics – I specifically mentioned global trade, because Brown and Milne have made some particularly silly and non-mainstream comments about things like the US FTA, trade with Japan (in a whaling context) or trade with China (in a human rights context). Leave it with me and I’ll get googling when I can.

    btw … for the commentators didn’t recognise the names in my list! It was Bob Brown, Christine Milne, Peter Garrett, Jennie George, Doug Cameron. I would have thought it was self-evident that all have come out with loony left offerings on a semi-regular basis. Bob Brown seems to have made a career of it!

  28. @Andrew
    Andrew – If you want to stack Bob Brown V Tony Abbott into a ring for the most looney knockout competition I know where Id place my bets for the most looney views and it isnt Bob Brown.

    I think Bob is one of the most honest men in politics…because he doesnt have the numbers to win and thats where you have to go to get honesty these days instead of spin. The lesser parties. Was it always that way?

  29. Andrew, you are lost. Do you realise how many from the left here are eagerly awaiting your posting of those comments you have judged as “silly” and “non-mainstream”?

  30. i agree alice, if i had to be stuck on a desert island with any one of them for the next five years it would be bob by a mile

  31. @Andrew
    Yeah Im waiting Andrew. This point Andrew makes about Brown, Milne, Garrett, George and Cameron has been made before and they usal;ly do not post examples of these people’s loony quotes….

    So I guess that means Andrew…put your loony left quotes from this list where your mouth is?

    People would obviously like to hear these loony left quotes you have – you do actually have them dont you? Id start googling earlier than you planned (and maybe some others would like to post some loony right quotes and we could have a vote on who wins the looniest quote competition)?

  32. Can anyone beat Minchin? A global conspiracy of scientists out to deindustrialise the world. From a major party leader and ‘king’ maker. And he’s still there, still taken seriously. I guess anyone who thinks his party have any credibility until they disown him is trusting that the electorate are loony.

    Um Nick, scientists tend to be technocrats, you know, tend to believe in human ingenuity solving problems. Not all perhaps, but your conspiracy is pretty universal

    There may be more loony statements but it would be hard to find a belief by so senior a figure which is so blatant, undeniable and ridiculous

  33. Don @ #30, I’m intrigued with the term “de-link economic growth from emissions levels”. While the rest of the article is reasonably rational, the addiction to economic growth remains.

    If we could just de-link economic growth from biodiversity loss, pollution, resource depletion, obesity, increasing gap between rich and poor, ah, run out of steam but there must be more, then we would have a real achievement.

  34. The interesting bit here is that left wing luminaries, such as PrQ, continue to believe that the superiority of their (uhn, ok, our) ideology, and their arguments, is self-evident. All it takes apparently is to remind the punters about ‘the light on the hill’. Throw in, g-d forbid, ‘agnotology’, and you have a sure recipe for futher failure. Amazing.

    What is the Democratic Party’s specific, concrete solution to the economic degradation of the American lower middle class (the backbone of the Tea Party movement)? What is the environmental movement’s specific, concrete proposal with regard to climate change, now that we have moved away from the utopian international treay approach? What is Kevin Rudd’s specific, concrete policy on hospitals? The public is reacting to specific policy failure, not to some mumbo jumbo peddled by Limbaugh and Co. as PrQ is implying. It will continue to turn to the right wing for solution for as long as the left continues to be vague, unserious, and condescending. What we need is the exact opposite of turning back to ‘light on the hill’ rhetoric. What does ‘positive social transformation, based on justice and equality’ mean exactly?

    Get. Things. Done.

  35. Right wing solution? You’re not from military intelligence are you? Sometimes, frustrating and elitist as it may be, it’s best to think. things. through.

  36. specific policy failure

    – endless war against an amorphous enemy
    – financial collapse and the attendant hollowing of social institutions like health and education

    most of the problems i see have been handed to us by the right,

    anyway the public reacts to whatever they are told to, last week it was haiti and now the media is quiet as the multinationals set up the sweatshops cos haiti’s labour costs are just so competitive,
    the week before that was iran, (surprisingly it turns out the so called twitter revolution came from outside the country)
    how many media barons are on the left?

  37. @Ilya
    What I find particularly interesting and worrying is the ability of the denailists to get out the commenters on websites like The Age online. Everytime AGW is mentioned in an article that allows comments the first batch will always be the denialists repeating the same discredited talking points and heaping abuse on anyone who excepts the science. If you went by the comments alone you would have to conclude that the vast majority of Australians where aggressive denialists. This is obvisously at odds with polling so who is getting this together? I was kind of hoping Clive Hamilton would have something concrete to share.

  38. @Steve

    Yes, you are right. I am fairly new to the debate. Although I voted for the Greens for the last ten years or so, it was simply out of political loyalty to the general social and environmental agenda of the movement plus a great deal of admiration for Bob Brown. Until six months ago, I did my best to ignore all news and commentary on TV, radio and the papers regarding the climate change debate. Never seen “An Inconvenient Truth”, never seen “the Great Global Warming Swindle”. Honestly, I bought into the product out of political loyalty, not because I personally examined it. Nevertheless, I maintained a less than firm belief in AGW despite the fact that I was exposed to more pro-AGW words, text and imagery on the media to the tune of 20 to 1. I only got to see the headlines before I changed the channel or turned the page:)

    However, I was fortunate enough to finally stick my nose into the nitty gritty of the debate six months ago. That means an opportunity to observe and compare the public debate approx 3 months before and after the CRU e-mail controversy. What appeared to me to be the corruption of scientific process is what finally turned me into a sceptic. The public reaction has also been quite extraordinary (and angry) before and after that event.

    I agree with you also that if we take governmental policy as a yard stick, yes, scepticism has been the rule. So far. But I disagree that the reactions of the last few months is mere oscillation in general upward trend for the acceptance of the AGW theory. I think we may have seen the high point of the AGW movement last December. For this issue to re-appear on the world agenda with some forcefulness will take fresh scientists, fresh data, fresh methodology, more credible predictions and policy responses, and at least ten years. I think climate science will need to be put under the microscope by other scientific disciplines. Three months ago, when climategate story first came out, many AGW faithful, especially the leading luminaries in Real Climate blog, kept chanting the line that this was just a tempest in a teacup. They were wrong.

    I think the precautionary principle has already been debated at length. Briefly again, pro-AGW theory proponents urge erring on the side of the caution, whereas sceptics claim the precautionary principle is a glorified version of Pascal’s Wager. Anything new to add to that? Well, just a week after the September 11 attacks, as America was crying out for Osama bin Laden’s blood, George W Bush the half-witted president said something that would fit reasonably well into this context: “…belittling the idea of using missile strikes to eliminate Osama bin Landen, [Bush said], “What’s the sense of sending $2 million missiles into a $10 tent that’s empty.” The fact is that the pre-cautionary principle plus the public mood at the time would both have been enough to send the multi-million dollar missile into a $10 tent. But he won’t do it unless has firm intelligence that Osama is in it.

    With climate change the cheese (the opportunity cost) will be in tens of trillions of dollars without any guarantee that it will catch the mouse, or whether there is any game to catch at all. Very little attention is paid to just how much the human civilisation will be set back if resources are re-allocated to a project that may prove to be vain-glorious in the end. In my view, the prevailing level of certanity (or uncertainty) in climate science does not justify the costs. Note that the main concern here is not my energy bill, but the potential set back to civilisation. There is a compelling case that industrialisation has done a lot of good to humanity. And unless, climate science’s modelling and predictions are as accurate as laws of gravity, any policy response would be ill-advised. A meteor strike, a super volcano, a giant solar flare could have far graver consequences to humanity. But we are not fretting over it and we are not spending trillions to counter it as the pre-cautionary principle would have as to.

    Also, smiths, it doesn’t seem fair to blame the media for overstating the case for CAGW, while absolving climate scientists of any responsibility. If the case for CAGW was overstated by the media, then it would be the responsibility of climate scientists to re-state the facts and pull them back in line. It is not like climate scientists were not interviewed directly and commissioned to write articles. There is a reason we don’t have the media running wild on super-volcano scare each time a mountain grumbles: volcanologists have the say on such matters not journalists.

    @Fran Barlow
    Fran, despite my AGW scepticism, I still consider myself a Greenie with solid environmentalist concerns. I am truly a tree-hugger at heart and mind. But this CAGW scare is completely dominating the Green agenda. I could never imagine the Green movements softening up on the nuclear energy option or the GM foods, but it seems the movement has come to almost a point of advocacy on several options that would have been taboo ten to twenty years ago. For more than two decades this country had the three mine uranium policy. Now that’s gone. And soon we’ll have nuclear reactors in our backyards. We look at Brazil and praise it for its bio-fuel economy but we turn a blind eye to the devastation that the land-clearing has caused to the CO2-eating Amazonian rainforests. The world food prices has shot up, so we are beholden to the likes of Monsanto for high-yield GM seeds that have suicide genes in them. We bring 200 governments to Copenhagen to deal with the CO2 emissions, sea-level rises and so on, yet, other than whales, coral reefs and polar bears, we are practically oblivious to the marine environment and especially the havoc that overfishing has caused to the marine stocks vis-a-vis climate change awareness. This CAGW concern has had much, much greater attention from the environmentalist movement than it truly deserves.

    Social justice issues…. I mean, who is going to hurt the most if energy prices doubles, triples or even quadruples within five to ten years in Australia? What right do we have to ask billions of poor people around the world to restrict their growth and to not seek the creature comforts that we in the western world take for granted? There are leftists, hard core leftists, who consider the CO2 emission reduction targets as an imperialist ploy to sustain the wealth inequality between rich and poor nations and making the poor beholden to the rich. (Sorry for raving on. I am sure most readers are already familiar with these and similar points plus their strength and weaknesses.

    Fran, you’ve also mentioned a number of “what if…” situations regarding energy use stretching back to 1950s, but they are what they are: hypotheticals! One might as well stretch the source of our woes back to 1920s. What if we had split atom ten, twenty or thirty years earlier? What if the environmentalist movement hadn’t taken such a hard-line against the nuclear power? What if governments taxed and excised the coal as much as oil? Of all the hypothetical questions, I like my own the best: What if Moore’s Law meant doubling of the computer power every three or four years instead of every two? If this were the case, then right now we would be decades past the alleged “tipping point” of the catastrophic climate change without even realising it. We’d have nothing better to do than put a paper bag over our heads and wait for the end of the humanity. Lucky for us that Moore’s Law is what it is, eh! Fast computers and fastidious climatologists warned the humanity just in the nick of time!


    John, great, big, massive, super, huge, etc, tax scares, short-falls and cost blow-outs, etc are the part and parcel of every election campaigns and almost all budgetary politics between the campaigns. All parties, all politicians do it. You know it.

    We are talking about “light on the hill” kind of vision for the future, and my argument is that Tony Abbot’s “I am not terrified of the future” message offers more hope and optimism than anything Kevin Rudd has to offer for the future. The vision thing will make a difference come the election time. People are sick and tired of hearing about the imminent, catastrophic, cataclysmic, apocalyptic, irreversible, uncontrollable consequences of climate change. I think they come to realise that reality does not match the rhetoric in climate science. And I think they will vote with their hopes not with their fears. Kevin Rudd will most probably win an election fought on any issue other than climate change. If climate change does become a major election issue, then Labor is in real danger. The Greens will do very well but not the government.

    John, I also find it interesting that you mention “stabilising the global climate”. I was under the impression that the climate action was meant to prevent runaway greenhouse effect, not stabilising the global climate, but let’s not digress on semantics.

    Incidentally, John and all fellow commenters, I am a sceptic, not a “non-believer”. A Green sceptic. Not a usual sight perhaps but there are a few of us who will put scientific accuracy ahead of party loyalty. I am still open to persuasion should there be a compelling scientific case in the future. As it currently stands, in my most pessimistic view, the climatology lacks scientific credibility, its modeling resembles astrology, its predictions as irrational as any religious account of apocalypse, and the cost in policy responses unjustifiable. I do think that the Earth’s been warming, I do think that CO2 may have contributed to it. But I don’t think that there is such a thing as a tipping point, or runaway greenhouse effect, or that 1 to 2 C increase per century will have catastrophic consequences, or that we need forced conversion to alternative energy sources, or that human ingenuity will fail to come up with a solution to deal with any problem quickly and effectively.

    Sorry, getting a little jaded. JQ blog is one of the few places still maintaing some civility in debates. Happy to contribute. Sweet dreams:)

  39. @frankis

    As you’re not an anti-science left-winger either sHx, how about some insight into how you’ve recently re-educated yourself on the science of climate to arrive at your currently zesty and carefree approach to the future? You might gain some converts here, right now!

    Well, unlike most others, I am not here to gain converts or preach to the converted. I simply put myself in the shoes of a god-fearing soul in the age of Crusades. Like most people, I wasn’t sure whether god would save my soul if I didn’t march on to Jerusalem. Fortunately, I knew a little latin and a cute friar who sneaked me into the monastery’s library. Thus, I was able to read a few pages of the holy book without priestly interference. It didn’t take me long to realise that there was no god, that the sacred words were absurd statements, and that the Crusade was a fool’s errand.

    So my soul has been at peace and my disposition carefree ever since. As I said, I am not in this fine neighborhood to convert anyone or save any soul. Only you can absolve yourself of your guilt and sins. If you think there is no god, then you won’t burn in hell. You are saved.

  40. If I can speak for others here, sHx, your claim to have been converted to views that most of us regard as self-evidently silly (global warming is a hoax invented to advance the cause of world government, for example) doesn’t seem all that plausible. So responses like that immediately above support the diagnosis most have us have reached – that you are a rightwinger playing the well-known concern troll game.

    You could convince us otherwise by abandoning pseudonymity and verifying the record you claim. Alternatively, you could show us how you came to believe in such (to us) absurdities as “there has been no statistically significant warming since 1995” or “the hacked emails show that climate scientists are using tricks to hide the decline”. Otherwise, your welcome here won’t last much longer.

  41. sHx:

    The political left’s narrative was/is this: the future looks so bad unless we do something really soon and really painful, it will be even worse!

    Actually, the political right’s narrative is that the political left’s narrative was/is this: the future looks so bad unless we do something really soon and really painful, it will be even worse! Just because the political right says it’s the political left’s narrative doesn’t mean it is. If you think that has been the political left’s narrative, why have you always voted for it in the past?

    The average voter now realises that there is no reason to be afraid of the future.


    I still have utmost trust in science and scientific method. Not in climate science though.

    Yes, it’s just sheer co-incidence that this happened in climate science. Had absolutely nothing to do with the consequences of the scientists being right.

    Since I decided to dip my toe into the debate for the first time six months ago, I have found the climate science underwhelming and its doom-and-gloom scenarios not credible.

    Especially since you don’t need to be concerned about misinformation published on the internet.

  42. It’s not a good idea to support ‘ideology’, it sounds like you are writing propaganda that you know is not true. By all means claim your opponents are writing ideology, but you should always claim that what you are writing is (a) true and (b) in the interest of the public as a whole. Indeed, you should be trying to write what is true and in the interest of the public as a whole.

    More generally, the issue is to build up a positive culture, that is based on the different kinds of truth (mathematical, scientific, social, aesthetic, ethical) and develops the personal and collective actions to give effect to these truths.

  43. Disemvowelled – TG, you’re banned until you apologise appropriately

    Dn@ 30;

    Cppng th mnt f prmts nd thn ctnng thm ff wll snd th crbn prc thrgh th rf. Lts s f th cnmy srvvs ftr dng tht bfr w vn cntmplt t.

    Smths sd@ 35

    ” gr lc, f hd t b stck n dsrt slnd wth ny n f thm fr th nxt fv yrs t wld b bb by ml”

    d nt knw bt y Smths, bt f ws stck thr fr fv yrs, ‘d mk dm sr thr ws wll thr s my bck cld b pt gnst t.

    nywy, t sms lt f ppl r nw fndng “th clmt scnc ndrwhlmng nd ts dm-nd-glm scnrs nt crdbl”, spclly n th nrthrn hmsphr whr thy hv bn frzng thr blls f ths wntr.


  44. I think the point you make about anti-vaccination having moved from being a left-wing cause to being at least as strong on the right is really interesting, John. There is of course a certain amount of anti-science on the left, but its not dominant, and most left-wingers have rejected the anti-vaccination forces. On the other hand, the right was initially not very interested in the issue, as far as I can see.

    That changed for a couple of reasons; those with a generalised hatred of science on the right took up the cause, and then the opposition to gardasil (because it will supposedly promote promiscuity) created a synergy between the anti-vacciners and the religious right.

    Since most of the American and Australian right has become used to rejecting science as their default position once this happened many were completely prey to the anti-vaccine position, and its now probably more entrenched there than on the left. I suspect this pattern may be followed with other forms of anti-science.

  45. Tony G the homophobia of that comment is a new low even for you.

    And as for the northern hemisphere freezing – well after the world experienced its hottest January since measurements began, its now clear February will be similar. Anyone want to back up your confidence by taking my bet that 2010 will be the hottest year on record?

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