Monday, February 16, 2015

Facts Are Overrated. Science Is for Dummies.

This guy in Portland overruled science. There is now no fluoride in Portlandia.

This Washington Post article about the failure of facts to win in scientific debates is a bit dismal:
Americans fall into two basic camps, Kahan says. Those with a more “egalitarian” and “communitarian” mind-set are generally suspicious of industry and apt to think it’s up to something dangerous that calls for government regulation; they’re likely to see the risks of climate change. In contrast, people with a “hierarchical” and “individualistic” mind-set respect leaders of industry and don’t like government interfering in their affairs; they’re apt to reject warnings about climate change, because they know what accepting them could lead to — some kind of tax or regulation to limit emissions.
In the United States, climate change has become a litmus test that identifies you as belonging to one or the other of these two antagonistic tribes. When we argue about it, Kahan says, we’re actually arguing about who we are, what our crowd is. We’re thinking: People like us believe this. People like that do not believe this.
Science appeals to our rational brain, but our beliefs are motivated largely by emotion, and the biggest motivation is remaining tight with our peers. “We’re all in high school. We’ve never left high school,” says Marcia McNutt. “People still have a need to fit in, and that need to fit in is so strong that local values and local opinions are always trumping science. And they will continue to trump science, especially when there is no clear downside to ignoring science.”
We're all still in high school. Sheesh. When I was in high school I thought I was a mental giant. Now, when I look back, I realize I was as geeked out as that character in "The Breakfast Club" (too lazy to look it up). Not stupid, in fact kinda bright, just not up to most serious thinking tasks, other than McDonald's or Jack in the Box for lunch, which at the time seemed important, even vital.

Now we have two examples of just how much we're still in high school, even among our political "elite." I place elite in quotes to emphasize that the term is more often used in spite of its ironic implications.

Anyway, Jack Shafer, who was at least reliably centrist if not left-center when he was with Slate, goes after this recent Vox interview with Barack Obama. Why? It has charts and comments from Vox, which are almost undeniably factual as well as supportive of the policy points the president's trying to make. It's somehow wrong for Vox to offer facts and statistics that echo the president's views. It's, Shafer feels, so propagandistic.

Sorry, Shafer, but facts are not propagandistic. Manipulation of facts is. When you get this out of line, prepare to be smacked down by the DeLong hammer. Had it coming, Shafer.

As for the Rich Lowery attack, first, let's say comparing the Vox piece with Nazi propaganda deserves the broke-the-first-rule-of-political-criticism award: If you have to compare your target to Hitler or Naziism, you probably already realize that you premise was weak; and, second, Rich Lowery once said that Sarah Palin caused "starbursts" or something. Okay, it was six years ago, but I feel strongly that his credibility hasn't -- or shouldn't have -- recovered yet.

Point is that Shafer and Lowery -- both writing for Politico, imagine that -- are about as pointy-headed as that dude railing against fluoride in Portland. The only difference is that I'm not surprised at Shafer and Lowery. They don't know any better. The dude in Portland should know better.

How dare journalists use facts to bolster their positions. It's so, oh never mind.

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