Conservatism and science

September 3, 2008

in Canada, Economics, Politics, Rants, Science

One of the most regrettable things about contemporary conservatism – aside from forgetting Edmund Burke’s notion of humanity as stewards of the natural world – is the unwillingness to acknowledge basic scientific realities. Sometimes, this is because of ideological conflicts; acknowledging the immense danger posed by climate change basically means admitting that government regulation is required. Sometimes, it is because of religious beliefs at odds with the basic knowledge we now have about the universe. It is simply embarrassing that there are still people in developed countries who do not understand evolution, or who believe the Earth to be a few thousand years old.

Also regrettably, it seems that the recent surprise Republican vice presidential choice Sarah Palin is among those who profess doubt about the existence of biological evolution. She is of the ‘teach the controversy’ school of thought, in which schoolchildren should supposedly be presented with multiple theories and charged with choosing for themselves. Thankfully, this approach provides rich opportunities for satire. One site sells ‘Teach the Controversy’ shirts showing Atlantis, the devil burying dinosaur bones, aliens building the Egyptian pyramids, and so forth. Most famously, the whole Flying Spaghetti Monster phenomenon began as a mocking response to this approach:

I think we can all agree that it is important for students to hear multiple viewpoints so they can choose for themselves the theory that makes the most sense to them. I am concerned, however, that students will only hear one theory of Intelligent Design.

Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.

Being tolerant of people with religious beliefs does not mean treating those beliefs with special deference, or refraining from mocking the more absurd ones among them. Indeed, it is only through the vigorous consideration of the relative merits and explanatory capabilities of different viewpoints that we can further refine our understanding of the world. The sad thing is that there are some people who never get a fair shot at it because those in power choose to give them a deeply inadequate initiation into the teaching of science.

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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

coyote September 3, 2008 at 8:00 am

And I happen to adhere to a rleigipous system in which Old Man, sitting on a mountaintop with a bunch of creatures during the primoridial flood, created this world from a bit of earth brought up from the bottom by a duck. Which unfortunately drowned doing it. But, hey, live and let live. If you choose to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, may you be touched and blessed munificently by His Noodly Appendage.

. September 3, 2008 at 9:05 am

On evolution
* June 17th, 2008

Citrate eating E. Coli
* June 11th, 2008

Faith and evolution
* April 6th, 2008

Canada’s anti-superbug initiative
* February 5th, 2008

Heat, bacteria, and evolution
* October 9th, 2007

Pikaia gracilens and the vertebrates
* September 15th, 2007

The Great Dying
* August 29th, 2007

. September 3, 2008 at 9:14 am

Conservapedia’s entry on the cactus
Posted by Mark Frauenfelder, February 26, 2007

. September 3, 2008 at 10:16 am

Palinanity

This is a terrifying video. It’s Sarah Palin going on and on in front of her Assembly of God church, talking about the war in Iraq as “a task that is from God”, promising the congregants the gift of prophecy, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…it ought to make any rational human being ill.

Milan September 3, 2008 at 10:24 am

Sometimes, this is because of ideological conflicts; acknowledging the immense danger posed by climate change basically means admitting that government regulation is required.

From the 2008 platform of the American Republican Party:

“Republicans caution against the doomsday climate change scenarios peddled by the aficionados of centralized command-and-control government,” it says. “We can — and should — address the risk of climate change based on sound science without succumbing to the no-growth radicalism that treats climate questions as dogma rather than as situations to be managed responsibly.”

BuddyRich September 3, 2008 at 10:57 am

I think Milan hit it on the head.

“Being tolerant of people with religious beliefs does not mean treating those beliefs with special deference…”

I think it is important to note that not all religious people are believers in intelligent design.

I can respect religions that stand up and admit that it takes an act of faith to believe in them, which is them basically admitting their beliefs can’t be proven scientifically, leaving it up to the individual to chose to believe or not. At which point the argument stops for me. Just as I wouldn’t want someone forcing their opinion on me, I wouldn’t want to force my opinion on them (even if it is scientifically correct!) Believing isn’t about being “correct”, its about believing.

IDers, on the other hand get no respect from me. They try to frame a scientific debate around their beliefs and it just makes them weaker in my opinion. At that point they are opening themselves up to scientific critique, yet their trump card is to say the rules of science are actively being manipulated with. You can’t argue that and in the end it comes down to believing or not believing again, just the first group was upfront and honest about it. I think this group really just wants to push its agenda more than any true belief goes.

In a similar vein, some people consider environmentalism to be a quasi-religion. Take your opening statement:

“One of the most regrettable things about contemporary conservatism – aside from forgetting Edmund Burke’s notion of humanity as stewards of the natural world… ”

Should stewardship of the natural world be held in special deference as opposed to religious belief? It sounds like you think it should (and I apologize if you don’t think so). If so, what makes it more special that revering a God and/or Gods?

Many environmentalists, especially the dark green variety, replace God with Gaia and there you go… all scientific debate goes out the window if something is seen as hurting Mother Nature, scientific proof or not. The hubris to think man can be bigger than nature in some instances!

On the other side you also have a small, but vocal, community of scientists who oppose theories of “man-made” climate change (as the major cause of climate change at least), make a reasoned debate for their alternate theories, and present their findings for peer review. Some of it sticks, some of it doesn’t.

I point this last out just to say that science isn’t infallible either, theoretically it should be objective and free from bias, but once humans get involved all objectivity seems to get thrown out the window! Since Descartes and the Renaissance man has been shifting his faith from religion to science, but science is only another discourse of truth and not the truth itself (though a lot more grounded in reality perhaps! ;-) )

Milan September 3, 2008 at 11:13 am

Should stewardship of the natural world be held in special deference as opposed to religious belief? It sounds like you think it should (and I apologize if you don’t think so). If so, what makes it more special that revering a God and/or Gods?

Stewardship of the natural world is both a prudent and a moral thing to undertake. It is prudent because the welfare of humanity depends on ecological services provided by the biosphere. It is moral both because only a healthy world is able to sustain and nurture human life and, more controversially, because there is an inherent value to life itself. Environmental stewardship can be defended within a whole range of secular moral frameworks: from those based around maximizing human utility to those focused on the welfare of the worst off to those that emphasize the importance of acting as we would want others to act.

These aren’t positions of a religious kind. The pragmatic case is a simple statement of fact: human beings are enormously vulnerable to a world in which key ecosystem services (from oxygen production to pollination) break down. The second case is a moral one and very much open to disagreement, both in terms of the conclusion and the argument through which it is reached.

Another vital thing to remember is the degree to which these moral arguments change when new facts come to light. If we were to discover that DDT doesn’t actually cause the kind of environmental harm we now believe it does, we would reconsider the ethics of using it as a pesticide. The constant feedback between secular ethics and knowledge about the nature of the world is one important element that separates it from theistic ethics.

Many environmentalists, especially the dark green variety, replace God with Gaia and there you go…

I agree that there is an unfortunate mysticism in some environmental circles. That being said, we can easily make entirely secular moral arguments about the importance of preserving nature. The fundamental difference between these kinds of arguments and religious arguments is that their basis lies in human thinking, openly debated, not prescriptions passively accepted and actively defended.

I point this last out just to say that science isn’t infallible either, theoretically it should be objective and free from bias, but once humans get involved all objectivity seems to get thrown out the window!

Of course science is fallible. There is a huge amount about evolution that we don’t understand yet. The frustrating thing is seeing progress hampered by the need to fight a rear-guard action against people unwilling to accept even the most rigorously examined and upheld scientific conclusions. Given what we know from fossils, DNA evidence, comparative embryology, and so forth, the basic fact that evolution occurs cannot be questioned. By keeping the debate focused on that non-question, conservatives and religious individuals actively hamper the advancement of our understanding.

science is only another discourse of truth and not the truth itself

The best response to this is to refer back to this previous discussion.

Milan September 3, 2008 at 11:18 am

Another major secular moral argument for environmental protection concerns the rights and/or interests of future generations. Burke describes society as a “partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society.”

He also argues that:

“[O]ne of the first and most leading principles on which the commonwealth and the laws are consecrated is [that] the temporary possessors and life-renters in it [should be mindful] of what is due to their posterity . . . [and] should not think it among their rights to cut off the entail or commit waste on the inheritance by destroying at their pleasure the whole original fabric of society, hazarding to leave to those who come after them a ruin instead of a habitation”

This perspective doesn’t require any kind of nature-as-diety belief. It is simply based on the moral and rational assertion that those alive today should not foul the nest in which generations to come must live.

. September 3, 2008 at 12:13 pm

Why Palin’s Creationism Views Matter
Category: Politics
Posted on: September 3, 2008 9:09 AM, by Ed Brayton

My friend Jim Babka has a post at Positive Liberty about Sarah Palin’s views on creationism. I agree with much of what he said in that post, but not with the argument that her views don’t matter because she won’t be in a position to enforce them

BuddyRich September 3, 2008 at 12:15 pm

I was thinking of that same discourse between you and Tristan when writing that… ;-)

I actually agree with you but unfortunately a whole bunch of people (including, sadly, our neighbours to the south) foundational belief is in a rugged individualism. They are raised on the notion that greed is good, and rational self-interest, or selfishness, is a virtue… How do you undue that when it is tied into their social fabric? Socialism is vilified, the free market provides all the answers, except for the fact the market doesn’t take the long view on things, things live and die by their quarterly results… unfettered it’s a reactive system vs. a precautionary one as it rewards risk taking, which is good for innovation, but bad for harm reduction, especially for future generations. These people are thinking they shouldn’t care because they’ll either be dead, or they’ll have the resources to weather the storm when it comes… Prevention is too costly in the here and now. And who knows, they might, its not the industrial nations that will be hardest hit by climate change…

Faced with beliefs like that, how do you argue in a way that will change their opinion, and more importantly change their ways… Its nice to say they are morally wrong, that they should care, but the fact is they just don’t… they are egoists to the core and in my opinion that is their prerogative. And as long as a majority of them believe in that, regulations will be removed (or altered to the benefit of certain entities) and their will be no change.

BuddyRich September 3, 2008 at 12:18 pm

I am sorry I might as well have ended that rant with a vote for change, vote for Obama slogan… though the situation in Canada is not any better because the left vote is split amongst 3 parties on the centre/left, while the right is united… sigh…

Milan September 3, 2008 at 12:24 pm

There is a huge leap between arguing what is correct in a factual or rational sense and discussing strategies for how to produce the outcome you desire.

Convincing people to embrace a conservation agenda is challenging. One argument that can be made is that it is not necessary. Perhaps we can solve climate change by stealth and avoid the need for major lifestyle changes.

Alternatively, we may need to wait for things to get so bad that people can immediately tell that climate change threatens their self-interest and that of their children. Hopefully, this will not prove to be the case. There are long time lags in the climate system, and if we wait for the worst to arrive, there may no longer be any hope of stopping it.

I disagree with your general position that most people (in the US or otherwise) have an ideology that embraces greed. Instead, I would argue that they don’t realize the degree to which their choices contradict their beliefs. Just like how our food system conceals most of the ethical problems that exist within it, the way most people live their lives does not lead them to seeing the impact they are having on the planet. It is possible that growing awareness combined with a sense of vulnerability will turn notional ethical commitments about treating people fairly and not harming the innocent into genuinely sustainable lifestyle choices.

More:

Global equity

Sociological and philosophical issues

Milan September 3, 2008 at 1:51 pm

Previously:

Conservatism and the environment
November 3rd, 2006

“In the northern lower reading room of the Bodeleian, I read a really interesting chapter on ecology and conservatism by Roger Scruton, from the University of Buckingham.1 He makes a surprisingly solid argument that a greening of conservatism would be more of a return to its roots than a departure into uncertain territory. He evokes the position of Burke that all living people are involved in a trusteeship involving both the living and the dead. The moral onus is to maintain, resist damage, and pass along that which has been inherited…”

Chris Berry September 3, 2008 at 3:32 pm

As one of your neighbors to the south, I can attest to the fact that scientific debate among reasonable people is becoming increasingly difficult. Our politics has become so polarized, and the positions that our parties have staked out are so utterly indefensible that reasonable voices are rarely heard. The overt religiosity of the right is no more less troubling than the extreme environmentalism of the left.

R.K. September 3, 2008 at 3:47 pm

Arguably, the biggest failure of conservatism in relation to the environment is the failure to recognize that the natural world has limits in what it can provide and what it can tolerate, and it is possible for people to exceed those limits.

We need less ‘the world was built specially for us and we can do with it as we like’ conservatism and more ‘the world is a dangerous place and we need to band together and restrain one another’s excesses to survive’ conservatism.

Milan September 3, 2008 at 4:06 pm

I haven`t seen much evidence of ‘extreme environmentalism’ within the mainstream political discourse of the United States.

Focusing on just the issue of climate change, the amount of action required is enormous. According to the Stern Review (which is in turn based on the science of the IPCC:

  • Our actions over the coming few decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, later in this century and in the next, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century. And it will be difficult or impossible to reverse these changes.
  • Stabilisation – at whatever level – requires that annual emissions be brought down to the level that balances the Earth’s natural capacity to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. The longer emissions remain above this level, the higher the final stabilisation level. In the long term, annual global emissions will need to be reduced to below 5 GtCO2e, the level that the earth can absorb without adding to the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere. This is more than 80% below the absolute level of current annual emissions.
  • Stabilising at or below 550ppm CO2e would require global emissions to peak in the next 10 – 20 years, and then fall at a rate of at least 1 – 3% per year. By 2050, global emissions would need to be around 25% below current levels. These cuts will have to be made in the context of a world economy in 2050 that may be 3 – 4 times larger than today – so emissions per unit of GDP would need to be just one quarter of current levels by 2050.
  • To stabilise at 450ppm CO2e, without overshooting, global emissions would need to peak in the next 10 years and then fall at more than 5% per year, reaching 70% below current levels by 2050.

Policy proposals consistent with these outcomes have not been forthcoming from either major American political party, though some recent proposals have been far better than others.

See also:

Abrupt and runaway climate change scenarios

. September 3, 2008 at 4:52 pm

Indeed, polls support Huggins’s claim that most people don’t get it. The most recent survey from the Pew Research Center found that 71 percent of Americans believe the earth is warming (though that number has been dropping since July 2006). Roughly half of Americans (47 percent) think that warming is due to human activity, but almost as many (45 percent) say that the warming is due to natural environmental patterns (18 percent), that no solid evidence of warming exists (21 percent), or that they do not know the cause of warming (6 percent).

Robin September 3, 2008 at 10:33 pm

I just heard on the news how Sarah Palin tried to ban some books in her local library, and when she couldn’t do that, she fired the librarian! What a tool.

But I’m actually writing to comment on the photo. I like it. How did you do it?

Milan September 3, 2008 at 10:39 pm

Robin,

To get the effect above, I adjusted the levels on a photo taken of a sunset over LeBreton Flats. I then put it through the Cutout filter in Photoshop, with the edge fidelity set low. After that, I adjusted the levels again, resized the image suitably, and applied a light unsharp mask.

. September 5, 2008 at 1:50 pm

Evolutionists Flock To Darwin-Shaped Wall Stain

September 5, 2008 | Issue 44•36

DAYTON, TN—A steady stream of devoted evolutionists continued to gather in this small Tennessee town today to witness what many believe is an image of Charles Darwin—author of The Origin Of Species and founder of the modern evolutionary movement—made manifest on a concrete wall in downtown Dayton.

. September 5, 2008 at 2:29 pm

The evolution of creationism

By Christopher Caldwell

Published: September 5 2008 18:59 | Last updated: September 5 2008 18:59

The address by Sarah Palin, the vice-presidential nominee, to the Republican convention on Wednesday was hailed by both supporters and detractors as marking an epoch in US politics. The Alaska governor introduced herself as a representative of the small-town Americans “who do some of the hardest work . . .  who grow our food, run our factories and fight our wars”, and warned that she was not coming to Washington to seek the good opinion of the press. For Republicans, it was the most electrifying oratorical moment in a generation, when the authentic voice of middle America made itself heard again after decades of silence. For Democrats, it was a rant unprecedented in its boorishness and effrontery.

. September 5, 2008 at 2:32 pm

“The point of intelligent design is to take science down a peg. To warn enthusiasts that they risk “discrediting science itself” is a bit dense. For them, evolution is a potent symbol of the way “scientific materialism” leaves people feeling demeaned, disenfranchised, stripped of prerogatives and less free. This feeling is not groundless. Dostoyevsky and Marx said similar things. The scientific world-view poses challenges to religion only in the course of posing challenges to a whole lot besides. To take one obvious example: fewer offices permit smoking today, but it is a stretch to call this a choice. In the US, at least, there was little democratic participation in the decision. There was scientific research and then there were mandates from health boards and courts. Maybe these mandates were “all to the good”. That does not make them democratic.

The anti-evolution activists in America’s small towns are wrong on the science – but wrong in a way that is of absolutely no consequence to them unless they choose a career in horse-breeding or molecular biochemistry. Their feelings of disenfranchisement, on the other hand, are real and consequential. Experts control an ever larger share of decisions about where roads can be built, what people can ingest, what can be taught and whether the decisions of democratic bodies pass constitutional muster. Like so much else in US public life, the battle over evolution is a class conflict disguised as a religious or moral conflict. It is comforting to look at the fight over evolution as one that pits the educated against the ignorant. It is that. But it is also a fight that pits technocrats against democrats.”

Anon September 6, 2008 at 11:13 pm

Dan Barker

“Faith is a cop-out. If the only way you can accept an assertion is by faith, then you are conceding that it can’t be taken on its own merits.”

. September 7, 2008 at 10:07 pm

Palin-Gag
By Davi Ottenheimer on Security

…She would never be able to pass a Sarbanes-Oxley test, now required for executive leaders of public companies in many countries around the world.

In other words, she has told her staff to avoid looking for anything negative to avoid finding it and having to deal with it. Police should ignore crime (that would be looking for the negative), citizens should ignore faults. Just believe. And when things collapse, smile a lot.

The message from Palin’s pen was clear — either ignore risks and help cook the books to falsely report positive results, or prepare to be run-over by her “train”.

This woman represents the opposite of good governance. She is the epitome of fraud, bad management and insecurity. Under her, important data will be ignored, and any success will be based on false calculations.

It seems to me that her entire platform is a mirror of the Bush campaign. She was just a young politician copying from the big playbook. She probably thought Enron was actually really successful…

. September 8, 2008 at 6:18 pm

At the same time, conservatives need to ask ourselves some hard questions about the trend toward the Democrats among America’s affluent and well educated. Leaving aside the District of Columbia, 7 of America’s 10 best-educated states are strongly “blue” in national politics, and the others (Colorado, New Hampshire and Virginia) have been trending blue. Of the 10 least-educated, only one (Nevada) is not reliably Republican. And so we arrive at a weird situation in which the party that identifies itself with markets, with business and with technology cannot win the votes of those who have prospered most from markets, from business and from technology. Republicans have been badly hurt in upper America by the collapse of their onetime reputation for integrity and competence. Upper Americans live in a world in which things work. The packages arrive overnight. The car doors clink seamlessly shut. The prevailing Republican view — “of course government always fails, what do you expect it to do?” — is not what this slice of America expects to hear from the people asking to be entrusted with the government.

. September 12, 2008 at 2:31 pm

Yes, I believe evolution is true.
I consider it the best explanation of the origin and diversity of life on earth,
and it is backed by an immense body of evidence. Strictly speaking,
it is not a matter of belief, but a recognition of the knowledge
of qualified experts and a familiarity with the research
that has been done in the field; I would also
add that science does not deal in absolute
truth, but strives for approximations,
and is always willing to discard old
ideas if better explanations
with better evidence
come along.
Do you have evidence for an alternative theory?

. September 16, 2008 at 1:50 pm

ONE of the lies regularly promulgated by creationist ideologues is that you cannot see evolution in action right now. For microorganisms this is obviously untrue. The evolution of new viral diseases, such as AIDS, is one example. The evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is another. But bacteria and viruses breed fast, so natural selection has time, within the span of a human life, to make a difference. For species with longer generations, examples are less numerous. But they do exist.

A new one has just been published, appropriately, in Evolution. It concerns dung beetles. Harald Parzer and Armin Moczek, of Indiana University, have been studying a species called Onthophagus taurus. Or, rather, it was a species 50 years ago, but it is now heading rapidly towards becoming at least four of them.

. September 18, 2008 at 5:50 pm

Never Mind the Science: Belief in Climate Change Still Largely Dictated by Ideology
17 Sep 08

“With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it.” – Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), July 28, 2003.

Few issues in recent memory have riven the body politic as profoundly as climate change. A matter, which, by all accounts, has long been considered fait accompli by the scientific community, has – to the outside world’s great surprise – remained a point of deep ideological dissent within the United States. Opinion polls taken over the past few years have consistently demonstrated a yawning partisan divide over the issue, with Democrats claiming, often by substantial margins, that the effects of climate change have already begun to manifest.

. September 22, 2008 at 6:56 pm

Indeed if the Green Shitt fails then I, as someone who favors a carbon tax with offsets on personal and corporate income taxes, must concede that the policy will not be picked up politically for a long time.

In other words, politicians of every stripe will be unwilling to take the political risks involved. It will therefore be like private delivery of health services paid for publicly, something permitted under the Canada Health Act but deemed political suicide by politicians everywhere.

We will therefore settle for a series of rather ineffectual but feel-good policies such as the Conservatives “eco” ones — energy efficiency etc — and intensity targets from which companies can and will escape by paying into a technology fund which will bring benefits perhaps many years from now.

When and if the Americans establish a cap-and-trade system, as Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain have endorsed, we will seek to negotiate joining the U.S. system to make it a North American one.

Similarly, should the Americans adopt tougher vehicle emission standards than those proposed by the Harper government, we will toughen ours.

In other words, the Americans will save us from our own policy incoherence. We are certainly going to miss Mr. Harper’s target of a 20-per-cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 based on a 2006 base line.

Every outside group that I am aware of from bank economists to the Sierra Club has said so.

. November 18, 2008 at 10:16 am

Green Old Party
What would a conservative environmentalist agenda look like?
By Christopher Beam
Posted Monday, Nov. 17, 2008, at 7:14 PM ET

If the Republican Party wants to recover from the Great Drubbing of 2008, it shouldn’t waste too much time worrying about how to turn blue states red. It should be thinking about how to turn itself green…

There’s actually plenty of overlap between the interests of conservatives and environmentally conscious Americans. What follows is a list of a few policies the GOP might emphasize in order to maximize its climate-change cred

. February 5, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Untouched by the hand of God

Feb 5th 2009
From Economist.com
How people in various countries view the theory of evolution

It is not surprising that the countries least accepting of evolution today tend to be the most devout. In the most recent international survey available, only Turkey is less accepting of the theory than America. Iceland and Denmark are Darwin’s most ardent adherents.

. February 11, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Fred Barnes’ source for climate science
The entire conservative media is informed on climate science by the office of James Inhofe
Posted by David Roberts at 6:48 PM on 09 Feb 2009

“Barnes gets his information on climate change the same place everyone in the right-wing media world gets it: from Marc Morano, the in-house blogger/agitator for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.).

Morano’s entire job is to aggregate every misleading factoid, every attack on climate science or scientists, every crank skeptical statement from anyone in the world and send it all out periodically in email blasts that get echoed throughout the right-wing blog world and eventually find their way into places like Fox News and the Weekly Standard. From there they go, via columnists like George Will and Charles Krauthammer, into mainstream outlets like Newsweek and the Washington Post.”

Milan February 25, 2009 at 3:35 pm

In his response to Obama’s stimulus speech, Republican Bobby Jindal (who has his eye on the 2012 presidential race) decided to mock volcano monitoring as “wasteful spending.”

The refusal of some conservatives to find even the kind of science with the most staggeringly obvious human benefits is depressingly familiar.

. September 7, 2009 at 9:57 pm

What is conservatism?

By Tyler Cowen on Political Science

I’ve already done What is Progressivism? so here is another installment. This isn’t what conservatives today necessarily believe, it’s a retranslation of a mishmash of conservatism into a language which I can understand and, in part, present to others. Here goes:

1. Evil is real and there exist evil nations in the world; the relatively virtuous Western powers require strong states to fend off such evils. This distinct from “big government” in the sense advocated by modern liberals.

2. In international affairs, in the twentieth century, the United States in particular has been unselfish to a remarkable degree. We therefore should trust the United States with unprecedented power. In fact we have no alternative. Some cultures really are better than others.

3. The spread of nuclear weapons, and other forms of WMD, to irrational, evil and undeterrable powers is the number one foreign policy issue. It runs the risk of equalizing the balance of power between virtuous and evil agents in the world.

4. On the domestic front, education is the keystone issue. Societies succeed if strong family structures support an emphasis on learning and acculturation. While this does not rule out public sector education, if public sector education works the credit is not to be found in the public sector.

5. When in doubt, side with the laws and customs that have, over time, been associated with the Western powers and their growth into powerful and durable societies. It’s hard to judge a lot of customs using pure, unadulterated reason, as Oakeshott and Hayek have suggested. Defending traditional values is an enterprise which itself requires a mix of law and custom. If you’re focused mainly on “policy proposals,” you are missing the point.

7. We do not have either the resources or the norms to remake society in the direction of a fully-comfortable-for-everyone social democracy. We do need welfare states to keep a polity in running order, but we should be modest about what such regimes can accomplish. They cannot overcome a fundamental lack of proper values as found in many poor or disadvantaged communities.

8. Fiscal conservatism is part and parcel of conservatism per se. A state wrecked by debt is a state due to perish or fall into decay. This is a lesson from history. States must “save up their powder” for true crises and it is a kind of narcissistic arrogation to think that the personal failures of particular individuals — often those with weak values — meet this standard.

9. For conservatism, small government is a means, not an end. It is a means to the values which lie behind Western civilization and it is a means toward the prosperity we need to live well and defend ourselves. Capitalism is important but capitalism itself relies upon particular values held by the citizenry.

10. Responsibility is a more important value than either liberty or equality.

. July 16, 2010 at 11:28 am

Bad science: Global-warming deniers are a liability to the conservative cause

Jonathan Kay July 15, 2010 – 10:56 am

Have you heard about the “growing number” of eminent scientists who reject the theory that man-made greenhouse gases are increasing the earth’s temperature? It’s one of those factoids that, for years, has been casually dropped into the opening paragraphs of conservative manifestos against climate-change treaties and legislation. A web site maintained by the office of a U.S. Senator has for years instructed us that a “growing number of scientists” are becoming climate-change “skeptics.” This year, the chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation gave a speech praising the “growing number of distinguished scientists [who are] challenging the conventional wisdom with alternative theories and peer reviewed research.” In this newspaper, a columnist recently described the “growing skepticism about the theory of man-made climate change.” Surely, the conventional wisdom is on the cusp of being overthrown entirely: Another colleague proclaimed that we are approaching “the church of global warming’s Galileo moment.”

Fine-sounding rhetoric — but all of it nonsense. In a new article published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, a group of scholars from Stanford University, the University of Toronto and elsewhere provide a statistical breakdown of the opinions of the world’s most prominent climate experts. Their conclusion: The group that is skeptical of the evidence of man-made global warming “comprises only 2% of the top 50 climate researchers as ranked by expertise (number of climate publications), 3% of researchers in the top 100, and 2.5% of the top 200, excluding researchers present in both groups … This result closely agrees with expert surveys, indicating that [about] 97% of self-identified actively publishing climate scientists agree with the tenets of [man-made global warming].”

How has this tiny 2-3% sliver of fringe opinion been reinvented as a perpetually “growing” share of the scientific community? Most climate-change deniers (or “skeptics,” or whatever term one prefers) tend to inhabit militantly right-wing blogs and other Internet echo chambers populated entirely by other deniers. In these electronic enclaves — where a smattering of citations to legitimate scientific authorities typically is larded up with heaps of add-on commentary from pundits, economists and YouTube jesters who haven’t any formal training in climate sciences — it becomes easy to swallow the fallacy that the whole world, including the respected scientific community, is jumping on the denier bandwagon.

. September 10, 2010 at 1:52 pm

9 September 10
Nature Editorial Slams GOP For Anti-Science Tendencies

There is no getting around the fact that the U.S. Republican Party simply hates science. It didn’t used to be that way. But it is now, and the timing of a recent uptick in this phenomenon couldn’t be worse.

“The anti-science strain pervading the right wing in the United States is the last thing the country needs in a time of economic challenge.”

That is the subtitle of an excellent editorial today in the journal Nature, “Science Scorned,” which discusses how dangerous this trend is, pointing out that:

“There is a growing anti-science streak on the American right that could have tangible societal and political impacts on many fronts — including regulation of environmental and other issues and stem-cell research.”

Nowhere is the right wing’s anti-science stance more starkly apparent than on the issue of climate change, as Nature notes:

“Denialism over global warming has become a scientific cause célèbre within the movement. [Rush] Limbaugh, for instance, who has told his listeners that “science has become a home for displaced socialists and communists”, has called climate-change science “the biggest scam in the history of the world”.

. November 3, 2010 at 11:30 am

The fact is that the Republican Party has become, for all intents and purposes, the political arm of the fossil-fuel status quo. The entrenched energy powers-that-be have marshaled the right’s current vulgar anti-intellectualism in support of their continued privilege; to put it more bluntly, they have been and still are paying people on the right to lie about science and dupe the conservative base.

I’m not talking about climate sensitivities or hurricane frequency or sea-level projections or other areas of active scientific disputation. I’m talking about whether human beings are driving changes in the climate. That question is simply not in serious dispute in the relevant scientific disciplines. It has been confirmed by multiple lines of evidence, empirical and model-based, over many years. Curry and virtually every other credible climate scientist would no doubt agree.

. March 22, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Although it does poorly with university educated Canadians, the Conservative Party is not shut out of the demographic, and few voters will go into the ballot booths with their thoughts fixed exclusively on knowledge and expertise, said Ekos president Frank Graves.

Moreover, to get into majority government territory, the Conservatives need only another 15 percentage points, which potentially they can harvest by showing more respect for science and the public service, or by overcoming the aversion to anti-intellectualism among poll respondents by offering sweeteners on economic security.

But the findings do point to deep social fractures.

Whereas conservatives, both small-c and party supporters, by a very large margin were more likely than others to believe in religious creationism and be skeptical of scientific claims, and dramatically discount the role of knowledge and expertise, most Canadians lean decisively to the view that knowledge, expertise and evidence are crucial to societal decision making.

And whereas conservatives are more likely to embrace a world view that seeks certainty and abhors ambiguity, and hold the belief that morality is more important than knowledge, most poll respondents believe that science and expertise are undervalued in the country and see Canada moving toward a more knowledge-based society.

. July 3, 2011 at 10:53 am

That leaves Mr O’Hara’s ideal form of Conservatism as a decaffeinated construct. He sees the job of the modern believer as “asking hard questions about well-meaning schemes” and evinces distrust in grand projects like the present coalition’s attempt to influence social mobility. His other judgments have the ring of hindsight, especially the prescription that Conservatives should oppose complex innovative financial arrangements lest they turn out to be dangerous to national economic well-being. No kidding. The difference between innovation and recklessness is rarely as apparent as this account suggests.

. July 27, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Privy Council Office linked to muzzling of top scientist; Researcher silenced over study into crash of salmon stocks, documents show

Top bureaucrats in Ottawa have muzzled a leading fisheries scientist whose discovery could help explain why salmon stocks have been crashing off Canada’s West Coast, according to documents obtained by Postmedia News.

The documents show the Privy Council Office, which supports the Prime Minister’s Office, stopped Kristi Miller from talking about one of the most significant discoveries to come out of a federal fisheries lab in years.

Science, one of the world’s top research journals, published Miller’s findings in January. The journal considered the work so significant it notified “over 7,400″ journalists worldwide about Miller’s “Suffering Salmon” study.

Science told Miller to “please feel free to speak with journalists.” It advised reporters to contact Diane Lake, a media officer with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Vancouver, “to set up interviews with Dr. Miller.”

Miller heads a $6-million salmon-genetics project at the federal Pacific Biological Station on Vancouver Island.

The documents show major media outlets were soon lining up to speak with Miller, but the Privy Council Office said no to the interviews.

The Privy Council Office also nixed a Fisheries Department news release about Miller’s study, saying the release “was not very good, focused on salmon dying and not on the new science aspect,” according to documents obtained by Postmedia News under the Access to Information Act.

. February 22, 2012 at 4:01 pm

GOP Not Listening to Its Own Scientists on Climate Change

GOP scientists say their attempts to talk about climate dangers with their party’s politicians and their aides have largely fallen on deaf ears.

By Katherine Bagley, InsideClimate News

A number of prominent U.S. climate scientists who identify themselves as Republican say their attempts in recent years to educate the GOP leadership on the scientific evidence of man-made climate change have been futile. Now, many have given up trying and the few who continue notice very little change after speaking with politicians and their aides.

“No GOP candidates or policymakers want to touch the issue, and those of us trying to educate them are left frustrated,” Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a registered Republican, told InsideClimate News. “Climate change has become a third rail in politics.”

Heading into the 2008 presidential election, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee, warned about the dangers of global warming. He was one of a group of moderate Republicans who used to be leading climate action advocates, acknowledging the scientific consensus on climate change and the need for federal policies to address it.

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