MoJo Author Feeds: Chris Mooney | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/rss/authors/10496 http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Science Says You Can Split Infinitives and Use the Passive Voice http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/10/inquiring-minds-steven-pinker-style-bogus-grammar-rules <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Leave it to a scientist to finally explain how to kill off bad writing.</p> <p>In his new book, <em>The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, </em>Steven Pinker basically outdoes Strunk and White. The celebrated Harvard cognitive scientist and psycholinguist explains how to write in clear, <a href="http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s9445.pdf" target="_blank">"classic" prose</a> that shares valuable information with clarity but never condescension. And he tells us why so many of the tut-tutting grammar "rules" that we all think we're supposed to follow&mdash;don't split infinitives, don't use the passive voice, don't end a sentence with a preposition&mdash;are just nonsense.</p> <p>"There are so many bogus rules in circulation that kind of serve as a tactic for one-upmanship," explains Pinker on the latest episode of the <em>Inquiring Minds</em> podcast. "They're a way in which one person can prove that they're more sophisticated or literate than someone else, and so they brandish these pseudo-rules."</p> <p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/170393286%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-OPqm3&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p> <p>Unlike past sages of style, Pinker approaches grammar from a scientific perspective, as a linguist. And that's what leads him to the unavoidable conclusion that language is never set in stone; rather, it is a tool that is constantly evolving and changing, continually adding new words and undoing old rules and assumptions. "When it comes to correct English, there's no one in charge; the lunatics are running the asylum," writes Pinker in <em>The Sense of Style</em>.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" height="389" src="/files/Steven%20Pinker%202012%20by%20Rebecca%20Goldstein.jpg" width="285"><div class="caption"><strong>Steven Pinker. </strong>Rebecca Goldstein.</div> </div> <p>Indeed, Pinker notes with amusement in the book that in every era, there is always somebody complaining about how all the uncouth speakers of the day are wrecking the Queen's English. It's basically the linguistic equivalent of telling the kids to get off your lawn. Why does this happen? "As a language changes from beneath our feet, we feel the sands shifting and always think that it's a deterioration," explains Pinker on the podcast. "Whereas, everything that's in the language was an innovation at some point in the history of English. If you're living through the transition, it feels like a deterioration even though it's just a change."</p> <p>Thus, Pinker notes that in their classic book, <em>The Elements of Style, </em>published in the mid-20th century, Strunk and White instructed writers not to use the verb "to contact." Look how that turned out for them.</p> <p>The same framework allows Pinker to explain why so many grammatical "rules" that we all think we have to follow are, in fact, bogus. His outlook is refreshingly anti-authoritarian: You don't have to follow supposed grammar rules, he says, unless there is actually a good reason for following them.</p> <p>Here, then, is a brief but highly liberating list of glorious rule-breaking activities that Pinker says you should feel free to engage in:</p> <p><strong>Do split infinitives.</strong> For Pinker, the idea that you cannot split infinitives&mdash;for example, the classic complaint that <em>Star Trek </em>was wrong to describe the Starship Enterprise's mission<em> </em>as "to boldly go where no man has gone before"; it should have been "to go boldly" or "boldly to go"&mdash;is "the quintessential bogus rule."</p> <p>"No good writer in English has ever followed it consistently, if you do follow it it makes your prose much worse," Pinker explained on <em>Inquiring Minds</em>.</p> <p>Indeed, according to Pinker, this is a rather striking case in which the alleged prohibition seems to be mostly perpetuated by urban legend or word of mouth. It doesn't even seem to be seriously asserted as a rule by any supposed style experts. "This rule kind of levitates in mid-air, there's actually no support even from the style manuals," adds Pinker.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" height="486" src="/files/cover_large_The_Sense_of_Style.jpg" width="323"></div> <p><strong>Do use the passive voice (at the right times).</strong> We are constantly told that we need to make our verbs <em>active</em>, rather than relying on passive constructions. The passive, Pinker emphasizes, is a voice and not a tense: "It's the difference between 'the man bit the dog' and 'the dog was bitten by the man,'" he explains. (The latter example is passive.) In this particular example, you really don't want to use the passive voice; but according to Pinker, there are other contexts in which you very well might. "Linguistic research has shown that the passive construction has a number of indispensable functions because of the way it engages a reader's attention and memory," he writes.&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the uses defended by Pinker involves employing the passive voice to "direct the reader's gaze." For instance, sometimes you don't need to know the name of the person who committed an action, because what really matters&mdash;what you, the writer, want to emphasize&mdash;is the action. Do we really need to know that "the cook cooked a perfect steak," or can we leave out the actor here since all we really hope to communicate is that "the steak was perfectly cooked"? Pinker has no problem with the latter construction, assuming that you're trying to focus attention on the steak rather than who cooked it.</p> <p><strong>Do begin sentences with conjunctions</strong>. Pinker also says there's absolutely nothing wrong with starting a sentence with "and," "but," "or," "also," "so," or even "because." The idea that this is an offense gets taught early on to kids, Pinker observes, as a way of preventing them from using sentence fragments.</p> <p>But "whatever the pedagogical merits may be of feeding children misinformation, it is inappropriate for adults," writes Pinker. These conjunctions (Pinker calls them "coordinators") "are among the commonest coherence markers, and they may be used to begin a sentence whenever the clauses being connected are too long or complicated to fit comfortably into a single megasentence." Fragments can be an art. Run-ons a headache. And once again, you don't have to follow grammar "rules" when those rules have no actual justification.</p> <p><strong>Do end a sentence with a preposition.</strong> And there's another activity that writers are often told not to engage in. And that is ending a sentence with a preposition (see last sentence). Pinker couldn't be more scornful: "The prohibition against clause-final prepositions is considered a superstition even by the language mavens, and it persists only among know-it-alls who have never opened a dictionary or style manual to check."</p> <p>Seriously: If rigidly followed, Pinker notes, this rule would have you doing silly things like turning "What are you looking at?" into "At what are you looking?" Obviously, the former is highly preferable. There are certainly times when you don't want a preposition at the end of a sentence&mdash;usually when you are discussing something serious, and ending with a preposition would make your tone seem too light&mdash;but you've got to figure this out on a case-by-case basis.</p> <p><strong>And yes, you can even use the singular "they/their/them."</strong> Pinker even argues that you can use the following construction: "No American should be discriminated against because of the color of their skin." Language Nazis would argue here that since "American" is singular, using the plural "their" is a big <em>faux pas</em>. But Pinker counters that Shakespeare used these "singular they" type constructions on multiple occasions, as did Jane Austen. (Merriam Webster <a href="http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/they" target="_blank">cites</a> the following example from Austen: "I would have everybody marry if they can do it properly.") "It's been in the language for a long time, and one can even argue that it isn't really a clash of number agreement," says Pinker. He continues:</p> <blockquote> <p>The 'they' in those constructions&mdash;"everyone return to their seats"&mdash;is actually not really a pronoun. It's more like what a logician would call a variable. What does "everyone return to their seats" mean? It means, "for all X, X return to X's seat." And the "they" is just basically "X." And so it's not surprising that that construction is so tempting.</p> </blockquote> <p>And there are many, many other pseudo-rules exploded in Pinker's new book. So many that we decided to ask our own <em>Mother Jones </em>copy editor, Ian Gordon, to comment on this article. Pinker remarks on the podcast that an overactive copy editor is what finally pushed him into writing this book, but we're proud to say Gordon was more enlightened, commenting:</p> <blockquote> <p>I think Pinker is totally right. Many rules are stupid, especially the ones he highlights. We should understand the language deeply, not follow dumb rules blindly. That said, there's something to be said about linguistic continuity across a publication, which is part of the reason why crotchety copy editors (hi!) have jobs.</p> </blockquote> <p>The basic outlook on language and writing from all this? You don't have to follow grammar "rules" if they don't make any sense. Some of them just don't stand up at all; others, meanwhile, are better understood as general guidelines, admitting of many important exceptions.</p> <p>"It's very easy to overstate rules," says Pinker. "And if you don't explain what the basis is behind the rule, you're going to botch the statement of the rule&mdash;and give bad advice."</p> <p><em>To listen to the full </em>Inquiring Minds<em> interview with Steven Pinker, you can stream below:</em></p> <p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/170393286%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-OPqm3&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p></body></html> Environment Podcasts Books Climate Desk Science Top Stories Inquiring Minds Fri, 03 Oct 2014 10:00:11 +0000 Chris Mooney 261571 at http://www.motherjones.com Bobby Jindal: "I'm Not an Evolutionary Biologist" http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/09/bobby-jindal-im-not-an-evolutionary-biologist <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>At a breakfast event today, a journalist <a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/bobby-jindal-evolution?utm_content=buffer96b9e&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_source=twitter.com&amp;utm_campaign=buffer" target="_blank">reportedly questioned</a> Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal about whether he believes in evolution. This is pretty pertinent. Several years ago Jindal <a href="http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2008/06/science_law_could_set_tone_for.html" target="_blank">signed</a> into law the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act. The law, <a href="http://ncse.com/taking-action/academic-freedom-at-risk-texas" target="_blank">according to</a> the National Center for Science Education, "invites lessons in creationism and climate change denial." Jindal himself has <a href="http://ncse.com/news/2013/04/jindal-connects-dots-0014809" target="_blank">said in the past</a> that he has "no problem" if school boards want to teach creationism or intelligent design.</p> <p>Jindal's <a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/bobby-jindal-evolution?utm_content=buffer96b9e&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_source=twitter.com&amp;utm_campaign=buffer" target="_blank">response</a> to today's question (as <a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/bobby-jindal-evolution?utm_content=buffer96b9e&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_source=twitter.com&amp;utm_campaign=buffer" target="_blank">reported by TPM</a>) was all too familiar. "The reality is I'm not an evolutionary biologist," he said. Jindal went on to say that while "as a father, I want my kids to be taught about evolution in their schools," he also believes that "local school districts should make decisions about what should be taught in their classroom."</p> <p>The reply brings to mind <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/05/why-republicans-always-say-im-not-a-scientist.html" target="_blank">numerous other Republicans</a> saying "I'm not a scientist" (or Marco Rubio's "<a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/rubio-declines-to-say-how-old-earth-is-i-m-not-a-scientist-man" target="_blank">I'm not a scientist, man</a>") to dodge uncomfortable questions about scientific topics like evolution and climate change. It looks an awful lot like somebody wrote a memo, doesn't it?</p> <p>Here's why this "I'm not a scientist" patter represents such an indefensible dodge. Nobody expects our politicians to be scientists. With a few exceptions, like <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/19/nyregion/representative-rush-holt-of-new-jersey-will-not-seek-re-election.html?_r=0" target="_blank">Rush Holt</a>, we know they won't be. But it is precisely because they are not experts that we expect them to heed the consensus of experts in, er, areas in which they are not experts.</p> <p>When politicians fail to do this, claiming a lack of scientific expertise is no excuse. Rather, it's the opposite: A condemnation.</p></body></html> Politics Climate Change Climate Desk Tue, 16 Sep 2014 16:30:47 +0000 Chris Mooney 260341 at http://www.motherjones.com A Massive Hurricane Just Slammed Into Cabo http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/09/cabo-odile-hurricane-record <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Up until now, the <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/06/hurricane-cristina-eastern-pacific-el-nino" target="_blank">records</a> <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/06/hurricane-cristina-eastern-pacific-el-nino" target="_blank">set</a> by the <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/08/hurricane-marie-northeast-pacific-category-5" target="_blank">stunning 2014 Eastern Pacific hurricane season</a> have been mostly academic. The storms have been strong and numerous, but they've been out at sea off the west coast of Mexico, and haven't caused much damage.</p> <p>That changed today, however, with <a href="http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/#ODILE" target="_blank">Hurricane Odile</a>&mdash;a Category 3 monster that slammed Cabo San Luca early Monday morning, only slightly weaker than its peak Category 4 strength. <a href="http://the%20strongest%20hurricane%20to%20make%20landfall%20in%20the%20satellite%20era%20in%20the%20state%20of%20Baja%20California%20Sur" target="_blank">According to</a> the National Hurricane Center, Odile tied a 1967 storm for the distinction of being the "the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the satellite era in the state of Baja California Sur." Capital Weather Gang's Jason Samenow <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/wp/2014/09/15/odile-ravages-cabo-san-lucas-strongest-known-hurricane-to-hit-baja-peninsula/" target="_blank">adds</a> that Odile's "size, strength, and track is a worst case scenario for this region."</p> <p>At landfall, the storm had maximum sustained winds speeds of 125 miles per hour. It seems likely that it was the strongest storm on record to strike the posh resort of Cabo San Lucas: The aforementioned 1967 storm, <a href="http://www.weather.unisys.com/hurricane/e_pacific/1967/OLIVIA/track.gif" target="_blank">Hurricane Olivia</a>, took quite a different route across the Baja peninsula. It did not strengthen to its peak until it was already in the Gulf of California, between Baja and the Mexican mainland. Samenow <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/wp/2014/09/15/odile-ravages-cabo-san-lucas-strongest-known-hurricane-to-hit-baja-peninsula/" target="_blank">quotes</a> Brian McNoldy, an expert on tropical weather for Capital Weather Gang, who observes of Odile that "specifically in Cabo San Lucas, it was the most intense landfall."</p> <p>The result? <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/wp/2014/09/15/odile-ravages-cabo-san-lucas-strongest-known-hurricane-to-hit-baja-peninsula/" target="_blank">Here's</a> a firsthand account from a storm chaser, Josh Morgerman, who was seeking refuge in a hotel:</p> <blockquote> <p>[A]t maybe midnight&hellip; BOOM!!!!! The entire glass wall of the lobby EXPLODED&ndash; with glass, pieces of building, everything flying to the other end of the lobby. Like an explosion in an action movie. A hotel worker and I ducked under the reception counter&ndash; I physically grabbed his head and pushed it under the counter. Glass was everywhere&ndash; my leg gashed&ndash; blood. We crawled into the office&ndash; me, the worker, and the manager&ndash; but the ceiling started to lift up. After five minutes of debate&ndash; breathing hard like three trapped animals&ndash; we made a run for it&ndash; went running like HELL across the lobby&ndash; which is now basically just OUTSIDE&ndash; and made it to the stairwell and an interior hallway. Two nice women dressed my wound....</p> </blockquote> <p>Here's an image of tourists huddling in a hotel stairwell:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Cabo%20Tourists_1.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Tourists take refuge from Hurricane Odile in a concrete resort stairwell. </strong>Victor R. Caviano/AP</div> </div> <p>As the Weather Underground's Jeff Masters <a href="http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=2799" target="_blank">points out</a>, if there is one more Category 3 or higher hurricane this year in the Eastern Pacific, it will tie the all-time record of eight such major hurricanes in one season, set in 1992. And there's still roughly a third of the season to go.</p> <p>Here's what Odile looked like yesterday, shortly before landfall:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Odile%20Cropped%20NASA_0.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Hurricane Odile on September 4. </strong><a href="http://rapidfire.sci.gsfc.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/imagery/single.cgi?image=Odile.A2014257.1755.2km.jpg" target="_blank">NASA</a>.</div> </div></body></html> Environment Climate Change Climate Desk Mon, 15 Sep 2014 18:15:15 +0000 Chris Mooney 260246 at http://www.motherjones.com This Man Wrote Hundreds of Letters Warning Politicians Not to Lie. It Worked. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/09/inquiring-minds-brendan-nyhan-fact-checking-2014-election <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>With less than two months until the 2014 elections, the political falsehoods are rolling in. Consider the Colorado Senate race, between incumbent Democrat Mark Udall and his Republican challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner. Trying to brand himself as just as green as Udall (a longtime clean energy champion), Gardner recently ran an ad <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPKzyophmNw">claiming</a> that as a state senator in 2007, he "co-wrote the law to launch our state's green energy industry."</p> <p>But when 9 News, Denver's NBC affiliate, <a href="http://www.9news.com/story/news/politics/truth-tests/2014/09/09/truth-test-gardners-green-energy-re-brand/15357975/">fact-checked the ad</a>, it found the law Gardner was touting didn't accomplish much at all to promote green initiatives. Asked for a statement, Gardner's campaign responded, "Cory says that he co-wrote a law '<strong><u>to</u></strong> launch our state's green energy industry,' not <strong><u>that</u></strong> launched it.'" (The emphasis is Gardner's.) In other words, the impression given by the ad is just wrong, as the Gardner campaign winkingly admits! "Folks, we honestly do not know if we have <em>ever seen</em> such a frank acknowledgement of purposeful deception from an American politician," <a href="http://coloradopols.com/diary/62490/9news-truth-test-a-joke-to-cory-gardner">commented </a>the local politics blog <em>ColoradoPols</em>. You can watch the 9 News segment <a href="http://www.9news.com/story/news/politics/truth-tests/2014/09/09/truth-test-gardners-green-energy-re-brand/15357975/" target="_blank">here</a>.</p> <p>Gardner comes off, in this instance, as reminiscent of GOP pollster Neil Newhouse. While working for Mitt Romney in 2012, Newhouse infamously <a href="http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2012/sep/12/you-can-handle-truth/">declared</a>, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers." Gardner's cavalier response, like Newhouse's brazen statement, raises the fear that despite a voluminous growth of fact-checking in the past half decade, there's really nothing the media can do to keep politicians honest. But is that really true?</p> <p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F167344964" width="100%"></iframe></p> <p>Not according to Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan, who has focused much of his research on employing the tools of social science to figure out why fact-checking so often fails, and what can be done to make it work better. The cynical view on fact-checking is "too negative," argues Nyhan on the latest installment of the <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/inquiringminds"><em>Inquiring Minds</em> podcast</a>. "I think you have to think about what politics might look like without those fact-checkers, and I think it would look worse."</p> <p>Nyhan hasn't just been studying the fact-check movement; he was there at its origins. In the early 2000s, he coauthored a site called <a href="http://spinsanity.org/">Spinsanity.com</a>, a nonpartisan fact-checking outlet. It was the beginning of a wave: In 2003, the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania launched <em><a href="http://www.factcheck.org/">FactCheck.org</a></em>. But the real fact-checking movement kicked into gear in the late 2000s, with the launch of <em><a href="http://www.politifact.com/">PolitiFact</a></em>, by far the most widely known of these outlets, as well as the 2007 launch of the <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/"><em>Washington Post</em> fact-checker column</a>, now written by Glenn Kessler.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" height="358" src="/files/Nyhan%20Head%20Shot_0.jpg" width="358"><div class="caption"><strong>Brendan Nyhan</strong></div> </div> <p>As a result, in the last few years, a huge volume of claims have been given one to four Pinocchios by the <em>Post</em>, or declared "True," "Pants on Fire," or somewhere in between by <em>PolitiFact</em>. That includes the repeated debunking of the last half-decades' mega-lies: birtherism, for instance, and claims about the Affordable Care Act creating "death panels." So what does the evidence show about this endeavor?</p> <p>First the good news: Overall, the fact-checkers have reinforced the idea that reality exists, and journalists are capable of discerning what it is. That may seem obvious, but it's actually worth underscoring that we don't live in a postmodern nightmare of subjectivity. "The fact-checkers, when they rate the same content, come to the same conclusion a very high percentage of the time," says Nyhan. "So that's a good indication that they are seeing the evidence and interpreting it in a consistent way." For instance, <em><a href="http://www.factcheck.org/2009/08/palin-vs-obama-death-panels/">FactCheck.org</a></em>, <em>PolitiFact</em>, and the <em>Post</em>'s <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/sarah-palin-death-panels-and-obamacare/2012/06/27/gJQAysUP7V_blog.html">Kessler</a> all refuted Sarah Palin's "death panel" claim; <em>PolitiFact</em> dubbed it the "<a href="http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2009/dec/18/politifact-lie-year-death-panels/">lie of the year</a>" in 2009.</p> <p>That's not to say that fact-checkers are themselves entirely unbiased. <em>PolitiFact</em> in particular has been <a href="http://mediamatters.org/research/2011/06/22/jon-stewart-gets-it-right-about-fox-news/180787">repeatedly criticized</a> for false equivalence in how it treats the left and the right. It's just to say that they largely agree with one another, suggesting that facts are, for the most part, discernible.</p> <p><br><strong>The Backfire Effect</strong><br> A far tougher issue, though, is whether minds change when fact-checkers make their pronouncements. On the level of individual psychology, repeated studies by Nyhan and others have shown that it is very hard to correct a misperception once it is out there in the media ether. We've previously reported on the so-called "<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2014/03/brendan-nyhan-backfire-effects-facts">backfire effect</a>," discovered by Nyhan and his colleague Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter. Again and again, they've found in experiments that trying to correct certain false claims that are highly politically charged&mdash;the claim that tax cuts <em>increase </em>government revenue, for instance&mdash;often just doesn't work. Partisans can actually become <em>stronger</em> in their wrong beliefs upon encountering a refutation.</p> <p>Consider the data, for instance, when Nyhan and Reifler attempted, in a <a href="http://www.dartmouth.edu/%7Enyhan/nyhan-reifler.pdf">classic study</a>, to get partisans to change their minds about the tax cut claim (which they attributed to George W. Bush). In the experiment, participants were shown a fake newspaper article containing an actual George W. Bush quotation: "The tax relief stimulated economic vitality and growth and it has helped increase revenues to the Treasury." In one version of the experiment, the article then contained a correction, refuting this claim; in another version it did not. It turned out that conservatives who read the correction believed Bush's falsehood <em>more strongly</em> than did conservatives who never read the correction:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" height="491" src="/files/PastedGraphic-4.png" width="573"><div class="caption"><strong>Backfire effect: Conservatives became <em>more likely </em>to believe President Bush's claim that tax cuts increase revenue after reading a correction explaining that it isn't true. </strong>Brendan Nyhan.</div> </div> <p>And that's just the beginning of the difficulties related to correcting errors and making the corrections stick in people's heads. Nyhan also notes that much research suggests that negating a claim ("the Affordable Care Act doesn't create death panels") actually has the effect of reinforcing it in our minds ("there are death panels"). "We should be pretty cautious about how high our hopes are for changing people's minds," he says. "Once those myths are out there, it's very hard to change people's minds."</p> <p><br><strong>Fact-Checking As Deterrence</strong><br> Such are some of the reasons to question the power of fact-checking. So then why does Nyhan think a world with fact-checking in it is way better than one without it? The answer is that it's not so much about changing the minds of the partisans as it is about deterring the politicians. "They're so often the vehicle for these myths," Nyhan says. "If they know they'll be called out publicly, they may not reinforce or disseminate these myths in the first place."</p> <p>So what about fact-checking as deterrence? Does it work? After all, no politician wants the campaign narrative to revolve around allegations that he or she is a liar, or detached from reality.</p> <p><em>Mother Jones</em>' David Corn has <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/09/factcheck-politifact-lying-politicians" target="_blank">made the case</a> that in the 2012 election, politicians like Mitt Romney just weren't deterred. And it may well be that on the national level, and especially on the presidential level, politicians get fact-checked so often, and fact-checkers try so hard to spread around the opprobrium, that ultimately it's a wash.</p> <p>However, on the local level, this stuff seems to really matter. Nyhan and Reifler provided data to support this idea in a <a href="http://www.newamerica.net/sites/newamerica.net/files/policydocs/nyhan-reifler-report-naf.pdf" target="_blank">2013 New America Foundation study</a>. During the 2012 election cycle, they sent letters to 392 state legislators who had <em>PolitiFact</em> affiliates in their states. The letters simply noted that the politicians' statements might be fact-checked, and that there were reputational risks associated with getting a poor rating.&nbsp;"We sent them a lot of letters," Nyhan explains. "Some of them became very sick of hearing from us in the mail, as we sent them letter after letter, reminding them just what a significant threat fact-checking could be to them." Two other groups of legislators, of similar size, received either no letters or a "placebo" letter saying the authors were studying how accurate politicians are, but didn't bring up reputational risks or fact-checking.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%">&nbsp; <div class="caption">.</div> </div> <p>The study found that the warning letters had a statistically significant effect: Legislators who received them were less likely to have their accuracy questioned by <em>PolitiFact</em>, or by other news sources found in a Lexis-Nexis search. Of course, it was also extremely unlikely for any legislator to be fact-checked <em>at all</em>. Thus, the risk declined from just under 3 percent down to 1 percent:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" height="498" src="/files/Fact%20Check%20Fear%20Works.png" width="590"><div class="caption"> <p>From Nyhan and Reifler, "<a href="http://www.newamerica.net/sites/newamerica.net/files/policydocs/nyhan-reifler-report-naf.pdf" target="_blank">The Effects of Fact-Checking Threat: Results from a field experiment in the states</a>," New American Foundation Research Paper, 2013</p> </div> </div> <p>To Nyhan, this suggests that fact-checking can serve as a deterrent, and can be a particularly big deal in local as opposed to national races&mdash;which means it matters in 2014. Indeed, in one case, fact-checking already appears to have significantly damaged a campaign. In Alaska, incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/harsh-ad-gives-begich-election-bid-hiccup-072413662--election.html" target="_blank">ran an ad</a> suggesting his opponent, former state Attorney General Dan Sullivan, had not been tough enough on sex offenders, going on to state that one of them got out of prison early and went on to commit a horrific crime&mdash;a sexual assault and double murder. But <em>PolitiFact</em> rated the ad's claims "<a href="http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2014/sep/03/mark-begich/sen-begich-wrongly-ties-republican-opponent-horrif/" target="_blank">pants on fire</a>," finding that Sullivan was not responsible for the suspect's release. Begich's campaign soon pulled it off the air.</p> <p>In other words, the ad itself became an issue, and Begich has had to contend with a <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/harsh-ad-gives-begich-election-bid-hiccup-072413662--election.html" target="_blank">major backlash</a>, as well as the black eye of having to pull an ad.</p> <p>To Nyhan, that's the whole point. Backfires and biases notwithstanding, there remains the potential for a prominent factual correction to cause a media furor, and, in some case, to damage a politician's reputation. Partisans may stick with their candidate, but they'll be sticking with a candidate who has been forced to play defense.</p> <p>So facts work&mdash;kind of. Sometimes. Even <em>if</em> politicians try to avoid them.</p> <p>"I think fact-checking has caused big important changes in how we cover the news now," Nyhan says, "and it's gotten especially the younger generation of reporters much more interested in going beyond that 'he-said, she-said' reporting."</p> <p><em>To listen to the full podcast episode with Brendan Nyhan, you can stream below:</em></p> <p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F167344964" width="100%"></iframe></p> <p name="b990"><em>This episode of </em><a href="http://www.motherjones.com/inquiring-minds" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">Inquiring Minds</a><em>, a podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas and best-selling author Chris Mooney, also features a discussion of a <a href="http://www.livescience.com/47799-morality-religion-political-beliefs.html" target="_blank">new study</a> suggesting that religious and nonreligious individuals are equally moral, and <a href="http://www.npr.org/2014/09/09/347017590/in-some-jobs-past-achievements-may-be-held-against-female-workers" target="_blank">new research</a> on gender discrimination in job performance evaluations, particularly by men with traditional views of gender roles. </em></p> <p name="b990"><em>To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to </em>Inquiring Minds <em>via</em><em> </em><a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/inquiring-minds/id711675943" rel="nofollow" target="_blank"><em>iTunes</em></a><em> or</em> <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/inquiring-minds" rel="nofollow" target="_blank"><em>RSS</em></a><em>. We are also available </em><a href="http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/inquiring-minds" rel="nofollow" target="_blank"><em>on Stitcher</em></a><em>. You can follow the show on Twitter at </em><a href="https://twitter.com/inquiringshow" rel="nofollow" target="_blank"><em>@inquiringshow</em></a><em> and </em><a href="https://www.facebook.com/inquiringmindspodcast" rel="nofollow" target="_blank"><em>like us on Facebook</em></a><em>. </em>Inquiring Minds <em>was also recently singled out as one of the "Best of 2013" on iTunes&mdash;you can learn more</em><a href="http://www.itunes.com/bestof2013" rel="nofollow" target="_blank"><em> here</em></a><em>.</em></p></body></html> Politics Podcasts Top Stories Inquiring Minds Fri, 12 Sep 2014 10:15:05 +0000 Chris Mooney 259966 at http://www.motherjones.com Stop Pretending That Liberals Are Just As Anti-Science As Conservatives http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/09/left-science-gmo-vaccines <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>So who's worse when it comes to ignoring and denying science, the political left or the political right?</p> <p>For a long time, those wishing to claim that both sides are equally bad&mdash;we're all biased, just in different directions&mdash;have relied upon two key issues in making their case: vaccines and genetically modified foods, or GMOs. The suggestion is that these are basically the liberal equivalent of evolution denial or global-warming denial. <em>Skeptic </em>magazine founding publisher Michael Shermer, for instance, prominently cited resistance to GMOs in a <a href="http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-liberals-war-on-science/" target="_blank"><em>Scientific American </em>article last year</a> entitled "The Liberals' War on Science." As for vaccines? In a recent segment entitled "An Outbreak of Liberal Idiocy," no less than <em>The Daily Show</em> suggested that vaccine denial is a <a href="http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/g1lev1/an-outbreak-of-liberal-idiocy" target="_blank">left-wing scourge</a>:</p> <div style="background-color:#000000;width:520px;"> <div style="padding:4px;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="288" src="http://media.mtvnservices.com/embed/mgid:arc:video:thedailyshow.com:c41d6361-00c7-410f-9de5-bc0cf042dfac" width="512"></iframe></div> </div> <p><br> There's just one problem: Commentators seem to just assume, without evidence, that anti-science beliefs on these two issues are predominantly a liberal phenomenon. But that assumption hasn't been subjected to nearly enough scrutiny, especially in light of high profile vaccine-skeptic conservatives like <a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/donald-trump-autism-children-vaccinations" target="_blank">Donald Trump</a> and <a href="http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2011/sep/16/michele-bachmann/bachmann-hpv-vaccine-cause-mental-retardation/" target="_blank">Michele Bachmann</a>. The GMO issue is also politically suspicious: It is inherently <em>conservative</em>, in the purest sense of the word, to resist technological changes to the nature of food production (or anything else, for that matter).</p> <p>And sure enough, the evidence just doesn't support the idea that vaccine denial is some special left-wing fixation&mdash;and it's barely any kinder to received wisdom on the issue of GMOs. I will demonstrate as much below, but first, let's remember why this matters.</p> <p>It is very clear that there are certain major issues where there is only one correct scientific answer, and political conservatives are much more likely to deny that answer than are liberals or moderates. Conservatives have also been shown to <a href="http://www.asanet.org/images/journals/docs/pdf/asr/Apr12ASRFeature.pdf" target="_blank">trust scientists less</a> than liberals or moderates do. So no wonder they also reject their most important (if sometimes inconvenient) conclusions more often.</p> <p>Here are the top two hits (but by no means the only examples) of conservative science denial, followed by some hard data on public attitudes about vaccines and GMOs:</p> <p><strong>Climate change:</strong> Here, the undeniable reality is that humans are causing global warming, and polls have <a href="http://www.okepscor.org/sites/default/files/u6/McCright%20%26%20Dunlap-TSQ%202011.pdf" target="_blank">repeatedly shown</a> that it is political conservatives and Republicans who deny this fact about the world. <a href="http://environment.yale.edu/climate-communication/files/Politics_and_Global_Warming.pdf" target="_blank">According to</a> recent data from the Yale and George Mason projects on climate change communication, for instance, 75 percent of liberal Democrats, but only 22 percent of conservative Republicans, accept the reality that humans are causing climate change&mdash;more than a 50-point difference! Myriad other <a href="http://www.okepscor.org/sites/default/files/u6/McCright%20%26%20Dunlap-TSQ%202011.pdf" target="_blank">polls and studies</a> have found something similar.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/evolution2013-4.png"><div class="caption"><a href="http://www.pewforum.org/2013/12/30/publics-views-on-human-evolution/" target="_blank">Pew Research Center</a>.</div> </div> <p><strong>Evolution:</strong> Here, the undeniable reality is that humans share a common ancestry with the rest of life on Earth, and that the diversity of life that we witness all around us is the result of an evolutionary process. And here again, those on the right deny this reality much more than do those on the left (although notably, the gap is not as wide as it is on the climate issue). According to a <a href="http://www.pewforum.org/2013/12/30/publics-views-on-human-evolution/" target="_blank">late 2013 Pew study</a>, 67 percent of Democrats, but only 43 percent of Republicans, agree that "humans and other living things have evolved over time." That's a 24-point difference. Indeed, based on these data, 48 percent of Republicans (compared to just 27 percent of Democrats) think "humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time," meaning that the GOP today is very nearly a majority creationist party.</p> <p>That's a seriously big deal, given that Young Earth Creationism embraces many other kinds of science denial besides the mere rejection of evolution. Rejection of the age of Earth, for instance, and accordingly, of large swaths of physics and geology. It is a deeply anti-science ideology that extends far beyond one's views about any particular scientific issue.</p> <p>So it is very natural to ask whether there is really anything parallel to this rejectionism on the modern American left, and to try to adduce examples. However, the vaccine and GMO examples don't cut it. To show as much, let's examine them in turn.</p> <p><strong>Vaccines:</strong> Here, the undeniable reality is that childhood vaccines are safe and do not cause autism. So do liberals deny this fact more frequently than conservatives?</p> <p>Recent research suggests the answer to that question is "no." In a <a href="http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0075637" target="_blank">2013 paper</a> published in <em>PLOS One</em>, for instance, Stephan Lewandowsky and his colleagues surveyed a representative sample of 1001 Americans about their ideological beliefs and their views on contentious science topics. That included vaccines, where they used a five-item questionnaire to assess people's views, including statements like "I believe that vaccines are a safe and reliable way to help avert the spread of preventable diseases" and "I believe that vaccines have negative side effects that outweigh the benefits of vaccination for children."</p> <p>The study did not find that people on the left were more likely to oppose or distrust vaccines. Rather, it found a highly nuanced result. The researchers examined two related but distinct contributors to right-wing ideology: self-identification as a political conservative and support for the free market. It found that while the former was related to somewhat more vaccine support, the latter was related to somewhat more vaccine opposition. According to Lewandowsky, the two opposing forces "virtually cancel overall."</p> <p>Other studies have found similar results. In a <a href="http://icds.uoregon.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Who-Fears-the-HPV-Vaccine-Who-Doesn%E2%80%99t-and-Why_-An-Experimental-Study-of-the-Mechanisms-of-Cultural-Cognition-Dan-M.-Kahan-%E2%80%A2-Donald-Braman-%E2%80%A2-Geoffrey-L.-Cohen-%E2%80%A2-John-Gastil-%E2%80%A2-Paul-Slovic.pdf" target="_blank">2009 paper</a>, Yale's Dan Kahan and his colleagues found that the conservative ideological values of "hierarchy" and "individualism" were both linked to greater opposition to the HPV vaccine in particular. In a paper from earlier this year, meanwhile, Kahan <a href="http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2386034">found</a> that the idea of a link between the political left and the belief that vaccines in general are dangerous "lacks any factual basis." In fact, if anything, he found a small increase in belief in vaccine risks as one moved to the <em>right</em> of the political spectrum.</p> <p>If you'd prefer to examine the patterns of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks, meanwhile, those also seem politically diverse. We are having a <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html" target="_blank">horrible year</a> for measles, for instance, with 18 outbreaks and 592 cases, more than double the total in any previous year since 2001. And the <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html" target="_blank">21 states</a> that have seen cases and outbreaks run the political gamut; they include California and Massachusetts, but also Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, and Ohio (home to a <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/06/24/323702892/measles-outbreak-in-ohio-leads-amish-to-reconsider-vaccines" target="_blank">large outbreak</a> in the Amish community, a group of people that can hardly be called "liberal"). Last year, meanwhile, there was a measles outbreak clustered around a <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/measles-cases-put-texas-megachurch-under-scrutiny/2013/08/31/6dfa8e1e-128a-11e3-bdf6-e4fc677d94a1_story.html" target="_blank">Texas megachurch</a>.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Mennonites%20Vaccines.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Mennonite girls at a health clinic offering vaccinations following a large measles outbreak this year in the Amish community in Ohio </strong>Tom E. Puskar/AP</div> </div> <p>When it comes to the right and vaccines, there's also evidence like this:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p>I am being proven right about massive vaccinations&mdash;the doctors lied. Save our children &amp; their future.</p> &mdash; Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href="https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/507158574670573568">September 3, 2014</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p>I'm not against vaccinations for your children, I'm against them in 1 massive dose.Spread them out over a period of time &amp; autism will drop!</p> &mdash; Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href="https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/507546307620528129">September 4, 2014</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><p>So in sum, the evidence that vaccine opposition is somehow specially tied to left-wing beliefs is just lacking. Rather, the largest factor here, according to Lewandowsky's research, is <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/10/vaccine-denial-conspiracy-theories-gmos-climate" target="_blank"><em>conspiratorial</em> beliefs</a>, which are hard to categorize as either left wing or right wing in nature.</p> <p><strong>Genetically modified foods: </strong>Now let's move on to the GMO issue. Here, it is less obvious what a clear-cut anti-science belief would actually be, but perhaps the most obvious case is the belief that genetically modified foods are harmful if consumed by humans. This position has been <a href="http://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/AAAS_GM_statement.pdf" target="_blank">rejected</a> by the board of American Association for the Advancement of Science, which assures us that "crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe." So do liberals disproportionately believe wrong things about genetically modified foods?</p> <p>Lewandowsky's paper also examined GM beliefs, once again using a five-point scale that included statements like "I believe that genetically engineered foods have already damaged the environment" and "Genetic modification of foods is a safe and reliable technology." And the researchers found that "opposition to GM foods was not associated with worldview constructs."</p> <p>"This result is striking," the researchers went on to say, "in light of reports in the media that have linked opposition to GM foods with the political Left."</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/shutterstock_139840279.630_0.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Is this dude a left winger? </strong><a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-139840279/stock-photo-san-diego-california-may-protesters-in-balboa-park-as-part-of-a-global-series-of-marches.html?src=eGZi6XgtMPpg2bXiu2YIlA-2-48" target="_blank">justasc</a>/Shutterstock</div> </div> <p>Lewandowsky et al. aren't the only ones. For instance, an independent analysis of data from the General Social Survey by the <em>Discover</em> magazine blogger Razib Khan also found <a href="http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2013/06/do-liberals-oppose-genetically-modified-organisms-more-than-conservatives/" target="_blank">no real left-right difference</a> in views about GMOs.</p> <p>Still, given just how striking these results are, and how contrary to what people assume, I sought to verify them by examining yet another poll. So with much help from the <a href="http://www.ropercenter.uconn.edu/" target="_blank">Roper Center</a> for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut, which supplied an abundance of data, I looked into the details behind <a href="https://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/instructors/studies/34992" target="_blank">a January 2013 CBS News poll</a> that asked a variety of questions about GMOs using a representative national sample of 1,052 Americans.</p> <p>For the most part, the results support Lewandowsky and Khan. GMO concern appears largely spread across the spectrum in this poll, and while it is somewhat stronger among Democrats (and, as we'll see, especially strong on the far left), it is also very strong among Republicans and independents. For instance, the poll found that all three groups overwhelmingly support the labeling of foods containing GM ingredients (an idea the American Association for the Advancement of Science rejects): 90 percent of Republicans, 94 percent of Democrats, and 95 percent of independents were in favor.</p> <p>Getting closer to a purely scientific issue, respondents were asked, "How concerned are you about genetically modified or genetically engineered food&mdash;Very concerned, somewhat concerned, not too concerned or not at all concerned?" Seventy-one percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Democrats, and 75 percent of independents said they were either "very" or "somewhat" concerned.</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="350" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="//mjdwcharts.s3.amazonaws.com/4bj9c/2/index.html" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>What's more, those who did profess this level of concern then went on to answer a second question, in which they were asked more precisely what they were worried about. Twenty-five percent of concerned Republicans, 29 percent of concerned Democrats, and 25 percent of concerned independents answered "not safe to eat." Meanwhile, 33 percent of concerned Republicans, 39 percent of concerned Democrats, and 37 percent of concerned independents answered "cause health problems." (These are the clear-cut science deniers.)</p> <p>So while there might be slightly more concern about GM foods among Democrats, overall concern is broad and appears substantially nonideological in nature&mdash;which makes sense if you think about the concerns as being motivated by people's fears of consuming something that is supposedly icky or unnatural. Indeed, when asked in another survey question whether they would eat "genetically modified or genetically engineered fish," 74 percent of Republicans, 73 percent of Democrats, and 71 percent of independents said "no."</p> <p>However, there is one important qualification. Although Democrats, Republicans, and independents do not look all that different on GMOs, it turns out that if you split Democrats and Republicans up into different ideological groups, you can discern more left-right differentiation on the issue (even as worries remain spread across the spectrum). The CBS News poll did just that. In addition to their party affiliation, people were also asked whether they self-identified as "very liberal," "somewhat liberal," "moderate," "somewhat conservative," and "very conservative." When you break it down this way, 92 percent of "very liberal" respondents were either "somewhat" or "very" concerned about GMOs, compared with only 71 percent of "very conservative" respondents. (Those who were "somewhat liberal," "moderate," and "somewhat conservative" look pretty similar; their percentages are 79, 75, and 74, respectively.)</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="350" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="//mjdwcharts.s3.amazonaws.com/qvv6q/1/index.html" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="630"></iframe>However, it is important to note that people who are "very liberal" are also the smallest ideological group in the survey by far (6 percent). There were more than twice as many "very conservative" respondents (13 percent), and since the survey was nationally representative, we should expect something similar for the United States as a whole.</p> <p>Such, then, are the data. They do not support for the idea that vaccine denial is a special left-wing cause. As for GMOs, while resistance may be strongest on the far left, worries on this issue are quite prominent across the spectrum as well.</p> <p>In neither case are these beliefs a mirror image, on the left, of climate change or evolution denial. And as for other issues that are sometimes cited as examples of left-wing science denial, such as fracking and nuclear power? Those examples are problematic, too. (See <a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Republican-Brain-Science-Science/dp/1118094514" target="_blank">here</a> for my thinking on these subjects.)</p> <p>In the end, maybe the best way to think about the politics of science denial is this: There are two major, separate types of science denial out there. One is clearly right-wing and is driven by conservative activists, think tanks, media outlets like Fox News, and politicians. It is widely adhered to in the conservative movement, and it is highly politically relevant because conservatives (and Republicans) take their views on these issues as motivation to try to affect policy. This describes the situation on climate change, and on the teaching of evolution (and numerous other topics, like contraception the relationship between abortion and health).</p> <p>This type of science denial, institutionalized within a major party and its activist base, has <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/8/1/5954701/neil-degrasse-tyson-gmos-dangerous-safe" target="_blank">little parallel</a> on the modern American left or within the Democratic Party. However, there's <em>another</em> kind of science denial, which may have many important consequences but is not driven by any one party. Its various fixations may at times appear more left wing, but are found across the political spectrum. Denialism about vaccines and GMOs fits more neatly into this latter category.</p> <p>That's not to exonerate any kind of science denial. Nor is it to deny that there are liberals or leftists out there who hold unscientific beliefs&mdash;the polls above clearly capture such people. Nonetheless, it is to say that modern conservative science denial remains a unique phenomenon.</p> <p>So why, then, do people so readily assume that vaccine and GMO denial are fundamentally left-wing causes? I suspect because those of us who live in liberal, largely bicoastal cities meet vastly more liberals than conservatives; and thus, we are far more likely to actually encounter liberal or left-wing people who hold these beliefs.</p> <p>However, unlike pollsters, we aren't sampling the whole country in a statistically reliable way through our experiences. Science, though, is all about putting aside beliefs and anecdotes in the face of data.</p></body></html> Environment Climate Change Climate Desk Top Stories Thu, 11 Sep 2014 10:05:06 +0000 Chris Mooney 259476 at http://www.motherjones.com Tonight’s PBS Special Makes The Most Powerful Argument For Vaccines Yet http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/09/nova-vaccine-special-whooping-cough <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Tonight, PBS's NOVA will air a strongly pro-vaccine special, called "<a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/vaccines-calling-shots.html" target="_blank">Vaccines: Calling the Shots</a>." If you care about science, it's something you should watch.</p> <p>The program focuses on our faulty risk perceptions around vaccines, how many people are vastly more scared than they ought to be of a tiny risk (vaccination) while ignoring a huge one, the return of deadly diseases. The consequence could not be more grave: In a scene that is just hard to watch, the program shows a tiny infant suffering from whooping cough, its mother weeping, nurses running in constantly to sit the baby up (he cannot even raise himself) so that he does not choke. It's heartbreaking.</p> <p>Here's a preview:</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="356" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/B8fW-r6cO3M" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that "Vaccines" makes a powerful case for immunization. It lays out the overwhelming science demonstrating the safety of vaccines and also shows you how the immune system works and why conditions like autism likely have a genetic and early developmental explanation, rather than being caused by vaccine "injury."</p> <p>Unfortunately, it also shows that again and again in history, after a disease (like smallpox) is beaten back by vaccinations and medical science, people who are no longer threatened by the real danger then start to worry about the inoculation itself.</p> <p>And now, we're doing it again.</p> <p><em>(You can watch "<a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/vaccines-calling-shots.html" target="_blank">Vaccines: Calling the Shots</a>" tonight at 9 pm EDT.)</em></p></body></html> Environment Video Health Media Science Wed, 10 Sep 2014 19:35:37 +0000 Chris Mooney 259976 at http://www.motherjones.com 10 Birds Your Grandkids May Never See, Thanks to Climate Change http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/09/audubon-society-climate-change-endangered-birds <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Long before modern times, human beings caused great extinctions of charismatic animals, including many species of birds. From the gigantic Moas of New Zealand (the Polynesians <a href="http://www.sciencemag.org/content/287/5461/2250.abstract" target="_blank">killed them off</a> in about 100 years after arriving), to the Dodo and Passenger Pigeon, we made nature poorer, throwing away biological diversity and unique products of evolution that can never be replaced.</p> <p>But it looks like all of that may have been a meager preview to the consequences of climate change for the diversity of birds in our modern world. Such is the upshot of a <a href="http://climate.audubon.org/" target="_blank">vast new study</a> by the Audubon Society's scientists, which overall finds that by the end of the century, more than half of all North American bird species will be "threatened" by climate change. (The study did not examine the <a href="http://avibase.bsc-eoc.org/avibase.jsp?lang=EN" target="_blank">nearly 10,000 other bird species</a> around the world, but there's no reason to think the punchline for them would be very different.)</p> <p>There are currently 588 North American bird species, and the Audubon study projected that out of those, 314 will lose "more than 50 percent of their current climatic range by 2080," and another 126&mdash;the "climate endangered" species&mdash;will lose that much by as soon as 2050. Losing habitat is, of course, not the same as extinction. Some of these species enjoy legal protections already, and some live on other continents, too. And some will find new habitats. But clearly, the loss of habitat is a major threat to a species.</p> <p>Here are 10 birds classified as "climate endangered" by the report:<br> &nbsp;</p> <h3 class="subhed"><strong>1. Piping Plover</strong></h3> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"> <p><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Piping%20Plover%20with%20Chicks.USGS_.cropped.jpg"></p> </div> <p><a href="http://climate.audubon.org/birds/pipplo/piping-plover" target="_blank">Projection</a>: For this cute shorebird, "only <a href="http://climate.audubon.org/birds/pipplo/piping-plover" target="_blank">38 percent</a> of its original non-breeding range" will remain by 2080. (<em><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsnortheast/14383105915/in/photolist-nPcqUe-8sDN8k-6DKGWh-nUZbhK-nUZqWo-i7FxWa-8abSSP-7XvWZ5-e4FU9g-dbKHxJ-j32A23-f277wL-a6WRHx-kwTzbP-f277vd-f277u9-8v7ZXB-kwTjx2-6uByCU-f277ss-f277rw-kwTfdv-kwTGft-f1RSoB-f1RSmk-9quaFu-f277Ey-f277zS-7QXYAJ-a9mu1K-nNQZEG-2Tbjct-caMdVj-6Nko6C-egYo2r-8q95L9-7VkDjM-kwAMzS-8q5VwK-4GsiB4-6wgAQP-mNtwbX-6Ngc5v-4ZHJFd-6Nko5C-6Nko3q-j34vgu-j32B2E-e55gGq-2XgeYz/" target="_blank">US Geological Survey</a>/Flickr</em>.)<br> &nbsp;</p> <h3 class="subhed"><strong>2. </strong><strong>Hermit Warbler</strong></h3> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Hermit%20Warbler.USGS_.cropped.jpg"></div> <p><a href="http://climate.audubon.org/birds/herwar/hermit-warbler" target="_blank">Projection</a>: Under climate change, this West Coast warbler "may be forced up the mountains to follow ideal climate, and it can't ascend forever." (<em><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwshq/14050505806/in/photolist-npAvS7-ghebPD-digNfc-digLAj-digNyB-digNBe-6ZG59c-21GpFU-dniRdQ-8exEPZ-6ZL5hY-9KW66H-iJCHzM-6hgufK-djMRBB-6rvFgP-8AJjSN-mpeh2-mpeg3-mpefj-mpeho-9RNMDq-9RNMG3-9SWExY-9ZB9Dj-djMRzH-djMRDr-oKkhv8-bBd2pq-nyJ78E-kmAVAm-kmyzzV-bU7bXc-ikAqW1-fLTThs-fqG4TG-fMEtzh-nr4aX3-7DvLk8-nmzuso-bEq7Ah-n1oX8t-n1oXtt-njcKWf-gTj13u-d9v5p9-bE5Z9R-oetSX1-ovFYi4-9h52h1/" target="_blank">US Fish and Wildlife Service</a>/Flickr.</em>)<br> &nbsp;</p> <h3 class="subhed"><strong>3. Golden Eagle</strong></h3> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Golden.Eagle_.Cropped.jpg"></div> <p><a href="http://climate.audubon.org/birds/goleag/golden-eagle" target="_blank">Projection</a>: This powerful raptor will lose "41 percent of breeding range and 16 percent of non-breeding range" by 2080. (<em><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmtnprairie/12780167083/in/photostream/" target="_blank">USFWS Mountain-Prairie</a>/Flickr.</em>)<br> &nbsp;</p> <h3 class="subhed"><strong>4. Burrowing Owl</strong></h3> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Burrowing%20Owl%20Cropped.jpg"></div> <p><a href="http://climate.audubon.org/birds/burowl/burrowing-owl" target="_blank">Projection</a>: By 2080, this zany owl could lose "77 percent of its current breeding range"! (<em><a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Athene_cunicularia#mediaviewer/File:Athene_cunicularia_20110524_02_bis.jpg" target="_blank">travelwayoflife</a>/Wikimedia Commons.</em>)<br> &nbsp;</p> <h3 class="subhed"><strong>5. Common Loon</strong></h3> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Common%20Loon%20Cropped.jpg"></div> <p><a href="http://climate.audubon.org/birds/comloo/common-loon" target="_blank">Projection</a>: According to Audubon, it "looks all but certain that Minnesota will lose its iconic loons in summer by the end of the century." (<em><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/jackanapes/44534740/in/photolist-4WfCm-eR65Pg-2KrNkj-oCQyuH-7VzeLP-4znidm-4QnsW-8BgM3c-9T7fEn-rfrFy-dTvFyn-dN222q-9TzviX-3YEz3W-nhunsr-dN1Nuj-a4Hmnb-nHJJ8k-eYzBSA-nojyFV-5fGWY-dGjfEw-n1bZd4-7sWDCu-fi5p7h-a6EXnv-8p2J4e-99dpAj-mDiKHv-noQEQG-n1c9BV-fQi7Fs-eYpeTf-eYcJg8-eYcSAt-dGdjh8-n1dUYC-dGxQUz-5MEqxV-dGgQYD-dLKEUW-dLE6og-4iejaL-dLKE97-dGdkck-dGdjKT-dGiKS3-gYsVf-7v8iXi-n1c8Ha" target="_blank">Jackanapes</a>/Flickr.</em>)<br> &nbsp;</p> <h3 class="subhed"><strong>6. </strong><strong>Boreal Chickadee</strong></h3> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Boreal%20Chickadee%20Cropped.jpg"></div> <p><a href="http://climate.audubon.org/birds/borchi2/boreal-chickadee" target="_blank">Projection</a>: This cute, frenetic forest bird will be "squeezed farther and farther north in a region already under pressure from timbering." (<em><a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Poecile_hudsonicus_15.jpg" target="_blank">David Mitchell</a>/Wikimedia Commons.</em>)<br> &nbsp;</p> <h3 class="subhed"><strong>7. Prairie Falcon</strong></h3> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Prairie_Falcon_in_flight.cropped.jpg"></div> <p><a href="http://climate.audubon.org/birds/prafal/prairie-falcon" target="_blank">Projection</a>: A stunning three-quarters loss of summer range by 2080. (<em><a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Falco_mexicanus#mediaviewer/File:Prairie_Falcon_in_flight.jpg" target="_blank">Alan Vernon</a>/Wikimedia Commons.</em>)<br> &nbsp;</p> <h3 class="subhed"><strong>8. Brown Pelican</strong></h3> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Brown%20Pelican.jpg"></div> <p><a href="http://climate.audubon.org/birds/brnpel/brown-pelican" target="_blank">Projection</a>: This gigantic bird bounced back from DDT, but now climate change may reduce its winter range by 54 percent. (<em><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimpic/12976452185/in/photolist-kLFH9e-4jxSzB-7aMt8i-jQVn4R-22P6KF-Awqsd-dqDhtp-95XQEh-bcJzPv-bHcisM-h9Yd7b-jQX7aY-dtWtN2-95UMUZ-95UNBx-jQXc21-kr4vBn-e9cnPk-6djSCh-4nQLGd-7cM2o9-dCxcEY-jvd2SP-9sHaUA-kAoB9G-jBEz8u-72KTLY-95XPUE-95XQqu-95UN8g-95UNfZ-4m1C2z-abUvSF-EtNx3-bEkDZK-amFPS1-dmb6xT-5RwAqt-hLswJM-dmb8sD-aKaer4-7CYAL1-dmbc3j-dmb5DT-dnxjiA-9Zd2CG-m51Qd3-f4PjvF-93Ndix-kLHW8q" target="_blank">Jim Mullhaupt</a>/Flickr.</em>)<br> &nbsp;</p> <h3 class="subhed"><strong>9. Greater Sage Grouse</strong></h3> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Greater%20Sage%20Grouse.jpg"></div> <p><a href="http://climate.audubon.org/birds/saggro/greater-sage-grouse" target="_blank">Projection</a>: By 2080, climate change could decimate the range of this amazing western species, reducing it by 71 percent in breeding season and 92 percent in winter. (<em><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfws_pacificsw/7074755445/in/photolist-7QX4pW-gUf1YB-bNU1eg-bEGoNM-bygeEm-bzZp1Q-cGPJ9U-bMaYja-gUaWcR-bNTtFT-7QTJ8T-gUb4ip-bNUk9B-bNU2nt-cGPJLm-cGPJxh-cGPKdj-cGPJYC-cGPJhY-cGPJpA-gUda8j-gUeh9a-gUf7RZ-bzYWV5-gUei4r-gUgsMk-gUgphA-gUhaFc-gUde2a-gUaT2x-gUgir5-gUdXon-gUgisj-gUectP-gUhbgv-gUgfSC-gUgmmW-gUgpei-gUgt7P-bNTFep-gUa1mL-gUgjjY-gUhbzr-gUaV5F-gUaUCt-gUanaF-gUhaxX-bzZ3Um-gUebt3-gUgqag" target="_blank">Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Southwest Region</a>/Flickr.</em>)<br> &nbsp;</p> <h3 class="subhed"><strong>10. Bald Eagle</strong></h3> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Bald%20Eagle%20Cropped.jpg"></div> <p><a href="http://climate.audubon.org/birds/baleag/bald-eagle" target="_blank">Projection</a>: Only 26 percent of its summer breeding range is expected to remain by 2080, though climate change may also create new habitats. (<em><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/taylar/10641713224/in/photolist-hdnyAd-gfahvj-dvWaVg-dw2HYG-9C4Nw3-5UznM2-mjiQcy-atXXyM-dvWb7H-fJWg3M-p2cwEG-jkZ5CS-h2H2s6-bLGtrM-doTp11-fTe8Ng-ajBMXZ-96Azgx-dvWaYK-4kpHFj-adNiEY-nNL44z-31JCzD-oidvrg-684Qr2-nNTJWs-dsidsT-9GEmob-6mMYkA-fDHHjp-2guRpp-8s5gv8-4RGe55-ajBMSZ-JxWn7-8ytvTT-f8KZQu-f8vHnZ-6FnQqG-nCvRMX-nwyHb5-nwysqm-njffZ2-dTEpsH-8EdH27-dqQdac-jnBXnt-9i7bJW-fDjAZC-f76vDd" target="_blank">Ingrid Taylar</a>/Flickr.</em>)</p></body></html> Environment Climate Change Climate Desk Tue, 09 Sep 2014 20:26:27 +0000 Chris Mooney 259881 at http://www.motherjones.com Study: Science and Religion Really Are Enemies After All http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/09/religion-quashes-innovation-patents <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Are science and religion doomed to eternal "<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_History_of_the_Warfare_of_Science_with_Theology_in_Christendom" target="_blank">warfare</a>," or can they just get along? Philosophers, theologians, scientists, and atheists debate this subject endlessly (and often, angrily). We hear a lot less from economists on the matter, however. But in a <a href="http://www.princeton.edu/~rbenabou/papers/Religion%20December%201i_snd1.pdf" target="_blank">recent paper</a>, Princeton economist Roland B&eacute;nabou and two colleagues unveiled a surprising finding that would at least appear to bolster the "conflict" camp: Both across countries and also across US states, higher levels of religiosity are related to lower levels of scientific innovation.</p> <p>"Places with higher levels of religiosity have lower rates of scientific and technical innovation, as measured by patents per capita," comments B&eacute;nabou. He adds that the pattern persists "when controlling for differences in income per capita, population, and rates of higher education."</p> <p>That's the most salient finding from the paper by B&eacute;nabou and his colleagues, which uses an economic model to explore how scientific innovation, religiosity, and the power of the state interact to form different "regimes." The three kinds of regimes that they identify: a secular, European-style regime in which religion has very little policy influence and science garners great support; a repressive, theocratic regime in which the state and religion merge to suppress science; and a more intermediate, American-style regime in which religion and science both thrive, with the state supporting science and religions (mostly) trying to accommodate themselves to its findings.</p> <p>It is in the process of this inquiry on the relationship between science, religion, and the state that the researchers dive into an analysis of patents, both in the United States and across the globe. And the results are pretty striking.</p> <p>First, the researchers looked at the raw data on patents per capita (taken from the World Intellectual Property Organization's <a href="http://ipstats.wipo.int/ipstatv2/" target="_blank">data</a>) and religiosity (based on the following question from the <a href="http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/wvs.jsp" target="_blank">World Values Survey</a>: "Independently of whether you go to church or not, would you say you are: a religious person, not a religious person, a convinced atheist, don't know"). And they found a "strong negative relationship" between the two. In other words, for countries around the world, more religion was tied to fewer patents per individual residing in the country.</p> <p>Those data aren't shown here, however, because in many ways, that would be too simplistic of an analysis. It is clear that many other factors than just religion (wealth, education, and so on) influence a country's number of patents per capita. What's striking, however, is that after the authors controlled for no less than five other standard variables related to innovation (population, levels of economic development, levels of foreign investment, educational levels, and intellectual property protections) the relationship still persisted. Here's a scatterplot showing what the data look like after applying these controls:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/global.jpg"></div> <p>Note that Japan and China clearly stand out as highly secular, highly innovative countries. At the other extreme, meanwhile, we find nations like Portugal, Morocco, and Iran. (The full analysis in the study also included data from the years 1980 and 1995; those are not shown here. Only country data from the year 2000 are labeled above.)</p> <p>One important point of to keep in mind before comparing individual countries with one another: The figure above should not be interpreted as saying (for example) that China produces more patents per capita than the United States. Indeed, that isn't actually true: While Chinese residents filed <a href="http://www.wipo.int/export/sites/www/freepublications/en/intproperty/941/wipo_pub_941_2013.pdf">more total patent applications</a>&nbsp;(560,681) in 2012 than citizens of any other country including the United States (460,276), the US still filed more patents per capita, since its population is less than a third of China's. Rather, what this result means is that after controlling for other factors, China appears to have more unexplained innovation "left over" than the United States. (For stats nerds: What we are talking about here is the <a href="http://www.stats.gla.ac.uk/steps/glossary/paired_data.html#resid" target="_blank">residual after a regression analysis</a>.) It is this leftover or residual value&mdash;the differences in innovation that can't be explained by other factors&mdash;that the researchers are saying is associated with religion.</p> <p>The authors then apply a similar analysis to the 50 US states, this time using patent data from the US Patent and Trademark Office and religion questions from a 2008 Pew Survey, including the following: "How important is religion in your life: very important, somewhat important, not too important, or not at all important?" Here's the result, after controls for the gross state product per capita, state population, and educational levels:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/chart-2.jpg"></div> <p>Note that states like Vermont and Oregon are highly innovative and not very religious, whereas innovation lags in states like Arkansas and Mississippi, even as religion thrives. The authors note in their paper, however, that while the Bible Belt states tend to show the most religion and least innovation, the finding does not depend on them. "The negative association holds <em>throughout the sample</em>," they write.</p> <p>Once again, before going and trying to compare states with one another: Keep in mind that the figure above does not mean that Delaware or Idaho produce more patents per capita than Massachusetts or California. Once again, it simply means that Delaware and Idaho have more "left over"&mdash;or residual&mdash;innovation after other factors are controlled for.</p> <p>It is important to keep in mind that these findings are correlational in nature; the authors explain that they do not allow for "definite causal inferences to be drawn." Their own view is that causation probably "goes both ways": Religiosity stifles innovation, but at the same time, innovation and science weaken religiosity. Or as they put it: "In both international and cross-state U.S. data, there is a significant negative relationship between religiosity and innovativeness<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 2em;"> (patents per capita), even after controlling for the standard empirical determinants of the latter."</span></p> <p>Explaining in more detail, B&eacute;nabou notes that he thinks that much comes down to the political power of the religious population in a given location. If it is large enough, it can wield its strength to block new insights. "Disruptive new ideas and practices emanating from science, technical progress or social change are then met with greater resistance and diffuse more slowly," comments B&eacute;nabou, citing everything from attempts to control <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/09/texas-textbooks-review-creationism-climate-denial" target="_blank">science textbook content</a> to efforts to cut public funding of certain kinds of research (for instance involving embryonic stem cells or cloned human embryos). In secular places, by contrast, "discoveries and innovations occur faster, and some of this new knowledge inevitably erodes beliefs in any fixed dogma."</p> <p>So what do other scholars think? "It is a very important finding. And it is done well and correctly, using state of the art techniques," comments Joel Mokyr, an economic historian at Northwestern University who is familiar with the B&eacute;nabou et al. paper (he is thanked in the acknowledgments). Mokyr admits that "innovation is hard to quantify," but one reasonable way to do it&mdash;if still imperfect&mdash;is to "count patents."</p> <p>Doing so, it would seem, lends support to the science-religion conflict thesis: the idea that in places where religion predominates, inquiry truly does take a hit.</p></body></html> Environment Charts Economy Science Top Stories Wed, 03 Sep 2014 10:05:05 +0000 Chris Mooney 256061 at http://www.motherjones.com Here Are the Psychological Reasons Why an American Might Join ISIS http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/inquiring-minds-arie-kruglanski-psychology-extremism-isis <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>"Its Islam over everything."</p> <p>So read the <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/american-killed-fighting-alongside-isis-2014-8" target="_blank">Twitter bio</a> of Douglas McAuthur McCain&mdash;or, as he <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/news/american-citizen-douglas-mcauthur-mccain-killed-in-syria/" target="_blank">reportedly</a> called himself, "Duale Khalid"&mdash;the San Diego man who is apparently the first American to be killed while fighting for ISIS. <a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/american-douglas-mcauthur-mccain-dies-fighting-isis-syria-n189081" target="_blank">According to</a> NBC News, McCain grew up in Minnesota, was a basketball player, and wanted to be a rapper. Friends describe him as a high school "goofball" and "a really nice guy." So what could have made him want to join the ranks of other Americans drawn towards militant Islam like John Walker Lindh and Al Qaeda spokesman <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/01/22/azzam-the-american" target="_blank">Adam Yahiye Gadahn</a>? And how can we explain the <a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/douglas-mcauthur-mccain-wasnt-alone-more-americans-fighting-extremists-officials-n189536" target="_blank">dozens of other Americans</a> who have also gone off to fight as jihadists in Syria, for ISIS and other militant groups?</p> <p>According to University of Maryland psychologist and <a href="http://terpconnect.umd.edu/~hannahk/Terrorism.html" target="_blank">terrorism exper</a>t <a href="http://terpconnect.umd.edu/~hannahk/Welcome.html" target="_blank">Arie Kruglanski</a>, who has studied scores of militant extremists, part of the clue may lie in that Twitter tagline of McCain's. Not just its content, but the mindset that it indicates&mdash;one that sees the world in sharp definition, no shades of gray. "These extreme ideologies have a twofold type of appeal," explains Kruglanski on the latest <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/inquiringminds" target="_blank"><em>Inquiring Minds</em> podcast</a>. "First of all, they are very coherent, black and white, right or wrong. Secondly, they afford the possibility of becoming very unique, and part of a larger whole."</p> <p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F165239451" width="100%"></iframe></p> <p>That kind of belief system, explains Kruglanski, is highly attractive to young people who lack a clear sense of self-identity, and are craving a sense of larger significance. In fact, Kruglanski and his colleagues have found that one important psychological trait in particular seems to define these militants who leave their own culture and go off to embrace some ideology about which they may not even know very much. (We <a href="http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119182/jihadists-buy-islam-dummies-amazon" target="_blank">recently learned</a> that Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed, two British jihadis who went to fight in Syria last year, ordered <em>Islam for Dummies </em>and <em>The Koran for Dummies</em> from Amazon before they departed.)</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" height="278" src="/files/kruglanski%20photo%202%20copy.JPG" width="359"><div class="caption"><strong>Arie Kruglanski</strong></div> </div> <p>These young people seem to have what psychologists call a very strong "<a href="http://terpconnect.umd.edu/~hannahk/The_Need_for_Closure.html" target="_blank">need for cognitive closure</a>," a disposition that leads to an overwhelming desire for certainty, order, and structure in one's life to relieve the sensation of gnawing&mdash;often existential&mdash;doubt and uncertainty. According to Kruglanski, this need is something everyone can experience from time to time. We all sometimes get stressed out by uncertainty, and want answers. We all feel that way in moments, in particular situations, but what Kruglanski shows is that some of us feel that way more strongly, or maybe even <em>all the time. </em>And if you go through the world needing closure, it predisposes you to seek out the ideologies and belief systems that most provide it.</p> <p>Fundamentalist religions are among the leading candidates. Followers of militant Islam "know exactly what is right and what is wrong, how to behave in every situation," explains Kruglanski. "It's very normative and constraining, and a person who is a bit uncertain, has the need for closure, would be very attracted to an ideology of that kind." And for an outsider coming into Islam and drawn to that sense of certainty that it imparts, Kruglanski adds, you then want to prove yourself. To show your total devotion and commitment to the cause.</p> <p>That's not to say every fundamentalist becomes a terrorist, any more than it is to say that every person with a need for cognitive closure does. Other life factors definitely matter as well, and the need for cognitive closure is a trait measured on a continuum; it's not that you either have it our you don't. All of that said, the trait clearly does show up again and again in these extremists.</p> <p>How do we know? Kruglanski and his colleagues have directly studied violent extremists and measured them on these traits. In Sri Lanka, for instance, Kruglanski was <a href="http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/learning-sri-lanka-7485" target="_blank">able to study</a> thousands of members of the so-called <a href="http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1869501,00.html" target="_blank">Tamil Tigers</a> (more formally called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). A militant and terrorist group fighting to secede from Sri Lanka&mdash;a conflict fueled by both linguistic and religious differences&mdash;the Tigers had lost their civil war and surrendered, and many were now in a deradicalization program (thousands have since been released). "We administered questionnaires and interviews to about 10,000 of them, and we see how their thinking has evolved, and how it has changed," he says.</p> <p>Other psychological research points to conclusions highly consistent with those of Kruglanski. Psychologist Peter Suedfeld of the University of British Columbia, for instance, has investigated a trait called "integrative complexity," which is clearly related to the need for cognitive closure and can be analyzed by examining an individual's public speeches or writing. It is literally a measure of the complexity of thought, and one of its key aspects is whether one accepts that there are a variety of legitimate views about an issue, rather than thinking there is only one right way.</p> <p>Suedfeld's work <a href="http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a526439.pdf" target="_blank">has shown</a> that in global conflicts, a decrease in integrative complexity on the part of the contending parties&mdash;exhibited, for instance, in an escalation of black-and-white rhetoric&mdash;is a good predictor that violent conflict will occur. He has also shown, through analyzing the speeches of Osama bin Laden, that the terrorist leader's integrative complexity plummeted markedly in the run up to two major attacks: the twin embassy bombings in 1998 in Tanzania and Kenya, and the 2000 attack on the USS <em>Cole</em>. Bin Laden "was very purist in his ideology," adds Kruglanski&mdash;a trait suggesting his need for closure.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" height="471" src="/files/USS%20Cole.jpg" width="630"><div class="caption"><strong>The USS <em>Cole</em>, with a visible hole in its side following a terrorist attack </strong><a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Defense.gov_News_Photo_001015-N-0000X-001.jpg" target="_blank">Department of Defense</a>/Wikimedia Commons</div> </div> <p>And as it relates to terrorism, the need for cognitive closure has another, surprising implication. According to <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01973533.2010.519196#.U_8mI4CwJ7Q" target="_blank">Kruglanski's research</a>, when terrorists attack a population, the fear and uncertainty that are created (for instance, following the 9/11 attacks) induce a strong need for closure in the attacked population as a whole. And this creates a kind of extremism of its own. People become more suspicious of outsiders and much more supportive of strong security measures that could curtail individual liberties. And they tend to rally around what is perceived to be a strong leader.</p> <p>"The psychology of the terrorist victim&mdash;there is a high need for closure, high need for clarity, high need to commit to an ideology that would provide quick answers," says Kruglanski. That's certainly not saying that the victims of terrorism are themselves equivalent to terrorists. But it does mean that as psychological warfare, terrorism might very well work.</p> <p>So how do you overcome the need for closure, and achieve deradicalization, when much of this core impulse emerges from the very human need to manage uncertainty and find meaning and significance in life? Kruglanski celebrates community-based programs in Muslim countries that try to "inoculate" young people against extreme ideologies. He also praises deradicalization efforts that seek to weaken the ideology of former terrorists with the promise of potential release and reintegration.</p> <p>Both types of programs have shown at least some effectiveness, says Kruglanski. They help former extremists "find alternative ways of being significant, making a contribution, other than violence."</p> <p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F165239451" width="100%"></iframe></p> <p name="b990"><em>This episode of </em><a href="http://www.motherjones.com/inquiring-minds" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">Inquiring Minds</a><em>, a podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas and best-selling author Chris Mooney, also features a discussion of a <a href="http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/08/26/social-media-and-the-spiral-of-silence/">new Pew report</a> showing that social media may actually discourage the expression of some opinions (rather than enabling them), and of how neuroscientists and filmmakers are <a href="http://www.wired.com/2014/08/how-movies-manipulate-your-brain/" target="_blank">working together</a> to understand how people's perceptions actually work in a movie theater.</em></p> <p name="b990"><em>To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to </em>Inquiring Minds <em>via </em><a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/inquiring-minds/id711675943" rel="nofollow" target="_blank"><em>iTunes</em></a><em> or</em> <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/inquiring-minds" rel="nofollow" target="_blank"><em>RSS</em></a><em>. We are also available </em><a href="http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/inquiring-minds" rel="nofollow" target="_blank"><em>on Stitcher</em></a><em>. You can follow the show on Twitter at </em><a href="https://twitter.com/inquiringshow" rel="nofollow" target="_blank"><em>@inquiringshow</em></a><em> and </em><a href="https://www.facebook.com/inquiringmindspodcast" rel="nofollow" target="_blank"><em>like us on Facebook</em></a><em>. </em>Inquiring Minds <em>was also recently singled out as one of the "Best of 2013" on iTunes&mdash;you can learn more </em><a href="http://www.itunes.com/bestof2013" rel="nofollow" target="_blank"><em>here</em></a><em>.</em></p></body></html> Politics Photo Essays Civil Liberties Climate Desk Foreign Policy Iraq Science Top Stories Inquiring Minds Fri, 29 Aug 2014 10:00:08 +0000 Chris Mooney 259306 at http://www.motherjones.com Why Coal Is (Still) Worse Than Fracking and Cow Burps http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/08/methane-vs-carbon-dioxide-raymond-pierrehumbert-inquiring-minds <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Is fracking for natural gas good for the planet?</p> <p>To understand the pitched fight over this question, you first need to realize that for many years, we've been burning huge volumes of coal to get electricity&mdash;and coal produces a ton of carbon dioxide, the chief gas behind global warming. Natural gas, by contrast, produces <a href="http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-and-you/affect/natural-gas.html" target="_blank">half as much</a> carbon dioxide when it burns, and thus, the fracking boom has been <a href="http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/Downloads/ghgemissions/US-GHG-Inventory-2014-Chapter-2-Trends.pdf" target="_blank">credited</a> with a decline in US greenhouse gas emissions. So far so good, right?</p> <p>Umm, maybe. Recently on our <em>Inquiring Minds</em> podcast, we heard from <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/08/inquiring-minds-anthony-ingraffea-science-fracking-methane" target="_blank">Anthony Ingraffea</a>, a professor of engineering at Cornell University, who contends that it just isn't that simple. <a href="http://epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/ch4.html" target="_blank">Methane</a> (the main component of natural gas) is also a hard-hitting greenhouse gas, if it somehow finds its way into the atmosphere. And Ingraffea argued that because of high leakage rates of methane from shale gas development, that's exactly what's happening. The trouble is that methane has a much greater "<a href="http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch2s2-10-2.html" target="_blank">global warming potential</a>" than carbon dioxide, meaning that it has a greater "<a href="http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch2s2-2.html" target="_blank">radiative forcing</a>" effect on the climate over a given time period (and especially over shorter time periods). In other words, according to Ingraffea, the CO<sub>2</sub> savings from burning natural gas instead of coal is being canceled out by all the methane that leaks into the atmosphere when we're extracting and transporting that gas. (Escaped methane from natural gas drilling complements other preexisting sources, such as the <a href="http://www.epa.gov/ruminant.html/faq.html" target="_blank">belching of cows</a>.)</p> <p>But not every scientist agrees with Ingraffea's methane-centered argument. In particular, Raymond Pierrehumbert, a geoscientist at the University of Chicago, has <a href="http://www.annualreviews.org/eprint/ib7s4XbkheNPQW9dpVMR/full/10.1146/annurev-earth-060313-054843" target="_blank">prominently argued</a> that carbon dioxide "is in a class by itself" among greenhouse warming pollutants, because unlike methane, its impacts occur over such a dramatic timescale that they are "essentially irreversible." That's because of carbon dioxide's incredibly long-term effect on the climate: Given a large pulse of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, much of it will still be there 10,000 years later. By contrast, even though methane is much more potent than carbon dioxide over a short timeframe, its atmospheric lifetime is only about 12 years.</p> <p>Applied to the debate over natural gas, that could mean that seeing gas displace coal is a good thing <em>in spite</em> of any concerns about methane leaks.</p> <p>To hear this counterpoint, we invited Pierrehumbert on <em>Inquiring Minds</em> as well. "You can afford to actually have a little bit of extra warming due to methane if you're using its a bridge fuel, because the benefit you get from reducing the carbon dioxide emissions stays with you forever, whereas the harm done by methane goes away more or less as soon as you stop using it," he explained on the show. You can listen to the interview&mdash;which is part of a larger show&mdash;below, beginning at about 4:40 (or you can leap to it by clicking <a href="https://soundcloud.com/inquiringminds/48-the-epidemic-of-harassment-in-scientific-field-work#t=4:40" target="_blank">here</a>):</p> <p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/164229627&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p> <p>Pierrehumbert's arguments are based on a <a href="http://www.annualreviews.org/eprint/ib7s4XbkheNPQW9dpVMR/full/10.1146/annurev-earth-060313-054843" target="_blank">recent paper</a> that he published in the <em>Annual Reviews of Earth and Planetary Sciences, </em>extensively comparing carbon dioxide with more short-lived climate pollutants, like methane, black carbon, and ozone. The paper basically states that the metric everybody has been using to compare carbon dioxide with methane, the "<a href="http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_Chapter08_FINAL.pdf" target="_blank">global warming potential</a>" described by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is deeply misleading.</p> <p>The IPCC, in its <a href="http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_Chapter08_FINAL.pdf" target="_blank">2013 report</a>, calls global warming potential the "default metric" for comparing the consequences, over a fixed period of time, of emitting the same volume of two different greenhouse gases. And according to the IPCC, using this approach, methane has 84 times the atmospheric effect that an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide does over a period of 20 years. But, it's crucial to remember that <em>that's over 20 years</em>; at the end of the period, the carbon dioxide will still be around and the methane won't. The metric, writes Humbert, is "completely insensitive" to any damages due to global warming that occur beyond a particular time window, "no matter how catastrophic they may be." Elsewhere, he calls the approach "crude."</p> <p>To see why, consider this figure from Pierrehumbert's paper, comparing the steady emission, over 200 years, of two hypothetical greenhouse gases (the solid blue and red lines). One gas lasts in the atmosphere for 1,000 years, and one that lasts only 10 years. Each has the same "global warming potential" at 100 years, but notice how the short lived gas' warming effect vanishes almost as soon as the emissions of it end:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/fig%207%20630px.jpg"><div class="caption"><em>Comparison of two greenhouse gases that have the same "global warming potential" over 100 years but very different lifetimes.</em><strong> </strong></div> </div> <p>The gases in the figure aren't carbon dioxide and methane, but you get the point. The upshot, Pierrehumbert argues, is that it is almost always a good idea to cut CO<sub>2</sub> emissions&mdash;even if doing so results in a temporary increase of methane emissions from leaky fracked wells. As he <a href="http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-earth-060313-054843" target="_blank">writes</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>&hellip;there is little to be gained from early mitigation of the short-lived gas [methane]. In contrast, any delay in mitigation of the long-lived gas ratchets up the warming irreversibly&hellip;the situation is rather like saving money for one's retirement&mdash;the earlier one begins saving, the more one's savings grow by the time of retirement, so the earlier one starts, the easier it is to achieve the goal of a prosperous retirement. Methane mitigation is like trying to stockpile bananas to eat during retirement. Given the short lifetime of bananas, it makes little sense to begin saving them until your retirement date is quite near.</p> </blockquote> <p>And that, in turn, implies that any displacing of coal with natural gas is a good thing for the climate. It's just less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, plain and simple.</p> <p>Ingraffea disagrees. By email, he commented that Pierrehumbert "is correct that the long term risk to climate is from CO<sub>2</sub>, but he is willing to accept the almost certain short term consequences which can only be ameliorated by reductions in methane and black carbon."</p> <p>But interestingly, there is one major commonality between Ingraffea's point of view and that of Pierrehumbert. Namely, both emphasize the importance of getting beyond natural gas, and transitioning to 100 percent clean energy.</p> <p>Here's the logic: Because carbon dioxide is so bad for the climate, the fact that natural gas burning does produce some of it (even if not as much as coal) means that if cheap natural gas discourages the use of carbon-free sources like nuclear, solar, or wind energy, then that's also a huge climate negative. So just as natural gas is not nearly as bad as coal from a carbon perspective, it is also not nearly as good as renewable energy. And that, in turn, means that while natural gas can play a transitional role toward a clean energy future, that role has to be relatively brief.</p> <p>"It's useful as a bridge fuel," says Pierrehumbert, "but if using it as a bridge fuel just drives out renewables and other carbon-free sources of energy, it's really a bridge to nowhere."</p></body></html> Environment Podcasts Climate Change Climate Desk Top Stories Infrastructure Inquiring Minds Fri, 29 Aug 2014 10:00:07 +0000 Chris Mooney 258966 at http://www.motherjones.com