Redefining Eugenics

I recently quoted Glenn Beck in providing one example of the anti-science right using eugenics to disparage science. This has been a common meme from the right wing noise machine. Apparently their logic is that a few scientists advocated eugenics in the distant past, and therefore liberals who quote science when discussing evolution or climate change are planning a secret eugenics program. Kevin Drum also questioned Beck’s reference to eugenics.

Russ Douthat responds to Kevin Drum by arguing that conservatives have been talking about eugenics for a long time–as if holding a fallacious belief for a long time is somehow superior to recently developing a fallacious belief. Douthat’s response comes down to redefining support for abortion rights (or unfettered right to abortion as Douthat erroneously calls it) as being “pre-natal eugenics.”

Abortion rights is a totally different debate. Regardless of the merits of that argument, abortion and eugenics are two different things. Maybe the opponents of abortion rights found that they were sounding too shrill and unconvincing with their cries of “baby killers” and are looking for a new word. This is just another example of the Frank Luntz school of trying to win arguments based upon the words you use as opposed to the merits of the argument.

Global Warming, Hurricanes, and the Anti-Science Right

The response to newspaper articles today demonstrates the anti-scientific mind set of the right wing, showing who is looking at climate change objectively, and who is choosing their “facts” based upon ideology. Several papers, including USA Today and Reuters, report on a study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences which shows a correlation between global warming and increased incidence of hurricanes. Following is from the abstract:

We find that long-period variations tropical cyclone and hurricane frequency over the past century in the North Atlantic Ocean have occurred in the form of three, relatively stable regimes separated by sharp transitions. Each regime has seen 50% more cyclones and hurricanes than the previous regime and is associated with a distinct range of sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. Overall, there appears to have been a substantial 100-year trend leading to related increases of over 0.7 C in SST and over 100% in tropical cyclone and hurricane numbers. It is concluded that the overall trend in SSTs and tropical cyclone and hurricane numbers is substantially influenced by greenhouse warming. Superimposed on the evolving tropical cyclone and hurricane climatology is a completely independent oscillation manifested in the proportions tropical cyclones that become major and minor hurricanes. This characteristic has no distinguishable net trend and appears to be associated with concomitant variations in the proportion of equatorial and higher-latitude hurricane developments, perhaps arising from internal oscillations of the climate system. The period of enhanced major hurricane activity during 1945-1964 is consistent with a peak period in major hurricane proportions.

I’ve made note several times cases in the past where a newspaper carried a weak criticism of global warming, but the right wing blogosphere adopted it as the new gosple on the subject (including here and here). This article on hurricanes presents the reverse situation. As is often the case in science, there is controversy over this paper. Scientific issues are typically resolved in peer reviewed journals, as opposed to newspapers or blogs, and a more definitive theory can be developed after the issues are resolved. In the case of global warming, this culminated in a strong consensus among scientists regarding the influence of human action on climate change.

Search engines and Memeorandum reveal considerable buzz about this article in the conservative blogosphere. They generally grab onto the controversy and, despite the lack of any expertise in the field or even reviewing the actual journal article, are unanimous in declaring that the findings are bogus. A typical conservative response can be seen at Blue Crab Boulevard.

The liberal response is more objective. Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science, summarizes the debate and concludes:

Let me be completely frank: I have no idea who’s right in the current argument between Holland/Webster and Landsea. Indeed, in some sense it’s probably unknowable–we’re talking about missed storms, after all, and now that they’ve been missed of course we don’t know how many of them there were.

From a policy perspective, though, we don’t have to remain completely agnostic regarding this debate. There are several important points to take away from this latest dustup, and in a follow-up post, I will tease out those implications. But for now, if I’ve left everyone scratching their heads about who to trust in the current argument, all I can say is, I’m scratching my head too….

While anti-science conservatives were ready to find reason to argue with the findings immediately upon seeing the headline, liberals who respect science take a completely different approach. Whether or not this particular study is valid has no bearing on the overall scientific consensus on global warming. Of course, while unlikely, it would be even better if we were to find out that global warming is not really a problem and actual evidence of this would be welcome. Unfortunately, unlike the right wing, we cannot ignore scientific evidence just because we do not like the results.

Paul Allen Producing Documentary on Intelligent Design

The Seattle Times profiled Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen regarding his interest in the arts. Allen is especially interested in documentaries, and is producing one on a worthwhile subject–intelligent design and the Dover case:

“With documentary-film projects, you hope you highlight an area of concern people haven’t thought about before,” Allen said in an interview. “A lot of times I’m asking myself — this seems to be a significant problem. What can be done that hasn’t been done?

“In global warming I think everyone is scratching their heads — are there technological things that can be brought to bear that can make a difference?”

Through his production company, Vulcan Productions, Allen makes feature films, documentaries and television programs related to art and science. His latest project, “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial,” is scheduled to air in November as part of the PBS Nova series, telling the story of a Pennsylvania school district beset by controversy over teaching intelligent design, which holds that the universe is too complex to be explained by evolution and must have been aided by the work of some supernatural “designer.”

Intelligent design isn’t the only topic he is working on. There is a certain irony in a production company named Vulcan producing a series on this topic:

Allen’s team at Vulcan is starting work on a series about human nature that explores mental difficulties and emotions.

His personal interest drives the film’s subject matter, said Hutton, a former executive at Walt Disney Imagineering. “Paul was very interested in not just the science of human nature, but what we’ve learned over 20 or 30 years and how that has been applied to people beset by negative feelings, anxiety and depression.”

The series started out with a scientific focus, but Allen pushed the producers to take a much more practical approach, presenting solutions and resources for people who need support.

“I think Paul sees film as a way of breaking through some of the clutter and giving back,” Hutton said. “He’s getting information out to the public that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible.”

Paul Krugman on The Immoral Republican Philosophy on Health Care

Paul Krugman‘s column today examines the philosophy behind Republican health care positions, which are a reflection of their overall view of government programs. Republicans are right more often than not when they argue that the private sector does a better job than government. The problem for them is that at times this is not true. While liberals are more willing to consider either private or public solutions to problems based upon which is best for a specific problem, conservative philosophy compels them to oppose virtually any government program, regardless of its benefits.

George Bush opposes any expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (Schip) on philosophical grounds. Krugman writes:

President Bush says that access to care is no problem — “After all, you just go to an emergency room” — and, with the support of the Republican Congressional leadership, he’s declared that he’ll veto any Schip expansion on “philosophical” grounds.

It must be about philosophy, because it surely isn’t about cost. One of the plans Mr. Bush opposes, the one approved by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the Senate Finance Committee, would cost less over the next five years than we’ll spend in Iraq in the next four months. And it would be fully paid for by an increase in tobacco taxes.

The House plan is even worse for Bush as it would take money from Medicare Advantage plans to fund the expansion. An aspect of Bush’s Medicare bill has been to reward the insurance companies which contribute to him with subsidizes for treating Medicare patients in private plans. These Medicare Advantage plans typically cherry pick the healthiest patients but it still costs twelve percent more than it costs to care for patients under the government Medicare plan. It makes no sense, unless your goal is to privatize Medicare regardless of the cost, to fight so hard to preserve these subsidies. The money could be better spent either on improving the Medicare program itself, or on other health care programs such as Schip. Krugman looks at the underlying philosophy:

So what kind of philosophy says that it’s O.K. to subsidize insurance companies, but not to provide health care to children?

Well, here’s what Mr. Bush said after explaining that emergency rooms provide all the health care you need: “They’re going to increase the number of folks eligible through Schip; some want to lower the age for Medicare. And then all of a sudden, you begin to see a — I wouldn’t call it a plot, just a strategy — to get more people to be a part of a federalization of health care.”

Now, why should Mr. Bush fear that insuring uninsured children would lead to a further “federalization” of health care, even though nothing like that is actually in either the Senate plan or the House plan? It’s not because he thinks the plans wouldn’t work. It’s because he’s afraid that they would. That is, he fears that voters, having seen how the government can help children, would ask why it can’t do the same for adults.

And there you have the core of Mr. Bush’s philosophy. He wants the public to believe that government is always the problem, never the solution. But it’s hard to convince people that government is always bad when they see it doing good things. So his philosophy says that the government must be prevented from solving problems, even if it can. In fact, the more good a proposed government program would do, the more fiercely it must be opposed.

George Bush ran as a compassionate conservative in 2000, claiming to be different from previous conservatives who would cut useful government programs. His governing philosophy is the opposite of the views he campaigned on as he opposes government programs not because they are bad, but because they are effective and prove him wrong.

Obama on Separation of Church and State

Barack Obama answered some questions on religion asked by a correspondent for CBN. While he does often speak of the influence of religion on hs life and views, he isn’t interested in recent polls where he is considered among the most religious candidates of either party, stating, “I don’t think it’s helpful as candidates or as a country to get into discussions about who’s more religious.” Obama also discussed separation of church and state:

For my friends on the right, I think it would be helpful to remember the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy but also our religious practice. Folks tend to forget that during our founding, it wasn’t the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of the First Amendment. It was the persecuted minorities, it was Baptists like John Leland who didn’t want the established churches to impose their views on folks who were getting happy out in the fields and teaching the scripture to slaves.

It was the forbearers of Evangelicals who were the most adamant about not mingling government with religious, because they didn’t want state-sponsored religion hindering their ability to practice their faith as they understood it. Given this fact, I think that the right might worry a bit more about the dangers of sectarianism.

Whatever we once were, we’re no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers. We should acknowledge this and realize that when we’re formulating policies from the state house to the Senate floor to the White House, we’ve got to work to translate our reasoning into values that are accessible to every one of our citizens, not just members of our own faith community.

Obama also spoke about separation of church and state during last week’s CNN/You Tube debate. By showing his concern for separation of church and state while also taking about religion, Obama might be able to receive considerable support from both religious and secular individuals, consistent with his campaign theme of bridging divisions in the country.

Republicans Block Legalization of Medical Marijuana

The authoritarian right might have lost control of Congress, but they have enough votes to win when the Democrats are divided. The Hinchey of New York Amendment which would have permitted medicinal use of marijuana was voted down in the House, defeated by a 262 to 165 margin. Democrats supported the amendment 150 to 79, but this wasn’t enough to overcome the overwhelming opposition by Republicans, who opposed it by a vote of 183 to 15.

Freedom Democrats notes that eight Democrats voted for the amendment last year but voted against it this year. The two members of the House of Representatives running for their party’s presidential nomination, Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul, both voted for the amendment.