Tea Party Has Republicans Afraid To Discuss Scientific Consensus On Climate Change

ocean temperature increase

Republicans must say idiotic things to get elected, often denying science, but that does not mean that all elected Republicans are idiots. Bloomberg has discussed the scientific consensus on climate change with many Republicans. While well ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree on how human action has caused global warming, rank and file Republican remains in denial, often seeing this as stemming from a left wing conspiracy. Republicans must play to this attitude even if they know better:

In stark contrast to their party’s public stance on Capitol Hill, many Republicans privately acknowledge the scientific consensus that human activity is at least partially responsible for climate change and recognize the need to address the problem…

In Bloomberg BNA interviews with several dozen former senior congressional aides, nongovernmental organizations, lobbyists and others conducted over a period of several months, the sources cited fears of attracting an electoral primary challenger as one of the main reasons many Republicans choose not to speak out.

Most say the reluctance to publicly support efforts to address climate change has grown discernibly since the 2010 congressional elections, when Tea Party-backed candidates helped the Republican Party win control of the House, in part by targeting vulnerable Democrats for their support of legislation establishing a national emissions cap-and-trade system…

While environmental groups continue to search for Republican candidates to back, Goldston said the Tea Party movement has swept many more deniers of climate change into Congress than ever before, and it has pushed Republicans away from basic environmental principles. He disagreed with others who said many Republicans privately acknowledge the risks of climate change, even if they don’t say so publicly.

“It’s very comforting for people to think that these people are pretending,” Goldston said. “It’s not true. The problem would be in many ways easier to solve if it was true.”

Chris Miller, who served as a senior energy policy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), agreed with Goldston’s assessment that the Tea Party has made it “impossible” for Republicans to speak on the issue.

“I have had no or very few private and honest interactions with Republicans on the topic,” Miller told Bloomberg BNA. “They’re all too scared of speaking the truth.”

It is ironic that Republicans are now afraid to express support for cap and trade considering that this was largely a Republican idea in the past, similar how Republicans now oppose aspects of the Affordable Care Act which were initially advocated by Republicans such as the individual mandate and selling insurance through exchanges.

In order to oppose the scientific consensus on climate change, conservatives frequently spread false claims and distort statements from scientists. For example, Rebecca Leber recently described how conservatives misquoted climate scientists to promote their claims that global warming is on hiatus:

Norman Loeb, an atmospheric scientist with NASA, gave a crash course in climate change science for the public at Virginia Air and Space Center on Tuesday. He talked about all the evidence that the planet is warminglike the fact that temperatures right now are the hottest they’ve been since record-keeping began in 1850. He also noted that the rise in surface temperatures has slowed considerably since 2000. This doesn’t contradict the theory of global warming, he explained. Land temperature regularly varies, and much of the warming in the last decade is happening unseen in the ocean.

The same day, the frequently conservative-leaning Washington Times ran a short story on the talk. It said that a prominent NASA scientist had admitted global warming is on “hiatus.” As the writer explained, “The nation’s space agency [has] noticed an inconvenient cooling on the planet lately.”

It was pretty much the opposite of what Loeb was trying to say. But it’s not an isolated incident. Conservatives love to cite the relative stability of global surface temperatures for the last 15 years as proof that climate change is a hoax. And they frequently twist the words of scientists to do it. I read or hear versions of this argument all the timefrom outlets like Forbes, National Review, and Fox News. Sometimes the conservatives even talk about “global cooling,” joking that maybe we should be more worried about that, instead. This sort of commentary probably helps explain why still find that just 67 percent of Americans accept that humans cause climate change, even though there is nearly unanimous scientific consensus.

Needless to say, the conservatives have it all wrong. And the science really isn’t that hard to understand…

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Norm Ornstein On The Republican Battle Between The Conservatives And Lunatic Radicals

While, as should be obvious from the previous post, I am not thrilled by the prospect of Hillary Clinton being president, any Republican alternative would be far worse. With all her faults, Clinton isn’t bat-shit crazy. Norm Ornstein has written again about how extreme the Republican have become. He described the extremists who have become more common in the Republican Party, providing multiple quotations (not even resorting to quoting Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann):

As for the radicals in elected office or in control of party organs, consider a small sampling of comments:

“Sex that doesn’t produce people is deviate.” —Montana state Rep. Dave Hagstrom.

“It is not our job to see that anyone gets an education.” —Oklahoma state Rep. Mike Reynolds.

“I hear you loud and clear, Barack Obama. You don’t represent the country that I grew up with. And your values is not going to save us. We’re going to take this country back for the Lord. We’re going to try to take this country back for conservatism. And we’re not going to allow minorities to run roughshod over what you people believe in!” —Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert, at a tea-party rally.

President Obama has “become a dictator” and needs to face the consequences of his executive actions, “whether that’s removal from office, whether that’s impeachment.” —Iowa state Sen. (and U.S. Senate candidate) Jodi Ernst, one of a slew of elected officials calling for impeachment or at least putting it front and center.

“I don’t want to get into the debate about climate change. But I’ll simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars. There’s no factories on Mars that I’m aware of.” —Kentucky state Sen. Brandon Smith (fact-check: the average temperature on Mars is -81 degrees).

“Although Islam had a religious component, it is much more than a simple religious ideology. It is a complete geo-political structure and, as such, does not deserve First Amendment protections.” —Georgia congressional candidate Jody Hice.

“Slavery and abortion are the two most horrendous things this country has done, but when you think about the immorality of wild, lavish spending on our generation and forcing future generations to do without essentials just so we can live lavishly now, it’s pretty immoral.” —U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas.

“God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big-bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. It’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.” —U.S. Rep. (and M.D.) Paul Broun of Georgia.

“Now I don’t assert where he [Obama] was born, I will just tell you that we are all certain that he was not raised with an American experience. So these things that beat in our hearts when we hear the National Anthem and when we say the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t beat the same for him.” —U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa.

He pointed out some of the less extreme forces in the Republican Party and concluded:

I am not suggesting that the lunatics or extremists have won. Most Republicans in the Senate are not, to use John McCain’s term, “wacko birds,” and most Republicans in office would at least privately cringe at some of the wild ideas and extreme views. At the same time, the “establishment” is fighting back, pouring resources into primaries to protect their preferred candidates, and we are seeing the rise of a new and encouraging movement among conservative intellectuals—dubbed “Reformicons” by E.J. Dionne—to come up with a new set of ideas and policy prescriptions to redefine the ideology and the party in a positive way.

But there is a darker reality. Many of the “preferred” candidates—including Ernst as well as James Lankford in Oklahoma and Jack Kingston in Georgia—are anything but pragmatic.

A few years ago, they would have been labeled hard-liners. (Kingston, a favorite of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was beaten in the Senate primary Tuesday by businessman David Perdue, who has said he would not vote for Mitch McConnell as party leader in the Senate.) It is a measure of the nature of this intra-party struggle that the mainstream is now on the hard right, and that it is close to apostasy to say that Obama is legitimate, that climate change is real, that background checks on guns are desirable, or even that the Common Core is a good idea. When we see presumably sane figures like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal shamelessly pander to the extremists, it tells us where the center of gravity in the GOP primary base, at least, is set. Of course, there are still courageous mainstream figures like Jeb Bush who are willing to deviate from the new orthodoxy, and it is possible that he can run and get the Republican presidential nomination, win the White House, and begin the process of recalibration.

But when one looks at the state of Republican public opinion (especially among the likely caucus and primary voters), at the consistent and persistent messages coming from the information sources they follow, and at the supine nature of congressional leaders and business leaders in countering extremism, it is not at all likely that what passes for mainstream, problem-solving conservatism will dominate the Republican Party anytime soon.

Even if the lunatics have not entirely won, they are the ones influencing the views of the rest of  the party. The establishment Republicans have beaten some primary challenges based upon disagreements on tactics, such as no longer wanting to shut down the government, but they have also adopted the ideology of the Tea Party.

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David Brat’s Views On Economics And Religion

brat_cantor

The surprising defeat of Eric Cantor last night appears to be largely due to the personal faults on Cantor’s part along with possible preference for the more extremist views of David Brat, despite Cantor’s dishonest ads calling him a liberal college professor. It does not appear that cross over Democratic voters had a meaningful impact on the results. Cantor’s problems appear more cultural than strict ideology as pointed out at The New York Times.

David Wasserman, a House political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said another, more local factor has to be acknowledged: Mr. Cantor, who dreamed of becoming the first Jewish speaker of the House, was culturally out of step with a redrawn district that was more rural, more gun-oriented and more conservative.

“Part of this plays into his religion,” Mr. Wasserman said. “You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.”

The New York Times does go overboard in calling Cantor’s loss a bad omen for moderates. While Brat is more extreme in opposing immigration reform and raising the debt ceiling to meet our financial obligations, Cantor is hardly a moderate. As Steve Benen pointed out, “He has a 95% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, for goodness’ sake.”

Brat has been called a follower of Ayn Rand, and his victory could be seen as a loss for crony capitalism. Whenever I hear that a Republican is a follower of Ayn Rand I wonder if they are aware of or acknowledge Rand’s atheism and strong hostility towards religion. Brat’s economic writings have shown a view of religion which Ayn Rand would never accept. The Wall Street Journal writes:

In the paper, titled “Is Growth Exogenous? Taking Bernanke Seriously (But How Can a Fed Guy Forget the Institutions)”, Mr. Brat waded into a debate among economists over the determinants of long-term growth with this conclusion: Mr. Bernanke’s work on economic growth overlooked the role that religious institutions–particularly Protestant ones–play in driving a country’s growth rates.

In his argument against Mr. Bernanke, Mr. Brat draws on previous research titled “Economic Growth and Institutions: The Rise and Fall of the Protestant Ethic?” a 2004 paper in which he wrote that Protestantism “provides an efficient set of property rights and encourages a modern set of economic incentives” so “one might anticipate positive economic performance.”

“Give me a country in 1600 that had a Protestant led contest for religious and political power and I will show you a country that is rich today,” he wrote.

On the other hand, another article in The Wall Street Journal suggests he does not accept the agenda of the religious right:

Can Christians force others to follow their ethical teachings on social issues? Note that consistency is lacking on all sides of this issue. The political Right likes to champion individual rights and individual liberty, but it has also worked to enforce morality in relation to abortion, gambling, and homosexuality. The Left likes to think of itself as the bulwark of progressive liberal individualism, and yet it seeks to progressively coerce others to fund every social program under the sun via majority rule. Houston, we have a problem. Coercion is on the rise. What is the root word for liberalism? (Answer: Liberty)

It is of course a straw man argument to claim that the left seeks to fund every social program under the sun. Unless he means the cost of established and highly successful programs such as Medicare and Social Security, the spending advocated by most liberals on social programs is far less than Republicans have coerced others to pay, such as on the Iraq War. Bush’s policies, including both his spending and tax cuts for the wealthy have had far more impact on the deficit that liberal social programs. Despite his acceptance of these rather naive right wing talking points, it is encouraging that Brat has opposed the Republican use of government to enforce the social views of the religious right. It remains to be seen if he will buck the Republicans on such issues when voting in Congress.

Update: Mother Jones takes a look at Brat’s libertarian views, including slashing spending on Medicare,  Social Security, and education. What happens when you cut funding on education? A lack of understanding of science, leading to people falling for denial of climate change.

Update II: There has been considerable speculation that Brat won due to Cantor’s views on immigration. It is not clear that this was the reason for Brat’s victory. A survey from Public Policy Polling showed that there was not widespread opposition to Cantor’s views on immigration in his district but it is possible that those turning out in a Republican primary held stronger anti-immigration views than the general population. Both blogs on the left (such as Mother Jones) and right (such as Hot Air) have questioned if immigration was the reason Cantor lost.

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Doctors No Longer Strong Republicans

JAMA Internal Medicine has some data which I would have predicted–doctors are less likely to support Republicans now than in the past. The data is based upon campaign contributions and therefore has no data regarding reasons for the change. This data would not include contributions under $200 and it is not known if those making smaller donations differ from the larger, reportable contributions.

The study found that since 1996 contributions to Republicans by physicians have decreased, dropping to under 50 percent leading up to the 2008 election. Many of the results suggest that doctors are contributing based upon factors comparable to the general population. This includes a significant gender gap with 57 percent of men and 31 percent of women contributing to Republicans over the entire study period. Leading up to the 2012 election, 52.3 percent of male physicians contributed to Republicans and 23.6 percent of female physicians contributed to Republicans.

I am apparently an exception to the trend that male physicians and physicians in solo or small practices are more likely to contribute to Republicans. Another trend mirrors the general population with those earning more being more likely to contribute to Republicans.

Overall the trend against support for Republicans is similar to the overall trend for more highly educated people to be less likely to support Republicans. The education in science might make many physicians more likely to reject Republicans in recent years as scientists have tended to oppose Republicans. Many people trained in science would have a difficult time supporting a party in which many believe in creationism, and most reject the view of 97 percent of climate scientists on global warming.

The study is unable to determine whether medically related issues have any bearing on the results. Democrats have been far more supportive of health care in recent years, but I also find that many of my colleagues get their news from Fox and have the same misconceptions about the Affordable Care Act and other issues as Republicans in general have. On the other hand, many physicians, along with many physician organizations, have been highly supportive of Obamacare after having seen the serious problems in health care delivery in this country. Republican policies would also be terrible for the future of Medicare, but I’m not sure how widespread this realization is among physicians.

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Obama Responds To Myth That Both Parties Are Responsible For Current Gridlock

Obama Green Lantern

There has been a lot of back and forth on line recently regarding whether Obama deserves blame for the gridlock in Washington. Ezra Klein explained the fallacies once again in the Green Lantern view of the presidency as a character with near infinite powers.  Ron Fournier continues to play the false equivalency game in trying to blame both the left and right, ignoring the considerable differences between the two and the unprecedented levels of obstructionism since Obama was elected.  He seems to think that being a typical politician and promising more than he can deliver is somehow equivalent to the Republicans deciding to oppose anything proposed by Obama from day one.

Jason Linkins suggested a more realistic view of Obama. If he isn’t Green Lantern, he might be more like Agent Coulson: “team-assembler, favorable environment provider, manager of discrete tasks and outsized personalities, quick to adapt to changing circumstances, eminently mortal, and yet (spoiler alert) at times resurrectable.” Last year Linkins wondered if Fournier could read when he made the same mistakes.

I was happy to see Obama directly respond to this at a fund raiser:

“You’ll hear if you watch the nightly news or you read the newspapers that, well, there’s gridlock, Congress is broken, approval ratings for Congress are terrible.  And there’s a tendency to say, a plague on both your houses.  But the truth of the matter is that the problem in Congress is very specific.  We have a group of folks in the Republican Party who have taken over who are so ideologically rigid, who are so committed to an economic theory that says if folks at the top do very well then everybody else is somehow going to do well; who deny the science of climate change; who don’t think making investments in early childhood education makes sense; who have repeatedly blocked raising a minimum wage so if you work full-time in this country you’re not living in poverty; who scoff at the notion that we might have a problem with women not getting paid for doing the same work that men are doing.

“They, so far, at least, have refused to budge on bipartisan legislation to fix our immigration system, despite the fact that every economist who’s looked at it says it’s going to improve our economy, cut our deficits, help spawn entrepreneurship, and alleviate great pain from millions of families all across the country.

“So the problem…is not that the Democrats are overly ideological — because the truth of the matter is, is that the Democrats in Congress have consistently been willing to compromise and reach out to the other side.  There are no radical proposals coming out from the left.  When we talk about climate change, we talk about how do we incentivize through the market greater investment in clean energy.  When we talk about immigration reform there’s no wild-eyed romanticism.  We say we’re going to be tough on the borders, but let’s also make sure that the system works to allow families to stay together…

“When we talk about taxes we don’t say we’re going to have rates in the 70 percent or 90 percent when it comes to income like existed here 50, 60 years ago.  We say let’s just make sure that those of us who have been incredibly blessed by this country are giving back to kids so that they’re getting a good start in life, so that they get early childhood education…Health care — we didn’t suddenly impose some wild, crazy system.  All we said was let’s make sure everybody has insurance. And this made the other side go nuts — the simple idea that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, nobody should go bankrupt because somebody in their family gets sick, working within a private system.

“So when you hear a false equivalence that somehow, well, Congress is just broken, it’s not true.  What’s broken right now is a Republican Party that repeatedly says no to proven, time-tested strategies to grow the economy, create more jobs, ensure fairness, open up opportunity to all people.”

Ron Fournier has been one of the more prominent journalists attacking Obama from the center with arguments based upon drawing a false equivalency. This has led to some criticism of centrists, but not all centrists have fallen for this idea that both sides are mirror images of each other. Centrists Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein made it clear that Republicans are the problem in 2012:

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

It is clear that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right. Its once-legendary moderate and center-right legislators in the House and the Senate — think Bob Michel, Mickey Edwards, John Danforth, Chuck Hagel — are virtually extinct.

The post-McGovern Democratic Party, by contrast, while losing the bulk of its conservative Dixiecrat contingent in the decades after the civil rights revolution, has retained a more diverse base. Since the Clinton presidency, it has hewed to the center-left on issues from welfare reform to fiscal policy. While the Democrats may have moved from their 40-yard line to their 25, the Republicans have gone from their 40 to somewhere behind their goal post…

Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington. In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate, followed by efforts to delegitimize the results and repeal the policies. The filibuster, once relegated to a handful of major national issues in a given Congress, became a routine weapon of obstruction, applied even to widely supported bills or presidential nominations. And Republicans in the Senate have abused the confirmation process to block any and every nominee to posts such as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, solely to keep laws that were legitimately enacted from being implemented.

In the third and now fourth years of the Obama presidency, divided government has produced something closer to complete gridlock than we have ever seen in our time in Washington, with partisan divides even leading last year to America’s first credit downgrade

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Threats To Republican Dogma From Same Sex Marriage To The Environment And Economy

Gallup Same Sex Marriagew

Gallup has found that support for legalization of same sex marriage has reached a new high at 55 percent. The upward trend is supported by both changing views among all age groups and increased support among the young. Support for gay marriage by those between the ages of 18 and 29 has increased to 78 percent suggesting that the overall trend will continue.

There is considerable weakening of support for the agenda of the religious right, and Republicans cannot count on support for their agenda from all religious groups. Pope Francis contradicted right wing views on the environment and climate change waring that, “if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us!” Earlier in the month he contradicted Republican economic dogma by calling for “the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the state, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society.”

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The Republican War On Science: From Climate Change To Reproduction

Fertilization and Implantation-MU

There is good reason that, going back to the Bush years, only six percent of scientists identify themselves as Republicans. For several years Republicans have promoted views contrary to facts as demonstrated by the scientific method, and commonly distort science to justify their positions. We have seen more examples of this with Marco Rubio’s denial that human action is responsible for climate change despite overwhelming evidence that this is the case.

Some on the right have come to Rubio’s defense. One of the more absurd defenses of Rubio came from James Taranto who questioned whether appeals to authority are fallacious. In scientific matters it only makes sense to rely on authorities in the field, and ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that human action is responsible for climate change. Taranto dismissed this by arguing that, “The trouble for global-warmist journalists like Marcus and Lapidos is that an appeal to the authority of a distrusted source undermines rather than strengthens one’s argument.” That is a rather circular argument that conservatives are apparently right in dismissing arguments based upon the views of  climate scientists because conservatives already distrust the source.

Rubio defended his earlier statements by pivoting to yet another area where conservatives promote pseudo-science to promote their views–reproduction. Rubio tried to portray liberals as not accepting settled science in an interview with Sean Hannity, but Rubio got the science wrong:

“All these people always wag their finger at me about ‘science’ and ‘settled science.’,” he told Hannity. “Let me give you a bit of settled science that they’ll never admit to. Science is settled, it’s not even a consensus, it is a unanimity, that human life begins at conception. So I hope the next time that someone wags their finger about science, they’ll ask one of these leaders on the left: ‘Do you agree with the consensus of scientists that say that human life begins at conception?’ I’d like to see someone ask that question.”

Philip Bump turned to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for their response to Rubio’s scientific claims. The response:

Government agencies and American medical organizations agree that the scientific definition of pregnancy and the legal definition of pregnancy are the same: pregnancy begins upon the implantation of a fertilized egg into the lining of a woman’s uterus. This typically takes place, if at all, between 5 and 9 days after fertilization of the egg – which itself can take place over the course of several days following sexual intercourse.

There are points in human reproduction which are defined scientifically, such as implantation and fertilization. Other points, including the time of intercourse and birth, have clear definitions. When life begins is not such a point:

There’s a blurry line between “pregnancy” and “life” in this discussion. When we asked ACOG if the two were interchangeable, we were told that the organization “approach[es] everything from a scientific perspective, and as such, our definition is for when pregnancy begins.” On the question of when life begins, then, the scientific experts we spoke with didn’t offer any consensus.

“Life” is something of a philosophical question, making Rubio’s dependence on a scientific argument — which, it hardly bears mentioning, is an argument about abortion — politically tricky. After all, if someone were to argue that life begins at implantation, it’s hard to find a moral argument against forms of birth control that prevent that from happening. If that someone were, say, running for president as a conservative Republican, that could be problematic.

Asking for the moment when life begins is a phony conservative frame which has no scientific validity, used to promote their viewpoint. The process of human reproduction is a continuum. The abortion issue involves matters beyond defining when life begins, such as the right of a woman to control her own body. The same is true with contraception, with some conservatives apparently choosing a point before the true onset of pregnancy as when life begins in order to justify opposition to forms of birth control which interfere with implantation.

Think Progress has more on conservative junk science being used to violate reproductive rights.

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Nate Silver Opens FiveThirtyEight With Questions Raised About Data Journalism

Nate Silver’s new site, FiveThirtyEight.com, opened this week and I must say I have been underwhelmed. Certainly check it out yourself and come to your own conclusion, but so far I hardly see the posts there as adding anything of value to online sources than we had in the past. I think this is largely because Nate Silver’s numbers driven type of analysis applies far better to sports coverage and polling than it does to many of the other topics which the new site attempts to cover.

Certainly other areas also involve analysis driven by numbers. If one is to run a web site based upon claims of superior analysis of the numbers, it is also important that the numbers be well established as correct. Think Progress has raised questions about FiveThirtyEight’s science writer on climate change. This also shows that it is important to read analysis which does more than just present numbers. As I learned back in college statistics, statistics is the science which shows that the average human has one testicle and one breast.

I don’t intend to downplay the value of Nate Silver’s polling analysis, but it was hardly unique in predicting the elections. Yes, he did far better than the many Republicans who predicted Romney victories based upon opinions rather than fact, but he was not the only one. Besides watching Nate Silver’s site, I also watched a couple sites which took an aggregate of polling results to show who was leading. This provided essentially the same results. It was also easy to predict based upon past results and limited knowledge of the states which states were tending in a different direction.

Nate Silver described his vision for his site here. I certainly appreciate the use of data to substantiate opinions, but so far the posts there have not really provided terribly meaningful data in other areas. Perhaps it will improve over time, but he would have been smarter to have a really major article telling us something we don’t know based upon the numbers to initiate the new site. First impressions are important.

Needless to say, his criticism of opinion articles hasn’t been accepted very well by some opinion writers. Paul Krugman hardly ignores facts and figures but has somehow been cast as the opposing model to Nate Silver’s. Krugman responded to Silver’s criticism of opinion writers:

Nate’s manifesto proclaims his intention to be a fox, who knows many things, rather than a hedgehog, who knows just one big thing; i.e., a pundit who repeats the same assertions in every column. I’m fine with that.

But you can’t be an effective fox just by letting the data speak for itself — because it never does. You use data to inform your analysis, you let it tell you that your pet hypothesis is wrong, but data are never a substitute for hard thinking. If you think the data are speaking for themselves, what you’re really doing is implicit theorizing, which is a really bad idea (because you can’t test your assumptions if you don’t even know what you’re assuming.)

Leon Wieseltier discussed the importance of opinion writers, concluding:

Since an open society stands or falls on the quality of its citizens’ opinions, the refinement of their opinions, and more generally of the process of opinion-formation, is a primary activity of its intellectuals and its journalists. In such an enterprise, the insistence upon a solid evidentiary foundation for judgments—the combating of ignorance, which is another spectacular influence of the new technology—is obviously important. Just as obviously, this evidentiary foundation may include quantitative measurements; but only if such measurements are appropriate to the particular subject about which a particular judgment is being made. The assumption that it is appropriate to all subjects and all judgments—this auctoritas ex numero—is not at all obvious. Many of the issues that we debate are not issues of fact but issues of value. There is no numerical answer to the question of whether men should be allowed to marry men, and the question of whether the government should help the weak, and the question of whether we should intervene against genocide. And so the intimidation by quantification practiced by Silver and the other data mullahs must be resisted. Up with the facts! Down with the cult of facts!

An opinion with a justification may be described as a belief. The justification that transforms an opinion into a belief may in some instances be empirical, but in many instances, in the morally and philosophically significant instances, it will not be empirical, it will be rational, achieved in the establishment of the truth of concepts or ideas by the methods of argument and the interpretation of experience. A certain kind of journalistic commentary, when it is done rightly, is a popular version of the same project, an application of thoughtfully (and sometimes wittily) held principles to public affairs, and is therefore an essential service to a free society. The intellectual predispositions that Silver ridicules as “priors” are nothing more than beliefs. What is so sinister about beliefs? He should be a little more wary of scorning them, even in degraded form: without beliefs we are nothing but data, himself included, and we deserve to be considered not only from the standpoint of our manipulability. I am sorry that he finds George Will and Paul Krugman repetitious, but should they revise their beliefs so as not to bore him? Repetition is one of the essential instruments of persuasion, and persuasion is one of the essential activities of a democracy. I do not expect Silver to relinquish his positivism—a prior if ever there was one—because I find it tedious.

Silver proclaimed in the interview that “we’re not trying to do advocacy here. We’re trying to just do analysis. We’re not trying to sway public opinion on anything except trying to make them more numerate.” His distinction between analysis and advocacy is a little innocent. (Like the insistence of the man who went from the Times to ESPN that he is an “outsider.”) Is numeracy really what American public discourse most urgently lacks? And why would one boast of having no interest in the great disputations about injustice and inequality? Neutrality is an evasion of responsibility, unless everything is like sports. Like Ezra Klein, whom he admires, Nate Silver had made a success out of an escape into diffidence. What is it about conviction that frightens these people?

I have many recent posts on health care reform. Yes, many parts of the issue can be quantified. I could concentrate on the number of people who were without coverage because of preexisting conditions and the number who lost coverage due to being dropped when ill. Numbers are also important when looking at Republican horror stories and the truth about how much money people are really saving under the Affordable Care Act. These are important parts of the story, but not the full story. We also must consider explanations as to how the health care system works and opinions as to how it should. The same is true in many other areas. Facts and numbers are important, but so are analysis, opinions and values.

Update:

This is an argument where neither side is entirely right or wrong. There is even a counter argument to Wieseltier’s assertion that, “There is no numerical answer to the question of whether men should be allowed to marry men.” Steve M wrote:

But there is very much a “numerical answer to the question of whether men should be allowed to marry men” — or at least the opponents of gay marriage strongly suggest that there is. Those opponents argue that gay marriage harms society — specifically, they say that children suffer harm from not having two opposite-sex parents. How do we know this is nonsense? We can look at the lives of children raised by gay couples and compare their well-being to that of children raised by married heterosexuals. If gay marriage were harming the children of gay couples, we’d know it, but it isn’t. And it’s good that we have studies showing a lack of harm, because if we were high-mided and Wieseltierian and chose to remain above the tawdry collection of data on this subject, the anti-gay right would generate all sorts of anti-gay-marriage data and drive the debate with it. (Perhaps Wieseltier needs to be reminded of the preposterous statistics about gay people’s health that have been circulating online and elsewhere for several decades — “the lifespan of a homosexual is on average 24 years shorter than that of a heterosexual” and all that.)

While I agree with Steve regarding the numbers involved, the fact remains that any discussion of gay marriage does also involve values–in this case the values of individual choice and separation of church and state in opposition of conservative values on this issue.

The debate between Krugman and Silver is one where neither side is entirely right or wrong and the differences between the sides are exaggerated when this turns into a blog debate. I don’t think that either Paul Krugman objects to presenting the numbers or that Nate Silver really thinks that everything comes down to the numbers.

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More Information Comes Out On Republican Misinformation As Democrats Stand Up To Koch Brothers

The Affordable Care Act is bringing about considerable reductions in health care expenses for millions of Americans. Republicans opposing health care reform have tried to undermine support for the law with a series of false ads in which  they falsely claim people such as cancer patients have to pay more than in the past for health care coverage. Whenever these claims are actually examined, it has turned out that the claims are false. Considering the subsidies for coverage, the increased protections for those with medical problems, the elimination of limitations on coverage, and the caps on out of pocket expenses, it is generally not possible for anyone to really come out behind who had previously been purchasing coverage on the individual market. The only “losers” are those of us who don’t qualify for subsidies and are healthy enough to not have significant health care costs. Even the “losers” under the Affordable Care Act, who are affluent enough to pay the higher premiums for better coverage, will come out ahead if we develop major medical problems.

The case of Julie Boonstra was already covered when newspapers and fact checkers revealed that the ad, paid for by the Koch brothers, was spreading incorrect information. Previous reports revealed that her claims of paying more were untrue. As more information has become available on her policy, the facts show that she benefits even more than initially reported. The Detroit News has updated the facts on this case with this information:

A Dexter cancer patient featured in a conservative group’s TV ad campaign denouncing her new health care coverage as “unaffordable” will save more than $1,000 this year.

Julie Boonstra, 49, starred last month in an emotional television ad sponsored by Americans for Prosperity that implied Democratic U.S. Rep. Gary Peters’ vote for the Affordable Care Act made her medication so “unaffordable” she could die. Peters of Bloomfield Township is running for an open U.S. Senate seat against Republican Terri Lynn Land.

The Detroit News and fact checkers last month cast doubt on the accuracy of the TV ad. On Monday, Boonstra acknowledged which health plan she chose, offering the first evidence of cost savings..

Boonstra said Monday her new plan she dislikes is the Blue Cross Premier Gold health care plan, which caps patient responsibility for out-of-pocket costs at $5,100 a year, lower than the federal law’s maximum of $6,350 a year. It means the new plan will save her at least $1,200 compared with her former insurance plan she preferred that was ended under Obamacare’s coverage requirements.

Glenn Kessler reevaluated his report on this ad writing, “one cannot claim that a plan is ‘unaffordable’ when over the course of the year it will provide you with substantial savings. Thus we are changing the rating on this ad from Two Pinocchios to Three Pinocchios.”

Boonstra, and others claiming to be losers under Obamacare, might very well believe what they are saying, even if wrong:

When advised of the details of her Blues’ plan, Boonstra said the idea that it would be cheaper “can’t be true.”

“I personally do not believe that,” Boonstra said.

The Republicans are spending a tremendous amount of money spreading false misinformation about the Affordable Care Act, and an alarming number of people believe what they hear on Fox, right wing talk radio, and from other portions  of the right wing noise machine.  They have no idea that what they hear from right wing outlets is propaganda to promote a political agenda and is not actual news. Therefore we see pe0ple like Boonstra who are better off under the Affordable Care Act but do not look at the facts and do not believe this. Others have listened to “warnings” from the right wing and have not purchased coverage on the exchanges, and then complain about higher premiums because of not receiving the subsidies they would receive if they purchased coverage on the exchanges. Many have no idea that their old policies had limitations on how much would be covered while the new policies under the ACA have caps on what they would have to pay which usually greatly reduce what they will have to pay out of pocket compared to their previous policies.

Many people are harmed by the deliberate misinformation being spread by the right wing, including many who are now failing to sign up and take advantage of the benefits under the Affordable Care Act. Many of these dishonest ads are funded by the Koch brothers through Americans for Prosperity (a poorly named organization for one pursuing an agenda which would impoverish the middle class and turn the United States into a banana republic).

The New York Times has been reporting on how the Democrats are staring to stand up to the Koch brothers for their misinformation on health care and other actions to rig the system to benefit a small oligarchy. They summarized this in an op-ed today:

Democrats have for too long been passive in the face of the vast amounts of corporate money, most of it secret, that are being spent to evict them from office and dismantle their policies. By far the largest voice in many of this year’s political races, for example, has been that of the Koch brothers, who have spent tens of millions of dollars peddling phony stories about the impact of health care reform, all in order to put Republicans in control of the Senate after the November elections.

Now Democrats are starting to fight back, deciding they should at least try to counter the tycoons with some low-cost speech of their own. Democrats may never have the same resources at their disposal — no party should — but they can use their political pulpits to stand up for a few basic principles, including the importance of widespread health-insurance coverage, environmental protection and safety-net programs.

The leader of this effort has been Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, who has delivered a series of blistering attacks against the Kochs and their ads on the Senate floor over the last few weeks. In addition, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has set up a website, www.kochaddiction.com, to remind voters of just what the Kochs stand for, and why they raised $407 million in the 2012 election. And individual candidates are making sure voters know who is paying for the ad blitz.

“The billionaire Koch brothers,” says one of the people quoted in an ad released Monday by Senator Mark Begich of Alaska, who has been the object of one of their blatantly false television barrages. “They come into our town, fire a refinery, just running it into the ground, leaving a mess.” Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina reminds voters that the Kochs and their allies have pressed for high-end tax breaks that burden the middle class.

Mr. Reid’s comments have gone to the heart of the matter. In his most recent speech, he pointed out that the fundamental purpose of the Kochs’ spending is to rig the economic system for their benefit and for that of other oligarchs. They own an industrial network that ranks No. 14 on the list of the most toxic American air polluters, and got their money’s worth in 2010 by helping elect a Republican House majority that has resisted environmental regulation…

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Quote of the Day: Bill Maher On Climate Change Deniers

“I know climate change is a hoax – of course – but places that have never seen this type of winter weather got hit by it. More than a half a million southerners have been left in the dark — and then the storm hit.” –Bill Maher

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