Another Call For A Science Debate

It is becoming a regular feature of elections that there is a call for a science debate. Despite lack of interest by politicians, there is another call for a science debate this election:

Science is changing everything, with major economic, environmental, health, legal, and moral implications. Sign the call for the candidates to debate:

“Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we call for public debates in which the U.S. presidential and congressional candidates share their views on the issues of science and technology policy, health and medicine, and the environment.”

We all know that conservatives frequently use pseudo-science to deny climate change and evolution. Conservative pseudo-science was seen when they ignored the biology to create unnecessary hysteria over Ebola. The repeated attempts to prohibit abortions after twenty-weeks are also based upon pseudo-science regarding embryology.

Of course Republican ignorance is not limited to science. They also ignore the facts regarding history and economics. For example, to mark Rick Perry entering the race, Think Progress posted a list of 9 Completely Bonkers Things The Newest GOP Presidential Candidate Believes About The Constitution. I’m sure comparable lists could be made for each Republican candidate. How about a look at their views on separation of church and state?

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The Conservative Con Game

If you ever subscribed to any conservative magazines you most likely wound up on their mailing lists which try to sell all sorts of snake oil to gullible conservatives. They often tie it into conservative philosophy/paranoia, such as selling gold based upon warnings about the imminent economic collapse. Their predictions are essentially unchanged from the 1960’s when I first became aware of them, and probably began far earlier. Rick Perlstein has described how they use their mailing lists to con their supporters.

This is hardly surprising considering how gullible one must be to be a conservative these days as they ignore science, economics, and any other facts which contradict their views. They deny evolution, climate change, and basic science whenever convenient. They promote conspiracy theories without evidence, such as their bogus claims about Benghazi, ACORN, and the IRS. Believe it or not, there are lots of conservatives who believe all their claims, supplying cover when wealthy right wingers promote government policies designed to enrich themselves, while hurting everyone else, based upon Voodoo economic theories which don’t hold up in the real world.

Sometimes a conservative starts to figure out that they are being conned, but they generally miss the big picture. Right Wing News looked at fund raising by conservative groups:

Reports about sleazy activities by conservative groups have not exactly been in short supply over the last couple of years. Damaging stories have popped up on the Daily Beast, Mother Jones, Washington Post, the Politico and at the Daily Caller among other outlets. Additionally, for those of us who have a lot of friends in the Tea Party and among grassroots conservatives, stories of abuse have become rampant.

In the past many conservatives ignored such stories, figuring they were just liberal hit pieces. Right Wing News demonstrated that (as liberals had long realized) many conservative groups were ripping off donors to pocket the money rather than use it for actual candidates. The article concludes:

How many conservative candidates lost in 2014 because of a lack of funds? How many of them came up short in primaries, lost winnable seats or desperately tried to fight off better-funded challengers? How much of a difference would another 50 million dollars have made last year?  That’s a very relevant question because the 10 PACs at the bottom of this list spent $54,318,498 and only paid out $3,621,896 to help get Republicans elected. If that same $54,318,498 had gone to the Club for Growth Action PAC and it had been as efficient with it as it was with the money it had, $47,800,278 would have gone to Republican candidates instead of the meager $3,621,896 that those candidates received from those 10 PACs during this cycle. The conservative movement has a right to expect more than this from the PACs that are representing it.

The post has received considerable attention with conservatives being willing to accept data from a conservative blog which they might have ignored from other sources. For example, Jonah Goldberg covered this at National Review under the title The Right Wing Scam Machine.

Now if they would only realize that the entire conservative movement is a giant scam which pushes false information to promote their goals. Their followers are being told lies far beyond such dishonest fundraising. Unfortunately those who see the tip of the iceberg are totally missing the real problem.

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Conservatives Celebrate “Darwin Was Wrong Day”

Ken Ham believes that “Darwin Was Wrong Day” has been a big hit. It is not clear that it was a hit beyond thinking it is good that he is being mocked considerably on Twitter today. Declaring a day to claim a falsehood hardly makes it true, even if a number of right wing science-deniers were to back the day.

I imagine that next we will start seeing a whole new set of holidays from the anti-science/anti-fact right. These might include “Climate Change Is A Hoax Day,” “Cigarettes Do Not Cause Cancer Day,” “Ebola Can Become Airborne Day,” “Tax Cuts Pay For Themselves Day,” “Saddam Had WMD And Helped Osama bin Laden Day,” “Vaccines Cause Autism Day,” “Ban Abortion Because A Twenty-Week Fetus Can Feel Pain Day,” and “The Earth Is Flat Day.” In Texas, Rick Perry will proclaim “Texans Don’t Want Insurance Day.”

There is one group which might help Ken Ham celebrate “Darwin Was Wrong Day.” Denial of evolution is popular among the current group of potential Republican nominees, with Scott Walker being the latest Republican to look foolish on evolution. Salon looked at the views of all the candidates after summarizing the overall anti-scientific mood of the Republican candidates:

From climate change to vaccines to the theory of evolution, much of the Republican Party has made clear that it’s not exactly enamored of modern science. This anti-intellectualism can take a few forms: Republicans may flatly reject empirical evidence. They may accept parts or all of the evidence, but with major caveats — the climate is warming, but humans aren’t causing it; vaccines work, but parents should have the right to opt their children out of them; evolution occurred, but it should be taught alongside creationism in public schools. Or, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, they take the “I’m not a scientist” tack, and simply decline to state their views.

Asked during a trade mission to London today whether he accepts evolution, Walker replied, “I’m going to punt on that one… That’s a question a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or another.” The Boston Globe’s Matt Viser quipped that following Chris Christie’s disastrous trip across the pond, during which the New Jersey governor said that “parents need to have some measure of choice” in whether to vaccinate their children, Walker seemed to have learned that the best approach is to stay mum on such topics.

But Walker’s refusal to indicate whether he accepts a fundamental tenet of biology underscores the GOP’s tortured relationship with science, not least on evolution. With Walker and other GOP hopefuls gearing up to launch their 2016 campaigns, Salon now provides you with a comprehensive guide to where the Republican candidates stand on the origin of life.

Check out the full article for the break-down by candidate. While there is a range in how much each candidate is on the record denying science, not a single one of the potential Republican candidates is willing to say they accept the science regarding in evolution without qualifications.

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Republican State Governments Expected To Renew The Culture Wars And Promote Conservative Pseudo-Science On Abortion

Democrats made a tremendous tactical mistake in the 2014 midterms. As the key Senate battles were in red states, Democrats ran as Republican-lite and Obama stayed quiet. As a consequence, turn out was at historic lows as Democratic voters saw no reason to turn out across the country, giving Republicans increased control in both Congress nationally along with in many state governments. (In contrast, once Obama became active after the election, his support shot up in the Gallup poll and multiple other polls).

While many Republicans ran with little talk of their positions on social issues, knowing that doing so might get many more people to turn out to vote against their unpopular views, The Washington Post points out that they plan to pursue conservative goals on social issues now that they are in office:

Renewal of culture wars

A new round of the culture wars is also inevitable in 2015. Mallory Quigley, a spokeswoman for the antiabortion Susan B. Anthony List, said she expects that measures to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy will advance in Wisconsin, South Carolina and West Virginia. Missouri, too, is likely to take up some abortion-related bills.

In Tennessee, voters gave the legislature new powers to regulate abortion, and state House Speaker Beth Harwell (R) has said her chamber will take up three measures requiring mandatory counseling, a waiting period and stricter inspections of clinics.

Conservative efforts to ban abortions after 20 weeks are based on ignoring science, just as many conservatives do in denying evolution and climate change. Conservatives make pseudo-scientific claims that the fetus can feel pain at this point, despite the cerebral cortex not being developed until well after this point. There is no real controversy over this point in medicine. Conservatives sometimes twist studies showing simple reflexes as indicating that the fetus is feeling pain. Often they misquote researchers to falsely claim their is a scientific basis for their bogus claims. More on this faux controversy over the science here and here.

The 20 week ban is especially harmful to the rights of women as fetal abnormalities are often not discovered until after this point. It is understandable that a woman who discovers after 20 weeks that she is carrying a fetus which has severe brain abnormalities which would prevent survival might want to abort, but Republicans would deny them this choice by setting an arbitrary limit before such abnormalities are apparent. It is also feared that once they set the line at 20 weeks they will use more pseudo-science to justify moving it up.

Conservatives have also practiced pseudo-science in trying to make the abortion debate over the moment when life begins, when development of the human embryo and fetus is a continuum. Conception is a process without an exact moment at which it occurs, and even fertilization can take twenty-four hours.

If conservatives are really concerned about preventing fetal pain their policies are counterproductive. Late term abortions are very rare in this country, primarily done when the mother’s health is in danger. Another common reason for abortions being delayed until after 20 weeks is the inability of the mother to obtain the abortion earlier, often due to roadblocks placed by Republicans making abortions more difficult to obtain. Of course Republican opposition to contraception further increases the number of abortions. If conservatives were consistent in desiring to prevent fetal pain, they should facilitate the ability of women to obtain both contraception and to obtain early abortions even beyond twenty weeks and before the actual ability to feel pain is present.

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Republican Tactics Of Fear And Voter Suppression

Republicans, lacking a real agenda or any solutions to problems, are basing their campaign this year on a combination of fear and voter suppression. They are even trying to politicize Ebola with threats that it will cross our borders (along with people of other colors) and even mutate to become airborne to attack us. (Does their belief that Ebola will change into an airborne infection suggest a new found belief in evolution for some?) First Read writes:

…these advertisements we’re seeing (here, here, and here) go well beyond faith in institutions or government competence. They’re about fear. And frankly, they come when there’s no evidence of ISIS coming across the border and when (remarkably) there’s still been just one confirmed case of Ebola in the United States. Now we understand why Republicans are picking up this theme — they want to nationalize the election, and they have every incentive to. (The more they get voters going into the voting booth upset at Washington, the more likely they are to get Republicans defeating Democratic incumbents in Senate races.) But some of these candidates are walking a fine line; there is a Chicken Little aspect here regarding Ebola and it can border on the irresponsible.

The New York Times reports:

Playing off feelings of anxiety is a powerful strategy for motivating the Republican base. And few issues have proven as potent when linked together as border security and the fear of terrorism. Representative Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, said this week on Fox News that border agents had told him they apprehended 10 Islamic State fighters in Texas. The Department of Homeland Security said his statement was “categorically false.”

Fear has always been a centerpiece of Republican strategy. They scare poorly educated white males into fearing that minorities and women will take their money. They scare Republican voters into believing that Democrats will take away their guns and their bibles. More recently they have been concentrating on fear of Obamacare, even if every single one of their predictions of dire consequences has failed to come about.

Republicans rely upon fear to get their supporters to turn out to vote, and resort to voter suppression to try to keep Democrats from voting. As the GAO reported, Republican-supported voter ID laws aimed at voter suppression result in fewer minorities and young people voting. Fortunately the Supreme Court has thrown out voter ID laws in Wisconsin and Texas, but they have also allowed a law to stand in North Carolina.

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Twenty-Eight Percent Of Americans Believe Bible Is The Literal Word Of God

Gallup Bible Word of God

I recently cited a Gallup poll which showed that 42 percent of Americans believe in creationism. With that in mind, I imagine it is a good thing that a lower number, 28 percent, believe that the Bible is the literal word of God. Gallup reports that this is below the 38 percent to 40 percent seen in the late 1970s, and near the all-time lows of 27 percent seen in 2001 and 2009. However, “half of Americans continue to say the Bible is the inspired word of God, not to be taken literally — meaning a combined 75% believe the Bible is in some way connected to God.” Gallup also found that 21 percent see the Bible as  “ancient fables, legends, history, and precepts written by man.” While discouragingly low, at least this is up from only 13 percent in 1976.

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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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Study Shows People Less Likely To Take Storm Seriously If It Has A Female Name


People are really stupid

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (via The Washington Post) found that people are more likely to be killed by storms with a woman’s name than a man’s name because they don’t take them as seriously:

Researchers at the University of Illinois and Arizona State University examined six decades of hurricane death rates according to gender, spanning  1950 and 2012.  Of the 47 most damaging hurricanes, the female-named hurricanes produced an average of 45 deaths compared to 23 deaths in male-named storms, or almost double the number of fatalities.  (The study excluded Katrina and Audrey, outlier storms that would skew the model).

The difference in death rates between genders was even more pronounced when comparing strongly masculine names versus strongly feminine ones.

“[Our] model suggests that changing a severe hurricane’s name from Charley … to Eloise … could nearly triple its death toll,” the study says.

They also found that people would be less likely to take precautions if told a storm with a female name is coming as opposed to one with a male name:

“People imagining a ‘female’ hurricane were not as willing to seek shelter,” Shavitt said. “The stereotypes that underlie these judgments are subtle and not necessarily hostile toward women – they may involve viewing women as warmer and less aggressive than men.”

It sounds hard to believe that people would be so stupid as to fail to take shelter because of being told that Hurricane Charlotte is approaching as opposed to Hurricane Charlie. What if they were told Hurricane  Natasha Romanoff was coming after them?

National Geographic has more, including some criticism of the study.

In somewhat related news on the stupidity of Americans, Gallup found today that 42 percent  believe in creationism, consistent with previous polls. Previous polls have shown a greater likelihood for Republicans to believe in creationism. I wonder how much overlap there is between these people and those who would downplay the severity of a storm if it has a female name. There could be some evolutionary implications towards weeding out stupidity going on here which the victims wouldn’t even understand or believe in.

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Reality Versus Republicans On The Affordable Care Act

Last fall was a wonderful time for Republicans. Their fortunes changed quickly after it looked like they were in serious trouble over another threat to shut down the government. Then started out a failure and there were stories about people receiving letters canceling their insurance coverage.

The Republican luck didn’t last. The web site was fixed (with some work still to be done). Most of the people who received cancellation letters were either able to continue their current plans or receive better coverage at a lower rate. The Republicans made further predictions of doom for Obamacare but their predictions failed to come true and the Affordable Care Act is doing better than most supporters predicted. Instead of the unfavorable news headlines of last fall, we are now seeing headlines such as this one at The Hill: GOP struggles to land punches at ObamaCare insurance hearing.

Republicans struggled to land punches against ObamaCare in a hearing Wednesday, as responses from insurance companies deflated several lines of questioning.

Democratic lawmakers were emboldened to defend the Affordable Care Act with renewed vigor and levity, creating a dynamic rarely seen in the debate over ObamaCare…

But Republicans were visibly exasperated, as insurers failed to confirm certain claims about ObamaCare, such as the committee’s allegation that one-third of federal exchange enrollees have not paid their first premium.

Four out of five companies represented said more than 80 percent of their new customers had paid. The fifth, Cigna, did not offer an estimate.

Contrary to Republican claims that one-third have not paid their premium, reports available so far from insurance companies range from 80 percent to over 90 percent. As payment is not due for everyone who signed up at the last minute, and there is a ninety day grace period, we will not have an exact figure for a while longer. There is enough information to verify the White House claims that at least 80 percent are paying and debunk the Republican claims of only 67 percent.

The fact-checkers continue to demonstrate how Republican campaigns are based upon lies. For example, Glenn Kessler’s column  exposes both Rand Paul and a Nebraska candidate for lying about the Affordable Care Act.

Of course the facts will not keep Republicans from claiming that customers aren’t paying their premiums, denying the number who have signed up, or even denying the benefits of obtaining health care coverage. False attacks on the Affordable Care Act are the same as Republican attacks on Obama’s birth certificate, Benghazi, or the IRS. While all these claims have been shown to be false, Republicans will keep up their lies because they fire up their base to vote, and Republicans have no concern about the facts.

Remember, Republicans are also the party which includes people who deny well-established science ranging from evolution to climate change. The world has probably never seen a more ignorant group in government than today’s Republican Party.

Update: More disappointment for the Republicans reported by The New York Times:

House Republicans summoned a half-dozen health insurance executives to a hearing Wednesday envisioned as another forum for criticism of the Affordable Care Act. But insurers refused to go along with the plan, and surprised Republican critics of the law by undercutting some of their arguments against it.

Insurers, appearing before a panel of the Energy and Commerce Committee, testified that the law had not led to a government takeover of their industry, as some Republicans had predicted. Indeed, several insurers said their stock prices had increased in the last few years.

The executives also declined to endorse Republican predictions of a sharp increase in insurance premiums next year, saying they did not have enough data or experience to forecast prices. And they said they were already receiving federal subsidy payments intended to make insurance more affordable for low- and middle-income people.

Representative Michael C. Burgess, Republican of Texas, sounded a bit disappointed at the end of the hearing. He marveled at the subdued testimony and complained that no one at the witness table “wanted to be forthcoming.”

But Representative Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois, appeared delighted.

“These companies were not the biggest supporters of the law,” she said. “They still oppose many provisions, but they do not live in a Republican echo chamber. They live in the real world.”

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Cosmos For Creationists II

Cosmos contains facts which some on the anti-science religious right object to, such as discussion of evolution and creation of the universe in the big bang. Last month I posted a video in which an episode of Cosmos was edited for creationists. Funny or Die made their version of an episode made for creationists–video above.

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