Companion site:


Google search...


One bagger's resistance to sound ideas apparently came from Tom Sowell
Daily Howler logo
RESISTANCE TO SOUND IDEAS! One bagger’s resistance to sound ideas apparently came from Tom Sowell: // link // print // previous // next //

The center refuses to hold, vicious beating edition: At the top of this morning’s front page, the New York Times’ John Broder (no relation) continues his work on the war against climate science—a war he’s afraid to describe.

Broder’s work is highly instructive, but gruesome. A dog just keeps refusing to bark as Broder cowers, quivers and quails. And make no mistake—the story he tells is dramatic, and quite important. In these, his opening paragraphs, he describes “a vicious beating,” a vicious beating which is being dished to science itself:

BRODER (3/3/10): For months, climate scientists have taken a vicious beating in the media and on the Internet, accused of hiding data, covering up errors and suppressing alternate views. Their response until now has been largely to assert the legitimacy of the vast body of climate science and to mock their critics as cranks and know-nothings.

But the volume of criticism and the depth of doubt have only grown, and many scientists now realize they are facing a crisis of public confidence and have to fight back. Tentatively and grudgingly, they are beginning to engage their critics, admit mistakes, open up their data and reshape the way they conduct their work.

Good lord! That’s dramatic stuff! Climate scientists have been taking “a vicious beating,” Broder says. This vicious beating has been going on for months. The volume of criticism has only grown, and it seems to be bearing fruit. “Many scientists now realize they are facing a crisis of public confidence,” Broder reports.

Broder is talking about serious stuff. But as he continues, a familiar logical puzzle emerges. Beyond that, do you notice something missing from Broder’s report? A dog that perhaps fails to bark?

BRODER (continuing directly): The unauthorized release last fall of hundreds of e-mail messages from a major climate research center in England, and more recent revelations of a handful of errors in a supposedly authoritative United Nations report on climate change, have created what a number of top scientists say is a major breach of faith in their research. They say the uproar threatens to undermine decades of work and has badly damaged public trust in the scientific enterprise.

The e-mail episode, called “climategate” by critics, revealed arrogance and what one top climate researcher called ''tribalism'' among some scientists. The correspondence appears to show efforts to limit publication of contrary opinion and to evade Freedom of Information Act requests. The content of the messages opened some well-known scientists to charges of concealing temperature data from rival researchers and manipulating results to conform to precooked conclusions.

There’s that logical puzzle again! It’s strange to think that a “handful of errors” in a voluminous report could produce such a vicious reaction. On the other hand, Broder says, in his own voice, that the e-mails to which he refers “revealed arrogance among some scientists”—a claim he doesn’t attempt to explain or support. That said: Even if some such arrogance has been revealed, it’s strange to think that this revelation could have triggered such vicious attacks.

Meanwhile, Broder says that the e-mail correspondence only “appears to show efforts to limit publication of contrary opinion and to evade Freedom of Information Act requests” (our emphasis). But have these appearances been confirmed? If so, were these efforts a serious matter? As he continues, Broder says this about the e-mails:

BRODER (continuing directly): ''I have obviously written some very awful e-mails,'' Phil Jones, the British climate scientist at the center of the controversy, confessed to a special committee of Parliament on Monday. But he sharply disputed charges that he had hidden data or faked results.

Some of the most serious allegations against Dr. Jones, director of the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia, and other researchers have been debunked, while several investigations are still under way to determine whether others hold up.

How weird! Some of the most serious allegations have been debunked. Presumably, none of them have been upheld, or Broder would have said so.

We’re now six paragraphs into Broder’s report, which appears at the top of the Times front page in our hard-copy edition. In fact, we’ve already left the front page at this point; the rest of this gruesome report appears inside the newspaper. And have you noticed something odd? To this point, Broder has failed to name the names of the people who are dishing the “vicious beating” which forms the basis of his report. In his opening paragraph, Broder says the “vicious beating” has been administered “in the media and on the Internet.”

What a hack. He might as well say that the vicious beating has occurred “right here on Earth.”

Who is dishing this “vicious beating?” Broder keeps forgetting to say. And uh-oh! “[S]erious damage has already been done,” he says as he continues. “A survey conducted in late December by Yale University and George Mason University found that the number of Americans who believed that climate change was a hoax or scientific conspiracy had more than doubled since 2008, to 16 percent of the population from 7 percent.” And not only that! “An additional 13 percent of Americans said they thought that even if the planet was warming, it was a result solely of natural factors and was not a significant concern.”

A “vicious beating” has been handed out. “Serious damage” has been done in the process. And finally, deep inside his piece, Broder names the name of one lone person who has been dishing this serious beating. In paragraph 13, deep in his piece, the name of one lone critic appears. Forgive us if we’re underwhelmed by this part of Broder’s report, a gruesome report for which the Times ought to apologize loudly:

BRODER: Two universities are investigating the work of top climate scientists to determine whether they have violated academic standards and undermined faith in science. The National Academy of Sciences is preparing to publish a nontechnical paper outlining what is known—and not known—about changes to the global climate. And a vigorous debate is under way among climate scientists on how to make their work more transparent and regain public confidence.

Some critics think these are merely cosmetic efforts that do not address the real problem, however.

“I'll let you in on a very dark, ugly secret—I don't want trust in climate science to be restored,” Willis Eschenbach, an engineer and climate contrarian who posts frequently on climate skeptic blogs, wrote in response to one climate scientist's proposal to share more research. ''I don't want you learning better ways to propagandize for shoddy science. I don't want you to figure out how to inspire trust by camouflaging your unethical practices in new and innovative ways.''

''The solution,'' he concluded, ''is for you to stop trying to pass off garbage as science.”

Forgive us if we’re underwhelmed, except at the depth of Broder’s cowardice. (And/or that of his editors.) When Broder finally names the name of one critic, the name belongs to an engineer— “an engineer and climate contrarian who posts frequently on climate skeptic blogs.” Question: Is there any reason to think that this engineer has the slightest idea what he’s talking about? Second question: Does it make sense to think that someone this obscure, posting on obscure “climate skeptic blogs,” could really be driving the serious changes in attitude Broder has cited?

Do you note that this makes little sense, except as a flight from the truth?

Things fall apart, Eliot wrote. The center cannot hold. In this case, the center just keeps refusing to hold. Broder refuses to name the names of those who are dishing the vicious beatings. He refuses to name the name “Fox News.” He refuses to name the names of radio hosts. He refuses to name the names of the three Republican senators who recently clowned and played the fool about those Washington snowstorms. Of course, when Broder wrote about that very topic, he made it sound like some real debate existed about what those snowstorms meant. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/15/10 for Broder’s first flight from the truth.

It’s true—a handful of errors do appear in that UN report. And some climate scientists may be arrogant (or not). But in this deeply cowardly piece, Broder refuses to come to terms with the activity swirling around him. He refuses to name the names of the people dishing those vicious beatings. He refuses to come to terms with the fact that many of them are just screaming frauds, engaged in a loud and deeply stupid bit of political warfare.

The center just keeps refusing to hold, as it so strongly refused in the 90s. As Eliot predicted, Broder and his craven editors have reached the point where they lack all conviction. They may believe in climate science—but they no longer believe in their craft. A vicious beating gets dished out here—to journalism itself.

RESISTANCE TO SOUND IDEAS (permalink): On Monday, we highlighted a post by Steve Benen about opposition to health care reform (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/1/10). Steve cited a report in Sunday’s New York Times, a report describing the problems we face if reform is defeated. As Steve closed, he voiced his frustration with opposition to reform—opposition from the right:

BENEN (2/28/10): When I read pieces like this, I sometimes just shake my head at public opposition to reform. We know the system is broken; we know we pay too much and get too little. We know the Republican attacks against reform proposals are wrong. Given the mess we're in, the demand for comprehensive reform should be overwhelming.

And yet, the resistance to sound ideas is fairly intense.

The efficacy of the right-wing noise machine is really a sight to behold.

We were very struck by that part of Steve’s post. “The resistance to sound ideas is fairly intense,” he said. “The efficacy of the right-wing noise machine is really a sight to behold.”

Question: Where does that resistance, that public opposition, come from? What is the human face of that “right-wing machine?” Eureka! In that same day’s New York Times, Kate Zernike penned a front-page profile of Keli Carender, someone who opposes the proposed health reform plan “from the right.”

Needless to say, Carender is just one person out of the many who oppose proposed reform from the right. She is a different person from Pam Stout, the 66-year-old Idaho woman who was featured in David Barstow’s recent profile of the Tea Party movement. But if Zernike is right, Carender played a key role in the rise of the Tea Party movement.

And good news! Zernike includes a brief passage about where Carender gets her resistance to sound ideas.

Who the heck is Keli Carender? In part, she’s the classic fish out of water, the kind of person journalists love to profile. She doesn’t seem like a Tea Party type; for Zernike, this was part of her appeal. But Carender does oppose the proposed health reform. This was Zernike’s opening snapshot:

ZERNIKE (2/28/10): Keli Carender has a pierced nose, performs improv on weekends and lives here in a neighborhood with more Mexican grocers than coffeehouses. You might mistake her for the kind of young person whose vote powered President Obama to the White House. You probably would not think of her as a Tea Party type.

But leaders of the Tea Party movement credit her with being the first.

Say what? Carender’s just one person of many, of course. But she has a ring in her nose—and she lives near Mexican grocers! Despite these factors, she’s strongly opposed to the health reform plan, just as she was opposed to the stimulus. And “leaders of the Tea Party movement credit here with being the first” to kick-start the movement! As she continued, Zernike thumb-nailed the background to Carender’s current involvement:

ZERNIKE (continuing directly): A year ago, frustrated that every time she called her senators to urge them to vote against the $787 billion stimulus bill their mailboxes were full, and tired of wearing out the ear of her Obama-voting fiancé, Ms. Carender decided to hold a protest against what she called the “porkulus.”

“I basically thought to myself: ‘I have two courses. I can give up, go home, crawl into bed and be really depressed and let it happen,’ ” she said this month while driving home from a protest at the State Capitol in Olympia. “Or I can do something different, and I can find a new avenue to have my voice get out.”

That wasn’t our reaction to the stimulus bill—though we don’t recall ever seeing a news report which deeply examined its strengths and its weaknesses. But sure enough! After Carender’s fiancé refused to put his foot down and stop her wayward behavior, Carender organized a rally—a rally which drew only 120 people, Zernike reports. The Tea Party movement pretty much spiraled from there, according to Zernike.

At one point, Zernike cites Tea Party honcho Jenny Beth Martin, who “calls [Carender] an unlikely avatar of the movement but an ideal one. She puts a fresh, idealistic face on a movement often dismissed as a bunch of angry extremists.”

Is the Tea Party movement a bunch of angry extremists? When we look at current polling data, we can’t help thinking it might not be a bad idea to find out. In national polling on health reform, Democrats are currently getting squashed, with 38 percent strongly opposed versus 22 percent strongly in favor. Some of those who are strongly opposed may be strongly opposed “from the left”—but most opposition has come from the right. Let’s quote Benen again: “The resistance to sound ideas is fairly intense. The efficacy of the right-wing noise machine is really a sight to behold.”

In his post, Benen assumed that his ideas about reform were in fact the sound ones. We share his overall view on reform, though we don’t perhaps share his hard certainty. But where does all that resistance come from? What is the source of those faulty ideas? In her profile, Zernike provides a fleeting look at Carender’s sources of error:

ZERNIKE: The daughter of Democrats who became disaffected in the Clinton years, Ms. Carender, 30, began paying attention to politics during the 2008 campaign, but none of the candidates appealed to her. She had studied math at Western Washington University before earning a teaching certificate at Oxford—she teaches basic math to adult learners—and began reading more on economics, particularly the writings of Thomas Sowell, the libertarian economist, and National Review.

Reading about the stimulus, she said, “it didn’t make any sense to me to be spending all this money when we don’t have it.”

“It seems more logical to me that we create an atmosphere where private industry can start to grow again and create jobs,” she said.

“It didn’t make any sense to me to be spending all this money when we don’t have it,” Carender said. That wasn’t our view of the stimulus spending. But in fairness, Carender’s reaction does make a type of sense, unless you understand and accept the theory of counter-cyclical (“Keynesian”) spending.

In all likelihood, Carender wasn’t exposed to a lot of Keynesianism when she read Sowell or the Review. For ourselves, we don’t read Sowell very often, though we used to read his columns in the Washington Times. We were often struck by how poorly reasoned his work seemed to be; we sometimes marveled at the thought that Sowell was a Stanford professor. (Today, we realize that he’s actually a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.)

On the other hand, one of our long-time readers e-mailed us once, strongly recommending Sowell’s work. Just a guess: You don’t have to be a redneck racist whose limbic brain doesn’t work to think that Sowell’s work makes sense. Indeed, we recall the days when we didn’t know that the logic of the Concord Coalition was a bit skewed with regard to Social Security. None of us know much of anything until we somehow learn.

Bottom line: According to Zernike’s profile, Carender got her resistance to sound ideas in part through Sowell and the Review. For ourselves, we’d like to know more about her view of the world.

Carender is just one person. In some ways, she was an appealing subject because she doesn’t fit the stereotype of the angry Tea Partier. (You know? Of the brain-damaged “tea-bagger?”) But what is Carender’s view of the world? More important, what can she tell us about other Tea Partiers? For ourselves, we would have liked to see Carender interviewed on TV this week.

But then, we also wanted to see Pam Stout interviewed after Barstow profiled her in the New York Times. (Stout seems to get her own resistance to sound ideas from Glenn Beck, who Carender seems to semi-dismiss.) What exactly is Pam Stout like? What is Pam Stout’s view of the world? The movement which includes Carender and Stout has been kicking liberal keister this year. But it rarely seems to occur to us liberals to ask them what they think.

Can we name someone else we’d like to see on TV? That would be David Barstow. Barstow seems to be a pretty good journalist; he spent months researching his long piece on the Tea Party movement. For some reason, he selected Stout as his face of the movement. But surely, he could tell the world a great deal about the attitudes and outlooks of other people in this movement—the people who have been kicking the ass of our various sound ideas.

According to Nexis, Barstow never appeared on the TV machine thingy after his long report appeared. Do you think anyone asked?

Benen marveled at the resistance to sound ideas being driven by the right-wing machine. In many ways, we marvel too; in other ways, we see that as a deeply unintelligent framework. In a rational world, we think liberals would want to know more about the way Tea Partiers think, so we might be able to fashion our own political proposals more effectively. Health reform may still pass this year, but we’ve been getting our keisters kicked again. It still doesn’t seem to cross our minds that the problem may lie with us.

What drives the resistance to sound ideas? In many ways, resistance is presumably driven by time-honored narratives. Tomorrow, we’ll look at narratives from the left and the right. And we’ll examine the soul of a type of bigot—the kind who knows how to lose.

Tomorrow: Is Packer a bigot?