How to recognize an anti-science zealot

1) They deny the human cause of climate change.

2) They deny evolution.

3) “Monsanto!!”

Fascinating and disturbing piece from science journalist, Keith Kloor, on what it’s like to take on the anti-GMO forces for having the temerity to report upon what science actually has to say about GMO food (i.e., it presents no more threat to human health than similar non-GMO food).  As I’ve discussed before, there are legitimate concerns to have regarding GMO food production– potential cross-contamination risks, environmental impacts, etc.,– but there’s just no evidence that there is any threat to health.

That said, the clearest way to tell you are dealing with an anti-science zealot on the matter is “Monsanto!”  Sadly, many are convinced that Monsanto might as well be the Empire from Star Wars and out to destroy the world and that’s all they need to know about GMO food.  Actually, I can think of a really clear parallel, “Benghazi!” Just as hearing “Benghazi!” tells you that you are not dealing with a serious intellectual argument about Hillary Clinton, “Monsanto!” tells you that you are not dealing with a serious intellectual argument about GMO.  Not to argue that Monsanto is a perfect company, really, their practices are largely beside the point here.  Rather, when all anybody has to say about GMO is a demonization of Monsanto, chances are they are not dealing in the area of thoughtful, nuanced discussion.

Lots and lots of good stuff in Kloor’s piece:

That would be the made-for media villain: Monsanto, or as its detractors like to refer to the biotechnology company, Monsatan. That meme, in which Monsanto became tagged on the Internet as “the most evil” company in the world, because it was hell-bent on taking over the world’s food supply and jamming “frankenfoods” down our throats, was already firmly established when Shiva decided to build on it with the Indian farmer suicide story.

I’ve got a shelf of books that vilify Monsanto for its corruption of agriculture. I’ve seen documentaries on this. Everybody hates Monsanto, right?

Never mind that this image is cartoonish. What matters is that it sounds truthy

It’s all about the narrative and how forcefully you build it: “Corrupt Hillary” is a “criminal”; a pediatric researcher who pushes back on anti-vaccine scare-mongering is the equivalent of a Nazi concentration camp guard; the scientists at Monsanto have created murderous “seeds of suicide.” …

Alan Levinovitz, a professor of religious studies at James Madison University, was someone who never questioned the “Monsanto is evil” narrative until he was accused of being a shill for the company after some of his writing had been deemed by anti-GMO critics as too positive about biotechnology. In a 2015 essay, he writes, tongue firmly in cheek:

Like most people, I knew how Monsanto really was, despite not having thought too hard about it…I knew Monsanto sues farmers into oblivion, caused a rash of suicides in India, suppresses negative media coverage, and pays politicians and scientists to lie on its behalf.

But there was one story I didn’t believe, because I knew it wasn’t true: Monsanto hadn’t paid me. So I did what any academic or journalist would do, and started learning more about the company that supposedly had me on its payroll.

Levinovitz talked to scientists at Monsanto and soon a “complicated picture” emerged of a large multinational “that employed a wide variety of people, some of whom cared mainly about making money, and others who cared mainly about doing good science.”

I also think this bit is key:

In the meantime, put yourself in the shoes of food activists and greens who oppose GMOs and who truly believe they are on the side of angels. They wake up every day to fight evil. There are no shades of gray in this black-and-white world, which you should view through their lens

Yep, and there you have it.  Sure, there are some real black-and-white issues in the world.  Rape is wrong; murder is wrong; pillaging is wrong, etc., but most of the world is far more complicated and beware those who are convinced otherwise.

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When do deficits matter?

Oh, that’s really simple.  When a Democrat is president.  Seriously.  I think to even charge what the Republicans are up to as “hypocrisy” is an insult to hypocrisy.  Rather, it is an Orwellian subversion of responsible governance for short-term partisan power.  Paul Waldman:

But the Republicans now taking power in Washington are bringing hypocrisy to spectacular new heights.

Here’s a striking report today from Kelsey Snell and David Weigel:

Some of the most conservative members of Congress say they are ready to vote for a budget that would — at least on paper — balloon the deficit to more than $1 trillion by the end of the decade, all for the sake of eventually repealing the Affordable Care Act.

In a dramatic reversal, many members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus said Thursday they are prepared later this month to support a budget measure that would explode the deficit and increase the public debt to more than $29.1 trillion by 2026, figures contained in the budget resolution itself.

But wait — isn’t it unconscionable to saddle our grandchildren with debt? Don’t these members of the Freedom Caucus believe with every fiber of their beings that deficits are evil and government must be made to live according to its means?

Just as we don’t have to wonder about the economic impact of the Republican program of upper-income tax cuts and deregulation — since it was tested between the years 2001 and 2008 and proved to be an extraordinary failure — we don’t have to ask whether Republicans will stop caring about the deficit now that they’re in charge…

When George W. Bush was president, Republicans passed huge spending bills without trying to pay for them at all, like the Medicare prescription drug benefit — the cost was just added to the deficit, at the same time as they were slashing revenue with tax giveaways to the rich. Likewise, two wars that together cost trillions of dollars were just put on the tab. The result was that the deficit nearly quadrupled between Bush’s first year in office and his last, with nary a peep of dissent from Republicans. (It should be noted that after Bush left office with some of the worst approval ratings in history, many Republicans began saying he wasn’t a “true” conservative because he didn’t cut spending, though they somehow forgot to raise any such objections when he was in office.)

But as soon as Barack Obama came into the White House, Republicans began to cry that deficits were a plague, a poison, a crisis that demanded immediate action. Though nearly all the Republicans had happily supported a stimulus package put forward by the Bush administration in January 2008 to give a boost to the economy, in the face of the worst economic crisis in eighty years they stood firm against the Obama administration’s stimulus plan. And in the ensuing years, Democrats did what Republicans never do: paid for their spending, as they did with the Affordable Care Act, every penny of which was paid for with new taxes and spending cuts. In fact, the ACA wasn’t just paid for, it significantly reduced the deficit by lowering overall health costs… [bold is mine; italics is Waldman]

The lesson of all this is that when you’re in the opposition you can say all kinds of things you don’t actually believe, but it’s when you have power that you reveal your true self. Republicans haven’t even taken power yet, and they’re already showing who they really are.

And Drum:

As always, Republicans only care about deficits when a Democrat is president. This time around they didn’t waste even two days before they made that crystal clear. I wonder how many times they can pull this bait-and-switch before the public and the press stops taking them seriously on their alleged horror of the spiraling national debt? [emphasis mine]

Republicans want to cut spending on the poor and cut taxes on the rich. That’s it. Deficits haven’t bothered them since the Reagan era. But I have to admit that this latest U-turn is pretty brazen even for them. It was only a few short months ago that they were swearing on a stack of Bibles that debt was eating our nation alive and they would never, ever vote for a budget that increased the deficit.

But it turns out there was an asterisk. If the deficit is produced by cutting Obamacare taxes on the rich and repealing Obamacare benefits for the poor, then it’s OK.

Alas, I think for now the Republicans can still get away with this for a long time.  It seems they have fooled most of the people, most of the time.  The real-world empirical record on this is absolutely crystal clear– Democrats are massively more responsible about the deficit than are Republicans.  Obamacare is a terrific demonstration about that.  But Republicans constant rhetoric about deficits when Democrats are in power has clearly pulled the wool over the eyes of many, if not most, Americans.

I’ll be discussing this in my Public Policy class in a few weeks.  Again, the empirical record on this over the last 30+ years could not be more clear.  But I guarantee you many of my students will just write these inconvenient facts off as liberal propaganda from their liberal professor.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Not responding to your exercise regimen?  You will probably respond better to a different one.

2) I think it is the NYT pushing it so much that finally got me into Mindfulness meditation (4 months in and going strong).  This page is a great explanation of what it’s really all about and how to get started, if you so inclined:

Basic mindfulness meditation is the practice of paying attention to the present moment with an accepting, nonjudgmental disposition. The goal isn’t to stop thinking, or to empty the mind. Rather, the point is to pay close attention to your physical sensations, thoughts and emotions in order to see them more clearly, without making so many assumptions, or making up stories.

It’s a deceptively simple exercise — just be right here, right now, without daydreaming. But with practice it can yield profound results, giving us greater control of our actions, and making room for more kindness and equanimity, even in difficult situations. With time, mindfulness meditation can even help us better understand what causes us stress, and what we can do to relieve it.

Though mindfulness meditation was inspired by Buddhist practices, today it is available as a wholly secular practice that emphasizes stress reduction, the cultivation of focus and the development of tranquility.

“There’s a misconception that mindfulness is religious,” said Mr. Smith. “What we have to explain is that it’s a stress reduction technique and a way to get yourself stronger mentally. It’s a self-care practice.”

3a) Theda Skocpol on the need to rebuild the Democratic party from the ground up

3b) And Emma Green on the ideological reasons Democrats have neglected state and local politics:

The unevenness is partly a reflection of progressives’ reluctance to push their policy agendas through states. Historically, arguments against federalism—or the principle that power should be robustly shared between state and national governments—have centered on race. “Progressives are deeply skeptical of federalism, and with good reason,” Gerken wrote in a 2012 essay in Democracy. “States’ rights have been invoked to defend some of the most despicable institutions in American history, most notably slavery and Jim Crow.” Others see the decentralization of governing power as a way of stifling dissent, she argued.

This is one reason why the national Democratic Party has often looked to Washington to make and enforce policy. But there’s another ideological explanation, argued Ernest Young, a professor of law at Duke University, in an interview: The progressive project is ultimately about working toward a society built on one unified vision of policy and culture, rather than a diverse array of policies and cultures. “If you’re confident that you can get the right answer to something, like health-care policy, or welfare, or any number of very difficult social problems, it’s hard not to say that right answer should be equally available to everyone,” Young said, meaning that progressives believe their “right answers” should be legislated through federal policy. “If you’re a more Burkean type of conservative, and you’re skeptical that we’re ever going to find out right answers to these questions, you might favor different solutions in different jurisdictions, and see from experience what works out. That tends to lend itself to a commitment to federalism, and local governments, too,” he said.

4) Very depressing that even Obama and Democrats are refusing to take science seriously when it comes to “forensic science” (which, DNA aside, is rarely actual science).  Surely, thousands of people will continue to be falsely convicted due to this scientific and moral failing.  Radley Balko:

In September, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) issued a scathing report on the use of forensic analysis and expertise in the criminal-justice system. The report, “Forensic Science in Criminal Courts: Ensuring Scientific Validity of Feature-Comparison Methods,” looked at pattern matching forensic disciplines such as bite mark matching, shoe print matching, blood spatter analysis, fingerprint matching and hair fiber analysis. It also looked at DNA testing when investigators find biological material from multiple sources, a scenario that can bring human subjectivity into the testing. With the exception of single-source DNA testing, the report found serious deficiencies in all areas of forensics it studied.

The PCAST report was damning, but if you’ve been following these issues with any regularity, it wasn’t at all surprising. That was in September. It’s now January. And not only has the Obama administration done nothing about the report, the Justice Department has publicly denounced it. That report, along with others and an administration that seemed unusually equipped to take it seriously, presented a small window in which to reform a system. That window is about slam shut. And we’re about to be governed by a new administration that seems likely to board it up, wallpaper it and overlay it with brick. This wasn’t just a missed opportunity; it was a catastrophe. And it’s difficult to overstate the consequences.

5) I’m sure you are as shocked as I am that credit reporting agencies have been lying to consumers.

6a) What’s up with the disk storage in the Star Wars movies?  And the retro technology in general?

6b) And really enjoyed this essay on the nature of “The Force” and the return of “reverence” in Star Wars films.

6c) And this is too good, “Did Inadequate Women’s Healthcare Destroy Star Wars’ Old Republic?

7) Trump appoints Wall Street lawyer to regulate Wall Street.  Chait’s summation, “‘“Drain the swamp’ continues to be one of the greatest cons in the history of presidential campaigns.”

8) Kevin Drum argues that people should understand gravity better and that his explanation is more intuitive than warped space-time.  I’m not so sure.

9) How religion can (indirectly) help influence the gender wage gap:

Wiseman and Dutta looked at how two different measurements of religiosity among residents of different states — belief in God and participation in religious activity — correlated with the gender wage-gap in those states. Even after controlling for age, education, marital status, occupation, time in the workforce, and other factors, they found that this correlation was rather significant: specifically, the that a three percent increase in a state’s religiosity related to a one percent increase in its gender wage-gap.

These findings are consistent with the idea that religious beliefs and institutions, even informal ones, can shape social interactions and thus economic behavior. Women’s roles as mothers and workers are shaped by religious norms and customs, even when those norms aren’t directly dictated by religious dogma.

Traditional religious attitudes might also affect employer behavior, shaping managers’ decisions about whom to hire or lay off, or a family’s decision about who should be the primary breadwinner. Zooming out, the state government’s distribution of resources — like education, health care, and parental leave — can also be shaped by prevailing cultural norms that are shaped by religious attitudes. It stands to reason that policies that have been shown to promote gender parity, like pay-transparency legislation or investments in high-quality child care, might face heavier opposition in those states where religious institutions exert more influence. (That said, the working paper didn’t make any of these claims directly — rather, it provided a jumping-off point for some informed speculation.)

10) Important changes in how Obamacare has changed the practice of medicine for the better will outlast any changes/repeal Republicans make to the ACA.

11) I’m a big fan of art and advertising paintings on the sides of buildings.  So is Atlas Obscura.  I like driving by this one on my way to work.

Image result for raleigh nehi bottling company

12) Norm Ornstein on the GOP’s ethics “disaster” (worthwhile read even with the House GOP backing off):

I have rarely been more angry or dismayed at the conduct of Congress than I was Monday night with the unconscionable, deplorable, underhanded move by Representative Bob Goodlatte to eviscerate and undermine the Office of Congressional Ethics. When House Speaker Paul Ryan and his counterpart Nancy Pelosi indicated weeks ago that they would continue OCE, the reform community—left and right—breathed a sigh of relief. Ryan, like his predecessor John Boehner, had seen the value to the integrity of the House of the office, which has been a stalwart of bipartisan and nonpartisan comity and independence. That makes this bait-and-switch action even more outrageous…

Given Ryan’s solidarity with President-elect Trump on Russian hacking—preceded by his deep-sixing any bipartisan statement during the campaign warning against foreign attempts to influence our elections—along with Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz’s indifference to any investigation of conflicts of interest or ethical problems with the president-elect and his cronies, this is chilling evidence that we are headed for a new age of official embrace or at least acceptance of unethical and illegal behavior. The core of America’s political system depends on real checks and balances, on a Congress that puts country ahead of party. The House leadership showed this week that party comes first. [emphasis mine]

13) Life in Elkhart, Indiana has improved considerably under President Obama.  In this partisan era, though, not even that penetrates partisan biases:

Democrats and Republicans, though, appear to be equally guilty of viewing objective facts through partisan filters–Nyhan said that there’s no conclusive evidence to suggest that one party is more susceptible than the other. Though some research has indicated that even strongly partisan people are more likely to answer questions about politics correctly if they are getting paid to do so, paying Americans to listen to facts doesn’t seem a particularly realistic solution. Little will change, Nyhan said, if the environment in which political leaders and the media promote incorrect information doesn’t change.

There is, however, one way to pierce partisan biases, Nyhan said. If reality intrudes, people may be more willing to accept it. Someone can debate climate change for years, but if his house is threatened by a tide that rises every year as the planet warms, he may be more likely to accept that climate change exists.

But in Elkhart, people have jobs they didn’t have six years ago, and they’re working more hours. Their homes are worth more than they were before Obama took office, on average, and their paychecks are fatter than they used to be. Yet Obama is, and will likely remain, the president who didn’t do anything right.

14) Greg Sargent’s headline gets it (in response to some pretty deplorable comments from the WSJ Editor), “Yes, Donald Trump ‘lies.’ A lot. And news organizations should say so.”  And Media Matters with Dan Rather’s response, beginning, “a lie, is a lie, is a lie.”

15) Fascinating tweetstorm on the Podesta hack.  But seriously, just write a blog post!!

16) Seth Masket with a good piece on the 20th century model of journalism in the 21st century:

As Jonathan Ladd has written, this conception of the news is tied to a rather narrow and recent time period and may simply no longer apply. Ladd writes here:

American journalism became largely nonpartisan in the mid-twentieth century after calls for reform by Progressive Era figures like Walter Lippmann. But… these few decades were an historical aberration made possible by the lack of party polarization and a legal and technological landscape that artificially restricted media industry competition. Beyond these few decades, partisan media are the historical norm in the United States.

We hear many complaints today about the rise of fake news, false equivalencies, deeply partisan news sources, etc., but that’s actually how the political media have typically behaved. Newspapers of the 19th and early 20th centuries were often publicly affiliated with a political party and saw their role as backing that party’s candidates. We seem to be moving back to that model today.

But even if we expect a mid-20th century non-partisan model of media behavior, it’s difficult to pinpoint just where we believe the media went wrong in 2016. Did it ignore Trump’s bigotry, conflicts of interest, sexual predation, and basic ignorance on many public policy issues? Hardly. It reported on these extensively. That’s a large part of the reason Trump had historically high unfavorability ratings throughout the election year. Voters knew who he was. Many were deeply uncomfortable with him. Many of those same people voted for him anyway. According to exit polls, two-thirds of voters felt that Trump lacked the temperament to be president. Among that two-thirds, one in five still voted for him…

One area where the media really did seem flummoxed was in false equivalency. Stories about Clinton’s emails dominated news coverage despite a lack of any evidence of actual wrongdoing, and this may have hurt Clinton significantly.

In part, this is a result of the persistence of the 20th-century non-partisan model of journalism. If you’re covering scandals in one campaign, you’re supposed to cover scandals in the other. Even if the race is between Josef Stalin and Mother Teresa (this one wasn’t), coverage should approach something like balance. Indeed, it may be appropriate for the media to provide more scrutiny of the candidate it thinks is going to win in this model.

17) Nice piece on the real differences between fascism (which does not really fit Trump) and right-wing populism (which does).

18) Of course liberals need to talk about economics and race.

Understanding how Trump and the GOP effectively use race requires seeing that the right is “waging a culture war around gender, elitism, and especially race, using coded and not so coded terms to trigger strong resentments.” This is specifically designed to persuade white voters to cast ballots that are not only against their interests but suicidal for the middle class.

Yes, the economic anxiety many Trump voters felt is real and must be addressed. But addressing that anxiety exclusively would be a big mistake, according to Haney-López, because “it assumes that economic pain comes first, and so, it implies that finances are more fundamental than scapegoating.”

Racial resentment has made the rigged economy we all live in now possible.

The parties have not switched their polarities from the North to the South, and the GOP didn’t become a party that is 90 percent white with 98 percent white elected officials by accident, Haney-López notes.

19) NYT Editorial on the “stolen Supreme Court seat.”  And, yes, “stolen” is about right.

20 Nice essay in Vox on the genuine free speech problem on America’s college campus.

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