Thursday, June 09, 2005

Science Must Conform To The Views Of The Politburo

The Republican Lysenkoists are at it again:

A White House official who once led the oil industry's fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming, according to internal documents.

In handwritten notes on drafts of several reports issued in 2002 and 2003, the official, Philip A. Cooney, removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors, including some senior Bush administration officials, had already approved. In many cases, the changes appeared in the final reports.

The dozens of changes, while sometimes as subtle as the insertion of the phrase "significant and fundamental" before the word "uncertainties," tend to produce an air of doubt about findings that most climate experts say are robust.

Mr. Cooney is chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the office that helps devise and promote administration policies on environmental issues.

Before going to the White House in 2001, he was the "climate team leader" and a lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade group representing the interests of the oil industry. A lawyer with a bachelor's degree in economics, he has no scientific training.

Now with due respect to Mssrs. Dunlop and Dionne, Delong is right (though Winston Smith, whom DeLong cites, seems to conflate the issue to an extent) about this phenomenon. It is far more inspired from or similar to Soviet Russian examples than to Pomo French theories.

Science is no different than art when it is considered by such apparatchiks: everything is subordinate to the interests and consistency of the Party Line. Just as for most Republican jackasses, art criticism entails nothing more than subjecting the latest Hollywood offering to a crude ideological litmus test, so too does scientific inquiry only exist -- should only exist -- to discover information useful to the party's interests. Obviously, much of it does not. Hence the need for revisionism, for judicious selections and redactions. Sadly, neither science nor art are immovable objects, yet for rightwingers, the party line is, most definitely, an irresistible force.

Sorry, but this is not postmodernist. It is Stalinist. And they are not one in the same. The give-away is the premium rightwingers put on motive. Writes Dionne,

Today's conservative activists have become the new postmodernists. They shift attention away from the truth or falsity of specific facts and allegations -- and move the discussion to the motives of the journalists and media organizations putting them forward.

Why does Comrade So-and-So speak such counter-revolutionary rhetoric? "Treason" and "enemy of the revolution" then form at the tips of so many commissars' tongues. There is no postmodern equivalent here; it is pure Stalinism. The Bushies denounce ideologically-impure art and inconvenient scientific fact-finding, as well as policy objections and embarrassing news items, as partisan, anti-American, even treasonous.

Look, motives are important, and it's perfectly natural to suspect one's enemy of bad faith. An irony is that many of us suspected Bush of bad faith in going to war: we questioned his motives, and we were factually right. But the difference that is we always wanted to argue by accounting for the facts. We wanted, indeed, to gather more factual evidence before we agreed to give support to any actions, and our doubts were based on a solid historical/factual foundation. The Bushies, on the other hand, in whatever the latest inconvenient factual issue is, want to ignore the merits of it immediately, they wish to end the conversation instantaneously by questioning the motives of the accuser. The hoped-for result, of course, is that it's a percieved partisan stalemate, and everyone stops paying attention.

(If I need to show why this is not postmodernism except on the most initial and superficial level, I will attempt to if challenged; as it is, I merely hope to show that it is so identical to Stalinism that I don't have to, as it were, prove the other negative.)

Trofim Lysenko was the Soviet Union's prefered biologist. His research and theories were wholly endorsed by the Politburo, not because of their scientific merits, but because they seemed to nicely dovetail with communist beliefs. Of course, scientifically they were worthless. He also used his prefered position to attack genuine scientists as "pseudoscientists": deftly Orwellian, that. As such he is the poster child for party hacks who masquerade as genuine men of science. The term "Lysenkoism", then, is still used, in wikipedia's phrase, as "a metaphor for other beliefs challenged by empirical evidence but preferred for ideological reasons."

As the Times link above shows, Lysenkoism is alive and well in the Bush adminstration. I should think, moreover, that it's ingrained in the Republican character since Reagan; it abets, pretty much equally, the diverse attitudes in the Republican Party with regard to environmental issues, from the nasty form of vaguely libertarian populism of the "You ain't gonna tell me what ta do with muh land" folks, to the unhinged greed of the WSJ plutocrat crowd whose general attitude is best phrased as "pollute that river as much as you like if it adds even just a penny to my dividend check", and everything in between. Letting an oil industry hack doctor official climate-issue texts is just the latest Orwellian offense. We've come to expect so many foxes weasels to be the ultimate authors of the latest henhouse legislation. Bushies do not disappoint.

But Republicans can't all be self-deluded, can they? I mean to say, though most evidently do think that climate change is a myth, they can't all think that way, so how do the relatively more reality-based reconcile the facts to their policies? Several influences are at play here. One is religion: there is a strain of "Rapturist" Christianity which holds that the world can't be trashed, it's just not in the Biblical cards. So, for them, "pollute at will" is very much the theme; after all, Jesus will eventually clean it up. Obviously, these folks, then, aren't so reality-based after all.

The other influence is more obvious: the pollyannish belief in technology, which also has the virtue of reinforcing their belief in Anything Goes capitalism. Though the fact is that much-dreaded government spending actually accounts for most tech discoveries and innovations, this inconvenience is easily finessed. Anyhow, the result is magnificently conservative: wait it out, they say, and wonderful glorious free enterprise, the envy of the world, will solve all our (possible, potential, alleged) problems through technological innovation, and no one will have to be taxed or suffer any inconvenience in the process. Of course after any amount of thought such a claim explodes into smouldering stupidity-debris, but for people who love that myth, and they are myriad, it holds together. Thus we see in their rationalisations a web of delusions, some substituting for others, some reinforcing others. Never are things seen as they are.

Tony Blair has given up on persuading Bush to back Kyoto. He "accepts" that Bush will only persue the technological remedy to climate change. In return, apparently, he will get something of an admission that there is a problem (wingnuts, I'm sure will say that Bush only did it to get Europe off our backs: there still is no such thing as global warming). I suppose this is progress of sorts, but it's so little and so late. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. Though considered as a whole I see Tony Blair in marginally better light than I do Margaret Thatcher, when it comes to this subject, I catch myself wishing for the return of Iron Lady and her helmet-hair. Here is an excerpt from the late Carl Sagan's final book, Billions & Billions:

In 1974, F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina of the Irvine campus of the University of California first warned that CFCs -- some million tons per year were being injected into the stratosphere -- might seriously damage the ozone layer. subsequent experiments and calculations by scientists all over the world have supported their findings. At first certain confirmatory calculations suggested the effect was there, but would be less serious than Rowland and Molina proposed; other calculations suggested it would be more serious. This is a common circumstance for a new scientific finding, as other scientists try to find out how robust the new discovery is. But the calculations settled down more or less where Rowland and Molina said they would. (And in 1995 they would share a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work.)

DuPont, which sold CFCs to the tune of $600 million a year, took out ads in newspapers and scientific journals [to the delight, I'm sure, of libertarians and plutocrat-kleptocrat whores like Clarence Thomas who insist that such false advertisings are not obvious lies but are political speech and therefore protected -- Retardo], and testified before congressional committees that the danger of CFCs to the ozone layer was unproved, had been greatly exaggerated, or was based on faulty scientific reasoning. Its ads compared "theorists and some legislators," who were for banning CFCs in aerosols, with "researchers and the aerosol industry," who were for temporizing. It argued that "other chemicals...are primarily responsible" and warned about "business destroyed by premature legislative action." It claimed a "lack of evidence" on the issue and promised to begin three years of research, after which they might do something. A powerful and profitable corporation was not about to risk hundreds of millions of dollars a year on the mere say-so of a few photochemists. When the theory was proven within a shadow of a doubt, they in effect said, that would be soon enough to consider making changes [selective scepticism, another classic wingnut trick -- Retardo]. Sometimes they seemed to be arguing that CFC manufacture would be halted as soon as the ozone layer was irretrievably damaged. But by then there might be no customers.


In September 1987, many of the nations that produce and use CFCs met in Montreal to consider a possible agreement to limit CFC use... Interior Secretary Donald Hodel, a conservative Reagan appointee averse to government controls, preportedly suggested that, instead of limiting CFC production, we all wear sunglasses and hats. This option is unavailable to the microorganisms at the base of the food chains that sustain life on Earth. The United States signed the Montreal Treaty despite this advice. That this occured during the antienvironmental spasm of the late Reagan Administration was truly unexpected... In the United States alone, 90 million vehicle air conditioners and 100 million refigerators would have to be replaced. This represented a considerable sacrifice to preserve the environment. Substantial credit must be given to Ambassador Richard Benedick, who led the U.S. delegation to Montreal, and to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who, trained in chemistry, understood the issue.

Yes, Margaret Thatcher, capable of such loony Friedmanisms as her infamous utterance that "there is no such thing as society", still understood basic fucking chemistry, while morons and greedy scumbags and ideologue fuckwits like Bush, Reagan, and the legions of wingnuttia didn't know shit then and don't know it now, save that they know they don't like what genuine scientists discover. I'm certain that it was Mrs Thatcher's knowledge and sensibility which persuaded the US to accept Montreal; would that she were here to make Bush accept Kyoto.

The ozone-CFC reaction is a fairly simple equasion; I learned it in 10th grade chem. It is incontestable science. In this sense, yes, I concede that wingnuts can be more or less compared to the worst accolytes of postmodernism in that they believe scientific facts are merely opinions (while, conversely, wingnuts believe the opinions crafted by the social-science of economics are indisputable empirical facts: ironies abound). I should also note that, though he can be forgiven because of the time of his writing, Sagan was wrong when he tried to be evenhanded and charitable to the other side in mentioning that so many vehicles would have to be expensively retrofitted with air conditioners. It didn't work out that way, but the fear of it was a very effective thing for the chemical companies to encourage, and did they ever do so. Actually, the "cost" was a very inexpensive and minimally-laborious switch of expansion valves and rubber O-rings; neither compressors nor condensers required changing.

But still, Stalinism is the more useful analogy. Consider who will profit from Bush's "remedy" to the climate change he insists does not exist, or if it does, is not caused by man. If the "remedy" is innovation, it will only come from the federal subsidies to the energy companies who long ago bought George Bush. They will not admit there is a problem until they and they alone can profit from the solution. Then, of course, they will claim that their risk-taking and capitalist deering-do saved the day. Thus denials buy time. Republican government is socialism for the rich, state capitalism. Its policies are dictated by the rich and powerful, and science is made to conform to their ideology. When it is suddenly profitable for the energy interests to be Green, all their currently funded pseudo-science and propaganda and all their revisionism will be shot down the memory hole. Facts don't matter, only ideology, loyalty and preservation of power are important. It's no surprise to me that even some of this government's public art is stylised in a 1930s Soviet way: it merely reflects the ruling ideology. Hello from Mother Amerika, where facts are judged by their political convenience, gulags are established, traitors are dealt with firmly, and the attempt is made by a cadre of self-pitying commissariat pukefaces to keep art ideologically pure. Da, comrades, da!

** Added: Al Gore is still making speeches based on real science.