PATHOLOGISING YOUR ENEMY IS UNSCIENTIFIC
Robyn Williams, ABC’s uppity science broadcaster, is a bit of an a-hole. We hate to think what Casey councillor Rob Halsall would call him.
On 31 March 2012, on the ABC’s Science Show, he descended into one of the more repugnant and vulgar depths you can into politics: the psycho-pathologising of enemies.
Under the cover of scientific objectivity, he promoted the book, The Republican Brain by interviewing Chris Mooney, its author.
Robyn Williams: One thing that’s rather peculiar for a person who lives outside of the United States is that the Republicans used to have a pretty good reputation when it came to science. Eisenhower was perfectly respectable, and in fact President Nixon (and people forget this) was responsible for some of the most far reaching environmental innovations in American history. So what’s changed since the early ’70s?
Chris Mooney: The mobilisation of the modern American conservative movement, which had been set in motion at the time of Nixon but had not fully reached its fruition. And I say that we need a combined psychological and historical explanation. So a movement was created and it was a movement that was very ideological and did various things, created various institutions, from media institutions to think tanks. But also there is persuasive research, Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler published a book with Cambridge called Authoritarianism and Polarisation in American Politics, and what they say is that a certain kind of right-wing personality was activated (and they present data on this) by culture war issues in the ’60s and ’70s. And these are people who are rigid, hierarchical, view the world in black and white, Christian conservatives. They used to be southern Democrats, they became Republicans, so the Republican Party moved all these people over, and that produced a kind of politics that is polarised.
Robyn Williams: There seems to be some suggestion, I don’t know whether it’s in the reference you’ve just given, that there are some parts of the American polity that want to have a kind of revenge for the ’60s and go back to the kinds of things that happened before in terms of values, so that they want to turn back the clock of history indeed. Do you read it that way?
Chris Mooney: They want to turn back the clock of history, but also they view politics as kind of a zero-sum conflict; only one side can win, and it has to be us and it has to not be them. And so the environmentalists, they must have made up all these lies to trick us and to destroy the economy and so we must resist, resist, resist. So it’s this black and white, this utter certainty in conviction that you’re right, although you’re not. It’s not a liberal psychological characteristic as much. I mean, you might get some on the left that act like that, but actually no, this is one of the consistent distinguishers between the psychology of the left and right.
The matter-of-fact tone is deliberate and sadly typical of the ABC’s snide condensation. Williams is an expert at it, knowing that most of his audience shares his worldview.
The sweeping generalisations about anti-sciencism, the nods about superior secularist minds over religious ones and the winks acknowledging one’s sounder psychological wellbeing over your enemy: it’s breathtakingly smug.
Perhaps he’s been doing it so long that there’s no longer any sense of danger about this.
The public is owed an apology by Williams. It is not science journalism to present deception political opinion as if it were scientific objectivity. Williams was providing political opinion, reviewing a political book by a polemicist, not a scientist.
That broadcast was intellectually fraudulent.
THE SCIENCE OF ANTI-AMERICANISM
The Republican Mind is a bookend in the long list of books and manifestos about the American Right being rigid or nutty or resistant to evidence. It begins with Richard Hofstader’s 1964 essay, The Paranoid Style in American Politics.
The history of the American Left since Kennedy’s assassination is also characteristed by progressive paranoia, claiming the real sources of American power lie in the CIA or with the FBI or the KKK or the Jewish lobby or Haliburton or in Wall Street or all of the above.
The Western left is convinced science faithfully serves their ideologies.
Anyone reasonably acquainted with political science would be aware of the idea of ‘false consciousness’ used by Marxists to denounce typically their heterodox enemies on the leftward half of the political spectrum. Anarchists understood the need for violent revolution but suffered from ‘false consciousness’ about the need for the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, code for a totalitarian state. Peasant rebellions understood the need for equality but suffered ‘false consciousness’ for the need of industrialisation.
In the Soviet Union, scientists who disputed applying class theory to scientific research known as Lysenkoism, also suffered from this delusion. Lysenkoism, named after Trofim Lysenko, the head of the Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Science, is instructive. It was responsible for the implementation of agricultural research during the hungriest years of Stalin’s Red Reign of Terror and contributed towards the starvation of millions during collectivisation. Stalin and his Red Court were attracted to Lysenkoism because the science apparently denounced the genetic theories of Western science. Those scientists who argued for orthodox or Mendelian genetics were exiled or executed for ‘bourgeois pseudoscience’.
GREEN IDEOLOGY DESTROYING ITS OWN CREDIBILITY
So much of the tone of the debate on anthropogenic climate change, in particular the attacks on ‘dissenting’ scientists, resembles Lysenkoism.
With the public tuning out to the hyperbole of climate change activists, they seem to be moving their ugly over-reaching to vile character assassinations. The greens are hoping the public won’t listen to their medically diagnosed deranged critics – diagnosed that is by the greens and their supporters in the commentariat, as if they are qualified to wear the white coats and tour a psych ward full of HSU officials.
For the record, as a non-scientist, my trust in scientific consensus in favour of anthropogenic climate change has all but waned. While I find it hard to believe the increases in CO2 into the atmosphere could not have a warming impact, models and results are not bearing out predicted outcomes.
They are not passing the commonsense test. Personally, I would rather an ETS or carbon tax that invested in technology, nuclear power generation, drought proofing and depleted fish stocks, to reduce our dependence on hydrocarbons and other finite resources. And I would like real tax reform and French fries with that, too!
As for extreme weather events, I know that global warming does not cause tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. Yet activists peddle this rubbish. Sometimes, to paraphrase Freud, a hurricane is a hurricane and a drought is a drought, and not Gaia expressing her displeasure.
As recent history shows, scientists say and publish the stupidest things and journalists parrot them. I am entitled to be skeptical along with millions of others. Our scientists can be blinded by ideology and climatologists can suffer from group-think and professional and political coercion no less than researchers did in Soviet Russia.
I get that looming disaster makes good copy. I get that activists and charlatans should take never let an opportunity go by to grab onto power and patronage. I get that you try to discredit your enemy as ignorant or in pay of vested interests to advance your own agenda. If your agenda is global Earthian government, like Bob Brown’s, or suspending democracy, like Clive Hamilton’s, I get it.
That’s politics, but it is not science.
In political science, psychopathology is a useful tool for biographies. Erik Erikson’s Young Man Luther remains an outstanding classic of the genre.
Psycho-pathological approaches are not definitive or infallible. When used on groups or collectives they are extremely limited. In the wrong hands, like today’s environmental movement and many in public broadcasting, it is more than a little scary as it seeks out to destroy reputations and create their own publicly financed, well-entrenched quangos, often credited by the gullible with an apolitical impartiality that simply isn’t there.
WILLIAM’S UNSPOKEN SHAME
In 2007, Williams was caught out showing his ideological enthusiasm for hyperbolic science when he predicted sea levels would rise by 100 metres.
On the same show as the Lysenkoistic interview with Chris Mooney, Williams interviews Australia’s pre-eminent researcher on sea level, CSRIRO’s Dr John Church. Church, a true believer in anthropogenic warming, dismisses any notion that climate change will lead to a 100 metre rises in sea level.
Robyn Williams: A rise of metres, you said?
John Church: That will be a rise of metres.
Robyn Williams: How many metres, do you know?
John Church: The Greenland ice sheet contains about seven metres of sea-level equivalent, whether you get all of that out, but you’d probably get several metres, plus contributions from thermal expansion and a small contribution from glaciers in the longer term.
Robyn Williams: That’s within the century?
John Church: No, that is not within the century. We could commit to that happening within the century, but it won’t actually occur for many centuries.
It seems Williams was off by 97 metres and by centuries. How embarrassment.
Andrew Bolt was right in 2007 when he implied Williams was underhanded and deceptive. Now it is just a tired modus operandi.
As the ABC’s high priest of politically correct science, Williams is indulging a political campaign to pathologise climate change skeptics, US Republicans, the Australian Liberal Party, Martin Ferguson and others, in part, because he made a stupid embarrassingly clumsy comment, all on the taxpayers’ dollar.
Ah, the arrogance of the left … even when you are wrong, you are still more superior.