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SCIENTIFIC UNAMERICAN: Robyn Williams’ blind hatred of America and hysterical hype is no laughing matter

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.

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

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 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’.

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.

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.

Church 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.


Comments are disallowed for this post.

  1. Nick while writing an article such as this on behalf of Vex do you not see how this how is a classic case of ‘Pot calling the Kettle Black’? Vex is so one way in its own political views that an article such as this on this website holds no weight.

    Posted by Mysterious and wise | April 6, 2012, 6:35
  2. The author here has some interesting points. Based on his understanding of science, I suggest that he and others who are like-minded make lucrative personal investments: purchase as much southern Texas real estate as possible now, before everyone else gets in on the action. The climate and weather are perfect. There are no scientific trends to indicate otherwise. In the future, your investments can only increase in value. Go for it.

    Posted by Forest | April 6, 2012, 11:06
  3. I find it amusing that you should start with “PATHOLOGISING YOUR ENEMY IS UNSCIENTIFIC”.

    This article is not only guilty of its own accusation, but can most accurately be characterised as waffle. The evidence you quote supports Williams, and the claims you take from your quotes are unsupported. Beyond that, you haven’t even proof read your piece “…was off by 97 seven metres…”

    Perhaps a course in clear thinking, and clear writing, may be in order.

    Posted by Overit | April 6, 2012, 11:13
  4. There is substance to the concern that America’s Right Wing has done great harm to political processes. Please view and consider the point that RFK jr. develops in this video. I think he is exactly correct. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7405642335302393078#

    Posted by fred | April 6, 2012, 15:47
  5. ***these are people who are rigid, hierarchical, view the world in black and white***

    LOL. What dissent does the ABC allow, on ‘climate change’? Commissars like Williams are so cowardly they won’t even take calls from the public. Gutless girlymen like Richard Glover ensure their call screeners never allow a contrarian view to be aired.

    Posted by Byron in Wahroonga | April 6, 2012, 17:41
  6. The accompanying photo.
    The one on the right used to be funny.
    Ditto the one in the middle until he started taking himself too seriously.
    The one on the left is a lying fuckwit who is as much a serious scientist as the one on the right.

    Posted by Toad of Toad Hall | April 7, 2012, 14:03
  7. This is a revolting Mickey Mouse hate site.

    Nice pic of you though Andrew.

    Posted by Minney | April 8, 2012, 1:24
  8. Vex is one sided, as in supports both traditional sides of politics?

    Being anti-Greentard is not one sided, it is showing you aren’t a complete dumbass.

    Posted by Mick | April 8, 2012, 1:41
  9. Nick, funny you write this just a few days after a heap of science comes out to further confirm climate change is panning out as predicted. When average temps have risen by 2 degrees and we are all happy to agree it is due to the usual suspects, it will likely be too late, as we will be past the tipping point, where feedback mechanisms like co2 from melting permafrost will keep climate change accelerating even if we all dropped dead and so stopped generating co2. Re The USA science reputation – they have been nothing but consistent in that the military industrial complex has been and still is the driver for scientific technical advances at the cutting edge. This is where the money comes for new discoveries and developments. This has always been mostly supported by the republicans – so whats new?

    Posted by ray of sunshines | April 8, 2012, 3:33
  10. Good article; there is NO evidence, outside of computer modelling, to support the ideology of anthropogenic global warming [AGW]; not a skerrick, or a scintilla; not even a tiny, itsy bitsy bit.

    Posted by cohenite | April 8, 2012, 13:32
  11. ***that the military industrial complex has been***

    Without the US military industrial complex we’d all be eating rice with bamboo sticks about now. That’s if there was any rice to eat.

    Posted by Byron in Wahroonga | April 9, 2012, 0:37
  12. Rice is quite nice and chop sticks are easy to master too.

    I think it was former US President Eisenhower who said “beware of the US military industrial complex”. He was concerned it had to much power after WW2 and supported war to keep production going, increasing profits and employing workers.

    The down side of all that is the number of US KIA’s in war and the destruction caused to so many countries by the USA after WW2. Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan but also places like Grenada.

    Posted by Adrian Jackson | April 9, 2012, 11:54
  13. I wondered if that might flush – and I do mean, flush – you out of the woodwork, Adrian. I acknowledge the deep sincerity of your concern, for casualties in Grenada.

    Posted by Byron in Wahroonga | April 9, 2012, 12:12
  14. Maggie Thatcher was not to happy when a Commonwealth country, Grenada, was cruelly invaded by US thugs pretending to rescue Yank uni students there that were not in danger at all. More US republic party spin as usual

    Posted by Adrian Jackson | April 9, 2012, 14:31
  15. In awe of your deep empathy with the Grenadiers Ade, but yet again it falls to me to bring you kicking and screaming, into the world of realpolitik.

    When healthy skin is subjected to excess light, a melanoma can form. That must be cut out before it becomes cancerous, and spreads throughout the body.

    Similarly a healthy capitalist culture will attract attention from envious mediocrities, who want the trappings of success without the work needed to supply it (are you listening, Hong?) The melanoma of resent-driven socialism can form and spread. A skilful surgeon – for instance, Campbell Newman – can cut the tumour out, before it infects the body politic. Malcolm Turnbull – the Jayant Patel, of political surgery – is thankfully sitting current affairs out, pontificating in the hospital cafeteria while the world passes by.

    In the case of Grenada the greatest politico/medico of all was on hand. I speak of course, of The Gipper. President Reagan excised the bacilli, to the betterment of the whole Caribbean. As to PM Thatcher, I very much doubt she would have disapproved. Those two gave your side of politics an overdue smack in the chops, from which you’re still recovering.

    Posted by Byron in Wahroonga | April 9, 2012, 16:26
  16. Whatever Robyn William’s bias’ and shortcomings, he as a point… The US Republicans have been hijacked by a team of extreme righ “wing nuts” to whom reality is a “liberal” conspiracy.

    Posted by I'm not an anti-Semite but.. | April 10, 2012, 4:03
  17. Once the so- called “evangelical right” has finished with the blacks and the muslims, watch them come after the Jews and all other “non-believers”.

    Posted by I'm not an anti-Semite but.. | April 10, 2012, 4:06