Sunday, June 03, 2012

Don't Bother Them With the Truth

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One of the online spots I visit regularly is the blog of Dr. David Brin. Dr. Brin is not only a crackerjack science fiction writer who's won every award in the genre, but also an honest-to-goodness rocket scientist in his day job, with degrees in astrophysics, applied physics and space science. His blog topics run a fascinating gamut from musings on our future in space to appreciation of the "metaphysical irony" of Three Stooges films. Clearly, this fellow is no dummy.
However, I had to respond to a recent post in which Dr. Brin proposed what he called the "wager challenge" as a way to deal with wingnuts, science deniers and other infuriating yay-hoos of the "ignorant and proud of it" school.
Dr. Brin's solution? "Make it a matter of money." In other words, demand that wingers back up assertions like "illegal immigration is worse under Obama" or "abstinence-only policies are the way to prevent teen pregnancies" or "we're being taxed worse than ever" by pulling a Mitt Romney: demanding that they bet on it, like Mitt did when debating poor, hapless Rick Perry.
Unlike Romney, most of us aren't vulture capitalists who can afford to put up 10 grand, but you get the idea. In fact, it's been shown that because of the slowing U.S. economy, Mexicans returning to their country, beefed-up funding for the Border Patrol, and other factors, illegal immigration has balanced out and is now at "net zero."
It's also a fact that states with abstinence-only education policies have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and STDs, and that most Americans, particularly the wealthy, pay less in federal taxes than they have in 60 years. These are provable facts.
So you'd think asking people who blithely assert the opposite to put up or shut up would be a way to make them, well, shut up. Sadly, no. As I responded in the comments to Dr. Brin's post, there's one problem with the plan, namely that there's no way to settle the wager. Right-wingers steadfastly refuse to accept any source that contradicts them as valid because anyone that contradicts their narrative is, ipso facto, part of the "liberal conspiracy."
For example, a recent article in USA Today reports that President Obama leads Mitt Romney 5-1 in campaign contributions from people identifying themselves as service members or Department of Defense employees, and a wingnut who clings to the fiction that "our troops hate Obama and love the GOP" will simply ignore the fact that the story is based on actual analysis of campaign finance reports and dismiss it out of hand, since it comes from the "lamestream media."
Of course, if you're a Republican in the N.C. legislature, you could simply use your majority to try to enact laws to actually make science that disagrees with you illegal. As reported in The News & Observer, when a state-appointed science panel warned that sea levels could rise as much as a meter by the year 2100 (a change which would flood many coastal counties), Republican legislators decided to try to "win" the scientific debate by legislating it out of existence.
They circulated a bill that would require scientists to use only "historical data" and "linear projections" to predict rising water levels. In other words, they're required by law to make calculations based only on the way things have always been, ignoring the fact that changes don't often move in straight line - they increase faster and faster, like a snowball getting bigger as it rolls downhill.
This, as an article in the online Scientific American points out, "is exactly like saying, do not predict tomorrow's weather based on radar images of a hurricane swirling offshore, moving west toward us. Predict the weather based on the last two weeks of fair weather."
Facts, it's often been said, have a liberal bias. It's meant as a wry joke. But wingnuts have apparently taken it to heart, but in the wrong way. Rather than adjust their world view to fit the facts, they choose to dismiss and mock any factual source that disagrees with them - or kill politically incorrect (and economically inconvenient) theories via legislation.
The Republican-led North Carolina legislature is acting like the church hierarchy that tried to suppress Galileo's idea that the Earth moves around the sun by fiat and intimidation, because it didn't fit the established narrative. And we all know how well that worked. I'd like to believe that actual science might prevail in this case, too. But I'm not betting on it.