Epistemic Closure Watch

Two examples — one from the Right, one from the Left — are indicative of one of the biggest problems in politics today — the refusal to withdraw bogus arguments from the debate.

First, the Right. Hot Air approvingly posted video of two senators ganging up on Barbara Boxer on the subject of “global cooling”, getting her to admit this was a theory in the 1970’s.

This is a perfect example of what I’ve come to call the Global Cooling Acid Test. In the 1970’s, global warming theory was maturing. For a brief period, however, the existing data indicating a potential cooling trend. Some scientists thought this might be due to aerosols in the air. The alternative theory grabbed some headlines because of a potential Ice Age. But it was never consensus science. Global warming theory was much more widely accepted.

This point is so clear and so well-documented that there is no reason to keep bringing it up. And frankly, even if global cooling had been consensus science, we’ve had 40 more years of data — including all of the satellite data — to support global warming theory. Using global cooling to debunk global warming — even if global cooling had been consensus, which it wasn’t — is like using the failure of the ether theory to debunk relativity. Or the nebular theory to debunk Galactic evolution. Old theories are replaced by better ones when better data come about.

There are legitimate criticisms of AGW theory — the quality of the temperature data, the dendrochronology data and the ability of models to predict the future. And, indeed, these are the criticisms real skeptics focus on. But global cooling is not a legitimate criticism.

(Nor, it seems is Climategate, which even James Inhofe’s requested investigation has concluded does not debunk climate change, although it does show arrogance, presumption and sloppy work on the part of key climate scientists — enough, in my opinion, to warrant hesitation on economy-changing carbon schemes.)

I find the use of Time and Newsweek covers to “prove” that global cooling was consensus to be particularly hilarious. These magazines have a long history of panic-mongering cover stories that turn out to be complete garbage (or maybe I missed the great Pokemon massacres of the last decade).

The global cooling thing does brush against something more germane — the 1970’s and 80’s panic about overpopulation, which was (a) consensus science; (b) the source of numerous and sometimes horrific proposals for changing human society; (c) as early as 1980, obviously wrong. In fact, it’s a big reason why I remain skeptical of long-term climate projections.

But it’s a little harder to draw the connection between people extrapolating population growth and a scientific theory now supported by the preponderance of evidence. Moreover, it’s not on the list of talking points and global cooling is.

In the AGW debate, the mention of global cooling is a sign that someone isn’t paying attention — that they have a list of talking points they like to run through and no amount of debunking is going to pull things off that list.

The Left is not immune to this, however. Charles Johnson, reasonably bashing Republicans for including poison control centers in their list of budget cuts (although it behooves me to point out that PCC’s were not federally funded until 2000), has his list of items in the Republican Party’s “War on Women”. Here’s the list

Trying to defund Planned Parenthood

Trying to redefine rape to deny abortion funding

Trying to pass laws that would require investigations of all miscarriages

Trying to pass laws that would legalize killing abortion providers

Trying to define ‘human life’ to begin with a fetal heartbeat

Calling two fetuses as ‘witnesses’ to anti-abortion hearings

Trying to pass laws to outlaw federal funds for contraceptives

Trying to pass laws that would allow hospital ERs to let women die rather than provide abortions.

Some of these are true — the GOP has tried to cut PP’s funding and one legislature wants to outlaw abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected (and did indeed call two fetuses as “witnesses”). They have tried to cut family planning and birth control plans for poor people. And their proposal would have taken the conscience provision that allows federally funded hospitals to refuse to provide abortions and extended it to refusing to provide them in emergency situations. I’m opposed to most of this, to varying degrees. Almost all of it is unlikely to become law; but it does represent bones being thrown to an increasingly influential and deranged radical religious wing of the Party.

But others are wild exaggerations. For example, the GOP did not try to “redefine rape” — they tried to change what the federal government would fund abortions for. Rape, the crime, is defined by state law. Rape, what the government will pay for an abortion for, is defined by the feds. I thought was really stupid and offensive, but it was not “redefining rape”. And it’s ridiculous and inflammatory to keep referring to it as such. “Tried to cut abortion funding for rape victims” is perfectly accurate and conveys what they tried to do. We can do without the bullshit.

The miscarriage law is indeed real and is indeed stupid. On the other hand, it is not exactly a GOP party platform plank. It’s being proposed by one stupid Georgia state senator who has tried and failed to get abortion outlawed at every session. Branding it as part of a GOP “war on women” is the flip side of Republicans insisting that AGW theory is a plot to destroy capitalism. Yes, there are some people using AGW to advance statist ideas. And yes there is at least one Republican who wants to outlaw miscarriage. But every party has their ignorant dipshits; do we need to let them define the debate?

Finally, we get to what provoked this post — the charge that Republicans want to legalize the killing of abortion doctors. This is the sort of claim that is a litmus test for partisan derangement. People who hear it and immediately say, “Oh my God, we’ve got to stop this!” have failed. Success is earned by saying, “really?!” and then finding out, as one blogger did, that this is simply not true. (And even it were, the likelihood that it would pass the legislature and be accepted by the Courts is zero.)

But I guarantee you that it will continue to show up in “War on Women” posts just as global cooling continues to show up on “Global Warming is false” posts. Because the people who write these posts do not care about the debate — they care about bashing “the enemy”.

The difference between rational debate and demagoguery is that the rational debaters — and there are many — will admit when an argument they have used is bogus. I know these arguments intimately with global warming because I used to make many of them myself. But the demagogue really doesn’t give a shit. He has his list of talking points and he will stick to them. No matter what.

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