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David Frum and Kenneth Silber - Conservatives and Science
Posted: 01 August 2011 05:01 PM   [ Ignore ]
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When it comes to the U.S. political right, it often appears that the opposition to science-and reason in general-is everywhere. From climate change denial to anti-evolutionism; from debt ceiling denial to, that’s right, incandescent light bulb availability denial; conservatives today have plenty to answer for.

Fortunately, some conservatives know it. And given how much he has blasted the “Republican War on Science” in the past, on this show Chris Mooney wanted to hear their take.

So he invited on David Frum. Frum is the editor of the group blog Frum Forum, a former speechwriter for the George W. Bush White House, and a widely published author, most recently of Comeback: Conservatism that Can Win Again. In recent years, Frum has become a leading critic of today’s GOP and its allegiance with the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.

Joining Frum is Kenneth Silber, a frequent contributor to Frum Forum. Silber is a science writer based in New Jersey who contributes to Research Magazine, Scientific American, and other outlets. He calls himself a “center-right dissenter, a deviationist apostle of the Frumian Heresy” and these days, a RINO (Republican in Name Only).

http://www.pointofinquiry.org/david_frum_and_kenneth_silber_conservatives_and_science/

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Posted: 03 August 2011 04:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Is this really the best the right can offer in terms of people who don’t outright reject “facts” and “reason”?  David Frum?  David Frum was on relatively good behaviour in the podcast with Chris Mooney, but ultimately, he’s still pretty divorced from reality.

Did I not hear him say that denialists were bolstered in the past by the fact that scary scenarios about human population didn’t come to fruition?  What?

At the start of the 60s, when his anecdote was based, the world’s population was a little over 3 billion.  Now, it’s over 6 billion. It took millions of years to get our first 3 billion people (at the same time), and half a lifetime to amass the second 3 billion.  Something like 6% of the “humans” that have ever lived are alive right now.

Current projections are for population to crest at about 9.2 billion in 2050.  That’s, of course, an educated guess.  Even if population growth does stop there and then, is that what Frum considers a crisis that never materialized?  What was he considering a bad outcome?  100 billion people?  So many people that we literally were packed in like New York subway riders?

Seriously.  If you acknowledge that climate change is a problem, or that hunger is a problem, then you must also acknowledge that world population has already become a problem, and that another 50% tacked on would be extremely bad for humankind. 

Although Al Gore won’t generally admit it (thanks partly to southern Baptist upbringing), climate change is a direct result of population explosion.  With only one billion humans, consuming at the same rate as we are today, this isn’t nearly the issue that it looks like it is now.  Don’t like oil prices?  That’s overpopulation, too.  There are not economies of scale in all natural resources, out to infinity. 

I know Chris Mooney is a generally agreeable guy, who probably doesn’t want to scare away his conservative guests, but listening to this episode was like listening to Rachel Maddow talk with Meghan McCain or Michael Steele.  Politeness taken to an absurd extreme, with me screaming into my iPhone, “Jesus, just expose this rodeo clown’s flimsy argument, already!”.  (yes, I know my iPhone isn’t actually listening and that David Frum isn’t officially a rodeo employee)

Otherwise, an interesting episode.

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Posted: 05 August 2011 12:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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My takeaway: If you want to make scientists and also the huge flow of oil and gas money happy, accept climate change but say we can’t do anything about it.

The problem with that is that you open the issue up to discussion, and then you have to empirically analyze what will work.  You have to say, “there’s nothing government can do” about something that’s the matter with a huge sector of the economy.  If you say, “let’s do <insert token gesture>”, immediately everyone can talk about how fast their plan would fix things compared to yours. 

You find that great ideas like fining fossil carbon and moving that money back into the entire economy via universal tax cuts equal to the collected fine (entire economy, not just non-fossil energy, because efficiency is a non-fossil energy source) are actually rational and efficient! 

In order to not do anything, you have to endorse a fully religious, true-believer libertarian view of the world—one that hopes to see its views vindicated maybe at the end of time, and certainly is not dissuaded if some present facts disagree.  It’s exactly like the crazy hazy uber-philosophical libertarian worldviews exposed by the debt ceiling debate.  The problem with rationalism is that it opens up the floor, while blind or misguided faith stops all discussion.  The latter is in charge now and the only thing left to talk about is stupid crap like Area 51.

[ Edited: 05 August 2011 12:59 PM by anderlan ]
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Posted: 05 August 2011 01:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I am Canadian, as is Frum.  When I moved to the US I noticed and paid attention to him for that reason.  His mother Barbara is famous in Canada for, some say, being the best radio and TV interviewer that Canada has ever produced.  I was a fan of hers.  I wasn’t a fan of David. 

When I lived in Canada and heard Frum there I found him to be among the “very far right” in the Canadian spectrum of political opinion.  But in the US, he is the most reasonable voice I have heard from someone of his generation who would call themselves “conservative”.  I don’t know if Chris is aware of this, but when Frum brought up “the real consequences” for conservatives if they’re on “the wrong side” in internal debate,  it is fresh in his mind that the AEI “think tank” dumped him for that.  I respect him.  It is difficult to put yourself forward attempting to define a political position in a movement, even as almost all others competing in the same space reject you.

I left a comment on Frum’s FrumForum page.  http://www.frumforum.com/can-conservatives-and-scientists-get-along-2#comment-323545  One thing I brought out there was that the population problem is very much still with us.  Climate change is just a big problem caused by the wastes of too large of population.  Although few might be able to see exactly how, the projected 9 or 10 billion population might be sustainable, but certainly not as long as “conservatives” adamantly insist we ignore whatever warning signs come in, such as the accumulating GHG and the beginnings of climate change our scientists observe, as the wastes of that number of people affect the life support systems of the planet. 

I wondered at the way Frum mostly avoided comment on climate change even as Chris Mooney described it in this way: “If there was one number one topic where we have a complete divide over reality between the two parties, and I would go further as to say one of the parties is right, its global warming”.  Although Chris did address that remark to Silber, Frum’s silence on climate as the interview went on became deafening for me.  I visited FrumForum and searched there for something current, written by Frum, on climate.  I found nothing.  If I am to go by what Frum said to Chris Mooney during this discussion, I can’t distinguish between Frum’s position on climate and anyone spouting the typical denier talking points he brought up, for instance, Lord Monckton. 

Here’s what I mean.  Frum actually tried to say conservatives have played a traditional role, performing the “service” to the “world of ideas”, by putting a “check on liberal enthusiasms”.  After declaring that one of those liberal enthusiasms was an attempt to do something about population growth back in the 1960s and attributing to conservative skepticism the fact that little was done and declaring that doing very little has proven to be the wisest course of action because things worked out in the end, Frum suggested that conservatives could continue on with this “traditional service” to the “world of ideas”.  But then all he did was spout climate science denier talking points. 

These were:  “do we KNOW that its going to be so bad, do we KNOW that its effects are going to be so large, are we QUITE SURE some of its effects won’t be benign”. 

Then he apparently declared himself to be a “conservative scientific intellectual”.  And that was it, the end of Frum saying anything about climate change during the entire discussion.  He used to talk policy.  He once advocated that Republicans ought to stake out a climate position by arguing the merits of a carbon tax as opposed to the Democratic Party’s “cap and trade” policy.  That’s why I searched his forum for something he’s written recently.  It seems he’s backing off any position on climate other than there should be a conservative position as opposed to denial, but since all he said here amounted to denial, I don’t see that his position makes any sense at all.  Perhaps courage to oppose what happens to be a “conservative orthodoxy” du jour only goes so far. 

I can’t imagine how Frum expects us to take him seriously on this “service” to “the world of ideas” by stopping “liberal enthusiasms” thing.  This is the man who coined the phrase “Axis of Evil” for Bush as they told Americans the best way to strike back at Al Qaeda was to invade Iraq.  Might we call that the “conservative enthusiasm” that believed they could thus produce a lower price for oil? 

I wondered at Frum when he waxed enthusiastic about what attracted him to the “conservative” movement in the first place.  Had I been part of the conversation, when Frum brought up the “shocking” proposed headline Peters was joking he’d run one day around 1975, i.e. “Criminals belong in prison” saying that one joke “sums up the mood of the time” for his generation of Republicans, I would have asked him why there are so many in that movement today who want to put our best scientists in jail.  How could anyone today have anything like the enthusiasm for conservative ideas the younger Frum had? 

When he brought up Thatcher’s quote:  “the facts of life are conservative”.  I thought no,  its “conservatives deny the facts of life”.  Today’s conservatives are so far from Frum’s “we were not afraid of the facts” they have created what Frum calls “this terrible industry” which Frum could not bring himself to call by its rightful name, of perpetrating lies.  The euphemisms he used, “pretend information, pseudo facts, and knowledge subtraction” are just ways he tries to shield himself, even as he critiques, from what the movement that so excited him in his youth does and has become. 

I think its important to have discussion such as what you did on this show.  People have to start talking to each other in this country no matter what side of the political divide they are on.

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Posted: 05 August 2011 04:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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PS.  it was a hoot to listen to Frum talk about “magical thinking” as well.  He was referring to various beliefs he says the “left” had, such as not believing that jails are the solution to crime, General Motors cannot go bankrupt, etc.  As a Canadian he must be aware of the position of judges there that they’ve had a front row seat looking on as the US put more of its citizens in jail than in almost any other country and they just don’t see the evidence for the Frum position on jails, to the extent the US actually implemented it.  But never mind.

If the conservative supposed position that reducing taxes actually increases revenue isn’t “magical” in a similar way Frum intends the word to mean when he applies it to the beliefs of “the left”, what evidence would he accept that could finally counter their argument?  Taxes have been cut since Reagan’s time, especially the Bush cuts while he committed the US to two wars, and the result is conservative international opinion such as voiced by The Economist talks about “useless” US politicians unable to cope with the financial problems the US faces.  Meanwhile a country like Germany that has far higher taxes as a percentage of GDP is debating how they can loosen their immigration laws to allow bringing in the highly skilled workers their expanding economy requires to keep blasting along. 

The only sense I can make of the position is that conservatives don’t believe lowering taxes actually raises revenue, that’s just the lie they use to sell the tactic.  What they want is to reduce the size of “government” which, because what the US government does basically is maintain the armed forces and provide the social safety net, means they want to reduce the size of the social safety net.  Rich people don’t need it.  So get rid of it.  The “nanny state” is their buzzword which must be cut, which means Frum’s generation isn’t willing to pay the proportion of taxes that his mother’s generation did when they looked after their mothers, because Frum’s generation don’t mind if more of the geezers, for instance his mother, are just left to die without care, and pensioners are forced to live on a lot less than people of his mother’s generation did.  Its winner take all they want, whatever they can get, and ordinary Americans are fools to support their bankrupt ideas and lies.

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Posted: 06 August 2011 06:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Only a small amount of the information I act on is certain from personal experience and intensive study. Most of it is based on who I think I can trust. The same is true for all of you.
  I don’t trust the left. In my youth, I made it a point to get close and inside the burgeoning New Left and listen, and read. No one can escape reading and hearing leftist material throughout life because it is so dominant. I’ve also known a lot of people and read a lot of material on the right. The left is composed of people who range from besotted to unhinged by their sense of superiority, importance, and entitlement. It certainly shows in this blog.
  The left cares little if any about the fate of the world or curing global warming. Leftists do care about feeling like important members of a vanguard and they care about achieving control over people’s lives so that is all the argument is really about. I don’t care what sophistries of language or logic you use to deny it, but I know that when the left and the law get their hands on light bulbs, light bulbs will be more expensive, less convenient and practical, and especially my range of choice will be reduced.
  I work in a museum. Light is our worst enemy. Incandescent light happens to be the least harmful of all light sources. Just maybe if the law is going to be bad for us, it might be bad for some other people too. Just maybe if other forms of light are more harmful to artifacts they might be more harmful in other ways too. But I’m damned well sure that people who don’t care are determined to do the deciding.
  The current left shares with Marxists the quasi-religious delusion that their ideology is the master of all knowledge.
  Christianity is to the right what Marxism is to the left. (Really, this should be stated in the converse except for the fact that the perspective of people here is so left based..) Neither has compunction about sacrificing truth when its emotional foundation is at stake. Creationism is the right’s worst self inflicted wound. It also is a powerful weapon handed on a silver platter to the opposition – an opposition which has not been slow or hesitant in using it. All conservatives get lumped with every scientifically ignorant or superstitious crackpot. All dissenters are now branded “deniers.” The calculated name calling, mob-mentality proclivity of the left is one of its most ugly and terrifying aspects.
  I’m a social and fiscal conservative and I’ve read a few logic books. I’m an atheist but favor religious tolerance. I also favor a strong government sponsored space program. I was for the Superconducting Supercollider. I think state governments, and to a lesser extent even the federal government, should sponsor folklore, archeology, and geology programs and support science museums. It is apparent to me that the wedding of liberalism with science and logic is a metastable patchwork characterized by public exhibitionism and private abuse. Conservatism is far more congenial to the logical mind and the well adjusted human soul (and, no, I don’t believe in a literal soul. The word does have metaphorical meanings).

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Posted: 07 August 2011 06:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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David Lewis - 05 August 2011 04:08 PM

... that’s just the lie they use to sell the tactic.

Over the last few years, I’ve reached the conclusion that ‘conservative’ does not mean what it says in the dictionary. Modern conservatism has become synonymous with a flight from reality in order to justify sociopathic self-interest and greed. There’s also a large dose of “whatever those lefties and eco-loonies are for, I’m against”.

Whether its denial of climate change to protect their consumption of ‘cheap’ fossil fuels or denial that government and controls on the ‘free market’ are necessary for a functional society, they appear to be driven by nothing other than what they believe will benefit them most in the next few months or years. And to protect these beliefs they will accept any source that tells them what they want to hear, while rejecting all of modern science if it is inconvenient.

Modern conservatism is in denial of reality - and reality does not compromise or negotiate. Fun times ahead!

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Posted: 07 August 2011 06:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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There’s a measured response for you. It wouldn’t take much tweaking to create an inverse that would crudely describe liberals. I remember when the still unrepentant SDS-left was planning and mobilizing for genocide so I love it when they call us sociopaths. We used to think the pot calling the kettle black was bad. Greed - no liberal has greed in his soul. He hasn’t sold all he has to give to the poor but he has worked to take from everybody else and give to his causes. That’s much better. So the right doesn’t trust the left and has figured out that as a short cut, most things the left is for it better be against if it doesn’t share the goals and assumptions of the left. I wonder how that ever happened. Cheap; guilty as charged. I prefer inexpensive to expensive and that’s why I like capitalism. As for regulations, I always wonder where the regulators are going to acquire the information, intelligence, wisdom, integrity, and incentives to make their superior decisions and I’m just a little cynical about it. I’d leave the next to last sentence alone in my inversion and change just the second word of the last.

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Posted: 07 August 2011 06:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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rg21 - 07 August 2011 06:37 AM

I remember when the still unrepentant SDS-left was planning and mobilizing for genocide….

And there’s a perfect example of a ‘conservative’ making claims that are completely detached from reality. A peaceful student anti-war movement from the ‘60s has magically morphed in to a genocidal cult in the rightwing version of history.

Thanks for proving my point and providing an excellent example of the kind of crazy that rational people are up against.

P.S. Rachel Maddow did a great piece that describes how the rightwing alternative ‘reality’ is propagated: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJPL-tU7ueY + http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VucDt3T3Jao

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Posted: 07 August 2011 10:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I sat in a room of about 150 students at an official, registered SDS meeting. In came Mark Rugg and a mulatto companion. “The purpose of The Revolution is to kill all of the white people,” the mulatto solemnly announced to the audience which was all white except one Japanese-American. Rudd of course was white and this speaker was at least half white. The purpose of this meeting was to sign people up right now to go to Chicago and start that Revolution. So don’t talk to me about peaceful student protests or peaceful anything and don’t talk to me about delusional realities. Leftists are sociopaths and lying sons of bitches.

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Posted: 07 August 2011 10:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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That’s Rudd. Mark Rudd, still alive and unrepentant, still “respected” tolerated and successful in a world where the left won without the blood despite themselves. I still hate them.

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Posted: 07 August 2011 11:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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rg21 - 07 August 2011 10:42 AM

In came Mark Rugg and a mulatto companion. “The purpose of The Revolution is to kill all of the white people,” the mulatto solemnly announced to the audience which was all white except one Japanese-American.

That’s the argument settled then. Some anonymous nobody on the internet makes an evidence-free claim (with a bit of causal racism thrown in) that someone once said “kill all the white people” in a room full of white people.

Leftists are sociopaths and lying sons of bitches.

Embrace your rage! wink

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Posted: 07 August 2011 11:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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It certainly settled it for me. I had followed the campus left for years and this was not exceptional or out of the blue. The record is public and ample and we all know it. I don’t think Rudd denies it even today. I filed a report with the FBI and I testified later under oath. I went with a group to Washington for the Nixon inauguration riots. We stayed with a very rich liberal couple outside of town. My companions said, “Come the Revolution, boy is this cat going to get it!” I think William Ayers is on record talking about killing 25 million Americans. The left did and does engage in bombings, murder, blackmail, arson, and destructive rampages. They all adored the Communists, the world’s champions at murder and genocide. I’d like to see you call me a liar to my face.

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Posted: 07 August 2011 11:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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rg21 - 07 August 2011 11:28 AM

I’d like to see you call me a liar to my face.

lol. Thinly-veiled physical threat. You’re ticking all the nasty little rightwing boxes! wink

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Posted: 07 August 2011 11:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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rg21, the rhetoric in this thread has gotten out of hand. And certainly any sort of physical threat, veiled or not, is completely against the rules. Please tone it down. Failure to do so can lead to banning. Thanks.

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Posted: 07 August 2011 02:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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It isn’t called violence until we fight back.

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