March 6, 2017: Why America’s anti-science movement is a moral matter. Part I: The Right

For half a millennia the many varied nations of Islam were the greatest cultures on earth. Science, mathematics, architecture, and economics all thrived in Islam, while “in the West, Charlemagne and his lords, were dabbling in the art of writing their names.” [1] As tribunals sentenced sixty thousand “witches” drowned or burned at the stake, Islam shined through Europe’s Dark Ages.

But Islam’s Golden Age didn’t last. Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg notes, by the 11th century, extremists opened the door “to complete destruction of science and scientists.” [2] According to Pakistani physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy some in Islam began to proclaim “a holy war against Rationalism… against the upholders of reason and advocates of philosophy and science.” [3] Cultural suicide accelerated when Al-Ghazali (1058-1111) provided political power needed to destroy rational thinking. [4] He won. Islam lost. By 1258 Mongols sacked Baghdad. By 1492 the Iberian Peninsula surrendered. Islam silenced itself when it abandoned science.

But could science really be that important? Or is it related to something more?

Fast forward 500 years to Rush Limbaugh’s own holy war against science and scientists as, he claims, “One of the four corners of deceit.” [5] In Limbaugh’s quest for class conflict we hear scientists belong to those “wizards of smart.” The rest of us are “the hicks, the little people.” [6] This vilification is broadcast to millions over radio waves discovered by science, on electronics built by science.

This hostile paradox is widespread and dominates powerful places. Oklahoma Republican Senator Jim Inhofe claims global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated against the American people.” [7] He’s chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Texas Republican Representative and science denier Lamar Smith has built his reputation on harassment of climate scientists and attorneys general with 25 subpoenas, from a committee that issued only one since its creation in 1958. [8] Smith is chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. The irony.

These are people who fly on jet aircraft, use smart phones, and light emitting diodes not candles to read by. They laud capitalism, innovation, and entrepreneurs dependent on science to create wealth. They favor a strong military, contingent on science and its technology to defend this nation. A nation they claim to love, most notably its Founders, all of them products of Europe’s scientific Enlightenment. The founder of electrical sciences, Ben Franklin; naturalist and inventor, Thomas Jefferson; Hamilton, Madison, and Jay with scientific analogies to proper governance in their Federalist Papers. More irony.

Or is it? Tocqueville found Americans so busy that we’re suspect of elaborate explanations. [9] We prefer quick, easily ingestible answers (sound bites). As a can-do nation from the Frontier onwards, Americans harbored an anti-intellectual posture from the beginning. Hence, America’s science deniers hoodwink a scientifically naive public without much resistance. Such habit and influence opens the door for destruction of science and scientists because reality is more complex than a morsel.

It’s also more interesting. Consider that family of atoms in the form of a molecule called carbon dioxide. This greenhouse gas is made of one carbon, two oxygen: CO2. Atmospheric CO2 rose past 400 parts per million in 2016. [10] Sounds small. Until one calculates the total volume of earth’s atmosphere to find an astounding 40 gigaton CO2 increase per year. [11] And a commensurate decrease in breathable oxygen combined with carbon that takes place when burned. [12]

But how do we know this atmospheric CO2 came from humans? Answer: the type of carbon atom found in that molecule. They’re not all the same. There’s a carbon atom with 12 particles in its nucleus, C12, and another with 14, C14. C14 is created in earth’s upper atmosphere every day when C12 gets stuck with two extra particles it didn’t want. [13] Half the C14 created today will cast out those visitors through radioactive decay in about 6000 years, its half-life. This division by half continues until after 60,000 years no C14 made today will remain. Were today’s excess carbon dioxide from natural sources it would have todays C14 signature. It doesn’t. [14] Under well understood chemistry, millions of years of carbon rich plant burials gave us coal, buried marine plankton gave us oil, and none of it has C14. Just like the dearth of C14 atoms in that carbon dioxide molecule measured from our atmosphere. And what’s more, the weight of all that annually added carbon equals the weight of annual fossil fuel inventories burned the world over. [15] A human imprint on global warming. One of hundreds. On January 18, 2017, NOAA, NASA, and UK’s Hadley Center announced from different data sets our hottest year since 1880 data gathering began. And 16 of our 17 hottest years were since 2000. [16]

If you didn’t know any of this, does that make you “a hick,” a “little person?” I didn’t know it either, until I did. Now I do. So do you. Feel like a “wizard of smart?” I don’t. But once known, plans can be made, policy, action, designs for new industries that turn engineers lose on global warming constraints as an invitation to innovate and get rich. The way China dominates solar markets while America drags its heels because science is evil and nature is a liberal. While Congress remains rooted in old technologies that fund their campaigns, China crafts the Asian Century the same way America crafted the last one—with science. In January 2017, China announced a $361 billion program to build clean energies and create 13 million new jobs. [17]

The same science used to build high-tech society is precisely the same that shows human caused global warming a fact: physics, chemistry, biology. The same science that put man on the moon, made iPhones, and pharmaceuticals. Yet many Americans think global warming science is different from other science. A fallacy facilitated by descendants of Islam’s Al-Ghazali from our own conservative Right with their “alternative facts.” As Voltaire (1694-1778) said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” [18]

As Stuart Rachels wrote, “Moral thinking begins when we try to see things as they are… Morality is the effort to guide one’s conduct by reason…” [19] But rejection of science is rejection of reason. Without reason, moral judgment is crippled. And this is where America’s anti-science movement links to larger issues.

The connection becomes apparent in tight coupling between science and reason with morality and self-governance. From the reasoned basis for moral judgment comes a realization that not only must the ends be rational and moral but the means to an end must be rational and moral. Our Founders implemented a system that placed how we arrive at results on an equal, sometimes higher plain of morality than their ends, which may be merely practical, but no less critical for stable governance. This process depends on right-reason, not motivated-reason which is not reason as we saw last time. Likewise, on right-morality vs. motivated-morality which is not moral. Both require truth. Truth requires reason. But a sizable fraction of America has abandoned truth and reason, and thus the Founder’s foundation that depends on it.

The evolving corruption of this moral package was bound to have effects on the ground. And it did. Thanks to Hillary Clinton’s untrustworthy nature, decimation of American manufacturing, and threatened by politically correct assaults on tradition, Americans abandoned their traditions to choose the liar from a field of 17 Republicans for president. [20] The Republican conservative Right has defrauded everything they once stood for, from Reagan’s capacity for compromise, to the Founder’s scientific thinking, to Jesus Christ himself. For in John, Jesus did not say “Seek the lie and it will set you free.” Nor “Seek the liar.” [21] Trump’s lies were a welcomed insult to facts and experts many Americans have come to hate. As Foreign Affairs contributor Tom Nichols puts it, “Americans have reached a point where ignorance…is seen as an actual virtue. To reject advice of experts is to assert autonomy…and insulate their increasingly fragile egos.” [22] A fascinating confluence between the excesses of individualism and consequent yearnings for a tribe. [23] And should Christians among the conservatives reject our Founders method by deciding that any means justify the ends, they’ve conveniently forgotten it was Paul who condemned “Let us do evil, so good may come.” [24] Trump’s theft of other people’s property, his decades association with the mafia, and his vulgar immoralities complete with the smell of treason were embraced because Trump appealed to emotional excess that irrational populism thrives on. [25] (Which is not to say Trump won’t succeed materially. [26]) All of this exposes moral decay for a party that once referred to itself as the Moral Majority.

But the Right is not a monolith. Even Right-wing Glen Beck labeled Trump a sociopath. [27] And Bush Administration attorney Eliot Cohen wrote in his acid bath blistering of Republicans, they are engaged in “moral self-destruction.” [28]

That Trump is a carnival barker or a hopeful dictator is less important than what this reveals about America. We’ve arrived at an historic moment when a beast is welcomed for leadership by almost half the voting public. The direction of governance that America now moves in is not what the Founders founded. As Michael Shermer notes, they gave us a methodology, not an ideology. The opposite of what we now see as it was a method of scientific thinking. “Scientific values of reason,” writes Shermer, “are not the products of liberal democracy, but the producers of it.” [29]

With Congress already in pursuit, like 12th century Islam, Trump has commenced another witch hunt for scientists. [30] Intellectuals are first to be purged in all authoritarian regimes. A regime welcomed by America’s Right because they have betrayed Western ideals they once championed. It should be no surprise they would imperil the Republic the way Al-Ghazali did his own. The Right’s attack on science is symptomatic of moral bankruptcy, and part of a much larger depravity. If institutions and norms our science-minded Founders founded on reason, truth, and trust don’t survive, it won’t get better.

Until next time, Monday May 1, 2017.



[1] Steven Weinberg To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science, Harper Perennial, 2016, pg. 105.
[2] Weinberg., pg. 120.
[3] Pervez Hoodbhoy, Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle For Rationality, Zed, 1991, pg. 120.
[4] Hoodbhoy, pg. 126.
[5] Rush Limbaugh, "The Four Corners of Deceit are government, academia, science, and the media," in The Four Corners of Deceit: Prominent Liberal Social Psychologist Made It All Up, Apr 29, 2013.
Heather Horn, Is the Right Wing Anti-Science?, The Atlantic, 9.10.2010.
[6] Rush Limbaugh, Wizards of Smart, Limbaugh Letter, January 1994.
[7] Brad Johnson, Inhofe: God Says Global Warming Is A Hoax, ThinkProgress, March 9, 2012.
Wikipedia, Jim Inhofe.
[8] Lisa Rein, House science chairman gets heat in Texas race for being a global warming skeptic, Washington Post, November 7, 2016.
Phil Plait, Scientists Stand Up To Congressional Attacks
, SLATE, June 2, 2016.
[9] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy In America, Mentor, 1984 (1840)
[10] Brian Kahn, The World Passes 400 PPM Threshold. Permanently, Climate Central, September 27, 2016.
[11] Note dates on data as measured CO2 increases over time. See links from this article for the deeper science: Phil Plait, Did I Say 30 Billion Tons of CO2 a Year? I Meant 40.,SLATE, AUG. 20 2014.
[12] O2 decrease with carbon combustion is given in this article which also addresses other proxies including ocean and plant absorptions with some basic accounting. What is causing the increase in atmospheric CO2?, Skeptical Science.
[13] Marshall Brain, How Carbon-14 Dating Works, How Stuff Works.
[14] Solomon et. al., PDF: Are the Increases in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Other Greenhouse Gases During the Industrial Era Caused by Human Activities?, IPCC, 2007: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Richard Hilderman, Fossil Fuel and Atmospheric Levels of Carbon Dioxide, Mother Earth News, 1/9/2011.
Prentice et. al., Climate Change 2001: Working Group I: The Scientific Basis, IPCC, 2001.
Note the accounting for volcanic and Mid-Ocean ridge CO2, quite natural and also without current C14 signatures. John Cook, Do volcanoes emit more CO2 than humans?, Skeptical Science, July 6, 2015.
[15] John Cook. See Figure 1 for graphical representation. The human fingerprint in global warming, Skeptical Science, July 2015.
Above references Carbon Information Analysis Center, breakdown by annual output worldwide and by nation. CIACA, Note to get CO2 weight from weight of carbon burned multiply by 3.667 for carbon’s combination with O2.
[16] Chris Mooney, U.S. scientists officially declare 2016 the hottest year on record. That makes three in a row., Washington Post, January 18, 2017.
Hottest Years: Instrumental temperature record, Wikipedia.
[17] Reuters, China to plow $361 billion into renewable fuel by 2020, GLOBAL ENERGY NEWS, Thu Jan 5, 2017.
[18] Voltaire , Miracles and Idolatry, Penguin, 2005 (1765).
[19] Stuart Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, 6th Ed. McGraw Hill, 2010, pg.
[20] Donald Trump, Donald Trump's file, POLITIFACT.
FRONTLINE, President Trump , PBS, January 3, 2017.
Donald Trump, Transcript: Donald Trump’s Taped Comments About Women, New York Times, OCT. 8, 2016.
[21] John 8:32.
[22] Tom Nichols, How America Lost Faith in Expertise: And Why That's a Giant Problem , Foreign Affairs, March/April 2017.
[23] We might wonder if a psychological feedback mechanism is at work between individualism and dogmas. Evolution of individualism has rendered American’s ever more isolated, stripped of belonging, and hence of meaning. This hinges on an assumption that meaning comes from without, from the value we have to others reflected back at us in face-to-face relations of true communities which no longer exist. Individual purpose, on the other hand, comes from within – we make it up: work, tasks, acquisitions, displays. Purpose and meaning are not necessarily mutually exclusive, one can lead to the other. But with greater isolation, dogma gives us a sense of recovered belonging through a tribal affiliation. In modern America this does not lead to true communities, but to abstract affiliations, usually through the internet, occasionally a temporary interaction between strangers at a protest. So dogma fails to provide community, rigidifies our views, and increases individualistic isolation. Two books related to this matter are Louis Dumont’s Essays on Individualism: Modern Ideology in Anthropological Perspective, University of Chicago Press, 1992 (1986), and Eric Hoffer’s True Believer: On the Nature of Mass Movements, Harper Perennial, 1966.
[24] Romans 3:8.
[25] Michael Rothfeld and Alexandra Berzon, Donald Trump and the Mob, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 1, 2016.
David Cay Johnston, Just What Were Donald Trump's Ties to the Mob?, POLITICO, May 22, 2016.
David Corn, A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump, Mother Jones, Oct. 31, 2016.
[26] Should we suspend moral appraisal as we await Trump’s material performance? After all, reckless abandon common to populism earns early, costs late as it did Hugo Chavez. Presumably another favorite of Trump, not through imitation alone, but by his stated admiration for despotic murders Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-un, and Vladimir Putin, who has found no greater alley against the West. Such ethics make the Right no different from the Left they assail for claiming moral relativity as protection from conservative judgment. Despite his national budget surplus, Bill Clinton remains an exhibit for moral degeneracy according to the very conservatives ignoring Trump’s adultery. Motivated-morality judges only the other Party, and gives our own a pass. For Trump’s fondness for dictators see, MEGHAN KENEALLY, 5 Controversial Dictators and Leaders Donald Trump Has Praised , ABC News, Jul 6, 2016.
[27] Tré Goins-Phillips, Glenn Beck explains why he thinks Donald Trump is a ‘sociopath’ , The BLAZE, Oct 24, 2016.
[28] Eliot Cohen, A Clarifying Moment in American History , The Atlantic, Jan 29, 2017.
[29] Michael Shermer, The Moral Arc: How Science Alex Humanity to Truth Justice and Freedom, Henry Holt and Co, 2015, pg. 135.
[30] Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin, Trump transition team for Energy Department seeks names of employees involved in climate meetings , Washington Post, December 9, 2016.
Then Transition pulls back., Jan 24, 2017.
Reuters, Trump administration seeks to muzzle U.S. agency employees , Washington Post, ???, 2016.
Alex Kirby, Trump seeks to gag US scientists , Climate News Network, January 26, 2017.
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Published on March 06, 2017 08:53
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