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« Extinction expert says windfarms hasten extinctions | Main | Water, water everywhere »
Thursday
Jan032013

Pielke Jr on politicised science

Roger Pielke Jr has a must-read post on the politicisation of science, inspired by an editorial in Nature by Dan Sarewitz.

In a 2009 paper I documented that Science magazine published 40 editorials critical of the Bush Administration during its 2 terms, and only 1 such critique of the Clinton Administration's previous 2 terms (here in PDF). I have just updated this analysis through the first term of the Obama Administration, and found no editorials critical of the Obama Administration. Instead, there were editorials with the following titles:

I think the UK is probably lagging behind the US here somewhat, although only to the extent that science's role as subcommittee of the Fabian Society is not publicly acknowledged to the same extent as it is over the pond.

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Reader Comments (60)

Pielke Jnr - the kind of man who gives a good name to the Democratic Party in the United States.

Jan 3, 2013 at 10:05 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Interesting that Bishop Hill looks to be exactly what they need to sort out their mess.
A group of people from both left and right of the political spectrum, containing scientists and intelligent lay people who argue about the science.

Jan 3, 2013 at 10:07 AM | Registered CommenterDung

He still declared that he voted for Obama for US president - again. With honest acknowledgement of bias like this, one finds it hard to believe that he could do nothing not to conform to university conformity. Like not voting at all, perhaps?

Jan 3, 2013 at 10:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterOrson

But once again, the Nature editorial only sees a "communication" problem. It is all about gaining the public's confidence apparently.

I witness a more insidious problem that has led, in climate science, to tainted research, academic fraud and the debasement of an entire discipline.

Jan 3, 2013 at 10:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

The political left have by and large welcomed the speculation that rising CO2 might drive the climate system to catastrophe, presumably because it gave them another weapon with which to attack the status quo i.e. the wicked capitalist system that has produced so much industrialisation, not to mention prosperous workers that have proven jolly hard to 'revolutionise'.

Others have argued that hatred of the present is a major driver of leftwing ideology (see e.g. http://belmontclub.blogspot.co.uk/2004/06/mephisto-reader-mg-wrote-to-ask-and.html) - they generally want to 'overthrow' it and replace it with their preferred version of reality, a version which, whenever it has been throroughly attempted on a national scale with the necessary authoritarianism (Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Mao's China, for example), has led to hideous consequences on scales previously all but inconceivable.

The common ground with extreme environmentalists who hate humanity is obvious, and would seem to be part of the explanation for the astonishing speed with which the CO2 speculation was converted into a widely-held gospel and then into political policies of great import such as the UK's Climate Change Act.

Pascal Bruckner has asserted in his new book 'Le fanatisme de l'Apocalypse' that the environment is now in fact the new proletariat that has to be saved by the left. Their heroic role, as ever bristling with good intentions, is thus preserved as they set about wrecking this and that, and harming large numbers of people.

I suppose that climate science, rushed from infancy to authority in too short a time, may well remain like economics is now - instrinsically politicised, lacking in predictive skill, and yet quick and confident at explaining the past. The UK Met Office is showing the way here. More's the pity.

Jan 3, 2013 at 11:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

This is longstanding, and it is quite funny to suggest that it can be tackled with a New Year resolution. ;). The academic scientist community is a special-interest constituency in the United States. It is big enough to be one and monolothic enough in its political tendencies.

Sarewitz writes on the resolution:

... gain the confidence of people and politicians across the political spectrum by demonstrating that science is bipartisan.

Down the Pielke Jr article, there is data that shows 6% of AAAS members as being 'Republican'. Why would this constituency which has such a highly polarized political profile work on demonstrating 'bipartisanship'? A smaller one might do so, in order to win kudos and demonstrate merit (and thereby increase its own power). A substantially larger one that constitues a political bloc on its own, would not. It would rather work on aligning the politics to serve its perceived needs, as opposed to what is good for 'science and the nation', as Sarewitz says. Anyone who recieves AAAS newsletters can see open partisanship on an on-going weekly basis.

If you read Dan Greenberg, for instance, he lays out in bare detail the politicking scientists indulged in during the Barry Goldwater-Lyndon Johnson election campaign. Scientists and engineers for Johnson-Humphrey - they called themselves. From his account, it sounds like there was still some reticence and reserve, back then. Clearly all that has been thrown to the winds now.

I talk to many different scientists/academics among friends, superiors, students, and relatives whenever I get the chance. They are all uniformly non-Republican and non-conservative.

The Democrats have done an excellent job convincing and nurturing academic scientists as a political constituency, whereas Republicans, still behind in the cynical game, attempt to win political points by displaying support for science - a crucial difference.

Jan 3, 2013 at 11:16 AM | Registered Commentershub

(It's hard to get through the security to post on Roger Pielke Jr's blog, so I'll ask to post here. Social media develops faster than my grey matter).

The sitaution as broadly described above exists with left=leaning Governments in Australia also. Strangely, there is seldom public reference to it, though there are some powerful adherents. Almost like patient gradualism is being put to work.

Here's the transcript of the speech by former Prime Minister Bob Hawke for the 100th year of this wretched mob, many of whom actually believe in this drivel despite the jusgements of history.
http://www.geoffstuff.com/fabian.pdf

Jan 3, 2013 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Sherrington

I'm uncomfortable with the tendency sceptics have to characterise envirolunacy as being of the left, as in John Shade's comment.

The left traditionally hasn't given a monkey's about the environment and has seen it as a resource that the glorious people's state is wholly entitled to exploit.The consequence was the USSR's appalling environmental record, for example, with whole seas poisoned, otherwise destroyed or in at least one case all but physically lost.

While it is true that some on the left like the anti-business, anti-private wealth possibilities offered by crying crocodile tears over the environment, the main political inclination evident among ardent environmentalists is surely fascism.

Historically, fascists - of the 1930s and 1940s variety - were nationalistic and authoritarian movements, and sometimes - though not necessarily - aggressively racist. In particular, fascists usually thought that key elements of the economy should be state controlled to enable self-sufficiency from everyone else, and that individuals' preferences and choices should in general be removed or diminished in favour of whatever the state directed.

mutatis mutandis a bit given that we aren't in the 1930s any more, none of these features of fascism presents any ideological problem at all to a modern environmental activist. Any enviro nutter could join a party organised along fascist lines with no reservations. In particular, the bits where the authoritarian state tells you what you may think and do are, after all, exactly the arguments and "solutions" they've been pushing from the get go.

Ecofascism is simply the latest way the fascist tendency in some humans has arisen, in the same way that religion repeatedly arises in one form or another. The idea of both fascism and environmentalism as lay religions are very well established in the literature.

I've been re-reading Wyndham's The Kraken Wakes and he sets out very well how humanity's failure to recognise, comprehend and respond to the actual threat it is facing give the invaders all the time and space they need to alter Earth to suit them. In the same spirit, I don't think it is helpful to characterise the current alarmist campaign as being of the left when it's not. Nor is it helpful to be polite and not call environmentalists ecofascists in the spirit of being civilised with them, when fascists is exactly what they are.

In fact, not admitting to ourselves that they're fascists really is denialism.

Jan 3, 2013 at 12:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

But J4R, I did not do what you wrote here

I'm uncomfortable with the tendency sceptics have to characterise envirolunacy as being of the left, as in John Shade's comment.

I did characterise the left as having common ground with some environmentalists, and that is not quite the same thing. The 'right' can also have common ground with them - simply by being convinced by climate alarmism for example - as could libertarians with a similar affliction.

I take issue with your next sentence as well

The left traditionally hasn't given a monkey's about the environment and has seen it as a resource that the glorious people's state is wholly entitled to exploit.

There was a strong environmental, back-to-nature theme in National Socialism, and the Soviet Union, for example, passed anti-pollution leglislation that was way ahead of anything in the West. Good intentions you see, handy for recruitment and demonising any opposition. But of course National Socialism increased industrialisation as a top priority, as did the Soviet Union - leading in that case as you rightly observe to 'an appalling environmental record'. These illustrate the huge gulf between the stated intentions of the left, and the actual consequences of their actions.

I get the impression that you regard 'fascism' as being somehow not 'leftist', and if so, we differ there as well. Mussolini was a leading elftwing intellectual in his day, for example

So, how many people today are aware that Mussolini, that great Fascist ogre, was in his youth an incandescent revolutionary socialist, a labor-union agitator who was jailed for his pains (Hibbert, 1962)? He was as radical as any student radical of today. Even in his childhood, he was expelled from two schools for his rebellious behaviour.

After that he became one of Italy's most prominent Marxist theoreticians and an intimate of Lenin. He in fact first became well-known as "Il Duce" (the Leader) when he was a member of Italy's (Marxist) Socialist Party and between 1912 and 1914 he was the editor of their newspaper, "L'Avanti". After his split with the Socialist Party he started his own Leftist newspaper "Il Popolo d'Italia" ("The people of Italy").


[Source: http://ray-dox.blogspot.co.uk/2006/06/this-is-expanded-version-of-article.html]

Jan 3, 2013 at 12:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

I would echo J4R's points. The contemporary left appears to embrace the environment more comprehensively than the right because it is more comprehensively shattered, and detached from its history and constituency, not because it is continuous with them. Really the categories 'left' and 'right' are insufficient to capture political development over the C20th - 21st. The world and its politics were completely different in 2012, when compared to 1912, and to overstate the historical continuity of such broad categories is to miss the significance of what Pielke observes, which is a unique phenomenon of the present, and is furthermore particular to the USA -- where there is far less 'left' to mainstream politics in any case. 'Left' in US politics would appear as at least 'centre' in European politics. That's one of the problems with these categories -- they are relative to time, place, and depth of perspective. The problem is then compounded by lumping in all sorts of ideas -- many of which are in contradiction -- into two seemingly distinct categories; the nouns obfuscate the substance of the arguments they represent.

Pielke, meanwhile, is honest enough to criticise those whose politics he broadly shares.

Jan 3, 2013 at 1:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

John Shade. >>I did characterise the left as having common ground with some environmentalists,<<

My two favourite examples from history of the opposite happening are Paul Ehrlich -- who was a Republican -- and Garrett Hardin, author of The Tragedy of the Commons, who argues for the abolition of all public property in order to prevent damage to the environment. (His thinking being that only institutions of private property can protect the environment.) If you look closely at ideas such as Cap and Trade and so on, you will notice that these are essentially the privatisation of 'commons'. The environmental debate doesn't divide neatly at all.

Jan 3, 2013 at 1:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

Here is an interview with the current President of the Royal Society:

Despite the grand achievement, Nurse's undergraduate socialist spirit is still alive and well: he wouldn't be against scientists getting involved in activism.

And here is one with his predecessor:

Lord Rees, a life-long supporter of the Labour Party, describes himself as a technological optimist but a political pessimist. He truly believes that this century may easily turn out to be humanity's last if we don't make the right kind of political decisions that will save us from environmental destruction, climate change and an ever-expanding human population.

Jan 3, 2013 at 1:36 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

@ John

Fascism was invented during WW1 explicitly to be separate from either right or left, and consequently lots of people came to it from both directions. Mussolini is the best known leftist who became a fascist but in the UK we had our very own Oswald Mosley, who was a Labour minister just before he became a fascist.

What I am suggesting really is that ecofascism is best understood in terms of the fascist agenda rather than the left or rigth wing agenda. Some leftists embrace ecofascism because it is anti-business and pro-levelling down; some on the right embrace it because it promises to enrich them personally - Tim Yeo is perhaps the most odious example of this.

The very argument "experts say the world is warming, and you aren't entitled to disagree", along with the solution - "some must die now, and all must become poorer for the greater good" - are textbook fascist arguments. The left likes the ecofascist approach because it essentially says that attacking business and wealth are not matters for democracy. This suits the left because democracy has not worked well in getting the left's agenda implemented.

I think though that because fascism is commonly associated with the right, ecofascists are actually equally glad of leftist support, because this enables them to argue that "we can 't be fascists because we're all lefties". This, of course, does not follow at all. It does mean though that calling ecofascists lefties, when what we mean is that they are fascists, is not helpful other than to them.

Jan 3, 2013 at 1:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

Interesting discussion between J4R and John Shade and I just want to add to it :) There is confusion as to whether parties are of the left or of the right in the discussion. Today again there is confusion, in UK politics who can say if any of the 3 "main" parties are left or right, they are indistiguishable in what is now called the centre ground. However all three parties aim to do what, in the above discussion, is ascribed to either the left or the right, they all want to macromanage our lives to the nth degree. I suggest therefore that until the mould is broken ALL political parties are determined to take away our freedoms.
At the moment UKIP is the only party offering relief from this in the UK and may they prosper greatly.

Jan 3, 2013 at 2:28 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Dung: >>However all three parties aim to do what, in the above discussion, is ascribed to either the left or the right, they all want to macromanage our lives to the nth degree.<<

Here is the latest:

Obese and other unhealthy people could be monitored to check whether they are taking exercise and have their benefits cut if they fail to do so under proposals published on Thursday by a Conservative-run council and a local government thinktank.

Westminster council and the Local Government Information Unit say new technologies such as smart cards could be used to track claimants' use of leisure centres, allowing local authorities to dock housing and council benefit payments from those who refuse to carry out exercise prescribed by their GP.

Never mind whether it's left or right, it's the consensus which deprives the public the opportunity to express a preference for either. There does seem to be more discussion from the (independent) right, however, about the wrongs of this.

Jan 3, 2013 at 3:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

But once again, the Nature editorial only sees a "communication" problem. It is all about gaining the public's confidence apparently.

I witness a more insidious problem that has led, in climate science, to tainted research, academic fraud and the debasement of an entire discipline.

Jan 3, 2013 at 10:31 AM | Geckko
===========================================================================

Ah yes, time to elect a new people...

Labour did this, and the Coalition are doing it as well - telling us we have "misunderstood their message". I.E. We are stupid, and need re-education - the reality being of course that we are anything but stupid, we got the message loud and clear, and we do not like it.

Jan 3, 2013 at 3:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

@an 3, 2013 at 1:50 PM | Justice4Rinka

The Left - Socialism at least, is Fascism incarnate, as it is about compulsion. It boils down to this

1. We know better than you, ERGO
2. We will tell you what must be, what you can., and what you cannot do, and if you don't
3. We will punish you.

Socialism is evil. History shows that mass slaughter has almost entirely been the province of Socialism. And the German Workers Party (you may know them by another name) Manifesto has several article which are pure Socialism - Nationalisation and an all-embracing Welfare State being among them,

http://www.schoolshistory.org.uk/ASLevel_History/foundationsofthenaziparty.htm

Jan 3, 2013 at 3:37 PM | Registered Commenterjeremyp99

@an 3, 2013 at 3:01 PM | Ben Pile

Ben - indeed. So much for getting the Nanny State out of our hair, as was promised. Surely the solution is to charge those who need hospital treatment as a result of voluntary obesity (similarly for alcohol), thereby reinforcing the credo of "personal responsibility" which the last government did so much to damage?

Jan 3, 2013 at 3:39 PM | Registered Commenterjeremyp99

Mussolini is the best known leftist who became a fascist but in the UK we had our very own Oswald Mosley, who was a Labour minister just before he became a fascist.

I understand our own Tony Blair may have also had left leanings in the youth - and look where that lead ;(

Jan 3, 2013 at 3:43 PM | Unregistered Commentersteveta

Spengler's "Decline Of The West" is interesting. A hard read for one who has not read much philosophy, but his alternative view of history, philosophy and the rise and fall of cultures and civilisations is rivetting. He writes of Socialism a lot, though casts it in different masks, as it were, for different times. He did foresee (nearly 100 years back) a materialistic and controlling Socialism taking over the West around the turn of the Millennium, in tandem with a degradation of such as the arts (cue. Hirst and Emin, who are doing nothing more than digging about in the middens of art gone by) and science (cue AGW), and he holds journalism in profound contempt. He and Steiner both foresaw the savage assault on the life of the spirit undertaken by the forces of materialism and reductionism.

It's hard work, but rewarding. There is also an abridged version of the two volumes. I'm near the end of the first, will also read the second in full, but have bought the abridged version for reference and re-reading.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Decline_of_the_West

('Scuse my multiple posts. On a mental roll this avo :-) )

Jan 3, 2013 at 3:47 PM | Registered Commenterjeremyp99

McDonalds, Sainsburys, Ford Motors, among many others, don;t have a communication problem. They tell people what they've got, and people go out and buy it by the truckload. Why don;t people buy 'progressive' ideas like warmism on a similar way? Could it be that McDonalds et al have actually got something most people want? Progressives have been around for ages, have spent tons of money promoting their ideas, on top of that get vast amounts of free publicity - a page of editorial is worth a 1000 ads - etc etc, yet still can't convince enough of the people enough of the time, that their ideas are the ones to buy in to. Wonder why. And I wonder why they still think that essentially what they've got is a 'communication problem', when what they've got is clearly a crap product problem, which no amount of advertising is going to sell. I don;t think progressives much care what product, or mechanism, they use to re-cast the world in a way that suits them. So as warmism clearly isn't being snapped up by the broad masses, might they not be better off dumping it and devising something else which will sell?

Jan 3, 2013 at 3:48 PM | Unregistered Commenterbill

>>Socialism at least, is Fascism incarnate, as it is about compulsion.<<

All politics is about compulsion to a greater or lesser extent. Socialism is liberating if you happen to be at the bottom of a mine, on subsistence wages, without access to healthcare or education for your family... a fate that people were *compelled* to, and which socialism provided an answer to. The situation changed for most people, not because capitalism volunteered it. The situation is always fluid, right. That makes any attempt to find continuous historical categories a fool's errand.

Fascism emerged, similarly, for reasons particular to the early C20th, as J4R alludes to. It was violently opposed to communism, socialism and trade unions. Yet it enjoyed variously support from workers and capital -- largely to counter the growing possibility of communism. Again, trying to understand it in terms of left/right sheds no light whatsoever on what fascism was. (It means nothing today).

Equally, none of this helps us to understand what Pielke describes.

Jan 3, 2013 at 3:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

I always understood the political spectrum to be that of a circle. The extreme Left and extreme Right bring you back to much the same point.

The distinction between the two being the extreme Left embraces International Socialism, while the extreme Right embraces National Socialism.

Jan 3, 2013 at 3:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

>>I always understood the political spectrum to be that of a circle. The extreme Left and extreme Right bring you back to much the same point.<<

Political history is about ideas, situations, events and people, not about geometry and nouns.

Jan 3, 2013 at 3:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

bill

Perfect description of what has happened :)

jeremyp99

You agree with Ben Pile about the nanny state and then you say the following:

Surely the solution is to charge those who need hospital treatment as a result of voluntary obesity (similarly for alcohol), thereby reinforcing the credo of "personal responsibility"

And THAT is not the nanny state?
In my perfect world people are free to do what they like as long as they do not prevent someone else from doing the same thing. That covers everything from dangerous driving to murder, rape, burglary, financial fraud etc etc.
It should NOT be "free to do whatever they like unless they RISK preventing someone else from doing the same thing". This leaves politicians free to decide what is a risk and we now see the stupidity of that.

Jan 3, 2013 at 3:59 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Don't forget this attempt to micromanage our behaviour:

We want to monitor what people are doing and potentially give them penalties for adding pollution to the atmosphere. But policing that is quite hard work. The best way to do this kind of monitoring is from space and within the next year or so, satellites will be coming online that are capable of this.

This is from the latest issue of the BBC Focus magazine.

Jan 3, 2013 at 4:00 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

@Jan 3, 2013 at 3:59 PM | Dung

Twaddle. Dung. Utter stupidity - sorry, but it is. The nanny state is nothing to do with what I propose, which is that if people can't be bothered to look after themselves, then they should be responsible - i.e. pay -0 for their treatment. How you project the nanny state onto that, God only knows. Feel free to enlighten me. What I propose is the converse of the nanny state, in that it demands personal responsibility. Scheesh.

Jan 3, 2013 at 4:30 PM | Registered Commenterjeremyp99

@ben pile

"Socialism is liberating if you happen to be at the bottom of a mine, on subsistence wages, without access to healthcare or education for your family... a fate that people were *compelled* to, and which socialism provided an answer to. "

Really? Would you say that of the USSR? It would seem to me that history shows that Socialism makes all equal by the only means that that can be achieved, by reducing everyone to equal misery and poverty (the two months I spent in the USSR in 1968, travelling from Leningrad to the Black Sea demonstrated that in spades); all that is, bar the ruling elite. Ideally, what you suggest should happen - which is why so may of us embrace Socialism in youth - the reality would seem to be anything but.

I'm in full agreement with your final sentence, I should add.

BTW - we were in Moscow when the tanks rolled into Prague, not that we knew anything about it, though we had two Czech students who spotted us as Westerners, approach us ask us if we knew what was going on back home. Both we arrested at gun point by plain clothes whatevers, and we were warned firmly not to talk to anyone about CZ. Anyway, the headline in Pravda that day (and how I wish I had kept a copy) read "Great Victory For Soviet Diplomacy".

And - no "Ah, but the USSR wasn't Socialist" retorts, please ;->>

Jan 3, 2013 at 4:37 PM | Registered Commenterjeremyp99

In my perfect world people are free to do what they like as long as they do not prevent someone else from doing the same thing.
Jan 3, 2013 at 3:59 PM | Dung
////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

And your perfect world, Dung, means that people are free to make others pay for their irresponsibility? Hmmm.

Jan 3, 2013 at 4:39 PM | Registered Commenterjeremyp99

>> Would you say that of the USSR? <<

Of course not -- and neither would most of the people who identified themselves as 'socialist' post 1958. Events of that era caused a radical revision of left wing thought. My point was that ideas and movements are particular to their time. In particular 'fascism'. Trying to understand the ideas divorced from their circumstances is simply daft, especially if you want to say 'history shows...'.

"And - no "Ah, but the USSR wasn't Socialist" retorts",... okay, as long as you sing the praises of Nicholas II and Louis XVI.

Jan 3, 2013 at 5:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

"Events of that era caused a radical revision of left wing thought. "

Hmm. Seems to me that large sections of the Labour Party refused to come to terms with that had happened in the USSR for a very long time after 1958 - the recent echo of that being the universal praise of the Left for the loathsome Hobsbawm. As many have pointed out, had Hobsbawm taken the stand he did on Stalin, with Hitler instead, he would have received universal condemnation in his obits. Sorry - I have to disagree with you on that.

Nick II & Louis XVI? Stretching it a bit there, methinks :-)

Jan 3, 2013 at 5:10 PM | Registered Commenterjeremyp99

jeremyp99 wrote"

@ben pile

"Socialism is liberating if you happen to be at the bottom of a mine, on subsistence wages, without access to healthcare or education for your family... a fate that people were *compelled* to, and which socialism provided an answer to. "

Really? Would you say that of the USSR?

No I wouldn't say that of the USSR but I would say it of the UK. Although I am not a socialist I agree with what Ben Pile wrote and those of my ancestors and relations who were coal miners in South Wales would certainly have agreed with him.

If anyone doubts Ben Pile's words they should read about the Gresford colliery disaster in North Wales in 1934. Not only did 266 men lose their lives but afterwards when the colliery owners docked a quarter of a shift's pay from their wage packets before handing them over to their widows or other dependents on the grounds that the dead men had not completed their last shift when the disaster occurred.

78th Anniversary of The Gresford Disaster
http://www.wrexham.com/news/78th-anniversary-gresford-disaster-video-12269.html

Any normal human being is bound to acknowledge that Ben Pile had a point.

Jan 3, 2013 at 5:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

>>the recent echo of that being the universal praise of the Left for the loathsome Hobsbawm.<<

Hobsbawm was remarkable amongst the left for his refusal to abandon the communist party and orthodox Marxism, post 1956.

You lump the 'left' in with the 'labour party', Hobsbawm, the USSR, across the entire C20th! With such broad brushes, you can accuse anyone of being in the same box as anything.

>>Nick II & Louis XVI? Stretching it a bit there, methinks <<

Not at all, I make the point again that moments in history need to be understood in their context. It's hard to not sympathise with the revolutionaries of those eras. That doesn't make us card-carrying reds, socialists, or apologists for Stalin... or Hitler. We shouldn't be blackmailed against reading writers from the left... or for that matter, the right... for insights, simply because an imprecise view of history that lumps very different ideas produced over the course of centuries into two meaningless categories 'shows' us something.

It's a bit like when today's left/liberals shout 'FASCIST' at anything they don't like.

Jan 3, 2013 at 5:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

jeremyp99. do you agree with taxing people who are disqualified from getting free treatment? The nanny state is the NHS, in this instance. There is no opt-out from paying for it. Once we let the more enthusiastic frimnge of the medical profession decide who is qualfied for free treatment and who is ill through their own fault, we leave it open for them to move the dividing line at will.

NHS core principles, from their site:

The NHS was created out of the ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth. When it was launched by the then minister of health, Aneurin Bevan, on July 5 1948, it was based on three core principles:

that it meet the needs of everyone
that it be free at the point of delivery
that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay

Jan 3, 2013 at 5:41 PM | Registered Commenterrhoda

Jan 3, 2013 at 3:01 PM | Ben Pile

Yes, the trouble with this country (and elsewhere?) is that we have become a deliberative democracy where achieving consensus is all that matters and to be outside the consensus just discredits your view. Interestingly, the backlash comes from a socailist background in the form of agonism as described by Mouffe.

Jan 3, 2013 at 6:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy

Ben Pile - Yes I agree that the situation is always fluid but socialism was only liberating when the situation you describe was current. I had a Great Uncle who was on the Labour Party National Council in the 20's (was it called that then?). He wasn't a leading light but knew the likes of Atlee and others that were. Who amongst us would not have been a Labour supporter? Some maybe? But socialism as sold by NuLab has morphed into something a lot less liberating, especially for hard-working people. There is much intellectualising and a definite tendency to see central control as good and the AGW meme has played into that nicely. It is less so for parties of the right even today.

I believe my Great Uncle would have hated the current Labour movement, as would the likes of Bevan and Morrison, both of whom made speeches about the dangers of welfare dependency. Both wanted fairness for working people and a safety net against unemployment and bad health; and they railed against the work shy.

Now socialism has become an end in itself and has delivered having 50% plus of your earnings removed to be spent like water in a hugely inefficient manner. It is also now Labour policy to favour the feckless and the work shy over hard-working, relatively low-paid families. I despise these idiots with a passion, they have damaged the most, the very people they should value the most. At least even Labour supporters have begun to see the truth -

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danhodges/100194561/the-tories-are-right-labour-do-favour-those-who-arent-working-over-those-who-are-its-right-there-in-the-policies/

I am not interested in an intellectual discussion about what is left and what is right (as interesting as it has been - I have learned a lot) only what it delivers in the modern world. The LibLabCon are basically out of the same socialist mould with a colour wash put on. Every party thinks this is what people want - I think more people would like to keep there own money. As Bastiat said "the State is the great fiction where everyone endeavours to live off everyone else" and he's been dead 160 years

The beauty of BH is that we can agree to differ on our politics, but most apply a brain to the subject of Climate Change and Energy. Those who espouse the CAGW theory are often anti the human race and that appears to be a very conflicted group who certainly display behaviours of both the traditional left and right.

Jan 3, 2013 at 6:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterRetired Dave

An ecofascist today ordering us to fall silent on the subject of CAGW because we aren't climate psyentists is simply applying the Fuehrerprinzip in a modern setting.

In each case, the fascist movement in question holds the view that the consensus / Fuehrer is right and anything it / he says allows no room for debate because consensus / the Fuehrer is the ultimate authority and nothing else counts for anything.

It's no stretch at all. Environmentalism is fascism for the 1990s.

Jan 3, 2013 at 6:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

RD - >>Ben Pile - Yes I agree that the situation is always fluid but socialism was only liberating when the situation you describe was current.<<

That's my point -- sort of. You continue, rightly...

>> But socialism as sold by NuLab has morphed into something a lot less liberating, especially for hard-working people.<<

NuLab wasn't socialist. That's not a defence of either. The point being that 'socialism' just becomes an empty noun when it's being used to talk about the entire history of the Labour Party, as has been the case. The term 'socialism' doesn't help explain what's going on with the Labour Party, or the consensus between them and the others. More precisely, the real consensus is on no creed at all. If only the likes of Miliband really were as socialist as his father; that way there would be some substance behind the man, and therefore something to disagree (or agree) with.

I wrote about this here: http://www.spiked-online.com/site/article/12981/

In his speech to the Labour Party Conference earlier this month, leader Ed Miliband declared he was going to ‘do something different today’, to ‘tell you my story. I want to tell you who I am. What I believe. And why I have a deep conviction that together we can change this country.’ Such self-conscious attempts to give identity to hollow political leaders of tired political parties in empty political contests are now a ritual in British politics.

[...]

The two fundamentals of Miliband’s speech are the same as Major’s. Twenty years separate them, but both consciously eschew the socialism that we might imagine their backgrounds would make them sympathetic to. Both claim that their origins give them insight that people from more privileged backgrounds cannot develop. Both claim to be able to unite Britain. And both emphasise merely basic educational standards as the means to economic recovery. Miliband wants to offer ‘that 14-year-old who is not academic’ a ‘gold-standard vocational qualification, a new Technical Baccalaureate’, which is ‘a qualification to be proud of’. It is as if nobody had thought of it before. Yet Major said in 1996: ‘Some children will choose to learn vocational skills. I’ve had enough of people who look down on those children and treat them as second best… So practical skills are being put on an equal footing with academic subjects… The old divide between universities and polytechnics has gone.’

The observation that very little separates political leaders is not new, of course. But the motifs repeated over the past three decades of Britain’s political history are stark, and begin to offer a clue as to what might be going on.

Political contests today are about mere management styles. Blair and now Miliband sell themselves as Nice Guys, who can be trusted to Do the Right Thing, rather than as men committed to principles, ideas, or even doctrine.

Jan 3, 2013 at 7:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

Interesting comments all over. Thank you Ben, J4R, and Dung for commenting on my tuppences worth earlier. Much food for thought – thanks.

I’d like to respond just now to Ben’s assertion that the debate about fascism/communism is taking us away from Pielke Jr’s key focus.

Equally, none of this helps us to understand what Pielke describes.

[3:51PM]

I think it is more of a dramatisation of it by going to those political extremes and noting the leftwing nature of them. The term fascist is in particular both loaded and widely misused, and surely we do need to think of context to give it sharper meaning. Overall, I see it as not only that ‘the people’ must be made to share the same opinions on key topics, but also that ‘the people’ must cede great power to government to set the stage and provide ‘strong leadership’ that brooks no dissent as it sets about organising society in great detail. There seems little doubt that such sentiments can be found widely in environmentalism today, with the climate cause being still its primary vehicle for fund-raising and power-plays.

At one time, I marvelled at US politics being a system in which the two main political parties seemed hard to distinguish because they seemed to avoid ideology. While I may have been mistaken in that, the arrival and celebration of Obama by the Democrats and the mass media in the US surely removes all possible doubt that the Democrats are now ideologically explicitly on the left in some European sense of that category. Thus the politicisation of science that Pielke Jr refers to is a left-wing politicisation. The dangers and delusions of extreme leftwing politics are illustrated by the fascist/communist phenomenon, and are therefore relevant as a caution that we may have a very serious problem here at some time in the future.

Here are some relevant quotes from the Pielke Jr post:


That a call for science to demonstrate that it is not a partisan endeavor is necessary is reflective of the degree to which leading scientific institutions in the United States (and elsewhere as well) have become deeply partisan bodies.

and

An approach that critiques the president when he is a Republican and cheer-leads when he is a Democrat lends itself to more than just cynicism -- it contributes to the politicization of science policy issues which by their nature can be problematic regardless of who is in office.

and


For partisans, none of this analysis makes sense because their goal is to simply vanquish their political opponents. That science has become aligned with the Democratic party is, from where they sit, not a problem but a positive.


The new edition of Thomas Sowell’s ‘Intellectuals and Society’ arrived here in the post today, and promises to be my primary reading matter for the next few days. I looked up leftwing in the index in case he had words to say on it, and he did (under ‘Left-right dichotomy’). He notes that it is harder to define the right than the left in politics since the right is defined more by being opposed to the left, and is disparate. I note in passing that the same is true of the side called ‘sceptics’’ in the climate debate. Sowell goes on to note

‘..there is remarkably little difference between Communists and Fascists, except for rhetoric, and there is far more in common between Fascists and even the moderate left than between either of them and traditional conservatives in the American sense.’
(page 99)

Ben recently eviscerated (http://www.climate-resistance.org/2013/01/political-murder-and-environmentalism.html) the blood-lust of the Australian in Austria academic Prof Parncutt in his views about climate skeptics, but what is interesting is that a Prof of Musicology felt it acceptable to speak in the way he did way beyond his professional competencies, as well as beyond the pale of moral decency. The 10:10 fanatics were even worse with their ‘No Pressure’ movie vividly dramatising and promoting summary execution for the children of parents who did not toe the climate line. How close were and are those responsible for that outrage to the Labour party in the UK? Quite close, I would guess (anyone wanting to address that question might start with this post by Barry Woods: http://www.realclimategate.org/2010/11/climate-connections-an-alarmist-in-the-houses-of-parliament/).

There are grounds for concern over the Democratic party bias in American academia and scientific institutions. As Paul Matthews has illustrated above [1:36PM], there may be grounds for concern over the same in the UK, and as the Bish hints at with his ‘subcommittee of the Fabian Society’ quip. This has an impact on debates over issues involving science, especially when substantial parts of the mass media in both countries have a leftwing bias. Leftwing politics has led to awful regimes in the 20th century. Some pushers of alarm about climate want awful actions taken against sceptics in particular, and mankind in general. Therefore it follows that we would do well to clarify our terminology - especially what ‘left’ and ‘right’ might mean in our time, and on threats to free discussion of ideas, including ideas about the climate system and how we should respond to it. J4R points to eco-fascism. Ben points out that some on the left cry out ‘fascist’ as a general-purpose retort. I suspect it is used when and if ‘racist’ has failed to win the respectful silence and submission they seek.

I can sense Dung counting my words and syllables with dismay, so I shall stop here for the day, and get back to the wisdoms of Sowell.

Jan 3, 2013 at 7:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Justice4Rinka
Your depth of historical knowledge (and that of John Shade as well) brings something to the debate which is often lacking on threads like these. Can’t you accept that, by insisting on pinning the “fascist” label on environmentalists, you add nothing to the debate, but give our critics a tremendously useful stick with which to beat us?
Environmentalists are the last people in the world to enjoy parading in military formation through the streets and beating up their opponents in dark alleys (except in their email fanatasies, of course. And that was just one guy. And he was a scientist in a collar and tie, not a proper green treehugger).
It’s absurd that one should have to say something so banal in a discussion between intelligent people. If you would just drop your insistence on crude labelling, it would do so much to facilitate the discussion of the very important points that you make.

Jan 3, 2013 at 8:01 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

@Jan 3, 2013 at 5:41 PM | rhoda

The NHS is a fine creation. I am not sure how we will afford it in the future. No - what I am stating is that those who voluntarily damage their health through obesity or alcohol abuse should expect to pay for their care. Already obesity costs billions I believe. If we abandon the notion of personal responsibility ... we end up in the mess our society is in now. I am astonished at the reaction I so often get on this matter - if you can't or won't care for yourself, why should somebody else have to? And where does that end (answer - with the welfare state as a lifestyle).

Beveridge, I gather, initially wanted retraining camps for "malingers", when the Welfare State was initially conceived. It would seem he was thinking along the same lines as me. My ex worked for years in Job Centres in Bristol. By the time she left, fed up with being threatened and abused, she said that the 3rd generation of families were coming in, incapable of work even if they got it, and prepped by their parents in how to live on the Benny. And that was 15 years ago.

I don't know who came up with the following, but he or she had a point...

1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.

2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.

3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.

4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.

5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Jan 3, 2013 at 8:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

@Jan 3, 2013 at 7:41 PM | John Shade

Did somebody say "Agenda 21"?

Jan 3, 2013 at 8:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

@an 3, 2013 at 7:41 PM | John Shade

And thank you, for an excellent post; Ben too for his always intelligent and deep contributions.

Jan 3, 2013 at 8:10 PM | Registered Commenterjeremyp99

Paul Matthews
One can go further in defining the politics of past an present Presidents of the Royal Society. Both Nurse and Rees have characterised themselves as “Old Labour”.

John Shade:

...the politicisation of science that Pielke Jr refers to is a left-wing politicisation. The dangers and delusions of extreme leftwing politics are illustrated by the fascist/communist phenomenon...
You haven’t taken Ben Pile’s point that the political labels we are forced to use take their meaning from specific times and circumstances. Defining the politics of the Democrats as “extreme left wing” and eliding it with fascism gets us nowhere - a point similar to the one I made to Justice4Rinka above.
While I don’t agree with Ben Pile’s point that the terms left and right are becoming redundant, surely we can all agree that political discussion benefits from greater precision and differentiation between positions, not elision of each term into its opposite.

Jan 3, 2013 at 8:15 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Ever heard that expression Politics is Showbiz for Ugly People.

Well i always thought Science was Showbiz for Clever Kids.

Don't you all think its rather sad Tonight they got a new series of Celebrity Big Brother.Then the greatest scientific thinker of our time Professor Stephen Hawking is currently doing an averts where he imagines creating a Black Hole and using it to suck through the annoying Opera singer who sings Go Compare into a parallel Universe.

Brian May from Queen appearing with the late Sir Patrick Moore, Professor Brian Cox a former Brit Popper ,Mick Jagger appearing with Obama singing Sweet Home Chicago

Science ,Politics ,Rock n Roll its all showbiz in the end.
.

Jan 3, 2013 at 8:16 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

While I agree with Ben Pile that the left/right terminology of the first half of the C20th is unhelpful in discussing contemporary politics, I also think that he and others perhaps misconstrue why that is the case.

Even with comparatively advanced technology, coalminers in China's lot in life (and death) is not much better than it was in the West in the 1920s or 30s. This is a function of societal wealth, not politics. The reason that the old-fashioned version of socialism is not very useful any more in the West is that today's working class have a better standard of living than the middle class did in those times.

Without getting into the whole debate about the welfare state, the appeal of polarised economic politics has lessened as we have become wealthier, and our industries have been able to afford a cleaner, safer working environment.

As far as science is concerned, it used to be that (to the extent that they cared about politics at all), people in the 'hard' sciences were more conservative than those at the 'soft' end of the spectrum. It may be that there are proportionately far more scientists who are not primarily mathematicians, geologists, physicists, chemists etc these days. This change in the composition of the scientific workforce, combined with the heavy reliance on tapping the malaise du jour to obtain public funding, might at least partly explain the phenomenon Pielke describes.

Jan 3, 2013 at 8:56 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

@ Retired Dave

I agree with you about how the modern Labour Party differs from the old one. The old Labour Party of the inter-war period and the first two or three post-World War II decades certainly had its faults, notably in its economic policies. However it did genuinely try to represent the working class who in those days made up the majority of the British population and who had plenty of legitimate grievances.

Today the working class is much smaller but they still have some legitimate grievances. Unfortunately the Labour Party (and the Lib Dems too) is no longer interested in them. It takes them for granted. Nu-Labour is the party of middle class opportunists who, in so far as they have an ideology, promote causes that would have been anathema to most of the leaders and supporters of the old Labour Party which owed more to Methodism than to Marxism.

The Methodism has largely gone from Labour. Marxist economic theories have also largely been abandoned having been widely discredited but Marxist social ideology, i.e. the desire to control society and the worship of the state, is thriving.

Jan 3, 2013 at 9:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Johanna is right to say "Even with comparatively advanced technology, coalminers in China's lot in life (and death) is not much better than it was in the West in the 1920s or 30s. "

But that's not the whole story. The institutions and global patterns of ownership are also hugely different in 2012. Moreover, for the most part, the interests of Chinese miners are rarely represented by Western politics. The point was not simply that coal miners lives are different; that point was made to express the idea that political ideas appeal to different people in different eras for good reasons, not that seemingly bad ideas persist, unchanging throughout history.

Jan 3, 2013 at 9:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

@ John Shade

This:

The dangers and delusions of extreme leftwing politics are illustrated by the fascist/communist phenomenon, and are therefore relevant as a caution that we may have a very serious problem here at some time in the future.

Precisely. In particular, the assertion that only climate psyentists can discuss climate and that the matter is outside democracy is the Fuehrerprinzip to a tee, and chillingly so. There is a quite a good wikipedia article about it.

@ geoffchambers: I respectfully disagree; it is no use at all being nice to or about the green movement simply to preserve somehow a civilised debate with them, because they don't actually agree there should even be one. And if there is, they'll have it among themselves.

Kidding ourselves that there is a way to persuade them from their insane positions, or even that there is a point at which they will consider themselves adequately appeased, seems to me to be exactly like mistakes made by similar minded people in the 1930s.

Look at 10/10; look at that hideous Himmler-like pseudointellectual creep Parncutt; look at all the deaths from fuel poverty. That's what we're dealing with: a movement that lobbies for more children to have malaria and more old people to die of the cold. I get your point, but I think it is a mistake to presume the green movement to be fundamentally decent and well meaning.

Jan 3, 2013 at 9:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

On the fluidity of meaning of political terms mentioned by Ben Pile:
What does anyone think about the resistance put up by two Western European communist heads of state against the anti-democratic machinations of Brussels?
(That’ll keep them out of mischief for a while)

Jan 3, 2013 at 9:29 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

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