April 16, 2006
Around the Op-Ed Pages this Sunday
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Hodge Podge
Here are some thoughts about a number of related op-eds that I came across this Sunday morning.
From the LA Times last week (and the Boulder Daily Camera today) is an interesting op-ed by Francis Fukuyama about the perils of thoughtful public intellectualism. Here is an excerpt:
Seven weeks ago, I published my case against the Iraq war. I wrote that although I had originally advocated military intervention in Iraq, and had even signed a letter to that effect shortly after the 9/11 attacks, I had since changed my mind. . .
Of course, in such a polarized state of affairs, people reading Fukuyama’s warning will simply interpret it to mean that their opponents are the ones who are ideological and unwilling to change their minds!
Along these exact lines, the New York Times has an interesting op-ed by Daniel Giblert, a professor at Harvard, on how people use information to confirm/deny that which they already believed. Here is an excerpt:
Much of what happens in the brain is not evident to the brain itself, and thus people are better at playing these sorts of tricks on themselves than at catching themselves in the act. People realize that humans deceive themselves, of course, but they don't seem to realize that they too are human. . .
In addition, the Washington Post has a defense of nuclear power by Patrick Moore, a former Greenpeace founder who apparently became disaffected. And the NYT has an op-ed by James Lincoln Kitman, New York bureau chief for Automobile Magazine, which complains about the public’s and policy makers’ blunt endorsement of hybrid automobile technologies. Each is fairly nuanced and raises complicated points, which, if you agree with Fukuyama and Gilbert, may be more likely to be spun as wedge devices in ideological battles among people whose views are hardened irrespective of data or argument, rather than considered on their intellectual merits. For my part, I do think that argumentation matters and that many people are open to new information, analysis, and the related evolution of their thinking on policy issues. But this probably does not fully extend to many of the loudest, most certain, and strident commentators that sometimes seem to dominate public debates.Posted on April 16, 2006 08:40 AM
Along these lines, there was a recent National Journal Congressional Insiders Poll about about AGW (I just became aware of it today thanks to a colleague). I've posted the PDF on my web page, since I couldn't quickly find a link to the original.
The poll asks two questions, one about science, and one about various energy and emissions-related policy options. One take-home message of course is be the sharp partisan difference on what the science says about AGW. What constitutes the "scientific facts" is conditioned by your particular frame.
Looking a little more closely, two additional points jump out at me:
1. As far as the first poll question is concerned (the science question), the democrats are much more certain and unified. Compare percentages (98% vs. 77%) and also confident and/or aggressive language (e.g., "beyond a shadow of a doubt," "no controversy," oil and coal-industry funded scientists, etc., vs. "respected scientists from both sides of the issue," and "a preponderance of evidence in this [presumably human cause of GW] direction"). This is perhaps consistent with the Frank Luntz observations that the window of opportunity to dispute the science (for better or for worse) appears to be closing.
2. When we switch to the second poll question (the policy options question), we find a lot of shared values and room for compromise. For example, increased spending on alternative fuels has very broad support, and it looks like there might also be enough political will to move on higher fuel efficiency standards, whereas a higher gasoline tax appears to be off the radar of both sides for the moment. Roger, I can picture you saying that when you focus on options, and in particular put lots of them on the table, you are likely to identify points of agreement even in an extremely polarized debate. Then you can craft strategies based on this commonality.
Posted by: Chris Weaver at April 17, 2006 10:00 AM