One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other

There’s a children’s jingle/question that keeps popping into my head: “one of these things is not like the other.” It is a common lead-in to exercises encouraging children to distinguish between shapes, colors, etc.

If the Coronavirus has demonstrated anything, it is that Republicans can’t tell one thing from another.

Trump’s inability to tell the difference between science and superstition (let alone fact and fiction) is a given, but when it comes to science, the entire GOP has demonstrated cognitive dissonance and an astonishing capacity for incoherence.

Anyone who has followed what passes for Republican policy these days can give numerous examples of ways the party has rejected science. A May column in the New York Times by Michelle Goldberg was titled “We’re All Casualties of Trump’s War on Coronavirus Science.” She enumerated the multiple attacks on medical science and scientists by Trump and the dimmer bulbs in the GOP’s Congressional delegation.

The column began by referring to a 60 minutes investigation into the abrupt termination of an NIH grant to the EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit research organization focused on emerging pandemics.

The reason, as “60 Minutes” reported on Sunday evening, was a conspiracy theory spread by Representative Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican who in March wore a gas mask on the House floor to mock concern about the new coronavirus. On April 14, Gaetz appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show and claimed that the N.I.H. grant went to the Wuhan Institute, which Gaetz intimated might have been the source of the virus — the institute may have “birthed a monster,” in his words.

The first of Gaetz’s claims was flatly false, and the second unlikely; the C.I.A. has reportedly found no evidence of a link between the virus and the Wuhan lab.

True, Trump’s ignorance of and contempt for science has consistently undermined the country’s coronavirus response. But as Goldberg points out, his is just an extreme example of a longstanding anti-science bias on the part of conservatives. Republicans have tried to keep science classes from teaching evolution; they’ve objected to NIH or other government funding for stem cell research; and their dismissal of climate change has been a national embarrassment since well before Trump took the party down crazy lane. Goldberg attributes this hostility to a combination of factors, including populist distrust of experts, religious rejection of information inconsistent with biblical literalism, and efforts by corporations to protect their bottom lines.

Until recently, it seemed as if Trump’s sabotage of efforts to combat climate change would be the most destructive legacy of his disregard for science. But the coronavirus has presented the country with an emergency that only sound science can solve. That means that the Trump administration’s disdain for expertise, its elevation of slavish loyalty over technical competence, has become a more immediate threat.

Since Goldberg’s column, the administration’s response to the pandemic has only gotten worse. But that, ironically, is where the cognitive dissonance comes in.

The President whose Magical Thinking veers from promises that the virus will “just disappear” to suggestions that drinking bleach might protect you (in all fairness, it might; dead people don’t get sick), is counting on real scientists to produce a vaccine. Quickly. There are predictions that announcement of such a breakthrough will be the election’s “October surprise.”

Given the collective brainpower of a GOP base that equates refusal to wear a mask with patriotism, it will be interesting to see the response of those “patriots” to a genuine eventual vaccine. Will the know-nothings of a political party that pooh-poohs climate change and conducts a vendetta against “smarty-pants elitists” (i.e., scientists who actually know what they are talking about) nevertheless line up to take advantage of a product of medical science?

The Neanderthals rejecting science and expertise all seem willing to drive cars and use IPhones and computers and other products of science and technology. When it comes to medical science, most apparently do have doctors–and if TV advertising is any indication, they’re part of a robust market for all sorts of medications.

One of these things is not like the other……


Oh Wisconsin….

And the hits keep coming…

It’s bad enough that every day brings a new outrage from those a reader of this blog aptly dubbed “the four horsemen of the apocalypse” –Trump, Pence, McConnell and Ryan. What is even more depressing at a time when our hopes for sanity lie with local resistance to the anti-intellectualism, self-dealing and demagoguery in Washington is news of similarly destructive behavior by state-level fools and toadies.

Remember Wisconsin’s Scott Walker? A perfect contemporary Republican–a corrupt lackey of big money, antagonistic to education, dismissive of science? Of course you do.

When I read a friend’s post to the effect that Wisconsin’s DNR webpage had been scrubbed clean of all uses of the word “climate”–and altered to imply a lack of scientific consensus about anthropogenic global warming–I checked with Snopes.

Turned out to be true.

In a 26 December 2016 op-ed published by the digital newspaper Urban Milwaukee, environmental writer James Rowen reported that a section of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) web site, originally titled “Climate Change and Wisconsin’s Great Lake,” had been substantially altered:

Gone are references to known “human activities” contributing to a warming planet, warming’s contributions to changes in rainfall and snowfall patterns, extreme weather events, drought, species and economic losses are among other truths whitewashed off this official, taxpayer-financed website.

Snopes reproduced the former text, which had accurately reported the relevant science, and that which replaced it; the new language says that reasons for changing conditions “are being debated and researched by academic entities outside the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.”

Responding to our request for comment, Wisconsin DNR Communications Director James F Dick stated that their office’s official position is that the science is not settled and that the page was updated to reflect this view.

Of course, the science is settled. As Snopes concludes,

The overwhelming scientific consensus from the climatological community is that the climate is indeed warming and that human activity is contributing to that process.

Here’s what mystifies me: if the settled science is right, and we do not act, we will face massive planetary devastation. If the settled science is wrong, and we do act, the worst thing that will happen is we’ll get cleaner air and water, and cheaper and more renewable energy.

This doesn’t seem like a difficult choice.

Oh yes– fossil fuel companies will make less money. But I’m sure that has nothing to do with climate change denial….

When the history of this era is written–assuming there are survivors left to write that history–it will undoubtedly be called “the age of insanity.”