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Tilting at Windmills

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February 20, 2009

WHERE HAD SCIENCE BEEN?.... In his latest Weekly Standard piece, Fred Barnes assess President Obama's first month in office, and wouldn't you know it, he's unimpressed. Barnes' complaints vary from odd to predictable -- apparently, the president travels too much and gets along too well with congressional Democrats -- but one concern in particular stood out for me.

Obama may not be eloquent, but he is glib and clever and at times persuasive. One of his favorite rhetorical devices is setting up a straw man, then knocking it down. He invoked this classic ploy subtly in his inaugural address, crudely in his press conference. "We will restore science to its rightful place," Obama said at his inauguration. Really? Where had science been?

Let's put aside whether the president is, in fact, "eloquent." I suspect most of the planet would disagree with Barnes' assessment, but never mind.

As for where science disappeared to, if Barnes really wants to know:

More than 60 influential scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, issued a statement yesterday asserting that the Bush administration had systematically distorted scientific fact in the service of policy goals on the environment, health, biomedical research and nuclear weaponry at home and abroad.

The sweeping accusations were later discussed in a conference call organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists, an independent organization that focuses on technical issues and has often taken stands at odds with administration policy. On Wednesday, the organization also issued a 38-page report detailing its accusations.

The two documents accuse the administration of repeatedly censoring and suppressing reports by its own scientists, stacking advisory committees with unqualified political appointees, disbanding government panels that provide unwanted advice and refusing to seek any independent scientific expertise in some cases.

''Other administrations have, on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systemically nor on so wide a front,'' the statement from the scientists said, adding that they believed the administration had ''misrepresented scientific knowledge and misled the public about the implications of its policies.''

Does Barnes not know this, or is he pretending not to know this?

Steve Benen 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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Comments

Speaking of Strawmen.....

Posted by: melville on February 20, 2009 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

I just read on Huffington Post that Iran now has enough uranium to make nuclear bombs. Somewhere, Cheney is wispering to himself "Bomb those bastards! They have the ability to make something disastrous!!"

Posted by: Katie on February 20, 2009 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

Who is this Barnes to claim that President Obama is not eloquent? Barnes needs a little inspiration from my hero Jim Bowie.

Posted by: captain dan on February 20, 2009 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

Since my guess is that Barnes considers Intelligent Design science and climate change Al Gore's fantasy, I'm sure he is a little confused by Obama's insistence on actual science done by scientists.

Posted by: Personal Failure on February 20, 2009 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

Why bristle so much if the information is incorrect? Surely this cadre of nobel laureates and other highly qualified scientists would be cognizant that issuing a statement condemning BushCo's science policies that is false could hurt their reputations, credibility, and future job prospects?
Krauthammer, Barnes, Will, et.al., need to sit down and STFU. They're shills for the conservatives, and not good ones at that, and they're definitely NOT scientists, so what would make them feel remotely qualified to critique, interpret, or even understand scientific studies? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

Posted by: majii on February 20, 2009 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

FB = DB (How's that for scientific discourse)

Posted by: Scott F. on February 20, 2009 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

Fred Barnes is right. The "rightful place" of science is out in the woodshed with the rest of the field help, figuring out how to sell consumers a better-sweetened potato chip or how to get more efficient confessions from enemy combatants. Not in the rooms where decisions are made. That would be way too reality-based.

Posted by: paul on February 20, 2009 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

This is on a different subject, Rick Santelli raving about one person's taxes helping another (as in foreclosures). I wish the liberal web sites would make an issue of the billions of dollars in foreign bank accounts hidden from taxation by the wealthy Americans, as far as I am concerned we are subsidizing them with our taxes!

Posted by: JS on February 20, 2009 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

What's that old line about getting a guy to understand something when his job depends on him NOT understanding it?

Once you've risen (sunk) to Fred Barnes' level in the echo-chamber machinery, there really isn't a meaningful distinction between 'not knowing' and 'pretending to not know'. Such concepts become irrelevant in the quantum froth churning at the core of the unreality field in which they dwell.

Posted by: biggerbox on February 20, 2009 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

Irony alert: I've yet to hear anyone succssfully argue that Obama isn't eloquent, yet Barnes says "Obama may not be eloquent..." as if that were conventional wisdom. Make the laughably false comment, move on and act as if, duh, EVERYONE knows Obama's ineloquent.

Who's using the strawman, asscrackers?

Posted by: slappy magoo on February 20, 2009 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

I certainly appreciate the fact that you are reading the Weekly Standard so we don't have to, but I thought you had said after the election or the inauguration that you were going to stop reading them and/or taking them seriously.

/s

Posted by: DBaker on February 20, 2009 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

OT - re: Iran

Read past the scary headline, Katie. I saw the same headline in the FT this morning. Reading deeper into the article it turns out to be totally bogus. But good for scaring the rubes and pants wetters.

Iran has enough LOW LEVEL enhanced uranium to build one bomb IF they reconfigured their existing refining plant to do nothing for the next few years but further refine it to bomb grade. (They are way short of the number of centrifuges to go to bomb grade quickly.) Of course, that assumes they want to drop everything to get ONE bombs worth of uranium. And that nobody notices the easy to detect changes required to reconfigure the plant. Or that they manage to move the refining to some secret facility nobody knows about with a lot more centrifuges whose purchase or construction they've managed to conceal.

Posted by: Butch on February 20, 2009 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

Barnes is not noble, nor nobel.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline on February 20, 2009 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

Facts? I don't need no stinkin' facts, it's a lot more fun to just make shit up.

Conservatives: constantly redefining reality until it fits their fact-free arguments.

Posted by: zoe kentucky on February 20, 2009 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

More proof that Perle and Milbank's neocon rabbit hole (see story above) is alive and functioning.

Posted by: ericfree on February 20, 2009 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

It makes sense once you realize that Fred Barnes subscribes to the Dr. Leo Spaceman view of science.

Posted by: NS on February 20, 2009 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

I can't agree with slappy magoo more. In the very first sentence, Barnes shows he is still locked in the Bush Era of patented self delusion. Bush brought the art of self delusion to new heights. Fox News has made self delusion the bedrock of its network. The CIA has deluded itself into the business of destroying evidence in crimes, actually saying there is no reason to keep a video tape of an interrogation. Yoo and Addington deluded themselves into believing that international and American laws can be melted away with big words and doublespeak. As Vonnegut would say, "so it goes."

Posted by: Capt Kirk on February 20, 2009 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

C'mon, Barnes knows this. He simply doesn't care.

Posted by: jrw on February 20, 2009 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

I'm sure he is a little confused by Obama's insistence on actual science done by scientists.
This is the root of the problem; people like Barnes think that pundits, politicians, and theologians have an equal claim to defining "science" as actual scientists.

Posted by: qwerty on February 20, 2009 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

"Obama may not be eloquent, but he is glib and clever and at times persuasive."


Barnes' comment reminds me that Rush Limbaugh seems to keep going back to a riff on Obama not actually being that intelligent. Is it just plain racism or are these guys trying to follow Rove's "attack your enemy's strengths" tactic to a silly extreme?

Mike

Posted by: MBunge on February 20, 2009 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

This is yet another example of Republicans accusing others of their own sins. Strawmen? George Bush was the master of some of the most idiotic strawman arguments I've ever heard. Whenever he'd start a sentence with, "Some say..." you just knew that he was going to come out with some idiotic remark that nobody had ever said and nobody in their right mind ever would say.

Some examples of Bush straw men:

"There's some in America who say, 'Well, this can't be true there are still people willing to attack,"

"Some say that if you're Muslim you can't be free."

"It may seem generous and open-minded to say that everybody, on every moral issue, is equally right," Bush said, at Louisiana State University. "But that attitude can also be an excuse for sidestepping life's most important questions."

"The natural tendency for people is to say, oh, let's lay down our arms. But you can't negotiate with these people. . . . Therapy won't work."

"There's a lot of people in the world who don't believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins . . . are a different color than white can self-govern."

Posted by: JoyceH on February 20, 2009 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

I doubt it matters to Barnes that the critics are Nobel laureates, it just matters that they are critics. But I bet he weeps with joy when Bill O'Reilly mentions the Peabody award that he didn't actually get.

Posted by: TRNC on February 20, 2009 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

@ JS: as far as I am concerned we are subsidizing [the wealthy] with our taxes

Well, duh. We have been for years, most conspicuously when Bush used the Social Security surplus -- build up over years by Reagan's increase of the regressive payroll tax -- for tax cuts for the rich.

Republican policy is all about wealth transfer to the upper class -- even the term "trickle down" tacitly admits it, as the selling point that benefits will eventually reach the lower classes.

Why else would Republican scream "class warfare" every time the results of the war they've always been waging on the lower classes?

Posted by: Gregory on February 20, 2009 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Fred Barnes = truly pathetic right-wing hack.

why, oh WHY is this man still on the TeeVee?

Posted by: LL on February 20, 2009 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

Barnes: "Obama may not be eloquent, but he is glib and clever and at times persuasive...."

Here's the more honest reworking of Barnes' graf:

Barnes may not be intelligent, but he is cunning and scheming and at times utterly dishonest. One of his favorite rhetorical devices is using innuendo to smear individuals who are his moral and intellectual superiors. He invokes this classic ploy subtly in his television appearances, crudely in his remarks on Obama in his article.

"It only seems like Barack Obama has been president forever. Actually, as of today, he's been in office for exactly one month," Barnes said in his article. Really? He's accomplished so much in just one month?

Posted by: trex on February 20, 2009 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "Does Barnes not know this, or is he pretending not to know this?"

Fred Barnes is a deliberate, malicious liar.

Do you not know this, or are you pretending not to know this?

Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 20, 2009 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

JoyceH: to be fair, there were some people who said the things in the 2nd quote and the final one.

Of course, those people were mostly the ones that supported President Bush.

Posted by: tanstaafl on February 20, 2009 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

Where had science been?

The complaints are directed toward a few percent of federal spending. When California passed its famous stem-cell research initiative they found that they could not actually spend all the allocated money.

The Bush administration boosted support for alternative energy R&D, which is partly responsible for some recent good trends. The Bush administration promoted the largest expansion of stem cell research in US history. The Bush administration also created the two largest marine sanctuaries.

Obama's science policies promise to be an improvement, but hardly a revolution. The stimulus will cost so much that it will impair efforts to increase federal support for basic research.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on February 20, 2009 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

it's Fred Barnes - he just says things he thinks sound cool. I wouldn't work too hard at trying to untangle his horseshit.

Posted by: matt on February 20, 2009 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

The economic stimulus package includes $10B for the NIH alone to supplement research support over the next 2 years.

This is huge considering the total NIH annual budget is on the order of $30B.

It's amazing how much static these people are purposefully injecting into the discourse.

Posted by: Gillette on February 20, 2009 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

MatthewRMarler wrote: "The Bush administration boosted support for alternative energy R&D, which is partly responsible for some recent good trends."

The Bush administration systematically censored and suppressed the studies of the US government's own scientists that demonstrated the seriousness of the threat of anthropogenic global warming -- to the point of employing former Exxon-Mobil lobbyists to censor and rewrite scientific studies.

And that's only one area where the Bush administration censored and suppressed scientific findings that were "inconvenient" to its ultra-rich corporate backers.

Save your regurgitation of bogus dittohead talking points for the other bogus dittoheads.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 20, 2009 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Re Matthew Marler's comment: "When California passed its famous stem-cell research initiative they found that they could not actually spend all the allocated money."

That is incorrect. The stem cell agency has spent everything it has and will run out of money come next September unless it sells state bonds privately. The state has stopped selling bonds, which are virtually the only source of income for the stem cell agency. You can read more here: californiastemcellreport.blogspot.com.

Posted by: David Jensen on February 20, 2009 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

David Jensen on February 20, 2009 at 4:43 PM


Thank you for the correction. However, the goal was to support "embryonic" stem cell research, which had been restricted by Pres. Bush's famous order, and little of the money actually went to "embryonic" stem cell research. That was what I meant to write.

SecularAnimist: MatthewRMarler wrote: "The Bush administration boosted support for alternative energy R&D, which is partly responsible for some recent good trends."
...
The Bush administration systematically censored and suppressed the studies of the US government's own scientists that demonstrated the seriousness of the threat of anthropogenic global warming -- to the point of employing former Exxon-Mobil lobbyists to censor and rewrite scientific studies.

The second assertion does not contradict the first, and the first is in fact true. There has been considerable American investment in alternative energy during the last 4 years, federal, state and industrial. In today's last thread I put in a couple. I have posted plenty of them prior to today, including the occasional reference to peer-reviewed literature. I expect good things from the Obama administration, but they are building on a good federal/private record of progress.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on February 20, 2009 at 9:59 PM | PERMALINK

The 'stimulus' $$ are peanuts compared to the over $1 trillion/year we piss down the DoD/DoE toilet, not to mention the 'supplemental' funding of Bush's wars to date, along with 'war' on terror, drugs, etc.

Bush and his dupes/fellow travelers supressed and marginalized scientific research (except that which directly benefits the DoD) as anyone whose knuckles don't drag has realized by now.

I guess Marler needs to eat somehow, why not sponge up some wingnut welfare regurgitating Repig talking points on reality-based websites? Run along, whelp, back to your masters...O'Reilly needs his tongue-bath.

Posted by: don on February 20, 2009 at 10:19 PM | PERMALINK

eloquent - adj : expressing yourself readily, clearly, effectively; "able to dazzle with his facile tongue"; "silver speech" [syn: facile, fluent, silver, silver-tongued, smooth-spoken]

To quote Inigo Montoya:
"You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means."

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on February 22, 2009 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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