Harassing science out of existence

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, May 3, 2010 22:45 EDT
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In my new book Get Opinionated, I discuss something I learned while “debating” a right wing relative, which is that one of the talking points that’s floating out there in the right wing noise machine is that scientists who study the climate—and therefore climate change—are the real money-grubbing assholes who’ll do anything for a buck. The oil and coal industries are, of course, nothing but concerned citizens who are indifferent to profit, which is why the entire global warming denialist movement is funded by them. (I won’t give any more away; read the book for a fuller discussion of how to push back against these blatantly bad arguments.) The evidence for why climate scientists are nothing but liars who are in it for the money? The fact that scientists get research grants to do research. Yep, that’s the basis of the entire argument.

I flashed on that today when I saw this post from Mike the Mad Biologist. I can say I initially missed the story about Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli subpoenaing all of Michael Mann’s emails in an attempt to build a case that he somehow defrauded the government by demonstrating the reality of climate change. This is everything that it seems and more—an attempt to pander to right wing nuts, an attempt to scare scientists whose conclusions aren’t what right wingers want to hear, harassing someone for the sheer joy of it—but it’s also an attempt to make it harder for climate scientists to get research funding. The moral justification that Cuccinelli and his allies have created for themselves is that the funding encourages what they consider lying. The reality is that they want to cut off funding so that the evidence for a very real problem is covered up until it’s way too late.

Cuccinelli has made this obvious:

If Cuccinelli succeeds in finding a smoking gun like the purloined emails that led to the international scandal dubbed Climategate, Cuccinelli could seek the return of all the research money, legal fees, and trebled damages.

This is about making it expensive to discover facts that are inconvenient for right wingers and the corporate polluters they protect at all costs. Will they succeed? It’s hard to say. There’s almost no way there’s a “smoking gun” in the emails that Cuccinelli is subpoenaing. The emails that were leaked before caused a lot of fuss, but there wasn’t any smoking gun in them. Right wingers had to project one in by taking comments out of context and deliberately misreading jargon words to mean something they didn’t. But the reality of the situation may matter less than being able to baffle and cajole a judge or jury into not seeing the facts.

I’ve been hearing for days now a bunch of conservatives suggesting that law students should make fact-free claims about the genetic inferiority of black people without being subject to criticism, and the reason is the sanctity of free scientific inquiry. (The kind that can only be performed without scientists, evidence, or willingness to entertain the reality that the questions you’re asking have been answered and you just don’t like the answer.) I’d suggest that we start waiting expectantly for these same people to defend actual scientists who use real evidence to research issues of immediate importance, except I know that we’d be waiting until the end of time. Which may be sooner than we think, if we don’t do anything about global warming.

I’d also like to point out that Cuccinelli doesn’t just hate reality, environmentalists, scientists, and gay people. He’s also got hate in his heart for the humble female nipple. I suspect his libertarian supporters will take this into advisement and vote against someone whose basically hostility to sexual liberty has caused him to lash out against art. You know, right after Michele Bachmann renounces right wing nuttery and chooses a career of anonymous service for the underprivileged.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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