Laurie Oakes is one of Australia’s most respected and experienced political journalists. He recently published a rather refreshing and interesting article in the Herald Sun about the just how poisonous the political debate is in the US and how this is fuelled by what he terms “craziness”:
“WINGNUTS – people on the lunatic fringe of politics – are winning in America. A new poll just about puts it beyond doubt. Released a few days ago, it shows that 40 per cent of Americans believe Barack Obama is a socialist, a third think he’s Muslim, three out of 10 fear he “wants to turn over the sovereignty of the US to a one-world government”, and 14 per cent agree that the President “may be the anti-Christ”.
Can a whole country go crazy?
It makes you wonder. Australians, thank goodness, are still pretty sane when it comes to politics. Plenty of us are unimpressed by Kevin Rudd or have less-than-flattering views of Tony Abbott, but we don’t go overboard. We can still have a civilised and relatively civil political discourse in this country. It is important we keep it that way… The debate over health reform here and in the US gives a good indication of how fortunate we are, but it also provides a warning of what could happen if we are not careful.”
He warns against our own political debate becoming “infected” by this same disease. What is that this grab bag of opinions have in common?
A conspiratorial world view.
Oakes did not cite those percentages of belief for those other fantasists: the creationists and climate change denialists. If you look at the percentages of people in the US who believe that evolution is “not true” (at least 25% deny it and 36% are not sure according to this Gallop poll) and those who believe global warming is due to natural causes (see 46% according to this Gallop poll) you will see that many in the US have an issue with understanding science.
This alone does not prove anything. So let’s have a look at the Gallop poll related to climate change. It asks respondents if there is a scientific consensus on whether or not global warming can be attributed to human activity:
“Since last fall, there have been widespread news accounts of allegations of errors in scientific reports on global warming and alleged attempts by some scientists to doctor the global warming record. These news reports may well have caused some Americans to re-evaluate the scientific consensus on global warming. Roughly half of Americans now say that “most scientists believe that global warming is occurring,” down from 65% in recent years. The dominant opposing thesis, held by 36% of Americans, is that scientists are unsure about global warming. An additional 10% say most scientists believe global warming is not occurring…”
As far as the scientific consensus goes its pretty much unanimous. However many people now believe scientists either overstate it’s importance or are actively fabricating data to make it look like it’s happening.
Indeed, this is the very craziness that Oakes is referring too.
When a large percentage of your electorate believes scientists and politicians are actively conspiring to fabricate data and mislead the world about the reality of AGW you know you have a real problem.
Our net importers of craziness: denialist bloggers
Our local denial movement does not just metaphorically import the craziness, it does so literally by circulating recycled “denialist literature” from the larger providers of this material.
The US is very much the homeland of climate change denial. Most of the large think tanks associated with funding and publishing denialist propaganda can be found in the US, while the movements most prominent members are mostly North American. This includes such luminaries of the denial movement as Republican Senator James Inhofe and blogger Anthony Watts (of “Watts up with that?”).
Thanks to the Internet the quality of the debate in the US around climate change directly impacts our own conversations. Indeed, our local denial movement is dependent on these materials to populate content on their own blogs and web sites.
They “import” these material from blogs such as “Watts up with that?” (WUWT) and republish them as authoratative discussion on “the science”. A few mouse clicks, some copying and pasting and “hep presto” instant denial.
Oakes in his article notes the effect (some) bloggers are having on the quality of political debate in the US, though the same applies to many other deabtes:
“George W’s father, former president George H. W. Bush, spoke out last year in condemnation of attempts to demonise Obama. The President, he said, was “entitled to civil treatment and intellectual honesty when it comes to critics”. Bush Sr added: “People ought to be civil. I worry about yelling at people and this yelling mentality that seems to accompany presidents.” No one listened. Perhaps they just didn’t hear him above the yelling of the talkback ranters, the self-righteous cable TV egomaniacs and the bitter bloggers…”
Thus, Oakes article could also be read as a shot across the bow of deniers such as the Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt. Of course Bolt recognises this and takes a few swipes at Oakes here, ending his article with the fine words:
“…In short, Oakes’ column is a self-pleasuring fantasy, produced by the very kind of tactics he condemns.”
Naturally it escapes Andrew’s attention that he is engaging in the very thing Oakes warns us about.
How to import the craziness: copy and paste
Bolt’s blog is the main clearing house for denialist propaganda in Australia. With his blog registering millions of hits, Bolt is one of our biggest “net importers” of this denialist material.
Bolt frequently republishes material from Roy Spencer, the creationist who also disputes the evidence for climate change. However most posts by Bolt related to climate change are simply republished blog entries from WUWT? one of the worlds largest “denialist blogs”.
Don’t believe me?
Have a look.
Importing the craziness: the evidence
Let’s have a look at a recent climate related blog post by Bolt posted on March 28. Note the topic and image:
Now, let’s look at post on WUWT that was posted on March 26. Again, note the text and the image:
Both posts relate to the effects of global warming on England’s climate. Both use the same image and have near identical wording.
I’ve noted that generally there is one to two days lag between what appears on WUWT and the material republished on Bolt’s blog. Its safe to say that a large percentage of Andrew Bolt’s “writing” (and let me emphasis those scare quotes) on climate change is simply republished WUWT posts with some paraphrasing.
No wonder Andrew Bolt was upset with Oakes comments, he knows exactly the issue our most respected political commentator is referring too.
I’ll end this post by quoting Oakes directly:
The language in our political discussion is becoming harsher and more alarmist. The quality of debate is declining. Partisan hostility is growing.
We should not forget that the wing nuts are waiting.