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A Coda on Closure

April 22nd, 2010 · 132 Comments

epistemicclosureOver the past couple of weeks, a pair of posts I wrote about what I dubbed “epistemic closure” on the right kicked off a surprisingly broad set of conversations and debates—mostly, I suspect, because it slapped a name on a phenomenon that a lot of people already recognized, and which many conservatives were themselves feeling increasingly uneasy about.  Since so many smart folks took up and tried to elaborate on the idea, I figure it behooves me to try to round up some of those responses and see if I have anything useful to add.

First, just for the sake of clarity: When I initially dropped the term (apparently subconsciously borrowed from my undergrad philosophy days, where it has an unrelated technical meaning) the particular phenomenon I had in mind was rather narrower than the full range of issues people have been discussing under that rubric. What I had meant to describe specifically was the construction of a full-blown alternative media ecosystem, which has been become more self-sufficient and self-contained as it’s become more interconnected. There is, I argued, reason to think that more consciously conservative news outlets could serve as a valuable counterweight to a professional class of journalists who largely self-identify as liberals. But in practice, I believe, it has instead become worryingly untethered from reality as the impetus to satisfy the demand for  red meat overtakes any motivation to report accurately. That does not mean conservatives are completely cut off from outside information—as David Brooks notes today, research suggests that frequent visitors to partisan sites are actually more likely to also visit “the enemy”—but it tends to be approached in roughly the same spirit we might read the Korean Central News Agency. The press are no longer seen as even biased refs in the public debate, but as members of one team or another in a conflict whose only referee is victory.

Also, perhaps slightly less obviously, the “closure” I’m talking about is above all a collective or systemic property, not a property of individuals: It is not primarily about the propensity of conservative persons to be “closed-minded” or “dogmicatically rigid” or anything like that.  I wasn’t really trying to coin a phrase in the original post, but this was part of my rationale for not going with these more familiar terms. Closure is the universal tendency toward confirmation bias plus a sufficiently large array of multimedia conservative outlets to constitute a complete media counterculture, plus an overbroad ideological justification for treating mainstream output as intrinsically suspect. Nor, as Jon Chait and Jonathan Bernstein stress, was I making a point about a lack of “new ideas” on the right or even a general lack of intellectual diversity—at least until the internal disagreement begins spilling over into the mainstream and threatening the boundary between mediaspheres.  (Fierce debate in the pages of National Review might be OK—though as Jim Manzi demonstrates, there are limits—but the ultimate sin is taking your criticisms to CNN or NPR. You don’t talk smack about family outside the family.)

These are related and interesting topics, but my use of the term was focused on the way the conservative mediasphere is increasingly able to resist incursions from the “MSM” narrative and picture of reality. Sometimes this results in a skewed perception of the importance of a story—the obsession with ACORN or the idea that the “Climategate” e-mails were some kind of game changer in the larger AGW debate. At its worst, it manifests as a willingness to hold and circulate factually false beliefs that a simple search ought to explode.

As a few folks have objected, I don’t really make any attempt to “prove” that the right is worse on this front right now.  I think many of the responses from the right, even where they disagree on various points, bear out the broad intuition that this is a real phenomenon and a problem. Nobody’s saying: “What on earth could he be talking about?” I could marshal a tedious list of examples, but they’d be redundant for people who already see the problem, and probably unpersuasive to people who don’t—especially if they happen to hold some of the beliefs in question. Still, just as a brief refresher, recall that over the past two years, the movement’s flagship publications and most prominent pundits have found it urgent to discuss: Bill Ayers’ potential authorship of Obama’s memoir, the looming threat of death panels, the president’s crypto-Islamic background and allegiances, his attempt to create a “private army” via the health care bill, his desire to see America come to ruin, the imagined racism of Sonia Sotomayor… I could go on, and others could try to compose a list of equally nutty notions in circulation on the left to show it’s just as bad on the other side, and presumably still others could argue earnestly that one or more of these are actually Very Serious Issues after all. It would be a spectacular waste of time and change nobody’s mind. So I won’t bother, because no enumeration in the span of a blog post will, or really should, outweigh the general impression an attentive person will have already formed from observation of the media landscape.

If you  think this is all crazy talk and don’t see a problem, the rest of this is probably not very interesting. But since it seems like a fair number of people do see something awry, it may be worth going ahead and asking what happened and what it would take to correct course. It might be useful even if you also think the left is bad too, or has historically been worse, and bears some responsibility for the conservative reaction. (Cue Jack Nicholson’s Joker: “You IDIOT! You made me. Remember?”)  God knows nobody’s more epistemically closed than the claque of collegiate Marxists who won’t trust a word in the corporate press. Sidney Hook was probably a smug jerk. But that’s not really on point. I’m not broaching this because I want to hold a contest for history’s most awesome and open-minded ideology; progressivism does not win the Internets if people talk about their concerns with the intellectual climate on the right.

It’s fair to ask why a libertarian would burn cycles on this when it’s the left that’s high in the saddle, growing government and guarding the executive’s prerogatives as zealously as Bush ever did. The answer is that, while I’ve never called myself a conservative, I’d like there to be a functioning opposition to that—an opposition that’s capable of governing if it gets good enough at opposing. I think Ramesh Ponnuru nails it in a videoblog with Jon Chait: A closed right stops being concerned with persuading  outsiders by serious argument and contents itself with revving up the base.

Consider the reaction to Jim Manzi, who took up Ross Douthat’s challenge:

Conservative domestic policy would be in better shape if conservative magazines and conservative columnists were more willing to call out Republican politicians (and, to a lesser extent, conservative entertainers) for offering bromides instead of substance, and for pandering instead of grappling with real policy questions.

Manzi answered the call with a scathing analysis of Mark Levin’s pop-con bestseller Liberty and Tyranny, in particular a shallow chapter on climate change that can only be called an insult to the reader’s intelligence:

I get that people often want comfort food when they read. Fair enough. But if you’re someone who read this book in order to help you form an honest opinion about global warming, then you were suckered. Liberty and Tyranny does not present a reasoned overview of the global warming debate; it doesn’t even present a reasoned argument for a specific point of view, other than that of willful ignorance. This section of the book is an almost perfect example of epistemic closure.

Cue apoplexy.  This response from RedState may be my favorite:

Mark recognizes that when you are at war, while it is important to get facts right (and I think Mark did a darned fine job sourcing his book, giving you the chance to criticize it), it is also important to inspire the troops and to do so by distilling the realities of the fight into useful information. I frankly don’t know if every statistic in Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative was correct or not. Nor do I know if every statistic or number in Reagan’s A Time For Choosing speech in 1964 was correct. I DON’T CARE. I know the facts were in the ballpark, and more importantly, the principles were timeless and correct. I have read Mark’s book, and I know a little about the topics in question – and it’s a good book, with good citations and a lot of good facts.

Nope, no problem here. Why fuss about the quality of arguments when you already know you’re on “Team Levin”? Except, of course, that folks not already on Team Levin may take greater exception to being treated as uncritical dunces by the movement’s opinion leaders, even if those who are on the team accept the condescension as a sign of affection.

So how’d we get here?  I’ve laid out some of my thoughts already. Matt Yglesias suggests that the left is less prone to systemic closure because it’s more of a patchwork of interest groups.  There may be something to that, but I think it’s common for partisans on both sides to think of the opposition as far more unified and ideologically coherent than they really are, and in any event, I don’t know if this works as an account of why the problem seems to have gotten worse lately. Noah Millman had a long and thoughtful post that I won’t really try to summarize, because it really demands to be read in full. But I will just quote the most fatalistic of the explanations, a sort of cyclical “all this has happened before, all of it will happen again” theory:

To a considerable extent, the life cycle of movements derives from the life cycle of the people who grow up within those movements. Young conservatives in the late 1980s and early 1990s saw their movement go from strength to strength – and learned that conservatism was always right and that people who didn’t see that were fools. These same folks in the Bush years tutored their successors in appalling intellectual tactics: bullying and sophistry and identity politics. By contrast, the generation of liberals who came of age in the Bush years had to weather that bullying, had to cut through that sophistry – and were vindicated by events. I am continually impressed by the intelligence and sophistication of liberals ten years younger than I am. They are the leaders of tomorrow’s left even more than today’s, and the right is just not in the same league. It was, once, in 1960s and 1970s, when left-wing ideas were dominant and left-wingers intellectually complacent – even as their intellectual roof was falling in. The bright young things who saw that the roof was falling in, and who debated what their new home should look like, became the rising generation of conservative leaders.

Fatalistic, but also reassuring in a way. I’m under no illusions that all this discussion has sprung up because my original posts were saying something earthshatteringly insightful; this was obviously something there was a measure of latent (and sometimes not so latent) discomfort with on the right already. And while it’s easy for me to snipe like Waldorf and Statler from the libertarian balcony, it takes some chutzpah for the folks within the movement to start openly allowing that the trend to closure is unhealthy, and begin talking about rolling it back. Maybe we’re starting to see that correction already—though it’ll take a while, and sustained effort, to make the cracks in the wall resemble a door.

Update: Conor Friedersdorf and Ross Douthat propose that it would help if the right could just be up front about the difference between base-servicing conservative entertainment and serious intellectual work—though Conor thinks it’s unlikely. Jon Stewart, incidentally, has some funny (and musical!) thoughts on the distinction, and on the asymmetry between mainstream liberal reporting and the conservative counterestablishment:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Bernie Goldberg Fires Back
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Update II: As a writer at the Corner notes, the technical meaning “epistemic closure” has in the philosophy of logic really has nothing to do with what we’ve been talking about these last couple weeks. Presumably it was in the back of my head somewhere when I posted, but I had no intention of referencing that technical sense, and any attempt to link them is just going to yield confusion. As I mention above, I don’t think it would be preferable to simply use “closed-mindedness,” because that’s not really what I meant either, and I don’t want to confuse a group phenomenon with an individual disposition. So much as I, too, am getting a bit sick of the phrase, I figure I’ll stick with “epistemic closure” and assume any logicians who happen by will divine readily enough that we’re not using it in the technical sense.

Update III: Actually, come to think of it, there’s a sense in which “epistemic closure” is not only  distinct from individual “closed-mindedness” but almost its opposite.  To be closed minded is to be unwilling to consider new ideas. But folks in the conservative media bubble often wind up far too willing to entertain all sorts of outlandish new ideas—provided they come from the universe of trusted sources.

Tags: Journalism & the Media · Sociology


       

 

132 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Freddie // Apr 22, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    God knows nobody’s more epistemically closed than the claque of collegiate Marxists who won’t trust a word in the corporate press.

    Tell me if any of this is unfair: this is unsupported by any evidence, which you consider to be a problem at least worth mentioning when you are discussing conservatives, but not when discussing collegiate Marxists; it’s clearly a sop to the idea of balance, rather than an actual extension of same, whatever that might mean; it comes from someone without day-to-day interaction with collegiate Marxists, and so lacks even the support of anecdotal evidence; and in general contributes to the notion that, whatever the internal disagreements within the broader public discourse, there are groups that are always worthy of outright dismissal and essentialism, and among them certainly includes academics and the socialist left to which I belong.

    Fair? I’m asking genuinely.

  • 2 Julian Sanchez // Apr 22, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    I had plenty of exposure to collegiate Marxists at NYU; maybe they’re better these days.

  • 3 Brian Moore // Apr 22, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Thanks for the link!

    “The answer is that, while I’ve never called myself a conservative, I’d like there to be a functioning opposition to that—an opposition that’s capable of governing if it gets good enough at opposing.”

    I think that’s a great idea — I’ve always liked the idea of people policing their own. But, like the example of the family you mention, to what extent is this internal affairs audit taken in good faith by third parties?

    I’d guess it’s impossible to really measure, but is the response to conservative epistemic closure more “…and that’s why their ideas are stupid, and we shouldn’t ever listen to them!” or “… and here’s how we can fix that, to make them a more honest opposition.”? I get the feeling, especially from reading some sources, that it’s the former — because they are opposed to conservatives, whether they’re open-minded or not.

    It’s also scary to me to see, say, Andrew Sullivan getting on this “closure” bandwagon. If the goal here truly is to get conservatives the to where they need to govern responsibly whenever the pendulum of public opinion swings their way, then his labeling of himself and people like David Frum (!) as the “sane, non-closed” conservatives is extremely disheartening. If this sanity and open-mindedness produces the Iraq war, the healthcare bill, no spending cuts, and a VAT, then it’s hard for me to get excited about what other great ideas they’ll have when they’re back in power. And it leads me to think that if Republicans, no matter how much I dislike them, win in November and we get some divided government, their epistemic closure might result in (marginally) better results.

    It also leads me to think that for those of us who have a beef with both Democrats and Republicans, the problem is an antipathy towards good ideas in general, whether for closure reasons or just ideology. And the solution is to advocate those good ideas as much as possible.

    “And while it’s easy for me to snipe like Waldorf and Statler from the libertarian balcony, it takes some chutzpah for the folks within the movement to start openly allowing that the trend to closure is unhealthy”

    Since I guess I’m on record as in the muppet sniper faction, I’ll also definitely agree here too — I have a ton of respect for Conor F. and Jim Manzi’s attempt to deal with the problem. It’s why I read their stuff, and not Mark Levin, though I have them to blame for what small familiarity I have with the guy.

  • 4 Jamie // Apr 22, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    I realize this is running down a rabbit hole, and in general, I want to offer a virtual standing ovation of one for this series of posts – very sharp analysis, high quality writing, and a wonderful catalyst.

    Anyway…

    College Marxists are interesting… why? A small minority on campus (at least on mine – a very lefty member of the lefty small liberal arts schools – it was) and after graduation, maybe one of those in 100 manages to survive a couple of years of contact with reality and keep the faith.

    May as well discuss the epistemic closure of EST survivor groups. Which is very real – I used to have a cow orker who was a former EST brainwash-ee. It just seems completely irrelevant.

  • 5 Freddie // Apr 22, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    It just seems completely irrelevant.

    As irrelevant as the “once I was a teenaged leftist” narrative that is so tired to everyone, and yet which people seem so insistent on rehashing again and again?

  • 6 Daniel // Apr 22, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Freddie, I don’t think that Julian’s observation (which I agree with, having had friends who fit the description) is necessarily essentializing. To the contrary, it’s incidental. A bizarre byproduct of the rejection of mainstream/corporate media outlets (and not in the faux way conservatives do it) is that whatever (much) more legitimate aspects they have, they end up in the same position of the white supremacist who won’t listen to anything the Jew-media tells him. Obviously the alternative world the white supremacist lives in is worse, no comparison was intended.

  • 7 Daniel // Apr 22, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    As to that “faux” above, I don’t think conservatives actually are “closed off” from sources like the Washington Post/NY Times, I think it’s more correct to say that the information coming out of those sources gets instantly filtered/spun so what reaches the conservative political sphere is a transformed subset of the more widely-agreed on reality. They don’t live in an alternate world, they live in a fun house version of the real world.

  • 8 Pithlord // Apr 22, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    Freddie, are you seriously claiming the Spartacist League is all about critical thought?

  • 9 Pithlord // Apr 22, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Seriously, though, epistemic closure (as opposed to mere confirmation bias, which is universal) is latent in any thought-system which combines a more-or-less radical critique of the mainstream with a sociological theory of belief formation. Once you have both of those, you can always explain why people don’t agree with you (cocktail parties, hegemony of bourgeois ideology).

    The trouble is that we have good reason to think that sociological theories of belief formation are correct and so are at least some radical critiques of mainstream thought. After all, we are all sectarian radicals about the mainstream beliefs of the past.

  • 10 jre // Apr 22, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    Julian, I think you should commission a Greasemonkey script that just plugs Pithlord’s comments in as footnotes.

    I’d like to add that, for any given radical-critique-plus-sociological-theory, you will certainly find some group signed up to it, making the answer to Freddie’s comment easy, but not terribly interesting.

    What is interesting is the body of stats suggesting that a significant number of self-identified conservatives have now retreated into a kind of ideological Amish community that was cute as long as it was small, and their pesky carriages only blocked the right lane.

  • 11 Freddie // Apr 22, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Nope, no closure around here, boys. Enjoy your committee meeting.

  • 12 L.N. Smithee // Apr 22, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    I have much, much more to state than I have time to type at the moment, so I will just say this for now about your supplementing your points with the Daily Show video telling Fox News Channel to “Go F— Yourself”; Stewart asserts that the news media is only marginally liberally-slanted and that FNC is a “crazy overreaction” to that bias (“You are the lupus of news”).

    Really?

    The viewing audience of FNC averages roughly
    three million on a daily basis. That is far more than any other cable news outlet, but just a fraction of the total amount of daily consumers of news from ABC, CBS, and NBC’s news operations on television and radio, not to mention major newspapers in major metropoleis such as New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, etc. There is nobody who would argue that Barack Obama was treated unfairly by the MSM (yes, I’m using the term), and he himself doesn’t shy away from acknowledging that fact.

    There are three hundred million people in the United States of America. Fewer than 4% of them are Fox News watchers. 52% of those who voted in 2008 put a profoundly liberal black man in the White House. But Stewart is so incensed by Fox News (and the long-standing criticism of leftist bias by former CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg) that he’s dedicated two out of the last five Daily Shows to dropping the F-bomb on Fox.

    So, tell me, Julian — who’s the one with the “crazy overreaction”?

  • 13 John Thacker // Apr 22, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    So if I understand it, Julian, when the posters at National Review all agree, that’s a sign of closemindedness and not getting out enough. On the other hand, when they loudly disagree, that’s somehow also a sign of closemindedness.

    Strange logic you have.

  • 14 K. Chen // Apr 22, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    Not to get you in more trouble, but what do you think of the tendency for conservative alternatives that aren’t just media groups. I mean things like the American College of Pediatricians, or the 60 plus organizations, or God forbid, a conservative counterpoint to the APA or something. Is it the same problem?

  • 15 thehova // Apr 22, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    I do think the term “epistemic closure” is really pretentious.

  • 16 mscharf // Apr 22, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    @john thacker: here’s the thing. if a group generally agrees about matters of substance and instances of disgreement are met not with substantive arguments but with “how dare you argue with him/her/us/me,” then such disagreement does not refute the claim of epistemic closure.

  • 17 Ming // Apr 22, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    I very much agree with Julian that the “right” is in a nonsensical echo chamber. I wonder if to improve the situation, it will be necessary to focus on the “epistemic closure” that exists, separately, on both the left and the right. It seems that Fox News is the “I hate Obama” channel, while MSNBC is the “I hate Republicans” channel. Both sides have their “red meta” positions. When was the last time you heard a “liberal” complain about Muslim female genital mutilation? When was the last time you heard a “conservative” say anything nice about President Obama? Both sides have their “third rails”, their hypnotic entertainment. And as someone with no political connections, just watching all this from the viewpoint of an ordinary American who is a bit worried about the future, I find the epistemic closure on both sides to be quite scary.

  • 18 Close Your Mind And The Rest Will Follow « Around The Sphere // Apr 22, 2010 at 7:50 pm

    [...] #8: More Sanchez Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)It Has That Nixon/Kennedy Smell To ItThe First [...]

  • 19 rob // Apr 22, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    jre, Greasemonkey works client-side. Using it to insert Pithlord’s comments as footnotes would require all of a.) the user’s browser being Firefox, b.) having the Greasemonkey extension installed, and c.) running the commissioned GM script.

    It wouldn’t work. Although I must point out that I might be epistemically closed up about this subject: I hates the javascript. :-/

  • 20 Ming // Apr 22, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    One example I find especially interesting is the current Iranian popular revolution / uprising. While the Iranian people should be inspiring the entire world, both liberals and conservatives seem not to want to say very much about it. Conservatives don’t want to say nice things about the young Iranian heroes, because they’re, well, Muslim. Liberals don’t seem eager to champion people who are opposed to Ahmadinejad, who is, after all, the number-one threat to Israel. Of course, pundits from both sides have occassionally spoken about the Green Revolution since it got started last June 12. But it seems to me that the Green Revolution has not received nearly enough media prominence.

  • 21 Texas Aggie // Apr 22, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    Something that I feel is important in this discussion but which I haven’t seen raised is the distinction between acting on belief in a dogma and acting on evidence. In other words, are you faith based or evidence based in your attitudes? Listening to the leaders of the right wing from the neocons who just “knew” that we would be welcomed with open arms and kisses in Iraq to Palin/Beck/Limbaugh I don’t get the idea that they order their thinking around the facts on the ground. Remember the Downing Street papers where the intelligence was being fixed around the policy? Remember Rove saying that they make their own reality? Did you see the recent tea party where everyone was calling global warming bull$hit? These people are all movers and shakers within the right wing establishment, but their whole thought pattern is faith rather than evidence.

    I don’t see any of that on the left except for the very fringes. Every piece of legislation that has come out in the last year has been “tainted” by reality whether or not reality met left wing values. Instead, although they may not have liked it, the left wing has placed reality above their dogma. The same can’t be said for the right wing.

    This phenomenon of faith vs. evidence is played out on many fields associated with the left/right political movements. On the right we have the creationists and the climate denialists basing their arguments essentially on faith. We have McConnell trying to argue that the financial reform bill will perpetuate bailouts, taking this position even before the bill was written. On the left we have the people who realized that a public option wasn’t going to be worth a whole lot unless everyone was eligible to chose it if they wanted. So they went along with dropping what was a formerly solid plank in the left wing dogma. On the right we have the fundamentalist Christians who consider science to be a bad word. The reason that a large majority of scientists are more on the left than the right is that they are trained to accept evidence and change their “faith” accordingly rather than to shape the evidence around their faith.

    As long as this situation prevails, the right is not going to be open to arguments based on facts.

  • 22 Skipskatte // Apr 22, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    @Brian Moore you said, “I’d guess it’s impossible to really measure, but is the response to conservative epistemic closure more “…and that’s why their ideas are stupid, and we shouldn’t ever listen to them!” or “… and here’s how we can fix that, to make them a more honest opposition.”?”
    I consider myself a progressive, and I’ve got some thoughts on this one. I dislike almost every conservative idea I’ve heard for the past twenty-some-odd years. At the same time, I yearn to discuss the matter at length and get into a good, old fashioned, friendly debate about it based on logic and reason. The problem is, it is impossible to have a discussion with someone when you can’t establish some basic facts that you both agree upon. You can’t discuss climate change when the other guy believes the whole thing was invented by Al Gore. You can’t discuss the role of government when the other guy won’t admit that the government ever does anything right. You can’t discuss the deficit if the other guy won’t admit that sometimes raising taxes on somebody is necessary at some point. You can’t discuss the problems with health care when the other guy denies that the problem even exists.
    I’ve got a thousand reasoned arguments against every conservative position I’ve ever heard, but I’ve never been able to debate them because the last dozen conservatives I’ve tried to engage with immediately started talking about Facism and Socialism, got mad, and walked away. And when the only arguments they give against reasoned beliefs is “FACISM! SOCIALISM! TYRANNY!” You do end up believing that they’re all just raging morons who don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground and walk around parroting Glenn Beck’s talking points all day.

  • 23 L.N. Smithee // Apr 22, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    @Skipskatte wrote:

    The problem is, it is impossible to have a discussion with someone when you can’t establish some basic facts that you both agree upon. You can’t discuss climate change when the other guy believes the whole thing was invented by Al Gore.

    Here’s Al Gore interviewed on Grist.org on May 9, 2006. Tell me what you think of this Q & A (bold in Gore’s response mine):

    [Q:] There’s a lot of debate right now over the best way to communicate about global warming and get people motivated. Do you scare people or give them hope? What’s the right mix?

    [Gore]: I think the answer to that depends on where your audience’s head is. In the United States of America, unfortunately we still live in a bubble of unreality. And the Category 5 denial is an enormous obstacle to any discussion of solutions. Nobody is interested in solutions if they don’t think there’s a problem. Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are, and how hopeful it is that we are going to solve this crisis.

    Over time that mix will change. As the country comes to more accept the reality of the crisis, there’s going to be much more receptivity to a full-blown discussion of the solutions.

    Now, Skip, fast forward to today. Gore is hopscotching the world less often than before, turning down offers to debate the facts, and refusing to even address questions about Climategate in open forums, using security guards to remove those who ask questions or disconnect their microphones.

    Seems to me we are still in the “over-representation of factual presentations ” (i.e., LYING) era, because we sure aren’t getting any “full blown discussion.”

    Your thoughts?

  • 24 mss // Apr 22, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    L. N. Smithee,

    Not sure why I’m bothering, but the quote you present is non-responsive to Skipskatte’s point.

    Tens of thousands of scientists work on the problem of global warming, and the vast, vast majority consider it a significant problem and significantly human-made. In contrast, Al Gore makes presentations about global warming. He’s an effective presenters, explaining complex issues to some audiences scientists would find hard to reach. But he no more “invented” global warming than Carl Sagan invented astronomy or David Attenborough invented wildlife. Even if your quote said what you apparently think it does, it wouldn’t matter one whit.

    And it does not say what you think it says. The interviewer asks Gore about his strategy for raising awareness of global warming problems: is it more effective to start with the scale of the problem, or the possibility that problem could be solved by better policies. Gore says that if the audience doesn’t believe the problem is there, you have to start with convincing them how bad it will get without policy intervention, and only then discuss your best hopes for those policies. Nothing even remotely sinister there.

    Your hang up appears to be the word “overrepresent”, but clearly—even in the limited context you quote, not to mention the full interview—Gore does not mean that problems should *exaggerated*, but instead that the amount of time devoted in a presentation to problems should be larger than that devoted to solutions until you have convinced the audience that the problems are real.

    This is obvious, and general to honest policy persuasion: if your doctor wants you to stop smoking to reduce your risk of cancer, he doesn’t *start* by telling you how to quit, but by telling you what will happen if you *don’t*.

    I’m an outsider to the debate Julian Sanchez is kick-starting here: I’m not a conservative, in part because American conservatives have little room in their current epistomology for scientific reasoning. If you want to grapple with Sanchez’s challenge, you would do well to drop the pathetic quote-mining, and try to understand your opponent’s arguments. Or you could go misquoting and misinterpreting your opponents in ways that would make even a creationist blush.

  • 25 Skipskatte // Apr 22, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    @L.N. Smithee,
    This is what I was talking about. When a Progressive like myself brings up climate change, someone brings up “Climategate”. However, the only reason to bring up “Climategate” is to attempt to discredit the entire notion of climate change because a handful of scientists either overstated their evidence or made a dumb mistake or both. To me, Climategate is a meaningless side-show I have no interest in. It may embarrass Gore, or he might just not want to waste time on it, I don’t know. But it doesn’t change decades of study, it doesn’t change the overwhelming scientific evidence, and it doesn’t change that we have a problem to address. To a conservative, it’s the smoking gun that all of climate science for the last forty years is some sort of grand conspiracy. (To what end, I have no idea.)
    To me, it’s insane to think that we can pump endless amounts of whatever-the-hell-we-want into the air and oceans without consequence. For years, we talked about Global Warming, and every time there was a cool day in July the deniers come out to say “Where’s that Global Warming, now?” Of course, it’s average Global Temperature we’re talking about that is often concentrated at certain locations, a quick Google search will explain it, but they’re more interested in a glib remark and a smirk.
    So, the rhetoric changes to “Climate Change”, which is not as scientifically accurate, but a better description. And yes, there’s a TON of disagreement over what form climate change will take. That’s kinda the point, we really don’t know. “An Inconvenient Truth” is a possible, but extreme, possibility. No, the Earth won’t end, life will continue, but it’s very possible that our entire societal system as it stands could be wrecked. The world’s societies are based on pretty standard weather patterns. We know where it rains and where it doesn’t. We know where it’s good to grow crops, and where it isn’t. When it snows for three days in Wisconsin, it’s business as usual, if the same thing happens in North Carolina, it’s a statewide disaster. It can rain for weeks in Portland without anyone noticing, if it rains for three days in Phoenix, roads are washed away and everything’s flooded. The potential social and economic impact is enormous. But, instead of being interested in possible solutions to this problem and how it can be solved with a minimum of disruption to the economy and individual freedom, you want to talk about Al Gore and why he won’t talk about some overzealous or stupid scientists?

  • 26 KPav // Apr 22, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    The ultimate challenge to any party or movement is what it will do when it has power. Today’s right-wing cannot address that challenge (whatever its willingness to consider alternative views) because it is on the record as despising government. What is the point of power in our polity if your party campaigns on the denigration of government?

  • 27 Skipskatte // Apr 22, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    @KPav,
    I think you’re a little backwards on your point. One of the fundamental tenants of Conservatism for at least the past fifteen years is a disdain of government as a while. The problem with that isn’t that they’re on the record despising government. Theoretically, they should therefore be interested in making government as effective and unobtrusive as possible. A necessary evil, if you will.
    The problem is that today’s right-wing is so obsessed with proving that government is broken that they break it whenever possible, or use it as a favor-machine for their buddies. During G.W.B.’s tenure, instead of actually eliminating departments like the E.P.A. (a goal many right-wingers believe in), they just staffed them with cronies as a reward. And, since they believe government is broken ANYWAY, this isn’t a problem. “Government wastes taxpayer money. We work in government. Therefore, it’s okay if we waste taxpayer money,” seems to have been the idea while they were in charge of everything.

  • 28 beejeez // Apr 22, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    As a lefty who tries to stay alert for reality checks, I have this suggestion for conservatives: Just show a little respect for those who disagree with you. By all means, stick up for your principles — I don’t even ask that you keep an open mind — but I do ask that you debate us with the assumption that we’ve thought about the issues as much as you and are no more given to ulterior motives than you. I can’t promise you’ll win us over, but I do know that your leaders and your noisiest voices right now aren’t even trying to persuade me in good faith.

  • 29 rococo // Apr 22, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    The Corner sees politics as a war in which your side needs to be mobilized by propaganda. Manzi offends them because apparently because he still thinks it’s a conversation and the other “side” may be persuaded.

    Sadly, it shows how much the right views countrypeople to their left as alien, rather than misguided.

  • 30 Mark // Apr 22, 2010 at 11:19 pm

    I think ‘epistemic closure’ works just great in this context! Now, how do we get all of us to sit down over coffee (okay okay… *and* tea) and start talking?

    Thanks for these posts.

    Mp

  • 31 Skipskatte // Apr 22, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    bejeez has it right, Mark, start with the assumption that everybody’s sincere in what they believe, without some secret ulterior motive, and that we’re all interested in what’s good for the country. I’d go a step further, and suggest dropping the stereotypes for the duration of the discussion.

  • 32 wallamaarif // Apr 22, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    So, tell me, Julian — who’s the one with the “crazy overreaction”?

    I guess you missed the part toward the beginning, then again in the middle and once more toward the end, where Jon explains that he is a comedian, not a journalist, and that Goldberg’s main problem is that he’s applying Fox’s standard to Stewart’s show, which is absurd.

    As for Stewart’s “overreaction,” that’s one part of the joke you missed. There are others.

  • 33 Patrick // Apr 23, 2010 at 12:30 am

    Doesn’t this all become a lot more understandable if you assume that the beliefs of a movement are prior to the nature of the movement itself?

    Conservatism has collectively adopted a particular world view. In this world view academics and scientists are a dangerous group of fanatics out to undermine what is good and pure. Global warming is therefore a lie, and evolution is as well. Minorities are presumed to be grasping and resentful of white people, and archetypes of the welfare queen or the angry black intellectual are accepted as a given. Illegal immigrants are presumed to be behind almost every political problem the country faces. Liberals have no motivating principles other than a hatred of America, and foreign policy matters are best understood as a battle between good and evil. And media sources that contradict these things are themselves part of the evil semi-conspiracy.

    The problem is that these are factual statements, and they’re not true. This naturally colors the nature of the movement promoting them. Even those sophisticated enough to recognize that these beliefs aren’t strictly true are altered by this problem, because they have to pretend in order to be permitted to join the cause.

  • 34 sherifffruitfly // Apr 23, 2010 at 12:35 am

    None of this semi-interesting babble really matters to a disinterested observer, of course.

    What matters is that your side fundamentally doesn’t care what’s true and what’s not. As you’re still on that side, catching the vapors about it with a good Scarlett “Well I do declay-ah!” doesn’t really mean much. You’ve known they were like this for a decade or more, and you’re still on their side.

    (shrug) Lie in the bed of your own free choice.

  • 35 Skipskatte // Apr 23, 2010 at 12:50 am

    @Ming
    “Liberals don’t seem eager to champion people who are opposed to Ahmadinejad, who is, after all, the number-one threat to Israel.”
    Wait, what? From this phrasing, it seems that you believe that Liberals are opposed to Israel, so therefore support Ahmedinejad? Is that it?
    Because if that’s the case, you are way, way off base as to what Liberals actually believe, as opposed to the right-wing talking point that “all Liberals hate Israel.” I run in a lot of Progressive circles, and I’ve never spoken with anyone who hates Israel, or wants it destroyed, or threatened, or anything. And, hell yeah, we supported the Green revolution. Who do you think kept setting up rogue twitter servers one step ahead of Iran’s cyber-gestapo?
    But it’s also impossible for an American politician to support ANYTHING in Iran, because any support is used as proof that whomever we support is just our “puppet.” Seriously, for them it’d be like Hitler coming back from the grave to endorse a candidate. The LAST thing the Green revolution needed was full throated support from Obama or any other politician in this country.
    As far as Israel, I (and most progressives) are absolutely on Israel’s side, but are appalled at some of the actions taken by the government. (Kinda like you can be pro-America and anti-torture.) And we also believe that Israel’s actions are bad for Israel, the Palestinians, and the United States. We also get sick of the notion that any criticism of Israel at all is somehow a betrayal, and yet Israel can do whatever it wants and we are expected to support it 100%. How on Earth are we ever going to broker an honest solution if the whole world knows that the U.S. is going to take Israel’s side on everything, regardless of the facts? We can hardly be held up as impartial when Senators in our own government seem to hold Israel’s interests in higher esteem than they hold the interests of the United States.
    Is Hamas worse? Yes. A whole hell of a lot worse. And most of us say so. A lot. (There are wingnuts who don’t, who say Israel’s worse than Hamas, but they are on the fringes.) But that doesn’t mean that Israel is perfect, or that their leaders don’t do stupid, stupid things.
    But it’s more of that “our team, their team” mentality that is so pervasive on the right. Israel’s on our team, so to criticize them in any way, on any matter, is the equivalent of being “Anti-Israel” and supporting a raging asshole like Ahmadinejad.

  • 36 That Fuzzy Bastard // Apr 23, 2010 at 12:57 am

    @ Ming:
    “When was the last time you heard a “liberal” complain about Muslim female genital mutilation?”

    I went to college at Wesleyan, in 1993—the height of it’s “P.C.U.” period. Even as a 19-year-old lefty, I found the reflex political correctness there stifling.

    And Muslim (you mean African, actually, but no matter) female genital mutilation was discussed *constantly*! It was, in fact, the #1 topic of debate: Is there anything well-meaning Americans can do to prevent this terrible practice without repeating or echoing the ugly legacy of colonialism. There were speakers invited to talk about it several times a year, it came up in ever politics, sociology, history, or lit class, paper after paper was written tying it into whatever theorist your paper was ostensibly supposed to be about. Really, there was no conspiracy of silence on that one at all. If you think this is something that liberals don’t discuss, you may be laboring under some false knowledge yourself.

  • 37 Skipskatte // Apr 23, 2010 at 1:05 am

    @Ming,
    Wow, just read your other post. You’ve got some strange ideas about Liberals, don’t you? And to answer your question regarding liberals complaining about Muslim female genital mutilation, the answer is, yesterday.
    Seriously, feminist groups have been pissed about that one for a long, long time. Rachel Maddow’s covered it quite a few times on her show. And, frankly, it’s a tough road to hoe for Progressives. We want to respect the religions of others, but we really, really, REALLY don’t like the way women are treated in many Muslim countries. It’s a really tough contradiction. But, since we don’t have any real capacity to change this abhorrent practice in other countries, we don’t have to come to terms with which of our values is more important, at the moment. And, frankly, if we get out of Iraq and Afghanistan without a full-on regional war, it’ll be a miracle. Establishing women’s rights in the whole of the Muslim world is just out of our hands, at the moment.

  • 38 DivisionByZero // Apr 23, 2010 at 8:13 am

    What drives me crazy about the whole epistemic closure bit is the folks on the right that act like a persecuted minority that believes they are the majority. It’s a double dip of indignation. Personally, I blame christian fundamentalism’s influence on politics. The persecuted minority trope (e.g. “They will call you a cult”, etc) is constantly deployed to enhance group cohesion and assert control. It’s not a feature inherent in all forms of christianity although the pope seems to be resorting to it these days and may be a more general social concept but the structure seems to fit. Combine that with some “real American” foundational mythology that reassures its believers that they are “true” Americans and you get this minority persecution paranoia with the moral indignation of the disenfranchised majority.

  • 39 Barry // Apr 23, 2010 at 9:26 am

    “God knows nobody’s more epistemically closed than the claque of collegiate Marxists who won’t trust a word in the corporate press. ”

    Well, an extreme evangelical sect, who are expecting the Rapture Any Day Now, and ….

    Or the top insiders in a large corporation, who’ll recognize reality when the iceberg actually tears through their offices, so to speak…

    Or news organizations who eagerly pumped up a war, and only abandoned the government propaganda years after the general public figured it out…..

    Or a group of wingnut-welfare collectors, most of whom never held an honest job in their lives (college to ‘think tank’, maybe with a tour through a political campaign)…

    But of those, the clacque of marxists are the ones with the least influence and power in our society.

  • 40 zic // Apr 23, 2010 at 9:35 am

    The truly frightening thing is what’s happening to the media audience. I linked to a Reason story last week, to provide a friend information about health care reform. And the story was dismissed as ‘liberal trash,’ the story unread, because. . . there was either an ad or link (I’m not sure which) to the NYT.

    Filtering biases like this rise to the level of, I don’t know, perhaps brainwashing?

  • 41 Lou // Apr 23, 2010 at 10:23 am

    If Julian wanted to point out leftists, he might have pointed out a more specific example like DailyKos or something, but even they have far less influence in the real world than NRO does on public policy, especially since much of the nonsense there never spreads to left of center sites or media.

    Really the problem with the right isn’t that they’re ideologically close-minded now, it’s that the tactics learned from Rove have such influence on public policy. Instead of a debate on merits, we have debates on meta topics.

  • 42 d.eris // Apr 23, 2010 at 10:47 am

    Sanchez writes: “I could go on, and others could try to compose a list of equally nutty notions in circulation on the left to show it’s just as bad on the other side.”

    Indeed. What this demonstrates is the complete and utter intellectual, moral and political bankruptcy of the Democratic-Republican two-party state and duopoly system of government. If you are not independent, you are co-dependent.

  • 43 d.eris // Apr 23, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Political freedom and independence today begins with freedom and independence from the bi-polar ideologies characteristic of Democratic-Republican Party government.

  • 44 Must-Reads of the Week: Obama’s Accomplishments and Diplomatic Brand, Facebook, Epistemic Closure, Financial Reform, Our Long-Term Fiscal Crisis and Problem-Solving Capacity, and Mike Allen - 2parse // Apr 23, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    [...] Epistemic Closure. Julian Sanchez follows up on his starting post on the epistemic closure of the right wing. Every single link he provides in the article is worth following as the conversation he started [...]

  • 45 mike farmer // Apr 23, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    This is an aside and a serious request. d.eris points out, as do you, that left/right partisanship is closed. The other day a commenter stated that the difference is that left academics, outside the partisan hoopla, are more representative of intellectual openness than the right at this point in time. Julian, could you lead me to a writer on the left and a book which you believe is representative of liberal thought in 2010? You have my email address on your site, I suppose. Thanks in advance. If others have recommendations, I’d appreciate it.

  • 46 MBH // Apr 23, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    I’m familiar with the technical use of “epistemic closure.” I think what you’re looking for is “epistemic foreclosure.”

  • 47 Skipskatte // Apr 23, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    @d.eris said,
    “Political freedom and independence today begins with freedom and independence from the bi-polar ideologies characteristic of Democratic-Republican Party government.”
    d.eris, you’ve GOT to realize that this statement is just as dogmatic and rigid as “Conservatives are war-mongering bigots” on the left, or “Liberals are family-hating, anti-American Socialists” on the right. “A pox on both your houses” is the same kind of thinking, just from a different angle.
    The only reason I’m coming around to liking the two-party system is that multi-party systems around the world are often a mess. Look at Canada, where the far-right fringe (for Canada) wins because the other parties split the vote. (Canadians out there, I know I’m over-simplifying, but it’s the gist.) Israel, France, they’ve ended up with the least popular candidate in the bunch because of split votes. For the Left, the living proof of third parties causing significant electoral trouble is Ralph Nader. For the Right, it’s Ross Perot. (And I absolutely LOVED Ross Perot).
    Bottom line, until the election rules are changed in this country, third party candidates tend to hurt the very causes they support by draining votes from the next-best choice.
    In America the two party system, like democracy, is the worst system of government devised . . . except for everything else.

  • 48 Epistemic Closure, Revisited | A Mild Voice of Reason // Apr 23, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    [...] to mystify me.  The concept of ideological  ”epistemic closure” — promulgated most publicly by blogger Julian Sanchez — is an elegant if circular system: Those affected by it are [...]

  • 49 Julian Sanchez // Apr 23, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    I don’t think there’s any real problem just sticking with “epistemic closure”—I’m not worried a lot of logicians are going to get confused, and, you know, sometimes words or phrases just mean different things in different contexts. Foreign affairs buffs manage to talk about “realism” without people getting befuddled over whether they mean it in the moral or metaphysical sense.

  • 50 MBH // Apr 23, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    @Julian, I think that’s fair. “Epistemic closure” — regardless of the technical use — implies something like conventionalism (in Karl Popper’s sense): a belief-system which insulates itself from counter-examples.

    I would unpack epistemic closure — in your sense — this way: S epistemically closes q when S believes p, p entails q, and S won’t consider q. For instance, Teabaggers believe government is bad. If government is bad, then the financial system which runs government is bad. But teabaggers don’t believe the financial system is bad.

  • 51 Friday Night Links « Gerry Canavan // Apr 23, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    [...] * Julian Sanchez has been doing an influential series of posts about epistemic closure on the right. [...]

  • 52 Have Conservatives Gone Mad? « The Fifth Column // Apr 23, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    [...] take Republicans seriously.  Mainstream conservative voices are embracing theories that are, to use Julian Sanchez’s phrase, ”untethered” to the real world.   Can anyone deny that the most trenchant and [...]

  • 53 Have Conservatives Gone Mad? | In Your Face Radio // Apr 24, 2010 at 11:16 am

    [...] take Republicans seriously.  Mainstream conservative voices are embracing theories that are, to use Julian Sanchez’s phrase, “untethered” to the real world. Can anyone deny that the most trenchant and effective [...]

  • 54 Katrina Rose Dunkley // Apr 24, 2010 at 11:26 am

    What in the F are you really talking about here?

    None of this relevant to 99% of people period (conservative, liberal, or just your average political nutjob). And neither will your speech inspire or contribute to a broad political movement in any shape or form. You are arcane, abstruse, and most importantly, boring. You make no real call about what is happening or going to happen.

    Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann have a very important quality, and no matter how many self-important sentences you string together, you can’t cover your lack of it: charisma.

    Hey, if you can use one affected word instead of two, do it.

  • 55 Constance // Apr 24, 2010 at 11:57 am

    I have no problem following what he’s talking about and find the topic and commentary neither arcane, abstruse, nor boring. The fact that you require charisma (and find it in those you mentioned) indicates that all you’re looking for from political thought is that emotional sense of vindicated satisfaction that’s at the root of what Sanchez is discussing.

  • 56 A little crazy « my apologies // Apr 24, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    [...] take Republicans seriously.  Mainstream conservative voices are embracing theories that are, to use Julian Sanchez’s phrase, “untethered” to the real world. Can anyone deny that the most trenchant and effective [...]

  • 57 DivisionByZero // Apr 24, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    Katrina, thanks for being a shining example of the point under discussion.

  • 58 MBH // Apr 24, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    Katrina, I understand that charisma is high on your scale. Where does relevancy rank?

  • 59 mike farmer // Apr 24, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    DBZ,

    This tired response that anyone who disagrees is a good example is becoming a good example. Katrina has a point — regardless what you think of Levin Limbaugh, Palin, at least they are opposing something which becomes more obviously dangerous each day — we just found out that the healthcare reform will likely cost us $311 billion more, yet hardly a peep have I heard from those who spend a lot of time opposing the opposition — you’d think there would be united opposition on this, at least. Something is beginning to stink in Denmark. I think there are mindsets in glass houses throwing large, hard objects.

  • 60 Janus Daniels // Apr 24, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    For: mike farmer // Apr 23, 2010 at 3:23
    I’d suggest starting with Krugman’s blog and books (slightly left of center) and also read leftists; if you can’t refute Chomsky on facts, you don’t have an informed opinion.
    To stay in touch with the right wing, try Katrina’s “Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann…” and everyone with “charisma” like Glen Beck.

  • 61 mike farmer // Apr 24, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    I’ve read Krugman and I believe I can refute Chomsky on the facts. Or these the liberal writers being upheld for openness? I thought I’d missed something — I’m being serious, here, because I definitely don’t have time to read everything available. I thought from the comments I mentioned above that there were liberal writers I might not be aware of who are laying out the liberal position. Krugman and Chomsky are old hat. But, thanks for the guidance.

  • 62 mike farmer // Apr 24, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    Are these, not “or these”

  • 63 MBH // Apr 24, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    @MF, So $300 billion in extra costs is more “obviously dangerous” than a derivatives market of $600 trillion in which short-sellers can bet against their own designed-to-fail products? What kind of mathematical formula are using to determine “danger?” Or are you just stuck in a narrative? Which is Julian’s point…

  • 64 andrew // Apr 24, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    thanks for this entry, very much enjoyed it. will have to think further on the subject, but i quite agree with the ‘broad intuition’.

  • 65 DivisionByZero // Apr 24, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Chomsky and Krugman? Really?

  • 66 DivisionByZero // Apr 24, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    Mike Farmer,

    Are you suggesting we take her seriously? Charisma as the deciding factor for authority? Frankly, I’d rather resort to physical force (both are about as relevant to truth). I’d win a lot more arguments.

    Her point is absolutely ridiculous and it does demonstrate the point. She listens to these folks because they tell her what she wants to hear. I’d be willing to wager that’s what she means by charisma.

  • 67 mike farmer // Apr 24, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    MBH – who said anything about derivatives? Your respons confuses me. It’s like I say Ryan Seacrest is annoying, and you reply – “Does that mean Rosie O’Donnell is a breath of frash air”

  • 68 mike farmer // Apr 24, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    DBZ,

    I simply said se has a point about people taking a stand agianst government actions which are out of control. You don’t have to agree with everything to agree with something. Every living being who has to work for a living ought to be concerned about the healthcare reform, even Methodists, Socialists and Astrologists.

  • 69 mike farmer // Apr 24, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    Oh, and DBZ, I don’t know if she listens to them because they tell her what she wants to hear. I don’t know her at all, actually.

  • 70 MBH // Apr 25, 2010 at 2:52 am

    @MF, you label $300 billion in costs “obviously dangerous.” I think that’s a curious issue to find relevant given the structure of a financial system that allows side-bets on your own goods and services. I’m questioning your perspective.

  • 71 The Coffee Party: It’s About Hate : The Other McCain // Apr 25, 2010 at 8:57 am

    [...] idea, but I hate the Tea Party people,” said attendee Karen Anderson.I believe this is what Julian Sanchez would call “epistemic closure.”(Hat-tip: Hot Air Headlines.) var [...]

  • 72 DivisionByZero // Apr 25, 2010 at 10:08 am

    mike farmer,

    If you agree with her, great. But you specifically said that I was misusing her as an example of epistemic closure as a way of disagreeing with her. First of all I didn’t disagree with her in my original post (although I did later). Second she is a good example of it. Finally the part with which you agree is trivial. Everyone believes we should take “a stand against government actions which are out of control.” But the devil is in the details. Anyhow, that particular topic isn’t the one being discussed here.

  • 73 mike farmer // Apr 25, 2010 at 11:12 am

    MBH, you mean I can’t address one issue without addressing another? How many issues do I have to address at one time — is there an appropriate number, or do I have to address all issues at once?

    DBZ,

    Let me ty to explain where I’m coming from — I don’t automatically assume she is closed to other views. For all I know, she might have studied current events from all angles and has chosen her stance based on looking at all angles. It appears closed to automatically assume she is closed just because she disagrees with you, and thinks that much meditation is going on, but there’s no commitment to one side or the other. She believes Limbaugh, Palin, etc. have taken positions and she agrees with them, so be it — I don’t need to assume any nefarious motives, or closedness, regarding her positions. Just refute them and maybe you’ll win the argument.

  • 74 Lee // Apr 25, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Mike Farmer,

    Its potentially true that the HCR law is more expensive than it was originally hoped to be. However, the main reason why healthcare is so expensive in the United States is because America has failed to adopt a universal system, whether it be single-payer, national healthcare, or Bismarckian in flavor. Countries with universal systems have much less spending per person on healthcare with better results. Unfortunately, we can’t even discuss the merits of adopting a true universal healthcare system in America without many conservatives going into a hissy fit about socialism and how American healthcare is the best in the word even though it really is not.

  • 75 MBH // Apr 25, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    @MF, I tend to think that politics and economics are systems-within-systems. If you don’t treat them that way, then your data is likely hollow.

  • 76 Jason Gillikin // Apr 25, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    Julian — For reasons that I myself quite don’t get (except perhaps as a fellow holder of a philosophy degree) this subject has consumed a fair amount of my thought process lately. Not sure if you or any of your devoted fans are all that interested in reading a 3,000-word essay on the interplay of aesthetics with political epistemology, but … I’ve written one: http://www.gillikin.org/?p=1121. Thanks, and kind regards!

  • 77 Arun // Apr 25, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    The only reason one would be interested in the epistemic closure of the conservative mind is because one believes that more than one party is needed to keep democracy running on an even keel.

    Problem is – sorry to say it – a usefully functioning political party cannot arise from the bunch of people who call themselves Republicans. Sad end to the party of Lincoln.

  • 78 Jimm // Apr 25, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    Update III pretty much nails it, from the consumer side. From the producer side, it’s much harder to justify, and seems to be some combination of cynicism, greed (or ambition, if you prefer), and/or zealousness, in varying degrees depending on the person.

    I find it reassuring that honest libertarians can kick sand on this stuff though, was getting worried there for awhile. Eventually the Republican Party will rebirth, and h0pefully classical liberal ideas once again become wedded to conservatism, in a sane and rational union.

    In the meantime, the fractures are becoming too pronounced to bear, which is why you’re seeing this madness, the big tent is unraveling, the fissures too great between the producers of conservative ideology and the consumers, especially considering the varying audiences (cynical profit-maximizers on the one hand, socially liberal otherwise, and deeply religious conservatives, very much not socially liberal, and mostly completely ignorant how they are constantly sold out and undermined by the Big Business wing).

    Ultimately, it comes down to a failure of leadership though, in a very pragmatic sense, pretty much since Bush took office, and continuing after Bush left office.

  • 79 Jimm // Apr 25, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Of course, when I speak of a failure of leadership, I’m referring to within the Republican party, and conservative circles. The evaluation of the leadership of the Democrats, and centrist circles, is too early to assess, though November brings a milestone. As usual, the progressives are still just a grassroots force and influence, having little to no say on the levers of power, and smart commentators should be cognizant of that.

  • 80 someotherdude // Apr 25, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    JESUS CHRIST!!!

    Krugman is a modern liberal, Chomsky is an anarcho-leftist. The fact that most right-wingers see them as cut from the same intellectual cloth, proves to that they have not even attempted Political Theory 101.

  • 81 Janus Daniels // Apr 26, 2010 at 2:11 am

    mike farmer – I seem not to understand…
    What do you mean by “old hat”… “open”… “laying out the liberal position”… ?
    I feel concerned that you seem to lump them Chomsky and Krugman as “liberals” (which seems peculiar).

  • 82 Joerg // Apr 26, 2010 at 11:43 am

    Julian

    I love how closure hints at the mathematical use of the term. Mathematically the closure of an operation is the union of all results reachable by applying the same operation recursively.

    Thinking of news as a network of links the each camp is building news networks the closures of which don’t intersect. If you start at Fox and want to get to NYT, you literally “can’t get there from here”.

  • 83 Julian Sanchez // Apr 26, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Joerg-
    That was actually more or less the picture I had in mind in the original post.

  • 84 oldfatherwilliam // Apr 26, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    Someone here has a problem with anarcho-leftists? What? Where am I again? Actually, nobody refutes Chomsky on facts. It’s interpretations alone. Chomsky has never troubled himself to lie.

  • 85 Epistemic closure | In A Future Age // Apr 26, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    [...] fellow at the Cato Institute, writes about the idea of epistemic closure on the right, or what he calls the “universal tendency toward confirmation bias plus a sufficiently large array of [...]

  • 86 paradoctor // Apr 26, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    @MBH #50:
    “S epistemically closes when S believes p, p implies q, and S won’t consider q.”
    George Orwell called this “crimestop”, which he defined as ‘protective stupidity'; the ability to fail to see an obvious logical connection when that connection is politically dangerous.

  • 87 alphie // Apr 26, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    I think this post has caused the wingnuts to double down on the crazy.

    Today I got banned from two right-wing blogs that I have been posting at for years and years for seemingly innocuous posts.

    You wanna see epistemic closure? We’ll show you epistemic closure!

  • 88 Janus Daniels // Apr 26, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    via Ezra Klein:
    http://www.themonkeycage.org/2010/04/measuring_epistemic_closure.html
    “… The better informed that liberals are about politics in general, the more likely they are to answer (correctly) that income inequalities have increased over time… greater exposure to political information makes conservatives less likely to be right. This strongly suggests that conservatives face epistemic closure, at least on this issue. The more conservatives ‘know,’ the more likely they are to be wrong.”

  • 89 mike farmer // Apr 26, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    “What do you mean by “old hat”… “open”… “laying out the liberal position”… ?”

    That’s what I had asked for based on comments that academic liberals are more open to facts and are less epistemically closed — you gave me Krugman and Chomsky.

    I don’t understand. But forget it — it’s not that important. We have much more important things to consider, like racists in Arizona.

  • 90 mike farmer // Apr 26, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    “JESUS CHRIST!!!

    Krugman is a modern liberal, Chomsky is an anarcho-leftist. The fact that most right-wingers see them as cut from the same intellectual cloth, proves to that they have not even attempted Political Theory 101.”

    Someotherdude, I’m not a rightwinger, and these examples of liberals were given to me by someone I assume is a liberal — so get out of my grille, dude. :)

  • 91 boldrobot // Apr 26, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    In nearly every accusation it’s easy to discern its accuracy by the intensity of the denials.

    OF COURSE, Republicans get touchy when accused of ‘epistemic closure, hence the burbling outrage (…it’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary (or ideology) rely upon his NOT understanding it)…every policy the GOP supports has failed in front of everyone so they fall back on what has worked for them (Southern Strategy & Lower Taxes as the answer to everything) and absolutely refuse to imagine ‘what if’ they’ve been wrong.

    But I think another element is missing and slowly creeping in to the collective conservative conscience, the idea of shame at being ‘had’ by the Modern Republican Party and it’s ‘I got Mine’ ouvre.

    They’ve watched as rich people kept getting richer AT THE EXPENSE of those Reagan Democrat Blue-collar types. They KNOW their wages have stagnated, and are now too embarrassed to admit they chose their Party poorly (by supporting the GOP economic policies against their own self-interest) but they now have so much invested in hating on the hippies (or communists, or vegans, or whatever godless cohort is being blamed) that they are simply unwilling to entertain the thought that they’ve been ‘had’…

    But, we all know they’ve been ‘had’ and as they continue to realize it, there’ll be further exiting stage Right…

    You want intellectual respect…? Renouncing the 6o00 year-old earthers, anti-gay protesters, racists, anti-immigrant militia, and the fetus wavers would go a looong way to that end.

    Until then, you’ll be rightfully mocked and increasingly ignored (and that ain’t no way to lay a strong foundation, on the backs of the craziest elements in our country).

  • 92 Janus Daniels // Apr 26, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    After the dead horses — Crooked Timber
    http://crookedtimber.org/2010/04/25/after-the-dead-horses/
    “… the term ‘agnotology’ (h/t commenter Fran Barlow), coined by Robert Proctor to describe study of the manufacture of ignorance…”
    catchier than “epistemic closure”?

  • 93 Dave Marney // Apr 27, 2010 at 8:56 am

    Your argument would be so much more persuasive if you didn’t apply it just one side. If closure is a human condition, where are your examples from the left?

    My personal experience is that what you are calling “closure” is, in fact, something else. My observation is that people on the left tend to speak less categorically and less precisely than those on the right. One side deals in greys, and the other, black-and-whites.

    Those who favor gray presume that black-and-whites MUST be close-minded. Can’t they see that the world is really full of greys? Those who favor black-and-white presume that greys MUST be mushy-headed. Can’t these guys see the facts staring them right in the face?

    The “closure” you speak of may simply be a projection of your own mental style. If you are a grey, Rush Limbaugh is a simplistic, close-minded idiot. If you are a black-and-white, Rush Limbaugh is a clear, pure voice of reason.

  • 94 Julian Sanchez // Apr 27, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    As I say in a previous post, it would be easy enough to trot out examples from the left to prove how extremely fair-minded and even-handed I am, but I think the problem is more serious on the right now, and I wanted to focus on that instead of implying what I think would be a false equivalence.

    It would also be misleading, since I’m interested in the systemic phenomenon, rather than mere individual confirmation bias. The latter is probably fairly evenly distributed; the former is overwhelmingly a feature of the contemporary right.

  • 95 Julian Sanchez // Apr 27, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    That said, the “black/white” vs “grey” style may well be related. There’s research suggesting that strong partisans tend to perceive “grayness” as bias toward the other side. If folks on the right are more inclined toward the starker style, as you suggest, then they may be more disposed to discount “gray” straight reporting as left-biased, and trust only the b/w source. That would make the hypothesis of two mental styles not an alternative to the “closure on the right” hypothesis, but a complement to and explanation for it.

  • 96 K. Chen // Apr 27, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    I wonder if the closure is just an emergent behavior from natural group dynamics. That is, every group has its own jargon that it speaks in, every group has its own social cues that separates insiders from outsiders. For the contemporary right, talking about the MSM’s liberal bias is a way of reinforcing that social identity. Eventually, it takes a whole life of its own as the media ecosystem responds to the emerging market – and then reinforces it, because if you repeat anything long enough it gets a life of its own.

    I guess what I’m saying is that the closure isn’t about right at all, its the natural result of a group dynamic where one of the major social cues is oppositional to bogeymen.

  • 97 Julian Sanchez // Apr 27, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    I basically agree with that; I think the reason the problem seems more pronounced on the right at present is that the “MSM” has been one of those “cultural bogeymen” for the right in a way it has not, at least recently, for the mainstream left.

  • 98 All the Talk About Epistemic Closure // Apr 27, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    [...] above, Sanchez has since written two other articles about this topic that you can find here and here. In that third one, he provides what I find to be the best definition of the phenomena. Closure is [...]

  • 99 K. Chen // Apr 27, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    I think the mirror image bogeymen on the left are the poorly defined “corporations” and/or “big business” (which somehow exclude Apple, Google, and Whole Foods) a spiritual descendant of the dreaded Management.

    Those bogeymen doesn’t seem to have caused the same kind of havoc, at least right now, as the issue on the right. My observation is the problems it causes on the left are relatively limited for the typical individual – it means that no one admits to shopping at Wal-mart and similar effects. The echo chamber stuff happens in more limited spheres in debate, (GMO policy, medicine, regulation in general), but there isn’t that broad unifying element of ressentiment, or the grand scale of the MSM opposition.

  • 100 StevenR // Apr 28, 2010 at 1:21 am

    Read the great psycho-realist — Robert Anton Wilson (“Prometheus Rising” New Falcon Pub. 1992); the human mind behaves as if it has two parts – the “thinker” and the “prover”. Whatever the “thinker” thinks, the “prover” proves. It is a conundrum of epic proportions in it’s consequences.

  • 101 Julian Sanchez // Apr 28, 2010 at 1:23 am

    RAW is an old favorite

  • 102 MadamDeb // Apr 28, 2010 at 1:42 am

    Thanks so much, Julian, for not only putting a name to this phenomenon but for recognizing and defining it.

    I’ve been trying to figure out the black-is-white, hot-is-cold belief system ever since the Swift Boat damage.

    It’s so gratifying to see that someone not beholden to the whims of votes or the right-wing media actually has an intellect, and one that he shares. Thank you again!

  • 103 Paul // Apr 28, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Interesting to see this conversation.

    A conservative movement stripped of the dishonesty (or more accurately, “bullshit”, following Harry Frankfurter’s usage) would be a formidable thing, if it could survive the loss of its voting base.

    There is a coherent core of conservative values that would serve the country very well, if only it could be separated from the wingnut army used to promote those values. I’m not at all sure that we liberals could make the same claim – while our “wingnut” problem is far less serious than the right’s, so is our core (that is, if we could even be said to have such a thing).

    If an honest, non-bullshit laden conservative movement were to appear in the United States, I would be very tempted to join it, despite a lifetime of self-identification as a liberal. I hope that the Republican Party someday manages to find the courage to look beyond the easy votes of the angry mobs and the discipline and patience to build a new coalition around the honest efforts to improve the national condition.

  • 104 K. Chen // Apr 28, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    Epistemic Closure made nytimes print edition today. Looks like you’ve created a legitimate phenomena. Online copy http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/28/books/28conserv.html?src=me

  • 105 » One Order Of ‘Epistemic Closure,’ Please, With a Little Bias On the Side - Big Journalism // Apr 28, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    [...] Republicans seriously.  Mainstream conservative voices are embracing theories that are, to use Julian Sanchez’s phrase, “untethered” to the real [...]

  • 106 fred lapides // Apr 28, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    I had begun to feel pretty much the same way about the failures of conservatives and also wasted time of the liberals (progressives) and decided that joining any of their rallies or adhering to their positions was fruitless and foolish, and found a number of like-minded people. We have brought together a large group of like-minded people and formed an Anarchist Against All Assemblies group, and now number about 3 thousand people. We are against and all groups or organizations or collections of people.

  • 107 The Story Behind ‘Epistemic Closure’ « The Modern Independent // Apr 29, 2010 at 1:22 am

    [...] offered a rebuttal to the copious words written on the subject over the last couple of weeks. His blog post rebuttal is well worth reading in its entirety, but, in short, Sanchez notes that the reason this [...]

  • 108 on conservative groupthink « // Apr 29, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    [...] From Julian Sanchez: [The epistemic closure trend] does not mean conservatives are completely cut off from outside information—as David Brooks notes today, research suggests that frequent visitors to partisan sites are actually more likely to also visit “the enemy”—but it tends to be approached in roughly the same spirit we might read the Korean Central News Agency. The press are no longer seen as even biased refs in the public debate, but as members of one team or another in a conflict whose only referee is victory. [...]

  • 109 The What-Have-Yous « The Regimen // Apr 30, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    [...] Epistemic closure, week four. Julian Sanchez offers a coda, and Ezra Klein and Henry Farrell wonder if it’s something that can be empirically [...]

  • 110 Connecting the Dots on Epistemic Closure - 2parse // May 4, 2010 at 10:52 am

    [...] Klein: “Epistemic closure,” Julian Sanchez writes, is the toxic result of “confirmation bias plus a sufficiently large array of multimedia [...]

  • 111 matoko_chan // May 4, 2010 at 11:08 am

    hai Julian Sanchez…..since you are The Expert….is IQ denialism an example of epistemic closure on the left?
    I offer this example.
    And thoreau.

  • 112 matoko_chan // May 4, 2010 at 11:19 am

    “That said, the “black/white” vs “grey” style may well be related.”

    umm….if i can offer my personal theory….i think it is a business model. It is a game theoretic accessibility model. In the gaming world its called rubber band theorem…the worse you are at playing, the easier the game gets. The model levels the skillarchy.
    Conservatives have been disenfranchised from mainstream culture (the game of RL). They aren’t good at it….they can’t compete culturally.
    So conservatism offers a skill leveling axis for them…. intellect/education…..unlike RL, conservatism doesn’t give points for intellect or education….Liberalism offers a skill leveling access too….social justice leveling…liberalism doesn’t take away points for skin color or SES.
    It makes the Game accessible.
    So people keep buying what they want.

  • 113 jeff house // May 4, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Epistemic closure is wholly pervasive on the right, both elected and unelected. On the left, it’s largely absent among the nationally elected leaders.

    But try to persuade a campus or other communist of anything; it’s hopeless because they only tune in to Znet.

  • 114 The Closing Of The Conservative Mind, Ctd – The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan « Firesaw // May 7, 2010 at 7:15 am

    [...] Sanchez puts a coda on the debate he began: I’m under no illusions that all this discussion has sprung up because my [...]

  • 115 Here we go. – Tiptoeing and Backpedaling // May 8, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    [...] the most-watched American cable news channel, which happens to be conservative – can become untethered at times? It is not surprising. Fox’s conservative brand of populist infotainment is more [...]

  • 116 Old Topic Update — The Future of Conservatism « Civilized Conversation // May 13, 2010 at 12:50 am

    [...] Old Topic Update — The Future of Conservatism May 12, 2010 DavidG Leave a comment Go to comments We last discussed this topic on 8/20/9.  Apropos, in recent weeks, a fascinating discussion has broken out among the political blogs on whether today’s conservatism has reached “epistemic closure.”  The debate was prompted by a prominent conservative complaining that the conservative media machine  — talk radio, Fox, blogs, even think tanks — has become self-isolating and harmful to the party’s long-term health.  I highly recommend both his original post and his followup.  [...]

  • 117 Matt X // May 21, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    This guy is just bitter that nobody knows who he is, coupled with his frustration that Rush isn’t a Ron Paul bot. Jealousy of Rush’s successs plus frustration that liberterians don’t rule the GOP is what this longwinded post is all about. :)

  • 118 Matt X // May 21, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    Written By: James M. Taylor
    Publication date: 05/14/2010
    Publisher: The Heartland Institute

    ——————————————————————————–

    National Review Online contributing editor Jim Manzi, in an April 21 post, uses Mark Levin’s book Liberty and Tyranny as an example of conservative writers (quoting Ross Douthat) “offering bromides instead of substance, and … pandering instead of grappling with real policy questions.” I think he’s wide of the mark.

    Although I believe the science clearly supports “skeptics” in the global warming debate, conservatives and libertarians can believe in alarmist global warming claims without giving up their conservative and libertarian credentials, just as liberals can be “skeptics” without giving up their liberal credentials. The fact that a conservative might believe we are facing a global warming crisis should not necessarily come as a surprise, but the specific arguments made by Manzi are disingenuous.

    The global warming debate should be decided on the basis of science and economics rather than politics. If there were plausible arguments for each side of the scientific issue, and if people based their opinions on science rather than political convenience, one would expect each side of the debate to have adherents from all ideological persuasions.

    This has proven true of global warming “skeptics.” As the organizer of four international conferences on climate change, I have had the pleasure of meeting scientists and concerned citizens from a wide range of ideological backgrounds who share my own view that humans are not creating a global warming crisis. Two of the most passionate skeptics at these conferences have been Richard Courtney, a socialist from the United Kingdom who is an expert reviewer for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Lawrence Solomon, an author and lifelong environmental activist from Canada.

    I have also had the pleasure of meeting and discussing global warming with legislators – both Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal – who also believe humans are not causing a global warming crisis.

    In contrast to the diversity of thought among skeptics, true believers in global warming alarmism tend to be overwhelmingly liberal. This isn’t because conservatives and libertarians are stupid or refuse to think seriously about the issue. It’s because if manmade global warming were indeed a crisis, its cause would be capitalism and its solution would be an all-powerful central government. Liberals happily skip over all the missing links in the argument – the dubious science, whether government action would stop or delay climate change, and whether it would be worth the expense – and jump to this conclusion.

    Conservatives and libertarians, having seen this skit before, are more likely to pause and demand evidence and explanations. They quickly find evidence that the “attribution” issue is still unresolved, that reducing emissions is unlikely to have any effect on climate, and that cap and trade programs are vehicles for massive fraud. Only a few conservatives “don’t get it,” which brings us back to Mr. Manzi.

    At first, Manzi says his chief complaint about Liberty and Tyranny is:

    “Levin does not attempt to answer this question [whether carbon dioxide affects temperature levels] by making a fundamental argument that proceeds from evidence available for common inspection through a defined line of logic to a scientific view. Instead, he argues from authority by citing experts who believe that the answer to this question is pretty much no. Who are they? An associate professor of astrophysics, a geologist, and an astronaut.”

    This is unfair to Levin and, by extension, to others in the global warming debate who sometimes choose to write about the issue without delving into the science. The science is there for anyone who wants to read it, from Anthony Watts’ excellent Web site at http://www.wattsupwiththat.com to the 880-page Climate Change Reconsidered, a chapter-by-chapter rebuttal of the latest IPCC reports with more than 4,000 footnotes. Not every book by a conservative or libertarian that comments on global warming needs to provide a summary of this scientific research. And it’s pretty fair to guess that if Levin had done so, Manzi would have nit-picked him apart anyway.

    Manzi doesn’t bother to identify who the professor, geologist, and astronaut who Levin cites are, so allow me. The associate professor of astrophysics is Nir Shaviv, one of the most accomplished solar physicists in the world. He has already been published many times in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, and has forever made his mark in the world of solar physics by redefining landmark principles of stellar gravitation and radiation known as Eddington luminosity. Shaviv used to believe carbon dioxide was the primary driver of global warming, but in recent years has published groundbreaking research showing solar activity and cosmic rays may be more important factors.

    Dudley J. Hughes, the geologist, is a recipient of the Texas A&M Distinguished Alumni Award, which according to Texas A&M University, “is the highest honor bestowed upon a former student of Texas A&M University.” He is a recipient of the Texas A&M Geosciences and Earth Resources Distinguished Achievement Award. He is a recognized expert regarding earth sciences and carbon dioxide, and authored the 1998 book, A Geologic Reinterpretation of the Earth’s Atmospheric History, Inferring a Major Role by CO2.

    Phil Chapman, the astronaut, is a scientist with a degree in physics and a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has worked as a science researcher in Antarctica, a staff physicist at MIT, and a propulsion scientist at the Avco Everett Research Laboratory. He worked closely with the inventor of the solar power satellite, and contributed to NASA research on power in space. Oh, and amidst all these scientific accomplishments, he also found time to be an astronaut.

    Manzi is either ignorant of the scientific accomplishments of these three scientists, or sought to score a cheap point by taking advantage of uninformed readers.

    Manzi then criticizes Levin for citing the Oregon Petition, signed by more than 31,000 scientists. He says its phrasing is “dodgy,” but it’s hard to imagine a more explicit denunciation of global warming alarmism than the petition, whose signers say they “reject the global warming agreement that was written in Kyoto, Japan in December, 1997, and any other similar proposal” and state “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.” I’ll return to the “dodgy” claim in a moment.

    Manzi says “more than 20,000 of these ‘scientists’ lack PhDs in any field.” This is an odd if not misleading way to admit that more than 9,000 signatories have PhDs, and another 7,000 have Masters in Science degrees. That is more than 16,000 scientists with advanced degrees in science. The remainder are mere “scientists” with standard degrees in science. This seems quite impressive to me.

    Manzi claims “there was very little quality control” exercised during the collection of signatures for the petition, and “at least one person signed it as Spice Girl Geri Halliwell.” A call or email to Arthur Robinson and his colleagues would have laid this myth to rest, as well as shown some gratitude to the volunteers who invested thousands of hours in the Petition Project. They have long insisted and documented the fact that they vigorously follow up on and verify the identity and credentials of all signatories.

    Robinson is quick to admit that global warming alarmists sometimes submit forged signatures in an attempt to discredit the Petition. This is similar to the documented efforts of Tea Party opponents to slip moles into Tea Party rallies with misspelled signs and racist rhetoric in an effort to discredit the Tea Party. On one occasion global warming activists were briefly successful in submitting a petition “signed” by a Geri Halliwell before it was discovered and removed.

    Manzi claims “Scientific American did the hard work of actually contacting a sample of individual signatories, and estimated that there are about 200 climate scientists who agree with the statement in the petition among the signatories.” What actually happened is a global warming advocate with Scientific American claimed to have tried to contact 30 of the 1,400 signatories holding a PhD directly related to climate science, but was successful in contacting barely half of them. Of course, he could have contacted the Oregon Petition staff, who could have given him contact information for the sample of names he was pursuing. Instead, he made the unsupportable determination that anybody he could not personally hunt down without the assistance of Oregon Petition staff was not a credible signer.

    The Scientific American writer asked the few signers he reached if they would “sign the Petition today” with yet-to-be-updated information. Roughly one-third of the scientists, predictably, said they would not sign the petition “today” with data that had yet to be updated. The Scientific American hack deceitfully claimed this meant the scientist now disagreed with the core message of the Petition.

    Manzi musters a final attack on Levin with his own appeal to authority. He lists several scientific organizations that allegedly “didn’t reject the notion of man-made global warming.” This evidence of professional opinion, Manzi says, means skeptics must believe in some kind of “conspiracy” to conceal the true science of climate change, which he dismisses as “wingnuttery.”

    But how meaningful are the resolutions and statements that Manzi cites? Such statements invariably express the opinions of members of small and politically motivated committees or individual leaders of organizations rather than the views of the organizations’ members. They are often thinly veiled calls for more government funding. Their authors are often transparent in their motivation to use their positions in scientific organizations for political ends.

    For example, Manzi lists the American Chemical Society as an organization that “didn’t reject the notion of man-made global warming,” but the ACS position was reached with little or no input from the ACS scientists themselves. The ACS membership is currently in open revolt regarding the ACS position statement, but Manzi forgot to mention that.

    It is interesting, moreover, how Manzi states his proposition. By saying these organizations “don’t reject the notion of man-made global warming,” he glosses over the very ambiguity he accuses skeptics of indulging in when they say “global warming is not a crisis.” Both statements are broad enough to embrace the idea that there is a small human influence on climate but that it is not enough to merit efforts to reduce human greenhouse gas emissions. By Manzi’s own logic and words, the scientific organizations he cites do not contradict the position of most skeptics.

    Here’s another way to think about it. Attempting to discredit skeptics by producing a list of organizations that “didn’t reject the notion of man-made global warming” is like attempting to discredit the notion of organized crime by producing a list of experts who don’t believe the nation is beset by a La Cosa Nostra crisis.

    In conclusion, Levin does a fine job conveying the real doubts in the scientific community about the causes, extent, and consequences of climate change. It’s because of his efforts and those of many other conservatives and libertarians that barely a third of the American public still believes in man-made global warming.

  • 119 The Greenroom » Breathe easy, Establishment: the MSM still controls the Narrative (even on Climategate) // May 27, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    [...] PEJ study illustrates the vacuity of the complaint that Climategate was overhyped, which later gets lumped into the category of “overhyped or bogus,” as though they are [...]

  • 120 How I learned to stop worrying and love the zeitgeist « Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Aug 6, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    [...] a vote for “epistemic closure” (am I using that phrase right, boys? I willfully ignored that whole debate; Slow-Journo street cred, score 1 me …?), but I more or less agree. It fits the theory that [...]

  • 121 Epistemic closure and Julian Sanchez « Though Cowards Flinch // Sep 9, 2010 at 7:00 am

    [...] blog today on the epistemic closure on British conservatism. In it I begin by introducing Julian Sanchez’ reappropriation of the word from epistemology to [...]

  • 122 Against Intellectual Provincialism | The League of Ordinary Gentlemen // Nov 4, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    [...] ago in blog-years, Julian Sanchez provoked some indignant responses by suggesting that conservatives are too dependent on a closed, self-referential media ecosystem. Sanchez’s original post elicited a sharp reply from Jonah Goldberg, who argued that for all [...]

  • 123 Where’s the Credible Conservative Debate? « F+S Journal | Filthy Skies // Nov 10, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    [...] it is hard. Not because they don’t exist — serious Republicans — but because, as Sanchez and others seem to recognize, they are marginalized, even self-marginalizing, and the base itself [...]

  • 124 How I learned to stop worrying and love the zeitgeist | Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog // Nov 24, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    [...] a vote for “epistemic closure” (am I using that phrase right, boys? I willfully ignored that whole debate; Slow-Journo street cred, score 1 me …?), but I more or less agree. It fits the theory that [...]

  • 125 rebecca // Apr 14, 2011 at 4:54 am

    Intriguing posting! The info is given right here is really fantastic and knowledgeable about the origin of…

  • 126 genomegk // Nov 13, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    “epistemic closure” works for me. But the phenomenon is motivated by more than the need for information. Those who rely entirely on Fox News, talk radio and serial e-mail belong to an identity cult. These people call themselves “conservative” but rationalize and defend GOP administrations that regularly contradict the principles of fiscal responsibility, limited government, the constitution, free markets and respect for individual accomplishment and integrity that the members of the cult claim to believe in.

  • 127 エドハーディー // Jan 20, 2012 at 3:34 am

    the need for information. Those who rely entirely on Fox News, talk radio and serial e-mail belong to an identity cult. These people call themselves “conservative” but rationalize and defend GOP administrations that regularly contradict the principles of fisc

  • 128 Welcome back. Your dreams were your ticket out. « ranchandsyrup // Sep 5, 2012 at 2:58 am

    [...] A couple of years ago I named my fantasy football team “epistemic closure”. It was a few months after I had read about the term coined by Julian Sanchez here. [...]

  • 129 47 Percent or Bust! // Sep 20, 2012 at 4:39 am

    [...] Depend on You!” When conservatives tell Romney to come out and say this, they’re revealing what Julian Sanchez has called “epistemic closure.” They know this is true. Their trusted media sources tell them that it’s [...]

  • 130 Jim in Texas // Nov 9, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    I had a boss once who said “People tend to make up their minds about something and then go around looking for opinions to support it.” I’ve never seen this phenomena more in place than in today’s political climate. When I was a kid, we watched Crinkite at night. Was he a lefty? A righty? I don’t remember anyone even questioning his place on the political spectrum. What has changed?

  • 131 blahblah // Dec 2, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    Great article! I love Noah Millman’s article/essay too!

  • 132 yer a genius // Oct 17, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    “only referee is victory”

    OMG that’s such a great phrase it must be from somewhere

    google says no, it’s another sanchez original

    why have i never heard of you before

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