Thursday, November 15, 2012

Electoral Denialism on the Left: The Case of Proposition 37

This will be a long one. Though I have written many posts in the past few days looking at Right-Wing denialism regarding the election, I want to pivot a bit and look at some denialism from the Left. In particular, I want to focus on a series of articles written by Jon Rappoport and posted at which claim that the election results for Proposition 37 (a proposition that would have mandated labeling of food with GMO ingredients) in California have been fixed. The articles in question can be found here and here, and I intend to unpack them in some detail because they are a treasure-trove of factual errors, fallacious reasoning and conspiracy mongering, and they reveal how a failure to think critically can lead someone to make some rather absurd and nonsensical claims.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Republican Denialism: Paul Ryan Edition

Joining the ranks of Republicans who appear delusional about election losses is vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan. In an interview with WISC-TV, Ryan offers his thoughts on the reason for his loss. As quoted in The Hill:
GOP vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) on Monday said he was “surprised” by the outcome of the election, but did not believe his defeat signaled the electorate’s rejection of his budget plans.
“I think the surprise was some of the turnout, some of the turnout especially in urban areas, which gave President Obama the big margin to win this race,” said Ryan to local station WISC-TV in his first post-election interview. “When we watched Virginia and Ohio coming in, and those ones coming in as tight as they were, and looking like we were going to lose them, that's when it became clear we weren't going to win.”
Ryan, though, said that the election was not a referendum on his budget proposals and ideas on reforming entitlement programs.“I don’t think we lost it on those budget issues, especially on Medicare — we clearly didn’t lose it on those issues,” he said.
First, Ryan should not have been "surprised" at his loss. Though it was a fairly close election, all the polling data clearly indicated that Obama would at least win in the electoral college which would be sufficient for re-election. What would have been surprising would be if that polling data was wrong.

In addition to this factual error, there is an inconsistency in Ryan's claim that he didn't lose "on those budget issues." As Think Progress has noted, over the course of this election, Ryan explicitly argued that his candidacy was a larger referendum on budget priorities. Here is a short list of Ryan quotes to this effect (emphasis added):
– “The president, I’m told, is talking about Medicare today… We want this debate. We need this debate. And we will win this debate.” [8/16/2012]
– “We have a big choice to make. We’re not just picking the next president for a few years. We are picking the pathway for America for a generation.” [8/27/2012]
– “We’re entering what we call the debate and choice phase of this campaign. And we’re going to give the people of this country the right and opportunity to choose a different path.” [10/01/2012]
So, prior to losing the election, Ryan held up the election as a referendum on budget priorities and Republican policies. Having lost the election, he now claims exactly the opposite. This is a clear inconsistency, and is more evidence of right-wing delusions about the election. One can be sure that had Romney/Ryan won (even if the victory were tighter than Obama's), Ryan would be claiming a mandate for his policies.

h/t to Atrios

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Difficulties in the interpretation of data

This gif nicely shows how two people can look at the same data and come to radically different conclusions.

It comes from this website, and it raises a really interesting point about how science is conducted and how there can sometimes be a real art in moving from data to conclusions about that data.

h/t to Pharyngula

Monday, November 12, 2012

Karl Rove being Inconsistent? Who'd have thunk it?

George W Bush nicknamed him "Turd Blossom"
At some point it will get old, but for now it is enormously entertaining to watch the Republicans try and figure out why Romney wasn't elected even though they were all convinced that he would be (Hint: Americans, by a slim margin, didn't like what he was selling). Today, Media Matter for America has a nice summary of some of the comments made both before and after the election by Karl Rove in his Wall Street Journal column. The piece is titled, "Rove: Don't Blame Me Even If Everything I Said During The Campaign Was Wrong," and as the headline notes, these comments reveal a significant inconsistency in Karl Rove's thinking. The key summary comes in the last paragraph:
To sum up: Rove repeatedly used his Journal column to push his own financial interests by claiming that Obama was running a barrage of negative ads but predicting that Romney would still win because of the work Rove himself was doing. Then, after Romney's defeat, despite the hundreds of millions spent by Rove groups, Rove blamed a variety of factors other than himself for the defeat, including Obama's own supposedly negative campaign.
I recommend looking at the whole article, but the inconsistency should be clear: Rove claimed that Obama's negative campaigning would fail because his work would counter that and lead to Romney's election. However, when Romney was defeated, the fault lay with everyone but Karl Rove. One can't have it both ways.

Perhaps one good thing to come out of this election will be the end of Rove's political career once people realize that he doesn't have anything to offer. Keep in mind, Rove's Super PAC's took in roughly $300 million and delivered almost nothing for all that money. In fact, according to the New York Times, the best Rove could offer was, "without us, the race would not have been as close as it was."Small comfort for the donors who spent millions. If the best you can do is keep it close and still end up losing, there must be more productive ways to spend that kind of money.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Republican Delusions

Over the course of this election cycle I have written several blog posts looking at Right wing delusions about polling data. I focused quite a bit on Dean Chamber of and his attempts to "fix" polling data that didn't fit his desired outcome for the election. And now reports are coming in that th Romney campaign itself bought into these delusions, believing that the publicly available polling data (data collected and published by trained professionals with years if not decades of experience) was incorrect and was underestimating the Republican vote. From CBS:
As a result, they believed the public/media polls were skewed - they thought those polls oversampled Democrats and didn't reflect Republican enthusiasm. They based their own internal polls on turnout levels more favorable to Romney. That was a grave miscalculation, as they would see on election night.
This report makes it increasingly clear that the Republican party, even at it highest levels is, quite simply, delusional. On a whole host of issues they have taken positions that have little bearing on reality, and in many cases contradict established facts. The classic example of this is Global Warming, but it extends to a whole host of issues ranging from female anatomy to the policies of Barack Obama. In effect, it appears that the entire Republican world-view is based on wishful thinking and the belief that something must be true because one wants it to be true. We saw this as well on election night with Karl Rove's now legendary refusal to believe that Obama had won the state of Ohio, thus winning re-election:

And this raises an important and disturbing question: What are we to do when one of the two major political parties supports policies and platforms and endorses beliefs that are delusional and have no relation to reality? How can a democracy survive when people are picking their own facts to fit their already established ideological views? If we can't even agree on what the problems are, how can we possibly come up with solutions to them? I have no idea what the answers to these questions might be, but it will be interesting to see if the Republican party modifies any of its views to actually correspond to reality. If history is any guide, they will likely just become more extreme and more delusional.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Hello everybody,
Today is election day and I would like to urge all readers of this blog to please go out and vote. In particular, I would like to encourage you to vote yes on Proposition 30 and no on Proposition 32.
Proposition 30 is necessary in order to avoid massive cuts to education in the state of California. If proposition 30 fails, we will see significant reductions in the number of classes offered, increased class sizes, and many excellent teachers (myself included) will be out of work or significantly underemployed. Please vote Yes!
Proposition 32 is a deceptive attempt to silence Union voices in the state and give wealthy billionaires and corporations even more control and influence over politics in the state. Please vote No!

But, whatever you do, please vote!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Vote for my Dad because I have Cancer

Brian Bilbray is the Republican running for the 52nd Congressional District in California. Recently his campaign  released an advertisement featuring his daughter Brianna making an emotional appeal to voters to elect her father. Here is the ad in question:

This is a great example of the Appeal to Emotion, specifically an appeal to pity. Bilbray is leveraging the tragedy of his daughter's cancer to appeal to voters. He is not making any rational argument about why he would be superior to his opponent, Scott Peters. He is basically arguing, "My daughter has cancer. Vote for me." If we think a little more deeply about the ad is should be clear that this emotional appeal makes absolutely no sense. Are we supposed to believe that Bilbray's opponent Scott Peters won't make any efforts to fund cancer research? Are we supposed to believe that Bilbray has some special powers as a congressman that would make him more successful in curing cancer or funding cancer research? Is his mere presence in a lab looking over the shoulder of a researcher with a microscope supposed to somehow improve the speed and efficacy of that research? The exact mechanism here isn't very clear, but then it isn't supposed to be. Bilbray is hoping that our pity and sadness at his daughter's tragedy is sufficient to block a rational assessment of the ad.

I must also comment on Bilbray's boilerplate at the end when he says, "I approve this ad because some things are more important than politics." This is probably the most insulting part of the whole ad. How can Bilbray claim that some things are more important than politics when he is clearly using his daughter's cancer to try and win a political election! Frankly, I find the whole thing rather sordid and disgusting. If Bilbray's daughter is genuinely suffering from terminal cancer (A claim I have no reason to doubt), then perhaps he ought to suspend his political campaign and his congressional aspirations in order to spend more time with his daughter during her final days. To use her in a campaign ad, however, raises serious questions in my mind about the kind of person Bilbray is.

h/t to KPBS