Reviewed 5/18/2015

Science Left Behind, by Berezow & Campbell

Access to this book courtesy of the
San Jose, CA Public Library
Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti-Scientific Left
Alex B. Berezow
Hank Campbell
New York: PublicAffairs, September 2012




ISBN-13 978-1-61039-164-1
ISBN-10 1-61039-164-0 303pp. HC/GSI $26.99


Page 4: "If, while reading this introduction, you looked at your dishwasher and wondered why environmentally conscious progressives had not simply bought reusable utensils, the kind you use in your house every day, instead of wasting taxpayer money on a social experiment, then this book is for you."
  Make that "had not simply bought reusable utensils, plus the machines to do the washing and drying, plus detergents and other consumables, plus replacements for utensils that get lost or damaged, and hired the staff to collect and wash them". Then run the cost numbers.
Page 5: "Politics is often more about photographing your rival in a compromising situation and e-mailing it to CNN. (That's a lesson Representative Anthony Weiner learned the hard way.)"
  No; Weiner shot himself in the foot.
Page 6: "They bogusly wave the banner of science..."
  Usage: There is no such word.
Page 10: "We don't have a dog in the never-ending political fight between Team Red and Team Blue."
  Could have fooled me...
Page 10: "However, we are zealous foot soldiers for Team Science..."
  Can I quote you on that? Yeah — see the next item.
Pages 15-16: "Silent Spring used a lot of the same logic that anti-vaccine progressives use today: anecdotal evidence and dubious statistics coupled with generous doses of paranoia and very little science."
  This is just standard right-wing nonsense about Rachel Carson and DDT. No dog in the fight? Zealous foot soldiers for Team Science? This attack on Rachel Carson's work puts the lie to both claims.
Page 35: "Instead of generating new demand for cars—which truly would have been a 'stimulus'— the program [Cash for Clunkers] concentrated existing demand into the lifetime of the government program. Auto dealerships and car manufacturers got a burst of sales, but not substantially more than they would have had over a longer period of time."
  This may be the only time when Republicans object to selling more goods now, rather than selling them later on. And why the scare quotes around "stimulus"? If selling more cars now isn't a stimulus, I don't know what is.
Page 37: "On the issue of climate change, President Obama did almost nothing."
  Nothing except raise CAFE standards, put limits on CO2 emissions from older coal-fired power plants, encourage the development of wind power and solar power (and the domestic jobs resulting from that)...
Page 57: "Then there is the environment that grows food, the provenance of groups like the dubiously named Union of Concerned Scientists."
  The phrase "dubiously named" appears twice in this book in connection with the UCS. The authors make no attempt to substantiate it. Also, "provenance" does not mean what they seem to think it means.
Page 65: "No, progressive policies did not achieve more efficient food production. Advances in science and the invisible hand of the free market did."
  I wonder how many of those advances in science were due to the visible hand of government, as in Department of Agriculture research.
Page 68: "The progressive obsession with denying people food—be it genetically modified or laboratory grown—makes sense when you consider that progressives appear to love planet earth far more than other human beings."
  Wording: As written, this is perfectly true — because progressives care more about the environment. But of course what the authors mean to say is "progressives appear to love planet Earth far more than they love other human beings." (Note that Earth is a proper name; it should be capitalized.)
Page 83: "Agricultural advances and technological innovations have greatly increased sustainability, and the human population has steadily increased to its current size of approximately 7 billion."
  Usage: S/B "productivity". Sustainability implies a constant population, at some level, because growth cannot continue indefinitely.
Page 83: "Together, they predicted in 1971 that pollution and other human activities would result in an ice age that—due to a slumping Antarctic ice cap—'could generate a tidal wave of proportions unprecedented in recorded history'."
  I don't know if this is misquoted, but an ice age will not cause Antarctica's icecap to "slump."
Page 89: "The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is 20 million acres of overwhelmingly inhospitable landscape. It sits at just over one thousand miles from the North Pole, above the Arctic Circle. Calling it a 'Refuge' is particularly ironic nomenclature, because nothing lives on most of it."
  This is just wrong. See Where Mountains Are Nameless.
Page 92: "Activists who insisted we need to go back to 1990s levels of greenhouse gas emissions got a jolt of reality about what that really meant. In 2011, U.S. emissions were at 1995 levels and the American economy was, rather like ANWR, an economic moonscape—except for alternative energy, which benefitted from continued government largesse."
  So much distortion. The 2011 conditions are not like what activists push for. The 2011 economy, while hurting, was far from a "moonscape." ANWR is irrelevant here. Alternative energy was not the only part of the economy to benefit from "government largesse."
Page 93: "There was no real science to back up the lofty claims about how biofuels would save us if they were implemented immediately."
  Terminology: S/B "corn ethanol". If ethanol could be made from cellulose (and it will be), it would be beneficial. The same is true of diesel oil made from algae.
Page 97: "Environmentalists still claimed, even if the claim was unsubstantiated, that the risk was considerable, just as they once had with the Alaska Pipeline. But in reality pipelines are far safer and cleaner modes of transportation than tankers and railroads. On the exceedingly rare occasions when a pipeline leak happens, often less than three barrels are spilled before the leak is stopped. We know how to build safe, responsible pipelines in environmentally sensitive areas—we've done it for decades. biofuels would save us if they were implemented immediately."
  Terminology: S/B "corn ethanol". A mandate to produce corn ethanol was enacted. It became a subsidy for U.S. farmers and raised the price of corn worldwide, hurting poor people overseas. If ethanol could be made from cellulose (and it will be), it would be beneficial. The same is true of diesel oil made from algae. But these processes are not yet feasible at scale.
Page 113: "Most people today have never seen an infant struggling to breathe because of whooping cough or lose the ability to walk because of polio."
  Usage: S/B "struggle".
Page 116: "Oregon Health Plan denies chemotherapy."
  What's omitted here?
Page 117: "In 2011, a serious drug shortage hit the United States. There are many reasons for this—such as FDA regulatory policies that stifle drug production..."
  Right: just like FDA commissioner Frances Kelsey's March 1962 policy that kept thalidomide out of the U.S.
Page 123: "(While not harmless, the danger associated with them was overblown.)"
  Dangling participle: S/B "While these substances were not harmless".
Page 134: "Animal sentience and nociception (ability to feel pain) is not well understood at all."
  Number error: S/B "are not well understood".
Page 147: "European organic farmers were probably not responsible for the outbreak (because the contaminated seeds were traced to an Egyptian supplier), but the incident should demonstrate that the words 'organic' and 'locally grown' are not synonymous with 'safer.'"
  Probably? Seems definite to me. And labels like "organic" can always be slapped on foods regardless of how the foods were produced. This is why regulations are needed.
Page 148: "This insect-killing protein is harmless to humans but kills insects."
  Clumsy writing is clumsy.
Page 164: "Summers's argument was a little more complicated. He did not say outright that men were smarter than women. His statement was much more obtuse."
  D'oh! The authors are trying to exonerate Summers here.
Page 211: "For instance, Democrats aren't anti-science because they oppose animal research in the example above; they just have higher moral standards than everybody else."
  Despite claiming on page 9 that not all Democrats are progressives, the author here lump them together.
Page 215: "An example would be claiming that sunsets cause the moon to rise because the sun always sets right before the moon comes out."
  There's another reason why this is a bad argument: its premise is false. Orbits — how do they work, anyway? (Also, "Moon" and "Sun" are proper names as used here.)
Pages 216-17: "Writers like Joe Romm of the progressive blog Think Progress must engage in some pretzel-twisting logic in order to justify progressives' anti-science position against nuclear power..."
  Not so; Dr. Romm's objection stems from the life-cycle costs of nuclear power plants. He's right when it comes to current designs. Where I differ is that I think it's possible to get cost down and safety up with so-called Gen-IV designs.
Page 218: "According to Raeburn's logic, he is implying that nothing we say is credible because we might be conservatives."
  That's not what Raeburn is saying. He's saying that someone who writes for outlets with a far-right slant might be biased. He writes of having found Berezow's writing on The American Spectator and National Review Online. The former is a well-known conservative outlet; a few titles from the latter's current site are: "Seven Lessons the Left Will Never Learn" by Scott McKay; "Obama's Climate Obsession Harms U.S. Interests and Moral Standing" by H. Sterling Burnett; and "Finding the First Amendment" by John C. Wohlstetter.
Page 219: "With reference to the anti-vaccine issue, progressives like to claim that because some of their leaders criticize the anti-vaccine movement, it should not count as a progressive anti-science belief; it is simply 'motivated reasoning' by emotional people when progressives do it and thus false equivalence."
  Another attempt at misdirection.
Page 219: "Despite this, progressive continue to frame all conservatives as anti-science, as if all Republicans have to sign some sort of pledge denying that pollution is bad or accepting that the earth (sic) is 6,000 years old."
  Another attempt at misdirection.
Page 220: "Joining them in opposition is the dubiously named Union of Concerned Scientists, which has a long history of peddling anti-science information."
  The authors again slur the UCS with this "dubiously named" label, and accuse it of "peddling" disinformation. They fail to provide any examples of such "anti-science information." Evidently we're supposed to assume that criticizing GM foods in any way is unscientific. That has been found not to be the case.
Page 220: "The truth is GM foods have not resulted in a single stomachache (sic) in over a decade of use, whereas documented poisonings and deaths have been attributed to the consumption of organic food."
  Not a single stomachache? In the mid-1990s, genes from Brazil nuts were spliced into soybeans. Blood tests of people with Brazil-nut allergy who ate the soybeans showed allergic reactions. Had these soybeans gone on the market, the results could have been deadly. Fortunately, they never did. Reference
Page 220: "...and the ability of poorer people in remote areas to grow more food will result in fewer carbon emissions."
  This may or may not be true. If they grow more than they need to eat locally, they probably will want to export the surplus — as the authors suggest in the next sentence. In that case, transporting the crops to market may wipe out any reduction in emissions.
Page 221: "In response to the same USA Today piece we discussed earlier outlining the left's anti-science positions, progressive blogger and author Chris Mooney dismissed the issue of genetic modification as false equivalence because 'it is not a mainstream position, not a significant part of the liberal agenda.' Do seven Democrats in the U.S. Senate not count as part of the progressive mainstream agenda? Has anyone alerted Greenpeace members that they are not a part of the mainstream discourse?"
  Here's a fine indignant rant from the authors. Alas, it completely misses Mooney's point — probably on purpose. What is that point? Simply that no one in Congress has introduced a bill to ban vaccine production, curtail the use of animals in research, or abolish genetically modified foods. Nuclear power has enjoyed bipartisan support for decades. Meanwhile, Republicans have sought to block funding for development of wind and solar power (while staunchly defending oil-industry subsidies), to abolish the EPA, to make sure no federal funds go to Planned Parenthood, to keep the HPV vaccine behind pharmacy counters, even to prevent the Defense Department from reducing its dependence on fossil fuels when top military officers have declared such dependence weakens America's strategic position. There is no liberal counterpart of the GOP's widespread and persistent objection to policies based on mainstream science.
Page 222: "Regardless of the facts, in his latest book The Republican Brain, the aforementioned Chris Mooney argues that people on the right are stupid because they can't help it."
  Nope. (A more extended rebuttal would seem to be a waste of time.) But see my review of The Republican Brain.
Page 223: "In this way, progressives routinely trivialize, dismiss, and make excuses for anti-science beliefs on their side of the aisle, yet throw the rhetorical bomb of anti-science at all their conservative opponents."
  Nope. (A more extended rebuttal would seem to be a waste of time.)
Pages 231-32: "If progressive special interests were allowed to demand representation equal to its desires (or more!), the nature of discovery itself is corrupted."
  What a grammatically corrupt sentence structure! S/B: "their desires" and "would be corrupted".
Page 257: "Accusations of a Republican war on science, of conservative resistance to and denial of fact, do not contribute in any way to the scientific enterprise. These accusations are founded on a handful of scientific topics on which slightly more conservatives hold slightly more uninformed beliefs than those on the other side."
  Nope. (A more extended rebuttal would seem to be a waste of time.)
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