“La La La I Can’t Hear You” Comes Home to Haunt GOP, in the Election, and on Climate
November 12, 2012
When Al Jazeera and The American Conservative are in agreement that you have a problem, you probably have a problem.
But the problem wasn’t just that conservative media gave Romney supporters bad information. The people in conservative media also seem to have been fully taken in by the idea that Romney would win and would do so in decisive fashion, and the campaign came to believe its own propaganda, too. As York notes, Romney didn’t have a prepared concession speech. It apparently never occurred to his campaign that he would lose. That’s not so remarkable by itself, but it is just one part of the overall pattern of the Romney campaign and the conservative movement’s reaction to Obama. Romney spent years running against a fantasy record and campaigning on a series of gross distortions and falsehoods, and so it shouldn’t be too surprising that his campaign and his conservative media boosters didn’t have the firmest grip on political reality.
After the election, a number of different people tweeted about a rather obvious connection – how the same people who didn’t believe the polls don’t believe global warming, either. There’s a further correlation here: On the polling side, the supposedly most liberally-biased pollsters actually came closest to hitting the mark, both in the Fordham analysis of national polls and a more sophisticated analysis of state polls by Emory political scientist Drew Linzer at his Votamatic website.
On the global warming side, a new study comparing climate models finds that those predicting the largest climate impacts by 2100 are the most accurate in modelling climate change that’s already occurred – specifically, humidity levels related to cloud formation. In short, the reality being denied in both cases is even worse than it first appears, so attempts to “compromise” or give conservatives “the benefit of the doubt” actually lead us further astray (since I first wrote this, David Roberts of Grist has written an excellent comparison of the twin delusions).
But there is more than just a correlation here. There is a common causal factor involved: Conservatives, trusting their guts, have created their own separate reality, with their own authorities, and their reasoning dominated by ideology, where certain sorts of facts simply cannot intrude. Election day was one of those rare moments in which the bubble they live inside collapsed.
In the face of model projections like Silver’s, Jonah Goldberg said that “the soul … is not so easily number-crunched.” David Brooks warnedthat “experts with fancy computer models are terrible at predicting human behavior.” Joe Scarborough said “anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue.” Peggy Noonan said that “the vibrations are right” for a Romney win. All sorts of conservative pundits were convinced the Romney campaign just felt like a winner.
Empiricism won. It didn’t win because it’s a truer faith or a superior ideology. It won because it works. It is the best way humans have figured out to set aside their perceptual limitations and cognitive shortcomings, to get a clear view of what’s happening and what’s to come.
As it happens, there’s another issue in American politics where empiricists are forecasting the future and being ignored. Here’s what the Nate Silvers of climate science are up to:
Looking back at 10 years of atmospheric humidity data from NASA satellites, [John Fasullo and Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research] examined two dozen of the world’s most sophisticated climate simulations. They found the simulations that most closely matched actual humidity measurements were also the ones that predicted the most extreme global warming.
In other words, by using real data, the scientists picked simulation winners and losers.
“The models at the higher end of temperature predictions uniformly did a better job,” Fasullo said. The simulations that fared worse — the ones predicting smaller temperature rises — “should be outright discounted,” he added.
That means the world could be in for a devastating increase of about eight degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, resulting in drastically higher seas, disappearing coastlines and more severe droughts, floods and other destructive weather.