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The cost of conspiracy

Photo by christine zenino/flickr.com

It’s been quite a month for conspiracies.

The so-called Birther conspiracy took a serious hit among the larger public after President Obama released his long-form birth certificate on April 27.  According to a recent Washington Post poll, most people – other than 14 percent of the most hardcore conservatives – have given up this nonsense.

Still, the hystericals over at World Net Daily, the leading purveyor of Birther propaganda, are out already with a story claiming the birth certificate is a forgery. So far the media and Americans (who can be sure about the order these things happen in?) have been ignoring the story.

Locally, the media has not been so disciplined about Jim Harbison’s outlandish U.N. Agenda 21 conspiracy charges. For example, on April 28 the Las Cruces Sun-News ran a front page story that I’m sorry to say offered wider exposure to his claims. The Sun-News is just the latest example of media outlets mistaking the claims that people are making for actual news.

We’ve seen this before, of course, with Sarah Palin’s death panel claims, and the ugly “swift-boat” rumors about then-presidential candidate John Kerry’s military service. The Sun-News needs to be more careful. They hurt their own credibility when they report on conspiracy theories like Harbison’s as though they are based on more than just insinuation and fear.

Furthermore, when they place those claims on the front page, they aren’t reporting the news – they are making it. I hope they’ll be more responsible in the future.

And finally, with the killing of Osama Bin Laden, a new conspiracy has been spawned: whether special operations forces actually got him. As reported by the watchdog group Media Matters, Wall Street Journal Columnist Peggy Noonan is all too eager to blame President Obama’s decorum, rather than conspiracy theory fanatics, for the flourishing of this conspiracy theory. Here’s what she says, as quoted by Media Matters:

“People believe nothing. They think everything is spin and lies. The minute a government says A is true, half the people on Earth know A is a lie. And when people believe nothing, as we know, they will believe anything. We faked the moon landing, there was a second gunman in Dallas, the World Trade Center was blown up in a U.S.-Zionist conspiracy, Hitler grew old in Argentina.

“There will always be people who believe conspiracy theories, and with the Internet there will be more. They are impervious to evidence. But people who care about the truth need to be armed with evidence to refute them.”

However, as Media Matters points out, most people do believe that Bin Laden was killed - to the tune of 90 percent of Americans, according to a recent Gallup poll. Here’s what Media Matters says about those who don’t believe:

“The skeptics Noonan describes are the ones camped out in the right-wing fever swamp and the ones whose common sense has been so clouded by hatred for the president that they’re forced to cling to any illogical claim about him. That’s who Noonan’s describing, but she pretends that’s how mainstream America thinks today. (i.e. The darn Internet!).”

The way Noonan (and U.S. Representative Ron Paul on the Diane Rehm show, and many of the guests on recent Fox News shows) frame this discussion creates the false sense that many people are worried that he might not be dead, which creates news and fuels conspiracy theories.

It’s irresponsible.

But why do people fall for conspiracies?

Much interesting research has been done on this topic. According to a recent New York Times article, UC-Davis history professor Kathryn Olmstead argues that the attacks on President Obama are “essentially about race.” I think racism is an important component, but I think that there is a larger force at play.


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Agency anxiety

According to conspiracy scholar Timothy Melley, in his book Agency Panic and the Culture of Conspiracy:

“…the recent surge in conspiracy narratives… cannot be explained as a response to some particular political issue, social organization, or historical event, such as Watergate, or the Kennedy assassination, or even the Cold War… It stems largely from a sense of diminished human agency, a feeling that individuals cannot effet meaningful social action.”

Melley argues that this reduced sense of one’s capacity to have an impact on the world results in what he calls agency anxiety. People suffering from agency anxiety are especially susceptible to the conspiracy theories purveyed by “conspiracy entrepreneurs” (as conspiracy scholar Professor Goldberg calls the mostly men who either concoct or propagate conspiracies).

Conspiracy entrepreneurs – ranging from Glenn Beck to Las Cruces’ own Jim Harbison – offer a simplified map of the world where all the pieces fit just so. It little matters that the picture that is revealed when all the pieces are put together is logically hard to accept.

As Charles Stewart in his insightful article, “The Master Conspiracy of the John Birch Society: From Communism to New World Order,” which shows how the John Birch Society intentionally pivoted their propaganda away from communism conspiracies to New World Order conspiracies like U.N. Agenda 21, says:  “There are no accidents, no coincidences, no stupid acts or decisions. In an abstract and complex world, there are no ambiguities, no mysteries, no loose ends.”

For people who are overwhelmed by an increasingly complex world, and who are feeling less in control of their lives, conspiracy theories like Harbison’s U.N. Agenda 21 offer a simple system that helps them make sense – even if it’s only really nonsense – out of the world.

Conservatives and conspiracies

From the John Birch Society to the Birthers to U.N. Agenda 21, it seems like conservatives are more prone to buying into these conspiracy theories than other political groups. A recent study by Ryoto Kanai at University College London that examined how liberals’ and conservatives’ brains differ offers some tantalizing hints about this phenomenon. Here’s how a newspaper article about the study (which is not available for free online yet) summarized the findings:

“Researchers found that those holding conservative views tend to have larger amygdale, the almond-shaped organ in the center of the brain that’s linked to fear, anxiety and emotion; and a smaller-than-average anterior cingulate, a region of the brain linked to sorting through conflicting information and maintaining a more optimistic outlook.

“The opposite was true for subjects identified as liberal.

“Many psychological reports published over the years have also shown conservatives to be more sensitive to threats in the face of uncertainty, while liberals tend to be more open to new experiences.”

The emerging evidence – and listening to Glenn Beck’s radio show – indicate that conservatives might have brains built for being afraid, which would increase their agency anxiety, and thus their tendency to fall for conspiracy theories.

The impossible refutation

Brain differences between conservatives and liberals aside, the problem with many conspiracies is that they rely on such vague theories and general language – Harbison’s U.N. Agenda 21 is a prime example of this – that they are often impossible to directly refute, especially among those who would prefer to believe them. As conspiracy scholars Sunstein and Vermeule point out:

“A central feature of conspiracy theories is that they are extremely resistant to correction, certainly through direct denials or counterspeech by government officials; apparently contrary evidence can usually be shown to be a product of the conspiracy itself. Conspiracy theories often display the characteristic features of a ‘degenerating research program’ in which contrary evidence is explained away by adding epicycles and resisting falsification of key tenets.”

Since anyone who disputes a conspiracy is seen to be in on it, conspiracies are extremely durable, which only underscores how irresponsible it is for news outlets like the Las Cruces Sun-News to report on them as though they were factual. They should leave this sort of “reporting” to websites like NewsNM.com, which tries to hide its conservative ideology behind threadbare claims to being a legitimate news organization.

The real work ahead

I have such little patience for these conspiracies because they play on our anxieties in such a way that makes it more difficult for us to solve the big problems we face. By pitting small groups of us against one another,  it is harder for us to work together.

A large portion of the history of American progress is based on our ability to overcome fears and prejudices, and to come up with pragmatic solutions. Conspiracy theories like the Birthers and U.N. Agenda 21 only distract us from the real work ahead of us.

Nick Voges is the blogger behind NMPolitics.net’s Zeitgeist. E-mail him at nick@nmpolitics.net.

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26 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. Dr. J., I certainly do not question your expertise. I wanted to make a few elementary points about your presentation.

    On the matter of risk assessments, cost-benefits analyses, sensitivity assessments, and the like, we almost always work on the basis of imperfect information. Your standard of accuracy demands more than can usually be obtained; numbers are involved, but we are doing approximations, not arithmetic. We make best use of available data and expert opinion to make the assessments. The information and the analyses today are never as good as the information and analyses tomorrow. The goal is not certainty; the goal is to get a grip on the issues in a manner which enables us to make an intelligent decision when time is a factor and deferral has costs. Do not make better the enemy of the good.

    Actually, you know this (I hope); I just want you to know that I know this, too. Some of the projections for global warming are alarmist, but not all of them are, and even they do not give us much time if we decide to do something in time and sufficient to avert consequences of doing nothing.

  2. As you no doubt know, as a geoscientist I understand the many episodes of waxing and waning of climate, the seas go out, the seas come in, latitude, and longitude the chunk of earth (or at least parts of it) we call by the political division name of “New Mexico” has undergone over the many billions of years of earth history. But, since I am talking mostly to laymen these days who don’t usually understand this, I was putting things in real, human time terms by saying “NM has always been a desert”, since to most humans who could think, build, and live in a civilized society, it has been. I am usually “tweaked” for using long term geologic time frames most people can’t comprehend and thus what happened a few million years ago is not relevant to them.

    I would also ask you to look up the department at TAMU this prof is part of, you will not find it to be “biased against AGW”, but rather very biased in favor of AGW theory. Just look up Andy Dessler and Gerry North, two who think Hansen hung the moon. Dr.n-g is quite balanced and scientific in his approach, if you care to look at his blog and publications. In my years of debating this group, I have to say overall they are AGW believers.

    Now, specifically you said: “Two, the data reported for 110 years comes from the US only. So what is true of New Mexico is not necessarily true of the rest of the US, and its truth as diminishing reliability for projecting trends in North America or the Western Hemisphere or the planet. One cannot reasonably extrapolate from findings in a state or even a large country to a “global” conclusion.”
    Indeed, and I made no claims of extrapolating anywhere outside these data. I was speaking solely about the map presented from these data, and the conclusions about AGW theory that are contradicted by them. But remember, the global warmists would and do, easily extrapolate from one flood, hurricane season, tornado event, heat wave, etc. to global warming caused by human CO2. I think your speech here should be given to people like Hansen, Algore, etc., not me.

    In my years of debating this issue, the subject of cost/benefit and “insurance” comes up often. I am a big supporter of both concepts. However, to do this kind of numeric analysis accurately, you have to have accurate numbers to work with. And in the case of evaluating the benefits of stopping human CO2, you have to also use probability and risk analysis. How certain are the scientists who propose eliminating human CO2 in the results and timeframes of this “benefit” of perhaps a few degrees F over a few centuries? And what is the monetary value of that “benefit” of some ideal temperature, and who decides what that temperature should be when we stop? You see, there is nothing but guess work and speculation on that benefit side of the equation. As for the costs of reducing CO2 (forget any profits from sequestering and selling CO2, that is a financial disaster only subsidies could justify), they are relatively well known in terms of GDP loss. The costs of energy substitutes is also well known, and they are much more expensive than fossil fuels today, but we can all dream some breakthrough happens in a few year, even though billions in research has been thrown at it over the decades with very little progress on costs. We as a society are 100% certain of expending these costs, but we have little to go on as to benefits. Thus, this equation is not solvable uniquely or with any degree of certainty, and certainly not ready for drastic policy actions. Insurance cost vs. loss is equally uncertain as a calculation.

    As I have said many times before, the reduction, removal, taxing, etc. of real health damaging substances is not anything we should be arguing about. They must be reduced and eliminated. SOx, NOx, Hg, U, O3, CO, and truly toxic gases are dangerous, proven with certainty scientifically and a no-brainer. But CO2 is not the biggest threat to mankind. It has very little scientifically proven impacts to human health, why focus on it? Why not go after the others and make real progress in global health? Again, this irrational obsession with CO2 makes no sense in anything except a political context.

    Bjoern Lomborg
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bj%C3%B8rn_Lomborg
    has much to say about these issues. He knows, and has shown (using several Nobel Laureates in Economics) that focusing on CO2 and AGW is not much bang for the buck. There are much higher societal and economic priorities, unless of course you approach the science with a political agenda, in which case you will not believe me and the others no matter what we say, show, and can prove.

  3. Dr. J., I cannot resist a few tweaks. I would not rely on your “fiends.” In this case, the work which you cite and to which you give a references. However, a report by a Texas-based, anti-global-warming scientist does not come without some suspicion of bias (see skeptic on the biases of global-warming scientists).

    That said, there are some other little boo-boos. One, although NM has been a desert for the past 110 years, it has not “always been a desert.” Millions of years ago, it was anything but a desert; it was underwater as a part of the inland sea running up the plains. Two, the data reported for 110 years comes from the US only. So what is true of New Mexico is not necessarily true of the rest of the US, and its truth as diminishing reliability for projecting trends in North America or the Western Hemisphere or the planet. One cannot reasonably extrapolate from findings in a state or even a large country to a “global” conclusion.

    And that said, let my add that I am not hard over on global warming. I approach the issue rather differently, from a risk-cost-benefit assessment. If there is no global warming enhanced by human technology, then doing anything to deal with a non-existent phenomenon is a waste. If there is global warming enhanced by human technology, then doing something to deal with an existent phenomenon may not be a waste. The choice is between the costs of doing something to no effect and the cost of doing something to great effect in avoiding even greater costs of damage.

    Moreover, I regard efforts to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and (other?) pollutants often emitted in conjunction with carbon dioxide as having benefits in terms of health and environmental effects. One way to hold down medical costs is to hold down demand for medical services required for respiratory diseases and chemically induced diseases or disorders.

    Finally, eliminating CO2 as part of a risk-management calculation makes sense. As it is, burning coal requires scrubbing to eliminate NOx, SOx, and fly ash, which contains toxic and radioactive elements. I assume that eliminating CO2 would require different technologies and that the technologies can and will be adapted to make CO2 recovery a profitable by-product.

    In short, I do not see the manmade global warming issue as an all or nothing proposition. Science may arrive some day (soon, I hope but do not expect) at its resolution, but, in the meantime, risk-cost-benefit analysis suggests, in light of catastrophic consequences if it not an issue but a fact, that we act as if manmade global warming were true. Such actions are called insurance.

  4. Good Skeptic, well done. And since we are on the subject of AGW and exaggerated or even made-up impacts, I just attended a briefing on this new data on U.S. precipitation. This new study, which was a painstaking undertaking by scientists given the huge amount of data, gives a much more complete, accurate, and objective look at the last 110 years of complete U.S. data than anything NOAA every did. It is discussed here, by one of my fiends:
    http://blog.chron.com/climateabyss/2011/05/our-new-analysis-of-united-states-precipitation-trends/

    The map says it all, there is no long term drought in effect for NM, nor most of the west. We live in a desert, it has always been a desert, but the data actually show a small increasing trend in precipitation for almost al of NM. There are numerous “pronouncements” from political agenda driven political scientists and enviro groups (Conservation Voters, NEE, etc.) that say AGW is causing our “drought”, as well as California, Arizona, etc.. Some fools even have filed suit against Gov. Martinez for the “damage” to them from this AGW caused “drought” by her not taking action against the evil human CO2.

    Not a conspiracy, just lies spread by biased political types pushing an agenda and against scientific facts. The upshot of this new study is that the alleged “effects” caused by AGW being hysterically promoted by the charlatans, are false. The good Dr. of this study says this at the end: “This trend pattern is not consistent with the climate projections for increasing Tyndall gases, which basically have the northern United States getting wetter and the southern United States getting drier. There’s no sign of the long-term drought that’s supposed to be gripping the Southwest”.
    “Why the discrepancy between the projections and the reality so far? It’s interesting to consider the possibilities:

    1. The models are wrong with their computation of the response to Tyndall gas forcing. If that’s the case, we’d expect the positive trend to continue.

    2. The upward trend in the southern United States is due to natural variability. This is not far-fetched: the lack of substantial warming so far in parts of the south-central and southeastern United States has been shown to be caused by the particular way the sea surface temperature patterns have evolved. If that’s the case, we’d expect the positive trend to reverse itself rather strongly as the pendulum shifts to the other side.

    3. The upward trend in the southern United States is due to a different type of anthropogenic effect, such as aerosols (tiny particles) in the atmosphere, changes in land use, irrigation, and surface water, and so forth. If that’s the case, the upward trend would continue only as long as its cause continues and is able to dominate the effect of Tyndall gases. With aerosol concentrations and irrigation on the way down and the number of new reservoirs decreasing, one would expect the
    upward trend to gradually reverse itself.”

    In other words, they haven’t a clue what is going on, but it ain’t AGW as described by the fear-mongers.

  5. Let me point out that science has the advantages of proof and replicability or predictiveness.
    There are fashions in thinking, but science works better than literary criticism, as I know all too well!

    Yes!

    Global warming is exaggerated

    1.The extent of global warming is exaggerated

    The IPCC states that the

    Best estimate for a “high scenario” is 4.0 °C per century

    A mid range warming rate of the IPCC scenarios would be 2.9 °C per century
    The IPCC states that the

    Best estimate for a “low scenario” is 1.8 °C per century

    Data are available:

    http://www.remss.com/data/msu/monthly_time_series/RSS_Monthly_MSU_AMSU_Channel_TMT_Anomalies_Land_and_Ocean_v03_3.txt http://vortex.nsstc.uah.edu/data/msu/t2/uahncdc.mt http://www.remss.com/data/msu/monthly_time_series/RSS_Monthly_MSU_AMSU_Channel_TLT_Anomalies_Land_and_Ocean_v03_3.txt http://vortex.nsstc.uah.edu/data/msu/t2lt/uahncdc.lt http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/data/temperature/hadsst2gl.txt http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/data/temperature/hadcrut3gl.txt http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/tabledata/GLB.Ts+dSST.txt

    One may calculate a least squares fit of a linear trend for each of the data sets.

    I have done this and it is represented graphically, at this link.

    When one does,
    one will find that all of the trends are at the rate less than that of the best estimate of the “high scenario”.
    One will find that all of the trends are at the rate less than that of the mid-range.
    One will find that all of the trends are at the rate less than that of the best estimate of the “low scenario”.

    By this objective measure, global warming has been exaggerated.

    2. The impacts of global warming are exaggerated.

    Given that the extent of ‘global warming’ is exaggerated, it should follow that the impacts are also exaggerated.

    We know that evolution is a slow process. We have some good but imperfect evidence of past temperatures from studying isotopes. So we know that most species alive today evolved through glaciations and de-glaciations. The climate and temperature changes associated with both of these phases are greater than ‘global warming.’

    Examine this plot of insolation ( strength of sunshine ).
    This plot is from calculation of the earth’s orbital parameters. The data is for summer at 65N but a similar pattern of lesser extent pertains to lower latitudes, including that of New Mexico. Notice the variation in the intensity of summers that has taken place. Variation is normal and we, like other species currently existing, evolved experiencing all these changes. Also not the most recent peak in summer insolation. It is referred to as the ‘Holocene Climatic Optimum’. During the HCO, the treeline went to the coast in the Arctic. Quite a change, but the Inuit who lived there have persisted through both warmer and colder regimes – and so have the polar bears!

    NOAA has this paleo reference to HCO.

    3. The exaggeration of global warming includes ignoring benefits.

    Benefit: the use of fossil fuels in the first place. Consumers don’t care about the source of their energy but do care about the price and reliability. Peak oil may well make oil use unreliable in the longer term. But coal and natural gas are quite abundant consequently cheap. Fossil Fuels are currently cheaper and more reliable round the clock than any alternatives. Even were there downsides ( and there are some irrespective of the exaggerated ‘global warming’),
    it is the net balance of risk/benefit that matters, and clearly use of the energy is a benefit.

    Benefit: the enrichment of CO2 for crops: There are copious numbers of scientific studies demonstrating increased plant growth, crop yield and drought tolerance for all major crops! Some benefit more than others ( you’ll read about C3 versus C4 plants ) but all benefit! You can review numerous papers on the subject here.

    Benefit: were climate to warm: Increased growing season, reduced crop loss to freeze

    Benefit: were climate to warm: Increased longevity? It is an imperfect analog, but people die at a much greater rate in winter than in summer

    And in what you have written, I see no knowledge, only unsupported speculation and unsubstantiated motive-mongering.

    I am not going to convince you, only you can convince you and that’s as it should be.

    But science is about reproduce-able results to testable hypotheses.

    The IPCC has only recently given us hypotheses ( as to the rate of warming ) that are testable.

    When you assess ‘global warming’ make that assessment on the basis of those IPCC predictions and you will arrive at the conclusion that ‘global warming’ is real but exaggerated.

    As to ‘motive-mongering’ I’ll leave you with this quote:

    Quote from Monika Kopacz, atmospheric scientist: “It is no secret that a lot of climate-change research is subject to opinion, that climate models sometimes disagree even on the signs of the future changes (e.g. drier vs. wetter future climate). The problem is, only sensational exaggeration makes the kind of story that will get politicians’ — and readers’ — attention. So, yes, climate scientists might exaggerate, but in today’s world, this is the only way to assure any political action and thus more federal financing to reduce the scientific uncertainty.”

    Seems to me that people don’t misunderstand Agenda 21 but rather do understand it’s extreme motivations, rationalized by an erroneous premise.

  6. Skeptic disses Stephen Hawking, claiming that he is a brilliant astrophysicist but a moron in every other field. It doesn’t work that way. Hawking is not some idiot savant, but brilliant through and through.

    I’m not dissing Hawking, I’m disputing what he said.
    In science it is what is said, not who says it that’s important.

    But I’ll add some other quotes from other scientists:

    I’ll give you one more:

    [regarding 'global warming'] “That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.”
    Stephen Schneider, Stanford Univ.

    My question to you: Do you believe someone when they tell you they will lie, or when they do lie?

  7. Skeptic disses Stephen Hawking, claiming that he is a brilliant astrophysicist but a moron in every other field. It doesn’t work that way. Hawking is not some idiot savant, but brilliant through and through.

    But I’ll add some other quotes from other scientists:

    Jim Hansen, Director, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies: “The speed of the natural changes is now dwarfed by the changes that humans are making to the atmosphere and to the surface. [Warming of the Earth] has been enough to melt 20% of the sea ice in the Arctic, enough to speed up the spin and duration of hurricanes by about 50%, it’s been enough to start melting the permafrost beneath the tundra in the North.” “Permafrost,” like, permanently frozen–not any more.

    Sylvia Earle, Oceanographer, National Geographic Society and Jeremy Jackson, Oceanographer, Scripps Institute, estimate that we’ve lost 90% of the most of the big fish in the sea in the last 50 years. We have taken too much marine life out of the ocean and put back millions of tons of pollution. Food from the ocean is becoming more polluted and there’s less and less of it. The health of the ocean depends on the turnover between the surface water and the deeper, colder water. If the ocean warms too much, that turnover could cease and the ocean would become stagnant. This happened during the Permian mass extinction that occurred 250 million years ago—something like 90—95% of all species on the planet became extinct, and it took 50 million years for biodiversity to be re-established.

    David Suzuki, author and environmentalist: “I don’t believe for a minute that life will be extinguished, even though we have radically altered the air, the water and the soil of the earth. Life has been incredibly tenacious and adaptable. But, as the species at the very top of the food chain, I know that we’re the most vulnerable. …”

    Michael Gelobter, President, Redefining Progress: “The reality is that we have very responsive political leaders, they’re just responsive to wealth, and to money and to corporate power. Exxon Mobil, one oil company, is worth more than the sum of the value of all the auto companies in the whole wide world… that is a big company. People say gee, why aren’t politicians responding to the global climate crisis? … Because they are responsive to a higher power, unfortunately, and right now that power is the fossil fuel industry.”

    Skeptic further points to the prevalence of population explosion occurring in poorer countries. But the USA ranks #11 in pollution production PER PERSON, and #2 in total national pollution. China is #1, but of course their population is about 4X the population of the US. China ranks #80 in pollution production PER PERSON.

    Well, as conniericha pointed out, none of these facts and rational arguments mean anything to the “motivated reasoners,” that is, those who look only for arguments that support the conclusion they prefer.

  8. skeptic, sounds like limited modified conspiracy stuff to me. I think three different independent commissions investigated that email imbroglio and found nothing but scuttlebutt and gossip–the academic equivalent of office worker chit-chat at the watercooler. Now, if you want, worry that bone. Or show that money under the table to thousands on the take has led to universal fudging.

    Let me point out that science has the advantages of proof and replicability or predictiveness. Everyone was a Newtonian until about 1890; within a decade or so, the discovery of X-rays and radioactivity rendered Newtonian physics passe. There are fashions in thinking, but science works better than literary criticism, as I know all too well!

    One other point. I note your moniker. Even a skeptic must know something in order to doubt. Descartes began by doubting everything–big no-no. Then he constructed his system on (1) a tautology and (2) a mistake. “Cogito, ergo sum” is a deductive argument which assumes its conclusion in its premise. Thus, he assumes an “I” without any demonstration at all of an empirical claim. He might have done better to say thoughts exist or, less likely, thinking occurs–both of which raise issues of their own: how does he know that thoughts exist or that thinking occurs. Which gets me back to my point; you must know something in order to doubt something; you cannot doubt everything.

    And in what you have written, I see no knowledge, only unsupported speculation and unsubstantiated motive-mongering.

  9. I have no idea how we got focused on global warming.

    Apologies to Heath for winding up there.

    But unfortunately ‘global warming’ however benign and even beneficial it may be, is the prime rationalization employed for Agenda 21.

    Scientists who report global warming are not part of some international conspiracy of thousands of highly educated people.

    Right.

    Global warming is even real.

    It’s just grossly exaggerated.

    As you say, that exaggeration is not part of an international conspiracy ( except from a few whose more candid moments expressed how it was ok to lie because the cause is just ).

    The exaggeration is more so a part of emotion ( scientists, with only a few exceptions, are human beings and as such subject to emotions: greed and acceptance from peers).

    Greed leads to exaggeration by those funding their budgets – findings of ‘this isn’t a problem but we should continue study’ don’t get more funding.

    I read a lot of studies from fields far removed from climatology and have to laugh when they invoke ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ in it’s effect on woodpeckers, or highway conditions, or commodity prices or whatever.

    Variations from night to day, from day to day, from summer to winter, from El Nino to La Nina, from year to year and from decade to decade are all more significant than the slow, small forcing from ‘global warming’ to most every aspect of life – human and otherwise. But linking one’s study to those magic words ‘climate change’ somehow adds importance and probably funding so they write them.

    Peer acceptance leads to an ‘affirmation of faith’ that has the ugly overtones of witch hunts persecution of (and individuation from ) the non-believers. There are many who are afraid to oppose the exaggeration, even while they accept (as I do) the underlying principles.

    Unfortunately, the conspiracy is not the principle of radiative forcing from greenhouse gasses, but the use of fear from exaggerated scenarios that some, in this case Agenda 21 seek to use to further their ‘Agenda’.

    And with that, I will yield back the blog.

  10. I have no idea how we got focused on global warming. Scientists who report global warming are not part of some international conspiracy of thousands of highly educated people. If they were, and they could agree on global warming, I would like to sign them up to see if their ability to coordinate themselves would enable them to address and solve problems of peace and war, economic boom and bust, and where to put boogers. What I have read by American critics of the advocates indicates that they lack the background and supply irrelevant motives for their criticisms. My son is a scientist with some knowledge of the field as a matter of his professional work; I have challenged him on the issue; so far as I can tell, he is not a member of the conspiracy. But, then, there are things which a son does not tell his father!

    Can we get back to Roswell?

  11. Bravo Skeptic, extremely well said. The AGW propagandists and alarmists have brainwashed many uneducated people with Ph.D.s it seems. And I have to admit I had never heard of Agenda 21, so in researching it, it sounds like Kyoto, Nopehagen, and CanNot rolled into a much larger “plan” by the UN for global hegemony. It is indeed frightening to contemplate what a bunch of UN bureaucrats from third world (and some first world) nations could do to the world based on that “plan”. Luckily, the UN is the last place anyone would look for competent, effective bureaucrats who could accomplish anything. Their lack of abilities and astonishingly incompetent track record speaks for itself. But, given the “world order”, “world governance” aspects of Agenda 21, we must be vigilant to make sure the UN stays as they are.

  12. For Skeptic, I offer some quotes, statistics, and some thoughts:

    Stephen Hawking, British mathematician: “One of the most serious consequences of our actions is global warming, brought about by rising levels of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.… the warming of the seas may trigger the release of large quantities of CO2 trapped on the ocean floor. In addition, the melting of the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets will reduce the amount of solar energy reflected back into space, and so increase the temperature further.”

    Yes. This is an appeal to authority. What it indicates is that Hawking (an Astrophysicist) can be brilliant in
    his field and speak with hubris exceeding knowledge outside of his field.

    Recent reports [http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/qthinice.asp, http://ecocentric.blogs.time.com/2011/05/05/the-arctic-meltdown-accelerates/, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/05/03/scitech/main20059337.shtml state that the rate of melting of the arctic ice cap is accelerating, and that the summer artic ice cap has shrunk by 20% since 1979.

    Yes. But further review indicates that recent Arctic sea ice is more correlated to dynamics (motion out of the Arctic) than it is due to thermodynamics:

    http://seaice.apl.washington.edu/IceAge&Extent/

    But even if thermodynamics were the cause, global warming couldn't even come close to matching the additional 50 W/m^2 top of the atmosphere that the Arctic received during Holocene Climatic Optimum. Even after considering path and albedo, the Arctic summers were much warmer then. The fossils of trees all the way to the coastline confirm it.

    But this was not a disaster - far from it - it was the time of human civilization!

    World human population growth is also accelerating: 1800, ~ 1 Billion, 1930, ~ 2 Billion, 1960, ~3 Billion, 2011, 6.9 Billion. So it took 130 years for the first doubling, but only 30 years for the second doubling...

    Yes. Look at the countries with the lowest birth rates: Japan, US and Canada, Northern Europe. These are the countries with the developed economies thanks largely to fossil fuel.

    Wanna reduce population? Then allow economies to develop!

    Now look at the regions with the highest birth rates: Most of Africa, Southwest Asia.

    Wanna keep population growing and human misery high? Then prohibit development and limit energy use!

    BTW, I suspect that among other species of life, especially the vertebrates, world populations are shrinking. 55,000 species going extinct every year is a lot.

    I'm skeptical of this ( naturally ) - I haven't seen any reputable research which indicates anywhere near this.

    But even if it were true, we can be confident the NONE of them are related to 'global warming'. Why?
    Because species alive today have evolve through huge numbers of wild swings through glacial and inter-glacial cycles. Evolution discriminates against traits of frailty.

    Global warming: The top 11 warmest years on record (since ~1800) have all been in the last 13 years [http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071213101419.htm]

    True. It’s even largely consistent with CO2 forcing. It’s also insignificant.
    Yesterday could have been at times warmer or colder than normal – I wouldn’t have known
    even spending all day outside in the yard. Now consider that rates are indeed rising.
    But they are rising at a rate that is below the IPCC’s ‘Best estimate for the Low Scenario’.

    If warming were to take place completely evenly but at a rate of 1 millionth of a degree per year, we wouldn’t care.
    So it’s NOT the fact that there’s warming, but HOW MUCH.

    And in earth terms, it’s just not significant.

    I guess I should write up an article on global warming for NMpolitics.net.

    I would look forward to challenging it.

    It might bore many, but since the issue being used to justify such limits to freedom as with Agenda 21, we should examine it.

  13. Yes, conniericha, I have wondered if pointing out to the “Agenda 21″ alarmists that the fossil fuel giants are preventing them from CHOOSING to own an electric car, for example, by attacking every company that tries to make one. Here’s a video about the Canadian ZENN car, now defunct,

    http://www.forbiddenknowledgetv.com/videos/alternative-energy/zenn-car-zero-emissions-no-noise-car.html

    and the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” is very interesting. I would like to have an electric car just for the quiet ride. BTW, Texaco bought the patent for the 300-mile battery when the EV-5 was killed. They should be losing their exclusive rights on it within the next 5 years, maybe we will see some progress then.

  14. Anyone can visit un.org or simply google the term: “Agenda 21″ and get quick overview of what this self-described “plan of action” is all about. It is noteworthy that this columnist continuously offers “Media Matters” as his “watchdog” of choice. This sourcing speaks volumes. As for hiding our “conservative” ideologies at NewsNM. Our critics say we don’t hide much of anything, including our joining of the calls for the the end to the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy on gays serving in our military. And of course, just this morning we offered the viewpoint that there should be a complete withdrawal of all U.S. ground troops from the Middle East. Many times we have expressed our feelings that the decriminalization of drugs like pot make perfect sense, particularly given this nation’s dismal record with the so-called war on drugs. And as for the threadbare claims this columnist says we make on being a “legitimate” news organization. Well…..we call our site and our radio show News and Commentary. As such we post news stories and commentary from all points on the so-called philosophical spectrum. We certainly do not claim to have a journalist on our staff who is in the same league with Heath which is why we enjoy his appearances on the show so much. We are news aggregators and commentators not journalists. This being said, we would never require even threadbare claims from this columnist (or any other) prior to supporting his right to offer his own commentaries. However, it is our understanding that a successful “rhetorician” is trained to speak convincingly on any topic, regardless of his or her experience in that field. Perhaps caution is in order. Before venturing into any deeper epistomological discussions regarding our views on gays in the military, troops in the Middle East, or the war on drugs, perhaps we should wait for the days when our claims of “legitmacy” are less threadbare. Then perhaps we can hold our own with this most learned teacher of “rhetoric.” Thanks for the mention professor Voges. – Jim Spence

  15. Well said stever. As has been said, the partisan mind is a simple mind. This Op/Ed is one of my favorites on that:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/29/opinion/29douthat.html

  16. I knew it! It’s a brain thing. They are working from fear (an emotion) and all the rationality in the world will not change their “minds”. So we must approach them on an emotional level using some other emotion besides fear that may be equally as strong such as love for family, in order to move them to reconsider their fears. I have used this to make inroads in to the minds of radical right wing people. Point being, you can throw truck loads of rational and facts at these people and much as we love our rational, nothing will stick.

  17. Having debated adherents of right-wing conspiracy theories for more than 40 years, I decided to put down my thoughts about the nature and purpose of conspiracy theories in a detailed article here:

    http://ernie1241.googlepages.com/ct-1

    For the past 30+ years, I have made numerous FOIA requests to the FBI and other agencies in order to obtain documentation which would satisfy conspiracy adherents. In particular, my focus has been upon assertions made by the John Birch Society because the JBS has always effusively praised J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI as our nation’s most knowledgeable, authoritative and reliable source of factual information about the communist movement and internal-security related matters generally.

    See my 105-page Report on the John Birch Society here:
    http://ernie1241.googlepages.com/jbs-1

    Predictably, despite their praise for Hoover and the FBI — Birchers routinely reject everything revealed in FBI investigative files which does not conform to JBS dogma.

  18. For Skeptic, I offer some quotes, statistics, and some thoughts:

    Stephen Hawking, British mathematician: “One of the most serious consequences of our actions is global warming, brought about by rising levels of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.… the warming of the seas may trigger the release of large quantities of CO2 trapped on the ocean floor. In addition, the melting of the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets will reduce the amount of solar energy reflected back into space, and so increase the temperature further.” Recent reports [http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/qthinice.asp, http://ecocentric.blogs.time.com/2011/05/05/the-arctic-meltdown-accelerates/, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/05/03/scitech/main20059337.shtml state that the rate of melting of the arctic ice cap is accelerating, and that the summer artic ice cap has shrunk by 20% since 1979.

    World human population growth is also accelerating: 1800, ~ 1 Billion, 1930, ~ 2 Billion, 1960, ~3 Billion, 2011, 6.9 Billion. So it took 130 years for the first doubling, but only 30 years for the second doubling... BTW, I suspect that among other species of life, especially the vertebrates, world populations are shrinking. 55,000 species going extinct every year is a lot.

    Global warming: The top 11 warmest years on record (since ~1800) have all been in the last 13 years [http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071213101419.htm]

    It’s a snowball effect. it may look small to start with, but once it gets going it is more and more difficult to stop it. That’s the “tipping point” that scientists keep talking about.

    I guess I should write up an article on global warming for NMpolitics.net.

  19. it seems like conservatives are more prone to buying into these conspiracy theories than other political groups

    Where you stand depends on where you sit. Seems to me that there are wacky conspiracies from all directions. Good excuse for bashing conservatives (libertarians ??) but you can do better than that..

  20. Nick, I like this column as far as it goes. I am not trying to one-up you by saying that less-than-100-percent remedies exist, but we have not understood them to relate be such.

    Of course, my preferred remedy is education, specifically critical thinking. But the education system, from K through at least 16 is now dedicated to getting students to absorb information, take at face value whatever is presented as if factual, and let them treat it however they have informally learned to process information into an interpretation. Increasingly common is mentation reflecting prejudices and ideologies allowed under the rubric of self-expression and creativity in school pedagogy) The virulence of the misinformation on the Internet–not a new, but a larger, phenomenon–depends on the uncritical acceptance of assertions as if facts.

    Conversely, this current approach to education, now to be expanded by on-line learning, explains why courses in literature, history, and the arts are withering; they require critical thinking about complex, dynamic issues, not the mere absorption of information. It is not surprising that people feel anxious, as you put it, because they lack the critical thinking skills to address and assess complex issues. Ironically, Obama’s approach to education, largely a continuation of Bush’s, with its emphasis on literacy (devoid of literature), math, and testing, actually sustains the move away from critical thinking and toward the kind of irrationality which underlies both conspiracy theories and political ideologies.

    By the way, as a left-leaning Independent, I am sad to say that the liberal pedagogy to free students from presumed cultural hegemony by banishing the traditional curriculum and instruction, and emphasizing self-expression has finally prevailed after 40 years. The ultimate result will be demagoguery ending democracy as we have known it. Talk about unintended consequences–liberals have yet to realize what they have wrought.

  21. Yes, it’s true Mr. Voges, and you have stated the case quite well indeed, however incomplete and one-sided. Your quote here: “It stems largely from a sense of diminished human agency, a feeling that individuals cannot effet meaningful social action.” certainly explains the outlandish claims and fear mongering over anthropogenic global warming, for instance. And of course you failed to mention Cindy Sheehan leading the charge that OBL is not dead but the whole thing is a government conspiracy, and the “truthers” too. In fact, you spent no time on the liberal conspiracy kooks. Of course that is what I have come to expect from you.

  22. The program between Redflex Traffic Systems and the City of Albuquerque is a public-private partnership; is it a conspiracy?

    Here is what I believe public-private partnership means:

    Public-Private Partnerships – when private industry provides public services for profit. The original taxes for the services remain in place, but a duplicative “service for FEE” structure is added. It is FASCISM, and it should NOT be considered as a solution to the State’s budget woes. It promotes monopolies and destroyes small business. If the stakeholder is not a shareholder, he has no voice.

    In most cases the FEES are FINES and the PPP (ex Red-Flex) is the outsourced law efforcers. Here, Red-Flex issues tickets, and your taxes pay for the real cops to boot your car or arrest you. The only reason the program was losing $30,000 per month is because APD has not yet begun to perform their role.

    Imagine how many specialty cops you could have. Cops for education. Cops for septic tanks. Camera Cops. Recycling Cops. Water Cops. Every one of them having the authority to FINE the citizen and call the real cops to take you away.

    These organizations listed below are very likely all PPPs.

    Friedman Recycling
    Children’s Reading Foundation
    New Mexico Business Round Table
    New Mexico Early Childhood Development Partnership
    New Mexico Voices for Children
    NM Assoc. for the Education of Young Children
    United Way of Santa Fe County, children’s project

    Does anybody know of other PPPs that are being kept secret?

  23. The world human population has increased seven-fold since 1800 (1Billion then, nearly 7 billion today). So each of us is less significant that an individual used to be. That could be one of the causes of anxiety.

  24. Bless Nick’s heart….because that’s what is guiding him, not history or facts. Harbison has done the research and found the history of the efforts of Agenda 21…which, by the way, the government gave it’s name after the original name, “Border XXI” was exposed and discredited. Years ago, Joe Skeen fought it in Congress and Lt. Governor Walter Bradley led in New Mexico’s defense at the state level.

    If Harbison is so wrong, why has this program gone through so many phases of disguise? First, it was presented as a federal legislative proposal. It was thrashed when its details were exposed. Next, efforts were made to implement it administratively, at the federal level. Fortunately, there were people in the Bush administration who recognized it for what it was and called it to a halt. Next, promoters took the concept to the United Nations which took the program on and decided to implement it through municipalities. It is still the same program.

    These concepts have been rejected by the population that understands them over and over and over. Taxpayers don’t want this direction for their country. There are other countries that follow these proposals. Those who are so dissatisfied with America and it’s freedoms and liberty should consider changing their residence, not changing our country.

  25. Without trust and belief in our government there is:

    No trust and belief in our Treasury Notes.
    No trust and belief in our currency.
    No trust and belief in our markets.
    No trust and belief in our laws.
    No trust and belief in the news.

    All of commerce and civilized society are dependent upon trust and belief. Without trust and belief
    there can be no recovery. Instead of working together, there are now two sides. This is just the
    beginning of a very bad thing.

    belief vs trust

    i don’t believe (past) their words (purpose)
    i don’t trust (future) their actions (vision)

    http://sites.google.com/site/erikhawkes/Home/seven-important-points
    http://sites.google.com/site/erikhawkes/Home/political-translation
    http://sites.google.com/site/erikhawkes/Home/ferc-will-take-your-recs
    http://sites.google.com/site/erikhawkes/Home/rfp-customer-sited-utility-owned-solar-pv

  26. The problem with your list is you include Agenda 21 which key word is Agenda.

    Agenda 21 is a movement by a few to impose an unpopular Agenda on not just a many but the entire world.

    You cannot have a global agenda of economically damaging policies which restrict individual liberty and expect acceptance.

    The irony of Agenda 21 is that it is not itself sustainable.

    Agenda 21 seeks to reduce both population and energy use.

    But you only have to have taken an introductory economics course to understand that the
    factors governing standard of living are the number of producers times the productivity of the producers.

    By reducing production, and with it employment, Agenda 21 will die of it’s own weight.

    When the middle class go hungry, the Revolution against the Agenda 21 police state would begin.

    As an employee of some decades, I have observed that the worst tyranny can be of the ‘Tyranny of the Beuracracy’. Single groups have a narrow focused agenda and ignore common sense due to the zeal of their righteous cause.
    But their crusade comes at the painful cost of reducing productivity,

    By harming economies Agenda 21 will likely end of its own friction,

    Agenda 21 and the environmental movement in general is suffering increasingly from an uneducated populace,
    in spite of the greatest accumulation of knowledge amongst humans.

    A large part of the agenda appears to stem from the gullible adherence to a ‘global warming’ problem.

    Never waste a crisis seems true even for made up crises like ‘global warming’.

    It is not surprising that people mistrust the UN since it was they that manufactured ‘global warming’, even telling us they would lie in the process:

    “We need to get some broad based support,
    to capture the public’s imagination…
    So we have to offer up scary scenarios,
    make simplified, dramatic statements
    and make little mention of any doubts…
    Each of us has to decide what the right balance
    is between being effective and being honest.”
    - Prof. Stephen Schneider,
    Stanford Professor of Climatology,
    lead author of many IPCC reports

    “We’ve got to ride this global warming issue.
    Even if the theory of global warming is wrong,
    we will be doing the right thing in terms of
    economic and environmental policy.”
    - Timothy Wirth,
    President of the UN Foundation

    “Climate Change is the greatest threat that
    human civilization has ever faced.”
    - Angela Merkel,
    German Chancellor

    The ignorance or willful misrepresentation (also known as lying ) regarding the issue is stunning.

    ‘Global warming’ is NOT A PROBLEM!

    It is slight and temporary even if we continue with the fossil fuels which have advanced our productivity, transportation, agriculture, medicine, education, science, public safety, and generally everything that marks civilization.
    Paradoxically for agenda 21, it is this advancement that also leads to reduced birth rates.

    Carbon dioxide is a real, infra red emitting gas, alright, it’s just that the ignorance of people buying into the scare stories that it’s a problem wildly exceed any significance.

    No, the zealous church of ‘global warming’ and the inevitable Agenda 21 police state -are- conspiracies.

    Say NO to Agenda 21!

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