Friday, April 18, 2008

Expelled and Right-Wing Tactics

I just finished reading David Brock's The Republican Noise Machine and it got me thinking. In the book, Brock makes the claim, also put forward in the documentary Outfoxed, that the notion of "liberal bias" in the media is something that has in large part been put into the American consciousness by the right wing, and something that has been continually pushed even as the radical right has taken over the media in a number of ways. I'll refer to this political tactic - that of labeling something as biased when it's not - as the "bias tactic".

One of the immediate consequences of the populace's acceptance of the notion of "liberal bias" in the media - that is, of the success of the bias tactic with respect to media - is that it gives those with radical right wing beliefs an automatic trump card in debate. After all, any facts that you try to bring to light in debate that rely on the reports of the media are automatically under suspicion, since the media supposedly has a liberal bias. And any right wing debater can play this card whenever such reported facts threaten his position - "Well, sure the news supports what you're claiming" he can say, "the media is biased. We're not hearing both sides of the story". This, of course, can be an immediate debate stopper. If one has been sucked in by the idea that the media has a liberal bias, then, if one did not collect the facts oneself, it is impossible to properly justify the facts that you've presented on the basis of media reports. Not only that, but the success of the bias tactic also makes it possible for the right wing media sources like Fox to use anti-bias sounding slogans like "fair and balanced" to draw viewers to news that actually is biased.

It seems to me that Ben Stein's new bit of propaganda - Expelled - is a broadening of the application of the bias tactic. Charges of bias used to be thrown just at the people who report the facts. But now it's the people who collect the facts. This time they're after science.

Think about it for a moment. The whole premise of Expelled is that the scientific establishment is biased, that it kicks out people who do not agree with the established consensus. Now this is patently false, just as it was in the case of the media. There are many scientists who question the current paradigm and don't get kicked out. After all, if you have the evidence to back up your claim that the current paradigm is wrong, you're instantly famous! Here comes the Nobel Prize! But that won't stop the people behind Expelled any more than it stopped those who propagated the "liberal media" myth.

If application of bias tactic to science were to be successful the rewards for the right would be overwhelming - much better than the rewards reaped from duping viewers of Fox news. Just as Fox news managed to situate itself as an actual news organization rather than the propaganda machine that it is due to the success of the bias tactic with respect to the media, organizations doing pseudo-science that supported conservative ideas, even when they contradicted real science, would gain a much greater status. Global warming denialism, young earth creationism, and spurious claims about the ills of vaccines or the effects of abortion like the lie that abortion causes breast cancer would all instantly gain credit. After all, if the scientific establishment is biased, then we can't trust what they say, so we have to listen to both sides. "Fair and balanced" and "teach the controversy" are products of the same idea - the idea that the best way to get around facts that you don't like is to create your own "facts".

Now, I may be being a bit of a conspiracy theorist here. And either way it doesn't look like they're going to get away with it this time. But just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you, and just because they fail once doesn't mean they won't try it again.


Anonymous said...

The media is not biased either way. The media are whores, and their only purpose is to perpetuate themselves, so they report with whatever bias they perceive to be popular at the moment. Now, to Ben Stein. I have not yet seen the movie, but I understand that he provides interviews with people who have been expelled, disallowed grant money, reassigned or persecuted. The fact that there are those who question Darwin that have not (yet) been expelled is irrelevant. I am sure there are also guilty people in prison, that does not mean there is not a problem with innocent people in prison. As far as "teaching the controversey", Christians pay taxes for schools too,and in fact, since 85% of people claim to be Christians, 85% of school taxes dollars come from Christians. They have the right to ask, as do unbelievers and other kinds of believers to ask that the deficincies of Darwinism also be discussed, if Darwinism need be discussed at all. If the schools do not want to do this, then I suggest that we refund people's school tax dollars to them and allow them to send their kids to the school of their choice.Or, I suggest, that parents who do not want their children to be taught Darwinism as the ONLY option, be allowed to have their children opt out of such a class. People have for a long time made very productive lives for themselves without ever knowing what Darwin had to say about anything. To Darwinists, scientists, and some religious scholars, this may be important, but to the rest of the world, it really isn't. Not knowing Darwin's theory of evolution never stopped anyone from being a mechanic, or a carpenter, or a lawyer, or a writer, a businessman or woman, or a bank president, or, even, we have seen, a successful politician. And while this Darwin thing may of ultimate importance to atheists most people really, really don't care. It is not a necessary discipline for a successful life and there is no need to require it in school UNLESS the schoolmaster and the education system are carrying some kind of agenda that involves shoving Charles Darwin down people's throats.
Finally, if atheists are so dead certain of the rightness of their position, why are they so afraid of allowing the discussion.If those who oppose Darwinism, in its current form, are so very wrong, then let them have their say so that the all so wise Darwinist scientist can make fools of them. But, and this is part of Stein's point, Darwinist seem reluctant to engage the discussion, and would rather just use government, money, and persecution to eliminate opponents rather than to engage them.One has to wonder why.

Artemis311 said...

Well, as for those who have been persecuted, I suggest you go to and look at the section entitled "the truth behind the fiction" to see what really happened to these supposedly persecuted people.

And yes Christians pay lots of tax dollars. That is no reason to violate the constitutional separation of church and state or to teach non-science in science classes.

If people want to "opt out" of the truth, that's their business, but schools are there to teach facts, not pseudo-scientific hooey.

And yes, people can get through their lives without knowing the theory of evolution (stop calling it Darwinism - there is no such thing). They can also get by without knowing basic physics or chemistry or having read shakespeare or chaucer or knowing what happened during the 100 years war. Should public schools stop teaching these things? Should students be able to opt out of history or lit or chem?

Finally, atheism is not synonymous with believing the theory of evolution. There are many theists who believe evolution occurred. And scientists have addressed this in the public sphere. Ken Miller comes to mind.