According to historical mythology, when Galileo was brought up on charges and forced to recant what he had seen through his telescope, his real crime was contradicting the prevailing beliefs of church authorities. He was ahead of his time, and ignorant clerics of the day could not get past their opposition to science and knowledge.
This is largely untrue. The church had within it the intelligentsia of Europe. It was well known by those versed in the sciences that celestial measurements had long before disproven the teachings of Ptolemy. That the earth was the center of the movements of the cosmos had been rejected by pretty much everyone. That included those educated within the church.
The problem with Galileo was that he talked about it. By publicizing what he had seen, that the moons of Jupiter were circling another planet and not the earth, Galileo would cause the unsophisticated subjects of Christendom, those who merely worshiped, to harbor some small seed of doubt. Who could tell where that slippery slope might slide?
Five weeks after the mass execution of a classroom of small children in Newtown, Connecticut, President Obama faced the cameras and gave a major policy speech on gun violence. He set up a commission on gun safety to be headed by Vice President Joe Biden. He called on Congress for action. And he issued 23 executive actions.
It was those executive actions that provoked the fury of the farther fringe of gun advocates. One action in particular revived research that had withered for 17 years:
And while year after year, those who oppose even modest gun safety measures have threatened to de-fund scientific or medical research into the causes of gun violence, I will direct the Centers for Disease Control to go ahead and study the best ways to reduce it. And Congress should fund research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds.
We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.
What the President was referring to was a specific congressional ban on a certain type of research. In 1995, a newly elected Republican Congress, at the urging of the NRA, put into law a prohibition. The law said that no federal funds "may be used, in whole or part, to advocate or promote gun control."
That created a bit of a stir for researchers. Nobody knew for sure what was being prohibited. Research studies don't really need federal laws to tell them not to engage in political advocacy of any kind. Advocacy is not what reputable research is about.
For example, a number of recent studies have pretty conclusively established that geographic areas that are right next to each other can have dramatically different minimum wage laws with no difference in employment rates. The obvious policy choice would seem to be to increase the minimum wage pretty much everywhere and to do it right now. But no study has said that the minimum wage should be increased. They just present the facts.
So how does a "Just the facts" study conform to an order to stop going beyond the facts? One way might have been to continue on as usual. But Congress controls a lot of funding, so bureaucrats scrambled to try to figure out what conservatives wanted.
The Center for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health have funded important research on homicides and suicides. Some research continued, but phraseology became important. "By lethal means" was substituted for any reference to firearms. So the children in Newtown died "by lethal means."
Even artfully delicate wording raised the ire of some Congressional conservatives. A decade later, Joe Barton (R-TX) spoke for many conservatives as he complained about one study, "It’s almost as if someone’s been looking for a way to get this study done ever since the Centers for Disease Control was banned from doing it 10 years ago."
Researchers were asked to submit lists of any independent research, funded from private sources or on their own, they might be doing on gun violence. For years, those lists were then forwarded routinely to the NRA "as a courtesy."
President Obama was within the law as it was passed when he ordered federal agencies to stop the prohibition by proxy. If Congress wanted researchers to stop doing what they don't do, then don't do what you don't do. Just don't take it any farther than what the law plainly says.
So, presumably, research into gun violence will continue once more. Research will not advocate gun control. And researchers will also stop beating their spouses and will refrain from barbecuing live kittens, which they also don't do anyway.
In following the language of the law, agencies will be subverting the obvious desire of conservatives. Facts tend to be biased against the current form of advocacy that contemporary conservatism has become.
Gun violence is not the only area of fact prohibition, nor is the United States the only location where research is found to be objectionable because it might cause doubt among the faithful.
Via Jonathan Portes, we learn of the reaction of European conservatives to the failure of austerity policies in the European Union. Economists such as Paul Krugman, the bete noire of conservatives, had warned of the consequence of reducing deficits during a recession. The evidence had been clear. Predictions of increased investor confidence and a resulting explosion of growth turned out to be faulty.
Krugman called it a belief in "confidence fairies" and said the expansion wouldn't happen. All that would result would be unnecessary hardship.
Sure enough, the promised explosion into prosperity didn't happen. And unnecessary hardship did result.
Krugman has a history of correct predictions. He denies any special genius, although he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2008. In fact, he was the only one to receive the award that year. He insists that he is doing no more than applying the lessons available to any college freshman who pays attention during class in Macro Economics 101.
You don't cut and slash government during a recession, unless you want a long and deep recession.
So Jonathan Portes found and published a letter (pdf)written by conservative European Commission Vice President Olli Rehn. Rehn has been an advocate of austerity policies as the way to prosperity. No pain, no gain. In fact, Rehn has been positively Hooverish in predicting prosperity that is just around the corner. Everyday of the past few years has been a bright new day with the sunshine of good times about to peek through the clouds any second now.
Rehn now says that prosperity isn't exactly due this week. Or next week, or next month, or next quarter. He says that the promised prosperity will come, we can trust him on that. It will get here ... oh ... late this year. The second half.
The letter was sent to the Ministers of Finance of the European Union. In it, he tells them directly what is causing the delay. It has been all those studies, research, scholarship, and debate:
I would like to make a few points about a debate which has not been helpful and which has risked to erode the confidence we have painstakingly built up over the last years in late night meetings.
If only the facts had been dealt with more discretely, if the public and investors had been protected from such reality, confidence would have prevailed and prosperity would already be shining through.
The conservative objection to facts is nothing new. Everything would be so much better if Galileo would stop encouraging folks to look through that damned telescope.
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Yep, I sure wish those damned conservatives would look through the telescope and see the facts.
I believe we dealt with the December downturn here:
And with the "wildly successful" comment here:
The December downturn was pretty much caused by a reduction in such professions as teachers, police, workers who keep the infrastructure alive. In other words, essential government services have lost ground as some limited austerity has taken hold. It was 1937 again
The starting point Obama inherited turned out to be much worse than anyone knew at the time. Instead of shrinking at an annual rate of 3 percent (horrible), the economy was collapsing at an annual rate of 9 percent (wow!)
In Europe, which has been following the pattern urged by Republicans here, the result has been to deepen what should have been a recovery from recession into near depression.
The reaction of those in charge of the European economy, like that of Republicans, has been to attack the existence of research, rather than to examine policy.
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