Don’t confuse me with the facts

Let’s say that Bob believes that the Seattle Mariners won the World Series this year, 2015. When we point out to Bob that the Mariners did not win and that in all their years of existence they’ve never come close to being in the Fall Classic, Bob asks for proof. It would not be difficult to provide a mountain of evidence—including videos, newspaper clippings, testimonials from the Royals’ players—proving that the Mariners got an early vacation. Should Bob continue to hold to his belief, all evidence to the contrary, we are likely to think that Bob is a bit odd, someone unhinged from reality.

Take another example, again from baseball. In the series, Alex Gordon hit a home run. It was estimated to have traveled 438 feet to deep centerfield off the Mets’ closer. John rejects the estimate. He concedes that the ball sailed over the fence, but that the distance is disputable. We tell John that the estimate is based on a number of factors, including the spot where the ball landed, the density of the air, and ballistics. John suggests that there is uncertainty surrounding the estimate, so that a range of possible or probable values should be used. Okay.

Now we turn to Republicans. They believe, for the most part, that there is a god, that prayers make a difference, and that when we die our souls go to heaven or hell. They do so, despite there being no evidence of god’s existence.

At the same time, many of these same Republicans deny both the science and the fact of global warming. To those who accept both, the Republicans are inclined to say anything from “it’s a hoax” to “there is too much uncertainty” to give a credible account of a changing climate. And even if such Republicans concede that the earth is warming, they are as likely to argue that natural variability is to blame, but surely not humans.

In today’s New York Times, research fellow Lee McIntyre writes:

We hear a lot of folks in Washington claiming to be “skeptics” about climate change. They start off by saying something like, “Well, I’m no scientist, but …” and then proceed to rattle off a series of evidential demands so strict that they would make Newton blush. What normally comes along for the ride, however, is a telltale sign of denialism: that these alleged skeptics usually have different standards of evidence for those theories that they want to believe (which have cherry picked a few pieces of heavily massaged data against climate change) versus those they are opposing.

And speaking of “different standards of evidence,” the aforementioned Republicans have no doubts whatsoever believing that which they cannot see, feel, hear, or smell (i.e., god) but have all the doubts in the world about things that are manifestly evident, like the Mariners never having made it to the World Series or planetary warming.