Rush Limbaugh: Meat Eater, Science Denier

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Recently, Rush Limbaugh went on another of his anti-science rants. This one was particularly fascinating, though, because of the things he actually got right—even as he  simultaneously exhibited the standard cocksure blind spots.

First, what did Rush say that was true? Well, he gets the idea, supported by much research, that we all have the tendency to appropriate “science” as our own, selectively choosing those bits that support us and selectively refuting or denying those bits that don’t.

Thus, Rush goes on repeatedly about the attempt to “codify liberalism as science.” Actually, conservatives, including Rush, also try repeatedly to depict their views—including their denialist ones–as scientific. Rush thus shows a massive blind spot when he fails to recognize that he’s susceptible to the very same tendency.

In fact, I would argue that Rush is worse–because he is deeply sure of himself when he has no good reason to be. He is vastly, and baselessly, overconfident.

Thus, when Rush gets into the meat of his commentary (pun intended, as you’ll see), he draws a stunningly false parallel between a Dutch psychologist who has been seriously accused of falsifying data on the one hand, and climate change researchers on the other.

The Dutch case appears very serious; read about it here. The professor, Diederik Stapel, has already been removed from his position at Tilburg University, and an interim investigation has found him guilty of fabricating data repeatedly, according to the Los Angeles Times. This sounds grave indeed.

So what does Rush do with this case study? Tie Stapel’s questionable research on meat eating back to global warming, of course:

Anyway, there was a very important and major story that we touched on yesterday, but there’s much more information in the latest AP story that makes this story even more pertinent – especially vis-a-vis the scientific “consensus” on manmade global warming.

And make no mistake: All of that was nothing more than an attempt to codify liberalism as science, to codify political beliefs as science.  “Dutch Professor Faked Data for Years – A prominent Dutch social psychologist who once claimed to have shown that the very act of thinking about eating meat makes people behave more selfishly has been found to have faked data throughout much of his career,” and he was, by the way, lionized and treated as a hero all during his career.  “In one of the worst cases of scientific fraud on record in the Netherlands, a review committee made up of some of the country’s top scientists has found that University of Tilburg Prof. Diederik Stapel systematically falsified data to achieve the results he wanted,” just like what happened at the University of East Anglia Centre for Climate Prediction and Research; i.e., global warming. 

Actually, Rush has now shown that he is the one trying to “codify” his beliefs as science. In contrast to the Stapel case, repeated inquiries into “ClimateGate” have not shown fraud or wrongdoing. Rather, they have repeatedly vindicated the scientists involved. And this is six investigations!

Not only does Rush show unwarranted certainty in his claim—contrary to mountainous evidence—that “ClimateGate” was a case of scientific fraud or falsification. Linking back to the Stapel case, he then goes on a fascinating and telling rant in defense of meat eating:

Let me make an observation here, folks.  I know meat eaters.  I am a meat eater.  I have never met anybody who feels superior to anybody or anything because they eat meat.  But I have run into all kinds of holier-than-thou vegetarians and vegans and other wackos who do think they are superior and better and smarter than everybody else.  I know gazillions of beef eaters, and I don’t know a’one of them who has forced his eating choices on anybody else; but I know a bunch of ragtag, stupid vegan vegetarians – holier-than-thou superiorists – who try to force everybody to eat what they eat and to not eat what they don’t approve of.  Such as this bunch of louts that demanded in Berkeley, California, that Burger King sell veggie burgers – and, of course, Burger King caved.  So lie after lie after lie about “white people,” other aspects of sociology and science, and meat eaters and so forth – and all of it fraudulent.

Okay: I’m sure there are some very ideological vegans out there. But is not Limbaugh’s anger directed towards those “stupid vegan vegetarians” at least as extreme, if not worse?

Just to tick Rush off to the maximum, I want to put all of this in the context of some psychological research from Berkeley (!).

Psychologists Dacher Keltner and Robert J. Robinson were studying how groups in ideological conflicts misperceive the views of those on the other side. And they found a very interesting ideological asymmetry in a deeply provocative case study—the 1990s battle over teaching the “Western Canon,” versus the works and narratives of under-privileged groups, in college English classes.

Here was the asymmetry: Literary traditionalists assumed that literary revisionists only wanted to teach the works of women writers, African-American authors, and writers from other disadvantaged or non-white male groups. But in fact, that is not what the revisionists wanted to teach at all. They weren’t nearly as radical as the traditionalists assumed. Rather, they merely wanted to mix in a few examples of such texts with old white male literary classics: Shakespeare, Chaucer, Sophocles, Homer, James Joyce, Herman Melville.

The revisionists, however, knew quite well what the traditionalists wanted to teach—just what they had always been teaching! As the researchers found:

In our studies, the tendency for partisans to exaggerate the magnitude of their conflict was qualified by two provocative asymmetries in social bias. First, across conflicts, a consistent perceiver effect emerged: Partisans in power exaggerated the magnitude of their conflict more than partisans seeking change. For example, traditionalists, more likely to be tenured males and guardians of the literary status quo, polarized the Western Canon dispute more than revisionists.

Do you think something similar might be going on with Rush Limbaugh’s defense of meat eaters (traditionalists) against “stupid vegan vegetarians” (revisionists)? I certainly do. (And I’m speaking as a moderate liberal who could be spotted at a Brazilian steakhouse last weekend.)

Rush ends with a final swat at Stapel, and also climate scientists:

The important thing to remember is this guy’s writing was accepted, welcomed unanimously by American journalists, worldwide journalists who reported this with glee when he wrote this about meat eaters.  I mean, it’s patently ridiculous.  But it just goes to show you how gullible people (or better stated: how desirous the left is) for any codification of their asinine beliefs as science. 

It does just go to show you. We’re all gullible, but some of us may be more gullible than others.

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