Victor Davis Hanson: Obama’s War Against Reason

WE present to you, dear reader, some excerpts from The New War against Reason by Victor Davis Hanson, military historian, columnist, political essayist, former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. This appears at the National Review Online website. The bold font was added by us:

Barack Obama promised us not only transparency, but also a new respect for science. In soothing tones, he asserted that his administration was “restoring scientific integrity to government decision-making.”

In our new Enlightenment of Ivy League Guardians, we were to return to the rule of reason and logic. Obama would lead us away from the superstitious world of Bush’s evangelical Christianity, “intelligent design,” and Neanderthal moral opposition to human-embryo stem-cell research.

For some of our science friends, that’s all it took to get them to sign on. But is this administration really a “new Enlightenment”? Let’s keep reading:

Instead, we are seeing an unprecedented distortion of science — indeed, an attack on the inductive method itself. Facts and reason are trumped by Chicago-style politics, politically correct dogma, and postmodern relativism.

We need some specifics to back that up, so let’s continue.

Hanson’s first example is a good one — the bizarre mythology of “jobs created or saved” — an alleged accomplishment that simply can’t be defended. He then discusses global warming — another favorite of our science friends. He says:

The fact that nuclear power could give us plentiful electrical energy and autonomy from foreign imports — and without the release of hot carbon gases — was ignored. Instead, by fiat, nuclear power was deemed a politically incorrect fuel source, somehow tainted by memories of everything from Hiroshima to Three Mile Island.

That nuclear plants are now safe, as we see from long experience in Europe and from their operation here at home; that we have spent billions to find a solution to the problem of their wastes; that they do not heat or pollute the atmosphere, or add to our quarterly trade deficit — all this is simultaneously substantiated by facts, and yet refuted by superstition and hysteria.

In contrast, government-subsidized windmills and solar panels, which give us little energy — and only on breezy or sunny days — are “rational” sources of power for 300 million consumers.

Observe that like us, Hanson doesn’t challenge the science of global warming, only the proffered solutions. To stay consistent, and to avoid jumping to conclusions, we’ll skip over the still-unfolding email disclosure scandal about global warming.

Continuing with Hanson’s article, now he turns to the subject of political correctness:

Western inductive thinking used to teach us to look at facts and collate symptoms. (E.g., we have observed a number of killers evoking Islam, yelling out “Allahu Akbar!” at the moment of their murdering, or post facto, bragging unrepentantly of murdering Jews and infidels.)

Then one makes a diagnosis based on such empirical findings. (E.g., unlike the case with radical anti-abortionists or violent environmentalists, in the last eight years we have witnessed a series of unhinged Muslim males who have justified their violent actions through affinities with, or promotion of, radical Islam.)


All those data lead to a scientific conclusion and prognosis. … [T]here is a danger that a subset of young Muslims is disproportionately committing terrorist acts….

But not so fast: Remember, we are now in an age of superstition, not rationalism, in which utopian ends justify unscientific means.

Hanson then ties that into the official reaction to the Fort Hood massacre, that is, Obama’s refusal to label it an act of Islamic terrorism — but you probably saw that coming. Want to know why you knew where Hanson was going? It’s because he lays his case out like a syllogism. He’s making sense.

These next excerpts are from the article’s conclusion:

In short, we are witnessing the rise of a new deductive, anti-scientific age.

Instead of [Bush’s] Christian, southern-twanged fundamentalists, we see instead kinder, gentler federal bureaucrats, globetrotting Ph.D.s, liberal hucksters, and politically correct diversity officers. All are committed to the medieval fallacy that exalted theoretical ends justify very real tawdry means.

The result is the triumph of superstition, and the dethronement of science.

And so, friends of science, although you may not like Hanson’s rhetorical style, can you rationally dispute the substance of his argument? Is Obama truly your friend, merely because he’s not a creationist? Or is he — really — the enemy of us all?

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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15 responses to “Victor Davis Hanson: Obama’s War Against Reason

  1. Curmudgeon: “Is Obama truly your friend, merely because he’s not a creationist?”

    I’m not sure he’s not a creationist, either in the “honest believer” sense or in the “let’s mislead students” sense. The “Noble Lie” thesis works both ways. I heard several Democrat politicians slip up a bit, suggesting that they only concede evolution for the votes. Plus, if GWB can appoint a judge who is one of the greatest allies science education ever had, Obama might appoint a science-illiterate judge who buys the “fairness” nonsense.

  2. Curdge, if I wanted a false dichotomy, I’d go to AiG. This kind of thinking over the previous eight years is responsible for a lot of the messes we are in now. With us or against us in world affair. Total ruthless free market or its socialism. Abstinence or nothing. Not only does this allow the wing nuts of our parties dominance over our politics, but fractures our society into hostile camps, unwilling to even think about working together.

  3. Albanaeon says: “Curdge, if I wanted a false dichotomy, I’d go to AiG.”

    I didn’t expect unanimous praise. No problem, we’re all grown-ups here.

  4. retiredsciguy

    If Obama is actually going to achieve a 17% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2020, he’s only got two choices:

    1) Tank the economy; or

    2) A massive switch to nuclear power.

    He knows it; he’s not stupid. He also knows he has to bring his base around to realizing it. Let’s see what unfolds.

  5. retiredsciguy, my quarrel with the global warming boys is that they all seem to prefer the first option.

  6. Yeah, the nuclear power thing really ticks me off. Most people can’t over the radiation thing, even though its fairly simple to safeguard against. Far simpler than the tons of CO2 that’s just spewed into the atmosphere from coal plants. But, I have doubts that insane environmentalists can be shut up long enough to get them to see reason.

  7. retiredsciguy

    Let’s compare —
    Coal-fired power plants:
    1) CO2 emissions
    2) Sulfur emissions, leading to haze and acid rain
    3) Mercury pollution
    4) Stripmining destruction of huge tracts of land
    5) Consumption of huge amounts of diesel fuel transporting all that coal, emitting more CO2 and adding to our trade imbalance
    6) Particulate pollution from fly ash.

    Nuclear power plants:
    1) An uneasy feeling caused by worry over a (miniscule) possibility of a radiation release.
    2) ?

  8. There is the mining and transporting the stuff, but since it is several orders of magnitude smaller than the requirements for coal, its not much of a comparison.

  9. retiredsciguy

    I said above that there are only two options to reduce CO2 17% by 2020 — killing the economy, or nuclear. Of course, there are other non-CO2 emitting means of power generation besides nuclear, but none of them can replace coal for base-load power generation, and each has its own problems —

    Wind power:
    1) wind doesn’t always blow when you need it;
    2) requires huge tracts of land;
    3) spoils the landscape view;
    4) can cause massive blackouts if a utility is using it for more than about 30% of its load and the wind stops suddenly — back-up generators can’t kick in fast enough. This last problem may be solved by new-technology flywheels, but we’re not there yet.

    Solar power:
    1) obviously, no power at night;
    2) requires huge tracts of land;
    3) very expensive per kw (photovoltaic);
    4) efficient only in desert climates.

    1) Few suitable sites left to be exploited;
    2) floods vast areas.

    We could reduce CO2 emissions by replacing coal-fired plants with natural gas turbines, because burning methane releases 40% less CO2 than burning coal. That is an option, but since it is also a fossil fuel, it’s not likely to replace existing coal-fired plants. However, it will most likely be the fuel of choice for new power plants.
    But without replacing existing coal-fired plants, we’re not going to achieve 17% reduction of CO2 by 2020.

    Now, I didn’t mention gerbils on treadmills, because I don’t think PETA would stand still for animal exploitation on such a grand scale.

    Does anyone else have any viable suggestions for lowering CO2 that won’t wind up causing a Global Economic Depression?

  10. retiredsciguy says: “Now, I didn’t mention gerbils on treadmills, because I don’t think PETA would stand still for animal exploitation on such a grand scale.”

    Besides that, they’re too useful for other purposes.

  11. retiredsciguy

    Curmy says,
    “Besides that, they’re too useful for other purposes.”

    Gee, I wouldn’t know about that, Curmy. By the way, your actual name wouldn’t be Bob Rohrman, would it? I heard there was an emergency room visit years ago related to gerbils, but it’s probably just unfounded rumor…

  12. The answer may be in not thinking in “silver bullets” but in many small things. Wind and solar may not be perfect but they can contribute, particularly if we can get them employed in mass, such as solar panels on as many houses and businesses as practical and getting up more wind turbines in rural households. While it still has the problems of no wind/sun times, it will still reduce the power requirements. Add to that, more efficient cars and/or more practical mass transit systems would also help, and building or upgrading places to be more efficient. Also, small, stupid things like not lighting up every square foot of empty pavement with street lights could make a difference. All of these could be made by growing the appropriate sectors of the economy with subsidies and made worthwhile with appropriate tax exemptions for homes and businesses. Of course, this might make Curmudgeon a bit grumpy by the amount of government involvement necessary, but it may grow the economy and, when added all together, get that 17% reduction. And we’d still have those gerbils as a backup…

  13. retiredsciguy

    Concerning wind & solar power, Albanaeon wrote,
    “While it still has the problems of no wind/sun times, it will still reduce the power requirements.”

    But since we can’t depend on solar & wind 24/7/365, we will still need the base load generating capacity provided by coal, natural gas, hydroelectric, or nuclear. Since we will have to build the big plants anyway, we may as well build nuclear, and save all the expense of erecting wind farms, solar arrays, etc.

    Another point– right now, the wind farms are something of a novelty, and the public is not objecting stenuously about their appearance. I think that will change once they become ubiquitous features of the American landscape.

    “Oh, beautiful for spacious skies…” will become a quiant reminder of a distant past.
    ” …purple mountain majesty above thy windmilled plains”?

  14. retiredsciguy “Another point– right now, the wind farms are something of a novelty, and the public is not objecting strenuously about their appearance. I think that will change once they become ubiquitous features of the American landscape.”

    This already happens in Britain. Apparently we love wind turbines, unless they are proposed to be built next to where we live, where we work, where we go on holiday, ohh and any place we drive past.

  15. retiredscienceguy, I think you missed my point. I definitely wasn’t trying to say that solar/wind were perfect, I was trying to point out that if we are to reduce our CO2 emission in a likely timeframe, we’re probably better off trying multiple, widespread things, each worth a couple percentage points, than some gigantic overhaul that will inevitably get mired down in some bureaucratic hell. In the long run though, nuclear power is really the only viable solution we have right now.