Why Being Anti-Science Is Now Part Of Many Rural Americans’ Identity

“By September 2021, the scientists and staffers at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission had gathered enough data to know that the trees in its green-tree reservoirs — a type of hardwood wetland ecosystem — were dying. At Hurricane Lake, a wildlife management area of 17,000 acres, the level of severe illness and death in the timber population was up to 42 percent, especially for certain species of oak, according to a 2014 forest-health assessment. The future of another green-tree reservoir, Bayou Meto, more than 33,000 acres, would look the same if they didn’t act quickly.

There were a lot of reasons the trees were dying, but it was also partly the commission’s fault. Long ago, the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers and their tributaries would have flooded the bayous naturally, filling bottomland forests during the winter months when the trees were dormant and allowing new saplings to grow after the waters receded in the spring. Widespread European settlement and agriculture largely halted the natural flooding, but in the 1950s, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission began buying bottomland forests for preservation, which it then flooded with a system of levees and other tools.

This made the forests an ideal winter stop for ducks to eat and rest on their annual migration south. Arkansas is a magnet for duck hunters, and the state has issued more than 100,000 permits for duck hunters from Arkansas and out of state for every year since 2014. But it turned out the commission was flooding the reservoirs too early and at levels too high, which was damaging the trees. The ducks that arrive in Arkansas especially love eating the acorns from a certain species of oak — and those oaks are now dying.

Austin Booth, director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, knew that convincing the state’s duck hunters and businesses that there was a serious problem would be tricky. Part of the solution the commission planned to propose to save the trees involved delaying the annual fall flooding, which could mean less habitat for the ducks, fewer ducks stopping in the area and more duck hunters crowded into smaller spaces fighting over targets.

And all the duck hunters would have their own ideas about who to blame for the problem and what the solution should be.

Last September, Booth gave a brief speech that was streamed live on YouTube, outlining the problem. He announced a series of public meetings to begin in the following months. Booth told me that when he began to plan those meetings, he thought of all the government meetings and town halls he’d attended after years working in politics. “I wanted to ratchet down some of the intensity that happens when a government official stands up on a stage and talks down to people,” he said.

Instead, he decided the meetings would be dinners where the Game and Fish staff would eat alongside the people they sought to convince. “I just believe there’s a human component to sitting down and having a meal with someone,” he said. At those dinners, he’d give a brief introduction, then invite people to ask questions of the staff as they ate and mingled.

At the end of the dinners, Booth said he’d stand up again and ask, “Is there anyone that’s going to walk through that door tonight without their questions answered or comments taken for the record, or with their concerns ignored?” No one, he said, came forward. The four dinners were attended by between 50 and 100 people, according to Booth, but those attendees then spread the word, dampening criticism of the new management system.

What’s interesting about this dinner program is that it began during the COVID-19 pandemic, which also required effective science communication to convince the public to accept changes, major and minor, to their lives. Even before this pandemic, there’s been a long history of resistance to public health measures and new vaccines, and many researchers suspected that could likely be the case with COVID-19 as well. The social scientists who study these issues might have counseled an approach like that employed by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, using local messengers who had relationships with the communities in question and who could communicate in less intimidating ways.

But the U.S. did not do that with COVID-19. Instead, rapidly changing information came from only a few sources, usually at the national level and seemingly without much strategy. And as such, many places have seen widespread resistance to public health interventions, like wearing masks and getting the vaccine.”

“not every issue manifests locally, with local experts able to gather people for friendly dinners. Regarding climate change, Fisher says in her work now she is finding that people are often spurred to action only when the environmental damage becomes an extreme personal risk to them and their family, and when it is seen as preventable. Part of the problem with mitigating COVID-19, she said, was that many people didn’t see the virus as a personal risk — they thought they themselves would be OK, even if so many other people were dying.”

“the danger of anti-intellectualism becoming more entwined with partisanship is that these attitudes then become more entrenched and harder to overcome. And that will become true on both sides, as each group believes they have the best sources of information — a phenomenon he called epistemic hubris. It’s damaging public debate.

The problems we’ve seen with COVID-19 are also spreading to new groups of people and to other issues. Dana Fisher, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, researches the social science of climate change, and she’s found that people are more likely to seek out sources that confirm what they already believe. “We see that scientific information is very, very clearly cherry-picked,” she said. Increasingly, she sees people looking for information that already supports their worldview, and that’s happening on the right and left. For her, this includes policymakers who have a role to play in solving issues like climate change.

The challenge is how to penetrate these bubbles.”

The Catch-22 Facing Black Voters At The Ballot Box

“The 2022 midterms are approaching and Black voters must choose between the Republican Party, which has actively worked against their interests for decades, and the Democratic Party, which has long struggled to meaningfully address race and racism, as well as issues important to Black voters — such as police reform and federal voting rights legislation.

The sad thing, at least for most Black voters, is it’s an easy choice. In the last 60 years or so, the Democratic Party, despite its many failures, has done far more for Black voters than the GOP. That’s why the vast majority of Black voters cast ballots for Democrats even if they aren’t necessarily liberal themselves. And therein lies the problem: Because Democratic leaders know that most Republican candidates aren’t a truly viable option for Black voters, the Democratic Party doesn’t have much incentive to court members of its most loyal constituency.

As former FiveThirtyEight senior reporter Farai Chideya wrote back in 2016, Black voters are so loyal that they’re considered “captured” — a theory put forth by Paul Frymer, a professor of politics at Princeton University, in a 1999 book titled “Uneasy Alliances: Race and Party Competition in America.” In other words, they’re ignored by one major party and taken for granted by the other.

“In recent elections, there’s normally some sort of conversation around what direction Latino or Asian Americans are going to swing,” said Jennifer Chudy, a professor of political science at Wellesley University. That “reveals the predicament Black voters are in because there’s not even a curiosity surrounding what they’ll do. … And I think they’re unique in that way.””

“Black voters are “captured” not simply because most favor Democrats, but because overt appeals to them are seen as disruptive to the rest of both party’s coalitions. But other voting blocs don’t necessarily experience the same thing. So, for example, Republicans can court white evangelicals because direct overtures to this group — for example, promoting anti-abortion policies, Christian values or legislation against transgender students and athletes — won’t turn off a majority of Republican voters. Certain civil rights issues that would have the greatest impact on Black voters, in contrast, are seen as too taboo to promote because being pro-Black is often conflated with being anti-white. As a result, politicians on both sides of the aisle often ignore Black voters’ concerns because they don’t want to take steps that would either turn off white voters or make it seem like they’re disrupting the existing racial hierarchies of power where white people are at the top.”

New York Just Cost Democrats Their Big Redistricting Advantage

“On Wednesday, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the congressional map New York Democrats enacted back in February was a partisan gerrymander that violated the state constitution and tossed it to the curb. The decision was a huge blow to Democrats, who until recently looked like they had gained enough seats nationally in redistricting to almost eliminate the Republican bias in the House of Representatives. But with the invalidation of New York’s map, as well as Florida’s recent passage of a congressional map that heavily favors the GOP,1 the takeaways from the 2021-22 redistricting cycle are no longer so straightforward.

That’s because much of Democrats’ national redistricting advantage rested on their gerrymander in New York.”

“There are still congressional maps that could get struck down in court, like Florida’s. And there are still states that have yet to finalize a map — like, oh yeah, New York!

In its decision, the New York Court of Appeals endorsed the idea that a neutral special master — essentially, an expert in drawing political maps — should draw New York’s next congressional map. That would presumably lead to a relatively fair map, but the details and exact partisan breakdown are, of course, still a mystery; Democrats could still gain seats from New York’s map when all is said and done (just not as many as from their gerrymander).”

America’s unique, enduring gun problem, explained

“In 2008, the Supreme Court effectively wrote NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre’s “good guy with a gun” theory into the Constitution. The Court’s 5-4 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) was the first Supreme Court decision in American history to hold that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm. But it also went much further than that.
Heller held that one of the primary purposes of the Second Amendment is to protect the right of individuals — good guys with a gun, in LaPierre’s framework — to use firearms to stop bad guys with guns. As Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in Heller, an “inherent right of self-defense has been central to the Second Amendment right.”

As a matter of textual interpretation, this holding makes no sense. The Second Amendment provides that “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

We don’t need to guess why the Second Amendment protects a right to firearms because it is right there in the Constitution. The Second Amendment’s purpose is to preserve “a well-regulated Militia,” not to allow individuals to use their weapons for personal self-defense.

For many years, the Supreme Court took the first 13 words of the Second Amendment seriously. As the Court said in United States v. Miller (1939), the “obvious purpose” of the Second Amendment was to “render possible the effectiveness” of militias. And thus the amendment must be “interpreted and applied with that end in view.” Heller abandoned that approach.

Heller also reached another important policy conclusion. Handguns, according to Scalia, are “overwhelmingly chosen” by gun owners who wish to carry a firearm for self-defense. For this reason, he wrote, handguns enjoy a kind of super-legal status. Lawmakers are not allowed to ban what Scalia described as “the most preferred firearm in the nation to ‘keep’ and use for protection of one’s home and family.”

This declaration regarding handguns matters because this easily concealed weapon is responsible for far more deaths than any other weapon in the United States — and it isn’t close. In 2019, for example, a total of 13,927 people were murdered in the US, according to the FBI. Of these murder victims, at least 6,368 — just over 45 percent — were killed by handguns.”

“It is likely, moreover, that the Supreme Court is going to make it even harder for federal and state lawmakers to combat gun violence very soon.”

“The future of firearm regulation looks grim for anyone who believes that the government should help protect us from gun violence.”

New Investigation Finds FDA’s Food Side Is ‘Broken’

“The Politico investigation, which focuses chiefly on food safety, nutrition, and structural issues within FDA, includes interviews with dozens of current and former senior FDA officials, industry representatives, members of Congress, and trade groups—all of them familiar with the inner workings of the FDA. Those who spoke with Politico for the investigation characterized the agency’s regulation of the food supply invariably as “ridiculous,” “impossible,” “broken,” “byzantine” and “a joke.” The piece notes even many agency supporters are now “questioning whether the agency is making the best use of its roughly $1 billion food budget,” pointing out that even though around two-thirds of that budget goes to pay for food safety inspections, “the number of food safety inspections performed each year has been going down despite increased resources.” Such complaints about the FDA—that the agency consistently does less with more—have been at the heart of my own criticisms of the agency over the years.”

“One of the more interesting responses to the Politico piece came from former senior FDA official Michael Taylor, who in a subsequent op-ed noted the “damning but fair picture” the investigation paints. He called for the FDA to be broken up, with its food safety oversight authority handed to a single food safety agency. That’s a plan that many—me included (though with plenty of caveats)—think could yield real results.

We’ve arrived at a point where most everyone seems to agree the FDA is falling short of fulfilling its mission and duties. But people still disagree about how to fix that fundamental problem. I think the ultimate problem isn’t, as the investigation suggests, that the FDA isn’t meeting consumer expectations or doing enough. Rather, I think the fault lies with the politicians, bureaucrats, and advocates who’ve convinced Americans that supporting bigger FDA budgets and stricter food regulations, including FSMA, will make our food supply safer and improve nutritional outcomes. The FDA has demonstrated it can’t do big things. Reducing the agency’s budget and narrowing its mission could help it to succeed at the small stuff.”

The Politics of DNA

“”Luck,” E.B. White once said, “is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men.” They worked hard, no doubt, to get where they are. But they also benefited enormously from good fortune, not just in life but in life’s building blocks. A fortunate combination of thousands of slight genetic differences boosted their intelligence, motivation, openness to experience, task perseverance, executive function, and interpersonal skills.

“Like being born to a rich or poor family, being born with a certain set of genetic variants is the outcome of a lottery of birth,” the behavioral geneticist Kathryn Paige Harden argues in The Genetic Lottery. “And, like social class, the outcome of the genetic lottery is a systemic force that matters for who gets more, and who gets less, of nearly everything we care about in society.””