Guest Editorial Graphic Schilling Show BlogNPR, bias, and evidence based policy
by Jeff VanWickler

I like National Public Radio. I just wish they weren’t getting my tax money.

After the primaries for the 2008 election, The Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics, and Public Policy of The Harvard Kennedy School released a study that showed the media had given measurably more favorable coverage for particular candidates. National Public Radio was no exception.

Nor is this year an exception. Recently on Morning Edition, Andrea Seabrook filed a report on two Republican candidates. According to Ms. Seabrook, there are some Republicans who are anti-science or at least not prone to engage in “evidence based policy making.”

Ms. Seabrook’s concern was first for Michelle Bachman and based on two statements the candidate made, one recently and one in 2009. In the first, Bachman speaks about God trying to send a message to congress given the recent earthquake and hurricane in the D.C. area. An audio clip was played during the report and to me, and apparently everyone in Bachman’s audience, she was making a joke. Seabrook, though, remained skeptical. In the second, Bachman comments on the Swine Flu panic that ensued not long after President Obama took office. The candidate declared it an “interesting coincidence” that the last time there was a Swine Flu panic was during the Carter administration. Presumably, she was hinting at the penchant for Democrats to not let a good crisis go to waste. The reporter pointed out that the first case was actually in 1976 with President Ford in the White House. So, the comment was inaccurate and maybe a little weird, but I don’t recall Ms. Seabrook having any concern during the last primaries about Senator Obama’s claim of having visited 57 states or his belief that if he were elected President, the seas would recede.

The other Republican in science trouble is Texas Governor, Rick Perry. Apparently he questions the extent of human activity on global warming. He said, “Yes, the climate is changing. It has been changing since the Earth began… Scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.” Hmm? That doesn’t seem too extraordinary. But that wasn’t the governor’s only infraction! He also spoke about evolution: “It’s a theory out there that has some gaps in it.” Here, I think Ms. Seabrook was gasping for air, but I’m not sure why she seemed so offended. That he called it a theory? If so, that’s odd. It’s called The Theory of Evolution after all. Or doesn’t she like the ‘gap’ part? But Darwin himself acknowledged the difference (and problem) between micro and macro evolution. Not okay to refer to that as a gap?

Anyway, that got me thinking: Are Democrats really the party of “evidence based policy making?” If so, how do we explain all those counter-productive policy preferences put forth over the years? A few examples…

During the primary debates in 2007, then Senator Obama was asked why he would raise the capital gains tax given that it has, in the past, led to less revenue for government. Even though raising the tax would adversely affect 100 million Americans who own stock, the president responded that he would do it anyway as a matter of fairness. He cited 50 hedge fund managers who were making too much money (in an apparently unfair fashion) as a reason for this. In other words, the President would hurt 100 million citizens and reduce revenue in order to get the 50 rich guys. That doesn’t sound practical or evidence based. It sounds petty and ideological.

Al Gore claimed the seas will rise 20 feet in the next 100 years. The United Nation’s (IPCC Panel) latest report said that it might be more like, well, 18 inches. Either way, the Left proposed the Kyoto Protocol. The environmentalist, Bjorn Lomborg, of the Copenhagen Consensus, says two things. First that Al Gore is all about hype. Second, that even if all of the Kyoto Protocol was followed by every country on Earth for the next 100 years, it would postpone the effects of global warming only by 6 years. And that would come at 150 billion dollars per year. He also says that the United Nations figures you could cure every malady on Earth for half that. That’s basic health care, clean drinking water, sanitation, and education to every human being on the planet. Slow global warming by 6 years or, for half the money, provide all that much-needed care to the poorest on the globe. But the Left’s concern curiously remains with Cap and Trade.

How about DDT? Malaria was nearly eradicated from the globe by the 1960’s due to the pesticide’s use. In 1962, Rachel Carson, in her book Silent Spring, predicted that the use of DDT would cause a cancer epidemic that would hit “practically 100 percent” of the human population, and worse yet, would thin out the shells of bird eggs. After seven months and 9,000 pages of testimony, an EPA administrative judge concluded “DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man… DDT is not a mutagenic or teratogenic hazard to man… The use of DDT under the regulations involved here do not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife.” Still, in 1972 the pesticide was banned. Today the UN estimates that a child dies every 30 seconds from Malaria. And today, Rachel Carson is still praised by the Left. Evidence based or agenda based?

Unemployment insurance: Google “effect of increasing the length of unemployment insurance” and you will find any number of studies for cities, states, and even nations that show that the longer government provides insurance checks to the unemployed the longer it takes for those people to take a job. In spite of that, Congress has now extended benefits twice to 99 weeks. So if shortening the time frame will push people back to work why have Democrats insisted on the extensions? Evidence and policy once again at odds.

Social Security: An account opened for you and guaranteed by the government to assist you in paying your bills once you have retired. Only there isn’t really an account and the money you get back represents a horrible rate of return as compared with just about any other investment. On top of that, when you die, excess funds that you earned aren’t inherited by your family; rather, they remain with government. And since poorer people die younger than the wealthy, the system is actually regressive. With average life expectancy as it is, we end up with young black men subsidizing old white woman. So why is this considered a third rail in politics? Precisely because it is politics. There certainly isn’t evidence that this system makes any sense economically.

The Left’s list of impractical, illogical, and problem ridden policies is endless: The Square Deal, the New Freedom, the New Era, The New Deal, The Great Society… The mercury-filled light bulb, the living wage, affordable housing, CAFE standards… All flawed. All with unintended consequences. All based on theory or merely a ‘feeling’ that it’s the right thing to do.

So, Ms. Seabrook, is the Left really where you go for evidence based policy?

3 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t recall Ms. Seabrook having any concern during the last primaries about Senator Obama’s claim of having visited 57 states or his belief that if he were elected President, the seas would recede.

    That’s because the first was clearly a misstatement, and the second was a metaphor for the environmental movement taking power from the of evolution-denying, global-warming denying Right.

    Seabrook’s concern that Bachmann places ideology above science is based on much more than two statements. It’s based as well on her belief in the discredited theory of Intelligent Design, on her claim that the HPV vaccine causes autism, and on her claim that global warming isn’t man made, because after all, “Carbon dioxide, Mister Speaker, is a natural byproduct of nature.” In other words, it’s based on the fact that she’ll say and believe dumb things.

    Scientific proceeds by the proposing and then the testing of theories. The theory of evolution, Mr. VanWickler, has decades of scientific research to support it. ID, which I once gave serious consideration too, has none.

  2. Dear Mr. VanWickler, Do you “like” NPR enough to support
    its operations with your contribution to any local
    affiliates, or are you a “free rider”? I don’t think
    many readers of this blog or listeners to the “Schilling
    Show” listen to NPR. There is a large network of
    right wing news/opinion outlets, including, of course,
    the “Schilling Show”, in which to engage.

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