Sarah Palin and the rejection of scientific method

March 22, 2013

The most recent episode in the long-running Punch and Judy show between Sarah Palin and Karl Rove is shedding light on the schism between old-school Republicans and the Tea Party insurgents who are steadily pushing them aside. It appears it is not merely Palin’s personal antipathy to Rove that drives her spleen but a contempt for the dark arts he employs.

It is no surprise, perhaps, that the anti-intellectualism that underpins many of the Tea Party’s most absurd and offensive stances – the insistence that evidence of global warming is invented; the notion that women who are raped do not conceive; the belief that Darwin’s theory of evolution is contradicted by the Bible; the failure to understand that all economics is Keynesian; and so on – also informs Palin’s assault on the science practiced by Rove and every other established political strategist around the world.

In a zinger directed at Rove, Palin blamed Mitt Romney’s defeat on the “top-down political process” directed by a “permanent political class” in “permanent political mode” in Washington that is “busy worrying about their own political future.” “Now is the time to furlough the consultants, and tune-out the pollsters, send the focus groups home and throw out the political scripts, because if we truly know what we believe, we don’t need professionals to tell us,” she declared.

This is more than a cheap snipe at Rove, whom Palin does not finger by name but alludes to as “The Architect,” the nickname given him by George W. Bush, though neither, it seems, had in mind the unbending, egomaniacal hero of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, who would rather plant a bomb in a building than let a client make design suggestions. It is a full frontal assault on cogent thought.

Palin, who announced to CPAC of all audiences that it is “time we all stopped preaching to the choir,” should give more credit to a fellow conservative who contributed so much to ensuring that Bush – who has become a bugaboo whose name is barely mentioned during this bloody GOP postmortem – won two terms. She may learn something. In a climate where no postwar Republican president, not even the conservative saint Ronald Reagan, could survive a GOP presidential primary today, the party is plainly undergoing a fundamental transformation that, if the heat of the argument raging is anything to go by, has yet to reach its nadir.

There is a legitimate and long-running academic argument about whether the social sciences are as rigorous as the natural sciences when it comes to evidence and method, an abstruse debate that broke through the surface when senior Republicans last fall dismissed well-conducted, scientifically based polls indicating that President Barack Obama was on his way to re-election. Rove was among those who interpreted results in a different way and on election night embarrassed himself by disagreeing with the Fox News psephologists who insisted the early results and exit polling clearly showed that Romney was in for a thrashing. Rove lost his bloviating gig on Fox for his poor call that night, but many Republicans, including in part the Romneys, remain in denial, refusing to believe Obama won fairly and blaming political scientists for that crime of crimes, being right all along.

Palin’s takeaway from the November debacle is that all political science is junk and that opinion polling, listening to focus groups and all attempts to understand the voters through sociological method are part of a deceitful racket plied by greedy political insiders like Rove, who make themselves fat on the funds raised cent by cent by the party’s hardworking grass roots. Or, as she put it, “these experts who keep losing elections and keep getting rehired and getting millions” should stand for office themselves and either “buck up or stay in the truck.”

Rove was quick to point out, “I don’t think I’m a particularly good candidate. Sort of a balding, fat guy,” before slipping the stiletto between her ribs by suggesting that if he were elected to office, he would stick at the job rather than, as Palin did with the Alaska governorship, resign halfway through the electoral term. (Rove had the good grace not to mention that those “getting millions” included Palin herself, who hauled in $10 million in 2009-10.)

In another part of her diatribe, Palin called for “ending the poisonous practice of treating Americans of different social, ethnic, religious groups as different electorates to be pandered to with different promises. … [T]here are no Hispanic issues or African American issues or women’s issues. There are only American issues.” The lift from Obama’s 2004 convention speech ‑ “There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America,” ‑ is a noble sentiment of intent, but as a critique of political science or as a prescription for regaining votes lost to the Democrats it is detached from the real world she claims to understand.

Were America the “great melting pot” of myth, she may have had a point. There are many countries where immigrants have quickly assimilated into the body politic and where the electorate is near-homogenous. But America, despite its lofty aims, is not one of them. It remains deeply divided by race, by gender, by religion and by age.

As the science clearly shows, each social group responds differently to issues. When Obama wins 95 percent of black votes to Romney’s 5, it is worth GOP operatives asking why. The same applies when Hispanic voters back Obama by 75 percent to 21 percent. Or when women vote 55 percent to 44 percent in favor of Obama, and young people aged 18 to 29 divide 60 percent to 37 percent in his favor. Palin’s dismissal of such telling figures as bunk is not only a denial of hard facts, it is a suicidal rejection of the very science that might save the Republicans the next time around. She is like a member of a religious sect that does not allow medicine yet cannot understand why the patient’s condition continues to deteriorate.

Until now, the Tea Party’s rejection of rational thought only served to demonstrate that it is so lacking in the sure foundation of logical thinking that its victory, if it ever came about, would prove catastrophic. Ignorance would have overcome knowledge, and America would be turned topsy-turvy. But the dismissal, too, of all aspects of political science changes the equation completely as it sharply increases the likelihood of its defeat.

Nicholas Wapshott’s Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics is published by W. W. Norton. Read extracts here.

PHOTO: Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) points as she addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, March 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst


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The Idiocracy Meets the Plutocracy. Even morons need representation. Except, the Plutocracy rules while the Idiocracy think they do.

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive

Good op-ed, Mr. Wapshott. I always wonder how much of what people like Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and other rightwing (and leftwing) talking heads are saying is the result of their political beliefs they wish to espouse or what they think will make them most profitable. This is a problem because in most cases on the right (less true on the left) it’s extremism that sells. So when someone like Sarah Palin or (God help us) The Donald makes their usual outrageous claims to a large audience, they leave with increased personal royalties, while leaving an often dangerously extreme political impression for the impressionable electorate. It becomes a self-feeding monster. Eventually, you have millions believing things like Obama was born in Kenya or that global warming is a conspiratorial myth perpetrated by the left, for reasons I still don’t understand. If just a few people were buying this nonsense, it would be no big deal. But there are enough people believing these things to have a dangerously adverse effect on our nation. It’s come to play an often detrimental role in nearly every aspect of American life, from gun ownership to healthcare to job creation to our acceptance of different religions.

I have a friend with whom I often trade emails with. He’s a reasonably intelligent guy and is also a staunch tea party-minded conservative. He made a comment about the liberal media and I emailed him back asking him why would the media promote a liberal agenda since the news media was made up of businesses, like any other, and most were owned by corporations. What would be the logic in promoting a progressive point of view, like higher taxes and more regulations? His response? They are engaged in trying to turn America into a socialist state. Didn’t exactly answer the question, but I didn’t see any reason to pursue it any further.

Posted by flashrooster | Report as abusive

Sarah Palin learn something? Surely you jest…

Posted by Maddies_Mom | Report as abusive

Much of what drives Palin and her ilk is a quirk of human nature called Belief. For many people across the spectra of politics, religion, business, etc. what matters is not fact, but what one Believes. A conviction that something is right or wrong, black or white, good or bad is all that is necessary for them to act. And once belief is firm, it becomes rigid. Believers will not only not pay attention to facts, they will actively deny that facts which contradict their beliefs exist. It becomes impossible to reason with such people, to persuade them, convince them, or even to have any dialogue with them. The tragedy of Belief is that it effectively seals people off from everyone who does not agree with them. And that is the definition of polarization.

Posted by mandrog | Report as abusive

There is…..something…..something else behind the attention this lunatic Palin gets. What is it? How can any thinking person pay any attention to her drivel? Yet, they do. Why? Is it a failure of our American education system whereby people become idiots? It has to be more than that (although that is a significant contributor to the dumbing of America). Why in the world do people pay attention to the drivel Palin vomits from her mouth? It’s an embarrassment of the first order.

Posted by explorer08 | Report as abusive

There is no reason to listen to physical scientists on things like climate when one has a gut feeling about those topics. Why look at evolution when the Bible says six days?

And the same with political sciences. If voters would only understand that the message they are being given is for their own good. After all, in their heart, the Palins and others know what is good for others. Why use logic when emotions are much more powerful? And it is much easier to say others are wrong, since then one doesn’t have to come up with ideas as to why.

A snappy one liner that gets applause is far better than an actual plan. And much, much easier to deliver.

And when one preaches to the choir, there is no need to question whether a person may have gotten something wrong. No need to upset the ego.

Posted by pavoter1946 | Report as abusive

Political science has been transformed by Obama. As a candidate, he was early to the party in using big data, and the fact that Romney, Palin and so many other Republicans can’t accept it shows how tuned out they are. If you can’t get with statistics and data management, you’re done, in medicine, business, politics or anything else.

Posted by Bagehot | Report as abusive

The undereducted have a symbiotic relationship with professional shysters. A blended offering of oversimplification, doctored terminology and pure fabrication is provided in exchange for money or other benefit.

Posted by bcrawf | Report as abusive

Oh, dear god will that air-head EVER go away? She’s like a gnat, only not as clever.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

If the intellectual rigor of the Social Sciences is dodgy, this editorial makes plain that the standard in journalism is even lower.

For all the whining of liberals, the fact remains they have not recovered from the country’s rejection of their give-away policies in 2010. Up until 2010 we were hearing about a ‘permanent liberal majority\'; now, not so much.

The Left is faced with a long-term ownership of Congress by the GOP, and a 3 to 2 exposure in the Senate in 2014. How’s that for empirical analysis.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

Speaking of fuzzy analysis and magical thinking, here’s a link at NPR to the Dem Campaign Chief explaining why they will retake Congress in 2012. Enjoy 2011/10/26/141734231/house-democrat-camp aign-chair-likes-partys-chances-for-reta king-control

oh, and here’s the link to the Congresswoman they were pretty sure they could beat. Strangely, still an incumbent. rs

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

Sarah Palin is just one example of why so many Americans are turned off by the GOP. ARJTurgot2, posts like yours is another. Your comment has no relevance in this discussion whatsoever. It really isn’t relevant in any discussion, except maybe a discussion about how paranoid and defensive so many of the new conservatives are. Sarah Palin has made herself rich pumping up tea partiers with nonsense that only serves to divide this nation, and to make herself rich. She certainly has that right in America, but her brand of emotional tripe requires some objective observations about the things she’s spewing. She often resorts to lies, and because of her influence she needs to be called on her lies. It comes with the territory.

And, of course, you have the right to defend her, if that’s what you’re doing here. Actually, I’m not sure what your post is intending to do. But it only serves to make you look confused and ill-informed. If you want to defend Sarah Palin, do so.

Posted by flashrooster | Report as abusive

@ARJTurgot2 The Republicans only have a majority in the House because of gerrymandering. They were pretty much blown out on the cumulative popular vote for the House in 2012. They won in 2010 and probably will again in 2014 because when your vote for representative in a gerrymandered district doesn’t really count, and there is no presidential race, many voters find there isn’t very much reason to vote. This effects Democratic voters more than Republicans because the cost of voting is much higher for the large block of hourly workers, who either lose wages voting (if indeed they are allowed to take time to vote by their employer) or have to stand in very long lines after work.

Posted by QuietThinker | Report as abusive

The masses are ignorant. They applauded Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, Peron, and Stalin. They even applaud bus driver Maduro who tells them that Chavez was injected with ‘cancer bacteria’, and Sarah Palin who can see Russia from her kitchen window. The responsibility lies with mavericks like John McCain who destroyed the GOP by deliberately enlisting such nitwits.

Posted by pbgd | Report as abusive

The reason the GOP lost is non-support of their political base; fundamentalist Christians. Turn on any Christian TV station the last month before the election, and they were still playing the anti-Mormon polygamy stuff. No way was Romney going to win.

Posted by alowl | Report as abusive

This column is about “winning”, not the scientific method.

I do not support Sarah Palin. She may be a right wing, fundamentalist demagogue, but at least the public knows EXACTLY where she stands. One can easily contemplate what her policies might be if she were ever elected again. She rejects the so-called scientific method as it has been applied to US politics. She is intellectually honest.

Barack Obama (and the democrats), on the other hand, embrace the scientific method of polling and propagandizing to the electorate in the same way Goebbels might have today. They have polished and honed the message in a manner to dupe people of color, the young, the working class and progressives that they represent their interests, while doing everything to support the corporate oligarchy.

Obama criticized the Bush administration’s war policies, then upon assuming office put them on steroids. 3 times the number of troops in Afghanistan and hundreds of drone strikes, involvement and intervention throughout ME/NA. People are duped and thing this stuff is winding down.

Obama’s policies toward the financial sector have made Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon very happy. TBTF is now much bigger and more dangerous.

Obamacare bailed out the private insurance industry from collapse with its mandates.

Palin is a right wing demagogue. Obama and the democrats are corrupt and intellectually dishonest.

Posted by upstater | Report as abusive

upstarter: I don’t think Sarah Palin is intellectually anything, and certainly not intellectually honest. Sarah Palin serves Sarah Palin. She ran for the governorship of Alaska, won, and didn’t even serve out one full 4-year term. How honest was that? Do you think that’s what the people of Alaska voted for when they elected her? That alone should be enough to discredit her. She’s just doing the same schtick as Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck or Mike Savage. There’s big money in it. You betcha! These people prey on the public’s emotions. They don’t engage in civil discourse. They don’t even inject serious points of view. It’s all over-the-top rhetorical gun blasts meant to excite folks like yourself, and they make money doing it. It works like a charm. She doesn’t challenge anything that’s not safe with here tea party audience. She’s always on safe ground. She’s nothing but a charlatan who makes herself rich by saying nasty things about any politician seen as being to the left of her. Nothing courageous about that. What does she contribute? Divisiveness.

Posted by flashrooster | Report as abusive

So many inaccuracies, misrepresentations and pure BS that it’s hard to say where to start on this..typical Wapshott wackiness.
Fun to watch all of the useful idiots lining up to beat their chest on the “integrity of the science behind man-caused global warming”…when there isn’t any.
Are you all so blind to the failures and human misery caused by large, powerful, out-of-control central governments that you run to the front of the line like so many good students to promote another attempt at utopia? Can you not see the dishonesty of the left?
The ignorance of the majority is incomprehensible..but as another poster here mentioned…it did happen before with Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini.

Posted by svh242 | Report as abusive

Nice try guys, but re-redistricting happens after the completion of the U.S. Census. The 2010 election in which Libs got creamed were the same districts as 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008. That little item is an independently verifiable fact, commonly a component of the scientific method. Except for Democrats.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

Oh, and the 2012 Republican ‘blow out’ consisted of the loss of 7 seats. The 2010 Democrat blow out – 63, a new record. Keep blaming your problems on the boogie man, it makes you easier to beat.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

ARJTurgot2: What do any of your posts have to do with this op-ed? This comment section is here for you to comment about this writer’s op-ed. It’s not supposed to be a soapbox for you to rant from. That is unless your rant is about the opinion piece.

Posted by flashrooster | Report as abusive

It is most certainly not “anti-intellectual” to not accept Keynsian economics as the only economic theory. Slipping that little piece of excrement in there with evolution is not just over the top, it misses the point.

It is certainly hard to defend Sarah Palin. But as smelly as it is, the Washington establishment and our system of “bought and paid for” Government, with its gerrymandering and its life Lords (Federal judges), is even harder to defend. Palin has a point.

Posted by usagadfly | Report as abusive

In another slip, the article makes an extraordinary claim:

“There are many countries where immigrants have quickly assimilated into the body politic and where the electorate is near-homogenous.”

Huh? Name one. Ask the descendents of the indigenous Americans of 1492 about the difference between “immigration” and “conquest”. Not that that was the first mass migration to this continent. The USA is a clear case of the failings of immigration, and has developed a system of increasing division as a means of political control, much as the Roman Empire operated. We are becoming markedly more divided, not united. We are ruled, not self-ruling.

Posted by usagadfly | Report as abusive

Ah Flash, so typically Liberal – trying to teach the world how to live. Wapshott and Reuters decide whether to post my comments, not you. Learn to deal with.

Also man, try to control the verbosity. You could write 1/10 and still be incoherent.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

ARJTurgot2: What I write is only incoherent to those with less than a 4th grade reading level, so don’t beat yourself up for misunderstanding my comments. I was only trying to spare you some embarrassment, but to no avail. However, if the whole point goes sailing over your head like an innocuous kite on a breezy day, then you don’t have to worry about being embarrassed, now do you?

Now look what you’ve made me do; the same thing you’re guilty of: an immaterial post. The difference is, I feel a little shame. I’ll try to make up for it by sharing what I learned about another rightwing provocateur, Michele Bachmann, who is not at all unlike Sarah Palin. It’s come to light that she is being investigated for ethics violations. Why doesn’t this surprise me? Does it surprise you, ARJTurgot2? Another leftwing conspiracy maybe?

Posted by flashrooster | Report as abusive

@ ARJTurgot2: you should really stick to posting on Fox News forums where right wing insults & put downs are welcomed.

Posted by explorer08 | Report as abusive

Such an angry lot and Mr Wapshott too. Vindictive, vituperative, so sure that there is only one truth and that only you know it.

Perhaps you do, or perhaps your Fearless Leader has duped you beyond reason which will make the comeuppance all the more interesting when it arrives.

Enjoy the catbird’s seat, it’s a nice view on a fair day but a bitch in a storm.

Posted by CaptnCrunch | Report as abusive

If Palin is so stinking stupid, how has she managed to pick so many primary and electoral winners?

If the Tea Party is so lacking in rational thought, how have they managed to consistently beat old-guard Republicans?

The article makes perfect sense.
It just doesn’t match the facts on the ground.
Which is kind of ironic, given that this is the sin the article charges Palin with.


Posted by skellmeyer | Report as abusive

What I love about Sarah Palin is that she drive Lefties and Dems so completely batty. She’s like a flame drawing moths to her — they can’t help themselves!

Posted by fgoodwin | Report as abusive