Friday, April 21, 2006

Dishonesty, Arrogance, Hypocrisy Regarding Risk Assessments

Yesterday, I wrote about a bus driver who insists on driving while blindfolded. When others look out the window and see danger, the driver has associates paint pictures on the window that correspond with his plans. I asked the reader to consider how safe he would feel in a bus being driven by this type of driver.

A flagrant example of this can be found if we look at how the Bush Administration treated intelligence with regard to both the war in Iraq and global warming.

To make this comparison, we may think of the scientific evidence for global warming to be a type of 'national intelligence estimate' on a potential threat to our national interests. In this, it is comparable to the 'national intelligence estimate' that Bush received on the threat to our national interests from Saddam Hussein.

Both of these intelligence estimates concerned serious potential threats to the lives, health, and well-being of millions of Americans. Both of these estimates also concern the lives, health, and property of other people around the world. The Bush Administration attempts to justify the decision to invade Iraq on the grounds that it was a humanitarian mission to protect the people of Iraq. It would be no less of a humanitarian mission to protect the people in several countries from the devastation they may experience as a result of global warming. In all of these respects, the threat from global warming and the threat from Saddam Hussein are comparable.

However, when the Bush Administration received these two ‘national intelligence estimates’, it responded to them in two different ways.

When it received the ‘intelligence estimate’ on the threat from global warming, the Administration hired staff members (former oil industry lobbyists for the most part) to rewrite the reports, downplaying the threat. They filled the report with remarks, not found in the original reports, claiming that we faced no real threat. Furthermore, they wrote, because of the uncertainty in the results and the economic cost of taking action against the problem we needed to put off any action and, instead, do more research.

In short, Bush managed over a systematic attempt to distort the intelligence and to mislead and manipulate the public about the nature and extent of the problem.

When the Bush Administration received the 'national intelligence estimate' on the threat of Saddam Hussein, a growing body of evidence suggests that his staff of former oil industry executives also rewrote those reports or, at least, selectively ‘leaked’ interpretations of the reports in ways that made it appear as if the reports supported Administration policies. They made it appear as if the evidence that Saddam Hussein was an immediate threat that needed to be taken care of right away was stronger than the reports claimed them to be. They dismissed the idea of doing additional research. They reacted to uncertainty by saying that it is important to act immediately, because we do not want the smoking gun to take the form of a mushroom cloud.

The Administration did not care about the possibility that the “smoking gun” of global warming taking the form of a city destroyed by a hurricane.

Nothing better illustrate the dishonesty, hypocrisy, arrogance, and the abuse of executive power that embodies this administration better than when these two issues are placed side by side.

In a recent episode of Real Time with Bill Mahar, Senator Joe Biden commented about how Bush would respond to challenges that he was claiming certainty when he did not know the facts by saying that he had ‘good instincts.’

These are the words of the bus driver wearing the blindfold saying that he only needs ‘good instincts’ to know when the road turns and when it is safe to cross a dangerous instincts. This type of claim is nothing less than the claim that Bush does, in fact, wear a blindfold as he attempts to drive the bus that is America through world events.

He so trusts his instincts that when intelligence reports and scientific papers come to his office, he has his staff use his instincts to rewrite those reports. This behavior is as sensible as the blindfold driver in the bus analogy having followers paint the windows with pictures that match his ‘instincts’ about where the road turns and when it is safe to cross an intersection.

The arrogance of this type of behavior is in the assumption that Bush (and those advisors who actually tell him what his opinion is) already knows everything there is to know about every issue that he might confront. He does not need ‘information.’ He does not need data. Indeed, if anybody comes to him with ‘data’ he simply appeals to his instincts and uses what he finds there to ‘correct’ whatever data gets brought to him.

This is the blindfold bus driver taking evidence that the road turns and saying, ‘because I have no evidence that the road turns, your claim that you can look out the window and see that the road turns must be false. It must be a mirage or something similar that deceives your senses, because my instincts cannot be wrong.”

The characteristics this President has displayed when presented with these two ‘intelligence estimates’ provide an example of behavior that would shame any honest and responsible person. It is fundamentally dishonest, arrogant, and irresponsible.

For their own safety and security, the American people must come to realize that this way of thinking – this way of driving a bus – is indefensible. The character of a person who behaves like this – unlike the character of a person who engages in sex with an intern – is the character of somebody who is not fit to make decisions. No person can make rational decisions if he is not willing to look at the evidence, just as no driver can drive a bus if he is not willing to look out the window.

5 comments:

Mark said...

No to make light of your post because It is important, but I am reminded of the joke about the blind pilots.

You know the one, As they are taking off, the pilots wait until the passengers scream, then they pull back on the stick to take off. Then one pilot says to the other, one of these days the passengers aren't going to scream...

Dean said...

"The Administration did not care about the possibility that the “smoking gun” of global warming taking the form of a city destroyed by a hurricane."

Alonzo, although I agree with your point, I have to point out that there have been exactly ZERO peer reviewed publications that make this assertion. The fact that this claim came out mere weeks after Katrina hit expounds on that.

There has been some discussion on another blog I follow here:

http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/disasters/000759once_again_attributi.html

http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/000628avoiding_the_painful.html

Certainly, there have been some statements by scientists asserting this, Keven Trenberth being the obvious one...but it's not peer reviewed, and until it is so, it should not be considered part of the body of scientific evidence.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Dean, I made sure not to mention Katrina and New Orleans explicitly for the reasons you mentioned.

I was referring to the possibility that global warming could contribute to a hurricane that, in turn, destroys a city -- which corresponds to the possibility that Saddam Hussein could give a weapon of mass destruction to a terrorist, who would use it on an American city.

You are correct. Those who blame the loss of New Orleans specifically on global warming are making an unsupported claim. The research I am aware of shows a general increase in storm power across the globe as temperatures increase, but no connection has yet been found between global warming and Atlantic hurricane strength in specific.

Dean said...

Ah. I obviously read more into that statement than was meant.

zorathruster said...

I spent many years in the military. I do not support the Bush decision however, your portrayal of the decision process expresses a misunderstanding of the long term perspective.

1. It has been a long term US goal to promote (to the point of installing) democracy in the middle east. That was the stated goal through most presidents Jimmy Carter and after.

2. The middle eastern region has been fomenting radical social action that has been increasing over the last many decades and with 9-11 expanded to form a direct attack on US citizens.

3. To initiate the reform process within the region, they needed a reason (fabricated or real) to overthrow the political institution in one of the countries and install a democratic form of governance.

4. The post "gulf war I" gave international rationale for making that target - Iraq.

5. The American people would not have supported "democracy building" in the region but the post 9-11 furvor gave rationale (illegitimate) for initiating the long term goal of democracy building.

Therefore, I would say your analogy of a blind bus driver misses the point. A better analogy would be a bus driver missing the short term hazzard because he was attempting to miss the long term hazzard.