America the Unexceptional? Reax, analyisis rounded up

Cultural relativism; civilizational equivalentism; American unexceptionalism; call it what you will, the myth that all societies are created equal seems to be pandemic in the one country that’s more equal than others.

Despite its prima facie absurdity, this misconception takes hold at an early age among US students, as a new NEF report, released yesterday, is the latest to confirm. Here’s what the lesser outlets are saying about yesterday’s announcement.

masthead time-logo-og copy 2In Europe there’s an entire tradition of jokes predicated on the American tourist who operates (loudly) under the assumption that other societies enjoy the same freedoms and standard of living as “back home,” only to find out the hard way that the local culture is retrograde in some way.

A film poking fun at the phenomenon—named If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be A Vibrant Technology Hub With High Female Literacy—was the runaway hit of 2012 in a particularly backward sliver of Europe known as the Basque area.

(As trivia-lovers and Scrabble champs will attest, Basque isn’t a word we just made up. The region is very real; its eponymous inhabitants have been dubbed the Kurds of Europe, but tend to object to the comparison to Mid-eastern, and therefore even worse-off, people.)

The filmmakers stuck to English throughout production—not just for obvious reasons, but also to avoid prison. In much of the Basque-speaking world it’s against the law to speak Basque.

masthead Newsweek-logo copy 2Our reputation for cultural naivete precedes us almost as far East as it’s possible to go in the Far East.

“You Americans are all the same. ‘Back home nobody tells us what kind of sugar to put in our coffee. Back home we get to choose what to call our dogs, who to vote for, what to think. Back home they don’t arrest people for this. Back home we get to make one last phone call, oh god for the love of humanity please, wah wah wah,’” mocks Kim, 33, who works as a Supreme Leader, just like his father and grandfather before him.

Basketball is Kim’s real passion, but under intense pressure to carry on the family profession he resigned himself to studying Economics at Yale.

College overseas was an eye-opener for the sheltered princeling, who was shocked to find that real Americans were nowhere near as cross-culturally sophisticated as their one-dimensional portrayal back home led him to expect.

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Report: Insular Americans Unaware of the Existence of Lesser Countries

A new National Education Foundation report is out today, based on the results of a nationwide quiz of middle-school students. Titled ‘The Bigotry of High Expectations: American students are deplorably ignorant about the wider, inferior world,’ it confirms that the myth of American unexceptionalism is widespread among US teens.

You might assume that in the greatest country on Earth, young adults would grasp the logical implication that the rest of the world is, well, less great.

But if you expected that, you’ve been living under a rock, says speleobiologist David Dixon—as illustrated by scores from the NEF test of knowledge about the world’s countries, good and otherwise, sat by thousands of teens last week.

“Performance was… poor,” says Dr Dixon. “As in, Puerto Rico poor.”

Almost 60% of candidates were unable to name the capital city of a tinpot banana republic.

Fewer than half the respondents knew the preferred way of naming, collectively, the planet’s most retarded countries (‘the developmentally-delayed world’).

And only 58% were able to point to the ass end of the world on a map.

“Which was barely better than guessing,” Dixon explains.

Scores were even poorer on more challenging questions such as:

America has been called a great experiment in multiculturalism, and its success can be seen in any of our ethnically-diverse neighborhoods. Where in New York City would you find the most unconvicted mass murderers walking free per capita?

(Answer: ‘Turtle Bay.’ Also accepted was ‘the United Nations building.’)

Students started out well when asked if they’d rather live in the United Kingdom or the Kingdom of Bhutan, with 91% of candidates correctly choosing the English-speaking pro-American proto-America, far and away the less sub-American of the two non-American monarchies.

The authors of the test, however, cautioned against self-congratulation. “The first item was not intended to challenge students,” they reminded journalists, “but as an example of how to fill in the multiple-choice answer sheet.”

Also acceptable was to furiously obliterate both of the above and use whatever remained of the nub of the 2B pencil provided to write “HELL NO.”

Answers in pen, HB pencil or an unassuming script that seemed almost to be apologizing for its own existence might not be read correctly by the computer, warned the front-page instructions.

A troubling 7% of students wrongly selected the landlocked Himalayan hellhole where freezing your ass off remains the leading cause of death—despite the efforts of an army of surgically-trained volunteers from the West—followed by driving while ethnic Nepalese and, in third place, committing lèse-majesté too loudly.

Holidaymakers who accidentally visit Bhutan come home with horror stories about life in the 38,394-square-kilometre Medieval theme park.

Neighbors who refuse to shut up their Bhutanese barking deer are the least of the problems. The term ‘fashion crime’ may take on a whole new meaning when you receive style tips at gunpoint from the Royal Bhutanese Mounted Cultural Police. The country’s roads are a free-for-all warzone of gored carcasses and widespread contempt for the Yak Yakking Act (which nominally bans the use of cellphones while riding the dangerous and unpredictable bovines).

But the single most common complaint is the difficulty of booking an airline ticket the hell out of there. Bhutan still has no Internet, though the King was gracious enough to share his Intranet password in 2001, opening up a whole new world consisting of the .gov.bhut domain plus a D drive with cam rips of the latest Bhutanese-dubbed romantic comedies.

His Royal Godliness Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck—whose subjects have not produced a peer-reviewed scientific paper “in quite some time”—is said to be ecstatic about the front-page mention in the exam, calling it the closest the People of the Thunder Dragon would ever come to contributing to human knowledge.


Of the following, according to the 2011 World Civilizations Census, there are now more people living in:

A North America
B Scandinavia
C The Asia-Pacific
D The Middle Ages

I Have a Doppelgänger

by Brad Keyes

It seems someone called Brad Keyes has been peddling defamatory denialism over here. (Don’t click.) Many thanks to all the concerned readers who, through no fault of their own, got lost on the Internet and wound up in that hive of scum and villainy that is the hottest site in the skeptosphere, only to see this crank trading on the counterfeit credibility that comes with having the same first and last name as yours truly.

So, what do we know about my nemetic namesake?

Well, climate science is easily the most complicated, multidisciplinary can of worms our species has ever opened, so we can assume this Keyes guy must have undertaken the many years of postdoctoral scholarship necessary to mouth off reliably on the issues… right?

Imagine my surprise when a Google Scholar search for the name “Brad Keyes” shows a grand total of zero hits in any relevant field.

Yes, that’s zero with two zeros.*

Ouch. So much for credibility!

So here’s a friendly warning for my disbelievalist Doppelgänger:

In science, reputation is everything. And reputation takes a lifetime to earn, but a moment to undo.

Just ask a water scientist called Peter Gleick.

In a single act of lateral journalism now known as Water-gate, Dr Gleick—a sought-after lecturer on scientific ethics—managed to discredit the Heartland Institute forever.

Just sayin’, Braddles old pal.

*Including the alternative form “Bradley” improves the results by a factor of infinity, but this isn’t particularly impressive when you recall that the denominator was 0.

The Conversation to ban comments

In a sign of the times, the directorship of The Conversation announced today that the iconic blog will cease taking reader feedback. For the millions of ordinary Australians who’ve come to rely on the site for informed discussion, bereavement is expected to give way to anger in coming days, as blame is sheeted home to the climate skeptics who’ve used their disproportionate vocalness to make dialogue impossible.

The policy doesn’t take effect immediately, senior editor Michelle Grattan assured the public this morning. For now, readers’ comments will merely be deleted as soon as they’re posted, with full abolition of the comments section to take place by February.

The government-backed blog franchise, which now has branches in the UK and US, started life in 2011 as a bold experiment in bringing intellectuals and the non-intellectual public together. But it soon earned its nickname ‘The Nonversation,’ presumably in reference to the low quality of reader responses to the professionally-written posts. With few exceptions, commenters failed to supply valid refutations—backed up by peer-reviewed sources—of the above-the-line thesis, and some were even known to spout ‘zombie talking-points‘ (arguments already rebutted at least once on the Internet, to no apparent avail).

“Conversation is the lifeblood of democracy, but it depends on respect,” wrote founding editor Andrew Jaspan in today’s Age, “for those who actually know what they’re talking about. It doesn’t work if the other side insists on trying to butt in every 10 minutes.”

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Mad About Mental Issues: Part 2

Let’s continue our survey of the top 10 things you’d be crazy not to know about the mental problem.

6 It’s OK to laugh!

While lunacy is ultimately a climate change issue, it does differ from global warming in one big way: you’re allowed to laugh about it, says CN’s Professor Stephan Lewandowsky [pictured].

Lew interview new 08Mad rights spokesmen insist they’re no killjoys, and the last thing they’d want to do is take the humor out of the subject.

“Every culture known to historians has enjoyed a chuckle at the expense of the less-hinged,” according to Professor Ian Hickie of Australia’s Brain and Mind Institute [BMI]. “This seems to be hardwired; we couldn’t outgrow it if we wanted to, which of course we don’t.”

And nobody laughs harder than nutjobs themselves, who are the first to dissolve into giggles at a good joke—often anticipating the punchline by one or two sentences.

“We always appreciate comedy, provided it makes sense without being hurtful, yet contains a broader point about the foibles of contemporary society,” explained a drooling maniac who agreed to rant at us in Sydney’s Northside Clinic. “Then again, another equally valid comic tradition revolves around reframing—in an exaggerated or surprising way—some moral intuition of the time and culture in which the routine is performed.”

And if you can’t laugh at yourself, what’s the point of going on?

“You might as well put your affairs in order, hop into a warm bath to stimulate peripheral blood flow and open your wrists with a razor blade (remembering to cut along the length of the arm, not crosswise—a classic beginner’s mistake),” to quote a patient information booklet distributed by the New South Wales Department of Health.

7 Immigrants are at risk.

We traveled to Sydney’s Southwest, where one cluster of suburbs is so rife with cray-cray that it’s nicknamed the Punchbowl district. It’s also an area of high immigration—and that’s no coincidence, say professional ethnographers.

Lewandowsky interview 17In one hospital, we saw women with the erotomanic persecutory delusion that they’ll be ravished by strangers unless they conceal every inch of their bodies from view. On the emergency ward a man was angrily arguing with staff. From what I could make out with my limited Arabic, he seemed to be obsessed with the compass direction in which his bed was facing.

Administrators had set aside a room for the use of 20 or so patients laboring under the shared conviction, or folie à plusieurs, that they had to ululate and perform a downwards-dog manoeuvre five times a day. I asked one man what he thought would happen if he failed to carry out this ritual. He muttered something about his “soul” going to “hell,” though he couldn’t say where either of these was located.

The local religious centre does what it can. One enterprising imam runs a Friday activity club where hundreds of people with similar thought disorders find support from others going through the same thing. But he says he just doesn’t have the resources or training to give everyone in the area the help they need.

And yet some migrant populations in Australia not only seem to be immune to the kind of meshugaas that plagues Punchbowl, they even outperform the continent’s Anglo-Saxon indigenes on measures of psychic soundness, screw tightness and marble possession.

It’s a head-scratcher. In terms of country of origin, says Professor Lewandowsky, the big epicentres of mental disturbance are as diverse and seemingly random as Indonesia, Lebanon, southern (but not northern) Thailand, Pakistan (but not India), Muslim Bosno-Albania (but not Catholic Serbo-Croatia), the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Republic of Iraq.

“Astute readers may notice,” continues Lewandowsky, “that these ‘hot spots’ have one and only one factor in common: they’re all war-ravaged nations with a long history of persecution by Israel, going all the way back to the Crusades, and to a lesser extent by the West.”

This observation has led ineluctably to the favorite hypothesis of alienists everywhere: that most people who lose their senses do so as a result of Judeoamerican Islamophobia.

8 The stigma can be worse than the disease.

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We’ve got Mental Illness Awareness Madness!

Part 1

It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? That special time of year has come and gone again! Did you enjoy your Mental Illness Awareness Week?

Here at Climate Nuremberg we’re nuts about MIAW, the one annual opportunity to think about a non-climate-related, but nonetheless important, social issue.

Just because climate change is by far the worst problem society will ever face, doesn’t mean it’s the only one. 

Unprecedented temperatures; carbon pollution; the daily toll of species going extinct in real time; oceans rapidly turning to acid; the millions of climate refugees in limbo between homelands—these very real crises obviously deserve our attention.

But so does another tragedy even closer to home. In your own neighborhood are folks who believe in things that just don’t exist.

It’s all well and good to listen to what The Science is telling us about our warming globe. But did you know 1 in 40 Australians will suffer from hearing voices?

As we weep for the loss of Pacific nation after Pacific nation to the onslaught of unprecedented sea levels, spare a thought for people who get sad for no sensible reason.

As academics we can get so caught up in surviving the attacks of the oil-funded Subterranean War on Science that we forget about folks who are even less fortunate. Folks who think imaginary forces are out to get them, for instance.

But all these people exist, they’re all our neighbors, and they’re all suffering for the same reason. I’m referring, of course, to the problem of mental problems.


Credibility: Stephan Lewandowsky, the Americo-Australian cognician now based in England, generously sacrificed his time and reputation to act as a consultant to this article series.

So, whether you fancy yourself a maven of meshuggenology or just an engaged citizen, here are the take-home points everyone should know about the growing mental crisis in our community.

1 Insanity is a rich tapestry.

When you think of a mental patient you probably picture a crazy person. But this stereotype is too simplistic, explains CN’s Stephan Lewandowsky. While craziness remains the most common mental problem, there’s a broad gamut of others.

Crazies “account for about 60% of the caseload at your local asylum,” says the Bristol-based Professor. “But modern doctors recognize a whole range of deformities of the mind, from simple severe melancholia to relapsing-remitting batcrappery.

“You could almost write a book about the various diagnoses now in use,” he adds, slightly hyperbolically.

2 Going psycho: it will happen to you.

And if it doesn’t, say epidemiologists, it will happen to someone you know. According to a major recent study, 19% of Australians—that’s almost every fifth person—will take leave of their gourd at some point in their lives. That’s almost one in every five people.

Derangement: Professor Lewandowsky used to think it was something that happened to other people.

3 We need to have a conversation.

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What else are the lesser outlets saying about Our Scared Scientists?

masthead the age index 2 bPsychologist Dan Kahan works closely with climatologists and was on first-name basis with some of the Scared Scientists. The Yale Professor says they’ve been at risk of abduction for years, and recent tragic events were virtually waiting to happen.

“The [climate] community has always been an open invitation to a certain kind of sicko, who gets off on playing Jedi mind games with unarmed opponents.”

Kahan often has to teach a climate scientist the rudiments of urban safety from scratch.

Kahan-rsz sl g copy

“They’re amazed to learn that they don’t have to get in the car with anyone they don’t know, no matter how much candy he offers them.”

In the crash course Not Being Kidnapped 101, Prof. Kahan stresses that checking credentials isn’t enough; you then have to make a judgement call based on the information.

“Wallet Inspector, Bra Patrol, Crown Prince of Nigeria—these are not things,” he says, exasperated. “They’re just bogus concatenations of words!

“Climate negotiator, climate change psychologist, climate economist, climate ethicist—now these are people you can safely get in a car with. Legitimate, credible professions.

“The trick, as so often in life, is to know the difference.”

But for a certain demographic that may be easier said than done.

“Stranger Danger is a no-brainer for—quote-unquote—’normals’ like you and me,” he says. “But spare a thought for the special folk who congenitally lack that little voice, the one that whispers, ‘hang on, something’s not quite right here.’ Call it adaptive paranoia, spider sense, street smarts, whatever you like—climatologists are notoriously deficient in this department, even by academic standards. Which is saying a lot.

“Skepticism,” he adds. “Call it skepticism.”

If one good thing has emerged from the horrible crime perpetrated on the Scared Scientists, Kahan argues, it’s that people are now talking about the issues surrounding and facing developmentally special folk. He sees this as an opportunity to bust some stereotypes.

Kahan points to the 1988 classic Rain Man as a milestone in popular awareness. But he also regrets a number of misconceptions the film has spawned.

“Raymond, the character brought to life by Dustin Hoffman, is an unrepresentative case. He ticks all the boxes—too many boxes, if anything. In statistical ‘real life,’ syndromes like autism hardly ever come as an all-or-nothing package deal.”

For example, says Kahan, some of the most socially-retarded climate scientists he knows also have no discernible talent for numbers.

“Some of these guys can’t even use Excel.”

It’s yet another reason to fear for the Scared Scientists’ well-being in captivity.

“At least three of them—that I know of—are half-way along the idiot savant spectrum.” masthead berliner zeitung 10810244,7038739,data,logo 2 b

Acting Federal Police Commissioner Michael Phelan appeared on Australian talkback radio today to justify why the Hate Crimes Unit hasn’t been brought in on the case of the Scared Scientists. The decision has raised community eyebrows but Phalen said it had the backing of leading hate criminologists.

“The fact is, there’s no evidence the scientists were targeted for their beliefs,” he explained.

Mr Phelan reminded reporters that the Australian community had coexisted with climate scientists for years. Notwithstanding the occasional rude email—”rarer than you might predict, all things considered”—Aussies had exhibited all the lazy tolerance for which they’re world-famous, basically allowing the climatological community to practice in peace.

Australian climate scientists distrust the general public, Commissioner Phelan acknowledged.

“You’d expect a bit more animosity, but in fact it’s been one of the great multicultural success stories.

“Historically, the two groups just ignore each other,” he said.

“This is not to deny that things occasionally get physical. But statistically, normal Australians are more likely to be attacked by climate scientists than the other way round.”

Such events are vastly underreported, explained the Commissioner, because Aussies are brought up not to “dob” someone “in” for slapping them unless they use backhand. Assaults may even go unnoticed by the victims themselves, he suggested.

“We think as many as a hundred Australians every year, who believe they had crumbs on their shirt or a misaligned tie, were actually being ‘attacked’ by a climate scientist.”

Nor did Mr Phelan shy away from the well-known fact that climate scientists distrust ordinary Australians.

“I won’t pretend our climatologists don’t feel a certain sense of betrayal—which is regrettable, but needs to be understood in the context of a couple of frightening events in the past.”

Scientists Down Under still bear the mental scars of a 2010 incident in which a known conservative with a history of free-market opinions was seen to reach into his pocket.

In a quirky twist nobody could have anticipated, he wasn’t actually going for an assault rifle at all. (According to some reports the man wasn’t even armed.) Understandably, though, mass panic had already broken out by the time anyone noticed the man was “just” waving a legal document.

The individual is understood to have left the dinner party voluntarily.

Security at the Australian National University was quickly upgraded as a result of what scientists were calling the Goulburn Massacre, or simply The Brandishing. (See ANU Professor Will Steffen’s disturbing account of a suspected copycat attack here.)

Five years on, the fear is still raw, and has seeped into everything Australian climate scientists say and do, even if they weren’t there at the time.

As psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky points out, seepage is thermodynamically irreversible. We can therefore expect the trauma to start fading only when the affected cohort retires. Until then the sight of a conservative or a legal document may be all it takes to trigger Mexican waves of cold sweat and flashbacks throughout the Australian climate world.

“It’s like they say,” adds Lewandowsky. “Science heals one funeral at a time.”