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Troubling Political Language

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A favorite liberal admonishment is the word “troubling”, which is unleashed to tar a multitude of political allegations with the brush of notoriety.  So we can have Bain’s troubling exports of jobs overseas (to damage Mitt Romney) or the troubling 5-4 decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court (to undermine the standing of those that don’t go the way of liberals). 

Climate language is in a troubling spin

One reason liberals utilize the word so frequently is that implies some greater knowledge or sensitivity on the part of the speaker.  The GOP presidential hopeful isn’t aware that sending jobs overseas is bad, just as those unrepentant conservative Justices on the Supreme Court don’t realize their own biases. 

For some reason, conservatives rarely trot out the word “troubling” to characterize Democrat failings.  Troubling unemployment figures or troubling tax increases have seldom, if ever, seen the light of day.  Conservatives, it seems, have an aversion to “troubling” that is as marked as the liberals love for it.  These columns use it now and again just for fun. 

And so to leading climate fear-monger, James Hansen, whose Washington Post opinion editorial column on Sunday took just four paragraphs to introduce the beloved word.  The NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies activist is a scientist who uses political language to great effect to advance his reputation, at least in the liberal bleachers. 

“I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.” 

Aah, thank goodness for this man!  He has “revealed” something – which must, therefore, be true.  And, of course, the ramifications must be troubling – otherwise they have no political or discursive value.  The days are long gone when Winston Churchill declared that scientists should be on tap, not on top. 

Hanson is particularly skillful in his use of non-scientific language to make political points.  The reader relates to the political message while still considering the thrust of the article to be scientific and objective. 

Indeed, his linguistic ingredients are so fine that it is almost disappointing that he bothered to use “troubling” at all. 

One technique Hanson deploys is the use of authority statements to get the reader to trust him.  They are naturally narcissistic and would make a more humble person blush:  “I testified before the Senate”, “In a new analysis, my colleagues and I…”; “I introduced the concept…”; “Our new peer-reviewed study, published by the National Academy of Sciences…”; “We plotted the world’s changing temperatures…”

The true advocacy purpose of the article is disguised by intertwining the main political messages with a seeming scientific objectivity.   In addition to the “troubling” quote above there are other dramatic, unscientific but appealing political phrases such as: “This is the world we have changed, and now we have to live in it.”

And of course, we finish with the liberal political solution of tax increases.  Like President Obama, Hanson calls them a “fee”.  “We can solve the challenge of climate change with a gradually rising fee on carbon collected from fossil-fuel companies with 100 percent of the money rebated to all legal residents on a per capita basis.”

Note the use of “rebates” and “legal residents” in the same sentence as “fee” to try to appeal to those troubling conservatives.  Hanson’s column boils down to liberal politics dressed up as science. 

Scientists who are this adept at political advocacy should be treated with great suspicion.  This is particularly the case when they are peddling dubious environmental claims.   

My advice: whenever you see or hear the word “troubling”, take a deep breath.

3 Comments add one

  1. Brian Spooner says:

    Rather troubling his overuse of the personal pronoun.

  2. Republi-chick says:

    I am always weary of science that helps politics. I used to be involved in scientific research and I found it is very hard for the scientist to accept the results if they conflict with his personal views. We would all love to be right and have the hard facts to prove it. When we are not….we find it “troubling”. One may even run the experiment in hopes of getting results more in line with his opinions. Science is based on theory and opinion and should keep out of politics. Perhaps just as we desire separation of church and state we should also desire separation of scientific theory and politics.

  3. Gavin Carter says:

    Nice comments Brian and Republi-chick. I think we will hear a lot more about this guy in the years to come…

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