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Recently a friend posted a video on Facebook that he asserted would demolish the Godless theory of evolution. On it, a fellow sitting in a pickup and wearing a backward baseball cap smugly explained that Darwinian evolution contradicts the Second Law of Thermodynamics, a fundamental principle of physics.

This hoary chestnut has long been a favorite of creationist apologetics — appearing to use scientific evidence to support a theological conclusion. Never mind that the fellow’s science was as backward as his baseball cap. The Second Law states almost the opposite of his description. Indeed, if it said what creationists claim, not only evolution but life itself would be impossible.

But what struck me as equally significant was the implied attitude toward scientists. Because if what the fellow claimed was even halfway right, it could only mean that every physics professor in every university in the world was part of a vast conspiracy of silence against God.

And why would they do that? I suppose for the same reason that climate scientists worldwide all but unanimously warn that increased levels of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere are contributing to a potentially catastrophic warming of the planet.

No less an authority than Sarah Palin once characterized them as employing “doomsday scare tactics pushed by an environmental priesthood that capitalizes on the public’s worry and makes them feel that owning an SUV is a ‘sin’ against the planet.”

The ex-governor’s use of religious metaphor is no accident. To millions of Americans calling themselves “conservatives,” at least for partisan purposes, science is religion, and religion science. Hardly anybody acts on this stuff in real life. People don’t quiz their veterinarian about Darwin.

However, when it comes to climate science, people who wouldn’t dream of diagnosing the family cat feel comfortable hearing the entire worldwide scientific community described as engaged in a gigantic hoax. Supposedly for the sake of one-world government or some similar absurdity.

Clearly, such people simply don’t know what scientific inquiry consists of, how hypotheses are tested, theories arrived at, and consensus achieved — all the things about science that make large scale conspiracies impossible.

Individual scientists are certainly as prone to temptation as anybody else. However, a single instance of serious fraud — misrepresenting experiments, faking data — is fatal to a career. The higher the profile, the more dramatic the fall.

So what happens when ideologically motivated pundits single out scientists for abuse? We may be about to learn from the lawsuit filed by renowned climatologist Michael Mann against the National Review. Do defamation laws protect even famous scientists from politically motivated smears against their professional integrity and private character?

Is calling an internationally known scientist “intellectually bogus,” a “fraud” and “the Jerry Sandusky of climate science,” as National Review blogger Mark Steyn did, a First Amendment-protected opinion? Or is it libelous, a provably false allegation published with reckless disregard for the truth and the malicious purpose of harming Mann’s reputation?

“[I]nstead of molesting children,” Steyn’s post explained, Mann “has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science.” Does it need to be added that National Review provided no evidence of same? Mann asked for a retraction and apology. Receiving none, he sued.

The director of Penn State’s climatology program — hence the Sandusky reference — Mann drew the ire of climate change deniers as the inventor of the “hockey stick graph.” First published in Nature, it combined so-called “proxy records” — tree ring studies, ice core and corals — of temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere over the past 1,000 years with contemporary thermometer records.

It showed the climate trending irregularly cooler until the Industrial Revolution, when temperatures trended sharply upward — the blade of the metaphorical hockey stick. Since then, numerous studies based on different data have drawn the same conclusion: Earth’s climate is warming rapidly, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Mann’s misfortune, however, was getting caught up in the largely phony “Climategate” controversy. Admiring emails referencing “Mike’s trick” of sophisticated statistical analysis were made to appear sinister. Eight investigations by everybody from Penn State’s science faculty to the British parliament have vindicated Mann’s work in every respect.

However, Mann’s not a shy fellow. His book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, constitutes not only a lucid explanation of his own work, but a vigorous defense of climate science against industry-funded denialists. In a recent pleading filed in the D.C. Court of Appeals, National Review argues that this makes him a public figure and fair game for abuse.

In a separate article editor Rich Lowry alibied that the offending post was merely “a loose and colorful expression of opinion that did not allege any specific act of fraud in the literal sense.”

In short, accusing a respected scientist of faking data and comparing him to a child molester was just a colorful way of saying they disagree with his conclusions.

Welcome to Washington, professor.

AFP Photo/Patrik Stollarz

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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