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Stop those pirates/terrorists! (But ignore those “great bands of brigands” whose navies and prosecutors are needed.)

December 8th, 2008 No comments

Jonathan Adler at The Volokh Conspiracy refers us to yet another editorialist (this time not Bret Stephens of the WSJ but Douglas Burgess Jr. at the Washington Post) saying that the Somali “pirates are terrorists” and calling for changes in US to treat pirates as “enemies of mankind”, greater use of the US navy, and for an expansion of the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (which the US has rejected as a threat to the freedom of the US and its officials to torture people).

But the shippers, the cargo owners and insurers seem to be doing little to protect their assets, so why should we do it for them?  How much easier it is to find threats that supposedly warrant government action than to analyze the justice, efficiency or possible blowback in having the government act in place of the private interests whose assets are at risk.

Here are my comments to Jon:

Jon, can you see how the “war on terror” continues to morph into a long-term war on common sense and taxpayers’ pocketbooks? Not every problem requires a hue and cry about “terrorists!”, much less a government “solution” that further socializes risks and begs any analysis of the problem and of the role of government in it. Let the shippers defend their own cargoes.

We saw a similarly unperceptive and even more breathless op-ed by WSJ’s neocon Bret Stephens two weeks ago.

In the context of the US’s counterproductive engagement with nascent Somali regimes, and calls by shippers (and other lovers of the state) for governments to provide protection, let us not forget the ironies that St. Augustine pointed to centuries ago, about states (the biggest pirates) hypocritically talking up the outrages of much smaller brigands:

Set aside justice, then, and what are kingdoms but great bands of brigands? For what are brigands’ bands but little kingdoms? For in brigandage the hands of the underlings are directed by the commander, the confederacy of them is sworn together, and the pillage is shared by law among them. And if those ragamuffins grow up to be able enough to keep forts, build habitations, possess cities, and conquer adjoining nations, then their government is no longer called brigandage, but graced with the eminent name of a kingdom, given and gotten not because they have left their practices but because they use them without danger of law. Elegant and excellent was that pirate’s answer to the great Macedonian Alexander, who had taken him; the king asking him how he durst molest the seas so, he replied with a free spirit: “How darest thou molest the whole earth? But because I do it only with a little ship, I am called brigand: thou doing it with a great navy art called emperor.”

St. Augustine, City of God, Book IV (410 A.D.)

Barbarians at the gate? The WSJ wrings its hands over Somali pirates but ignores the failure of property owners to defend themselves

November 26th, 2008 No comments

The Wall Street Journal runs a remarkably whiny and unperceptive piece by weekly “Global View” columnist Bret Stephens about the expanding problem of ocean piracy off of Somali waters in and around the Gulf of Aden.   An unvarnished neocon and former editor of the Jerusalem Post, Stephens rather reflexively reviews the outbreak of piracy as an existential threat by barbarians to a civilized, flabby and impotent West, for which the proper response is a wakening resolve to defend civilization via a “muscular” (i.e., violent) response by the US and other civilized Western states, less hampered by a concern for legal niceties.  The editorial is accompanied by a video clip of an interview of Stephens by WSJ assistant editor James Freeman in which Stephens states his views even more strongly.

Under a headline of “Why Don’t We Hang Pirates Anymore?”, Stephens uses his soap box to decry a “legal exquisiteness” that has left the civilized West apparently impotent to deal with “the most primordial” of the various forms of “barbarism” alive today – the growing number of ragtag but surprisingly effective Somali pirates.  (What are the other forms of barbarism that merit mention by Stephens?  The “suicide bombers on Israeli buses, the stonings of Iranian women, and so on.”)  Stephens argues that a move from the halcyon days when captured pirates could be quickly and harshly dealt with – which treatment he argues was responsible for the elimination of piracy in the late 18th century (“a civilizational achievement no less great than the elimination of smallpox a century later”) – to modern civilized justice is responsible for this outbreak of piracy, and calls for a defense of civilization that keeps in mind the lesson for how such barbarism was defeated in the past (viz., quick and harsh treatment of pirates).  Says Stephens,

our collective inability to deal with it says much about how far we’ve regressed in the pursuit of what is mistakenly thought of as a more humane policy. A society that erases the memory of how it overcame barbarism in the past inevitably loses sight of the meaning of civilization, and the means of sustaining it.

Someone a little more skeptical of the benefits of government action might note that not only do the Somali pirates certainly not threaten civilization (and to date have used very little violence), but that the success of the pirates can be laid at the door of the owners of the vessels and cargo and their insurers, who have to date apparently failed utterly to even try to fend off any of the pirates.  The success of a few pirates has simply invited more piracy attempts – crime is contagious, as Ron Bailey notes today on Reason.  No doubt there are plenty of governments that would love to have their military actual provide some useful services, but why should the failure of property owners to take even minimal precautions and self-defense measures not only not be mentioned, but be rewarded with government stepping into the breach?

Given the lack of self-defense by vessels, it is hardly surprising that Somalis and others view ships as equivalent to common property, to be harvested on a first-come, first-served basis, with a resulting rush of entrepreneurial Somalis entering the new profession.  Sure, we could use a little law and order, but there’s a reason why firms that wish to survive and prosper put a little effort of their own into protecting their own assets (and those of their customers).

Stephens’ own failure to consider the responsibility of property owners to protect their own assets is surprising.  And Stephens strikingly and conveniently fails to note the role of the US in hampering the emergence of a Somali state and perpetuating lawlessness.  But to a neocon, so many problems look existential and seem to require the application of violence by states.  In spying “barbarous” actions by others, neocons (i) never seem to consider how barbarous are our states themselves (look at the many innocent deaths that the US is responsible for, directly or indirectly, in Iraq and Afghanistan), (ii) often ignore the role of government in creating problems, and (iii) frequently overlook the much vaster thefts perpetuated by governments and by corporate insiders who line their own pockets while persuading governments to socialize losses.   Neocons seem to form a part of the “Great Theft Machine”, by which every problem looks like a nail for the hammer of state, and whereby those calling for more hammer blows conveniently forget to call attention to those who benefit most from the use or manufacture of hammers.

It is a shame that the Wall Street Journal sees so many problems just crying out for “strong states” to solve, while ignoring the real and much more pressing problems that such states themselves create.  (We have encountered Stephens before, in an intelligence-insulting piece that dissed the leading National Academies of Science, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Schelling and now Exxon and AEI as “deluded” believers in the “sick-souled religion” of global warming.)

Luboš Motl 2: The cool-headed overheat; to this "rational" scientist, I’m a freedom-hating hypercommunist Nazi who should be "jailed or executed"

July 7th, 2008 7 comments

It looks like Lubos woke up on the wrong side of bed.

BELOW is the type of “rational”, “dispassionate” response that my previous attempt at discourse with Luboš Motl has earned from that fan of Bret “Mass Neurosis” Stephens.  Just who is “sick-souled”, anyway, and finding it difficult to distinguish between reality (my actual points about management of resources and politicized battles) and fantasies of “alarmist” strawmen?

These are Lubos’ responses (indented) to some of the points from my preceding post, My further comments are bracketed: 

TT:  While some aspects of the “Warmers” and the Jehovah’s Witnesses may be linked, the Warmers are descendants of those who raised awareness and fought for control of REAL pollution in the 60’s and 70’s.  Warmers also point to REAL phenomena, like increases in GHG levels, acidifying oceans, dramatic warming in the higher latitudes, pronounced climate zone shifts, etc.

LM:  There may have been real pollution 40 years ago but the claims about it have always been overblown. Today, they are overblown by many orders of magnitude. My criticism and Jehovah’s Wittnesses analogy applies not only to the present global warming quasi-religion but, to a greater or lesser extent, to all previous fantasies that the environmentalist movement has invented during the last 50 years.

[TT:  Sure we’ve made strides at cleaning up pollution in the West, but that pollution wasn’t a fantasy, was extremely costly and much of it is still around.  LM’s Jehovah’s Witness analogy is useful (as not only cultists but all of us have difficulties in changing our minds, particularly on matters we cannot personally physically verify), but clearly doesn’t cover all environmentalists, many of whom understand that the lack of clear and enforceable property rights (and markets) lies at the core of environmental problems.]

LM:  They never learn anything from their failures and try to predict things that can’t be predicted and pretend that clearly very unlikely things are likely. The only different aspect of the AGW cult is that they also include a lot of scientific buzzwords but they don’t do proper science because they don’t abandon conjectures that have been falsified. In some sense, bad science is even worse than pure religion because the conclusions are equally crappy and moreover, it contaminates the good name of science.

TT:  Care to elaborate on your complaints?

LM:  Whoever doesn’t want to or isn’t capable to understand basic complaints about the contamination of science by ideology, won’t understand them. In your case, it has been clearly proved that it is a waste of time to try to debate these serious matters with you.

[TT:  I’m quite aware of how not only ideology and politics contaminate science; in fact it’s a point I made to LM.  I’m sorry he’s not interested (or too busy being offensive) in taking up my invitation to elaborate on how he sees that it has affected climate science in particular.]

TT:  Stephens’ discussion of the psychology of belief in and of itself is fine.  It’s his pretense that EVERYONE who takes a different view than himself is either masking an ideology or is irrational (or both) that offends, and is obviously unsupportable.  If Stephens is “rationally” engaged in logical fallacies, then he’s being deliberately deceptive; otherwise, he’s engaged in self-deception of the type he accuses others of.

LM:  The reason why it looks like Stephens thinks that every alarmist is masking an ideology, personal interests, or a mental disorder is that every alarmist is masking an ideology, personal interests, or a mental disorder. If there exists an exception, I have certainly not met one yet.

[TT:  “Alarmist”? Nice strawman, and not intellectually honest.  So like Bret Stephens, for whom global warming is “a nonfalsifiable hypothesis” and thus a matter of belief, LM lumps everybody who disagrees with him – scientist, economist, industrialist, etc. – into the “alarmist” category.]

TT:  I would agree that a scientist may have little or nothing to add to a discussion of policy – and that others should not assume such expertise – but it is not only impractical to not refer to the credentials of a scientist who chooses to get involved in political analysis, but perhaps dishonest not to.  Moreover, scientists may of course have much to offer in policy discussions.

LM:  I find it dishonest if the scientific credentials are mentioned or overblown in the context of activists who have contributed virtually no good science besides the “science” that is used by other activists. I find it incredibly insulting and dishonest if bad scientists and pseudoscientists similar to Michael Mann and hundreds of others are presented to be on par with real leading scientists – if not above them. All these people are crappy radical activists and this is what defines their primary activity in their lives. Saying that they’re scientists is effectively a kind of a lie. And again, my complaint is that science itself should be free of politics, a statement that you deliberately seem to oppose. In my understanding, your approach is on equal footing with the approach of the Nazis who also wanted to manipulate science “to their image”. I consider these things incredibly dangerous, extraordinarily serious, and I would be among the first ones to fight in a civil war meant to protect the society against a new cancer of this type.

[TT:  LM’s view of who is a scientist and who is a pseudoscientist is besides the point, which is when someone with a science background speaks, we should pay attention to whether they are discussing science or policy, and their basis for either.  I agree that it is desirable that science itself be free of politics (which is why I pointed to problems with government funding of science); I just don’t think it is possible to lock scientists out of having or expressing views on politics.  I certainly do not support a politicization of science by the powerful, which has been a clear effort by parts of the fossil fuel and by the Bush administration.]

LM:  I am blogging and in that role, I am a blogger. In fact, I am a kind of full time blogger, in some sense. 😉 And of course, a part of my motivation is to counteract the “activists” who are using science incorrectly. So I am, in some sense, in a similar position with the opposite sign. Unlike them, I don’t hide it. And unlike them, I think it is extremely wrong if the scientific discourse is driven largely by activists of either sign.

TT:  While your stated aims may be admirable, Lubos, they are inescapably a surface manifestation of your own policy goals and preferences.

LM:  This is postmodernist bullshit. You simply can’t understand how objective science or objective scientists could possibly exist – because you are infinitely far from them – so that’s why you assume that they can’t exist. It is circular reasoning and a very insulting one for every honest scientist in the world.

[TT:  This is primitive spleen-venting.  Sorry; I’m not a robot; perhaps LM is – albeit an interesting one that swears and has emotions an awful lot like a real person.

As to the existence of “objective” scientists, even the best scientists have a hard time keeping an open mind.  People have a hard time changing their minds, especially on matters that are not staring them in the face, and even very highly intelligent people and, yes, scientists. Man did not evolve to truly understand the world, but to understand enough to help us to survive and have off-spring. The result is that we build basic maps of reality in our heads and reform them when we have to. Cognitive science shows that we subconsciously filter out much dissonant information, and we all know that it is easier to defend our current reality and to dismiss information that would force us to do to much work in changing our minds. That’s why Darwin, Pasteur and Einstein had such a difficult time. In science, someone with a break-through idea often needs many years to accumulate the evidence and conduct experiments that prove them right, in the face of the opposition of more senior scientists seeking to defend their own established views and reputations.  That’s the reason for the old saw, that “breakthroughs in science occurs one death at a time”, as the “old guard” dies.

But my point was simply that while LM states that he thinks “it is extremely wrong if the scientific discourse is driven largely by activists of either sign“, in fact, as he notes below, he is “fighting only against those whose policies I disagree with. Why? Because I happen to like exactly the policies that reflect the actual science.”  It’s hardly a sheer accident that LM attacks only those who policies he disagrees with, and ignores the demonstrably nonsensical science offered by others who also support LM’s policies.  LM also ignores that “science” itself dictates no policies, which are chosen based on competing values.

TT:  Obviously we have common concerns here, although my view is that the unfortunate role of government in climate science has not so polluted the results as to wholly discredit them.  There are lots of incentives to confirm results and to correct bad work, and many organizations with quite different views and interests involved in the cross-checking.

LM:  Yes, there are these mechanisms. But there are also mechanisms that try to drag science to fulfil some ideological and political goal. Whenever the second force becomes stronger than the first one, and it is indisputably the case of the present climate science, the gross conclusions of the discipline will converge to the pre-determined ideological stuff rather than the scientifically correct answers. What matters is which force behind the scientific process is the strongest one, and when the search for objective, unemotional, unpolitical answers is not the #1 defining goal of science, no one should call it science. It is some Nazi-like ideological crap.

[TT:  It’s fair to worry about the influences of ideology, funding and politics, but there are many scientists, organizations and nations involved in climate change science and investment decisions.  There IS no “Nazi-like ideological crap” that drives them all.

TT:  We are currently conducting an uncontrolled experiment on Planet Earth, Lubos. 

LM:  A very nice prayer but not for me. Rationally speaking, the uncontrolled experiment has been conducted on this Earth for 5 billion years and it is called life. This 99.99999% of this correct proposition is inconvenient for you so you don’t mention it, right?

[TT:  LM of course is right, that life on Earth is uncontrolled and that mankind has only been around for a tiny fraction of time, but life is not an “experiment” unless one posits a Grand Experimenter.  While an interesting topic, it is hardly relevant to the current topic, which is that small slice of bio-geologic time inhabited by man, who is very much the experimenter and purposefully changing his environment.]

TT:  Isn’t the real question not whether “science” is involved in measuring changes, parsing through paleodata, making hypotheses and reviewing them in the face of new information, but simply how long we should let the experiment continue and accelerate uncontrolled, before we make private and collective decisions to respond to the changes, including modifying the experiment? 

LM:  The uncontrolled experiment called life will last until the planet Earth will exist. And it will be uncontrolled until some fanatical and self-serving totalitarian people – Hitlers, Ahmadinejabs, or the environmentalists – acquire enough weapons to make the Earth “controllable”. I will do everything I can to prevent such a catastrophe. Why the fuck do you think that life should be “controlled”? I would vomit from your proclamations. I am amazed that a hypercommunist like you who hates freedom more than all the old Czechoslovak communists did dares to use the word “libertarian”. 

[TT:  More blind and primitive spleen-venting by our cool-headed scientist blogger-partisan.  Since he metaphorically left the Garden of Eden, man has always been deliberately tinkering with life and seeking to control his environment.  The effects of our activities are undeniably worldwide.  Just as other communities of resource users decided to act collective to manage common, shared resources like ranges, fisheries, water and forests (and man-made resources like cities, the Internet and blogs) – such management sometimes occurring via community rules or through more sophisticated and formal property rights or laws/regulations –  we face similar challenges about managing other resources that we jointly use.  Unlike LM, I do not assume that a coercive global government is required to manage such resources.]

TT:  Because the experiment involves common resources, inescapably decisions about maintaining and modifying the experiment are unavoidable “political”, about which all have rights to express concerns, even concerns that seem to concern YOU.

LM:  You have the right to express your idiotic concerns but you have no right to “control” the experiment that takes place on Earth – you have no right to control life of other people. Can’t you understand this principle, Nazi?

[TT:  It appears that LM is arguing with someone else.  He certainly appears to be using his words in an attempt to intimidate others.]

TT:  It’s helpful to fight against pseudoscience, but that’s a fight that one should wage on all sides, not merely against those whose policy view you disagree with.  The case against pseudoscience (and wishful thinking) from the “skeptics” is quite strong.  Besides the issue of partiality, it is clearly wrong and not forthright (and perhaps deliberately deceptive) to ascribe irrationality to all those who have different preferences over how to manage the global atmospheric commons.

LM:  I am fighting against all pseudoscience, and at the same moment, I am fighting only against those whose policies I disagree with. Why? Because I happen to like exactly the policies that reflect the actual science.

[TT:  This is simply unresponsive to my points.  But clearly LM is not concerned about fighting pseudoscience generally, but only when it is used by those whose policies he opposes.  Nor is he concerned about calling everyone who disagrees with his policy views irrational.]

But please give me a break with your disgusting texts already. I am amazed that after all the disasters of the 20th century, someone is still ready to propose that life on Earth should be “controlled”. In my opinion, people like you should be put in jail or executed before it’s too late.

[TT:  De gustibus non disputandum est, as they used to say.  As for tastes, he has his; I have mine.  But LM is clearly disgusted with a phantom, rather than the real person with whom he is having a monologue.  My suggestion was not that “life on Earth” should be “controlled”, but that we should pay close attention to how we manage our mutually shared, but not clearly owned, resources, being aware that as a lack of property rights makes private transactions difficult, we are likely to try to exert influence via words, including the kind of sulfurous hot air that we see from LM (and appears to be his custom).  Pinched noses, if not gas masks, may be the order of the day!]

Best
Lubos
 

 [TT:  I’m very glad LM gave me his “best”; it shows his fundamental good will.  Thanks, LM, and cheers!]

[Update] Mind Games/Luboš Motl: how an absence of functioning markets means that I’m right, but you’re a delusional, neurotic "zealot"

July 7th, 2008 No comments

[Update below]

My last piece (on Bret Stephen‘s straight-faced but ridiculous dismissal in the WSJ of all concerns about climate change as a “sick-souled religion” and a “nonfalsifiable hypothesis, logically indistinguishable from claims for the existence of God”) brought the following piece of mail, from Luboš Motl, a theoretical physicist who blogs frequently from a contrarian view on climate change.

With Luboš’ kind permission, I offer his email and my response as a further illustration of the common dynamics of misperception and tribal side-taking (as I have noted recently in the context of remarks by Nick Kristof) that feed into conflicts over unowned or unprotected resources (and abound here, where it is difficult to “see” the climate and what influences, if any, we have on it over the course of decades and centuries).

My interlocutor writes:

Dear Tom,

did you write the mises.org text? It’s just terrible. I find it extremely zealous, insulting, and avoiding the essence of all the discussions here – scientific, sociological, and others. Why the hell do you think that “scientists” have concerns? Scientists are not there to have concerns. Scientists are there to understand and predict phenomena. It is green activists and politicians who have or may have “concerns”. I didn’t find anything insulting in the WSJ piece. It was a nice text. The very fact about the frequent and completely irrational usage of words like “concern” is a *proof* of a mass neurosis, as far as I am “concerned”.

Best, Lubos

My response:

Dear Lubos:
 
Thanks for your comment.  Yes, of course I wrote it.  I’m not entirely surprised that you found my piece insulting, as I meant it as a put down – but of Stephens, not you.  In any case, if you did find it insulting, it’s curious that you don’t find Stephen’s piece also insulting: the most offensive aspects of my remarks did nothing but hold the mirror of psychobabble to it, which is entirely fair.  But of course most my remarks were analytical and showed how it is Stephens who is trying to dismiss all debate by ignoring all rational disagreement and attacking a broad-brush strawman that all who worry about anything are irrational.  If I failed to address science arguments for or against global warming it is because of Stephen’s failure to raise them.

It looks to me that it is Stephen’s argument that is zealous; is mine?  Sure, I care enough about this issue to write about it, but does that make me different from him – or you, who troubled to respond to me?
 
You say I “avoid the essence of all the discussions here – scientific, social and others”, but I’m not sure what you mean.  Is it not rather Stephens who has avoided discussing anything but the psychological, and I who have tried to point it out?
 
Your thoughts on scientists are interesting, too.  Are they supposed to be emotionless and amoral automatons, with no reason to actually care about their research or its implications?  Sorry, but you can’t take human nature out of the human, nor the scientist out of society – nor should we.  (If you have an opposite ideal, are you suggesting that you yourself out to stop blogging?)  Perhaps what we could consider is to stop the public funding of science and technology research, as it tends to reinforce government power and the political football of struggles over resources  – where do you stand on that? 
 
You say that it is “only green activists and politicians” who do have concerns, but obviously that’s wrong – you have concerns, so does Stephens and Chris Horner; we all do, and we are all entitled to our own preferences, and it is natural for us to express them when the absence of markets and property rights make words the only currency by which we can express our preferences.  This a very basic observation of libertarian economics, Lubos.  So far from “concern” being a “‘proof’ of mass neurosis”, all that it shows us is that an issue is a politicized one, whereby different interest groups are fighting over the wheel of government and public opinion, since the absence of markets makes it otherwise impossible for them to express their preferences through voluntary transactions.
 
Regards,
 
Tom

Check.

[Update:  Here is Lubos’ response; my further responses are in bold:]

Dear Tokyo Tom,

I apologize but I apparently agree with Stephens that those who want to create “global worries” are a priori irrational. It’s the same sentiment that leads Jehovah’s Wittnesses to predict a new coming of the Lord all the time.

TT:  While some aspects of the “Warmers” and the Jehovah’s Witnesses may be linked, the Warmers are descendent’s of those who raised awareness and fought for control of REAL pollution in the 60’s and 70’s.  Warmers also point to REAL phenomena, like increases in GHG levels, acidifying oceans, dramatic warming in the higher latitudes, pronounced climate zone shifts, etc.

They never learn anything from their failures and try to predict things that can’t be predicted and pretend that clearly very unlikely things are likely. The only different aspect of the AGW cult is that they also include a lot of scientific buzzwords but they don’t do proper science because they don’t abandon conjectures that have been falsified. In some sense, bad science is even worse than pure religion because the conclusions are equally crappy and moreover, it contaminates the good name of science.

TT:  Care to elaborate on your complaints?

You say I “avoid the essence of all the discussions here – scientific, social and others”, but I’m not sure what you mean.  Is it not rather Stephens who has avoided discussing anything but the psychological, and I who have tried to point it out?

I don’t see anything wrong with him discussing the psychological aspect. But he is doing this thing rationally, too. This AGW thing is such a big mass movement that psychology – or psychiatry – is indeed among the most relevant disciplines to study the phenomenon. You didn’t even discuss psychology, at least not rationally. Besides psychology, there are hundreds of science questions involved. But the AGW proponents tend to avoid all these “detailed” science topics, referring to “consensus” and all this irrelevant psychological crap instead – which is why psychology is so important to study them scientifically.
TT:  Stephens’ discussion of the psychology of belief in and of itself is fine.  It’s his pretense that EVERYONE who takes a different view than himself is either masking an ideology or is irrational (or both) that offends, and is obviously unsupportable.  If Stephens is “rationally” engaged in logical fallacies, then he’s being deliberately deceptive; otherwise, he’s engaged in self-deception of the type he accuses others of.
 

Your thoughts on scientists are interesting, too.  Are they supposed to be emotionless and amoral automatons, with no reason to actually care about their research or its implications? 

Of course that an “ideal scientist” is like that because science is ideally disconnected from emotions. And of course that the “real scientist” is never like that. But a person whose main contributions are “emotions” and “concerns” shouldn’t be labeled as a scientist. He might also be a scientist in his spare time but this particular manifestation of his life is not about science, it is about emotions, politics, and activism, so it is plain dishonest to use the term “scientist”.
TT:  I would agree that a scientist may have little or nothing to add to a discussion of policy – and that others should not assume such expertise – but it is not only impractical to not refer to the credentials of a scientist who chooses to get involved in political analysis, but perhaps dishonest not to.  Moreover, scientists may of course have much to offer in policy discussions.

Sorry, but you can’t take human nature out of the human, nor the scientist out of society – nor should we. 

Sorry but I find it absolutely essential to remove the emotional aspect and politics from science. If it is not taken away, it is not science. We clearly disagree about absolutely fundamental things here. Your formulation indicates that you can’t even imagine how it could be taken away – in other words, you can’t even imagine how a scientist could possibly exist. That’s too bad.
TT:  Of course I can “imagine” removing emotion and politics from science; I just believe that it is naive to assume that it is ever going to happen.  Further, there are probably good arguments to be made that science is driven by emotion and subconscious desires, so that “success” in removing them from “science” would actually yield less scientific progress, not more.  The real issue relates to the (corruptible) role science plays in group decision-making.

(If you have an opposite ideal, are you suggesting that you yourself out to stop blogging?) 

I am blogging and in that role, I am a blogger. In fact, I am a kind of full time blogger, in some sense. 😉 And of course, a part of my motivation is to counteract the “activists” who are using science incorrectly. So I am, in some sense, in a similar position with the opposite sign. Unlike them, I don’t hide it. And unlike them, I think it is extremely wrong if the scientific discourse is driven largely by activists of either sign.
TT:  While your stated aims may be admirable, Lubos, they are inescapably a surface manifestation of your own policy goals and preferences.

Perhaps what we could consider is to stop the public funding of science and technology research, as it tends to reinforce government power and the political football of struggles over resources  – where do you stand on that? 

Of course that I see this as a good point. Climate science is a textbook example where the “concern” written above has already materialized – the government funding has completely destroyed the scientific integrity in a whole scientific discipline. When one builds accelerators, there’s a lot of money to be paid. When one wants to research fundamental physics – string theory – one needs to hire very smart people. The same with DNA research etc. etc. But that doesn’t mean that every penny going to something called “science” is constructive. The money in climate science has been deliberately used to hire a lot of average workers and downright morons whose goal was to confirm predetermined ideological cliches. The community expanded 10-fold and not surprisingly, 90% of them are morons who are hired to promote “global warming” directly or indirectly. That’s very bad and the people who are doing these things even today should be executed as soon as possible, as far as I can say. Again, this opinion of mine is politics – it is politics trying to protect science from dirt and collapse.
TT:  Obviously we have common concerns here, although my view is that the unfortunate role of government in climate science has not so polluted the results as to wholly discredit them.  There are lots of incentives to confirm results and to correct bad work, and many organizations with quite different views and interests involved in the cross-checking.
 

You say that it is “only green activists and politicians” who do have concerns, but obviously that’s wrong – you have concerns, so does Stephens and Chris Horner; we all do, and we are all entitled to our own preferences, and it is natural for us to express them when the absence of markets and property rights make words the only currency by which we can express our preferences. 

But it is not correct to use the word “science” to advocate concerns that cannot be substantiated by the scientific method, regardless what the proponents of these concerns are doing in their spare time.
TT:  We are currently conducting an uncontrolled experiment on Planet Earth, Lubos.  Isn’t the real question not whether “science” is involved in measuring changes, parsing through paleodata, making hypotheses and reviewing them in the face of new information, but simply how long we should let the experiment continue and accelerate uncontrolled, before we make private and collective decisions to respond to the changes, including modifying the experiment?  Because the experiment involves common resources, inescapably decisions about maintaining and modifying the experiment are unavoidable “political”, about which all have rights to express concerns, even concerns that seem to concern YOU.

This a very basic observation of libertarian economics, Lubos.  So far from “concern” being a “‘proof’ of mass neurosis”, all that it shows us is that an issue is a politicized one, whereby different interest groups are fighting over the wheel of government and public opinion, since the absence of markets makes it otherwise impossible for them to express their preferences.

That’s completely right. That’s why I fight against this pseudoscientific movement. It is about promoting some people’s interests through government regulation which is already too bad and it is even worse when science enters as a hostage.

TT:  It’s helpful to fight against pseudoscience, but that’s a fight that one should wage on all sides, not merely against those whose policy view you disagree with.  The case against pseudoscience (and wishful thinking) from the “skeptics” is quite strong.  Besides the issue of partiality, it is clearly wrong and not forthright (and perhaps deliberately deceptive) to ascribe irrationality to all those who have different preferences over how to manage the global atmospheric commons.
Best
LM

[Update] Mind Games: Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal panders to "skeptics" by abjuring science and declaring himself an expert on "mass neurosis"

July 6th, 2008 1 comment

[Update:  For an ongoing case study of the startling irrationality and “sick souls” of some of the “skeptics”, see my related discussions with the physicist Lubos Motl:

[Update] Mind Games/Luboš Motl: how an absence of functioning markets means that I’m right, but you’re a delusional, neurotic “zealot”

Luboš Motl 2: The cool-headed overheat; to this “rational” scientist, I’m a freedom-hating hypercommunist Nazi who should be “jailed or executed”

Luboš Motl 3: This lover of freedom and hater of irrationality can`t stand discourse and fantasizes about elimination

Luboš Motl 4: His considered plan to eliminate enviros: they should be treated like N*zis, so it may be necessary to kill millions (less if we get started soon!)

On July 1, The Wall Street Journal ran a jaw-droppingly astonishing, juvenile and profoundly self-deluded column by editorial writer Bret Stephens.  In the editorial, entitled “Global Warming as Mass Neurosis“, Stephens concludes that “Global warming is sick-souled religion.”  When I put the thing down, I couldn’t help thinking that this was either an impeccably well-done “Onion” spoof of a WSJ column or an April Fool’s post that was accidentally put up three months late, but then again the WSJ has consistently mocked the intelligence of its readers and of other “skeptics” on the issue of climate change.  (A Google search will show how eagerly Stephens’ audience ate up this nonsense, too.)

Bob Higgs has engaged with Stephens here on similar snide dismissals of libertarian views on foreign policy.  Apparently Stephens, a neocon and former editor of the Jerusalem Post, boasts no scientific or psychotherapy expertise. 

In this editorial, Stephens completely:

  1. dismisses the concerns of scientists (including all major academies of science), economists, farmers, investors and businessmen across a wide range of energy and other industries, political leaders and defense and intelligence officials – at home and abroad – about growing evidence that massive and growing human economic activities are affecting the atmosphere, oceans and climate,
  2. ignores the fundamental and well-known dynamics of the exploitation of valuable but unowned and uncontrolled open-access commons and other resources, and
  3. ignores the basic public choice insight about rent-seeking and the political deadlock where interest groups seek to use the levers of government to influence the outcome of a struggle over resources. 

Instead, Stephens choses to insult the intelligence of his readers (and to pander to hard-core “skeptics”), first by by a sleight of hand that dismisses what scientists have learned over the past three decades and that pretends that only irrational and deluded people (apparently all of those noted in (1) above) are concerned about “global warming”, and then by pretending to help his readers, not to engage with the arguments of those who express concern with “global warming”, but instead to plumb and explicate the deeply twisted minds and the “motives for belief” by all of the irrational “believers”:

What we have here is a nonfalsifiable hypothesis, logically indistinguishable from claims for the existence of God. This doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist, or that global warming isn’t happening. It does mean it isn’t science.

So let’s stop fussing about the interpretation of ice core samples from the South Pole and temperature readings in the troposphere. The real place where discussions of global warming belong is in the realm of belief, and particularly the motives for belief. I see three mutually compatible explanations.

Sorry, Bret, but if you crack the IPCC’s reports over two decades, or talk with Exxon, Florida Power, Dupont, Japanese auto manufacturers or any number of Nobel prize-winning and distinguished economists, you’ll find plenty of rational people with their feet on the ground ready to discuss science, technology infrastructure and economics.  It’s a neat trick that you can dismiss everything they have to say by pretending that they’re deluded and trying to guess the magical thinking that drives them.

Of course global warming is falsifiable.  It’s just complicated, involves the not surprising possibility that our economic behavior may have deleterious side-effects over a wink of a geological eye (a few decades and centuries), and policies to deal with it threaten the financial interests of dominant established interests.

Stephens offers the following explanations for the “beliefs” of the warmers:

The first is as a vehicle of ideological convenience. Socialism may have failed as an economic theory, but global warming alarmism, with its dire warnings about the consequences of industry and consumerism, is equally a rebuke to capitalism.

Bret, nice canard.  No doubt THERE BE LEFTISTS who are worried about climate change, but what about everyone else?  Even a number of prominent and level-headed libertarians are convinced that there’s a problem.  And what about leftists who think that climate change is hyped, like Alexander Cockburn and Martin Durkin, the radical polemicist behind “The Great Global Warming Swindle”?

And of course concern about global warming is NOT per se a rebuke to capitalism, but merely a recognition of the pedestrian observation that “environmental” problems frequently arise when a lack of clear and enforceable property rights or high transaction costs mean that individuals and communities with differing preferences cannot express (or defend) such preferences through market transactions.  Are we to take it that it is your position that pollution and environmental damage never occur, but are simply ideological attacks by those who hate capitalism?

A second explanation is theological. Surely it is no accident that the principal catastrophe predicted by global warming alarmists is diluvian in nature. Surely it is not a coincidence that modern-day environmentalists are awfully biblical in their critique of the depredations of modern society: “And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” That’s Genesis, but it sounds like Jim Hansen.

And surely it is in keeping with this essentially religious outlook that the “solutions” chiefly offered to global warming involve radical changes to personal behavior, all of them with an ascetic, virtue-centric bent: drive less, buy less, walk lightly upon the earth and so on. A light carbon footprint has become the 21st-century equivalent of sexual abstinence.

First, why leave out the Japanese, who have been widely convinced for decades that global warming is a serious problem, and the Chinese, Indians, Indonesians and others who agree? 

Second, while it’s not surprising that those in the West make reference to shared frameworks of understanding, including Biblical ones, it’s also hardly surprising that those who wish to drive policy in ways that reflect their preferences do so by scare-mongering.  In fact, isn’t this something that the Bush administration specialized in, egged on by neocons?  You know, fear of Islamofascism, fear of gay marriage, fear of French fries, fear of Enviros, fear of practically anything but big and more invasive government?

Third, of course the major solutions offered for global warming clearly involve major transitions in technology and markets, for which a state-led introduction of “carbon pricing” is seen as the chief driving mechanism.  Isn’t Jim Hansen pushing the need for carbon capture and storage and for the implementation of a fully-rebated carbon tax?  How is this different from what Exxon, Duke, FPL, AEI, and many others are saying?  Sure, some believe that changes in personal behavior are also a good way to be reflect those concerns and to use one’s worries and values to drive changes in markets – such voluntary changes are hardly objectionable, as frightening as they may seem to you.

Finally, there is a psychological explanation. Listen carefully to the global warming alarmists, and the main theme that emerges is that what the developed world needs is a large dose of penance. What’s remarkable is the extent to which penance sells among a mostly secular audience. What is there to be penitent about?

As it turns out, a lot, at least if you’re inclined to believe that our successes are undeserved and that prosperity is morally suspect. In this view, global warming is nature’s great comeuppance, affirming as nothing else our guilty conscience for our worldly success.

I’m not sure what or whom you’re listening to, Bret, but what I hear are the themes of “tragedy of the commons”, “pollution”, “externalities”, “uncontrolled experiments on a planetary scale”, “transferring of costs to others”, “responsibility” and other non-psychological themes that don’t require penance, but hard work and widespread cooperation.  Could it be that you’re “projecting”, Bret, and feel more than a little guilty for your own worldly success?

Perhaps there are some who believe that “our successes are undeserved and that prosperity is morally suspect”, but would you include within this group those who think that our successes are hard-won and well-deserved, but that prosperity does not mean that we should stop working hard, including working to resolving shared threats and problems?

In “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” William James distinguishes between healthy, life-affirming religion and the monastically inclined, “morbid-minded” religion of the sick-souled. Global warming is sick-souled religion.

So caring about the possible effects of mankind’s activities on our only home, on our children and grandchildren and the other unique forms of life that we share the planet with is “sick-souled”, and not “healthy” or “life-affirming”?  Bret, how can I put this fairly and sensitively?  You seem to understand the “sick-souled” very well.  Does it come from looking in the mirror?

In sum, Stephens doesn’t engage at all with any those who are concerned with climate change, but offers up a twisted editorial addressed solely to help “skeptics” to continue to remain skeptics through an argument addressed largely at a strawman that bolsters the egos and beliefs of the presumably more “rational” skeptics who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid offered by the supposed believers.  If indeed this editorial is not a spoof, it can only be seen as either willfully deceptive or as an artifact of profound self-deception and wishful thinking.  Such a cocoon-like work is, sadly, a profound retreat from reason, and has little place on The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, other than perhaps as an object lesson in how not to engage in reasoned discourse and how easy it is for us to fool ourselves.

Bret, are you putting us on, trying to pull the wool over our eyes, or trying to deceive yourself?  Like Penn and Teller, are you going to tell us that actually you “don’t know”, and have smarter friends who are worried about climate change?  Inquiring minds (many here at LvMI) want more of your incisive psycho-babble!

Of course, Stephens is not alone in trying to explain away those who disagree with him by exploring their “beliefs”; certainly our cognitive apparatus plays tricks on us, so there is some fertile ground here.  Chris Horner, who frequently makes excellent points about the foibles of the left, has a recent post up that follows up on Stephens’ by noting the important work of Leon Festinger, who detailed how “the failure of a prophecy to come about can often yield the opposite effect of what the rational person would expect: the cult following gets stronger and its adherents ever more convinced of their truth.”  However, it seems that Horner carries this too far, by an implicit assumption that all of those concerned about climate change are a “cult” with views that are not rational, and that this is rather obvious in the face of a recent break in some of the warming.  Horner concludes that the Warmers are engaged in mental gymnastics of the types exhibited by cult followers:  “As a meteorologist colleague commented to me last night about a recent manifestation of precisely this, ‘these people are no different than the guys sitting around waiting for the spaceship.'”  Oh, really?  The National Academies of Science, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, every other nation’s academy of science, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Schelling and now Exxon and AEI – all waiting for the spaceship???  “Beam me up” indeed, Chris!

I’d suggest that Horner might be a little more cautious in his gleeful dismissal of warmers, and make sure he too is engaging on facts and not beliefs, wishful thinking, and a tribal self-vindication.

This display of nonsense by Stephens and Horner’s own reflexive and hyperbolic scorn [and now the rants by guys like Lubos Motl] might suggest that Horner – and a host of “skeptics” who seize rather too eagerly any argument that puny man has no impact on the world (at least one that can’t be solved with his great technology) – ought to take a careful look in the mirror.