Archive for the ‘freedom’ Category

Thank you, Prof. Block, for feeding our confirmation biases

February 26th, 2008 10 comments

Walter Block of Loyola University has graced the main LvMI blog with a rare post, this time a clipping – without commentary – from a piece entitled “Forget global warming: Welcome to the new Ice Age“, by Canadian conservative commentator Lorne Gunter concerning the relatively high snowfalls this winter in various parts of the North Hemisphere:

What’s the point, except to show that Prof. Block is happy to find something that feeds his own reluctance (and that on the LvMI blog generally) to talk about climate science or policy?  Where’s the beef, Prof. Block?

I posted the following to his thread; as it’s pending there I thought I’d put it up here (with a few typo corrections)

[snark level: high]

Dear Prof. Block:

Thank you for continuing in the hoary LvMI blog tradition, followed by Dr. Reisman, Sean Corrigan and many others here, of doing one’s level best, by way of self-example, to illustrate how strongly we are in the grip of reflexive cognitive patterns such as confirmation bias.

This confirmation bias helps us at LvMI to report, with self-reassuring glee, any iota of evidence that the planet might be cooling, while dodging evidence to the contrary, and to mock those who say that the “climate” is complex and not the same as the weather.

We just love confirmation bias, because it allows us to dismiss all those who have concerns about how our long-term and unmoderated experiment with the Earth’s climate and eco-systems are going as evil and/or crackpots – AND thus spares us from doing any heavy lifting on a number of distasteful tasks:

– actually trying to understand what climate scientists are saying about the climate system, our influences on it and present or future system responses;

– considering the likely consequences if we continue to treat the atmosphere and oceans as unmanaged open-access commons (Mises himself noted: “The extreme instance is provided by the case of no-man’s property referred to above. If land is not owned by anybody, although legal formalism may call it public property, it is utilized without any regard to the disadvantages resulting [to others]”);

– engaging in a good faith discussion with those who have differing views (and their own confirmation biases, no doubt); and

– exploring Austrian and libertarian principles and explicating their possible application to the problem that others declaim (i.e., the general efficacy of property rights, problems of information and transaction costs, rent-seeking, bureaucratic mal-incentives, the lack of rule of law relating to shared global/regional commons and in poorer nations, and with coordinating action for transborder commons under a Westphalian global order, and the legacy of 150+ years of – as you have put it – the “failure of the government to uphold free enterprise with a legal system protective of private property rights“).

It is precisely this cognitive bias that Friedrich Hayek noted in his 1960 essay, “Why I am Not a Conservative”:

Personally, I find that the most objectionable feature of the conservative attitude is its propensity to reject well-substantiated new knowledge because it dislikes some of the consequences which seem to follow from it—or, to put it bluntly, its obscurantism. I will not deny that scientists as much as others are given to fads and fashions and that we have much reason to be cautious in accepting the conclusions that they draw from their latest theories. But the reasons for our reluctance must themselves be rational and must be kept separate from our regret that the new theories upset our cherished beliefs. . . . By refusing to face the facts, the conservative only weakens his own position. Frequently the conclusions which rationalist presumption draws from new scientific insights do not at all follow from them. But only by actively taking part in the elaboration of the consequences of new discoveries do we learn whether or not they fit into our world picture and, if so, how. Should our moral beliefs really prove to be dependent on factual assumptions shown to be incorrect, it would hardly be moral to defend them by refusing to acknowledge facts.”

Hayek noted these additional traits that distinguish market liberals from conservatives, which also are commonly manifested here:

• Habitual resistance to change (hence “conservative”);
• Use of state authority to protect established privileges against the forces of economic change; and
• Claim to superior wisdom based on self-arrogated superior quality in place of rational argument.

The upshot?  That most of us here at LvMI are engaged in the task of convincing ourselves that the climate is not changing or that those who have concerns about it are illogical man-haters, and that we refuse to engage these others by (i) understanding first that for resources where property rights are undefined or uneforceable, public debates rather than private transactions are the chief means of expressing one’s preferences, and (ii) actively defending or advancing freedom – through attempting to persuade others.

There are other freedom-loving thinkers who have made modest starts in a productive engagement with others, such as:

–  Sheldon Richman, in his essay  “The Goal Is Freedom: Global Warming and the Layman”, in the December 8, 2006 edition of The Freeman:;

–  Gene Callahan, in his essay “How a Free Society Could Solve Global Warming”, in the October 2007 issue of The Freeman:; and

–  Edwin Dolan, in his Fall 2006 Cato Journal essay, “Global Warming: Rethinking the Market Liberal Position”

But we here at LvMI don’t want to be troubled to be productive, engage others or advance the cause of freedom, so we don’t post, cite to or discuss authors like that.  Being thoughtful or engaging is too much work!  We prefer to cherish our existing beliefs and to nourish our hatred of “enviros”, while ignoring everyone else, as I’ve noted here:

I am relieved that you seem to want to be one of us, and are not challenging us to get engaged, like Callahan, Richman or Dolan.



PS:  One of the conditions of membership in the “Reisman/Corrigan Club”, as we sometimes call it, is that we forswear reading any of the IPCC reports and the reports of all major academies of science.  Can you confirm that you have you have not yet tainted yourself with such “information” and undertake not to?  Also, you must avoid posts by apostates such as this who post other “science” tripe: