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A physicist cogitates on solving the fiat currency problem

November 29th, 2008 No comments

Lubos Motl, a bright young Czech physicist with a winning way with those he considers idiots*, has decided to cogitate on fiat money and the US`s screwed up monetary system, and proposes to peg the dollar to the Dow:

You might think that I am going to defend the gold standard or something of this sort. Well, you are not infinitely far from the truth. But gold is obsolete, arbitrary, and dangerous. Someone can find a lot of gold in the future and we don’t want the world’s economy die at that moment. Gold doesn’t represent the overall economy – what people actually want to pay for – well. And if you think that all the commodities have fixed price ratios and only the “money” is fluctuating, note that the gold/silver price ratio has been oscillating frantically, by orders of magnitude in both directions. Pretty much everything can oscillate and does oscillate. 

The gold standard brings some advantages but now we have a more comprehensive framework to adjust the advantages: we want to suppress the most unstable and harmful degrees of freedom by redefining the money. There is one more general advantage of the gold: you know what you own. With money, you own pieces of paper whose value can be manipulated by arbitrary decisions of the government. And an uncertainty about the value of things – their ill-definedness – is creating havoc. The only reason why prices expressed in the fiat money don’t fluctuate wildly is that the other sellers don’t know any definition of the money, either. 😉 So we want to peg the money to something more well-defined: to redefine them. What is it? It’s the stocks.

I think Motl is hopelessly self-deceived on his proposal, but it`s one made in good faith and presents an opportunity to educate Motl and his audience on Austrian views of money, government and markets.  Any takers?

* Idiots of various stripes, but particularly envirofacist/commies, climate alarmists and yours truly; we have discussed Motl here in connection with Bret Stephens, my favorite befuddled neocon at the WSJ ).

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

July 9th, 2008 No comments

I`m disappointed that my attempts at discourse with Lubos Motl have blown up.  Lubos, a Czech physicist/climate science blogger who responded to my post on Bret Stephens` exegesis in the WSJ of the psychology of the cult-like “belief” by the rest of the world in the “nonfalsifiable hypothesis” of human-influenced climate change, disengaged, while of course dissing me..

Some of the fruits of my attempt were noted in my previous post, where Lubos felt it appropriate to repay my efforts by calling me a “freedom-hating” “hypercommunist” “Nazi” who “should be put in jail or executed before it`s too late”.

I`vehad several conversations with Lubos before, and so I actually tried to continue our email discussion by objecting that his language was hardly constructive and that we share common areas of concern:

With your clear and rational vision, it doesn’t matter that I also worry about the wisdom of letting governments get their hands on more revenues and resources to bureaucratically mismanage.  Nope, because I have the view that unowned resources (such as ocean fisheries: http://www.reason.com/news/show/34998.html; http://www.reason.com/news/show/36839.html;http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2008/07/08/kept-afloat-on-a-tide-of-money/) are often ruinously exploited and am aware that severe pollution is often a problem where victims have no access to courts to protect their rights, or where there is no regulation or industry is too powerful (or owned by the state), then I must be a hypercommunist and Nazi and should be promptly jailed or executed for the good of mankind.

But this proved to be the last straw for Lubos, for the reason that – because my response included a link to liberal George Monbiot (who happens to have an excellent article decrying how state subsidies to fishermen are helping to strip out ocean fisheries ) – my mind must be polluted .  I`ll spare readers the language that Lubos used, but he insisted that not only he was he not interested in reading “Moonbot” whom he despises (despite the fact that they agree on this partiicular issue), but disdained the fact that I could bother to read (all right, I can`t resist – “eat sh*t” was Lubos` phrasing) those with whom he disagrees, and that was the end of our “discussion”.

While everyone is entitled to determine with whom and on what terms they will converse, I find the contrast between those who profess to love freeom and reason and their own distemper while they call everyone else an irrational man-hater is both startling and dismaying. 

After Lubos hung up on me, I paid a brief visit to his blog (having been alerted by a commenter), and what did I see?  His July 9 post he notes that he feels compelled to call for the “euthanasia” or urgent “quarantine” of reporters and others who have recently written on climate change!

Says Motl:

I am normally against euthanasia but it simply seems to me that there is no other help for the people who are writing most of the stuff above. It’s literally pandemics. The society should urgently put these people into quarantine, hoping that it is not too late

http://motls.blogspot.com/2008/07/global-warming-slogans-of-day.html

In response, I left the following comment on his blog: http://www.webcitation.org/5ZE4C94rU

Lubos, all of your talk of euthanasia and quarantine are enough to warm the cockles of a good Nazi’s heart! You are far ahead of Jim Hansen, who only spoke of “trials” for what he sees as deception by fossil fuel execs.

But let me play along with your light-hearted fun and games, even as it makes it difficult to criticize Hansen: how, exactly, should we identify all of the “freedom-hating” “hypercommunist” “Nazis” who should be “jailed or executed” as you have noted elsewhere?

This Tom, after all, is not a Jerry. But since I disagree with YOU (and your hatred), I suppose that means I must also [hate] MANKIND, and deserve death, with you as prosecutor, judge and jury?

TT

But, not surprisingly, this champion of reason would have no discourse about it, so he removed my commentwww.webcitation.org/5ZEK18b9X

Why is it that those who call most loudly for reason have so little ability or willingness to use it themselves?  And why do those who purport to love freedom and reason feel compelled to call for the elimination of those who disagree with them?

Is self-awareness so painful and self-control and discourse so difficult?

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

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!)

July 7th, 2008 4 comments

As noted on the prior thread, in a recent blog post, scientist Lubos Motl concluded that there “literally pandemics” of people writing stuff on global warming, and that is “simply … no other help for the people who are writing most of the stuff” but “euthanasia” and “urgently put[ting] these people into quarantine, hoping that it is not too late”.  He then deleted and declined to answer the comment that I made on his blog that asked him to clarify the difference between himself and the N*zis.

However, I note that in response to a comment from a commenter named “Sign me up!”, Lubos was willing to spell out his proposal as follows; my comments are indented:

http://www.webcitation.org/5ZGBY5Wdn

[]  Euthanasia? Urgent quarantine? What`s with the elimationist fantasies here, Lubos?

Is this a reasonable way to engage with anybody, much less so many leaders, industrialists, scientists, reporters etc.?

Sorry, wrong questions. Obviously EVERYBODY who writes or worries about possible climate change is EVIL. How can we help innoculate our fragile democracies from their filth? Do we get to kill enviro-Nazi hypercommies, and their supporters everywhere? Can you give us better instructions on how we identify them?

LM: If your question is meant seriously, then let me say that I have defined the group that should be given the treatment much more accurately than you seem to suggest. Read my text again and listen carefully.

[TT:  Lubos`s post refers to “the people who are writing most of the stuff” that he has linked to in the post; they are mainly reporters.]

Otherwise, now quite seriously, I don’t propose any vaccination or anything that goes beyond the very basic standards of freedom of democracy. I only demand the basic principles that are written in our constitutions etc. to be respected.

The right to exhale or otherwise emit carbon dioxidebasic processes inevitably associated both with life and modern civilization – and the right to think that climate alarmists are irrational cranks are surely basic human rights and indeed, if someone wants these rights to be eliminated, i.e. to prevent people from essential processes for their civilized life or from their freedom of opinion, I want him to be treated analogously to the Nazis because he is analogous to the Nazis. Indeed, I view such people as a threat to our basic freedoms, prosperity, and, indeed, life itself.

[TT:  These are gross strawmen.  Obviously, NO ONE is arguing that people don`t have the right to breathe; OF COURSE if there were such people we would all have legitimate right to self defense.  Nor is anyone arguing that skeptics have no right to express their opinions.  But where, anywhere, have nations created explicit rights to “legal persons” to emit unlimited levels of carbons or any thing else?  Lubos may feel that there are “natural” or God-given rights to take actions that negatively affect others, but it`s hardly the basis of our jurisprudence (even as it underlies our political economies), and there plenty of laws, regulations and court cases that restrict economic freedom in cases where it imposes costs on others.  Yes, presently a good portion of our generating capacity and virtually all transportation is provided based on fossil fuels, but it is not “an essential process for civilized life” that this continue indefinitely.  In fact, we have been gradually decarbonizing for year based simply on existing market incentives, and it is conceivable that someday or energuy infrastructure will be based mainly on nuclear and hydrogen.

Are people who care about the damages and risks posed by our current energy infrastructure all Nazis?  Anybody who`s bothered to keep his ears opens knows that the major religions keep making promulgations of a nature that Lubos considers sufficient to euthanize or lock up the clergy.]

Now, imagine that the plans of some of these extreme anti-greenhouse people became more realistic and there would be a risk that they return us to the Middle Ages, both from the viewpoint of GDP as well as the viewpoint of freedom of ideas.

[TT:  Besides paying close attention to what Lubos thinks about the “freedom of ideas”, it`s quite easy to find (1) NON-“extreme anti-greenhouse people” who have concerns about the risks posed by our current exploitation of our shared but unmanaged commons and (2) Nobel prize-winning economists and other prominent economists who think that pricing carbon/GHGs/etc. is affordable without sacrificing growth and makes sense now on a cost-benefit/risk analysis.]

Yes, I think that tough steps agaisnt them would become necessary, whether or not these steps would be organized by sane governments or locally. How many of these green people would have to be eliminated for the civilization to be saved? I don’t know. In the case of Nazism, it was pretty much necessary to kill millions of Germans – defeat them in a war – to stop their majority’s favorite ideology that was also flagrantly incompatible with the civilized world’s standards. The rest simply surrendered. This qualitative template would surely hold in any qualitatively similar confrontation – the only difference could be a quantitative one.

If steps against Nazi Germany had been made earlier, the casualites could have been smaller. I really don’t know whether this carbon control madness will fade away soon or, if it will not, how far it will get. The further it will escalate, the tougher steps will be needed to solve it. But unless it fades away soon, I am afraid that the permanent arrest or execution of one Al Gore would probably not be the sufficient solution to solve the crisis because already today, the situation is demonstrably much more serious than having one lunatic dreaming about his global control over the world’s carbon from his Tennessee home.

[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.