Archive for the ‘confirmation bias’ Category

On climate, myopic progressives console themselves by pointing out fossil $ behind science "skeptics"; but miss the same from left and ignore middle ground

February 28th, 2010 No comments

Case in point is Kate Sheppard, reporter on energy and environmental politics in Mother Jones‘ Washington bureau (previously political reporter for and a writing fellow at The American Prospect), who has an interesting but shallow piece up called “Most Credible Climate Skeptic Not So Credible After All” (Fri Feb. 26, 2010), which digs into climate scientist/policy-peddler Patrick Michaels, who –  as I have previously noted – acts as a paid mouthpiece for fossil fuel interests.

Sheppard’s piece is fair enough, as far as it goes. That THERE BE RENT-SEEKERS trying to win favors from government surely ought not to be a surprise to any libertarians following the Climate Wars, even though most tend naturally to fall into a partisan camp that makes them acutely aware of the Other Bad Guys while ignoring the self-seeking among the fossil fuel interests and other Well-Intentioned People who are on their own side of the fence.

The climate worriers also have blinders on, and frequently fail to engage in criticisms of the motives and self-seeking in climate change champions (like Gore) and their climate alliance business supporters (though some, like climate scientist Jim Hansen and Greenpeace strongly criticize the porkiness of legislative actions). They also ignore that they, too – like fossil fuel firms – are members of interest groups trying to influence government (on this, I think it is clear that fossil fuel firms, which are seeking to defend existing business turf, are much more powerful, sophisticated and effective than the climate coalitions).

While I have noted that cui bono arguments are fair and unavoidable (and have made a number of them myself), I do regret that the way people fall into partisan camps continues to get in the way of them noticing the very wide area of common ground, which if addressed would bring benefits to both sides.

But if libertarians – who know very well how government ownership and management of resources frustrates private deal-making and leads to politicized battles – cannot themselves break away from politicized battles to try to work for common ground, how can we expect those who think that Big Government is the only solution to the problems created by Big, Bad Corporations (which after all, do benefit from the very unlibertarian grant of limited liability) to do so?

Elinor Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for explicating that trust and communication are key elements by which communities can effectively manage common resources and common problems. Yet it seems that the past few Administrations (and Congress and the Supreme Court) have done a great job of destroying mutual trust and trust In federal government in general. In this climate, the effort to enlist a bulky federal government in climate regulation efforts has provided even further fuel to hose who benefit from polarization.

Is either communication or trust still possible on climate and energy? Maybe, but people have to start seeing that there are reasons to  cooperate. A shared future and ample middle ground seems like good reasons to me.


Snicker-snack! We hold these truths to be self-evident: That WE’re right, and THEY are stoopid, deluded, evil AND cunning, out to destroy all that is good and holy

February 15th, 2010 No comments

These “tribal truths” seem to fairly summarize modern political discourse – whether in the pages of Mises Daily, in “Tea Party” conventions, in the MSM  or elsewhere in the intertubes.

It’s a point I’ve been making like a broken record – in order to mask my nefarious agenda, of course! – so it’s nice to see others make similar observations (after all, who wants to listen to, much less agree with, an enviro-facist, commie, watermelon misanthrope?).

WARNING: Reading further not recommended for those who refer prefer the emotional rush of partisan battle to donning thinking caps.

I just ran across the essay What Is Wrong With Those Tea Partiers? by Jonathan Haidt (professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. His work can be found at, at the website of U. Va. Professor Larry Sabato (February 4, 2010); here are some excerpts for the discerning reader (emphasis added):

The truth has triumphed, at least for those attending this week’s Tea Party convention in Nashville: Obama is a socialist fascist communist statist Muslim whose healthcare “reform” would destroy the world’s greatest healthcare system and force Americans to wait in long lines so that their medical requests could be reviewed by death panels. This is not truth as you and I know it, but this statement (or at least parts of it) is believed to be true by the millions of Americans who coalesced into the Tea Party movement of 2009 ….

But the new synthesis that has recently occurred in moral psychology—merging social psychology, neuroscience, and evolutionary theory—gives us a new set of tools for understanding political movements, which are always moral movements, whether left-wing, right-wing, or something else. This new moral psychology is based on three principles, each of which can help outsiders understand the tea party movement:

1) Intuitive Primacy. Moral judgments, like aesthetic judgments, are best understood as quick gut feelings, not as products of reasoning. We have feelings about people and ideas within the first second of encountering them. We engage in reasoning too, but reasoning is slow, spread over many seconds or minutes, and it takes place within a mental workspace that has already been pre-structured by feelings. So if one third of Americans had negative feelings toward Obama on election day, and if many independents developed negative feelings as talk of tax increases and Wall Street bailouts escalated, then, by the summer of 2009, more than 40% of Americans were emotionally ready to receive the narrative about socialism and statism being formulated by conservative talk radio hosts such as Glenn Beck and Mark Levin.

2) Moral Thinking is for Social Doing. People are extremely bad at solving simple logic problems that are unconnected to their interests, but we are all geniuses at justifying our prior actions and at making the case for propositions we favor. We are intuitive lawyers gunning for victory, not intuitive scientists seeking truth. In fact, research on everyday reasoning finds that people are largely incapable of searching for evidence that contradicts their initial hypothesis. So when passions run high, as they do among tea-partiers, their reasoning doesn’t get turned off. Rather, their reasoning is working overtime, and very elaborate belief structures (such as conspiracy theories) can be constructed out of the flimsiest materials (such as rumors about forged birth certificates). This is normal, and readers on the left should ask themselves how often they searched for counter-evidence that would have contradicted the worst things their friends said about George W. Bush.

3) Morality binds and builds. Morality, like politics, is really a team sport. Western philosophy often reduces ethics to the individual level (“How should I act?”). But many researchers now join Charles Darwin in believing that human morality was shaped in part by the competition of tribe vs. tribe. One of the main “tricks” that human tribes developed was the psychology of sacredness—the positing of a god, a person, a piece of land, or in more modern times a book or an idea, which was perfect, and which united a group in its defense. The left made racial equality its sacred principle in the 1960s, which led them to sacralize oppressed minorities. (Sacralization means that an object becomes perfectly pure, good, and unassailable.) It is a taboo on the left to “blame the victim,” and the left is therefore still prone to charging its opponents with racism. But the right chose freedom (understood as freedom from oppressive government) back in the days of the cold war, and it began to sacralize free markets in the 1980s (under Reagan and Thatcher). Is it any wonder, then, that that the right now uses “statist” and “socialist” as its all-purpose epithets? Is it so irrational to apply these labels to Obama? He does, after all, want to increase the government’s role in regulating healthcare, Wall Street, and anything that produces carbon dioxide.

Liberal readers may object that 1) Obama has been governing more as a centrist than as a left-wing collectivist; 2) George W. Bush was the real enemy of liberty with his contempt for civil rights, and 3) Healthcare costs and global warming are looming catastrophes for which vigorous action is a necessity. All true, in my opinion. But that’s the funny thing about moral psychology: it compels people on opposing teams to believe in conflicting and incompatible truths. Everyone on both sides asks: What is wrong with those people?

I feel the same way, as I try to explicate and debate various issues: so many vorpal swords!, so many headless chickens running around with them! and so many minions, blind to how those with nefarious agendas go about sowing heated partisan conflict, the better to secure gains from government!

To John Quiggin: Reassuring climate "delusions" help us all to avoid engaging with "enemies" in exploring common ground

November 6th, 2009 No comments

I left the following comment on John Quiggin`s “Libertarians and delusion” post (other comments are noted in my preceding posts):


November 6th, 2009 at 14:03 | #34


I “have started to entertain the view that there is either an
actual or perceived conflict between reality and libertarian ideology.”

Thanks for this concession, John, but of course this is true for ANY
ideology (as well for the rest of us more perfect humans who always
have to battle with cognitive conservatism). And yes, it leads to a
combination of tribalism and wishful thinking, and in some cases a
denial of inconvenient science.

Sea Bass says it well: “So what we have is many libertarians, who
are usually not experts on the science of climate change, being asked
to blindly accept scientific conclusions that are often promoted by
people and organisations whose political beliefs are antithetical to
their own.”

Thinking that libertarians are more susceptible to “delusion” than
anyone else is itself a cognitive trap – one that provides comfort to
those who believe that there is a serious cause for concern about
climate change (me too), and that it`s one easily addressed by
government, and leads them to ignore the empirical evidence for the
ways governments screw up (and are manipulated, and to conclude that
those who oppose government action are evil.

I`ve made several references to the empirical case for caution in
thinking that government is going to make things better rather than
worse; the work of Lin Ostrom and the reasons the Nobel Prize committee
gave her the award are a recent one. But as I noted in comments to a
post by Tim Lambert earlier this year on the “economists`s consensus”:

85 “Free market people do not argue that all government allocation
of goods is ineffective. It simply suffers from a high incidence of
moral hazard and inefficiency, and if it does not account for the
market (which it has little incentive to do as it is mostly about
politics) any growth from it will likely be unsustainable.”

Well said, Craig; commonsense examples of moral hazard and inefficiency can be seen in:

* our oversupply and overuse of our “defense”, e.g., Iraq &
Halliburton, Homeland Security, domestic spying, military-industrial
stuff generally;
* our agricultural pork: price supports, ethanol, sugar;
* the government’s provision of “war on drugs” to save us from mad
reefer smokers, etc., resulting in Prohibition-like
crime/corruption/stifled inner city growth, trampled stae and local
rights and troubles in all supplying/conduit countries;
* cheap oil/gas/hardrock mineral/timber/grazing leases;
* an oversupplied but underperforming levee system;
* huge bonuses and huge risks generated at Freddie and Fannie;
* an FDA and Ag Dept that notes bad peanut butter mfg but says nothing,
yet prohibits small dairy and meat producers from advertising
hormone-free milk and mad cow disease-free beef, etc.

Who couldn’t want more of this?

Posted by: TokyoTom | February 17, 2009 6:47 AM

All issues that Tim – and you, too, apparently – just conveniently
don`t seem to see at all, or at least have a tough time finding the
time or space to address, preferring to delve into arcania about
various libertarian cults. But of course now there are lots of
environmentalists, voters, pundits and even scientists like Jim Hansen
who are decrying what looks like an enormous C&T road wreck
emerging as the preferred climate option in Washington.

Just as I am working hard to make sure that libertarians are not
blunting their own message by hiding their heads in the sand on the
science, so do I think that those who (rightly I think) are concerned
about AGW ought to be paying quite a bit more attention to the problems
pointed out by libertarians about the misuse of government by powerful
insiders, the knowledge problem and bureaucratic perversities.

Sadly, there seems to be little interest by most in exploring the
very wide middle ground of undoing the screwed up policies that have
helped to generate the frustrations that many feel today and the
engender what has become a snowballing fight over the wheel of

Why can`t we have a little more exploration of root causes and
common ground? Must it remain a no-man`s land, while partisans battle,
and corporate interests scheme?


A few more "delusional" thoughts to John Quiggin on partisan perceptions & libertarian opposition to collective action

November 5th, 2009 No comments

Further to my preceding posts regarding John Quiggin`s post on “Libertarians and delusionism“, I copy below a few of the comments that I left there:

November 4th, 2009 at 08:13 | #3

thanks for raising the topic more widely. However, I think you`ve
wandered a bit astray yourself by missing the problem of cognitive
traps, as well as missing a libertarian point or two.

I respond more fully here:


November 4th, 2009 at 18:09 | #33

I note that I have made a few additional comments, chiefly in an effort
to clarify my understanding of libertarian views on property:

I look forward to your further thoughts.



November 5th, 2009 at 00:43 | #48

John, obviously my own experience at Mises (and at the libertarian law
blog Volokh Conspiracy) is that while decidedly irrational “skepticism”
and wishful thinking predominates, it is not universal. But those like
me who believe that climate concerns are justified and want to analyze
policy (and who are critical of ad homs directed toward “enviros”)
always face challenges and criticism from those who feel too threaded
to venture out into a discussion of policy.

However, outside of boards like that, it seems to me that there is a
general swing by libertarian commenters on climate to an acceptance of
a rather mainstream science view, though there remains natural policy
disagreements. Ron Bailey, science correspondence at Reason and Jon
Adler, a resources law prof at Case Western, Lynne Kiesling at
Knowledge Problem blog, David Zetland, who blogs on water issues, come
to mind. Others, at AEI, CEI, IER and Master Resource are partly in the
business of running cover for fossil fuel interests, and so frequently
challenge both science and policy.

There have been several open disputes, where Bailey, Kiesling and
others have challenged skepticism at CEI and elsewhere, as I noted on
my recent “libertarian views” summary post. Readers might also find
this upbraiding of Penn & Teller to be interesting:

BTW, I note that one self-described libertarian group in California
has specifically proposed carbon taxes, though this is a rather obscure
group and their “Pay Your Air Share” proposal appears to be

  1. November 5th, 2009 at 17:08 | #36

    “It is the collective action that is required that extreme libertarians hate so much. ”

    Libertarians don`t oppose collective action per se, but are opposed
    to “collective” actions that are dictated by the state -because it
    hampers the ability of communities to respond to problems on their own,
    weakens links between resource users and the relevant resource,
    frequently locks in benefits for powerful insiders (viz., the big firms
    that profess to love markets but really love their deals from
    government that lock in their advantageous position) – thereby setting
    up enduring fights over the wheel of government -and because the
    “knowledge problem” generally ensures that solutions will be ham-handed
    and generate a need for further interventions.

    You, John and others might not have noticed, but these are some of
    the chief conclusions of the empirical research by “tragedy of the
    commons” expert Elinor Ostrom, and her writings about how
    counter-productive stated-led “development” and commons-management
    efforts have been is precisely the reason why the Swedes awarded her
    the Nobel Prize in economics.

  2. November 5th, 2009 at 17:19 | #37

    Alice, on the topic of “watermelons”, surely the libertarians have a
    point that many environmentalists really do not understand how markets
    or free societies function, but typically this term is used not to
    explain, but as an ad hom, both to dismiss concerns over climate
    science and to avoid the heavy work of arguing over policy, as I`ve
    noted here:

  3. November 5th, 2009 at 17:33 | #39

    to sum up, while clearly many libertarians are guilty of wishful
    thinking as to the climate science, by the same token many
    environmentalists and leftists seem to blithely ignore all of the
    problems that are associated with state/bureaucratic responses.

    Yes, there are self-deluded on both sides, but to seek to explain
    away (or dispense with considering) the opposition of others is itself
    a flight from reason and responsibility.

    That this is understandable , human and a common phenomenon in the
    case of tribal or partisan conflict – as Nick Kristof points out:
    – makes it something that we should all the more try to avoid, rather
    than indulge in, which seems to be the drift of this post and many of
    your commenters.

    On this point, I would recommend that you and others take a look at
    some of the opposition to cap-and-trade now springing up on the left in
    the US; see the comments of two EPA lawyers and of Dr. Janese Hansen

    Says Hansen: “I hope that Williams and Zabel give decision makers
    pause. This is no time to be rushing into costly ineffectual
    legislation. It is time to call a halt on any legislation this year,
    and take time to understand the matter. It would take 20 years to fix
    the mess that Congress, with the help of special interests, seems
    intent on creating.”



"TokyoTom Moving the Goalposts?" Bob Murphy dislikes my criticism of the rush by "skeptics" to print climate science news

September 4th, 2009 No comments

Further to my preceding post, on “Confirmation bias, rent-seeking and the rush to print the latest science “scoop (Linzen-Choi)“, I note that Bob Murphy has kindly  put up a new blog post that notes and responds to my comments to him.

Since it`s late here, interested readers might want to check out Bob`s post, including and the comments that I and others have left.

On a meta-level, yes, I`m aware that on this and similar public policy issues involving science, each group of protagonists seems eager to rush into battle with the latest science that they view as favorable to their cause. My point is NOT that the latest news may not be important, but that we should be careful that we are actually seeking to understand it, instead of blindly looking for confirmation of our pre-existing notions. We should also be careful of the motivations (rent-seeking; self-justification, etc.) of those who are quick to bandy news about. 

Yes, this cuts more than one way; we are all human, after all.


Confirmation bias, rent-seeking and the rush to print the latest climate science "scoop" (Lindzen-Choi)

September 4th, 2009 1 comment

Since I`m in Tokyo and deprived of Bob Murphy`s enviable access, via talk radio, to cutting-edge climate science, I thank him using his blog to bring it to the attention of his audience (which occasionally includes me). Says Bob (emphasis added):

Chip Knappenberger explains
the significance (and remaining holes to be plugged) in the recent
Lindzen-Choi paper that’s got talk radio in such a tizzy
. The opening
sentence: “MIT climate scientists Richard Lindzen and collaborator
Yong-Sang Choi soon-to-be published paper (Geophysical Research
Letters, American Geophysical Union) pegs the earth’s “climate
sensitivity”—the degree the earth’s temperature responds to various
forces of change—at a value that is about six times less than the “best
estimate” put forth by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Well, well, if talk radio is covering a new article that purportedly downplays climate risks, then others who have invested time in casting doubt

I`ve blogged previously about my various conversations with Chip Knappenberger, who is employed by the self-described “advocacy” group of Pat Michaels, New Hope Environmental Services.

I went to pay a visit to his post at Rob Bradley`s pro-coal, “free market” MasterResource blog, which I have discussed on any number of occasions here – especially after Mr. Bradley unceremoniously withdrew the welcome mat for libertarian critics (yours truly) while in mid-conversation with (and without notice to) several of his guest bloggers.

I reviewed Chip`s precis of the Lindzen-Choi paper and attempted to leave comments at MasterResource, but they were “disappeared” as soon as they were posted, so I forwarded a copy of my comments by email directly to Chip, which I copy below (with minor edits):

Chip, I couldn`t resist trying to comment on your post at MR, and
checking to see if Rob still has his blog set up to automatically
exclude all of my comments. Unfortunately, he still seems to be
convinced that a principled and libertarian approach (or his clients`
needs) requires maintaining his echo chamber by excluding me.

To check the sophistication of his method, I have for the first time
just tried commenting anonymously (I have until stayed away and simply
hoped Rob would change his mind), and to my surprise the comment went
through – though it is “awaiting moderation”. [update: this post has now received immoderate , “echo chamber” moderation]

I thought I would give you a head`s up on my pending comment, which I
do not expect to see published – but who knows?  Strange things
sometimes happen, such as Rob quoting with approval a link to a
comment that I have made:

My comment is below; I will wait until tomorrow before cross-posting
at my own blog.



[comment left at MasterResource]
“It is too early to tell whether Lindzen and Choi’s findings will
prove to be the end-all be-all in this debate.”

But it`s not too early for you, for others who act as paid mouthpieces
for fossil fuel and others who wish to avoid policy action, to trumpet
this as yet unpublished paper all over the intertubes, is it Chip?

By the way, continuing studies on the “sensitivity” of temperatures to
GHG increases should not lead us to ignore either the problem of ocean
acidification from our accelerating CO2 build-up or the very exquisite
sensitivity of the Earth`s climate and ecosystems to the 0.6 C average
temp increase that we have experience over the past 50 years
(remaining stuck at a peak for the past 10).  The Arctic and temperate
zone glaciers continue to rapidly thaw, and other changes affecting
ecosystems and human livelihoods are still underway.

I note I have seen very preliminary remarks by James
, and by

Schmidt here

“a waste of time and effort”

More directly, don`t you mean that such efforts would cost your clients money?

Sure, there are reasonable grounds to dispute practically any use of
government (though I note that Exxon and Margo Thorning of the ACCF
are both expressly advocating carbon taxes), but let`s not pretend to not

that those speaking most loudly in support of our radical, ongoing
planet-wide “experiment” on the affect of GHG emissions and albedo
changes are precisely the investors and firms (and their mouthpieces)
who benefit from the status quo (leaving all of these activities
unpriced), while it`s the world`s populations more generally who end
up with all of the risks.

This climate experiment and those paid to provide it cover are hardly
a “conservative” or “libertarian” enterprise.

I note that Bob Murphy is no climate expert, but simply posting blindly about something that he thinks cuts in the direct he wants; in a similar vein, Knappenberger also evidently is puffing the importance of a scientific article that is hot off the presses, but can`t be troubled to link to any articles providing additional context. (A recent blog post and comments by Steve McIntyre at Climate Audit also point out the difficulties in reaching conclusions from the new research.)

I also note, as I have previously, that not only Chip but Bob as well – when he has on his “economist for IER” (which is a coal and public utility front group that was de-funded last year by Exxon) hat – are, at least in part, being compensated to undercut climate change policy.

In this context, we all are prone to note evidence that fits into our existing world view, while discounting contrary information, such “confirmation bias” is readily apparent in the internet and radio coverage of this piece.  While climate change and climate policy are certainly hot topics, it doesn`t seem to me that the so-called “skeptics” are at all taking this new study skeptically, but are instead eagerly lapping it up, assume it is good news, are are loudly trumpeting it. Now who`s fooling whom?  Many “skeptics” look just like the “alarmist” “global warming cult” “believers” whom they abhor.

Unfortunately, while it`s impossible to know what Rob and Chip are actually thinking and why, it`s clear that a dangerous mix of self-deception, confirmation bias and rent-seeking permeates the tribal conflicts that we are seeing in current over the use of government, not the least in the case of climate change, which is a difficult scientific and policy issue.


WHY Pat Michaels says "The Antarctic Ain’t Cooperating"

March 4th, 2008 2 comments

[Update:  I have separately posted for the interest of readers my exchange of emails with Chip Knappenberger, Pat Michael`s colleague at his self-described “advocacy science consulting firm”, New Hope Environmental Services.]

In comments on my preceding post, Antarctic cooling? Or WHY “The Antarctic Ain’t Cooperating”, Geoffrey Plauche pointed to an essay entitled “The Antarctic Ain’t Cooperating” at the “World Climate Report” – the website run by former climate scientist, now policy critic Pat Michaels.   Review of Michaels’ piece prompted further work, which I first posted as an update to my prior post.  Given the broader issues raised by that review, I have decided also to post it separately.

When I pointed out to Geoffrey that Michaels’ essay leaves out an awful lot, he replied that Michaels’ piece was clearly “criticizing … the alarmist hype coming from some scientists, some politicians and others (like Gore), and particularly the media”.  Thus I decided to spend a little more time exploring just what it was that Michaels was up to in his essay. 

While a review of the post certainly shows criticism of the press (not scientists) for incomplete disclosure and discussion of data about Antarctica (a criticism that is not in itself unfair), a little further digging reveals that it is Pat Michaels who is being deceptive – for self-acknowledged political and business reasons – by failing to refer to or provide additional background information (noted in my prior post and update) that show that there is plenty of evidence indicating that while Antarctica may be warming more slowly than elsewhere (which was not unexpected), there are ample signs of warming and other changes consistent with GHG forcings.  The Antarctic is already “cooperating” more than we need it to.

Pat Michaels describes the “World Climate Report” as “concise, hard-hitting and scientifically correct” and “exhaustively researched, impeccably referenced, and always timely”.   It is intended as a “response to the global change reports which gain attention in the literature and popular press” that “points out the weaknesses and outright fallacies in the science that is being touted as “proof” of disastrous warming” and is “the perfect antidote against those who argue for proposed changes to the Rio Climate Treaty, such as the Kyoto Protocol, which are aimed at limiting carbon emissions from the United States”.  Michaels trumpets World Climate Report as the “definitive and unimpeachable source for what Nature now calls the “mainstream skeptic” point of view, which is that climate change is a largely overblown issue ….”

But who produces the World Climate Report?  Pat Michaels’ personal and self-described “advocacy science consulting firm”, New Hope Environmental Services.  And who hires Pat Michaels?  Well, firms that have a direct financial stake in trying to hang onto their present ability to emit GHGs free of charge into the global atmopsheric commons, of course, even though Pat does his best for his clients’ sake to keep it under his hat. ;

It is not surprising that particularly heavy users of the global commons (clearly electric utilities and coal producers in Pat’s case) would like to continue to operate under the same sweet terms that they have up until now, but other users of the global commons of course have the right to their own preferences as well.  But why the secrecy?  Why aren’t the electric utilities and coal producers who support Pat, instead of funding one-sided arguments about science, willing to be straightforward about their preferences so all commons users can discuss how to manage the atmospheric commons?  I suspect that it has something to do with the small problem called “rent-seeking” whenever governments are in the middle of a problem – viz., these fossil fuel interests are trying to influence government in order to get (manintain!) favorable treatment, as opposed to trying to come to terms with others.  Thus the desire to mask their behavior and muddy the science – to influence public opinion and government – rather than forthrightness.

In other words, at least at the World Climate Report, Pat Michaels is in the business of selling climate policy positions.  This is clearly manifested in posts like “The Antarctic Ain’t Cooperating”, which while “scientifically correct” is much less than scientifically complete, and misleadingly so.  This degree of disingenuousness shows that his motivation isn’t really so much to clarify as it is to muddle – in order to advance his own policy preferences and/or those of his clients.  While Pat and his clients are fully entitled to their own preferences, they are not entitled to their own facts.  If Pat wants to really advance our understanding of climate developments, he should be providing a rounder picture, rather than feeding factoids to those who are happy to pretend (or continue to fool themselves) that there is no scientific case for ongoing climate change (and a significant human role in it).

But as “skewed but technically accurate” science is what Pat’s clients want, it’s hard to fault him for doing his best to be responsive to them.  But it nevertheless behooves us to be aware, when Pat speaks, who has actually paid for his voice, and why, so we might better know how to weigh his words.  Otherwise we are simply allowing ourselves to be manipluated by others, others who are happy to play on the confirmation biases of readers who are predisposed to believe either that man is not influencing the climate or that it is not a “problem” that we should invite our governments to address.

I refer readers to my prior post (and update) to review additional information on what is happening in the Antarctic. 

Here’s to hoping for greater forthrightness, both on the science and on our respective preferences with respect to what is a shared – an indispensible – common resource.

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: