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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Truuuuust Meeeee!!!

Climate scientists are becoming concerned that the public no longer holds them in high esteem and no longer finds them trustworthy. It seems that the leaked University of East Anglia emails ("Cimategate") showing scientists in a less than stellar light coupled with numerous revelations of mistakes in the IPCC's reports has enraged much of the public, especially in Britain.

As a result, many scientists are trying to reach out to the public in order to restore that trust. An example is Dr. Judith Curry's essay that was posted on several skeptics blogs. Here's an excerpt:

Rebuilding trust with the public on the subject of climate research starts with Ralph Cicerone’s statement “Two aspects need urgent attention: the general practice of science and the personal behaviors of scientists.” Much has been written about the need for greater transparency, reforms to peer review, etc. and I am hopeful that the relevant institutions will respond appropriately. Investigations of misconduct are being conducted at the University of East Anglia and at Penn State. Here I would like to bring up some broader issues that will require substantial reflection by the institutions and also by individual scientists.

Climate research and its institutions have not yet adapted to its high policy relevance. How scientists can most effectively and appropriately engage with the policy process is a topic that has not been adequately discussed ... The interface between science and policy is a muddy issue, but it is very important that scientists have guidance in navigating the potential pitfalls. Improving this situation could help defuse the hostile environment that scientists involved in the public debate have to deal with, and would also help restore the public trust of climate scientists.

The problem is not so much that the scientists are untrustworthy (some are, some aren't just like all other humans), but rather that the system itself is untrustworthy. The interface between science and policy is not "muddy" at all. It's crystal clear that interfaces like that are ripe for corruption and distortion, and not at all amenable to seeking and finding truth.

I decided to write Dr. Curry an email to point that out:

Dear Dr. Curry,

I read your excellent post regarding "Rebuilding Trust" with the public. You are certainly to be commended for being one of the first (and bravest) to attempt to begin a dialogue between an at least somewhat disillusioned public and the Climate Science Community.

However, I believe you've overlooked a critically important question:

Can the overall political-social-scientific system itself be trustworthy when it comes to Climate Science?

If that overall system is untrustworthy, it makes no sense to trust the output of anybody that's part of that system.

From my days of studying Economics and Political Choice Theory, any time you have a mix of big-government, big-advocacy, government funded science, and the possibility of using the output of that science to further big-government and big-advocacy ends, ClimateGate is exactly what you’ll get.

Every time.

It’s not the fault of anybody or even any group. It’s inherent in the system.

I believe that we cannot trust climate scientists because they are part of an utrustworthy system. And there is no way to make the system trustworthy.

Where there is money and power, there is corruption.

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. (Lord Acton).

You (and many other scientists) may be saints, but unfortunately, we can't trust the system.

She actually responded:
Bret, thanks for your email. You may be right, but somewhere in there science needs to be science, and the institutions that support science need to do much better job. Not sure how all this will play out, but hopefully reason will play a role somewhere in all this!
If reason plays a role, I suspect she won't like the result.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Post-Normal Science

Climate scientists have not been shown in a particularly favorable light lately. The "Climategate" emails, a number of high-profile mistakes and retractions by the IPCC, and the continued inaccuracy of the predictions of the climate models have shown the climate scientists to be all too fallible, biased, and not particularly trustworthy human beings.

An Oxford philosopher, Jerry Ravitz, has contemplated the special stresses put on the interface between science and the public and policy makers when there is a situation which can be described as "facts uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent".

He considers it to be a new paradigm and calls it:
"Post-Normal Science, which until now has not really attracted very much attention in the mainstream. I’ve met people who found it an inspiration and liberation, as it enabled them to recognise the deep uncertainties in their scientific work that colleagues wished to ignore. ... We are not saying that this is a desirable, natural or normal state for science.

"We place it by means of a diagram, a quadrant-rainbow with two axes. These are ’systems uncertainties’ and ‘decision stakes’. When both are small, we have ‘applied science’, which must be the vast majority of scientific work in keeping civilisation running. When either is medium, we have ‘professional consultancy’, like the surgeon or consultant engineer. The basic insight of PNS is that there is another zone, where either attribute is large."
Ravitz, as is the wont of many philosophers, tends to use a thousand words to explain a concept where ten would almost do. The other 990 words are used for nuances that are ornately twisted into pretzels and chained together to embroider and frame the concept (this paragraph is my feeble attempt to directly illustrate the sorts of extraneous prose used by philosophers - did I succeed?). As a result, it's very difficult to know exactly what the hell he's trying to say.

But the gist is that under the "decision urgent" criterion, it is permissible - nay necessary! - for scientists to frame the debate in such a manner that the public and policy makers will come to the "correct" conclusion and therefore take the "correct" actions.

It's no wonder to me that Post-Normal Science "has not really attracted very much attention in the mainstream" since it has some rather serious problems, in my opinion. The most glaring is that if we have "facts uncertain", then in general, and with Climate Change in particular, how can we know that we're in a "decision urgent" state? Especially since "decision urgent" is then used to trump truth, honesty, ethics, legality, and all of the other mores and institutions upon which civilization is built. Especially when the "correct" conclusion involves committing staggering levels of resources, remaking civilization, and consigning masses of humanity to poverty. Other than that, hey, I'm an open-minded kinda guy.

Unfortunately, Post-Normal Science has attracted attention in the Climate Science community. Using Ravitz's logic, Stephen Schneider, a Stanford Climatologist wrote:
...we are not just scientists, but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. To do that we have to get some broad-based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.
While the above statement is fairly old (1989), at this point it's pretty obvious to me that this attitude is pervasive throughout climate science, especially for those scientists who interact with the media, directly or indirectly. But Schneider left out one thing. Not only are the scenarios scary, but remember, the science is settled, especially if it's Post-Normal Science.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Wisdom of the Swivel-Eyed Loons

James Delingpole gives blog commenters a big compliment:

... without wishing to flatter you [blog commenters] too much, you blog-addicted, foaming-mouthed, swivel-eyed loons – I’ve found the comments sections on blogs to be bastions of wisdom, rough-hewn common sense, wit, and often amazingly well-informed insight. And I don’t just mean on my blogs. What I always find equally heartening is when you look up an article online by, say, Polly Toynbee or some crack-papering fraudster from the Met Office and find its inconsistencies and idiocies being torn to shreds by a readership far more intelligent and on the ball than almost anyone in the liberal commentariat.

And this, I think, is the crux of the matter. The main reason so many left-liberals so loathe and fear the internet is that it is a medium that favours the libertarian right.

I don't think that the internet particularly favours the libertarian right. I think that it favours any group with at least some reasonable arguments that has limited or no access to any other media outlet. Libertarians happen to be one such group.

Since I'm feeling particularly loony today (though perhaps not swivel-eyed), I'll take the compliment whole-heartedly.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Affirmative Action Marriage

The existence of race, or at least the moderately clear delineation between races, is proof that the majority of us are hopelessly racist, and racist where it counts the most. It is one thing to prefer members of your own race when it comes to hiring people, but quite another with far greater impact for racial preferences to come into play when it comes to choosing that special someone to share those lifelong commitments of marriage and raising a family.

If we were all or even mostly all truly colorblind when it comes to love, I would expect that statistically we would see far, far more interracial marriages than we do. Therefore, in the equations of love, race clearly plays a significant role.

Clearly this is wrong, immoral, and a detriment to society. What possible reason is there to give preference to members of your race? All races are equally beautiful, intelligent, compassionate, etc., so there is no possible rational reason to marry someone of your own race.

Since the government already administers affirmative action for employment and education, and since marriage is a legal institution created and supported by the government, and since this proven racism in regards to marriage is clearly irrational and wrong, and since the government has and does get to decide who can marry (gays cannot, siblings cannot, interracial marriage was once illegal but is now legal, etc.) the government has a right - nay a duty! - to correct this egregious wrong.

The solution is obvious. When social security cards are issued, race identifiers are added to the card (and social security database) with the proportion of cards getting marked with each race the same as the proportion of that race in the general population. Then you are legally limited to marry only those people who have the race identified on your social security card.

Then, in a few generations, the problem will be completely solved and we'll have a pleasing continuum of skin color.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Too Big to Fail

I'm an advocate of providing incentives to entities that are "Too Big to Fail" to split up into smaller, independent components that won't endanger the economy or even civilization itself if they happen to fail. The devil's in the details regarding how to do that, but I think it's probably plausible and desirable for private companies.

However, the Federal Government is the 800 pound gorilla (or rather the $3,800,000,000,000 gorilla) in the room when it comes to entities that are "Too Big to Fail". Failure doesn't necessarily mean a short-term catastrophic failure. An entity that becomes increasingly sclerotic and non-functional to point where it parasitically sucks in an enormous vortex of resources from its increasingly beleaguered hosts also becomes a failure at some point.

Since the Government is "Too Big to Fail" (and therefore "Too Big to Exist"), it should be broken up. Since it is so large it should be broken up into numerous entities. Picking a number out-of-the-air, I'd say that breaking it up into 50 entities (or 57 if you're Obama), would be about perfect. Conveniently, we happen to have 50 mostly functioning government entities to which we can transfer responsibilities and authority. Also conveniently, with the possible exception of a few of those States, none of them are "Too Big to Fail". Problem solved.

Wasn't that what our Founders had in mind? Smart dudes.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hi Mom!

My youngest daughter (10) wrote "Hi Mom!" on her hand this morning. I hope she doesn't get in trouble for it at school.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Writing's on the Palm

I don't particularly like or dislike Sarah Palin, but I'll have to admit she has comic genius. The Media had a conniption fit and gave widespread coverage regarding her scribbling a few words on her hand (allegedly notes?) during the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville.

Her response? She wrote "Hi Mom" on her palm while campaigning for Rick Perry in Texas. Let's see if the Media gives that one as much coverage. The Media will look foolish whether they do or don't cover it since it has more or less the same level of relevance (i.e. none) as the "notes" at the Tea Party.

These events led one commenter at Gateway Pundit to quip:

Next speaking stop, she will have “John 3:16″ on her hand.

Media goes mad trying to figure out the code; calls for separation of palms and psalm...