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Monday, November 09, 2015

Ah, Now We See the Fascism Inherent in Collectivism!

It was only a matter of, as it turns out, not very much time.

The New York attorney general has begun an investigation of Exxon Mobil to determine whether the company lied to the public about the risks of climate change or to investors about how such risks might hurt the oil business.

According to people with knowledge of the investigation, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued a subpoena Wednesday evening to Exxon Mobil, demanding extensive financial records, emails and other documents.

The investigation focuses on whether statements the company made to investors about climate risks as recently as this year were consistent with the company’s own long-running scientific research.

The people said the inquiry would include a period of at least a decade during which Exxon Mobil funded outside groups that sought to undermine climate science, even as its in-house scientists were outlining the potential consequences — and uncertainties — to company executives.

In other words, the NY AG aims to penalize, or even criminalize, WrongThought. And, as if it wasn't already clear enough, the NYT's approach to reporting climate change has descended to the realm of agenda journalism.

Within a couple days, Timothy Egan, in the NYT Op Ed page, jumped on the bandwagon:

Well before one hottest-year-ever was followed by yet another record-breaker, before Arctic ice vanished in real time and Pope Francis made a plea to save our troubled home, the world’s largest private oil company discovered that its chief product could cause global havoc.

As an accidental public service, this deed was little known until recently, when a trove of documents unearthed by several news organizations showed What Exxon Knew and When It Knew It. And it was reported Thursday that the New York attorney general is starting an investigation to determine whether the company lied about the risks of climate change.

It’s not surprising, given its army of first-rate scientists and engineers, that Exxon was aware as far back as the 1970s that carbon dioxide from oil and gas burning could have dire effects on the earth. Nor is it surprising that Exxon would later try to cast doubt on what its experts knew to be true, to inject informational pollution into the river of knowledge about climate chang

A couple observations. Progressives love to trumpet how head over heels in love they are with The Science. So a couple correctives are in order. By "hottest year ever", Mr. Egan really meant to say "hottest year in the historical recored" which, at about 150 years — and that is speaking optimistically — is much, much, less than "ever". Arctic ice has not vanished, never mind "in real time". Also "could have" does not mean "know to be true".

But wait, there's more!

The Stone, "a forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless", piles on with The Price of Denialism.

With the United Nations’ conference on climate change set to begin in Paris this month, and the presidential election only a year away, we are about to be steeped in political arguments on every conceivable issue, all carried out with the usual confusing mix of fact, opinion, opinion stated as fact and fact portrayed as opinion. How can we prepare ourselves to make sense of it?

A good first step would be to distinguish between skepticism and what has come to be known as denialism. In other words, we need to be able to tell when we believe or disbelieve in something based on high standards of evidence and when we are just engaging in a bit of motivated reasoning and letting our opinions take over. When we withhold belief because the evidence does not live up to the standards of science, we are skeptical. When we refuse to believe something, even in the face of what most others would take to be compelling evidence, we are engaging in denial. In most cases, we do this because at some level it upsets us to think that the theory is true.

In other words: "Disbelieving science isn't skepticism, it's a willful form of ignorance"

Unsurprisingly, attitudes to AGW cleave almost exactly along the divide between collectivists and individualists. Collectivism's raison d'ĂȘtre, having been rather rubbished by communism's ignominious collapse, finds itself reinvigorated by an existential problem for which collective action is the only response. Individualists, on the other hand, reflexively reject anything that requires the end of free markets.

Of course, objective reality cares not a whit about our ideological predispositions. Continuing to add CO2 to the atmosphere will have the effects that continuing to add CO2 will have, whatever they might be.

After all, it could well be that individual humans and free markets, with all the shortcomings they entail, could turn Earth into a scorching post apocalyptic hell hole. Or, if individual humans and collectivism are given free reign, humanity will needlessly enter an epoch of totalitarianism and poverty.

So, am I, taking myself as a representative example of an individualist that has little time for AGW, merely a pawn of my beliefs, or might there be some reasons for a non-expert to consider AGW a far less serious problem than the experts insist it is? I think it is the latter:

  • Predictive failure. Whether sea level rise, the frequency of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and droughts, or the Arctic, reality has been decidedly cruel to Climatist predictions that whose due-date has passed.
  • Lack of testable predictions. As a consequence of predictive failure, Climatism has pushed its parade of horrors far enough into the future that there is no chance of ascertaining their existence, or lack thereof in anything like the near term.

  • Extreme Weather Events. Or, when weather isn't climate, unless it is. When global temperature records declined to carry their appointed load, Climatists resorted to the sciencey-sounding EWE's. This is, perhaps, the apex of Climatism as religion. Presumably, the lack of EWE's would be required to disprove Climatism; unfortunately, the lack of EWEs would, itself be extreme.

  • Ahistorical Claims. Climatists claim that recent climate changes are unprecedented in their magnitude and rate. Dr. Mann's hockey stick is the inflammatory prototype. However, there is, in fact, ancient climate information that doesn't rely on proxies of whatever stripe. In the first volume of Gibbon's Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, there are a couple pages discussing significant climate change in Europe. How did he know? There were extensive primary sources. Climatists can't have no explanation for what they have wished away.

  • Complete absence of deductive consequences. Hypotheses are tentative ordering of observed phenomena. Theories are those hypotheses that have been found to usefully explain observed phenomena. What is true of all theories is that they have deductive consequences: if the theory is useful, then there it has consequences that follow from the theory. If they are not true, then the theory cannot be true. Evolutionary theory has many such consequences. Climatism? None.

  • Appeals to Authority. Never mind a philosopher of science, who, along with Bill Nye the Science Guy, might very well know less about climatology than many in his target audience, we now have the tiresome spectacle of The 97% Consensus. Unfortunately, the number is a fraud. Even more problematic, such consensus as there is has no object. That is, precisely what is the consensus about? Try asking the question about something specific. What is the consensus values for Transient Climate Response, or Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity?

  • Climatism is post hoc. Climate models are tested against reality through hindcasting: they are given known initial conditions at some point in time, then run to compare their results against climate records. Then the models are adjusted as required to maintain their concordance with the historical record. Being able to mimic, say, 100 years of known climate, they are therefore able to predict the next 100 years. That is a perfect example of post hoc reasoning; it doesn't work for stock markets either.

  • Climatism violates its own claims. Climatists insisted that, through their models, they knew enough of the climate to confidently predict the consequences of continued increases in CO2. The hiatus has gone on for so long that even Climatists have had to take notice. Ah Hah! It was the ocean that stole all the heat! Fine, let's take that as read. However, that must mean that Climatists did not know enough about the climate in the first place in order to make their claims.

Climatism has become a religion, a perfect example of Group Think. You must genuflect, or, increasingly be afraid that the Climatists will first demonize, then ostracize, before working on actual punishment. The hell with the First Amendment: Exxon must honor orthodoxy. As our science philosopher says:
Yet a warning should occur when these stars align and we find ourselves feeling self-righteous about a belief that apparently means more to us than the preservation of good standards of evidence. Whether they are willing to admit it or not — perhaps even to themselves — Climatists often know in advance what they would like to be true. But where does that leave the rest of us who think that our own beliefs are simply the result of sound reasoning?

Okay, he didn't exactly. But he could have. The fact that he didn't even consider the possibility strongly suggests he is in love with something he doesn't understand.

And the NY AG is proving that where there is collectivism, fascism is standing right there.


Clovis e Adri said...


Hey, in good old Soviet times you could abolish Mendel's laws (an others) by fiat and be done with it.

Now we need this whole complicated ostracism and social pressure dynamics to shut up the inconvenient people, what a drag!

In a more serious note, I think this fits within the decay of scientific standards we've been witnessing in the last few decades. If Superstrings can now be declared The Truth by some without all those bothersome requirements of falsifiability and experimentalism - there, right in the Reign of Newton which gave us the Scientific Revolution - I think pretty much everything, including Climate Science, is up for grabs.

erp said...

I found this last week in a discussion of one of my pet peeves -- federal grants to academe is producing lots of brilliant grant writers, but not much brilliant science in exchange for gazillions of our tax dollars.

Hey Skipper said...

In 1986 Climatists predicted the East Coast would see one foot sea rise by 2015.

Actual: three inches. Most of that subsidence.

Back in 2011 or so, some fundamentalist preacher on the West Coast predicted the apocalpyse in August.

Spoiler alert: it didn't happen.

He refigured his figurings, found the error, re-predicted for October something or other.

Spoiler alert: didn't happen.

So he may have been wrong, but at least he took his wrongness to heart.

Unlike climatists.


I saw this article recently, and thought of you.

I get, at least conceptually, relativity. I had three semesters of physics in college to help.

However, quantum mechanics, not so much.

And action at a distance, which the experiment in the article appears likely to have proved, is utterly beyond my meager powers.

Any chance you could explain it?

Clovis e Adri said...


I'd say "action at a distance", even though being the term currently used, is a bit misleading.

Rest assured beforehand of one thing: no, you can not use this effect to communicate information faster than light. Hence, nothing you learned in your relativity course is shown wrong by quantum mechanics. Trying to be as succint as possible (yet failing), here goes my take.

Let's meet at 12 o'clock GMT at any cafe in Dusseldorf you like and share a cookie this way: we both simultaneously touch the cookie, close our eyes and break it in two parts, placing each in a different paper bag (one mine, the other yours) and go home, with the agreement we only open it the next day at 12 o'clock GMT - I already in Brazil by then, you still in Dusseldorf (I guess the hardest part of the experiment is for you to stay so long in one place, right?).

See, we both don't know, up until opening the bag, who got the bigger piece of cookie. But the moment I open my bag, I *instantaneously* know something about *your* piece of cookie (if it is bigger or smaller than mine), even though we are 5700 miles away. Hey, action at a distance!

Or... not really. We actually needed to carry on the experiment since 24 hours before, there was nothing breaking causality here, information actually was pretty slow - after all, we could have known it in microseconds by sharing the cookie with eyes open in the first place.

All - and I do mean all - those fancy experiments you read about on spooky actions at a distance are just like the one above in that sense. All the experimental setup is done in such a way that no meaningful information is travelling any faster than light - usually way slower actually.

So where is the difference? Instead of a cookie (a classical object made of gazillions of atoms), they are sharing photons or electrons, tiny objects ruled by quantum mechanics. In that Reign, they have the curious ability to be not in a "single defined state", but a "combination of many ones" at the same time.

And we can create setups where two photons (or electons, as in your link) are in "entangled states", which means states where (i) both are in possibly two different states (for example, vertical polarization or horizontal polarization) and, very important, (ii) they are in such a combination that whatever is the state of one photon, the other is in the opposite one. So we don't know which state any photon actually is before measuring them, but we do know that by measuring one (for example, it turns out to be a vertically polarized photon), the other is necessarily in the opposite state (horizontal polarization). Not too different from bigger-piece-of-cookie versus smaller-piece-of-cookie in that sense.

But, and you knew there was a but, while we can easily agree that our cookie's state was pretty much decided at the moment we broke it, we can not say the same about those photons. Up to the moment we actually measure them (i.e. open up our paper bags), they were not defined in one or the other state. It is decided the moment we measure it. (Otherwise, if it was decided the moment we split it with eyes closed, it must have been encoded in "hidden variables" beyond our knowledge, or so supposed Einstein).

Clovis e Adri said...

And here comes the spooky thing: by measuring my photon in Brazil, I *instantaneously* know the state of your photon in Dusseldorf, with the big difference from the cookie case that my photon state (and yours also!) was indeed decided the moment I opened up the bag. So the thing that looks to "act at a distance here" is the process of "collapse" that made my photon (and yours) to take a definite state (vertical or horizontal, instead of the combination of both previous to my measurement). What those experiments are showing is exactly so: that the photon state was not decided at moment of split (in some hidden variables, as per Einstein's "preferred" hypothesis), but that it is being decided only when I measure it.

Even though that thing bothered Einstein - hey, it bothers anyone who thinks about it - it remais true that I can not use such an effect to actually make *information* to travel faster than light. Any way I (and anyone else) tries to conjure up to make this work as an faster-than-light telegraphic machine, utterly fails. Either due to (i) quantum mechanics uncertainty or to (ii) the need of our previously meeting to agree up on codes and procedures of measurement, making it as slow as our cookie experiment as a way of communicating things.

That's it, Skipper, if I go any further our fellow bloggers will sleep (anyone still there? :-).

Hey Skipper said...


Thanks for the explanation -- you should have written the NYT article (not that it was bad, only that your explanation is far better.)

It was all sensible enough, to the extent quantum mechanics can be, until I got to this:

So the thing that looks to "act at a distance here" is the process of "collapse" that made my photon (and yours) to take a definite state (vertical or horizontal, instead of the combination of both previous to my measurement). What those experiments are showing is exactly so: that the photon state was not decided at moment of split (in some hidden variables, as per Einstein's "preferred" hypothesis), but that it is being decided only when I measure it.

Is there any explanation for how measuring the state of one photon can instantly affect another?

Bret said...


That was the best explanation of entanglement that I've ever read. Thanks. There was no danger of falling asleep.

erp said...


Clovis e Adri said...


Is there any explanation for how measuring the state of one photon can instantly affect another?

Short answer: no.

It is the whole point, how baffling this is for most people who think about it. Even though our theories do not allow for instaneous action at a distance, the process of the "collapse of the state" involved in a measurement looks like too close to be such.

And things get more baffling: nature looks to conspire to make sure this "instantaneous action" actually does not produce anything like real instantaneous action, in the sense of superluminal communication.

Quantum mechanics is the weirdest thing ever.

Clovis e Adri said...

BTW, let me tell you a bit more on why people think those experiments point out to the above interpretation ("action at a distance" by measurement of the states).

The question is, what could possibly differentiate between the state of the photons being decided upon their splitting (in some hidden variable we don't know about), or being decided only when we measure it?

See, that makes a hell of a difference, because if the state was previously decided, it is just like the cookie experiment, no "action at a distance" at all is involved.

That question was what John Bell was trying to answer in 1964, and he came up with one very insteresting result. If we allowed for a few hypothesis on how those hidden variables work (those hypothesis making them to be like what we'd expect from any probabilistic game involving classical hidden variables, like cards in a stack), he realized that the statistics of the measurement of one case (photons have unknown hidden variables and their state was decided upon splitting) was markedly different from the statistics of the other case (they have no hidden variables and their state is decided upon measurement only).

So the idea is that you make our cookie experiments with photons (or electrons) in superpositon of polarized states not only once, but you make it N times, and the statistics you make with the correlation of results can differentiate both theories.

That's the reason there is always someone working those results again and again: there are all sorts of different hypothesis for how those hidden variables work that you can make, and people always figure out a different hypothesis not covered by present experiments.

We are reaching the point where the experimentalists covered most of what could be seen as "reasonable hypotheses", but that does not mean the question is absolutely settled anyway, for who is the judge of what is reasonable in that strange world of Quantum?

Hey Skipper said...

Quantum mechanics is the weirdest thing ever.

Even more inexplicable than women, if only just.

When I was studying Physics, I "got" relativity. Even now, at a conceptual level (my math skills having long since deteriorated from disuse) it makes sense.

But QM, especially action at a distance? No way.

Assume the experiment in the article produced valid results. Doesn't that mean that our notions of the structure of space have to be completely wrong?

(I should have made this a separate post.)

Clovis e Adri said...


Assume the experiment in the article produced valid results. Doesn't that mean that our notions of the structure of space have to be completely wrong?

Welcome to my world, you just turned yourself into one more person trying to figure out what should be a Quantum Theory of Gravity. Your question is right there in the frontier of Physics, where all ideas are competing for their day under the Sun.

See, in our discussions up above we assumed space and time as well defined (classical) things, outside of the quantum theory itself.

But we know better. Both space and time are not an immutable stage over which everything happens, but are themselves actors too, that's the whole point behind our best clasical theory of gravity: General Relativity.

So how do all the quantum weirdness translates to space and time?

We don't know. We have multiple competing theories about it, most probably all of them wrong.

The big problem being, if space and time do behave like our quantum crazy world, that would only manifest itself to our lying eyes (i.e. simple experiments) near a level of energy way above anything we can achieve down here on Earth (the famous Planck scale).
The reason being that gravity is such a feeble force, so weak compared to all others.

A few wise minds (Sir Roger Penrose among them) have been proposing experiments to try to detect a superposition of gravitational states, on the hope that gravity would be exactly the force that plays the role of "collapser of the quantum state" of a system.

In other words, he proposed that gravity would be the force mediating that spooky "action at a distance" you asked about to begin with. And he actually proposed a few interesting experiments to check for that, and they are even feasible to be done in not so distant a future.

Just wanted to give you a hint of what's been going on in that area. There are many other ideas, but that would really ask for a ton of other posts.

Hey Skipper said...

Clovis, thanks. I wish I could type a more thoughtful reply, but an iPad isn't the tool for the job.