Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Echo Chamber of Their Minds

It comes as news to readers of the New York Times, but it’s old news to readers of this blog.

Yesterday, newly minted Times columnist Bret Stephens wrote his first op-ed column since leaving the Wall Street Journal. Obviously, it’s an important move for the Times, since it gives its op-ed page a strong supporter of Israel. Considering that it recently ran an op-ed by a Palestinian terrorist, and failed to identify the crimes for which he has been sentenced, the Times needed Stephens.

Since Stephens had remained intrepidly anti-Trump, some Journal readers did not regret seeing him go. On the other hand, Stephens strongly supports Israel, has no tolerance for people who want to kill Jews and has cast doubt on climate change dogma.

His first column addressed the latter.

Sensibly, Stephens made the case that scientific fact is not dogma. Just because we have some data we should not be lulled into thinking that we have attained a higher truth, a truth that may never be questioned.

In his words:

We live in a world in which data convey authority. But authority has a way of descending to certitude, and certitude begets hubris. From Robert McNamara to Lehman Brothers to Stronger Together, cautionary tales abound.

We ought to know this by now, but we don’t. Instead, we respond to the inherent uncertainties of data by adding more data without revisiting our assumptions, creating an impression of certainty that can be lulling, misleading and often dangerous. 

As for the dogma of anthropogenic climate change, Stephens quoted a Times story:

As Andrew Revkin wrote last year about his storied career as an environmental reporter at The Times, “I saw a widening gap between what scientists had been learning about global warming and what advocates were claiming as they pushed ever harder to pass climate legislation.” The science was generally scrupulous. The boosters who claimed its authority weren’t.

Hmmm… so much for settled science:

Claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong. Demanding abrupt and expensive changes in public policy raises fair questions about ideological intentions. Censoriously asserting one’s moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts.


… ordinary citizens also have a right to be skeptical of an overweening scientism. They know — as all environmentalists should — that history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.

As you might imagine, the left was up in arms, outraged at Stephens and the New York Times. The New York Post reported some of the reaction this morning. No longer even pretending to defend free speech, increasingly unwilling to address any dissent, they naturally wanted to shut Stephens down. When you have no arguments, you resort to censorship.

The Post reported on their obscene fulminations:

“Go eat dog d—s,” fumed one Twitter user.

“When is the Times going to get rid of you?” another asked.

Stephens even managed to tick off fellow journalists.

“You’re a s–thead. a crybaby lil f–kin weenie. a massive twat too,” tweeted Libby Watson, staff writer at Gizmodo.

“I’m gonna lose my mind,” seethed Eve Peyser, politics writer at Vice.

“The ideas ppl like @BretStephensNYT espouse are violently hateful & should not be given a platform by @NYTimes,” she said.

And, of course, some readers were canceling their Times subscriptions. How much time will it take for them to start demanding that advertisers boycott the Times?

Apparently, not very long:

“Each and every one of us should fully boycott the NY Times — don’t link to them, don’t click on their links. Their actions are inexcusable,” wrote one Twitter user. “You cannot be an ostensible paper-of-record and allow a science denier to spread propaganda.”

Adriana Heguy, a genomics scientist and professor of pathology at NYU, urged her colleagues to scrap their subscriptions, as well.

“Composing my letter to the editor today and canceling @nytimes,” she tweeted. “‘Balance’ means a VALID alternative opinion, not pseudoscience. I’m so sad.”

Feel free to look at some of the other vitriol that Times readers have put up on Twitter. Secure in their bubble they are appalled and outraged that their newspaper, the echo chamber of their minds, would utter a discouraging or even dissenting word.

As I said at the opening of this post, readers of this blog will not be especially surprised by the Stephens view. We have it on the best scientific authority that science is never settled. It runs on skepticism. There are degrees of certainty, but there is no such thing as absolute scientific certainty. I have often referred to the views of famed climate scientist Richard Lindzen, emeritus professor at MIT, who sides with the climate skeptics.

In a 2011 post I quoted Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman on the subject of scientific certainty. In his book, The Meaning of It All, Feynman wrote:

 “It is necessary and true that all of the things we say in science, all of the conclusions, are uncertain, because they are only conclusions. They are guesses as to what is going to happen, and you cannot know what will happen, because you have not made the most complete experiments. . . .”

“Scientists, therefore, are used to dealing with doubt and uncertainty. All scientific knowledge is uncertain. This experience with doubt and uncertainty is important. I believe that it is of very great value, and one that extends beyond the sciences. I believe that to solve any problem that has never been solved before, you have to leave the door to the unknown ajar. You have to permit the possibility that you do not have it exactly right. Otherwise, if you have made up your mind already, you might not solve it.

“So what we call scientific knowledge today is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty. Some of them are most unsure; some of them are nearly sure; but none is absolutely certain. Scientists are used to this. We know that it is consistent to be able to live and not know. Some people say, ’How can you live without knowing?’ I do not know what they mean. I always live without knowing.”

Now, that settles the issue, doesn’t it?


trigger warning said...

How much could Richard Feynman know, in comparison to "Inconvenient" Al Gore or Ares "Superconducting Starhawk" Olympus?

Piffle, I say.

David Foster said...

Shots fired at offices of scientists, the scientists in question being hated by those to whom Climate Change is a religion:

It has come to this.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I hadn't notice this. Thanks for bring it to our attention.

James said...

Re: The post and David's comment above. These people "I'm gonna lose my mind" are forcing the whole issue toward what they think is a glorious and virtuous conclusion. Instead by their very actions they are ensuring an outcome I don't believe they'll like in the least. I shouldn't go on too much about the past, but as Stephens says about history being littered with examples of science being wed to policy you need to look no farther than the Catholic Church and the Inquisition. We all know how that turned out, you get kind of a warm feeling just thinking about it.
"E pur si muove, Bubba!"

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Climate Change is a gnostic construct -- one gigantic fraud that justifies all Lefts's desired ends. How people cannot see this is beyond me.

James said...

Yeah, it's gnostic (my example was for illustration), but to answer your question; Faith, Brother Ignatius, faith. For it is said it can work miracles, but they never tell us if it's for god or the devil.

Malcolm said...

For a balanced look at climate change .

Ares Olympus said...

Malcolm said... For a balanced look at climate change.

Warren Meyer's video looks good on a first partial hearing, makes an attempt at a middle ground, claiming warming exists, and will continue but won't be catastrophic. Still he seems to include WAY too much of his own speculations, while not clearly having the qualifications to be presenting this to a lay audience who can't challenge his assertions.

Here's one response to Meyer's efforts.

On conclusions, Meyers does support a carbon tax (as I do) to reduce overall consumption, and reducing the payroll tax to compensate. (of course how to apply to imports, and it seems like we'd need tarrifs for countries that don't also have their own carbon taxes.) I've also heard a few older republicans supporting a revenue-neutral carbon tax. And he also supports nuclear power, as do I.

Overall, Judith Curry is a better skeptic voice to listen to since she's a climate scientist herself.

As to Bret Stephens, I can see why he gets into trouble, although the harshest commentary obviously shows unhelpful ideological lines have been drawn between those who are convinced "something must be done" and those who are not convinced, whether because we're powerless to reduce our CO2 emissions, or that its too expensive to try, or because any reductions we can made are likely to be too small to change the trend.

Anyway, really Stephens didn't necessarily say much more than "people who are too certain are probably wrong."

So it's a fair reminder to start a discussion, but given unknown irreversible consequences, its not helpful to play uncertainly as an excuse for no action.

And its certainly not helpful to go full-denial, like blocking NASA's budget to study the earth, like Trump and crew are attempting to do. I hope NASA takes a political stand and refuses things like "men to mars" program that are extremely high risk, high cost, unless we also continue studying the earth.

So given the reality of denial, I see why many people are afraid and angry and take that out on journalists who seem to be a part of the problem, even if they're not.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares, you once said something to this effect before: If Clinate Change isn't true, that's okay, because at least it will reduce our use of fossil fuels.

That's why your comments on this issue are not credible. It's not about science.. it's about your personal distaste for petroleum products. That's why it's difficult (if not impossible) to take your voluminous comments on their issue seriously.

That said, I am impressed that you got through a comment here without mention of Trump. That is impressive. You must be relaxing this weekend.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Thanks, James. It is humorous that the eschatology of the Climate Loonies mirrors the punishment of the Great Flood, in a secular puppet show kind of way. I'm not with you on the Catholic Church and the Inquisition as an anti-science or purely-political hit job, which you have cited here before. That said, I do have faith in my fellow man and the power of truth and Truth. God is the light, Lucifer abandoned his role as keeper of the light and was cast into darkness. Climate Change evangelists hate humanity (their own and yours), and their Inquisition is not to purify, but to destroy. Their future is darkness, without a hint of creativity or joy. It's a materialist doomsday prophesy. There are no ark builders.

trigger warning said...

I guess it's important to have astronomers, rocket scientists, and astronautical engineers in a space agency studying the atmosphere, because the witless fools at the US Geological Survey don't know what they're doing...

"The USGS is a science organization that provides impartial information on the health of our ecosystems and environment, the natural hazards that threaten us, the natural resources we rely on, the impacts of climate and land-use change, and the core science systems that help us provide timely, relevant, and useable information.."

Makes sense.

trigger warning said...

And we shouldn't forget NASA's "mission" to encourage Muslims to celebrate their many contributions to science and technology (e.g., IEDs, cellular telephone bomb triggers, nail bomb vests, airline hijacking, truck massacres, etc.).

James said...

I probably didn't make myself very clear (I'm good about that). First, I am a member of the Church, just not a very good one. It seems to me that people tend to look at the Church as some monolithic structure that has come down from the centuries as a one thing and one thing only. I don't believe that at all. To me the Church is really in two parts the faith (religious, etc) part and the administrative part. Taking the administrative part first there was a time the Church was a major obstacle to the advancement of what we would consider science. That being said the Church was also a leader in Aristotelian logic and thought, but they kind of hit a dead end there. And with the pressure of the reformation and politics of the time they tended to lose their way.
Don't get me wrong even the admint side has done some of the best things for humanity, but also some of the worst. I will not address the religious side for I don't think I could add or criticize there.
I hope that was confusing enough. Also I didn't pull rank for though I am a member of that exalted community called ex-altar boys that is a tale best not told.

Andrew_M_Garland said...

( )

Cargo Cult Science - 1974 by Richard P. Feynman
Commencement speech at The California Institute of Technology

The speech is important and readable. It explains the difference between mimicking the language and process of science compared to the real thing. It explains what "cargo cult" means applied to our present lives. [edited excerpts]

=== ===
I often talked to the people in the psychology department at Cornell. One of the students wanted to do an experiment. Others had found that under certain circumstances X, rats did something A. If she changed the circumstances to Y, would they still do A?

I explained that she should first repeat the experiment of the other person. Create condition X to see if she would also get result A. Then change to Y and see if A changed. She would know that the real difference was the thing she thought she had under control.

She proposed this to her professor. He replied no, you cannot do that, because the experiment has already been done and you would be wasting time. This was in about 1947. It seems to have been the general policy then to not try to repeat psychological experiments, but only to change the conditions and see what happens.

[Later, Feynman tells about the studies done by a Mr. Young which determined how perceptive rats really are when trying to test their behavior]

Young did an A-number-one experiment from a scientific standpoint. His research made maze running experiments sensible, because it uncovered the clues that the rat is really using, not what you think it's using. And that tells exactly what conditions you have to use in order to be careful and control everything in an experiment with rat-running.

I looked into the subsequent history of this research. The next experiment, and the one after that, never referred to Mr. Young. They never used any of his criteria of putting the corridor on sand, or of being very careful. They just went right on running rats in the same old way, and paid no attention to the great discoveries of Mr. Young.

His papers are not referred to, because he didn't discover anything about rats. In fact, he discovered all the things you have to do to discover something about rats. But not paying attention to experiments like that is a characteristic of cargo cult science.
=== ===

What is the similarity between our government and some superstitious Pacific islanders during World War II?
( ) Cargo Cult Economics

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for the Feynman reference... I discussed cargo cult science in my book The Last Psychoanalyst.

Ares Olympus said...

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said... That said, I am impressed that you got through a comment here without mention of Trump. That is impressive. You must be relaxing this weekend.

Actually I did mention Trump: "And its certainly not helpful to go full-denial, like blocking NASA's budget to study the earth, like Trump and crew are attempting to do. I hope NASA takes a political stand and refuses things like 'men to mars' program that are extremely high risk, high cost, unless we also continue studying the earth."

The key idea for me is expressing certainty there is no catatrophic risk (the denier position) is a greater bet then considering a unknown probability of future catatrophic risk (the alarmist position).

It does get tricky. Out economic system has a certainty of catastrophic failure, while economic failure is more easily recovered by debt defaults or inflation or both. But there's no reset to catastrophic environmental failure that take centuries to reverse. There's just adapting and dying because their ancestors were addicts and fools. Perhaps our walls might still come in handy during the great Mexican droughts of the 2030s?

I'm willing to consider Obama and the Democrats fools to use abuse the EPA to try to regulate CO2 as a pollutant, and blowback is at hand. Strangely Pruitt's explanation doesn't deal with the misusage of language, but a more direct denial that climate change thus measured is primarily human-caused.
"I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact," Pruitt said. "So, no, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see."

trigger warning said...

Goebbel Warming:

"Cold weather struck France's young vine buds again this week, and Bordeaux is the latest region to suffer frost damage. Farther north, Burgundy and Champagne also weathered cold conditions and frost. Damage reports are incomplete so far, mainly because winegrowers have been busy preparing anti-frost measures."
--- Wine Spectator 4/28/17

Leonardo da Caprio, call your orifice!

I blame Trump. This is all his fault. Someone should cast a spell.

Ares Olympus said...

TW, just keep repeating to yourself "Climate is weather" or "global climate temperatures are measured by local weather" and you can keep your smug denial going at least another decade easy.

And don't look at arctic ice. It's not like anyone lives there, so it doesn't count as part of the earth, or if it does, it only matters because soon we'll be able to expand arctic drilling.
The ice cap grows during the winter months and usually reaches its maximum in early March. But the 2017 maximum was 14.4m sq km, lower than any year in the 38-year satellite record, according to researchers at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) and Nasa.

The extreme low in winter Arctic ice follows a very warm autumn and winter, the NSIDC scientists said, with air temperatures 2.5C above average across the Arctic Ocean. Temperatures have soared even higher in places, creating polar “heatwaves”.

The Arctic ice cap fell to its second lowest summer extent on record in September 2016, just ahead of the lowest ever mark set in 2012. “The long-term decline is a clear indicator of climate change,” said Nasa scientist Walt Meier.
--- By: Jeff Masters , 5:15 PM GMT on February 09, 2017
The temperature at the northernmost land station in the world, Kap Morris Jesup, located on the northern coast of Greenland at 83.65°N latitude, soared to a remarkable 35°F (1.5°C) on Wednesday—beating the previous day’s high of -22°F by a shocking 57°, and marking a temperature more typical of June at this frigid location. The mercury skyrocketed an astonishing 63°F (34.8°C) in just 24 hours, from -29°F at 15 UTC February 7 to 33°F at 15 UTC February 8. As summarized by Jason Samenow of the Capital Weather Gang on February 6, the incredible warmth in the Arctic is due to a massive hurricane-force North Atlantic storm that bottomed out on Monday with a central pressure of 932 mb—a common reading in Category 4 hurricanes, and one of lowest pressures ever measured in a storm in this region.

The warm air in the Arctic this week continues a trend of record to near-record heat seen in the Arctic throughout the winter of 2016 - 2017. The warm air has helped bring about the lowest arctic sea ice extent ever recorded during January, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

In a February 20 interview in the Washington Post, atmospheric physics expert Kent Moore of the University of Toronto noted that these types of anomalous warming events have been recorded since the 1950s, but only occurred once or twice a decade. Record arctic sea ice loss in recent years is allowing these events to occur more frequently. Moore said: “As that sea ice moves northward, there’s a huge reservoir of heat over the north Atlantic. As we lose the sea ice, it allows essentially this reservoir of warmth to move closer to the pole.”

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus said: "TW, just keep repeating to yourself "Climate is weather" or "global climate temperatures are measured by local weather" and you can keep your smug denial going at least another decade easy."

I love the idea that climate isn't weather, yet the Greenies use weather events as evidence of Climate Change, imploring us that we "Must do something!!!" In the next breath, we learn that the proposed remedies won't do much to impact the climate.

Global climate changes are a direct reflection of the amalgam of local weather changes around the globe over time. The Arctic ice cap is lower, while the Antarctic ice cap is higher. Climate is a dynamic system... isn't that what we're told???

Congratulations on mentioning Trump. I'm sure Climate Change is his fault, too.

You call people who disagree with you "deniers." I'm a skeptic. There's a big difference, and I suspect Feynman would side with me for calling the data into question. After all, what do I care what people think.