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Experts and interests

June 13th, 2005

A question that’s often raised in relation to public policy issues involving science is whether conflicts of interest matter. For example, does it matter if scientists who publish reports suggesting that the dangers of smoking are overstated turn out to be funded by tobacco companies? Common sense suggests that it matters, but a lot of commentators, often with a vague recollection of classes in elementary logic, suggest that this is an ad hominem criticism and that the only thing that is relevant is the argument, not who makes it. You can see a defence of this position from Elizabeth Whelan at Spiked here[1] (hat tip, Jennifer Marohasy in the comments to this interesitng Catallaxy post on values and science.

I’ll argue that common sense is right here.

As an illustration, suppose you are considering buying a new car, and you come across an “independent non-profit” site called “Car Buyers Guide”, which gives advice on models A and B. Here are some possible reasons the site might advance for buying A rather than B. Assume that you can confirm that all factual claims made are correct, but you don’t know anything about cars yourself.

1. The fuel required for model B is not available in Australia, so it cannot be driven here, unlike A. Therefore you should choose A

2. We consulted ten leading experts. All recommended A

3. We looked at ten different criteria and A was superior on each of them

If you rely exclusively on syllogistic logic you ought to find argument 1 convincing (with the auxiliary premise that a car that can be driven is always better than one that cannot). On the other had, reason 2 is a standard fallacy: an argument from authority. Reason three is also logically invalid; the fact that A is superior on some grounds does not mean that it is superior on most or all grounds.

In practice, though, syllogistic logic is not very helpful. Very few decisions can be supported by watertight logical arguments like 1. In practice, we ought to find reasons like 2 and 3 pretty convincing. Assuming that the 10 experts are selected at random from a suitable population, the probability that most experts actually favour B is less than 1 in 1000. And if the 10 criteria are selected sensibly, it’s highly unlikely that consideration of omitted criteria will change the balance.

You can either accept this kind of reasoning or become an expert on the subject yourself. Since the latter course is feasible in only a few cases, inevitably you have to rely on the former most of the time.

Now suppose you find that the “Car Buyers Guide” is actually funded by the makers of Model A. Reason 1 is still logically valid and compelling. But reasons 2 and 3 now have very little force. Unless experts unanimously favour B, it shouldn’t be hard to line up 10 who favor A (or even to induce some who are neutral to endorse A). And similarly, it’s nearly always possible to find some criteria on which one option is better.

Exactly the same issues arise in relation to the dangers (or safety) of smoking. The evidence here is statistical, so if you’re looking for logical certainty you won’t find it. And it’s always possible to find some benefits from smoking and some qualified people willing to give a low estimate of risks. But if you rely on the general judgement of independent experts, you’ll reach the conclusion that smoking (direct or passive) is likely to shorten your life and damage your health.

The counterargument, from Whelan and others is that “All scientists have personal ideologies”, and therefore that scientific work should be evaluated on its merits, without regard to source. This sounds appealing until we ask the question “evaluated by whom?” The only people who can usefully do the evaluation are qualified scientists and the only way we can rely on their evaluation is if we believe them to be free of conflicts of interests.

If you accept Whelan’s argument, you end up in a position of complete agnosticism about anything you can’t know from direct experience. She denies this, saying that “If the Tobacco Institute had been funded by the Easter Bunny, its pronouncements would still have been scientifically outrageous, because the controversy had long since ended over whether cigarettes are the primary cause of premature, preventable death ” but, by definition, controversy only ends when one side gives up. (The exposure of the fact that most of the defenders of the safety of smoking were recipients of tobacco money was one of the things that helped induce them to give up.)

As far as the relevant scientific communities are concerned the controversy over evolution has ended and the controversy about climate change has resolved most of the key issues (for example, that warming is taking place and that human activity is a contributor), as has the controversy about the safety of consuming GM foods, but that doesn’t stop people claiming otherwise. And the tobacco lobby only retreated from the glaringly false claim that smoking is harmless to the claim (absurd if you accept that direct smoking causes cancer, but harder to disprove) that passive smoking is harmless. Unless you want to become an expert in biology, geology, climate science, clinical medicine and statisics, among other disciplines, you’ll never be able to resolve these disputes without relying, at some point, on expert judgement.

Obviously, there’s an element of circularity here. We not only have to trust scientists to give us the best advice, but we also have to trust them to tell us who the relevant scientists are. The big argument for accepting this is the undeniable success of the scientific enterprise as a whole, and its demonstrated capacity for correcting error. This can be contrasted with the demonstrated capacity of interest groups to maintain propositions that suit their interests in the face of strong, indeed overwhelming, evidence to the contrary.

fn1. For the fascinating history of Spiked see this Jason Soon post. For Whelan’s own background see Sourcewatch.

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  1. Factory
    June 13th, 2005 at 23:46 | #1

    Hmm.. while an argument from authority is a fallacious argument it is, unfortionately one of the best ways for a third party to determine which side is ‘right’ when one doesn’t have the ability to judge the arguments in an informed manner. One has to rely on judging those making the arguments, and perhaps the manner in which they make those arguments.
    Which is why simply saying that if scientific concensus is with a particular viewpoint, it’s perfectly rational to believe it to be true.

    OTOH if you are actually attempting to engage in one side of a debate, the above just doesn’t apply. If you don’t have quality arguments and good ethics, don’t expect those third parties to take you as an authority.

  2. June 14th, 2005 at 01:20 | #2

    I think you are missing a large part of why this subject has surfaced recently at least in the US. We have seen the phenomenon in the past few years of peoples’ opinions being impugned and summarily dismissed simply because they belong to one party or another. That is to say, “X is a Democrat so how can you believe anything he says that is critical of the Administration?”. Such critiques are made even in cases where the person involved has a good reputation, is knowledgable and the facts cited are not in dispute. The logical end of this type of thinking is that only Republicans can criticize Republicans and only Democrats can criticize Democrats. Perhaps there is some political substance to this since if Republicans control the whole government then criticism only matters if it comes from the republican side, but as a matter of logic and reasonable debate it is silly.

  3. Peter
    June 14th, 2005 at 02:39 | #3

    There has been considerable study of arguments from authority, along with other so-called logical fallacies, in the philosophy of argumentation and informal logic these last 40 years. Among others, the Canadian philosopher, Doug Walton, has sytematically identified the conditions under which it makes sense for a rational person to accept an argument from expert opinion. One condition Walton identifies is that the expert receives no benefit or disbenefit from your endorsement of his/her advice.

    I suggest you read this book of Walton’s:

    “Appeal to Expert Opinion: Arguments from Authority”, University Park, Pa., Penn State Press, 1997.

    Details of Walton’s other books and papers can be found on his web-pages:

    http://io.uwinnipeg.ca/~walton/

    As another philosopher of argumentation, Charles Willard, has argued, the complexity of modern life means that we all have to accept arguments from authority quite regularly in our everyday lives. Most commonly we do this at the GP’s surgery — only rarely do any of us challenge a doctor to justify his/her diagnoses.

  4. abb1
    June 14th, 2005 at 03:10 | #4

    Why not invite experts advocating for all different sides and have them debate the issue in front of you, the layman, instead of looking for that chimerical impartial expert?

  5. Peter
    June 14th, 2005 at 04:35 | #5

    Further to Factory’s statement, it can even be rational to judge the content of an argument on the basis of its form!

    If I have to decide between two courses of medical treatment, and two specialists each present an argument for his/her course, how do I choose between them (without becoming an expert in the medical domain)? Well, I could assess the arguments by how well they are made — if one medical specialist’s argument is clear and logical, and other’s rambling and confused, I may reasonably infer that the first knows more about his/her subject than the second and is better prepared to administer the treatment. (This example is due to William Rehg.)

  6. June 14th, 2005 at 09:42 | #6

    abb1, the trouble is that if you’re not familiar with the field, you’re simply not in a position to judge the evidence that those experts present.

    Secondly, we often expect scientists to express opinions on subjects on which the evidence is inconclusive. If both sides are making “gut calls”, how are you supposed to conduct your debate?

  7. SimonJM
    June 14th, 2005 at 10:31 | #7

    JQ I asked Gary Curtis over http://www.fallacyfiles.org/aboutgnc.html about the ad hominem criticism in relation to creation science advocates and extreme gobal warming sceptics and he said that their idealogical postions/connections are relavent and do not constitute an ad hominem attack.

    I’ve raised the issue of confirmation bias and the file draw problem with you before and I think that on complex issue such as these while it isn’t perfect the best bet is to go with the expert mainstream scientific view, unless there can be shown clear evidence of bias or conflict of interest. Not the BS by GW sceptics saying environmental scientists are closet greenie’s or only after grant money.

    I think a lay person has little choice but to go this way but quality science journalism does help.

    OTOH social/institutional bias has happened in the past, Victorian sexuality and race eugenics in the 1920′s contaminated their findings but to me it would more likely in the soft social sciences that would be more prone to cultural bias.

  8. conrad
    June 14th, 2005 at 10:48 | #8

    One problem about choosing experts and knowing who they are from a practical point of view is that a lot of the big money science is only ever going to predominantely funded by one source, often with vested interests, and there may simply not be other experts to consult (or experts that care about informing the general public, for that matter). Alternatively, there might be two equally as biased sources. This might not be true for issues like global warming and major public health problems, but it is must be for heaps of other areas.

  9. June 14th, 2005 at 11:47 | #9

    A problem arises because often the people that know most about a topic actually are paid to study the problem by an interested party. This happens often in environmental issues. Thus, should we discard these opinions because they are tainted by receiving a salary from interested parties. Should we assume that these researchers do not have a conscience?

    Who is actually independent? If I work for a university, get an ARC grant and have an axe to grind, am I independent? I think that we need to take all opinions with a pinch of salt, but I would not discard opinions a priori because of who is employing a researcher.

  10. June 14th, 2005 at 13:29 | #10

    Pr Q seems to be saying that the punter should trust the consensus of expert opinion when it is preponderant on one side of the issue and there are no obvious conflicts of set up by prior committments to partisan or commercial interests. This is only common sense.

    However, it sometimes happens that the “Expert Consensus” (EC) is confused with the “Conventional Wisdom” CW which, roughly speaking, is the fashionable thinking of non-expert opinion makers and shapers. The CW is driven by herd instinct, often following the path of least resistance. So the skeptic still has a role to play by confronting the CW with the EC.

    You can tell a good scientists by his willingness to back their theory with a real world test. Any scientist worth his salt will try to make a strong case for, and defend his theory against all-comers. But he will also nominate in advance of critical tests key facts which would refute it. That procedure stops disingenuous proponents from engaging in post-facto wiggling of the assumptions so that they clear any awkward facts. And the very good .scientist will admit he is wrong when the facts fall the other way.

    Of course there are problems with Popper’s view about falsificationism, especially when falsifying facts may be falsely reported or irrelevant (when bad things happen to good theories).

    So what evidence would Pr Q accept as refutational of the Global Warming thesis? Just curious.

  11. Paul
    June 14th, 2005 at 16:35 | #11

    While I think an expert’s source of funding is a perfectly valid point of consideration in assigning weight to their claims, the mere existence of a monetary connection, as opposed to direct influence, ought not to be treated as sufficient grounds for rejecting someone’s conclusions.
    In general, source of funding should be one factor, together with level of expertise, quality of the verifiable claims made, the opinions of other experts etc, in deciding whether to believe a given piece of evidence. Too often a person’s associations are treated as an easy way of dismissing their views without having to assess them substantively. Given that almost anyone on the “other” side of a debate will have associations, financial or otherwise, with a wider community which shares their general opinion, this approach will tend to improverish public discourse.

    I offer, with some trepidation, a personal example:
    A close family member is an academic in psychology who was offered a grant (through the university) by a tabacco company to conduct research into the effects of nicotine in reduce altzheimers (in short – earlier research shows it does, but it is rather outweighed by the negative effects of smoking on blood flow to the brain). This was a one-off, arms length relationship, where only the parameters of the questions to be researched were dictated by the company, and I gather these were otherwise unexceptionable. Now, one can argue that there was some incentive to produce results with which the company would be happy so as to secure further grants, but any such funding would have flowed to the university and would only have benefited the researcher in terms of career opportunity.
    As it happened, the idea of taking tabacco company money for a project intended to demonstrate a positive effect of smoking was too contraversial for the university and the whole project was cancelled. It’s hard not to see this as a negative effect of the whole “expert tainted by industry money” phenomenon.

  12. abb1
    June 14th, 2005 at 17:40 | #12

    Robert, I think any real expert should be able to debate big issues (like global warming) on a level layman can understand. Usually you don’t need to know specifics, and if there are experts whose methods that are unsound or controversial, their opponents will certainly point it out.

    If a conclusion is based on intuition, then, again, I think I’d like it to be challenged by the opponents rather than accepted as a fact; this seems to be one of the reason why ‘appeal to authority’ is considered a dubious way of reasoning.

  13. June 14th, 2005 at 20:11 | #13

    There was a line of reasoning in the ’40s and ’50s which went something like this:-

    - Nazi research in the ’30s showed that tobacco was bad for you.

    - Nazis disapproved of smoking.

    - Therefore it is your patriotic duty to smoke and any arguments against are mere Nazi propaganda.

    Anti-smoking research results only became publicly acceptable in the ’60s.

  14. abb1
    June 14th, 2005 at 20:32 | #14

    There’s also a saying by Studs Terkel from the 1950s: “Suppose communists come out against cancer. Do we have to come out for cancer?”

  15. jquiggin
    June 14th, 2005 at 22:45 | #15

    “So what evidence would Pr Q accept as refutational of the Global Warming thesis? Just curious.”

    Most obviously, a sustained fall in global temperatures. In fact, responding to some predictions of the late John Daly back in 2003, I made the following prediction

    I predict that the average global temperature for 2006, as measured by NOAA, will be above the average for 1971-2000 (the baseline in the chart above) and I promise a retraction if this prediction is not correct.

    I’m sticking to the prediction and promise, though I should really qualify this to exclude major volcanic eruptions and the like.

  16. June 14th, 2005 at 23:25 | #16

    jquiggin Says: June 14th, 2005 at 10:45 pm

    Most obviously, a sustained fall in global temperatures….though I should really qualify this to exclude major volcanic eruptions and the like

    That sounds right to me. Although global temperatures could continue to rise owing to therming from non-anthropogenic sources, such as those air-warming submarine volcanoes that Christopher Pearson has been warning anyone who can be bothered to listen. I think Chris should stick to orthdox preaching.

    In general anyone who is prepared to pontificate in public about matters of fact should be prepared to stick his neck out and offer a prediction on the direction of change, with some idea of magnitude and time frame. Too often ideological disputes drag on because no-one bothers to benchmark success or failure.

  17. S Brid
    June 15th, 2005 at 15:07 | #17

    John Q
    So, not only are you a politcal/economist of the “Social democrat” stripe, you are also a climatalogist expert now offering an expert opinion on average world temp for 2006?
    No different from the esteemed Tim Lambert, Computer geek turned world climate guru in only three easy lessons.

    John:
    I will bet you A$5,000 to $4,000 that your prediction is wrong. If I am wrong I’ll send you 5k. You are wrong I get 4k. I stacked the odds a little in your favour to induce to take the bet.
    Outside the bet, if you are wrong will you also promise to refute any connection with global warming? Of course, this is not a condition of the bet
    but would like to see what it would take for you to get off that soap box.

  18. Ian Gould
    June 15th, 2005 at 15:39 | #18

    S., so what exactly are YOUR qualifications in this (or any other) area?

  19. S Brid
    June 15th, 2005 at 15:55 | #19

    Ian, About equal to John’s. I have a Commerce degree. As a professor he obviously spent more time on the books than I did in the same area. Between hard and soft sciences I chose the easy route due to laziness.

    That of course doesn’t make me an expert on global climate unlike some people. The bet is more topdo with the fact that I want to see people who have no business pontificating on an extremely difficult area of the hard sciences get out of the way and leave the people do their work without political pressure.
    Every time a climate expert speaks up these days not on the side of conventional opinion (mainly held in the MSM newsrooms and soft science academia) they are scorned and treated like lepers.

    I’m not telling Kohn he shouldn’t believe what he wants. It’s a free country after all. I would like to see him put his mullah where his keyboard is and take the bet, after all he made the prediction. I may lose the best, but it is worth taking for the obvious reason.

  20. what the
    June 15th, 2005 at 16:04 | #20

    Here’s a blogged example of both “experts” and “conflicts of interest” rolled into one..

    Tuesday, June 14, 2005
    The Vatican is behind 9/11!
    http://egyptiansandmonkey.blogspot.com/ OR
    http://memri.org/bin/latestnews.cgi?ID=SD92005

    This is the transcript of an interview on the saudi islamic channel Iqra TV with Egyptian historian Professor Zaynab Abd Al-Aziz , where she stated that the Vatican’s Mission of Destroying Islam was Delegated to the U.S. – which Carried Out 9/11 on Assignment by the World Council of Churches. What this woman says in that interview is just beyoned Parody!

    Abd Al-Aziz: “The decision to impose one religion over the entire world was made in the Second Vatican Council in 1965.”

    Host: “Huh?”

    Abd Al-Aziz: “Yes. A long time ago.”

    Host: “They decided to Christianize the world?”

    Abd Al-Aziz: “Yes. The decisions of the 1965 Vatican Council included, first of all, absolving the Jews of the blood of Christ. This decision is well known and was the basis for the recognition of the occupying Zionist entity – Israel. The second decision was to eradicate the left in the eighties. I believe we’ve all witnessed this. The third decision was to eradicate Islam, so that the world would be Christianized by the third millennium.”

    Etc. Etc. The considered ravings of an expert nutty professor.

  21. S Brid
    June 15th, 2005 at 16:36 | #21

    I’m staying out of this one, otherwise I’ll be spending far too much in front of the mirror.

  22. abb1
    June 15th, 2005 at 18:20 | #22

    You don’t have to go to Egypt to find a nut. See this, for example:
    Syria and the New Axis of Evil by Charles Krauthammer. Exactly the same kinda crap. Published twice a week in Washington Post.

  23. jquiggin
    June 15th, 2005 at 19:01 | #23

    One of my blogging rules is never to bet with sock puppets. However, James Annan appears to be willing to take your money

  24. S Brid
    June 15th, 2005 at 19:20 | #24

    Well actually I was hoping to take yours John. In fact lets move the odds
    5:3. Annan’s bet is not the same. He want’s a 20 year bet and I don’t the like odds one of us being dead in 20 years. Annan is calling the other person a chicken for not taking a 20 year bet (which is really a non-bet) and is calling the other guy a coward for not taking it. 2006 would be fine with me.

  25. June 16th, 2005 at 01:04 | #25

    Isn’t there a Tontine/survivor bias element to this? After all, if S.Brid loses big, the whole human race will be wiped out and him with it, so he won’t be around to pay – and neither will any winners.

  26. S Brid
    June 16th, 2005 at 01:57 | #26

    PM
    Not even Al Gore thinks we are going to croak it from heat exhaustion in 2006! There will still be time to spend it.

    This is the silliest bet I have laid in my life as the payout ratio in terms of John’s bet is huge. Attach 95% probability to John being right as John seems to imply. Then do the numbers
    5000*95%=4750
    4000*5%=200

    John probabilty adjusted bet is $4750 to $200. If anyone ever offered me those odds on my assumed proababilities I would bet wifey’s pancreas and I really care for her.

  27. S Brid
    June 16th, 2005 at 01:58 | #27

    please read:
    Even Al gore thinks we are NOT

  28. June 16th, 2005 at 16:16 | #28

    Yes Brid, it’s a very silly bet for you to make. So silly that you are obviously trolling. If you are prepared to provide your real name, address, and a phone number where I can contact you, I’ll be glad to take your money.

  29. S Brid
    June 16th, 2005 at 17:12 | #29

    Tim
    1. Publish the deal on your site
    2. all the conditions agreed as per JQ’s prediction.
    3 One added condition for you. If I win you agree never to talk or publish anything on this subject again.
    4 I will contact you as I don’t want number etc. to go on site, no private details ever the be published such as address phone number etc.
    5 I expect payment on 31 December 2006

    Agreed?

  30. Ed Snack
    June 16th, 2005 at 17:46 | #30

    Actually I like the idea of slighting the opinions of people based on their financial interests. Virually every single scientist claiming that Global Warming is real can be totally disregarded as a result because they all stand to gain finacially from their continued employment as a result of their advocacy. Same for Greenpiece, FOE, etc etc. Trouble is, none of you pro AGW shills actually sees it like that, you have this monstrous conceit that they (and you) are “disinterested”. Ho ho ho, and Santa Claus is real, right.

    I’d take the bet John too, NOAA are unlikely to produce results showing a reduction in temperature as they almost entirely ignore UHI in their observations. So they can readily produce results showing an increase regardless of whether the temperature is actually increasing or not.

  31. Ian Gould
    June 16th, 2005 at 18:08 | #31

    >

    The total spending on global warming research globally is miniscule compared with, say, the amount spent on developing new flavors of dog food.

    If you think ANYONE goes into a career in science primarily to make money you’ve obviously never looked at the average academic’s salary.

  32. S Brid
    June 16th, 2005 at 18:27 | #32

    You know Ed clued me up on this bet. A good gambler cuts his losses ahead of time. As the NOAA is suspect I’m off he deal. However I would be quite prepared to look at it from a UHI perspective.

    Ed, Ian
    there is also something else for more important to academics than money. It’s status among themselves and the outside world. This counts for a lot.

    John, you should hit the bid when you had time.

  33. SimonJM
    June 16th, 2005 at 21:11 | #33

    yes Ed the don’t forget the IPCC are all closet greenies and anti-capitalists like all the other scientists that say humans are having an adverse impact on the environment.

    Hmmm we should dismiss the work of any scientist who gets funding in universities or science academies but not those on the energy sectors payroll as they just happen to be the only honest ones, just like those tobacco scientists.

    Correct me if i’m wrong but most if not all the IPCC scientists would still have jobs somewhere regardless of whether they were looking at GW or not? The idea that scientists would have to falsify their reseach -& BTW get it past peer review- to keep themselves in a job is just a joke.

    It’s all just one huge conspiracy by greenie and anti-capitalists scientists to scam the world for funding.

    Just ask Jennifer M and Lomborg the world is just fine.

  34. jquiggin
    June 17th, 2005 at 09:26 | #34

    Over at his blog, I see that Tim Blair has challenged me to take up the bet discussed above. He requires some painful registration process, so I can’t be bothered replying there, but my objections to bets with pseudonymous parties don’t apply to Tim B. If he’s willing to bet on the stated terms, I’ll be happy to take him on. I imagine Tim Lambert will be up for a side bet as well.

  35. June 17th, 2005 at 10:13 | #35

    I knew you would find an excuse to back out, Brid. If you don’t trust the surface record, then you can make a bet on the satellite record. According to the global warming skeptic crowd that doesn’t show any significant trend, so it’s a 50-50 bet right? But I’ll give you 5-4 on 2006 being warmer than the average from 1979 to 2000. But you’ll have to reveal you real name or come up with some way of guaranteeing that you will pay up if you lose.

  36. what the
    June 17th, 2005 at 10:35 | #36

    Oh abb1 you are soo right of course, nuts and experts everywhere…what a jolly old world.

    http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/050520/ids_photos_wl/r3622176513.jpg

  37. Karl
    June 17th, 2005 at 16:24 | #37

    A survey of 3,247 scientists that received National Institutes of Health funding showed that 15.5 percent admitted to “changing the design, methodology or results of a study in response to pressure from a funding source.”

    In January, a federal hurricane research scientist resigned from a PPCC climate assessment team, saying the group’s leader had politicized the process.

    Richard Lindzen, lead author of Chapter 7 of the IPCCThird Annual Report has noted the way in which the IPCC Summary for Policy Makers is massaged to overstate the case for anthropogenic global warming.

    There’s a long history of this sort of thing.

    The notion that government-funded scientists are ethically pure — particularly on this subject — should not be taken as a given.

  38. S Brid
    June 17th, 2005 at 17:12 | #38

    Tim;
    Compose yourself. You are scaring me with all this need to know my personal details stuff. Really, you are! I am not going to give you my personal details and it is scary to be asked.

    Let me apologize to John as he ought to be allowed to offer opinions (although I think they are grossly inaccurate on this issue) as it his blog and my behaviour in trying to force a bet was silly. However, it wasn’t silly of you, but rather a little disingenuous. Why? Because the period you are taking as the reference point (1971 to 2000) is as we all know affected by the 1970′s /early 80′s cold blast. Recall, during the 70′s it wasn’t global warming we were worried about; it was the coming ice age. I vividly recall Time Mag running a special on it on how we were going to cope with freezing temps in the tropics! Now, it seems it is the tropics moving the poles. Go figure! However I am an old geezer, so all this is fresh in my memory. This is one of the reasons why I am sceptical.

    Next about the bet.
    This is what I would like to do. Let us pick the Sat system as you suggest and I will take your word for it that it is much less uncorrupted by game playing as they do at the NOAA (?). That fair?

    However it is not fair that we take the average of that cycle when it was clearly influenced by the cold spot I referred to above. Of course temps after that period will be in the normal range and so all things being equal the temp in 2006 will be higherthan the chosen period. I think, and any reasonable person would also, think that fair, right?
    However I shouldn’t get away with hiding behind my stupidity, as I should have researched this a little more. Neither should you get away with being disingenuous about this issue as we are both numbers men and clearly understand what the cold spell did to average temps during the period in question.
    I therefore propose we pick the approximate middle point between 1971 and 2006, say 1990 as the reference year and compare that year’s temp to 2006 using the sat number. However, I think neither of us should profit from a silly bet. I deserve to lose either way because of putting John in a spot, as no one deserves rough play. Maybe John wasn’t aware of the cold spell influence during this period the way you seemed. Therefore I will donate $5,000 to the ALS society in Australia, They truly deserve the money. A very close intimate suffers from this horror of a disease therefore I have seen at first hand what it does to sufferers. Because it is relatively rare, compared to say cancer etc, the general public is unaware about the horror of this illness. Now If I win the bet I would expect you to make a donation to this charity. Conversely if I lose it is only me who will pay the ALS charity. Win or lose I will fork up the 5g

    I will send you a copy of the charity chit. Either way I consider myself a winner in this deal. If you lose I expect you to make a donation to the same charity on December 31 2006 and send the chit to my solicitor.
    So the ALS either gets $10,000 or $5,000 on December 31 2006.

    Does this work for you?

  39. S Brid
    June 17th, 2005 at 17:32 | #39

    Sorry my mistake.
    misread year. It should 1979 not 1971. Therefore the middle should be 1996. 1979 was the year they started sat temp calculation.

  40. Andrew Reynolds
    June 17th, 2005 at 19:02 | #40

    Karl,
    All scientists are only human – most if not all of us can be tempted by dollars. In the case of government scientists they can be tempted by funding – the more shrill the noises they make the more likely the next funding round will have a budget increase.
    I am not saying they will deliberately fudge their results – but they may see the results they way they want to. We can all be guilty of that at times. This is why all findings, both in science and out of it should be viewed with scepticism.

  41. gordon
    June 17th, 2005 at 19:06 | #41

    There are two points here:
    First – most of us make personal best bet decisions based on a mixture of fact, credible authority, logic and personal judgement, which is in turn based on our experience of the world. For example, I never believed that the USA was invading Iraq because of terrorist connections or WMD. Did I know definitely that there were no WMD in Iraq or that the terrorist connection was tenuous or non-existent? No, of course not. It was to me the most likely scenario. I was right (and according to his post “Conned!” of 14/6/05 Prof. Quiggin was wrong). The trouble with these personal best bet judgements is that they are not persuasive, ie. can’t be used to persuade others unless the others have had closely similar experiences and values. This is a problem, but for a person trying to make decisions it is an inevitable one. The issue of persuasion seems to be a separate issue from that of coming to a personal conclusion.
    Second, to hear economists arguing about the personal prejudices of natural scientists is hilarious. Far more economists make their livings as PR artists for their employers than natural scientists do. That is a personal best bet, based on everything I know about economists and natural scientists!

  42. Ian Gould
    June 17th, 2005 at 19:48 | #42

    >

    Why stop there – universities are known hotbeds of elitism and anti-capitalist ideology, we shoudl obviously ignore the claism of anyone who’s been contaminated by a multi-year association with such a body.

    what we need is a faith-based initiative whereby scientific knowledge is derived from textual exgesis.

  43. abb1
    June 17th, 2005 at 20:52 | #43

    Gordon, the reason of the US invading Iraq is not exactly a scientific issue, something like ‘global warming’ is. Out of serveral models – ‘no global warming whatsoever exists’, ‘global warming does exist, but largely unaffected by human activities’, ‘global warming that is largely a result of human activities’, etc. – there must be one that’s closer to objective reality than the others, correct? That’s ‘objective reality’ that’s independent from your personal experiences and values; objective reality does exist, correct?

  44. gordon
    June 18th, 2005 at 13:54 | #44

    Sure it does, abb 1. Finding out what it is is sometimes difficult. Predicting what it will be in the future is even harder, if you want a totally watertight demonstration.

    It’s like the difference between “beyond reasonable doubt” and “balance of probabilities”. We daily do a lot of things based on our personal balance of probabilities – type judgements; what I referred to as “personal best bets”. Some of us are more painstaking about finding out facts and exploring arguments beforehand than others; some don’t have the time. Discussion is informative and necessary. But offering a balance of probability judgement to somebody who wants a beyond reasonable doubt proof appears to be pointless and sterile.

    Perhaps we should spend some time being clear about what sort of judgement or proof we are interested in and what we will accept before we get into silly bets, because that seems to be the real sticking point.

    “Balance of probability people this way please; beyond reasonable doubt people go down the hall, first door on the right!”

  45. SimonJM
    June 18th, 2005 at 18:37 | #45

    Ian G you will have to do better than an ad hominem overgenalization on universities across all discplines. Soft vs hard, some disciplines, all ?????

    Just as from some of the left characterizing the behaviour of all corporations as pathological psychopaths. What proportion, what sectors, what countries?

    Nor should we expect science to be some perfect human endeavour where there is no politics or that all a scientists are above dishonesty.

    I don’t think the work of scientists should be taken on faith but these throw away claims like anti-capitalists are not only unsubstantiated, but throw the baby out with the bath water. It would be hard to believe in any progress in the natural sciences if it was as biased as the environmental sceptics would have up believe.

    That is why there is peer review, multiple journals to publish in , why experiments are repeated and data checked.

    >what we need is a faith-based initiative whereby scientific knowledge is derived from textual exgesis.

    What by theologians reading the Bible? (humor) But since thay earn a salary aren’t they suspect as well?

  46. Ian Gould
    June 18th, 2005 at 18:41 | #46

    Simon, my sarcasm is normally think enough to cut with a knife.

  47. abb1
    June 19th, 2005 at 02:02 | #47

    Just as from some of the left characterizing the behaviour of all corporations as pathological psychopaths.

    But all corporations are pathological psychopaths. A corporation is an entity that has most of the rights of a natural person. This fake person has only one purpose in life: to increase shareholders value. If this is not a profile of a pathological psychopath, what is it?

  48. June 19th, 2005 at 10:42 | #48

    Brid, according to the terms of your “bet”, you donate $5000 to charity regadless of the outcome,so you aren’t betting at all. On my side, if I win I get nothing, if I lose I lose $5000. That isn’t even odss or 5:4 or 5:3 it’s infinity to one. You’re not serious, just as I thought.

  49. SimonjM
    June 19th, 2005 at 11:38 | #49

    Ian sorry coming up against RWDB, Christian Fundies and exteme anti-environmentalists has deadened me to sacasm. I’ve argued with a Fundie who saw nothing wrong Biblical slavery, see RWDB’s who preach freedom and democracy but won’t condemn the inept f%$kup which is Iraq, and GW sceptics in extreme denial even when the worlds most prestigious science academies say there is no longer any doubt and it looks now even Bush is acknowledging the seriousness of GW, but looking for technological fixes. Listening to the rants by Piers Ackerman is enough by iteself.

    abb1 once had a socialist come up to me at uni and quiry why if i had progressive views i didn’t condemn capitalism; but i don’t see capitalism or corporations as the problem but the values and honesty of the people who run and profit from them.

    There are those pushing the Triple Bottom Line accounting and similar proposals for corporations, ethics in business groups and funds, and business models like Natural Capitalism who envision win/win for business and the environment. If people like Jennifer M the AEF and others were honest and acted ethically -accepted a scienced based environmentalism- and didn’t try to whitewash the abuses of business we could still use the corporation a thing for good and not evil.

  50. Ian Gould
    June 19th, 2005 at 13:08 | #50

    Sadly, these days some on the Right have reached a point where its almost impossible to parody them.

    On another forum I “agreed” with a poster complaining about the extention of Federal power in the US by suggesting that the Government shoudl return to its traditional role – such as killing Indians; enforcing the property rights of slave owners and flogging adulterers and sodomites.

    He agreed with me.

  51. S Brid
    June 19th, 2005 at 17:14 | #51

    Tim

    This is what you offered above:

    “But I’ll give you 5-4 on 2006″

    I offered you 5:5. There are better odds that you offered me! And you teach kids?
    The 5K donation is contingent on our bet. It’s not exclusive. However I will not let you slip away from this.
    Let’s go 5:4 or 5:3 which ever you think is fair (judging from the exchange above I won’t be surprised with your choice), seeing you keep moving the odds against yourself and for yourself (Confused is more like it).

    I part with $5,000 if I lose.
    You part with either $3,000 or $4,000 if I win (let me guess which one you pick or is this the wild card?. So we measure the same month in 2006 as in 1996.
    Proceeds for both parties go to the ALS.

    Edited to remove lengthy and irrelevant side disputes. These can be taken up at Tim Lambert’s blog if desired (JQ)

  52. Simonjm
    June 19th, 2005 at 23:17 | #52

    Have a look Morgo K’s blog for on Creation or evolution debate at http://webdiary.smh.com.au/index.html

    Just shows Ph D’s and Hon’s in science and intelligence are any guard against extreme confirmation bias and denial.

  53. abb1
    June 20th, 2005 at 01:07 | #53

    test

  54. June 20th, 2005 at 01:32 | #54

    Brid, here is how “betting” works: If you win, I pay you money. You can do whatever you like with that money, including donating it to the charity of your choice. If I win, you pay me money. I can do whatever I want with that money, including donating it to the charity of my choice.

    If you’re up for a genuine bet, fine. But it seems to me that you just wasting my time.

  55. June 20th, 2005 at 03:59 | #55

    The bet would appear to be “if I win, you donate to charity, if you win I will donate to charity”… with the added point by Brid of “actually, even if I win, I’ll still donate to charity”.

    The bet might not be your cup of tea… but it seems like a genuine bet.

    And donations to the Australian Libertarian Society (ALS) can be sent to… :)

  56. S Brid
    June 20th, 2005 at 10:38 | #56

    John :
    ALS is a disease. A pretty bad.

    Tim
    That’s the deal. Neither you or I get the money. It wasn’t your deal in the first place. What’s wrong, you would rather get the money than the charity.
    And please don’t try to explain betting when it seems you are confused with odds.

  57. S Brid
    June 20th, 2005 at 16:11 | #57

    Tim;

    Let’s do this despite your confusion

    1. So far you offered 5:4 but wouldn’t accept accept 5:5! Ok let’s let this go.
    2. I offered to donate 5k along my winnings or loss but you felt that gave me unlimited odds??? I therefore accepted your your point that that if I gave away my money it would affect your odds. That’s a new one on me so ok let’s let this go as well.
    3. lastly you want to be able to donate the money to whichever charity you want. Ok then I will agree with that providing that it is for a needy cause. Ok let’s let this go as well as you obviously don’t think ALS is a needy cause (John H, it’s Lou Gerhig disease)

    So I have finally narrowed everything down to getting this bet going, right?
    Assuming you no longer have any issues. The bet is 2006 vs 1996 sat temp. We clear the bet on Dec 31 2006 , or there abouts.
    I will send you a copy of my charity chit. You do the same as I will send you a copy of my solicitors dets. for where you send your charity chit.

    Agreed? Finally, or am I still not serious?

    shall do 5:4 my favour as you orginally suggested, 5:5, 5:4 your favor or 5:3 to cheapen it up for you?

    Let me know any of those odds are ok with me. Hoping its all ok with you finally.

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