Home > Science > The Republican War on Science: Tierney and Bethell

The Republican War on Science: Tierney and Bethell

March 6th, 2008

One of the big problems with talking about what Chris Mooney has called The Republican War on Science is that, on the Republican side, the case against science is rarely laid out explicitly. On a whole range of issues (evolution, passive smoking, climate change, the breast-cancer abortion link, CFCs and the ozone layer and so on) Republicans attack scientists, reject the conclusions of mainstream science and promote political talking points over peer-reviewed research. But they rarely present a coherent critique that would explain why, on so many different issues, they feel its appropriate to rely on their own politically-based judgements and reject those of mainstream science. And of course many of them are unwilling to admit that they are at war with science, preferring to set up their own alternative set of scientific institutions and experts, journals and so on.

So it’s good to see a clear statement of the Republican critique of science from John Tierney in this NY Times blog piece promoting global warming “skepticism”. The core quote is

climate is so complicated, and cuts across so many scientific disciplines, that it’s impossible to know which discrepancies or which variables are really important.
Considering how many false alarms have been raised previously by scientists (the “population crisis,� the “energy crisis,� the “cancer epidemic� from synthetic chemicals), I wouldn’t be surprised if the predictions of global warming turn out to be wrong or greatly exaggerated. Scientists are prone to herd thinking — informational cascades– and this danger is particularly acute when they have to rely on so many people outside their field to assess a topic as large as climate change.

Both this quote and the rest of Tierney’s article are notable for the way in which he treats science as inseparable from politics, and makes no distinction between scientific research and the kind of newspaper polemic he produces. Like most Republicans, Tierney takes a triumphalist view of the experience of the last thirty years or so, as showing that he and other Republicans have been proved right, and their opponents, including scientists, have been proved wrong. Hence, he argues, he is entitled to prefer his own political judgements to the judgements (inevitably equally political) of scientists.

Of course, there’s nothing new about the general viewpoint, that science is just another type of ideological system. It was until recently, widely held on the left. But it’s now far more common among Republicans, where it is now the dominant fiewpoint. Some of its surviving leftwing adherents, such as Steve Fuller, have taken the logical step and joined the Republicans, notably in the Dover case on the teaching of Intelligent Design.

I’ll point out some of the more obvious problems with Tierney’s analysis. Of the three issues he mentions, only one (the “cancer epidemic”) involves a debate in which scientific issues were central. And most proponents of a “cancer epidemic” are non-scientists who see themselves in much the same light as the global warming skeptics Tierney is promoting. The most prominent single advocate of the “cancer epidemic” story is Samuel Epstein, who describes himself as the leading critic of the “cancer establishment” consisting of the American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute and mainstream scientific journals such as Science (also a favorite target of GW conspiracy theorists).

It’s clear that the notion of a “cancer epidemic” has never been supported by mainstream science. But, if you accept Tierney’s politicised view of science, it makes sense to lump ACS and NCI together with critics like Epstein. The scientific evidence produced by the cancer establishment has supported lots of restrictions on smoking, air pollution, the use of synthetic chemicals and so on, all of which are opposed by Republicans. In political terms, the more extreme position represented by Epstein helps the establishment defend themselves against rightwing critics.

Also noteworthy is the idea that when faced with a complex problem, the best thing to do is to fall back on your own prejudices, rather than, say, attempt a comprehensive investigation of all aspects of the problem.

Apart from Tierney, about the most comprehensive exposition of the Republican critique of science is Tom Bethell’s Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, part of the Regnery series of the same name. Here’s a summary of his position, arguing that scientists operating through journals like Science manufacture spurious problems to get research funding and that scientific research is fatally flawed because of its commitment to materialism.

Bethell has impeccable qualifications as a leading Republican commentator on science (gigs at the Hoover Institute and American Spectator, ) But I think some Republicans find he is a bit too thorough in his rejection of science, going beyond the standard topics (evolution, global warming, stem cell research) to reject relativity and embrace AIDS reappraisal.

The problem here is that Republicans are torn between a war on science and a war over science. What they would like is a scientific process that produced all the technological goodies of which they are enamoured, but could be constrained to the reliable message discipline expected of all parts of the Republican machine. Some of the time this leads them to engage in debate over particular scientific issues with a rather cargo-cultish attempt to mimic the trappings of scientific methods. At other times, they attack science more directly. But Bethell’s overt rejection of science, and embrace of obviously cranky ideas, gives the game away a bit too much.

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  1. Peter Wood
    March 6th, 2008 at 09:18 | #1

    Good piece. I have always found “global warming is a vast conspiracy to get more research funding” to be one of the more amusing parts of delusionism about climate change.

  2. derrida derider
    March 6th, 2008 at 10:22 | #2

    I’ve always thought the Republican war on science is one of the things that will hasten the end of the American empire, just as mysticism over blood and soil radically hastened the end of the thousand-year Reich. Irrationality on this scale is not cost-free.

    Having your population brought up to believe in creationism means you are eventually going to be terribly uncompetitive in biotech (that’s actually already happening, BTW). Taking the Canute approach to global warming (“The sea will not rise, I tell you …”) means you are going to be paying larger adjustment costs than anyone else when the sea eventually does indeed rise (though of course these people will undoubtedly blame the sea rise on “secularist left-wing academic scientists who have offended God”).

  3. mugwump
    March 6th, 2008 at 10:37 | #3

    Lame piece.

    Republicans come in all stripes. Yes, there are extreme evangelical Christian Republicans who believe in all manner of nutty things (as do most religious people, including environmentalists). Where science contradicts their faith they like to attack the science.

    But is that all Republicans? Not even close. Thus negating the entire premise of this foolish scree.

    Why is Australia blessed with such poor academics?

  4. Joseph Clark
    March 6th, 2008 at 11:24 | #4

    Anything on the “population crisis” John?

  5. jimbirch
    March 6th, 2008 at 11:33 | #5

    Is that a substantive position? :-)

  6. March 6th, 2008 at 12:33 | #6

    For all your ideas on evolution, climate change, the media, and for the 20 million people not invited to the Australia 2020 Summit, the online community created a wiki so people across Australia could post, discuss, and vote on the best ideas for the country. It’s totally a grassroots effort. It’s free, can be anonymous, and isn’t being sponsored by any political party, business, union, or special interests. It’s just people who want to encourage an online national brainstorming session.

    The site is at http://ozideas.wetpaint.com. There are pages for over 20 different issues (including science) and even an online petition to get the best ideas heard at the actual Summit.

    The more people know about it, the more ideas are submitted, and the better the discussion. It’s a great way for everyone to participate in the summit.

    Jim
    Wiki Creator

  7. O6
    March 6th, 2008 at 12:50 | #7

    There may not be a ‘cancer epidemic’, whatever that means, but there seems to be an obesity epidemic. If the link between obesity and cancer is correct (see e.g. http://www.cancervic.org.au/preventing-cancer/weight/obesity_prevention_camp/obesity_faqs/ ), then we’ll get a cancer epidemic in the future.

  8. jquiggin
    March 6th, 2008 at 13:01 | #8

    For those who haven’t been following, mugwump is this blog’s leading climate change delusionist. He’s exactly the type of person he describes (rejecting science whenever it doesn’t suit his political beliefs), but, as a recent arrival to the US, he hasn’t yet signed on to the full Republican package, and, in particular, creationism. But contrary to mugwump’s suggestion, creationism is not a minority view among Republicans. 68 per cent reject evolution. That’s rather more than the proportion who embrace climate science delusionism – only 11 per cent of Americans, and around 18 per cent of Republicans, reject AGW outright, though the proportion is much higher among Republican activists and politicians.

  9. Smiley
    March 6th, 2008 at 13:39 | #9

    (as do most religious people, including environmentalists)

    Nice slight of hand… lumping environmentalists with “religious people”.

  10. snuh
    March 6th, 2008 at 14:09 | #10

    the thing i liked about mugwump’s comment was this:

    But is that all Republicans? Not even close. Thus negating the entire premise of this foolish scree.

    mugwump apparently believes that one cannot validly generalise about something if there are minor but not completely insignificant counter-examples to the generalisation. by this logic, you could for example demonstrate that the left does not oppose the iraq war, because not withstanding the general left-wing opposition, nick cohen and his “decent left” cohort are enthusiastic supporters.

  11. gandhi
    March 6th, 2008 at 14:53 | #11

    Both this quote and the rest of Tierney’s article are notable for the way in which he treats science as inseparable from politics, and makes no distinction between scientific research and the kind of newspaper polemic he produces.

    Yes, it’s interesting to compare such supposedly “scientific” attitudes with the blinkered political views espoused by rightwing US media “experts” such as the Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt. As Glenn Greenwald puts it:

    “It’s nothing more than a framework of simplistic, adolescent self-absorption: “Anyone who likes me and does what I say is good and just and has the right to use force. Anyone who doesn’t like me and resists what I say is a Terrorist that is always in the wrong.” It’s really never any more complicated than that.”

    Substitute “Terrorist” for “Fool” or even “Communist” and it’s very much the same mindset across the board. Derrida Derider’s comment about “mysticism over blood and soil” is spot on.

    What’s ironic (in a sad kind of way) is how this anti-Science is regularly clothed in religious fervour. To deny Creationism is to deny God!

    But if “God” created this universe for a purpose, then surely the laws of space, time and motion (etc) act as constraints which can teach us something about humility and the importance of objective reality over subjective passions. IF we are willing to recognise such objective reality, of course.

  12. gandhi
    March 6th, 2008 at 15:03 | #12

    Actually, think about it a bit more, this blinkered US mindset probably has roots in the old anti-Communist Cold War mindset, where such “right-thinking” was considered one’s patriotic duty.

    And then there is always the less charitable view, which is that such anti-scientific, pro-military whack-jobs do not really believe a single word of what they say, but are simply in the game for the money.

  13. mugwump
    March 6th, 2008 at 15:09 | #13

    For those who haven’t been following, mugwump is this blog’s leading climate change delusionist. He’s exactly the type of person he describes (rejecting science whenever it doesn’t suit his political beliefs)

    There’s just one problem with that characterization: it’s false. Take Tierney’s rantings on relativity: utter rot. Or the tobacco companies on lung cancer (equally rubbish). I could name dozens more. “Rejecting science when it doesn’t suit my political views” is something no-one who knows me would ever accuse me of.

    One day you may realize that the whole world doesn’t fit into your sterile little boxes. But until then, carry on with your hollow stereotyping if it makes you feel better.

  14. mugwump
    March 6th, 2008 at 15:25 | #14

    creationism is not a minority view among Republicans. 68 per cent reject evolution

    That is rather a lot. I imagine Democrats, seeing themselves as vastly more intelligent, wouldn’t be anywhere near that number. What’s your guess? 5% of Democrats reject evolution? Surely no more than 10%?

    From the same source: 40% of Democrats reject evolution.

    So it seems the more reasonable conclusion is that the USA is a land of very religious folk (74% of weekly US churchgoers reject evolution). That’s pretty consistent with my experience: I’ve learned not to offer “atheist” as my religion to casual acquaintances (most Americans don’t seem to distinguish between atheist and satanist).

  15. March 6th, 2008 at 15:47 | #15

    myself, i disbelieve science whenever belief involves handing over more money. the problem is, science is practiced by humans, generally in pursuit of money. can’t be helped i suppose, but i wish more research was directed toward helping poor kids in africa, and less on keeping american geriatrics on the golf course.

    when it comes to delusionists though, my favorite is the people who think global warming is a technical problem. if only!

  16. jquiggin
    March 6th, 2008 at 17:01 | #16

    ““Rejecting science when it doesn’t suit my political viewsâ€? is something no-one who knows me would ever accuse me of.’

    Unfortunately, one of the costs of pseudonymity is that you can’t make this kind of argument. Quite possibly, among those who know you in person, you have a reputation for open-mindedness.

    On this blog, as mugwump and in previous incarnations, you fit the description perfectly. If you had felt like demonstrating a capacity for something beyond reflexive ideological responses, you’ve had ample opportunities, and taken none of them.

  17. March 6th, 2008 at 17:21 | #17

    I really don’t know how people can be so c0cky and certain about the AGW theory. Applied medical science frequently gets things wrong and is having to adapt to new data and the harsh feedback of reality. I have a friend who is a doctor working with premature babies and he routinely relates that there is disagreement within the medical community as to the correct amount of oxygen or temperature or some other variable to apply to a premature baby in a given situation. Often there is concensus that later proves to be wrong. Babies die, theories shift, data is probed, thinking changes. However whilst medicine gropes toward the light it has the advantage of a long history and millions of patients to analyse and cross reference. Climatology by contrast is a relatively young discipline (it is old but not as mature as medicine) working within a sample space of one on processes that reveal themselves over eons. Too much pride, certainty or absolutism seems unwise. Of course this cuts both ways. Those that are certain of the fallacy of AGW are suffering an excess of pride (IMHO).

    The science may warrant action but it does not warrant an end to scepticism. Theories should stand the test of time before we become very confident and any theory about global climate should be tested for a longer period than most before we become too sure of ourselves. Especially given that the theory even now has obvious gaps.

    As for Republicans they are reasonably good at winning elections so the extent to which they are messed up reflects on the US population to some extent. And if society wants to vote against science and truth who are the social democrats to complain. A more serious problem in US politics is a democratic menu with a limited offering not the subtle differences between the republicans and democrats.

    Out of interest which of the litany of anti-science beliefs does John McCain subscribe to?

  18. Pedro S
    March 6th, 2008 at 17:31 | #18

    It’s true. Anyone who disagrees with any majority scientific opinion is politically motivated and should ‘just accept the scientific consensus’.

    This is shown by many green groups opposition to GE crops. Despite many, many attempts to show that GE crops are damaging to health no solid science has shown this.

    Also, anyone who disagreed with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) that homosexuality wasn’t a mental illness before 1970 or so when they changed their minds was also clearly unscientific.

    Indeed, anyone who believed in the motion of continents when the majority of geologists thought that tectonic plates were nonsense as also clearly unscientific.

    Is economics a science? If so which system has to be believed to avoid us being unscientific?

  19. MH
    March 6th, 2008 at 18:27 | #19

    It is tragic that the ‘triumphalism’ of conservative and republican politics has continued to seek out and denigrate any alternative perspective, hypothesis or evidence based research to the extent that any opposing view is fair game. The intellectual poverty of this form of pseudo analysis is that it continually mistakes its own subjectivity for fact. This form of collective ‘group think’ allows no risk and relies on the mendacity of modern managerialism for survival and uses the crude tools of McCarthyist selectivism to refute those who dare propose an alternative. It entertains no uncertainty, no contradictions and no failure. When uncertainty, contradiction and failure are presented then the existence of such contrary evidence is denied. I think it should be named for what is; a form of bullying supported by a disfunctional heuristic state bordering on the pyschopathic. Few if any of their statements pass the Popper test.

  20. snuh
    March 6th, 2008 at 18:31 | #20

    Indeed, anyone who believed in the motion of continents when the majority of geologists thought that tectonic plates were nonsense as also clearly unscientific.

    a scientific consensus can change, obviously. sort of the reduced-to-a-fairly-tale version is that: there was a consensus, a new theory is proposed, it is debated in scientific journals according to evidence-based principles accepted by all, and if the evidence better accords with the new theory it will be accepted and the old consensus discarded.

    the point is that this sort of thing is not what happens in the republican war on science(tm), or for that matter with debate over GM foods.

    put another way, was the response from opponents of plate tectonics (when that theory was first proposed) an allegation that the theory was not science at all, but merely a political argument dressed up as science? i have no idea but i doubt it. that is what makes the republican war on science different from normal debates concerning departures from the scientific consensus.

  21. Ikonoclast
    March 6th, 2008 at 20:11 | #21

    I continue to be amazed that so many modern American Christians find the theory of evolution such a problem for their beliefs. I guess the main reason is their excessive literalism. Those who have wanted to (and been able to) remain believing and rational Christians in the face of scientific progress have always found quite reasonable ways to reconcile the two systems.

    I am not a Christian. However, if I were I would be quite able to reconcile all aspects of modern science with Christianity. I would say essentially this;

    “God created the universe ex nihilo. That accords with modern science which sees the universe exploding into existence from the singularity at the time of the Big Bang. God created all the physics) laws of this universe and everything flows from that including the mechanics of evolution. Hence God still designed us. He or She or It simply designed the laws from which it could be foreseen – by that All Knowing One -that we would thence be “designed” in due course.”

    Then I would continue as follows;

    “The Bible has levels of truth. The lowest levels of truth are literal whereas higher levels of truth are metaphorical. Where unfalsifiable science is in contrast with apparent literal truth in the Bible then we must accept the science, accept the evidence of the invariable and dependable laws which God has given the universe, and go back to the Bible and seek the higher metaphorical truth which it contains.”

    Now, I won’t bore you with any more of that. All it points out is that metaphysics is infinitely malleable. So if people can’t mould their metaphysics to accept the science then they are plain lacking in imagination.

    As an agonostic I simply say; “If God is as lacking in compassion and imagination as so many of his followers seem to be then we really are in trouble.”

  22. gandhi
    March 6th, 2008 at 21:28 | #22

    I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,
    From up and down,
    But still somehow
    It’s cloud illusions I recall
    I really don’t know clouds at all.

  23. alan
    March 6th, 2008 at 21:28 | #23

    A metaquestion:

    Can anyone produce any example of anyone anywhere who has ever changed their mind about anything as a result of reading comments on a blog?

  24. SJ
    March 6th, 2008 at 21:40 | #24

    Happens all the time, alan, but only on the “science” side. All it takes is good citation that refutes a particular claim.

  25. SJ
    March 6th, 2008 at 21:59 | #25

    Ikonoclast Says:

    I guess the main reason is their excessive literalism.

    But the literalism isn’t something that’s inherent in Americans. The better question is to ask why they’ve become literalists. The obvious answer is that they’ve been told they had to be.

    There’s substantial power to be gained by forming a church. That’s been amply demonstrated though all of our recorded history. So if yu’ve got yourself a church, what do you do when some inconvenient facts arise which threaten your power base? Think Gallileo (although his case is quite complicated).

    One way is to deny the new facts, and another way is to accommodate the new facts.

    It’s not that different with corporations and governments for that matter, there’s an existing power base, and if something threatens the power, the first thing you do is deny. If you can’t get away with that, you accommodate.

    The common problem with the US could be that the citizens are overwilling to accept authority.

  26. gandhi
    March 6th, 2008 at 22:14 | #26

    I’ve been wading through John Howard’s rather long-winded speech to the neocons. Almost at the end you get this little nugget of wisdom:

    “Global warming has become a new battleground. The same intellectual bullying and moralising, used in other debates, now dominates what passes for serious dialogue on this issue.”

    That’s it. He moves on without any further explanation. So scientific proof = intellectual bullying? I suppose it must look like that to someone who disdains both science and intellect.

    And wanting to save the planet for our children and grandchildren is “moralising”. But don’t forget, kids, conservatives are the party of “values” (which as you might expect he goes on about at some length).

    In other news, the neocon’s favourite fund managers are having a spot of bother: Carlyle Capital Corporation has not been able to meet several payment demands. Reality is such a bitch, innit?

  27. melanie
    March 6th, 2008 at 22:33 | #27

    What were mugwump’s previous incarnations?

  28. Ikonoclast
    March 6th, 2008 at 22:39 | #28

    “… the world is changing: I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth, and I smell it in the air.” – Treebeard.

  29. SJ
    March 6th, 2008 at 23:10 | #29

    Happens all the time, alan, but only on the “science� side.

    I take that back, because I’ve seen it on the other side too. I’ve read some of the serious religion blogs, and if someone erroneously says something like “According to Matthew…”, someone is bound to say “No, that was John at x:yy, not Matthew at all”. And the orignal commenter will accept the correction without further question.

  30. March 6th, 2008 at 23:42 | #30

    Can anyone produce any example of anyone anywhere who has ever changed their mind about anything as a result of reading comments on a blog?

    I’ve been online in blogs and forums for about ten years. I’ve changed my mind in loads of ways. Mostly these have probably been invisible to those that made the comments at the time because rarely have I shifted my views in any form of rapid reversal but rather in subtle shifts in outlook that over time culminate in a new way of looking at things.

    For example:-

    i) in 1996 I was pretty supportive of the gun reforms. I now thing they were knee jerk opportunism based on empty rhetoric.

    ii) a decade ago I regarded the gold standard as an anachronism of history, today I am very favourably disposed toward it.

    iii) I used to think government owned hospitals was a logical approach to public health. I no longer think that.

    iv) Ten years ago I accepted AGW as a given and thought cap and trade was a good idea. I’m now more skeptical about AGW and if it is an issue I think a carbon tax is a better option.

    v) I used to think income tax should be lower. Now I think it should be abolished.

    vi) I used to regard minimum wage laws as helpful. Now I think they are second rate policy.

    As an adult I have always believed in the virtues of free enterprise and private property and have regarded most drug prohibition as perverse, but a decade and a half of the Internet and a decade of blogging has made me far more libertarian in other areas. I could go on but you get the picture.

  31. SJ
    March 7th, 2008 at 00:00 | #31

    Yeah, yeah, Terje, you’re the living breathing example of why <a href=http://sethf.com/essays/major/libstupid.phpLibertatianism makes you stupid.

    I realise that you won’t read anything at that link, but hopefully others will and so avoid your fate.

  32. SJ
    March 7th, 2008 at 00:02 | #32
  33. mugwump
    March 7th, 2008 at 02:09 | #33

    ““Rejecting science when it doesn’t suit my political views� is something no-one who knows me would ever accuse me of.’

    Unfortunately, one of the costs of pseudonymity is that you can’t make this kind of argument.

    Which is precisely why I listed a couple of examples of so-called “the Republican war on science” to which you alluded that I do not support.

    On this blog, as mugwump and in previous incarnations, you fit the description perfectly. If you had felt like demonstrating a capacity for something beyond reflexive ideological responses, you’ve had ample opportunities, and taken none of them.

    Thus demonstrating your own closed-mindedness Quiggin.

    I think you’ll find that the only scientific “consensus” I reject is the global warming one. And even then, I have never doubted that CO2 causes warming, just questioned (with ample supporting evidence) the quality of specific areas of climate science and the impact of that poor quality on the veracity of conclusions drawn.

    For reflexive ideology (dressed up as logical discourse, to be sure), one need look no further than the majority of your posts Quiggin, including this one. You dug out a Republican hostile towards science. Claimed his views are representative of Republicans because 68% of Republicans reject evolution. Yet, by that argument he’s also representative of 40% of Democrats, something you conveniently omit to mention. Should we conclude that Republicans and Democrats alike are hostile towards science. Of course not.

    A more reasonable conclusion is that highly religious people are hostile to science where it contradicts their religion. It has nothing to do with their politics. Big suprise. I’ve known that since my first memories of highly religious people from about the age of 5.

    But of course, getting to the heart of the matter is not your goal. Your goal is to attempt to paint your political opponents in the worst possible light using whatever scurrilous smear and innuendo you have at hand. Remarkably similar tactics to the far right.

    No-one is fooled. But it is a pretty sad indictment on Australian academia for a supposedly leading Australian academic to conduct themselves in this way.

  34. mugwump
    March 7th, 2008 at 02:15 | #34

    “Global warming has become a new battleground. The same intellectual bullying and moralising, used in other debates, now dominates what passes for serious dialogue on this issue.�

    That’s it. He [Howard] moves on without any further explanation. So scientific proof = intellectual bullying? I suppose it must look like that to someone who disdains both science and intellect.

    Where’s the “scientific proof” gandhi? The warmenistas are not even close to a proof that human CO2 emissions will lead to the catastrophic consequences they claim.

  35. mugwump
    March 7th, 2008 at 02:47 | #35

    The common problem with the US could be that the citizens are overwilling to accept authority.

    I don’t think that is it. For example, Americans reject the authority of their government almost universally (to clarify, they accept the authority of law, it’s the administrative side of government they disdain).

    America was in part founded by several waves of immigrants fleeing religious persecution of one form or another. Thus historically Americans have been willing enough to flee their homelands for their religious beliefs. That guarantees a certain level of fundamentalism in the culture.

    American society also differs from Australian culture (and the UK with which I also have some experience) in that it was created pretty much tabula rasa.

    Where the Australian constitution is an act of the British Parliament, Americans entirely rejected the European ruling class and built into their constitution very strong constraints on the power of executive government, and correspondingly very strong protections for individual liberty. That created (reflected?) a culture which really does believe in “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, but very much at the individual level.

    Success or failure is up to the individual; there is little expectation that American society as a whole (or by extension, the US government) has any intrinsic responsibility to assist or interfere in the lives of individuals. Contrast that to Australia and the UK where there is a very strong expectation that the government will take care of you.

    So to some extent I think church and religion fill the void left by that lack of a country-wide sense of social safety.

  36. Ian Gould
    March 7th, 2008 at 03:50 | #36

    “American society also differs from Australian culture (and the UK with which I also have some experience) in that it was created pretty much tabula rasa.

    Where the Australian constitution is an act of the British Parliament, Americans entirely rejected the European ruling class and built into their constitution very strong constraints on the power of executive government, and correspondingly very strong protections for individual liberty. That created (reflected?) a culture which really does believe in “life, liberty and the pursuit of happinessâ€?, but very much at the individual level. ”

    Firstly, you appear to be conflating “culture” and “political institutions” here. Oh and “culture” and “society”.

    In terms of “culture” in the normal broad sense of the word it’s pretty self-evident that America was not created tabula rasa although it is probably accurate to say that American culture is more an eclectic mix of British, Dutch, French and Spanish influences as opposed to the predominantly Anglo-Celtic Australian culture.

    In terms of political culture or political institutions it seems to me you are also incorrect.

    The intellectual influences on the US Constitution are virtually all European – Locke, Paine and Montesquieu oome to mind.

  37. Ian Gould
    March 7th, 2008 at 04:22 | #37

    And do I really have to point out that that belief in “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was pretty much restricted to white, property-owning males for the first century or so of American independence?

  38. BilB
    March 7th, 2008 at 05:09 | #38

    Feeling a little red around the neck, are you, mugwump?

  39. BilB
    March 7th, 2008 at 05:18 | #39

    “Success or failure is up to the individual; there is little expectation that American society as a whole (or by extension, the US government) has any intrinsic responsibility to assist or interfere in the lives of individuals.”

    It is all in those famous words on their money “in God we Trust”. If you need any help go talk to him.

  40. haiku
    March 7th, 2008 at 06:15 | #40

    Mugwump/Dogz
    your comment #35 is a civil comment. Although I think there are a number of generalisations in there which are too broad, it would be possible to have a reasonable discussion about the various propositions. (For example, was it not the case that the drafters of the Australian constitution were influenced, to quite a degree, by the US constitution?)

    But many, possibly most, of your contributions to the comment boxes start off with snark, make broad generalisations about “the left” “the warmeistas” “anti-Americans”, etc, and then finish with a pot-shot at the host.

    Why is Australia blessed with such poor academics?

    We are indeed blessed, and we don’t pay them enough.

    Your substantive point may be in the comment somewhere, but it is crowded out by the snark.

    In contrast, Terje probably disagrees with JQ around as often as you do, but he is almost unfailingly civil.

    Now, I recognise that in return other commenters are on occasion uncivil to you (and goodness knows this particular comment is going to sound patronising!), but they should in turn also take a good hard look at themselves. If you do want to come to this blog for civil debate, and do so in good faith, it’d be worth reassessing the structure and tone of your comments.

  41. March 7th, 2008 at 06:28 | #41

    can i just call you mug, for short? the second american constitution was a very close mapping of british political structure onto the new nation.

    the substitution of election for inheritance is not insignificant, but it was just a way to transfer the rule of the british aristocracy into the hands of the american aristocracy.

    americans are vastly more self reliant than ozzies, or brits, not because of the structure of government, but because they lived in a world where in principle, and often in fact, they could walk westward 100 miles and carve out a better life than that enjoyed by the small gentry of britain.

    these conditions have been gone for 100 years, and social conditions are changing the national character rapidly. they are still capable of saying “something’s not right” about the government, but they seem to have regressed to oz and brit acceptance that nothing can be done. the new world has become old.

  42. gandhi
    March 7th, 2008 at 06:33 | #42

    Can anyone produce any example of anyone anywhere who has ever changed their mind about anything as a result of reading comments on a blog?

    The Chinese say water is the strongest element. Mountains collapse under the weight of many small drops.

  43. March 7th, 2008 at 08:20 | #43

    SJ – the “libertarianism makes you stupid” essay is well written and captures some reasonable criticism of libertarianism. However it does not amount to much other than a disagreement with libertarianism. The math mistake examples are trivial but hardly uniquely characteristic of libertarians. Most ideologies have people playing logical silly buggers. Libertarianism probably has more because logic and reason is key to the creed and despite the best of intentions people can trip themselves up with flawed logic. I don’t see whim as a better alternative. To the extent that libertarians try to apply logic and reason I think that is a good thing even if they sometimes manage to get it wrong. Libertarianism may be thought of as a cult that sees its core principles as infallable but I think that would be throwing the baby out with the bath water. The natural rights fundamentalism that is popular amoungst many libertarians should not obscure the large number of libertarians and libertarian arguments concerned with consequences. I do use natural rights arguments myself on occasion but mainly as a thinking exercise or as a challenge to unearth other peoples personal drivers. And I generally regard libertarian as an umbrella term under which I’d include small government social democrats. I don’t personally know any pure libertarians who want no tax and no government although I did meet one fellow from New Zealand who said I wasn’t a libertarian because I wasn’t signed up for that cause. Perhaps in New Zealand I’d have to wear a different hat.

    Most people I know (including JQ) use the logic of liberty and freedom in at least some areas. Better in my view to be a little bit too liberal than a little bit too authoritarian in your policy mistakes. Better to have libertarians in the debate than not.

  44. March 7th, 2008 at 08:41 | #44

    eg. Take drug prohibition. There are two key libertarian arguments against drug prohibition.

    1. Its your body so nobody has a right to control what you put in it. This is a natural rights argument.

    2. The consequences of this prohibition, all things considered, are worse than the consequences of permissiveness. A consequentialist argument.

    I’ll generally use the former type of arguement as a starting point. I prefer freedom over control.If somebody prefers control over freedom then the next arguement is harder to execute so best to get the first one sorted out. However the later arguement and whether it is strong or weak, right or wrong is what ultimately confirms my own position or leads me to reject the default set by the first argument.

    Reason is better than whim. Even if we don’t always get our reasoning right it is better in my view to continue with the endeavour.

  45. March 7th, 2008 at 08:45 | #45

    p.s. In my view most people do the second type of arguement but instead of the first one they ask “is the status quo okay”. I can see the utility of that approach.

  46. wizofaus
    March 7th, 2008 at 11:24 | #46

    Odd, I didn’t think the “libertarianism makes you stupid” essay was particularly good at all – I’ve certainly read far better criticisms of libertarianism. For instance, it makes a good deal of the fact that some libertarians are against anti-discrimination laws, but fails to point out the reason this is stupid: anti-discrimination laws exist explicitly to protect the freedoms of minorities. In other words, anyone who genuinely cared about protecting individual liberties should logically support the government having a role to play in ensuring businesses do not force minorities out of job and trade opportunities.

  47. Ernestine Gross
    March 7th, 2008 at 11:54 | #47

    MH (#19), seems to suggest that there is a phenomenon which is not limited to the ‘Republican war on science’ by referring to ‘modern managerialism’ and he writes: “I think it should be named for what is; a form of bullying supported by a disfunctional heuristic state bordering on the pyschopathic.�

    Assuming I didn’t misinterpret MH (I do have difficulties with texts involving words ending in ‘ism’), I believe the approach is helpful. The current Republican party in government is but an instance of ‘management’. There is no evidence, I know of, which would suggest that all but a negligible number of instances of ‘management’ is not ‘managerialist’.

    A “dysfunctional heuristic� is a heuristic that relies on a rule (without requiring proof) for arriving at a solution. How about the following decision making rule for managerialists:

    ‘For, he reasons pointedly / That which must not, can not be. (German: “Weil, so schließt er messerscharf / Nicht sein kann, was nicht sein darf.”)’
    Christian Morgenstern, The Impossible Fact, 1910
    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Morgenstern

    PS: At least one of the authors involved in writing the wiki entry on Christian Morgenstern has a particularly pleasing sense of humor because he or she weaves in an example of ‘a fact’ (about C. Morgenstein), which is impossible using rules that require proof. The meticulously consistent wiki references for the ‘impossible fact’ is superb.

  48. March 7th, 2008 at 12:49 | #48

    Wizofaus,

    Most libertarians would oppose laws that define who a business should hire. I do. Thomas Sowell is a good author in terms of getting a detailed libertarian perspective on this. He points out that in the USA moves towards more inclusive employment of minorities (women, blacks etc) from WWI onwards was driven firstly by the private sector with the government sector taking a long time to catch up to comparable levels of minority representation. In the 1950s young black males had unemployment rates equal to young white males but equal pay legislation has resulted in a situation today where young black males have a vastly higher rate of unemployment.

    In Australia we saw a similar thing when the courts determined that blacks must be paid the same as whites. Pay equalised, however unemployment amoungst blacks ballooned. Surely a negative consequence. Not a good outcome for society or minorities.

    There are good natural rights arguments for opposing such laws. However there are also good consequentialist arguements for opposing them.

    In Australia we have laws that mean a club or pub can’t exclude you because of your sexuality. However now in victoria there are all gay clubs that are being given a licensed exemption from such rules. So a policy that starts out with ideals of equal treatment for all is being converted into a system of licensing.

    I support US desegregation. However the government did not lead the movement but merely joined it. In so far as it got it’s own house in order this was a good thing. People should be equal before the law. Police should treat people with respect regardless of race. Public space and public institutions should be open to all. Private organisations should be also but they should have the discretion to work out the details in their own time and it their own way.

    If we could pass a law tomorrow that made everybody blind to race then I’d support it. However legislation is not a magic spell. It doesn’t work like that.

    Social engineering which entails the application of government pressure for a limited time makes more sense to me than laws that must perpetuate such pressure effectively forever. I can see the arguement for an occasional nudge. We all switched to metric because the government made us, but who would willingly change back today? For me that is the real test. If the big stick needs to be waved forever then you are not nudging society but bludgoning it.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  49. mugwump
    March 7th, 2008 at 12:56 | #49

    the second american constitution was a very close mapping of british political structure onto the new nation.

    Britain’s parliamentary system is vastly different. The founding fathers considered it and rejected it. You should read the American consititution al, if you haven’t already: it’s remarkably short and to the point.

    The intellectual influences on the US Constitution are virtually all European – Locke, Paine and Montesquieu oome to mind.

    Virtually all intellectual influences at the time were European in origin. I was talking about political rather than intellectual influences. Most of Europe was (and many parts still are) an aristocracy. The US was founded as a meritocracy.

    And do I really have to point out that that belief in “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness� was pretty much restricted to white, property-owning males for the first century or so of American independence?

    Apparently you do. But they had the decency to fight a civil war over it.

    Those despicable Americans. Just when you think you’ve pigeonholed all 300M of them from all walks of life and nearly all nations, they go and do something completely incomprehensible like fight a civil war over black freedom.

  50. Ian Gould
    March 7th, 2008 at 14:40 | #50

    “I was talking about political rather than intellectual influences. ”

    Read up on the United Provinces of Holland some time.

    “Apparently you do.”

    Yes but equally apparently, my meaning was unclear since you felt the need to use it for yet another bout of bleating about how hard done by Americans are.

    American 18th century “meritocracy” applied essentially only to white males.

    18th Century Britain was pretty much equally meritocratic provided you weren’t a dirty papist.(Even there it was really a matter of degrees, American Catholics could actually vote, hold public office and own land but they were still widely discriminated against.)

    And let’s not forget that American social mobility such as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries depended to a very large extent on the continued available of western land for homesteading – meaning it depended upon the ongoing dispossession of Native Americans.)

  51. James Haughton
    March 7th, 2008 at 15:22 | #51

    It would be unfair to say that the right-wing blogosphere has contributed nothing to science. For example, it used to be a shibboleth of the left that the genus Rhinogradentia was wiped out by american nuclear testing in the pacific. A biologist in the US navy found other surviving species of Rhinogradentia, and the news was broken by Instapundit.

  52. jquiggin
    March 7th, 2008 at 15:48 | #52

    Morgenstern is getting a real run here, James :-) .

  53. wizofaus
    March 7th, 2008 at 21:39 | #53

    Terje, when has it ever been about laws that “define who a business should hire”?
    The simple fact of the matter is that until mid-last century, minorities were denied the liberty to seek jobs and engage in trade by many businesses (indeed, arguably most, in certain parts of the world). If the government is not going to stand up for the liberties of minorities, then who is?

    As to whether the laws are still needed, sadly, the answer is probably ‘yes’. There are still a lot of employers out there that harbour irrational prejudices and, if there wasn’t the threat of legal action, would probably refuse to ever hire people with disabilities, or those with different coloured skin, or even women. The laws basically liberate employers from their prejudices, and nine times out of ten, after going ahead and hiring such a minority, their views change pretty soon enough.

    As far as clubs/pubs denying access to heterosexuals – that’s less of an issue because the business in question is clearly catering to a minority in the first place. Personally I don’t believe it makes any sense for club to able to deny entry to someone on the basis of something that isn’t even obviously detectable, and I don’t think they’re doing themselves (or the gay rights movement in general) any favours by doing so. But it’s hardly very likely that anyone is going to threaten legal action against such an establishment on the basis that they were not let in for not being able to convince the bouncer that they were genuinely homosexual.

  54. Tom N.
    March 7th, 2008 at 22:36 | #54

    wizofaus,
    While Terje can speak for himself, your response simply failed to address his point that in the USA moves towards more inclusive employment of minorities (women, blacks etc) from WWI onwards was driven firstly by the private sector; not the government. You also ignored his point about the adverse consequences of certain anti-discrimination laws.

    To then simply respond – as you did – with a statement that things were bad in the past [true] and who can you rely on, if not the government, to implement anti-discrimination pracices is to fail to address ostensibly valid counter-arguments to your original post. So, in my view, you should go back and answer them (or demonstrate that they are not pertinent) or hold your spray.

  55. Ian Gould
    March 7th, 2008 at 23:07 | #55

    Tom N,

    My first thought on reading Terje’s comments about private employment was that it was essentially an exercise in post hoc ergo proctor hoc.

    Black employment in the 60′s and 70′s probably didn’t decline because of equal wage laws but because they were disproportionately employed in menial jobs which were displaced by technology.

  56. wizofaus
    March 7th, 2008 at 23:30 | #56

    Tom, that government has been in the past responsible for perpuating discrimination against minorities doesn’t preclude it becoming the primary body for protecting the liberties of said minorities. My question is simply who else could do it? And at any rate, isn’t libertarian philosophy that the government’s job *is* to protect individual liberties? Surely that should include the liberties to engage in meaningful trade and employment?

  57. mugwump
  58. mugwump
    March 8th, 2008 at 00:26 | #58

    18th Century Britain was pretty much equally meritocratic [as America]

    Ian, I found an interesting author for you to read: Alexis de Tocqueville. I now have his book “Democracy in America”, but wiki has a good summary:

    Tocqueville tried to understand why America was so different from Europe in the last throes of aristocracy. America, in contrast to the aristocratic ethic, was a society where money-making was the dominant ethic, where the common man enjoyed a level of dignity which was unprecedented, where commoners never deferred to elites, where hard work and money dominated the minds of all, and where what he described as crass individualism and market capitalism had taken root to an extraordinary degree.

  59. mugwump
    March 8th, 2008 at 00:27 | #59

    That should have been “I now have his book … on order from amazon.”

  60. Ian Gould
    March 8th, 2008 at 11:51 | #60

    Mugwump, first up, you might want to look for the free e-book of Democracy in America on Proejct Gutenberg.

    Secondly, a couple of points about De Tocqueville.

    1. He was writing at the virtual peak of the post-Napoleonic political repression. This coincided with one of the worst depressions in history so his views of Europe may have been somewhat soured.

    2. While he uses the word “Europe” quite freely as though the continent were a single entity, his knowledge of society and politics outside France seems ot have been somewhat limited. Democracy in America is in large part a political polemic directed at the Bourbon Restoration.

    3. His observations of America circa 1930 aren’t necessarily that relevant to America circa 1780-1790. Consider Australia circa 1960 and Australia today.

    4. Even with all those caveats De Tocqueville is a fine and perceptive writer.

  61. March 8th, 2008 at 13:17 | #61

    And at any rate, isn’t libertarian philosophy that the government’s job *is* to protect individual liberties?

    Negative rights. Not positive rights.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_and_positive_rights

    It is not the job of government to tell business owners what they should do with their property and who they should enter into a relationship with. In fact government should be protecting freedom of association and protecting property rights.

  62. wizofaus
    March 8th, 2008 at 21:33 | #62

    “A negative right is a right not to be subjected to an action of another human being”.

    Minorities do and should have the right not to be subjected to the discriminatory actions of business owners, i.e. refusing to hire or serve them purely on the basis of their minority status.

  63. March 9th, 2008 at 08:34 | #63

    wizofaus,

    Where in the world are talking about? Certainly “refusing to hire or serve them purely on the basis of their minority status” is not present in the US.

    Why not look at truly discriminatory practices in Western Europe, particularly France, or throughout the Arab world?

  64. wizofaus
    March 9th, 2008 at 10:57 | #64

    Jack, it’s not present to a significant degree because there are laws explicitly preventing it.
    Terje apparently is happy to live in a world where businesses actively discriminate against minorities. But if a government can’t even protect basic liberties of minorities, then I don’t see any point in having one at all.

  65. Ricardo
    March 9th, 2008 at 12:52 | #65

    It’s from a Brit, but for the anti-science position in all its gory (and conspiratorial) detail see David Henderson’s article in World Economics (Governments and Climate Change Issues
    The case for rethinking; Volume 8 no.2)

  66. jack strocchi
    March 9th, 2008 at 18:53 | #66

    Ian Gould Says: March 7th, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    Black employment in the 60’s and 70’s probably didn’t decline because of equal wage laws but because they were disproportionately employed in menial jobs which were displaced by technology.

    Not really true. In fact the US massively increased the size of its low-skilled service economy (McJobs) in the past generation. But many black males missed out on this low-skilled job surge, because they were other-wise engaged in the Crack Wars, on welfare or in prison.

    The grain of truth in what Ian said is that in the post-OPEC period Japanese technology and organization assaulted the US’s old Rust-belt automotive industry. This was mostly based in the North East which is which used to host a huge amount of black employment. During this time alot of US business went South in search of cheaper non-union labour.

    The biggest cause of black unemployment over the past generation is the 12 million or so illegal immigrants coming in mainly from Mexico and Latin America. They depress wages for lower skilled (which often means black) workers which makes unemployment-welfare and crime a more attractive career option.

    The latter option does not do much for your long term employment options or that of your children. Perverse liberal policy towards blacks has been the rule, rather than the exception, for much of the post-sixties period. As Jerry Pournelle remarked to me:

    If I were a Klansman determined to keep the Blacks down I would:

    Have a lousy school system that concentrates on intellectual abilities and ignores skills;

    High minimum wages so that entry level jobs are all off the books;

    Open borders to bring in lots of cheap labor to soak up the off the books jobs;

    A campaign to get Blacks to think that academic achievement was “acting White�.

    Things changed for blacks during the nineties when authoritarian conservative replaced liberalism as the guide of social policy. Authoritarian lawfare and tighter welfare policies greatly improved the social framework for black employment in the nineties. Which incidentally was a time of high-tech growth, further evidence contradicting Ian’s “increased technology=black unemployment” thesis.

  67. wizofaus
    March 9th, 2008 at 21:24 | #67

    “authoritarian conservative replaced liberalism as the guide of social policies” in the 90′s??
    Care to point to some examples?

  68. wizofaus
    March 9th, 2008 at 22:34 | #68

    Terje, serious question for you – do you consider it the government’s job to protect my liberty not to be slapped across the face by my wife?

  69. mugwump
    March 9th, 2008 at 23:38 | #69

    The biggest cause of black unemployment over the past generation is the 12 million or so illegal immigrants coming in mainly from Mexico and Latin America. They depress wages for lower skilled (which often means black) workers which makes unemployment-welfare and crime a more attractive career option.

    I don’t think this is the whole story. The only study I have read on the subject shows that except for the top dogs, drug dealing pays a lot less than minimum wage.

    Purely anecdotally, I’ve observed that in areas where there are few Latino immigrants the McJobs are largely taken by blacks; where Latino density is high, they are largely taken by Latinos, to such an extent that for example, Spanish is the internal language spoken at my local McDonalds.

    There are plenty of lower socioeconomic blacks where I live, so why is McDonalds staffed by Latinos? At the risk of raising hackles, the reason is work ethic. The uniformly black-staffed McDonalds I have frequented are not well run, and the staff often have slack and surly demeanor. So in neighbourhoods were there is a choice between the two groups, management is going to choose the more diligent workers.

  70. Chris O’Neill
    March 10th, 2008 at 01:48 | #70

    Terje (say tay-a) Says:

    I really don’t know how people can be so c0cky and certain about the AGW theory.

    Please point out where the skeptic argument refutations on this list are cocky or certain about AGW theory.

  71. mugwump
    March 10th, 2008 at 05:56 | #71

    Please point out where the skeptic argument refutations on this list are cocky or certain about AGW theory.

    Or just plain wrong.

    That link is to point 5 on that list: “Models are unreliable”. It shows two graphs, one with CO2 forcing removed from the models that fails to match the temperature record of the last 150 years, and one with CO2 forcing that matches the record. Conclusive? No.

    The problem is that the models are tuned to match the temperature record by adjusting the aerosol content, because aerosols are a large unknown parameter so the scientists are free to set them however they wish. So that argument tells you only one thing: the models have a built-in positive temperature feedback from CO2. It doesn’t tell you about their predictive power, because the aerosol content could be further adjusted to account for more of the warming, while still leaving a large amount of the CO2 increase out.

    This is the biggest problem with climate science as a whole: the statistical ability of its practitioners is mediocre at best.

  72. jquiggin
    March 10th, 2008 at 06:27 | #72

    Terje, if you want to see unjustified cockiness (combined with complete wrongness), you need only read mugwump at #71, which matches the tone of much of the delusionist anti-science literature, on AGW, passive smoking, AIDS revisionism and the rest.

    It’s unclear whether mugwump is claiming that you can fit any history you like by tuning a single parameter (aerosol sensitivity) or that there is no evidence on the historical concentration of aerosols, so that this forcing can be tuned to fit the data. The first is obviously false, though it is the kind of claim routinely made by innumerate delusionists of the kind who say “global warming stopped in 1998″. The second is also untrue – aerosol concentrations can be measured directly, and other implications such as global dimming provide an independent check of aerosol influences.

    But, the crucial point is whether you support science or not. If mugwump really believed the points he was making and had the abilities he claimed, he would be publishing his results in peer-reviewed journals, instead of announcing his personal superiority to “climate science as a whole” in the comments box of a blog.

  73. March 10th, 2008 at 06:46 | #73

    John – my reference to cockiness covered both bases. And if you want to see the extent to which I tackle the carbon tax doomsdayers take a look at Catallaxy or ALS over recent times.

  74. March 10th, 2008 at 06:51 | #74

    Wizofaus – if your wife slaps you in the face without just cause then my advice is to slap her back. It will be far more effective than calling the police or complaining to your local MP. Of course the role of the government should in my view extend to cover acts of domestic violence. However there are practical constraints so it’s best if the two of you can learn to be mature adults. Are you having marriage problems?

  75. wizofaus
    March 10th, 2008 at 08:45 | #75

    Terje, not at all, just curious that you appear to believe that it is the government’s job to protect my liberty not to be slapped in the face by my wife, but not to protect my liberty not to be discriminated against by business owners should I somehow wind up in a wheelchair tomorrow.

  76. March 10th, 2008 at 11:43 | #76

    Wizofaus – the distinction is the use of physical violence by your wife versus a free choice by the business in question. Choosing not to employ people in wheel chairs is not a violent act. Making the later illegal changes little in any case because if I don’t employ some bloke in a wheel chair it is pretty hard to prove one way or the other why I made the decision. It may have been because I hate disabled people (which I don’t) but it could just as easily be because I didn’t like the attitude of the individual in question or that his eyes seemed too close together.

    To be honest I do NOT find the anti discrimination act to be exceedingly offensive (except in so far as their is hipocracy such as in gay only bars okay, hetro only bars not okay). However employment quotas as used in the USA and in South Africa or legislated wage equalisation are offensive and damaging in my view. They actually erode goodwill and reinforce sterotypes and social stigmas. For marginal workers price regulation often leads to exclusion of certain races or minority groups in the form of unemployment.

  77. jack strocchi
    March 10th, 2008 at 16:56 | #77

    wizofaus Says: March 9th, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    “authoritarian conservative replaced liberalism as the guide of social policies� in the 90’s??

    Care to point to some examples?

    “Three strikes and your’e out” and “the end of welfare as we know it”.

    Neo-conservative social policy is (modernist) liberal social policy mugged by reality. It promoted bigger lawfare sticks to get the bad guys off the street. Smaller welfare carrots got the better guys onto the job.

    All this would not have surprised your grandmother. Although it came as a great shock to post-modernist liberals, who are still reeling from the shock of having the likes of Pat Buchanan teaching them how to suck eggs.

  78. Donald Oats
    March 10th, 2008 at 20:59 | #78

    Hi Mugwump 71: I disagree with you on your claim about tuning aerosols freely to get the temperature profile that scientists wish. Firstly there is observational and indirect evidence of historical aerosol levels. These data place some soft constraints upon the aerosol profiles. Secondly, scientists have conducted model experiments to see to what degree temperature proxy records can be matched by models for different aerosol profiles *using observed and other evidence for aerosol levels*.

    In other words, scientists have explored to what degree aerosol profile can be adjusted within the imposed constraints and yet give a good numerical match to the known historical temperatures and proxies for temperature. For example:
    Ammann CM, et al, PNAS 2007 Mar 6: 104(10) 3713-3718 “Solar influence on climate during the past millenium: results from transient simulations with the NCAR Climate System Model”.

    This is all up-front and transparent. It turns out that the historical aerosol evidence, even with the uncertainties, sufficiently constrain the aerosol profiles that they cannot account for the late 20th century warming, unless CO2 effects are also incorporated.
    It’s all interesting!

  79. wizofaus
    March 10th, 2008 at 21:30 | #79

    Terje, that’s thing though – why is violence the important discriminator? If my wife slaps me across the face every day for the rest of my life, I’m unlikely to be much the worse for it: I really don’t need the government to protect me from that, nor do I expect it to.
    But if I wind up in a wheelchair, and businesses refuse to hire or serve me (because, for instance, their place of business is not suitable for wheelchair access), then the rest of my life is pretty much ruined. This is an area where the government is pretty much the only body capable of stepping in and passing regulation that ensure minorities (such as the disabled) get a fair go.

    And yes, disabled people have successfully brought cases against employers proving that they were not hired largely on the basis of their disability, despite their disability not affecting their capacity to do the job at hand.
    And plenty of businesses have been sued for not providing their services in a manner that was accessible by disabled users, and consequently changed their practices.

    jack strocchi: “end of welfare as we know it” never really happened, despite all the rhetoric. Further, what has it got to do with authoritarian conservatism? “3 strikes and you’re out” was not a rollback of liberalism, merely a harsher punishment for already illegal activities. And further, there are serious questions as to whether the laws have really been as beneficial as many as claimed: for a start, expenditure on corrections doubled between ’94 and ’02. Surely if the law is producing less crime, expenditure on corrections should go down?

  80. mugwump
    March 11th, 2008 at 01:29 | #80

    Terje, if you want to see unjustified cockiness (combined with complete wrongness), you need only read mugwump at #71, which matches the tone of much of the delusionist anti-science literature, on AGW, passive smoking, AIDS revisionism and the rest.

    Three snarks for Muster Mark, Quiggin?

    It’s unclear whether mugwump is claiming that you can fit any history you like by tuning a single parameter (aerosol sensitivity) or that there is no evidence on the historical concentration of aerosols, so that this forcing can be tuned to fit the data.

    The latter, although I am not arguing for “no evidence”, just that there is sufficient lack of evidence to enable overfitting in the tuning.

    But, the crucial point is whether you support science or not. If mugwump really believed the points he was making and had the abilities he claimed, he would be publishing his results in peer-reviewed journals

    I would if I had the time. But others are also doing the investigations, eg in relation to my point at #71:

    Jeffrey T. Kiehl, 2007. Twentieth century climate model response and climate sensitivity. GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 34, L22710

    Kiehl considers how the

    … cited range in climate sensitivity from a wide collection of models is usually 1.5 to 4.5 deg C for a doubling of CO2

    yet those same climate models

    … all simulate the global temperature record with a reasonable degree of accuracy

    He concludes:

    These results indicate that the range of uncertainty in anthropogenic forcing of the past century is as large as the uncertainty in climate sensitivity and that much of forcing uncertainty is due to aerosols.

    These results explain to a large degree why models with such diverse climate sensitivities can all simulate the global anomaly in surface temperature. The magnitude of applied anthropogenic total forcing compensates for the model sensitivity.

    Which was exactly my point.

  81. March 11th, 2008 at 04:11 | #81

    Terje, that’s thing though – why is violence the important discriminator?

    Simply because the only unique quality that the government can ever bring to the table is its capacity to commit violence or to coerce with the threat of violence.

  82. wizofaus
    March 11th, 2008 at 06:22 | #82

    Terje, violence is no more an ultimate method of coercion than say, brainwashing, or hyponosis, or manipulation by mind-altering drugs. Further, I question that the threat of violence is the reason that most people obew the law most of the time. Yes, it’s there as an ultimate fallback, but how often has the government actually physically stepped in and forcibly closed a business down because it was discriminating against blacks or paraplegics?

    Either way, I fail to see how the fact that violence exists as a ultimate fallback threat from government logically implies that the only job of the government is to protect its citizens from violence.

  83. March 11th, 2008 at 07:52 | #83

    I suggested earlier that if your wife slaps you without provocation it would be appropriate to slap her back. You might instead decide to slap her when she forgets to mow the lawn. Now I wonder can you see any distinction between these two situations, between violence as a responce to violence and violence as a means to achieving other goals? In both cases it may be effective (she won’t forget next time) but effective is not the same as appropriate. Personally I think slapping your wife because she slapped you is substantially different to slapping your wife because she didn’t mow the lawn. Even if it is fair that she should mow the lawn (ie you did it last week) I don’t think violence is appropriate in such a situation.

    Unprovoced violence and violence based coercion might on occasion offer a high degree of utility. However I don’t think we should institutionalise the idea or use it reflexively.

    If most of the time most people obey laws for some reason other than the associated risk of sanctions then lets have “voluntary laws” and “enforced laws” to draw a clear distinction. Or lets just let social conventions and mores fufill the former function and have a lot less of the latter.

  84. jquiggin
    March 11th, 2008 at 08:01 | #84

    Mugwump, Kiehl directly contradicts you. He says uncertainty wrt aerosols is enough to give you the range of uncertainty routinely cited by the IPCC, which doesn’t include zero, as implied in your post. There’s nothing surprising here, and nothing to support your attack on climate scientists.

  85. wizofaus
    March 11th, 2008 at 08:33 | #85

    Terje, you’re avoiding the point. Ultimately, my point is that (unjust) discrimination is more harmful than many forms of violence, and that it’s appropriate for the government to focus strongly on discouraging the most harmful behaviours. To suggest that physical violence is the only form of harmful behaviour that governments should be trying to prevent is to draw an arbitrary and unjustifiable line.
    Fortunately, no government does operate along those lines, and it’s hard to imagine that any government would ever do so.
    As I said before, it is my belief in the importance of individual liberties that lead me to the position that governments must actively protect the liberties of disadvantaged minorities. There seems to be no rational case for believing that liberty of business owners to discriminate against minorities is somehow more important, and it surely contradicts what most people would surely consider a commonsense ethical framework.

  86. Ian Gould
    March 11th, 2008 at 10:24 | #86

    “To be honest I do NOT find the anti discrimination act to be exceedingly offensive (except in so far as their is hipocracy such as in gay only bars okay, hetro only bars not okay).”

    If there were a widespread phenomena of large groups of drunken gays going into bars with predominantly heterosexual clientele to abuse and harass them, I suspect we’d have straights-only bars in short order.

  87. mugwump
    March 11th, 2008 at 10:38 | #87

    Quiggin, I didn’t imply the sensitivity was zero, nor do I even believe that.

    If you haven’t already, please follow the link in my post at #71. There you’ll find the oft-repeated (erroneous) claim that because the climate models only fit the recent temperature record if you include CO2 increase, the models are reliably modeling the impact of CO2 on the climate.

    The “paradox” discussed by Kiehl is that those very same climate models have widely varying climate sensitivities (1.5C-4.5C is the commonly quoted figure but in reality the range is much wider than that). How can they all accurately retrodict the recent temperature history with such widely varying CO2 response?

    There’s almost no leeway in the CO2 history, but there is a great deal of leeway in the aerosol history (there are no standard datasets for aerosols). Kiehl argues the resolution of the “paradox” is that the climate modelers adjust aerosol forcings to counteract the model CO2 sensitivity in order to get an accurate fit between the model and the recent temperature history: “Many current models predict aerosol concentrations interactively within the climate model and this concentration is then used to predict the direct and indirect forcing effects on the climate system.“. He shows aerosol forcings vary by the same order of magnitude as the CO2 sensitivities.

    The problem is that, in reality, the aerosol forcing has a value, even if it is unknown. So all models that rely on aerosol forcings that differ from reality (whatever that is) in order to correctly fit the temperature history cannot be correctly modeling the climate response to other forcings, including CO2.

    This just one of many examples of basic errors in statistical methodology in climate science.

  88. Ian Gould
    March 11th, 2008 at 10:45 | #88

    “This just one of many examples of basic errors in statistical methodology in climate science.”

    Really?

    Name and reference six.

    Bonus points for any you can reference to someone not associated with the denialist movement.

  89. mugwump
    March 11th, 2008 at 11:09 | #89

    Just one error of the calibre discussed above would be enough to discredit someone in other scientific fields. If the field is considered healthy with less than six such errors, it is in a lot worse shape than even I realized.

    Before I muster your six Ian, how about you address just this one example, and explain why pointing out this error exhibits

    unjustified cockiness (combined with complete wrongness)

    , to quote Muster Snark.

  90. March 11th, 2008 at 11:44 | #90

    Wizofaus – I was not trying to avoid your point I was trying to explain why I don’t agree with it. I accept that you think government intervention in the way of laws is warranted to stop private businesses discriminating on the basis of race, religion, disability etc. In general I don’t. The utility of violating liberty in this instance is not high enough in my view. However some interventions are clearly worse than others. I would rate the anti-discrimination act as borderline but I think legislated wage equality, racial and gender quotas and minimum wage laws are generally counter productive. In other words not only do they violate the liberty of the employer but on balance they usually deliver negative utility to the class of person they are trying to help (although not evenly so). You won’t find me raising a sweat to try and repeal the anti-discrimination act but you may do in regards to the others.

    The key question in my mind is generally “who is this law intended to help, who does this law hurt, is it effective in it’s goal, is it worth it, is there a better way?” Too often laws (like government budgets) are judged on what they aim to achieve and not on what they actually achieve.

    Non government ways to mitigate business based discrimination would include, marketing, educating, appeal to peoples better nature, naming and shaming and competition. A better government based strategies might include lifting the payroll tax threshold based on employee composition and abolishing minimum wages so there is a market even for workers deemed less desirable.

  91. Chris O’Neill
    March 11th, 2008 at 14:01 | #91

    Terje:

    my reference to cockiness covered both bases. And if you want to see the extent to which I tackle the carbon tax doomsdayers take a look at Catallaxy or ALS

    What does this have to do with cockiness about AGW theory?

  92. Ian Gould
    March 11th, 2008 at 15:26 | #92

    Mugwump, did it ever occur to you that the various models fit to the past not because aerosols have been fiddled with but because back-casting is a standard validation technique.

    Only those models which are successful at backcasting get published.

    Furthermore, data for the past is readily available whereas as contemporaneous data on which to base forecasting is hard to come by. (See recent revisions to NoAA temperature records for 2005). Additionally, even if models get similar results in backcasting they may have different assumptions built in around future tipping points and feedbacks. (For example, modellers may make different assumptions about changes in land cover and albedo due to future warming.)

    You also seem to have failed to consider a key component of how climate forecasting models are typically applied. Because climate is affected by one-off effects such as volcanic eruption, most models build in a probability of such an event occurring each year. Even two runs of the same model will potentially give a different end result (especially for a relatively short period) because of the impact of volcanic eruptions.

    Oh and Mugwump your quote about cockiness didn’t come from me.

    Now about those six examples…

  93. mugwump
    March 11th, 2008 at 23:44 | #93

    Mugwump, did it ever occur to you that the various models fit to the past not because aerosols have been fiddled with but because back-casting is a standard validation technique.

    Ian, you are just plain wrong, as is Quiggin. Please read the reference I gave. In particular, consider the following quote from Kiehl’s paper:

    “Many current models predict aerosol concentrations interactively within the climate model and this concentration is then used to predict the direct and indirect forcing effects on the climate system.”

    Those aerosol adjustments vary by more than a factor of 2 between the different models. Yet it is a matter of fact what the aerosol history is (even if unknown). So my original point stands: the fact that the models only fit the temperature record with CO2 included tells you little (if not nothing) about whether they correctly model the impact of CO2 on climate, because in order to get that fit the models must use widely varying estimates of aerosol forcing, none of which may in fact match the truth.

    Oh and Mugwump your quote about cockiness didn’t come from me.

    I know, I was quoting Muster Snark (Quiggin).

    At this point, someone who claims to be pro-science would admit they are wrong and would start looking more deeply into the issues. Which are you Ian?

    Quiggin?

  94. mugwump
    March 11th, 2008 at 23:44 | #94

    Mugwump, did it ever occur to you that the various models fit to the past not because aerosols have been fiddled with but because back-casting is a standard validation technique.

    Ian, you are just plain wrong, as is Quiggin. Please read the reference I gave. In particular, consider the following quote from Kiehl’s paper:

    “Many current models predict aerosol concentrations interactively within the climate model and this concentration is then used to predict the direct and indirect forcing effects on the climate system.”

    Those aerosol adjustments vary by more than a factor of 2 between the different models. Yet it is a matter of fact what the aerosol history is (even if unknown). So my original point stands: the fact that the models only fit the temperature record with CO2 included tells you little (if not nothing) about whether they correctly model the impact of CO2 on climate, because in order to get that fit the models must use widely varying estimates of aerosol forcing, none of which may in fact match the truth.

    Oh and Mugwump your quote about cockiness didn’t come from me.

    I know, I was quoting Muster Snark (Quiggin).

    At this point, someone who claims to be pro-science would admit they are wrong and would start looking more deeply into the issues. Which are you Ian?

    Quiggin?

  95. Ian Gould
    March 11th, 2008 at 23:53 | #95

    Alternately someone who is pro-science looks for more data – got a link to either Kiel’s full paper or the abstract?

  96. mugwump
    March 12th, 2008 at 00:04 | #96

    Paper is here

    (abstract is free, paper will cost you $9)

  97. Ian Gould
    March 12th, 2008 at 00:10 | #97

    I actually found that same link:

    “Climate forcing and climate sensitivity are two key factors in understanding Earth’s climate. There is considerable interest in decreasing our uncertainty in climate sensitivity. This study explores the role of these two factors in climate simulations of the 20th century. It is found that the total anthropogenic forcing for a wide range of climate models differs by a factor of two and that the total forcing is inversely correlated to climate sensitivity. Much of the uncertainty in total anthropogenic forcing derives from a threefold range of uncertainty in the aerosol forcing used in the simulations.”

    Funny there’s nothing in there about having uncovered the greatest scientific fraud of all time.

  98. Ian Gould
    March 12th, 2008 at 00:12 | #98

    In case anyone wonders how Mugwump stumbled upon this, his posts are a close paraphrase from here:

    http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=2475

    And we all know how “scientific” climateaudit is.

  99. Ian Gould
    March 12th, 2008 at 00:17 | #99

    Climateaudit includes this quote from Kiehl:

    “These results indicate that the range of uncertainty in anthropogenic forcing of the past century is as large as the uncertainty in climate sensitivity and that much of forcing uncertainty is due to aerosols. In many models aerosol forcing is not applied as an external forcing, but is calculated as an integral component of the system. Many current models predict aerosol concentrations interactively within the climate model and this concentration is then used to predict the direct and indirect forcing effects on the climate system.”

    In other worlds, Kiehl explicitly and directly contradicts Mugwump’s claim – aerosol concentrations are a product of the models – not externally imposed to produce the desired results.

  100. mugwump
    March 12th, 2008 at 01:02 | #100

    Ian, I already quoted that passage.

    In other worlds, Kiehl explicitly and directly contradicts Mugwump’s claim – aerosol concentrations are a product of the models – not externally imposed to produce the desired results.

    Ok, one more time.

    A) There is some (unknown) ground truth for historical aerosol forcing.

    B) The values used in the models vary by more than a factor of two, hence most (if not all of the models) must be based on incorrect non-CO2 forcing.

    C) Therefore, the fact that CO2 forcing is required for the model to correctly fit the temperature record tells you little (if anything) about whether they correctly model CO2′s impact on the climate, because the CO2 forcing in the model is being combined with an (almost certainly incorrect) non-CO2 forcing.

    Note: it doesn’t actually matter whether the aerosol forcing is tuned so that the models correctly fit the temperature record (although if you believe it is not so tuned then I’ve got a bridge to sell you). All that matters is the CO2 forcing is being combined with an incorrect non-CO2 forcing, and hence any conclusions about the CO2 forcing are suspect.

    Funny there’s nothing in there about having uncovered the greatest scientific fraud of all time.

    I am not claiming to have stumbled on the greatest scientific fraud of all time. Only those who accept global warming as revealed truth would think that way. These are just elementary errors made by scientists without adequate statistical training. Many people (although not many inside the climate science community apparently) are aware of the poor statistical methodology of a lot of the science.

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