Derp: An irregular verb

Following up on Noah Smith’s marvellous definition of derp, I thought I would add the first person to give the declension of this irregular verb

* I can’t see this happening
* You regularly restate your tight (low probability) prior
* He herped a flerp of derp, the twerp

The classic example, cited by Noah is that of people whose view that solar photovoltaics can never work has been unshaken by a decade of massive cost reductions and growth in installations (estimated at 55 GW this year, and predicted to exceed 100 GW in the near future). Even more important though, is the belief in market liberalism held by most people whose views were formed between 1975 and 1995, and haven’t been affected by the disasters of the subsequent two decades.

28 thoughts on “Derp: An irregular verb

  1. “That twerp just herped a flerp of derp!”

    In defending Jensen and other Libs re climate change, Chris Berg from the IPA gave a wonderful performance of herping on this nights Drum.

    Same old derp shamelessly flerped on our ABC.

  2. The derp is strong in this one…
    He offered nothing by way of argument, except his derpled opinions.
    He derped his facts in public. uew!

  3. I’m a bit of an old fogey when it comes to current media wars over words but I do understand “derp”. It’s a bit like “clunk” which was a word we used to define the statements and actions of the socially defective. The people who speak “derp”, who are “clunks”, need either to stfu and find some place to hide or resign themselves to their short and unhappy future. Not needed. Surplus to human and ecological requirements. Biologically and psychologically deficient. Not fully human, in the modern sense. Not even vaguely civilised according to the terms of Norbert Elias. Mud f*cking parasites on humanity. Why put up with them?

  4. I like the simple dictionary-like definition Noah Smith gives but perhaps it could be expanded a little.

    derp – “the constant, repetitive reiteration of strong prior beliefs which often intensifies in the face of disconfirming evidence.”

    The discussion about “Bayesian probability” and “Bayesian inference” is a very useful shorthand for the layperson like me.

    I like to think I escaped the sucking slurp of derp with respect to solar power. However, there are plenty of orthodox economists (not our good host though) who still derp on that endless quantitative economic growth can occur on earth: more people, more cities, more cars, more of everything forever. There are a still a lot of derps (noun, plural) in the economics profession.

  5. I wanted to comment on this sentence too.

    “Even more important though, is the belief in market liberalism held by most people whose views were formed between 1975 and 1995, and haven’t been affected by the disasters of the subsequent two decades.”

    This lays out the issue in excellent fashion. Those of us who are old enough to remember things before 1975 (or have at least read some history) and those of us who are smart enough or honest enough to properly analyse matters after 1995 do know what’s going on. “Consequences are coming.”

  6. This doesn’t seem to allow the possibility of accused derps being proved right. In darker times eccentric old women were thrown in a fire as witches. If they survived I presume their accusers merely shrugged their shoulders. Perhaps the accusers should feel some heat.

    In my opinion those who accuse others of being derps are appealing to tribal loyalties rather than reason. The late Christopher Hitchens said ad hominem attacks were a sign the argument had been lost. I suggest the same for those who accuse others of being derps.

  7. @Hermit

    the way I understand it “derp’ is something that people do, not what they are. Nobody is a derp but they ‘derp’ or they ‘are derping’.

    Yesterday I derped but today I am not going to derp and tomorrow derping will be banned on pain of being sent to the gulag for re-education.

  8. I do enjoy the verb herp. But it clashes with a term I myself have been trying to popularise: derp-wallah.

    This is a beautiful-sounding insult, a pleasure to pronounce, and it has an etymology that spans time and place.

    The word wallah being an indian one for a person who is in the business of something. For example, a tiffin-wallah brings you your tiffin, an ice-cream wallah will come around and offer you ice-cream, a chai-wallah has a big vat of chai they want to share with you.

    A derp-wallah is someone, therefore, who is in the business of derp, and is eager to foist their derp on you.

    Combining wallah with derp marries old and new, eastern cultures and west, rich and poor. If anyone would like to help me popularise it, I’d be delighted.

  9. Whilst the accusation can be thrown around with abandon, is it really a derp if prior beliefs remain true? Surely reality moving on but that not being recognised or acknowledged is what makes a derp a derp. Besides economics, Renewable energy is one of the prime candidates for where change has been faster than even the optimists expected and derps abound. And it’s looking like related energy storage is going the same way, yet with the warped politics around climate and energy, there’s deep desire combined with big investments at stake to find cause to oppose and obstruct rapid change and derps are part of that politicicking.

    PR, advertising, paid and partisan editorial direction, tank think, judicious political donations and lobbying surely all make much use of derps; easier to maintain an existing belief than turn people aside from a well established one? (nothing puny humans can do can alter weather or climate? Or can turn aside GHG driven climate change in a world where cheap fossil fuels appear so integral to prosperity?)

    UNSW PV technology that should halve PV production costs is being taken up rapidly even as Tesla introduces the Powerwall at prices that will encourage mass adoption of energy home energy storage – and almost certainly trigger even greater installation of PV. Yet even before it hits full producition there are indications they will have serious competition, especially with respect to it’s grid scale storage offerings – 24M’s semi-liquid electrodes that may halve Li-ion production costs whilst making the production process much simpler, factories much cheaper to set up and deliver batteries that are safer. Alevo’s long life grid scale Li-ion variant has more than a billion US dollars in private financing to kickstart it’s market entry, UET thinks it’s improved vanadium redox flow batteries will significantly undercut even these emerging Li-ion technologies, Quinone organic flow batteries that may have potential to exceed even those now have serious backers, taking it from Lab curiousity a year ago to startup, Isentropric’s Pumped Heat Energy Storage demo plant is being built at scale… these are emerging in the presence of strong derps that continue to promote the belief that economically viable and reliable energy storage is beyond the realm of possibility.

  10. Poor Hermit doesn’t seem to get it. Sticking by a prior inclination that is supported by the evidence isn’t derp; having an inclination ahead of, or on limited, evidence is not derp. Repeating (with or without ‘la la la I can’t hear you I have fingers in my ears’) the prior inclination when evidence points (more and more strongly) against it is derp.

    So was it the illustration of derp with ‘solar will never be economically competitive’ the thing that got under Hermit’s collar?

  11. @ChrisH

    “Sticking by a prior inclination that is supported by the evidence isn’t derp”

    It’s not nice to talk about people behind their back; so I’ll talk about some people that might reason in the same way as Hermit.

    People can believe that they have evidence for the fact that their prior inclinations are not just prior inclinations; it is clear to some people that their prior inclinations are in this particular way of reasoning supported by evidence, but this evidence is such that others cannot see or appreciate it.

    And many people believe that things can be ‘proved’ rather than only disproved.

    And if one waits long enough some things just may become true again; like flares being cool and attractive and stopped clocks.

    I still think that derp is better not being defined as a noun, as a thing that is produced but is more accurately a process and so better used as a verb. Flerping and such is just silly.

    I said to one of my children once that she was astute and she said, I am not a stute, anyway what is a stute?

  12. If the topic at hand is whether solar is a dramatic development that changes everything then that should be stated at the outset. Then the discussion can use the likes of statistics, trends, unforeseen constraints and behavioural conjectures. If a protagonist then accuses another of derpism the discussion has degenerated.

  13. @Hermit

    Is that the conversation you have been having? I don’t think any body else is having that conversation.

    I am pretty sure that we all have a different concept of ‘dramatic development’ and a different understanding of what “changes everything” means so that’s the stumbling block before we get to stats and the like.

    To talk about the process that people go through when they make up their minds about something is not naming and shaming; not playing the man; it is recognising that there are different paths that brains can take when we are making up our minds.

  14. “ZEIT: But we Germans have already reckoned with our own history.

    Piketty: But not when it comes to repaying debts! Germany’s past, in this respect, should be of great significance to today’s Germans. Look at the history of national debt: Great Britain, Germany, and France were all once in the situation of today’s Greece, and in fact had been far more indebted.

    The first lesson that we can take from the history of government debt is that we are not facing a brand new problem. There have been many ways to repay debts, and not just one, which is what Berlin and Paris would have the Greeks believe.”

    Is this Pikkety suggesting that the Germans are derping or flerping derp?

  15. Not quite on topic, but the Germans behaviour over debt, and Israel’s behaviour over the Palestinians suggest that something weird about repeating history is going on.

  16. @John Brookes

    Of course, the earlier repeat of history was loaning Greece all that money in the first place. I’d bet the bankers said “A country can’t go bankrupt”. Most are too young to remember Argentia in the ’70’s and will never have heard of Spain going bankrupt 2 or 3 times in the 17th (18th?) century.

    On the other hand, they may have figured that they could cajole/blackmail the EU to cover it. And that seems to have worked.

  17. @Hermit
    Ah, but you are ignoring the possibility that the accusers are right. Pointing out that a derp is a derp is in many cases a simple matter of observation of behaviour in the face of new contrary evidence: they claim something is true with great certainty; along comes some new facts which contradict the stance that the something is true; they claim, once again, something is true with great certainty. This is the pattern of derp. See it, and you know a derp is a derp.

  18. I’m saying derp accusers have already lost the argument. They’ve merely won points with their tribe while possibly alienating the wider public. If the counter argument is sound it merely needs to be put in succinct form without name calling.

  19. Hermit, if you were presented with evidence that those who designate certain behaviours as being derp haven’t already lost the the argument, would you change your prior?

  20. Hermit it has always seemed to me that you are having a different argument to the one that everyone else is having.

    And now you are trying to make up another argument that nobody wants to have. Derp is not about ‘name-calling’.

    Everybody derps, sometime…..unless one takes active steps to not derp.

    So to be clear and I’m sorry if I’ve not kept up with your position but I think that your prior position is that ‘the wider public will never accept the changes in lifestyle that will be required for us to transition to a low carbon economy unless we include nuclear power?’

  21. Hermit, certainly a comment of yours prompted my initial question about a something previously held to be true remaining so not qualifying as a derp and comment that use of derps have been used to oppose a real commitment to broadscale use of renewables, but my pointing to those ongoing technological advances and the rhetoric of dismissing their potential using derps was intended more broadly than to you specifically, and was especially aimed at those involved in energy/emissions/climate policy and planning – at corporate and government levels.

    We have a Prime Minister who has been consistent in his beliefs that reliance upon renewable energy is neither viable nor appropriate in the presence of exploitable reserves of fossil fuels. We have an electricity industry that has not seen cause to find that objectionable and have used the withdrawal of carbon pricing under Abbott to redouble their use of fossil fuels. The use of derps around renewable energy costs and inadequacy of energy storage to mitigate their intermittency seems like standard rhetoric for justifying these positions. Sure, some of these are in the pipeline and are not widely deployed yet and are not – without carbon pricing – justifiable purely on the basis of costs alone. Yet even the rejection of accounting for the externalised costs of emissions relies on older derps such as that of mere humans being unable to change the climate and that the primary political advocates for a transition to low emissions are driven by fringe politics. Even if those derps are not publicly declared so much by people like Abbott anymore – tactically leaving that degree of explicitness to ‘outsiders’ like Maurice Newman, Andrew Bolt and others, notably from within Newscorp’s stable of paid opinionators – I think they are very much in use behind closed doors by Abbott, his team and his major backers.

  22. If I call someone a derp, and they have not demonstrated the pattern of derp, then it is legitimate to say I am merely name-calling, for I do not possess the evidence to support my calling someone a derp. On the other hand, if I first provide the necessary evidence as to the pattern of derp, then pointing that out isn’t necessarily name-calling: at face value, it is simply labelling the discovered fact, i.e. that the someone is a derp, or has indulged in derp.

    I think I get the point you make though, Hermit, which is it is counter-productive to plant a label on someone, if it is liable to rankle that person, and you still wish to persuade them of the winning merit of your side of the argument. On the other hand, if I have correctly identified that someone is indulging in derp on the argument in question, then there is no prospect of persuasion—because implacability is truly essence of derp.

  23. If the subject of the thread was ‘solar will be an essential energy source in the future’ or ‘renewable energy will ultimately displace fossil fuels’ we could get stuck into it. That way claims made by appeals to tribal loyalty could be carefully refuted or supported in a derp free zone. A bottomless pit will then open up.

    I’ll start the ball rolling with the abundant resource argument. The world has 1.35 billion cubic kilometres of seawater with just 3.5% salt. Humans only use 18,200 cubic kilometres of fresh water. Therefore there’s 74,000 times as much water available as we use. It follows that complaints of water shortages in western Queensland, California and elsewhere are meaningless since technical solutions exist.

  24. Hermit, I presume your point is desalination of seawater to supply western Qld would be prohibitively expensive and poo poohed by people like myself – which is true – but I don’t see how that demonstrates that my confidence that a irrevocable staged shift to renewables being feasible and not economically ruinous is purely a matter of tribal loyalty – ie that it’s unreasoned and unreasoning.

    I would think the cost differentials re Renewables vs fossil fuels are not nearly so extreme as the water example. My point has been that that differential has narrowed a lot in recent years and a continuing pipeline of innovation with flow through from lab to commercialisation makes it reasonable to forecast PV and storage costs at least will continue to drop significantly in the near future. I know there are significant issues around intermittency that need to be acknowledged and addressed but I think we have some established thinking – which may or may not include derps – that rejects the fundamental commitment to low emissions and preclude more creative possibilities. These include but are not confined to a presumption of 24/7 electricity supply being widely available at low cost – rather than variably priced based on variable rather than demand responsive supply – being so essential as to be considered inviolable.

    I would also point out that if it were simply a matter of up front cost – where the calculation of what energy costs excludes big externalities like the future impacts of effectively irreversible climate changes – then it can be claimed that costs of renewables remain excessive. However, leaving out those externalities is a form of institutionalised cheating and is sustained by derps – or at least misunderstandings and misrepresentations of various kinds – starting with active and passive rejection of mainstream evaluations of the future impacts of excessive fossil fuel burning.

    With appropriate pricing of those externalities, the situation is surely very different. Variable pricing around variable supply can induce significant shifts in usage patterns and reevaluating what power is actually essential – what base supply is really essential and what it is worth – impacts the viability of supply andstorage options, both existing and emerging. ie it’s not simply a matter of what the apparent up-front cost is.

    With impacts – and associated costs – that will persist for millennia I suggest that pricing future climate costs low is shortsighted, especially in the absence of planned and mandated transition to low/zero emissions. Categorising future climate costs that have yet to eventuate as purely hypothetical and dependent on a ‘disputed’ theory around Greenhouse gases – and therefore there should be no requirement to include any pricing is, if you accept that mainstream climate science is essentially correct – clearly wrong. Pricing those externalities is tricky and bound to be uncertain of course, so it’s not unreasonable that the pricing should be that sufficient to make it economically unviable to not displace non-CCS fitted fossil fuel plant in a timely fashion.

    It’s worth noting that I am talking about a staged transition, with room to adapt and shift priorities and choices of technologies along the way. What I see as most essential is continuing firm commitment to the fundamental goal of achieving a low to zero emissions energy economy. I’m inclined to reject arguments against that commitment that are predicated on requirement for a total, fully articulated solution, that must not be projected to be significantly more expensive – when those costs include the aforementioned cheating with respect to future climate costs and restricted to established, readily available technologies who’s costs are presumed to continue without significant change.

    It seems to get back to whether there is political will to face this problem squarely. I will say again that I believe that a genuine collapse of climate science denial and political obstructionism would mean mainstream political support for nuclear would be greatly strengthened – mainstream political groupings currently devoted to opposing commitment to a low emissions economy have a lot of innate support for nuclear that is currently muted and subsumed into that antithetical to nuclear goal. But their support for renewables be also be greatly strengthened, including the potential for more comprehensive planning of a framework that will work. I personally think some recognition of existing fossil fuel infrastructure’s potential as interim backup, that shifts it from direct competitor to complement to intermittent low emissions energy could emerge. And a significant increase support for R&D&D (deployment) of innovative solutions across the board seems like an expectable outcome.

    Meanwhile we are already seeing solar and wind being periodically, and in some places on average, being delivered at lower cost than coal or gas. In a free and open electricity market those should not face unfair competition from energy supplied at less than cost by CO2 emitters seeking to exclude them. Intermittency can become a kind of defacto carbon price on existing plant; unfortunately for nuclear, it would face the same intermittent competition. My own view is that if it gains sufficient support in the future it may have grounds – on the basis of it’s low emissions – to have special help to displace high emissions plant for proven ‘essential’ uninteruptible base supply. It should not, in my own opinion, ever have any special support to displace other low emissions energy supply ahead of any higher emitting supply simply because they are intermittent.

  25. the declension of this irregular verb

    Very irregular indeed. Nouns and adjectives have declensions. Verbs conjugate.

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