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Book Review: Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages (Anne Mendelson)

I hate milk. I find many of the recipes in this book frankly loathsome, were I to try them, which I won’t. On the other hand, I like science and history (and ice cream). So despite my stomach churning at some of the recipes and descriptions, I actually enjoyed reading this book.

Milk begins with history—the history of milk and milk animals around the globe. Americans, of course, focus nearly exclusively on cows and cows’ milk, but Mendelson points out that on a global scale cows are a relatively recent and relatively uncommon source of milk and milk products. She mixes this history with science—the very different composition of different types of milk, along with the difference in products that result both from different types of milk and from how that milk is treated, both with by culturing with microorganisms and by mechanical alteration. The result, of course, is a huge range of milk products, ranging from the simple (naturally cultured yogurt; simple cheeses) to the complex (modern milk as sold in the supermarket; aged cheeses; butter).

Milk then moves to recipes, grouped into those based on fresh milk (and cream); yogurt; cultured milk (and cream); butter and true buttermilk; and fresh cheeses (aged cheeses are beyond the scope of the book). Mendelson offers various recipes in each grouping, interspersed with more history and science, typically woven around the recipe immediately at hand. This is a successful approach for engaging and educating the reader (even if, as I say, I find the most of these somewhere between not-appealing and nasty, with the exception of some sweetened items).

All of this is well written. Milk is an excellent book and I will be sure to use my additional knowledge to be even more of a bore and chore at cocktail parties. But for me Milk was primarily a thought-provoking book, and not really about milk, or food. Initially, my thought was sparked by Mendelson’s measured and even-handed approach to controversies such as “raw” (i.e., unpasteurized) milk, which is largely forbidden by regulation in the United States. Mendelson notes that raw milk probably isn’t the wonder food that some think, but neither is it impossible to safely produce and sell raw milk, despite what government functionaries and their allies in the food and health establishment, the “experts,” are always telling us.

Mendelson also covers the analogous controversy over fat in milk and butter—that is, “experts” told us that milkfat was to be avoided on peril of our health and our lives, and now we are told that is false. We are told, instead, that those “experts” wholly misunderstood and grossly simplified the actual chemistry of milk and that they knew nothing at all, despite their claims to the contrary, about how it actually affects the human body. We are now told that milkfat is good for cardiovascular health and keeps us thin, after literally decades of being told the opposite, and anyone who disagreed being considered some combination of demon and fool. Again, the “experts” keep cropping up. What drives their wholly incorrect conclusions, and the demand for universal submission to them?

We all have personal familiarity with the costs of these wrongheaded directives. Some costs are merely reductions in personal utility, which seem unimportant, but are not nothing, even if they are not easily captured in statistics. For example, my grandfather spent decades being forbidden by his wife, for his own good, to eat both butter and eggs, which he loved, and instead being required to eat “healthy” margarine, which he hated. As Mendelson points out (and as has become even more clear since this book was published in 2008), it turns out that all this, also, is entirely false. But my grandfather died before the supposedly certain science of experts was discredited, so his utility remained lowered.

These examples, taken from the relatively narrow area of milk products, are just one set of many examples in all areas of life of how we are constantly told that we must do something because “experts” say to do it. But as Milk shows, “experts” have a miserable track record in their attempts to direct the lives of Americans, whenever they go beyond common sense (e.g., don’t drink clearly contaminated milk) and presume to tell us what we must do, usually despite basing their Moses-from-the-mountaintop recommendations on contradictory, minimal or zero evidence. As a result, millions of people have died or suffered—solely because of what “experts” told us, frequently with the cooperation of officious ministers of the state, who adopt these recommendations and penalize or criminalize failure to comply. But why does all this happen, over and over again? Why don’t the “experts” learn to advocate public policy with humility and caution?

Examples beyond milk are legion. Sticking with food examples, the “experts” told us all that a low-fat diet was the way to go, for good health and long life. Now that’s considered false, and the obesity epidemic largely due to the carbohydrates we were urged to eat while avoiding fat. And last week the “experts” performed a 180-degree about-face on the topic of feeding peanuts to infants. I’ve had five children in the past nine years, and we were cautioned with the direst of warnings to never, ever feed them peanuts until the age of three. It was presented as the Gospel truth that we must do this, or we would be terrible parents endangering the lives of our children. During the twenty years of this recommendation, peanut allergies increased by 500%, and peanut allergies are now the leading cause of food-related anaphylaxis and death in the United States. Now—we are told to immediately do the opposite, and feed small infants peanuts, in order to avoid the very thing created by the thing we were told to do earlier.

Why, you may ask, do “experts” continually issue edicts that direct Americans what they must do, or face penalties, and why do they never show any shame, much less face any consequences, when they are proven wrong? It seems to me that to answer that question we have to ask why people, in any walk of life, whether “experts” or not, advocate any particular public policy. (By “public policy” I mean a course of action that is either strongly recommended, in that failure to follow it is said to be certain to have material deleterious consequences to a specific individual or to some larger segment of society, or a policy that is enforced by state coercion.) Five possible non-exclusive reasons occur to me. I think that every person advocating a public policy is driven by one or more of these reasons, and by nothing else (unless they are insane or using a Magic 8-Ball to choose advocacy positions). Experts are merely people who supposedly have more knowledge; they are subject to the same analysis of their reasons. Those reasons are, in no particular rank:

1) A detached, purely objective analysis of alternatives has led to a conclusion the advocate has concluded is best for society. Let’s call this the “philosopher-king” reason for public policy advocacy. (We can ignore for current purposes whether one can accurately determine what is “best for society,” as well as distortions to and failures of objectivity such as confirmation bias and tribalism, together with logical fallacies such as appeal to authority, to which “experts” are particularly prone, but which don’t change that the reason for choosing a position is objective analysis.)

2) Money. This can mean direct payments, in the sense of corruption. But it more typically means that the advocate will economically benefit if a particular public policy position is adopted. What I mean here is not public policy effects that lift everyone; that falls under #1. I mean individualized benefit—for example, job promotions, grant money from the government to the advocate, or even things like luxury travel to conferences relating to a public policy. This also includes simple economic security, such as job security—ensuring continued employment that might otherwise be at risk. It also includes third-party benefit, such as that resulting from nepotism.

If you asked a random person on the street, this is the only one of the drivers here that would likely be named. But it is probably the least important, despite what economic determinists and Marxists tell us. Sure, everyone wants money, but I think it’s rarely the most important driver of why someone desires a particular public policy.

3) The desire to feel superior to other people. This is a mostly overlooked driver of a huge amount of human action. Human nature being what it is, we all want to feel superior to others, and even better, to be recognized by others as superior, and even better, to be publicly so recognized. (See, for example, C.S. Lewis’s famous metaphor of the “inner ring.”) One way to achieve feeling superior is advocate a public policy and attribute a moral component to it, which necessarily implies that the advocate is superior and those who oppose him are morally deficient and therefore inferior. (Fame is part of the feeling of superiority—technically, it’s not the exact same thing, but for these purposes I think the desire for fame and the desire to feel superior can be lumped together.)

The desire for superiority can be narrow—Professor X may want to feel superior to Professor Y in his same small department. Or it can be broad—Person X may want to feel superior to vast swathes of the deplorables in society as a whole. The refrain “we’re doing this for the children” is perhaps the best indicator that the real reason behind a policy position is the desire to feel superior.

4) The desire to control and have power over other people. Again, this is a mostly overlooked driver of human action. It is highly pleasurable to most people to push others around, whether they admit it or not. Bullying is the most commonly remarked upon manifestation of this tendency, but it occurs everywhere in human relations, and in political systems—see, e.g., Orwell’s depiction of Communism in Animal Farm. Pushing others around is often justified by the pusher as doing something “for their own good,” when it is really the psychological good of the advocate that is being advanced.

5) The desire for transcendence—for meaning in one’s life. This is often the most important reason anyone does anything, and public policy advocacy is no exception. The advocacy itself may provide the meaning—“I am doing something.” But the advocacy itself may be a second-order effect. That is, the advocacy itself does not provide transcendence, but a particular person may find transcendence through a larger frame, of which the advocacy is merely a manifestation. For example, religious belief may dictate a specific public policy, such that advocating the policy is implementing the framework that gives the advocate’s life its meaning. A pro-life activist is not given transcendence simply by fighting against abortion, but because that is part of a larger framework giving his life meaning.

Religious transcendence is easy to understand and identify; the two things necessarily go together. Thus, the innate nature of the human desire for transcendence is best seen not in religion, but in religion substitutes—notably Communism, but that was (and is) only the progenitor of a wide range of mostly left-wing religion substitutes, including environmental extremism and certain brands of feminism. As Chesterton did not say, but should have, “When man ceases to believe in God, he does not believe in nothing, he believes in anything.”

As can be seen from this, there is very rarely any such thing as purely disinterested advocacy of a public policy. If you listen to those who publicly and loudly advocate public policies, they would have you believe that #1 is the only possible reason they advocate any particular public policy. In fact, numerous people in this media-centric age have made a living out of casting themselves as impartial philosopher-kings, advocating public policies for supposedly purely rational, disinterested reasons. So, any time a Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye pushes a public policy (usually left-wing, although that’s not germane to this discussion, but may be indicative of something, as I discuss below), they claim to be driven by pure objective reason, but they are in fact driven by some combination of these factors. The trick is finding out which factors are dominant, and using that to determine whether the advocacy has any merit for society at large, since factors #2 through #5 are in essence inapplicable to or antithetical to society at large, such that if any combination of those dominate, the advocacy is necessarily defective and should be ignored (and the advocate held in public contempt and, preferably, punished by society).

Let’s take Bill Nye’s position on global warming. He likes to call himself the “Science Guy,” and he got his start teaching children scientific facts through clever demonstrations of science experiments in educational programs. More recently, though, he’s taken aggressive public stands on public policy issues, of which global warming is only one (others include pushing for abortion rights and endorsing Barack Obama for political office). Why has he done this?

One possibility is that he has analyzed these policies and decided they’re objectively correct, and the world can benefit from his thoughts, without any benefit to him. Maybe. He refuses to state his public policy advocacy rationales with any specificity, other than the usual vacuous and false “all the experts say global warming is an existential threat and we must pay any cost, immediately, to address that threat,” and he maintains the usual refusal to debate or even acknowledge competing viewpoints. So it’s hard to tell if he has done an objective, internally consistent analysis at all, though there is no indication he has.

But even if he has done so and that’s a reason for his advocacy of a global warming alarmist position, it’s only one reason. With respect to the other four possible reasons, (a) Nye may or may not get more money as a result of his advocacy, but he definitely risks no financial penalty, since all the platforms on which he appears are controlled by those on the Left, who agree with him, and he gets job security because he can cry “persecution” if he is denied any job; (b) he most definitely gets to feel superior, and to be repeatedly lauded as such on numerous public platforms, while making and being applauded for denigrating comments about those who disagree with him; (c) he most definitely gets to control and have power over other people, by the nature of being a recognized Important Person whose advocacy is relevant, and by the declared intent of his preferred policies being massive direct control over billions, including by direct mandate and by limiting their life choices by making energy more expensive; and (d) he probably achieves meaning in his life by his advocacy, although this is hard to tell without more evidence from Nye himself, being largely internal. But it is common for the successful (especially atheists like Nye) to, in the twilight of their careers, seek for larger meaning and a way to feel like they “made a difference,” and so transcendence is likely a reason for advocacy in his case—perhaps the overriding reason. Therefore, based on this analysis, we can conclude that Bill Nye’s advocacy demanding public policy changes in response to global warming is largely or wholly worthless, since it is largely or wholly based on rationales that do not apply to society as a whole, but merely advance Bill Nye’s personal interests.

The same analysis applies, actually, to nearly all global warming alarmists, but even more strongly so. One frequently hears global warming alarmists jeer nervously at those who oppose their analysis and prescriptions, with some variation of “why would the experts claim it’s a problem if it’s not?” These four reasons are why. Massive amounts of money all around the globe flow only to those pushing global warming alarmism; penury and obloquy are the lot of any scientist who dares to suggest not merely that global warming is a myth, but who makes any suggestion that cost-benefit analysis should apply or that it is possible we don’t actually understand climate at all (see, e.g., Roger Pielke). (This is exacerbated by climate science being the short bus of science; the truly gifted go into areas like physics and have more options for making a living.) The superiority that oozes off alarmists is so thick it nearly assumes physical form. All the solutions of global warming alarmists involve massively increasing power over ordinary citizens, by both government and by the advocates of political action based on global warming alarmism (see, the common demand that people who disagree with global warming alarmism be put in prison, or in some cases, the public demand they be killed). And, most of all, global warming alarmism is very clearly a substitute religion, providing transcendence to its advocates, together with all the indicia of a religion, from sins to redemption to priests to indulgences. So, while it appears plausible to a neutral observer (say, me) that modifying the atmosphere could have deleterious effects, and an objective analysis with that as a starting point would be nice, we can conclude that the alarmist industry as it exists is not primarily, or even to a significant degree, driven by objective analysis, and almost wholly, or wholly, driven by motives personal to the advocates, who should be held in contempt. A very few advocates for public policies to address global warming escape this analysis, notably Bjørn Lomborg, but they are few indeed (and the treatment of them by the alarmist industry merely reinforces the above analysis).

Now, not all examples of “experts” pushing public policy are as baldly self-interested as global warming alarmists; they are probably at the extreme range of scientific unreliability due to the accrual of several factors other than rational objectivity. For a less extreme case, let’s take proponents of not feeding children peanuts before the age of three. Probably, the advocates of that public policy were mostly driven by factor #1, objective analysis. They were just wrong, and most likely fell into various forms of bias and distorted thinking that made their conclusions false. Money was probably not overly important (unlike in the drive for fat-free foods, which was corrupted by money from the sweetener lobby). The other factors may have been important, overall or in certain cases; it is hard to tell. Certainly, none of the advocates who were so wrong, and killed children with their erroneous advocacy, felt any need to express sorrow or shame, much less face any kind of punishment. This suggests that the desire to feel superior to other and control them is relevant, because a normal personal would feel compelled to abase himself for his error and the harm he caused—but that would undercut the feeling of superiority and control, so it is absent in practice, unless compelled, which it never is for “experts.”

Similarly, this is not to deny that it is possible to go too far the other way. Sometimes it is possible to base public policy on objective analysis. Cranks who reject all scientific evidence, from those who link vaccines to autism to those who think crystals have healing power, are just as subject to factors other than objectivity. For example, someone who won’t vaccinate his children is subject to failures in #1 (in that the costs to children from not getting vaccinated is greater than even the claimed benefit), and is driven largely by #3 (superiority) and #5 (transcendence). And there are probably quite a few public policy positions that don’t attract lots of public attention, and are therefore more likely to be based on objective analysis and less biased by other factors (though one can feel superior to, and desire to control, a small group as well as a large one).

Finally, this overall problem, of defective reasons being the real driver behind public policy advocacy, is less of a problem with the reality-based community, that is, with conservatives. Liberals are more prone to derive their personal sense of meaning from politics, which is one of the reasons they try to politicize all areas of life. If you don’t advocate any public policy, or are neutral on what public policy will be chosen, you do not receive the positive reinforcement yielded by these drivers. You have to get your personal utility, and your meaning, somewhere else. Conservatives are more likely to not focus on advocating public policies, and when they do are philosophically generally less subject to the temptations of control and transcendence (though, perhaps, not less subject to superiority). Nonetheless, all people should be subject to the same analysis whenever they advocate for any public policy. And I conclude that trusting “experts,” unless a clear-eyed evaluation of their actual reasons for their positions is first made and the result is totally clear, is a fool’s errand.

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3 Comments

  1. Charles Charles

    [A follow-up colloquy. Remarks by my interlocutor are in italics.]

    While I personally prefer beer, this does sound like an interesting book. Responding to your argument about global warming “Alarmists” is a longer discussion better had over beers (or ice cream). But I’ve litigated cases against some of the people on the Trump EPA transition team and (having dug into their arguments via discovery, etc) I can understand why they have so little credibility with the scientific community.

    More generally, your points about the errors of scientific experts on nutrition etc are interesting – I’m reading a good book by Michael Lewis right now called The Undoing Project, about the psychology behind behavioral economics. it talks about some of the reasons scientific (and medical, and many other) experts make mistakes like this. Hubris and self-interest (to summarize several of your five factors) are certainly part of it – as they are for any group of people making decisions. But there are other things going on, like confirmation bias and (according to Lewis’ book) a tendency to mistakenly intuit broader conclusions from small sample sizes.

    To the extent you’re doing some Trumpian bashing of the Establishment (or auditioning for a job with the Scott Pruitt EPA), I’d ask what the alternative is to acting on the best scientific data available at the time when making policy. Many of the cases you cite sound like examples where lay people try to make major lifestyle changes based on some new study they read about in Newsweek without understanding the broader body of research on that topic. I can’t argue about the problems with that. But when it comes to better considered policy choices, for every example of a silly policy error you can cite, there are multiple counter-examples where the “experts” made big improvements in public health. It wasn’t that long ago, after all, that people thought nothing of putting sewer outfalls upstream of their drinking water. And let’s not forget that tobacco companies disputed the science about cigarettes for years…

    I don’t want a job with the government, fortunately. I like money!

    I don’t think we need seek for an “alternative is to acting on the best scientific data available at the time when making policy.” In fact, that’s exactly what we should do—that’s Reason #1, the philosopher-king. But it’s not what we’re doing in many instances. Instead, we are receiving public policy recommendations, and public policy action, based on other criteria but CLAIMED to be based on objective scientific (or other, as appropriate) criteria. (Cigarette companies are a good example of my reason #2 being dominant in advocacy of a public policy; large businesses advocating public policies, including negative ones such as advocacy of not imposing regulation, are just as suspect in my analysis as any other entity.)

    So, your example of sewer outfalls is a good one, not dissimilar to my example of not drinking clearly contaminated milk. There is a role for public policy, and public policy advocacy. But such advocacy is, as I say, easily dominated by other, real but hidden, rationales.

    That can’t mean that all public policy advocacy is inherently wrong, though. In a way, what I am saying is merely an extension of commonplace that various biases (such as confirmation bias) need to be looked for and alleviated. I am just extending that further. Therefore, it seems to me that the correct approach is to do two things. First, to admit, realize, and highlight that these other reasons for advocacy exist, and to place the burden on anyone advocating a public policy to show that they are not present, or if present, weak in their effect. In some instances, such as global warming, such a showing would be difficult or impossible—my thesis is that in that area those reasons impact swamp the impact of “acting on the best scientific data available.”

    Second, this suggests that any public policy advocacy should be narrowly focused and tailored, and subject to rigorous pre-action demonstration of both benefits AND costs. Narrow focus means it is easier to determine the real reasons for advocacy. The more sweeping an action, the easier it is to make it not tied to demonstrated scientific benefits, but rather a moral crusade. And costs are usually ignored by politicians, of course, but also by public policy advocates. (This is true in many public policy areas, not just those scientifically oriented. See, for example, the claims that “diversity” provides huge benefits in many areas. That may be true, although those benefits are never really demonstrated. But the costs are never even adverted to, much less quantified.)

    So, we can demonstrate pretty easily that fixing sewer outfalls has benefits that exceed costs. Even if other reasons intrude into that advocacy, we can see that does not undercut the conclusion, because the issue and its solution is narrowly tailored and justified in a way that can be clearly seen (and debated in a concise, clear fashion, if necessary). If, on the other hand, the claim is that ALL DRINKING WATER IS CONTAMINATED—EVERYBODY SAYS SO—AND WE MUST GIVE GLOBAL GOVERNMENTS HUGE POWER AND MONEY TO FIX IT RIGHT NOW AND STOP ASKING QUESTIONS—that’s less useful and more subject to the problems I identify.

    That said, I’m not sure it’s true that there are any recent examples of areas where “the ‘experts’ made big improvements in public health.” What are they? Seems to me those improvements are all in the past. This is like clean air and clean water. Yes, regulation has greatly improved clean air and clean water since, say, 1970 (though whether that might have happened anyway due to voluntary private action is hard to know). But that doesn’t mean that more regulation, and cleaner air and water, is necessary, both overall and when balancing costs and benefits. Maybe the EPA should be forbidden from issuing ANY new regulation, except if something wholly new arises (at which point Congress can pass fresh enabling legislation), on the basis that all they should be doing is administering current regulation. (And note that it was Congress, not the “experts,” that created more clean air and clean water.)

  2. Charles Charles

    [A second follow-up colloquy. Remarks by my interlocutor are in italics.]

    A little late to the challenge, Charles, but I’ll chime in. It seems undeniable that “experts” are human beings, and subject to all the weaknesses of other human beings. Motivations #2-5 address greed, vanity, desire for power and metaphysical yearning – none of which seems like a sound basis for public policy. So in evaluating an expert recommendation, we should look for data to see whether calls for action on basis #1 are justified. What seems to be missing from your argument is any sense that we could actually accomplish that task – gather data, analyze it by applying the scientific method, and draw a reasoned conclusion about whether there is a problem that needs to be solved. The issue of climate change, as you point out, is probably the most contentious area of “expert” calls for action we have before us. There are literally thousands of peer-reviewed studies by relatively anonymous scientists across the globe that document the reality of global warming, yet you choose to undermine it by taking on Bill Nye the Science Guy. I’d rather hear whether you think 1) as a general principle, it is possible to review mountains of scientific data and draw reliable conclusions about how the world works, and then 2) what you think that data tells us is happening in the case of global warming. You make lots of sweeping assertions: “the common demand that people who oppose global warming alarmism be put in prison;” “global warming alarmism is very clearly a substitute religion;” “the alarmist industry as it exists is not…to significant degree driven by objective analysis.” I assume these each of these observations builds from “a detached, purely objective analysis of alternatives,” and not, say by “a desire to feel superior to other people.” One would hate to think that skeptics, just like experts, have mixed motives. But sometimes “the superiority the oozes off them is so thick it takes nearly physical form.” Casual dismissal of a broad base of scientific analysis driven by an aesthetic distaste for a handful of its more passionate proponents is also a bad basis on which to design (or forego) public policy.

    Thanks for the detailed thoughts! Some of that I agree with, but I think it misses, or rather fails to substantively respond to, my major point.

    1) To directly answer your question first, I suspect it is not in fact practically possible to do what you suggest on the issue of global warming, to “gather data, analyze it by applying the scientific method, and draw a reasoned conclusion about whether there is a problem that needs to be solved.” This is because public policy advocates are not (to quote my earlier comment), making their solutions “narrowly focused and tailored, and subject to rigorous pre-action demonstration of both benefits AND costs.” Instead, the proposed solutions are vague-yet-massive, always involve huge transfers of power to government, and no attempt at all is made to evaluate costs and benefits, while propaganda is spewed out at a massive rate (including eliminationist propaganda, such as the infamous “No Pressure” film). And scientists who suggest narrow solutions and analysis (e.g., Lomberg) are globally vilified with religious fervor.

    For example, a few weeks ago we were treated to many newspaper articles about how 2016 was the hottest year ever. None of those articles (e.g., the NYT) ever mentioned the actual temperatures involved. That’s because the supposed increase was 1/100 of a degree, well within the margin of error in the analysis. But to put that in the article would make the article seem ridiculous and undermine the narrative. So the facts were globally suppressed by the media. That’s a clear indication of no real interest in objective debate.

    So while perhaps we COULD do “draw a reasoned conclusion,” maybe a better answer is that we (at least, the global warming alarmists) are not making any effort to do so.

    2) Now, it’s possible that global warming is a unique problem that is intractable UNLESS we have a sweeping global solution. At a minimum, the collective action problem makes that possible. If aliens invaded, for example, there would be a global component to the response, and it would be harder to have narrow focus and tailoring, or take time to demonstrate costs and benefits. Global warming alarmists would have us believe that is the case here—they are always telling us that unless we act in X (<5) years it will Be Too Late. When that time passes, and global temperatures haven’t moved, but the demands are the same or shriller, it suggests, again, that the problem is not urgency or the need for a global solution, but failure of objective analysis, and a circling of the wagons to protect the new religion.

    3) I note that you object to my using Bill Nye as an exemplar—but you make no effort at all to demonstrate that he, and others pushing global warming alarmism, are not primarily influenced by reasons #2-#5, despite my showing qualitatively and by example how hugely influenced they are by those reasons, and answering literally the only argument global warming alarmists make in favor of their supposed objective analysis—“why would people push global warming alarmism if it wasn’t true?” I have shown why they would and do. What seems to me missing from your analysis is any attempt to demonstrate why this doesn’t swamp their objectivity. You advert to that possibility, then attempt to shift the burden of proof back, and implicitly reject my argument with the rhetorical trick of ascribing my detailed rationale and evidence to mere “aesthetic distaste.” I’ve made a prima facie case that advocates of a public policy are unduly influenced by non-objective considerations. It’s up to the advocates of a public policy to show why that’s not true, and justify themselves, not just pretend my case doesn’t exist.

    4) So, as I say, now it’s up to global warming alarmists to debate and show why it’s true. But they never will. I, personally, have no idea whether and to what extent AGW is an actual problem. I suspect it is a problem at some level, and maybe a major one. But I can clearly see that its proponents treat it as a religion, not subject to debate, and their only attitude toward their opponents is that shown by religious believers toward heretics. I don’t have to go through the mountains of data, nor would I really be qualified to (nor is Al Gore, though, for that matter). Others who do and have, though, are execrated, not responded to, which pretty much tells a theoretical purely objective observer all he needs to know. I have not made a “casual dismissal”—in fact, I didn’t dismiss AGW at all. I just insist that actions, especially costly actions that fall almost wholly NOT on those pushing the actions, a wealthy elite who will be wholly protected from those costs and who are not currently bearing any costs (e.g., stopping personal airplane travel), be based primarily on objective analysis, and there is little evidence of that, and no effort to provide any.

    5) My conclusion, perhaps repeating myself, is that given what I show on reasons #2-#5, not that #1 is impossible to conclude or should be denied as a basis for action, but that the burden of proof lies on global warming alarmists to show why #2-#5 do not unduly influence their conclusion. This is particularly true since global warming alarmists make predictions and claims that can never be falsified, again suggesting lack of objectivity. No fact contrary to prediction, of which there are legion, is ever admitted to cut against the case made for AGW.

    You make a start by at least obliquely implying that “greed, vanity, desire for power and metaphysical yearning” can influence the analysis—but that is certainly the first time I have seen that admitted by a global warming alarmist, and I guarantee that if I asked Bill Nye to admit that, he would (a) ignore me, (b) assault me verbally if made to respond, not respond substantively and (c) internally and to his fellow religious believers, deny it completely. And I can also state with certainty that if you were writing, say, a newspaper op-ed on this issue, none of those influences would be mentioned, even obliquely, as relevant at all, or addressed in any way. We are only talking about it because I brought it up and you were so kind as to respond!

    6) I do note in the original post that all people, of all political stripes in all issues, are subject to these dubious and hidden rationales—that is, as you say, have “mixed motives.” But whether I am driven by those motives more than objective analysis, and cannot see it, in this instance is less relevant, given that I am not the one advancing a demand for a massively disruptive and expensive public policy. Certainly #2, #4 and #5 are inapplicable in my instance, though as I said earlier #3 (felt superiority, which you call vanity, which may in fact be a better term) may be applicable. Not all mixed motives are equal; we should keep the focus primarily on the motives of those wanting to impose trillions of dollars of hard costs, and yet more in soft costs, on the people of the world, at no cost to themselves, but huge benefits to themselves. Until they can justify their ways to man, their position should be assumed to be tainted at best, and wholly illegitimate at worst.

  3. Charles Charles

    [More with the same interlocutor; again, interlocutor’s comments in italics.]

    A few responses:

    1) You may have missed that in my initial post, I quite intentionally set aside the issue of how we can design a SOLUTION to the problem of global warming. Doing so inherently involves very complicated and speculative cost-benefit analysis, which will be hard for any “expert” (on either side of the debate) to defend to the satisfaction of the other side.

    Your response is to say let’s not try and deal with the consequences; mine is to say that if we know the consequences of inaction will be devastating, let’s do the hard political, scientific, and economic work of making the wisest possible changes as soon as we can. Obviously, yours is an easier political argument – essentially, “don’t worry, be happy.” And essentially it has won the day.

    2) That’s why I narrowed my focus to the question of whether experts can tell us that global warming is both occurring and driven by human activity. As you have said, you are willing to accept this possibility, yet are not convinced it is the case. My contention is that there is, on one hand, an enormous weight of scientific data gathered by many actors in different places at different time showing the same results. There is, on the other hand, a handful of dissenters and James Inhofe throwing snowballs on the Senate floor. You are right that neither you or I are qualified to evaluate all the primary data and draw a conclusion – but is it really legitimate to contend that no one is? Let’s set aside discussion of Bill Nye the Science Guy, and to these professional associations of scientists. Their rationales under your point #1 are linked below. I reject the idea that people who collect data and present it in peer-reviewed journals should still have to prove they are not motivated by #2-5. Instead, I think anyone who wants to reject the data provided under #1 either needs to show why that data is invalid, or document that the scientists’ motivation under #2-5 should lead us to dismiss the conclusions of the data under #1. http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

    So, I welcome you to either: show that their conclusions under #1 are invalid; to present an equivalent collection of data in dissent; or to demonstrate why we should assume that your points #2-5 are bigger motivators for each “expert” listed here.
    No sweeping statements, generalizations or anecdotes in response, please – I love me some aggregate data!

    3) A thought experiment. Let’s assume that the claims of what you call global warming alarmists are true, and that human activity is dramatically accelerating climate change. If that underlying reality were true, can you describe what kind of data or analysis you would need to see to accept it as such?

    4) I’m also curious how you interpret the actions of other third-party professionals whose careers – and fortunes – depend on making accurate projections about the consequences of global warming. The US military is actively planning for scenarios in which climate-induced problems like drought, famine, or sea level rise may lead to mass unrest or refugee problems overseas. Property insurance companies regularly factor projections of sea level rise into the policies they offer. These are not “alarmists” pushing a political agenda – these are organizations (“experts” of a type) with vast resources at stake who need to make the right LONG-TERM bet on global warming. And they are betting that it is happening. Aren’t these exactly the experts you think we should trust – those who base their decisions on #1 (and #3, I suppose, but the desire to avert a financial loss leads them to pay great heed to #1)?

    5) Finally, you argue that “whether I am driven by those motives more than objective analysis, and cannot see it, in this instance is less relevant, given that I am not the one advancing a demand for a massively disruptive and expensive public policy.” Except that demanding inaction in the face of a clearly identified developing threat that will cause massive economic and social disruption is in every way a policy. The logical conclusion of your argument is that we should be dismiss skeptics who refuse to acknowledge evidence gathered under #1 because of their own motivations under #2-5.

    I appreciate the very detailed response. Maybe there is a future for FB as a place for reasoned discussion!

    1) You may have set aside designing a solution to the problem of global warming, but you can’t analyze the validity of the data claimed to support the existence of the problem without recognizing that demands for immediate massive changes to global society are inextricably linked with the presentation of the data. Therefore, the reasons for those demands must be examined to determine the validity of the data used to support the existence of the problem.

    Yet at the same time you decline to talk about solutions, you claim that “the consequences of inaction will be devastating,” which is an empirical point not proven. (And, of course, no mention of costs of action.) In fact, for twenty years now, immediate devastating consequences have been claimed if we fail to act, none of which have showed up. For example, after Hurricane Katrina, we were treated to endless talk about how this was just the start of constant massive super-hurricanes. Instead, nothing. Which absence of hurricanes is then also used to prove the existence of global warming, thus showing another defect in the alarmist case, that literally no prediction is falsifiable, since any event is used to prove that global warming exists and is a problem. (In fact, it is entirely possible that the global consequences may, overall, be beneficial, if AGW alarmists are correct in their conclusions, whatever those conclusions are today.)

    At the same time, I don’t advocate “don’t worry, be happy.” It’s more like “don’t worry about the inevitable.” We are all going to die, but that’s a recognition of fact, not something to be happy about. That no political action will be taken is merely a recognition of fact (with the possible exception I mention below). It’s probably also good, but that’s an entirely separate question.

    I note you do not address my devastating point about the NYT’s, and global media’s, recent cover-up about the “warmest year ever.”

    (A side note. We are talking here about AGW. I am old enough to remember the early 1990s, when skeptics denied that there was any warming occurring at all. This position was falsified and admitted as such. So score one, at least, for AGW alarmists. Though the skeptics, at least, admit their position was falsified, something that has not been done once by AGW alarmists.)

    2) You keep trying to focus on the “data,” that is, my reason #1. Yet you refuse to address #2-#5, other than in a vague way admitting that they might be relevant, but let’s talk about #1. What you are doing is the equivalent of denying #2-#5, while claiming you’re not. I have made an extremely good case, what in law would be called a prima facie case, thereby shifting the burden of proof, that #2-#5 make #1 extremely dubious (which I expand below). These are not “sweeping statements, generalizations or anecdotes.” Yet you make no effort to combat the prima facie case; you merely repeat that it is not “legitimate to contend that no one is” qualified to evaluate all the primary data. That’s true in the abstract. But given #2-#5, and their effects I have shown in this context, it is entirely legitimate to contend that #1 is useless as a guide to decision.

    Or, to put it another way, you say “I reject the idea that people who collect data and present it in peer-reviewed journals should still have to prove they are not motivated by #2-5.” You don’t say why you reject that. But I reject your rejection! In fact, they DO have to do that first, given the huge distortions I have precisely identified, before anybody at all should pay any attention to what they say.

    3) This seems like a bold statement to you. Mostly that’s just because of the echo chamber that surrounds AGW alarmists, whose normal response to such statements is some variation on “are you positing a global conspiracy?” and some nervous laughter. And, of course, because of the scale of the issue, the technical expertise necessary to opine sensibly, the breadth of the proposed solutions, and the various political threads around the issue, it seems difficult to understand how #2-#5 could wholly corrupt #1.

    So let us take a narrower example in a totally unrelated area to show why this is true for AGW alarmism. In 2005, Larry Summers, the President of Harvard, was forced to resign when he said in a speech that “It does appear that on many, many different human attributes—height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability—there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means—which can be debated—there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population.” He went on to ascribe the differential participation of women in certain science positions to this, as well as to choices made differently among men and women.

    None of these facts are remotely exceptional. They are undeniably wholly true, both the statistics and the conclusion (Summers was being polite by saying “it does appear,” knowing his audience). Women will never dominate high-end science because there are just not as many extremely smart ones as men, and there never will be (nor, for that matter, will there be as many female mental defectives). Yet, I guarantee you that since 2005 not a single American scientist has said anything like that, or tending in any way to that effect, in public (and probably very few in private). Certainly, no scientist has issued research results to that effect. I can guarantee, though, without looking it up, that not a few have issued research results claiming the opposite. However, those results are what are known, in scientific jargon, as lies. Not even lies driven by #3, #4 or #5—just driven by #2, the knowledge that even a slight suggestion that what is known, and has been known for a long time, as wholly true is in fact true will immediately permanently kill your career, even of a tenured professor, and the reverse will make your career. All results on the topic are therefore wholly corrupted and cannot be trusted, until such time as the political pressure is cancelled, which does not appear imminent.

    The same thing is true for results claiming AGW, but even more so, because all four reasons (#2-#5) apply strongly, not merely #2, as in the Summers case (and only a subset of #2 there, at that, given that huge money isn’t being thrown at scientists coming to the right conclusions about intelligence distributions).

    As requested, I have now “document[ed] that the scientists’ motivation under #2-5 should lead us to dismiss the conclusions of the data under #1.” QED.

    (As an aside, it is not at all the case that “the logical conclusion of [my] argument is that we should dismiss skeptics who refuse to acknowledge evidence gathered under #1 because of their own motivations under #2-5.” For that to be true, it would have to be demonstrated that any of those apply to skeptics, which you have not done in any way, shape or form (unlike my demonstrations), and I suspect could not be done, though I welcome attempts!)

    4) However, I think your question of “If that underlying reality were true, can you describe what kind of data or analysis you would need to see to accept it as such?” is entirely fair and is in fact the crux of the question. After all, otherwise my arguments become a type of Zeno’s Paradox.

    Having thought about it, I think the answer is that there are no such data or analysis, since the data collection and distribution process is wholly corrupted, as I demonstrate above. However, there ARE facts, or occurrences, that would cause me to accept the existence of AGW alarmists’ claims. Following is a list of such facts (not all of which would be necessary to occur, of course), in no particular order:

    a) Large-scale government funding being provided immediately to acknowledged skeptics, and proof of both no harm, and professional advancement, for numerous skeptics (who are numerous, despite your claims they are not).
    b) A willingness of alarmists to publicly and repeatedly debate skeptics, rather than the sole response being ad hominem attacks and a total refusal to engage.
    c) A willingness of AGW alarmists to provide all their underlying statistical and other data to the public and to skeptics (as ClimateGate showed, much of the energy of AGW alarmists goes to hiding their data).
    d) The expulsion and total exclusion from academic and media respectability of proven liars like Michael Mann, along with an acknowledgement of repeated lying by AGW alarmists and a commitment to seek out and punish such behavior.
    e) The expulsion and total exclusion from academic and media respectability of known ideologues like John Holdren, for their past decades of total error in all scientific predictions and, for example, Holdren’s demands for totalitarian action by global government in the 1970s to combat problems that never existed (for which he has never apologized or been punished, just like all scientists who adopted fashionable left-wing scientific positions in the 1970s that were wholly falsified).
    f) Wholesale acceptance of the AGW alarmist position by current-day skeptics.
    g) AGW alarmists like Al Gore and many, many others, who profit enormously from their alarmism, personally acting like there is a problem, for example by foregoing not just private jet flights, but any flights, and moving to small efficiency apartments and walking everywhere, and staying at the Red Roof Inn rather than the Four Seasons.
    h) Any significant number of politicians actually taking an action to solve AGW that harmed them personally or their re-election efforts.
    i) A demonstration that any of the adjustments constantly made to the temperature data sets have raised past temperatures or lowered modern temperatures (instead of the reverse, which seems to always be the case—see linked article). (This is like the grocery store scanner that always erroneously charges a higher price. Sure, maybe it’s just a random error. But not when it always happens to charge a higher price.)

    What would NOT convince me is yet more things like the linked article (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4192182/World-leaders-duped-manipulated-global-warming-data.html). What’s your thoughts on that? (Impugning the source, or other ad hominem attack, is not a response—let’s just stipulate that it’s entirely true—what are your thoughts?)

    5) Much of this discussion is conducted as if the choices were binary—AGW is proposed as either not a problem at all, or it is, as you explicitly presume, a “devastating” problem. Maybe the answer is somewhere in between. But that AGW alarmists universally treat it as devastating, refusing to acknowledge a lesser possibility, is an extremely strong support for my position (that #1 is wholly corrupted by #2-#5).

    You claim, for example, that there is “a clearly identified developing threat that will cause massive economic and social disruption,” which demands action rather than inaction. My legal writing instructor in first year of law school was stupid and worthless. But she did tell me one thing that was right: anyone who uses “clearly” in a claim is in fact claiming something that is not clear at all.

    6) As to the military and insurance companies, those are not the powerful arguments you seem to think they are. You don’t seem to understand that the modern (pre-Mattis) military is unbelievably politicized and PC, with career death for any officer who doesn’t toe the latest socially left-wing line. Any military that pushes women in combat (one of the stupidest ideas of all time, and perhaps the ultimate triumph of ideology over common sense and reality) and “transgender” “soldiers” is not one whose actions can be pointed out as driven by rationality. As to insurance companies, your facts are just wrong (http://blog.seattlepi.com/boomerconsumer/2016/10/20/which-insurance-companies-are-preparing-for-climate-change/). A few companies are pretending they care, due no doubt to political pressure, some of which is apparently done through disclosure regulation. There is zero evidence insurance companies are taking actions adverse to their financial interest based on future predictions of global warming (nor is oceanfront property anywhere dropping in price).

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