Colloquy: On Global Warming

[This is a back-and-forth to a response to that portion of my review of Milk which suggested five specific reasons why any public policy advocacy position could be taken, only one of which was rational analysis, and indicated that the demand for action to combat anthropogenic global warming was distorted by those reasons, but without those reasons being adequately adverted to.  Italics are my interlocutors; regular text is me.  The interlocutor in the first set of responses is a different person than the interlocutor in the second set, who is different than the third.  Each interlocutor is therefore identified by text of a different color.]

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.)

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.

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.

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 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 ( 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 ( 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).

I find this discussion fascinating.

Since my area of expertise is education, where policy makers regularly ignore research and make policy based on #2-5, I find your argument compelling. We can look at the entire school testing regime as an example of that. Testing students, frequently, at huge expense, and then attaching additional policy consequences to the results of that testing, has done nothing to improve education. Nor will it. And yet the suggestion that we do away with testing, not to mention the policies tied to testing, does not enter any policy conversations. Republicans (No Child Left Behind) and Democrats (Race to the Top) love testing kids. This can all be attributed to 2-5.

To come back to this thread more specifically, I’m sure that the state of climate change is probably more complicated than many climate change “alarmists” and climate change “deniers” admit. But policy by necessity shuns complexity because 1) the people making policy don’t have the knowledge to understand the complexity, 2) the people making policy have to sell the policy to people who don’t have the knowledge to understand complexity, and/or 3) policies require actions applied with broad brushes that can’t accommodate complexity. Hence, a discussion of policy, is not a discussion of facts, knowledge, or research, but rather a discussion of what can be simplified, marketed, and acted upon. This inherently means that policy advocacy must rely on argumentation that misrepresents (through over simplification or bias) the “science” behind the policies.

I have two arguments I’d like to contribute. First, I argue that within your framework, keeping the status quo is a policy decision. Usually it is a policy decision that is very beneficial to the people currently in power. Those people usually currently have #2-Money, #3-A feeling of superiority and #4-Power and control over other people. They get #5-transcendence from defending the status quo. By keeping themselves in power, and protecting the current policy structures, they gain a sense that they are the keepers of the light. Things are currently good, and would be better if people didn’t keep trying to enact policies that messed with the natural order of things. If you accept the idea that the refusal to adopt new policies or regulations is in itself a policy, then people who take up that position – who argue against a policy – also bear the burden of proof. Or at the very least they need to demonstrate that their resistance to new policies are not a result of 2-5.

My second argument connects to the first, and supports the claim that policy makers are influenced by 2-5: The data we use to make our arguments is always subjective and needs to be contextualized. I will use one of your examples, Larry Summers, to illustrate my point. (We will set aside for the moment that he was also embroiled in some questionable financial conflicts of interest, and thus that his resignation wasn’t solely about a politically correct witch hunt, although it was certainly partly that. He is also currently an endowed chair at Harvard, and thus his career wasn’t too badly hurt.) What he said, “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,” was popularly misinterpreted to mean that women aren’t as smart as men. In fact, he was saying that there is a narrower range of intelligence in women as a broadly defined group (He implied that women aren’t as smart as men, but didn’t say it.) This is a nuance that folks don’t understand, so it gets misinterpreted and people react badly. Okay. Whatever. The more important point it this. His data are biased.

Charles, you say, “None of these facts are remotely exceptional. They are undeniably wholly true, both the statistics and the conclusion. 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).” I disagree on all counts. No data, climate measurements nor IQ tests, are “wholly true.” There is considerable reason to doubt Summer’s data. Intelligence itself has been shown over and over to be malleable rather than fixed. There is a lot of question about what is actually measured by tests of scientific ability, mathematics ability, and IQ. The idea of innate ability itself is questionable. Even more questionable is tying the concept of innate ability to a social group’s occupational choices. Scientists are trained and educated, they aren’t born knowing quantum physics. The training is a social process and that social process occurs in contexts that are historically less receptive to women. So is that fact that there are fewer women in science the result of a questionable “innate ability” or is it the result of long-standing social processes? Summer’s data does not answer this question, and yet he argues that it does – and you concur and extrapolate on his findings.

What then would be the reason that climate science data are suspect while statistical correlations between IQ tests and women in science are not? I give you your reasons #2-5. In the case of climate science, maintaining the status quo requires doubting the data, in the case of women in science, maintaining the status quo requires trusting the data. Your #1 does not exist apart from #2-5, whether advocating for, or against, a policy.

Overall then, I submit that policy advocacy, and advocating against policies, are practices driven by much more than science. So does this mean we should have fewer policies? Clearly not, as I’ve just argued that advocating against policies and regulation is as problematic as advocating for policies. The best we can hope for is that the people who hash out these arguments are open-minded human beings who are willing to consider a range of perspectives and ultimately are transparent about their own motivations. In the meantime we live in a world of “alternative facts.” Which is not a bad thing. There are always alternative facts, and subjective truths. But admitting that means we have to warrant our choice of evidence, and then that’s all messed up ’cause regular folks have short attention spans, ’cause they weren’t tested enough as kids. If only our school system had better accountability measures…

I find little to disagree with in that. Your point about testing is certainly correct (I am very much NOT an education expert, but as a non-expert, I have the same view—and I’d like to learn more about education policy from you, someday). Your point about the status quo being a policy decision is also good. (To coin a phrase: if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.)

I think in the context of global warming the factors aren’t nearly as compelling on the “status quo” side, though. First, the vast majority of “status quo” people are involved with global warming policy as a small part of their political lives; many or most of AGW policy advocates are primarily focused on that issue. Therefore, even if all the factors apply in both cases, and equally, their effective impact will be much greater in the case of AGW policy advocates, if 95% of their focus is on that issue, and 5% of the focus of “status quo” people’s focus is on that issue. That is, the latter will be driven mostly by totally unrelated issues and factors. Second, I think all of #2-#5 are objectively less powerful for “status quo” AGW people. For example, superiority and transcendence are, to me, pretty clearly much greater for AGW proponents. But that’s qualitative, and hard to prove.

On the intelligence question, the substance is probably best left for another discussion, so as not to get too sidetracked (although I do have a few thoughts below). But I could be wholly wrong, 100%, and it would not affect my argument, which here is not that it is true that women have a lower deviation of intelligence, but that it is not permitted to believe that it is true, or at least to state it publicly as a scientist, without massive penalty. This is what makes the scientific data presented, whether on intelligence or global warming, suspect. I would be shocked (though I have not looked, perhaps a mistake when I am proven wrong and humiliated) if you could give me any instance of a single academic scientist publicly enunciating, post-2005, the Summers’ understanding of the data on intelligence, much less any scientific study or paper concluding that is the scientifically accurate position. Thus, there is no “status quo” position being advocated at all. Which is proof that the data has been wholly corrupted by the other factors (#2, mostly, in the case of intelligence; #2-#5 in the case of AGW claims).

Therefore, while I grant that status quo advocacy is still advocacy of a type, and further grant that at least some small component of #2-#5 is probably present in nearly any form of advocacy, I think status quo advocacy is, in both given instances, much less corrupted in its reliability. There may be situations in which that is not true—tax policy, perhaps. But those would have to each be evaluated by “open-minded human beings who are willing to consider a range of perspectives and ultimately are transparent about their own motivations.” In the Age of Trump, such people are fewer and fewer, and it’s not like Diogenes was wandering the landscape to begin with. Sad!

(Briefly, on intelligence, I think that male/female differences can’t really be described as “social group” differences. To a point, biology is destiny in this case (which is not to say that cultural factors may not also play a role in how many women choose to enter scientific careers, or their success there—given history, it seems inevitable that it is BOTH “’innate ability’ [and] the result of long-standing social processes.”). It would be very odd, though, if men and women were not very different in many “under the hood” ways.

Naturally, people tend to view this as a slippery slope—it’s a short distance to claims of racial/ethnic intelligence differences, which have less strong evidence for them, and a highly dubious history (hello, Margaret Sanger and forced eugenics!) and primly saying “biology is destiny.” Intelligence is somewhat malleable collectively (e.g., the Flynn Effect; Thomas Sowell has a lot to say on this topic as well), but not at all malleable on an individual level. It is also highly correlated with economic success. But I agree that the sweeping claims some make for the relevance of intelligence across cultures and non-male/female social groupings seem likely overblown. In this case, I suspect that male/female differences, both in intelligence and in other talents and preferences, are both significant and highly relevant to the social question. But, as I say, that’s not relevant to the analysis of policy drivers at hand.

This is arguably pedantic, but I think it’s relevant to note that Summers wasn’t claiming that “there is a narrower range of intelligence in women as a broadly defined group.” (His reference to means was, I think, actually meant to imply that the mean for women was higher, but there is less evidence for that, compared to evidence for the variation). The range of intelligence for men and women is the same (or may be, it is not relevant to the claim)—that is, the minimum to maximum. What Summers meant was that due to the statistical nature of variation, exaggerated at the tail end of distributions, even slight differences in deviation lead to substantially fewer individuals being in the tail ends (high and low).)

While I have lots to say, I’m also supposed to be making dinner right now, so a brief response.

I don’t think we disagree about the status quo folks. However I’d argue that the “totally unrelated factors and issues” are the core of the status quo argument. When it comes to climate change, someone who is against policies that regulate carbon emissions, for example, doesn’t need to engage with climate science. They simply need to use their own issue, coal mining for example, to fight against regulation based on climate science. They apply #2-5 to their issue of choice (stop trying to regulate my coal mining practices) and use the emotional and irrelevant argument (bring back coal mining jobs) to stop climate change policy. We thus hear arguments in support of or against climate change policy that are framed in terms of “save the earth” vs “save the economy.” “Save the economy” is an example of your #5 motivating advocacy against climate change policy. Arguments showing the value of coal mining to the economy of West Virginia serve as the evidence for the “status quo” advocacy countering climate change policy. The policy move then for status quo advocates is to argue their issue (whatever it is, and just as clearly motivated by #2-5) is more important than climate change and that climate change policy will have a negative impact on their issue.

None of this counters your argument that policy based on “science” is actually based on a lot of other motivations as well as science. I agree with that fully. But I am countering the idea that climate change advocates are uniquely implicated in this process. Climate policy advocates may be unlikely to admit that themselves, but then coal mining companies seem to be in odd denial about the impact and future of their industry as well.


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