Archive for science

psychology of belief

The context is a Canadian Journal and LGBT activism and the topic is free speech. ‘We’re teaching university students lies’ – An interview with Dr Jordan Peterson by Jason Tucker and Jason VandenBeukel on December 1, 2016. There are many ideas and they are rather scattered as in the nature of a conversation. Another celebrity case concerning free speech in Canada is that of Mark Stein’s. While the U.S. is in the bullying stage on this, Canada appears to be one step further along. Dr. Peterson is on the receiving end, too, and here is a sampler of some of his thoughts.

My primary interest has always been the psychology of belief. … I was particularly interested in what led people to commit atrocities in service of their belief.

what I was learning in economics and political science was just not correct. There was too much emphasis placed on the idea that economic interests were the prime motivators for human beings, and that was not obvious to me at all. I was spending a lot of time thinking about the Cold War, and the Cold War was not primarily an economic issue.

One of Jung’s propositions was that whatever a person values most highly is their god. If people think they are atheistic, it means is they are unconscious of their gods.

I’ve learned that you cannot remember what you don’t understand. People don’t understand the Holocaust, and they don’t understand what happened in Russia.

Part of the reason I got embroiled in this [gender identity] controversy was because of what I know about how things went wrong in the Soviet Union. Many of the doctrines that underlie the legislation that I’ve been objecting to share structural similarities with the Marxist ideas that drove Soviet Communism.

The thing is if you replace compassion with resentment, then you understand the authoritarian left. They don’t have compassion, there is no compassion there. There’s no compassion at all. There is resentment, fundamentally.

If you stop talking to people, you either submit to them, or you go to war with them. Those are your options and those aren’t good options. It’s better to have a talk. If you put restrictions on speech, then you can’t actually talk about the difficult things that need to be talked about. I have about 20,000 hours of clinical practice and all I do for 20 hours a week is talk to people about difficult things – the worst things that are going on in their lives. These are hard conversations all the time. The conversations that are the most curative are simultaneously the ones that are most difficult and most dangerous.

There’s also this idea that you shouldn’t say things that hurt people’s feelings – that’s the philosophy of the compassionate left. It’s so childish it’s beyond comprehension. What did Nietzsche say: ‘you can judge a man’s spirit by the amount of truth he can tolerate.’

Now groups that were discriminated against. What are you going to do about it? The only societies that are not slave societies are western enlightenment democracies. That’s it. Compared to utopia, it sucks. But compared to everywhere else – people don’t emigrate to the Middle East to live there, and there’s good reason for that.

He can see what is in front of him. Much of what passes for academic pursuit now sounds like Radio Moscow back in the 70’s. That prompted his interest in what it is that drives humans to such a committed investment in false and destructive paradigms. As this sampler indicates, he is synthesizing many observations and ideas of others. There is a lot of truth to be contemplated.

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Why did he get elected? Climate alarmists show why.

There is a lot of talk that it was hubris, a contempt for fly-over country, and that “basket of deplorables” mentality had something to do with the Trump victory. Eric Worrall says the Climate Establishment Hopeful Trump will Betray the Trust of the American People and his sources illustrate the point.

The climate establishment is expressing hope that President Trump will treat the wishes of the American people, and the promises he made to the voters who supported him, with the same contempt and disregard which they themselves feel for the needs of ordinary people.

I suspect we’re seeing the beginning of a global attempt to pressure President Trump into watering down his electoral commitments, but I also think they have chosen the wrong President to try to bully – President Trump is not an unprincipled professional sellout like some of his predecessors.

A part of setting the stage was in establishing Trump as a ‘Hitler’ and this is also being discussed, both in terms of it being a tactic that is getting stale and in terms of its driving fear and anxiety in some social circles – particularly in higher education.

Worrall also provides a copy of Trump’s Contract with America to show what it is that has the left up in arms. It provides a solid refutation of the meme that nobody was working issues in the campaign – but then, if the issues are not those that fit your world view, denying they exist is one way to deal with your angst. But they continue to exist and now reality is meeting desire. What that dissonance does is to up the ante and that is why we see riots one the one end and hubris and scheming on the other.

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Quackery: QM edition and warrior despair

Luboš Motl comments on a popular YouTube video. It is just another of many that engage in quackery. Weinberg’s new calls for an overhaul of quantum mechanics.

But I have largely surrendered. It makes no sense to write new explanations why oil droplets are nothing like quantum mechanics because a few thousand people read my texts, only a fraction understands it, while millions of stupid people want to hear something else than the correct physical proofs of the truth. They want something that confirms their stupid prejudices and their fundamental misunderstandings of modern science.

And it’s not just this basket of one million of morons who have watched the aforementioned bogus video. As they are getting senile, numerous star physicists are helping to amplify this idiocy as well.

It’s always risky to evaluate any scientific theory in terms of any philosophical prejudices. But it’s even more hopeless to evaluate a 20th century physical theory in terms of 17th, 18th, or 19th century philosophical prejudices – which is exactly what Weinberg is doing. Your philosophical prejudices have nothing to do with the bulk of the 20th century. They’ve been known to be wrong since 1925. Fifty years ago, you knew that but due to some saddening process, you ceased to know that. Now you can very well watch the video saying “quantum mechanics is oil droplets” and upvote it.

Classic rant. It’s what happens when reason, reality and logic encounter the mass of stupidity and ignorance and human cognition. Motl explains the nature of QM very well for the ‘layman’ in illustrating why he feels defeated. So this rant has a bonus if you are looking for scientific literacy. 

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The nature of knowledge, the temptations of the devil.

Sarah Hoyt says the first effect of not believing in God, is to believe in anything. She refers to David French on how Our Post-Christian Culture Often Replaces Faith with Nonsense.

use extreme caution when applying even the most popular psychological concepts to your personal life, to the corporate world, and to public policy. Even the most confidently stated assumptions can be wrong.

So why tie this phenomenon back to faith? Why bring Christianity into the equation? It’s simple. For generations Americans have been taught by word and deed that there is a better way, that the lessons of the Judeo-Christian tradition should be discarded as so much oppressive hocus-pocus. Ancient moral teachings aren’t just false, they’re destructive. With my own eyes I’ve seen Christians — even pastors — refuse to make cultural and moral arguments based on scripture alone. Unless science is also on their side, they’ll keep quiet. Science, after all, is the universal language. Faith is divisive. In reality, “science” is often leading us astray — and for reasons that the biblically literate can easily predict. It turns out that human beings are self-interested, that we’re drawn to quick fixes and splashy results. It turns out that we’re mistake-prone and often make entirely arbitrary judgments. And it turns out that we really, really like to see results that confirm our own righteousness and virtue. In other words, scientists don’t offer an escape from the fallen world; they’re part of the fallen world.

A stimulus for this thinking is recent discoveries that ‘ego depletion’ experiments were not reliable and that led to realizing that many studies in psychology and sociology were also rather difficult to support with consistent experimental results. That realization has put these fields in question that ties into the suspicion and dissonance that results from investigations that disrupt fantasies. There is no discrimination between ‘soft’ results as often is the case in psychology and sociology and ‘hard’ results as is often the case in engineering and physics. This pressure is particularly evident and important in medicine where the ‘hard’ evidence encounters the softer stuff and that leaves room for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) that has no founding in reality but consumes attention and effort and funds to the detriment of healing. 

In religious terms, this is the commandment about false witness. In science, this witness is the truth of God as witnessed by observation and measurement. Critical to this witness is accepting the frailties of humans and that means understanding the limits of observation and measurement. That is why classes in science dwell on accuracy and precision in measurement and why the tools used for aggregate measures (e.g. statistics) emphasize error probabilities and why matters of bias and procedure are important. A proper scientist is one who pays attention to the temptations of false witness and is aware that Truth is only partially visible. That awareness guides the skepticism of a religious scientist.

There are many examples of people who succumb to the temptation of the devil. The creationism ‘debate’ is one example where God’s word laid down in the world around us is contested with an interpretation of human words. The anthropogenic climate alarmism is another topic where underlying fears, political power, and income streams undermine integrity. Even Heisenberg’s observations about quantum mechanics gets twisted in extrapolations to Newtonian scale mechanics. “The first effect of not believing in God, is to believe in anything” is on display. Will we learn?

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Are people parasites on the planet?

Chet Richards lays it out: Why Environmentalism Became Both a Religion and a Con Game. What has happened to us? When? How? Chet provides clues for insight and inspection.

John Muir was a Conservationist, not an Environmentalist. He saw the wilderness as a “primary source for understanding God: The Book of Nature.” Muir did not worship Nature, as modern environmentalists do. Muir worshiped God, the Judeo-Christian God. So, here is the difference: Conservation derives from the Hebrew Bible. Mankind is to be Stewards of the Land. We are charged to husband God’s creation.

Environmentalists, for the most part, believe that the Earth’s biosphere is God. And, that human beings are destructive parasites, eating away at the life of their deity. In effect, most environmentalists are atheists searching for something larger than themselves to worship.

This notion that people are parasites really got started in the 1960’s.

The high priests: Rachel Carson, Paul Ehrlich, James Lovelock.

This eminent scientist was scathing in his comments — particularly about the sheer ignorance of the movement’s devoted followers. … The true believers still believe without understanding. Environmentalism is a religion after all.

Long established religions have traditionally provided a framework for ordering one’s life and for reducing this natural sense of insecurity. As we have discovered, there is something about the post World War Two world that has, at least in the West, broken these traditional religious frameworks. Something happened during the war to cause people to no longer trust religious authority.

A skilled confidence man knows that the best way to hook a victim is through the victim’s vanity. The environmental movement is a con. Its leadership preys on the ignorance, insecurity, and hubris of its followers.

But there is always another con, and each new con means further loss of freedom. For half a century the environmental movement has been the primary tool of those leaders who wish to suppress individual freedom and individual initiative. The erosion has been slow, but it has been steady.

True care for the environment, true care for nature, is a rich man’s game. Only the prosperous have the resources to protect the natural world. Only those living in comfort believe that it matters.

Poor people care little for Nature. Poor people struggle just to live. They don’t have time for environmental diversions. The environmentalist con takes away freedom and replaces it with diminished prosperity. Carried far enough, political environmentalism ultimately will drive people into impoverished serfdom and, with the greatest irony of all, it will wreck the environment.

Post WW II, the sixties when the baby boom that was an immediate aftermath of the war gained majority, that is when the tide turned. Carson’s notable works from the fifties culminated with Silent Spring, out in 1962. That made 1962 a marker for the turning point where conservationists spawned environmentalists, where religion and belief turned from God to Gaia, and the idea of humans as parasites on the planet became mainstream. 

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A malaise in science, a failure in culture

Dr. Tim Ball thinks that the Credibility Loss in Climate Science is Part of a Wider Malaise in Science.

There are a widespread malaise and loss of direction in western society promulgated by bizarre ideas and theories produced by completely unaccountable academics. How can anyone promote ideas that were so wrong and did so much damage, like Paul Ehrlich, yet continue to practice?

Lack of accountability is endemic among the financial, political, and academic elite trio. It is no wonder that the modern attitude, especially among the young, is that you only broke the law if you got caught. Even then, it is most likely nothing will happen to you or anyone who benefits from your absolution if you are in the elite trio. So the malfeasance expands as the practices and false rewards continue.

One of many incorrect assumptions made in education is that it can increase a person’s Intelligence Quotient (IQ). The difference is between nature (IQ) and nurture (education). Aristotle defined the issue when he pointed out that you can have a mathematical genius of five years old, but you will never have a five-year-old philosophical genius. Aristotle’s point was that most of the subjects’ students study in school require life experience, which they don’t and can’t have.

The give away in the entire climate debacle were the actions taken before and after the emails were leaked. The resort to denial of freedom of information requests for data, use of intellectual property claims to prevent other scientists replicating results. The examples in climate science appear to be extreme.

There is worry about a lack of accountability and differing rules and standards for different cohorts. Why is it fostered and allowed to stand? That is the puzzle.

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False prophets

Luboš lets loose every now and then about false prophets in science. This time he thinks: Pesticides needed against anti-physics pests — “Their activity got too high in the summer.”

There’s absolutely nothing new about this particular rant – it’s the 5000th repetition of the anti-string delusions repeated by dozens of other mental cripples and fraudsters in the recent decade. To make things “cooler”, he says that many string theorists would agree with him and to make sure what they would agree with, he promotes both Šmoits’ crackpot books at the end as the “recommended reading”.

This particular rant has been read by more than 45,000 readers. The number of people indoctrinated with this junk is so high that one should almost start to be afraid to call the string critics vermin on the street (my fear is not this far, however). I am sure that most of them have been gullible imbeciles since the rant was upvoted a whopping 477 times. Every Quora commenter who has had something to do with high brow physics disagrees with Muller but it’s only Muller’s rant that is visible. Quora labels this Muller as the “most viewed writer in physics”. Quora is an anti-civilization force that deserves to be liquidated.

A more accurate formulation is that Mr Siegel doesn’t want to see any arguments in favor of grand unification because he is a dishonest and/or totally stupid prejudiced and demagogic crackpot. But I guess that Siegel’s own formulation, while totally untrue, sounds fancier to his brainwashed readers.

The number of individuals just like him has grown astronomical and they produce their lies on a daily basis without facing almost any genuine enemies.

It’s not only in string theory that you have the ignorant posing as experts pontificating nonsense. It is not only in arcane fields of study or science or technology that such people are doing their thing, either. String theory, climatology, genetics and farming, vaccinations, nutrition, criminal violence, and even the law all have false prophets garnering followings of the gullible. 

It wouldn’t be so bad if it was all nonsense but money gets spent, people suffer and die, and the followers waste so much. It does seem that the activity is rather high this summer.

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Flawed inflammatory: the GMO argument

Sarah Hartley seems a bit confused in an Opinion: Why scientists’ failure to understand GM opposition is stifling debate and halting progress.

Genetically modified crops are safe for human consumption and have the potential to feed the world and improve human health, scientists have been telling us for years. On June 30, 110 Nobel laureates from around the world signed a letter demanding that the environmental pressure group Greenpeace stop its campaign against GM crops. How many people must die before we consider this a “crime against humanity”? the letter asks.

Note the selection from the letter and remember that this is an opinion about scientists that fail to understand. Also note that the question is factually accurate and reasonable although it is a confrontation to denial.

Our research has identified five requirements for advancing a responsible debate about GM crops. These are a commitment to honesty; recognition of the values underlying the practice of science; involvement of a broad range of people; consideration of a range of alternatives; and a preparedness to respond.

This is nice, but such advice should start at home. How can there be “a commitment to honesty” when a whole litany of dubious allegations and logical fallacies are presented in support of the opinion? How is calling the letter “inflammatory” be considered honest? How are these “requirements” considered relevant when they appear more to be accusation by innuendo and presented that way because the accusations have no merit?

It is clear that the scientists accusing Greenpeace of crimes against humanity feel deeply frustrated about what they see as shackles on a technology that for them has clear benefits for the world’s poor. However, by signing the inflammatory letter, they reveal a flawed and naïve understanding of the debate. This approach is likely to result in further agitating and polarising the debate rather than achieving the desired outcome. Indeed, some may even see these scientists as using their privilege and authority to promote a particular technological solution to a political problem.

The quote provided refutes the accusation here showing that the opinion is based on flawed perceptions chosen to support a bias. That is supported by labeling and judging the Nobel laureates with words such as “flawed and naïve” and asserting that it is they who are “agitating and polarising” and using “privilege and authority.” The opinion also describes health and nutrition as a political problem and maligns technological solutions.

The fact is that the opposition to GMO is based on promulgating fear, uncertainty, and doubt and shows no consideration for the damage its efforts do to integrity or even the physical human condition. Hartley’s concerns about the scientists are misdirected. She chooses the easy target and, in doing so, demonstrates that she is a part of the problem and not a part of the solution.

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More death from the left

One side effect of the environmentalists’s movements has been death, especially in the population of the poor and disadvantaged. Since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and the termination of the use of DDT to control vector born diseases, the health and welfare of the silent classes seem to be of little concern. This is generating some pushback. See Scientists Scorn Greenpeace’s Deadly GMO Scare Tactics

A group of 107 Nobel laureates signed onto a letter calling out the environmental group Greenpeace for its longstanding opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The letter pays particular attention to Golden Rice, a GMO that, the letter states, “has the potential to reduce or eliminate much of the death and disease caused by a vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which has the greatest impact on the poorest people in Africa and Southeast Asia.”

And yet, and yet…Greenpeace doesn’t approve. Worse than that, the group’s eco-activists have actively mobilized against its cultivation in the developing world (where it’s needed most), spreading fear and misinformation that’s lead to incidences of targeted vandalism against Golden Rice field trials.
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The Nobel laureates’ letter concludes with a question: “How many poor people in the world must die before we consider this a “crime against humanity”?” From where we’re sitting, consigning hundreds of thousands of poor children to blindness and contributing to millions of otherwise preventable deaths every year certainly seems to cross that line.

The issue is one of ‘responsible use’ but the debate is plagued by binary position of yes or no. Yes, Carson had a point but no, total banning of all pesticides was not the most effective choice. Tugging on heartstrings with scary anecdote and hyperbolic exaggeration is not a proper way to present a point of view either. 

You can take the Malthusian approach, figure that all resources are limited so the human population must be limited, too- by force if necessary. An alternative is  to look at history and see that human ingenuity tends to solve problems if allowed to do so and human population is self limiting when fears of starvation and impoverishment are reduced. 

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Don’t need no stinkin’ data – we have our imaginations!

This falls into the ‘never let a catastrophe go to waste’ department. Michael Mann, scientist: Data ‘increasingly unnecessary’ because ‘we can see climate change’.

Leading climate doomsayer Michael Mann recently downplayed the importance of climate change science, telling [the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee] that data and models “increasingly are unnecessary” because the impact is obvious.

The panel’s draft, which now goes to the full platform committee for approval at a meeting July 8-9 in Orlando, Florida, includes a recommendation to call for a Justice Department investigation into “alleged corporate fraud on the part of fossil fuel companies who have reportedly misled shareholders and the public on the scientific reality of climate change.”

The recommendation, adopted by unanimous consent, comes on the heels of a campaign by 17 attorneys general — 16 Democrats and one independent — to pursue Exxon Mobil Corp. and its supporters for climate change “fraud.” At least three attorneys general have issued subpoenas to Exxon.

Exxon is challenging subpoenas issued by the Virgin Islands and Massachusetts attorneys general, denouncing the probe as a fishing expedition that violates the company’s free speech rights.

Any flood, any big storm, any unusual weather, provide meat for claims about being able to “see climate change.” You’d think a person with the credentials and position of “Mann, scientist” would be well aware of the problems of perception and bias in measurement and, especially with his previous problems with statistics, especially careful about phenomena that are not simply measured.

It is telling that the pattern persists. Deceit and a lack of intellectual integrity in espousing a position, a call for the suppression of fundamental rights, moral preening, and the platform of the Democratic Party. Modeling that party with this pattern yields much more verifiable outcomes than climate models provide.

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Is evidence a matter of belief? (a problem in healthcare)

Robert Centor illustrates the problem as The conundrum of clinical medicine is what makes it difficult.

The term, “evidence-based medicine” (EBM), provokes strong feelings from its proponents and its skeptics. I spent a full day recently in discussions about EBM. As the day proceeded I understood that evidence is wonderful when it fits the clinical question, but that too often the clinical question does not, and probably will not have adequate evidence.

Even if one believes in EBM, controversies among guidelines must give one pause. These likely occur because differing guideline committees have differing priorities and values. Data are not cold hard facts that we can always apply to our patients. Rather we must filter data through a screen of patient preferences, co-morbidities and social concerns (including money).

Evidence, i.e. what can be observed and measured, has both proponents and skeptics and is a matter of belief in the medical community? That is (or should be) scary.

What is also scary is the really bad science education in the discussion. Evidence is based on measurement and that always comes along with a proper consideration for precision and accuracy. And both of those concepts consider the impact of the conditions of the measurement. When Centor talks about EBM and its fit to a clinical question, he ignores these measurement issues and tries to create a straw man making a complex scenario into a binary measure.

The comment about “filter data” tells of an effort to squish evidence into a small hole, a subset of measures that have specific numeric results. The issue in medicine has been, for the last century or so, that of trying to find objective and repeatable measures for the many situations a practicing encounters. It is one of trying to decipher the evidence and the models that were once just the province of gifted practitioners to the realm where they can be understood and applied by the less gifted.   

Why this is an issue is that medicine has been plagued by those who eschew evidence and use a longing for a cure and the issues in measurement and knowledge to sell their snake oil. 

Another example in clinical medicine where evidence gets short shrift is illustrated in the medical establishments efforts to bring gun control into their realm. If a sign on a local clinic was taken seriously, patients would need to leave their pocket contents at home and park canes and other assistive devices outside the clinic. The medical profession has taken leave of their charge to examine the person in favor of putting a focus on the tools their patient uses. This makes the false assumption that the tool is used for only one thing and, from that, concludes that the patient is mentally unhinged (but can be re-hinged by a sign on the door). Evidence and intellectual integrity go out the window.

Clinical medicine is difficult because it deals with interacting complex systems that are neither fixed nor consistent in their behavior. That requires a respect for evidence coupled with a proper understanding of measurement and a good awareness of what is known and what is not.

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For how long will it stand? (think Venezuela vs Chile)

Bruce Walker, How the Left Is Destroying Science:

Scientism is ossified and reactionary. There are never schools of thought, for example, in scientistic regimes. Honesty and integrity cannot survive, because honest inquiry is always punished and because the atheism at the heart of regimes of this sort means that there is no moral restraint regarding experiments, observation and the presentation of other explanations for data.

All of those factors are present in leftism today; every issue is political, honesty is nonexistent, and power is everything. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, we are sliding into a new Dark Age. This grim fact is something many of us feel about modern life. Those toxins in cognition and integrity that are the heart of leftism have infected many other areas of life and are strangling science to death. That is precisely what the left wants.

When reality becomes a matter of opinion there is no basis for learning; no basis for constructive efforts. The problem is that building skyscrapers with an opinion of reality tends to build monuments that do not stand.

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The real problem: blind?

Peter Dorman: The Climate Movement Needs to Get Radical, but What Does that Mean? — “A Delayed Review of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate by Naomi Klein.”

what I find diagnostic is the warm reception it received from virtually every media outlet on the English-speaking left. This suggests that Klein is moving with the political tide and not against it, and that the problems that seemed obvious to me were either invisible to her reviewers or regarded as too insignificant to bring up. The view that capitalism is a style of thinking, progress is a myth, and political contestation is irrelevant to “true” social change belongs not just to this one book but to all the commentators who found nothing to criticize. That’s the real problem.

Critical thinking? Examination of conclusions and opinions? Consideration of implications, costs, and benefits? All by the board. That is a real problem.

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Ideal gas law vs the NFL

Reason and reality don’t seem to make much of an impact on behavior these days. Scientists weigh in against the NFL’s war on physics and Tom Brady makes it clear that science isn’t at issue but rather the power politics about who is in charge.

If you’re not an American football fan, think of this as a story of a $13 billion company that can’t get its head around basic science.

Consider this further bit of analysis. The scientists gathered temperature data for more than 10,000 NFL outdoor games since 1960. They assumed a locker-room temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit and that footballs were inflated to 13 pounds per square inch of pressure ahead of each game, and found that 61% of games would have been played in temperatures that would lead to “deflated” footballs as judged by the NFL.

That’s like in the WBCCI, the Airstream RV association, where the Trustees seem to think their job is to serve the Company and supervise the members instead of serving the members by supervising the Company. Power goes to people’s heads and can create situations where reality and reason get set aside.

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DHMO scares, now its DNA food labeling

Getting people to sign up to ban diHydrogen Monoxide (aka water) is an old joke that comes up now and then, But, wait! there’s a new one! Wapo reports: New study confirms that 80 percent of Americans support labeling of foods containing DNA

Nearly all food contains DNA, and there is no good reason to warn consumers about its presence. As McFadden and Lusk and explain, the survey answers on this subject are an indication of widespread scientific ignorance, proving that many of the respondents “have little knowledge of basic genetics.” Other data from the study also support this conclusion, including the fact that 33 percent of respondents believe that non-GMO tomatoes do not contain any genes, and 32 percent think that vegetables have no DNA. Our vegetables would be blissfully free of DNA if not for the nefarious corporations who maliciously insert it into the food supply!

More generally, the problem of public ignorance about genetics is just one part of a broader pattern of widespread ignorance about numerous public policy issues, both scientific and otherwise. The problem is not that voters are too stupid to learn basic facts about scientific and political issues, but that they have too little incentive to do so.

Sadly, there is no easy solution to widespread scientific and political ignorance. In my work on the subject, I have argued that the most promising approach is to limit and decentralize the power of government, which would enable us to make more of our decisions in settings where we have stronger incentives to become well-informed. At the very least, we should recognize that we have a serious problem with voter ignorance, and that majority public opinion is often a very poor guide to policy.

It isn’t only science. Consider the problem WBCCI Trustees have when it comes to understanding their organization’s tax exempt status. It takes work to demolish ignorance and even more work to actually make effective decisions. It is just much easier to put a label on things warning about fears whether they are well founded or not. 

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Where’s Star Wars?

Torgersen takes a look at The Martian and Mad Max and it is in water much deeper than just the Science Fiction and Fantasy writers. It is about a world view and the role of humanity past, present, and future.

Clearly, audiences across the globe had a much greater preference for the science fiction movie that focused on actual science being employed in a setting where science — and mankind — are making miracles happen.

But the professional body of Science Fiction and Fantasy writers liked their bleak future better. The future where a despotic madman keeps women as breeding and food stock, while the young men all die very bloodily, and too early; before the lymphoma and blood cancers (from the nuclear fallout, naturally) can kill them slow.

Of course, The Martian was every inch a Campbellian movie, while Fury Road was almost entirely New Wave.

Guess which aesthetic dominates and excites the imaginations of SF/F’s cognoscenti?

Now, I think there is a very strong argument to be made, for the fact that Campbellian vs. New Wave is merely the manifestation of a deeper problem — a field which no longer has a true center.

My personal stance has always been, “To hell with the hoity-toities! Give me my space cruisers and galactic adventure, like that which fired my imagination in the beginning!” But this is a very passé attitude. Nobody wants nuts-and-bolts SF/F anymore, do they?

The Martian box office take isn’t the only indicator. Look at the latest in the Star Wars saga. Whether it is almost feasible science extrapolated or dam’ the science for space adventure where the good guy wins, the box office seems to favor the feel good over the apocalyptic. Now consider that in light of political topics such as human caused catastrophic climate warming, the GMO and ‘natural organic’ foods controversies, energy resources, and other science related where is mankind political controversies. Does man overcome problems or does he (she) cause them?

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A perfect storm for corruption: science research edition

It may sound familiar. The sugar conspiracy — “In 1972, a British scientist sounded the alarm that sugar – and not fat – was the greatest danger to our health. But his findings were ridiculed and his reputation ruined. How did the world’s top nutrition scientists get it so wrong for so long?” is a ‘long read’ by Ian Leslie. Change the subject and rename the prominent characters and you have climate change.

The study’s biggest limitation was inherent to its method. Epidemiological research involves the collection of data on people’s behaviour and health, and a search for patterns. Originally developed to study infection, Keys and his successors adapted it to the study of chronic diseases, which, unlike most infections, take decades to develop, and are entangled with hundreds of dietary and lifestyle factors, effectively impossible to separate.

A scientist is part of what the Polish philosopher of science Ludwik Fleck called a “thought collective”: a group of people exchanging ideas in a mutually comprehensible idiom. The group, suggested Fleck, inevitably develops a mind of its own, as the individuals in it converge on a way of communicating, thinking and feeling.

This makes scientific inquiry prone to the eternal rules of human social life: deference to the charismatic, herding towards majority opinion, punishment for deviance, and intense discomfort with admitting to error. Of course, such tendencies are precisely what the scientific method was invented to correct for, and over the long run, it does a good job of it. In the long run, however, we’re all dead, quite possibly sooner than we would be if we hadn’t been following a diet based on poor advice.

In the last 10 years, a theory that had somehow held up unsupported for nearly half a century has been rejected by several comprehensive evidence reviews, even as it staggers on, zombie-like, in our dietary guidelines and medical advice.

The nutritional establishment has proved itself, over the years, skilled at ad hominem takedowns, but it is harder for them to do to Robert Lustig or Nina Teicholz what they once did to John Yudkin. Harder, too, to deflect or smother the charge that the promotion of low-fat diets was a 40-year fad, with disastrous outcomes, conceived of, authorised, and policed by nutritionists.

This was cited by John Merline in How ‘Settled Science’ Helped Create A Massive Public Health Crisis. “Anyone who thinks it’s enough to rest an argument on “settled science” or a “scientific consensus” ought to read about John Yudkin … Still, had nutritionists listened to a “fat-denier” like Yudkin four decades ago, we might have avoided the scale of today’s obesity epidemic, which has claimed millions of lives.”

Then there is Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry who describes how Big Science is broken. “Sience is broken. That’s the thesis of a must-read article in First Things magazine, in which William A. Wilson accumulates evidence that a lot of published research is false. But that’s not even the worst part.”

The key in all of these is big money that is separated from results by government. Prestige and honor are, of course, significant motivators but it is money that is often a concrete measure. The feedback is positive: get pleasing results in research and that leads to publication and that leads to more funding. A part of being important is selling the idea that the research topic is critical for public health and safety. These factors are compounded when the research topic is complex with many variables that are difficult to separate and interact with each other in many ways. Then toss in ideological factors and base desires for simple fixes and you have a perfect storm. “This makes scientific inquiry prone to the eternal rules of human social life: deference to the charismatic, herding towards majority opinion, punishment for deviance, and intense discomfort with admitting to error.” Look for these behaviors and you can know the quality if the ideas they defend.

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Preposterous, climate consensus

Valerie Richardson notes that More studies rebut climate change consensus amid government crackdown on dissent, As the siege continues, it is evident that any area of weakness is getting reinforced.

“As the body of evidence refuting climate alarmism continues to balloon, the question of how the IPCC can continue ignoring it becomes ever more glaring,” said engineer Pierre L. Gosselin, who runs the NoTricksZone website and translates climate news from German to English.

In spite of that research — or maybe because of it — Democrats have renewed their efforts to clamp down on climate dissent.

Two weeks ago, 17 attorneys general — 16 Democrats and Mr. Walker, an independent — announced that they would investigate and prosecute climate-related “fraud,” citing investigations by journalism outlets accusing Exxon Mobil Corp. of stifling its own scientific research in support of the “settled science.”

While Exxon Mobil has denounced the accusations as “preposterous,” Mr. Walker followed up Thursday with a subpoena calling for the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s work on climate and energy policy from 1997 to 2007, including the nonprofit’s “private donor information,” the institute said.

There is kickback. Part is due to the gross abuse of basic freedoms. Part is also due to the fact that many of the accusations and allegations apply to the accusers and not the accused. Doubling down on insanity only makes the lunacy more obvious.

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Case study comparisons

Rick Wallace takes a look at A case study bearing on the nature of “consensus” in normal science and in the AGW controversy. He looks at the idea of consensus in evolutionary biology and the definition of species, quantum mechanics, and other areas.

But I would contend that this is what real scientific consensus looks like. In such cases, discussants never take the ideas in question as sacrosanct, and because – at least in a normal, healthy science – intelligent inquiring intellects are constantly evaluating ideas for themselves and setting them against their own experience, such ideas are subject to vigorous and even harsh examination, often leading to a range of opinion, especially if there are serious conceptual or semantic difficulties (as there are in the case of the species concept).

Thus, in real science any state of agreement is labile at best – and establishing a consensus is about the last thing on peoples’ minds. I would go so far as to say that under these conditions, as often as not, a leading idea is a target to take aim at rather than a flag to rally ‘round.

Obviously, this cast of mind is utterly different from what we find in the AGW arena. Which in itself is compelling evidence that the motivations are different in normal science and in (C)AGW.

What is perhaps most fascinating about modern spectacles like the AGW movement (and here I’m thinking in particular of the Moscow show trials of the 1930s) is that the truth is always right there in front of everyone – and it is always apparent to those who can see.

Once again it is the point that the observable behavior can tell you about the quality of the intellectual integrity.

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It’s our response to the radiation

The BBC has a short video exploring the question: Has Fukushima’s radiation threat been exaggerated?

Five years after the devastating earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima power plant in north-eastern Japan, one expert is asking if the impact of the radiation was massively exaggerated.

Professor Gerry Thomas, a leading authority on the effects of radiation, walks the BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes through the deserted exclusion zone and measures radiation levels.

What goes totally by the board is the mass casualties due to the earthquake and tidal wave. That has now become history while FUD mongering about the nuclear plant hit by that event continues to make headlines. Chernobyl and Three Mile Island also come up on a regular basis in the same vein. The abandoned cities and other responses to fears are shown to illustrate a danger that has never been realized by any measure that makes a clear distinction from the normal.

It is the same with climate where the measures of an ideologically desired effect are so small that they are difficult to separate from ‘normal’ that FUD mongering has to take the place of actual reality.

Dragons and demons are real, it seems, but the still only exist in the minds of those invested in fairy tales and fears. The cost of the response to those fears is not considered in any rational way. Fukushima was hit by a natural disaster outside of its design considerations yet still did not provide a worst case scenario. How much is spent on trying to be perfectly safe in an unsafe world? What is the implication of such spending on the lives and health of the populace? How is the balance?

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