Donald Devine, in the American Spectator, has a fine time debunking the community of fashion’s popular notion of “settled science.”
The idea that people will not accept the findings of science drives a certain class of self-described intellectuals crazy. Even those who can comprehend the Yale University Cultural Cognition Project research warning that scientific findings are screened by individuals through pre-existing cultural beliefs and are interpreted in ways to reinforce those beliefs still insist their own scientific beliefs are objective and settled.
That research finds progressives risk averse, biased toward control of their environment, while conservatives tolerate risk, partial toward greater freedom — the recognition of which does not overcome the progressive insistence that relativity explains all motion or that global warming is “settled science.” Conservative wise man Eric Voegelin traced the progressive predisposition to the positivist philosopher Auguste Comte, who invented the social sciences to replace religion with objective empirical research that would eventually allow humans to achieve perfection in this world rather than waiting for the next.
The fact that this hope has fallen a bit short over the following century has not diminished its appeal. For progressivism, it is just science, at least when it agrees with its own reductionist, materialistic predispositions by academic fields dominated by fellow progressives. While it might surprise that 43 percent of physicists believe that God or some higher spirit affected material development, it is even a majority belief among biological and chemistry scientists. On the other hand, few hold this belief in psychiatry and many other social sciences.
In fact, settled science is rather difficult to find, even the purely physical sciences. Columbia University physicist Brian Greene explained: “[G]eneral relativity and quantum mechanics cannot both be right” as currently formulated, even though they are “the two foundational pillars upon which modern physics rests.” The journal Physical Review Letters reported that a major study of the light sterile neutrino, widely expected by scientists to undermine Standard Model physics, found at a “99% certainty” level that neutrinos do not even exist.
An article in Current Biology questioned whether biologists’ long-held conception of the basic structure of the animal cell is in fact universal. Ninety-eight percent of human genome DNA had long been determined to be “junk” and only 2 percent meaningful — until the ENCODE project recently reported that in fact at least 80 percent of it was active. Scientists have known for years there are 83 distinct areas in the brain, but the journal Nature published a study last year more than doubling the number of brain regions to 180.
The one field where the science must be “settled,” of course, is global warming. Or is it “climate change,” when clearly no skeptic doubts climate changes? Why the alteration in terminology? Perhaps because, in 2007, the world’s leading experts at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported its “central forecast” for long-term warming to be 3 degrees C. Yet, since then its reports have not listed a single central estimate but did reduce its minimal expected warming down from a 1.5-degrees rise to only a 1.0-degree temperature increase.
The U.S.’s NASA-Goddard Institute did announce that 2016 was the “hottest year on record,” but while NASA had formerly warned against accepting “misleading” specific temperatures without considering the ranges of scores within the measurement margin of error, it did not repeat that warning in 2016. As the Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins showed, after taking into account error margins, 2015 and 2016, two El Niño years, were actually tied for being the warmest years recorded, and 1998, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2014 were all tied for second place, close behind.
As climatologist Judith Curry testified to Congress, IPCC models have forecast surface temperatures to increase 0.2 degrees C each 21st century decade. But during the first fifteen years, actual temperatures only increased 0.05, four times lower than predicted. And the models cannot explain why more than 40 percent of the temperature increases since 1900 took place between 1910 and 1945, which produced a mere 10 percent of the carbon emissions.
Peter Hitchens has published, in First Things, an excellent essay attacking the notion of addiction, the preternatural ability of certain morally disreputable substances to offer temptations so powerful as to overwhelm completely the free will of any normal human being. The late Thomas Szasz was attacking the same generally accepted delusion decades ago.
The chief difficulty with the word “addiction” is the idea that it describes a power greater than the will. If it exists in the way we use it and in the way our legal and medical systems assume it exists, then free will has been abolished. I know there are people who think and argue this is so. But this is not one of those things that can be demonstrated by falsifiable experiment. In the end, the idea that humans do not really have free will is a contentious opinion, not an objective fact.
So to use the word “addiction” is to embrace one side in one of those ancient unresolved debates that cannot be settled this side of the grave. To decline to use it, by contrast, is to accept that all kinds of influences, inheritances, and misfortunes may well operate on us, and propel us towards mistaken, foolish, wrong, and dangerous actions or habits. It is to leave open the question whether we can resist these forces. I am convinced that declining the word “addiction” is both the only honest thing to do, and the only kind and wise thing to do, when we are faced with fellow creatures struggling with harmful habits and desires. It is all very well to relieve someone of the responsibility for such actions, by telling him his body is to blame. But what is that solace worth if he takes it as permission to carry on as before? Once or twice I have managed to explain to a few of my critics that this is what I am saying. But generally they are too furious, or astonished by my sheer nerve, to listen.
So let us approach it another way. The English language belongs to no state or government. It is not ruled by academies or even defined by dictionaries, however good. It operates on a sort of linguistic version of common law, by usage and precedent. And the expression “addiction” is very widely and variously used. There are people who claim, seriously, to be “addicted” to sex or to gambling.
It is now impolite to refer to habitual drunkards. They are “alcoholics,” supposedly suffering from a complaint that is not their fault. The curious variable ambiguity of Alcoholics Anonymous on this point has added to the confusion. AA, to begin with, asked its adherents to admit they had no control over themselves, as a preliminary to giving that power to God. Somehow I suspect that God plays less of a part in modern AA doctrine, but the idea of powerlessness remains. Members of the organization quietly moved from calling alcoholism an “illness” or a “malady” to describing it as a “disease,” round about the time that the medical profession began to do the same thing.
We are ceaselessly told that cigarettes are “addictive.” Most powerfully, most of us believe that the abusers of the illegal drug heroin are “addicted” to it. Once again, the public, the government, and the legal and medical systems are more or less ordered to believe that users of these things are involuntary sufferers. A British celebrity and alleged comedian, Russell Brand, wrote recently, “The mentality and behaviour of drug addicts and alcoholics is wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless [my emphasis] over their addiction and, unless they have structured help, they have no hope.”
Brand is a former heroin abuser who has by now rather famously given up the drug. But how can that be, if what he says about addiction is true? The phrase “wholly irrational” simply cannot withstand the facts of Brand’s own life. It will have to be replaced by something much less emphatic—let us say, “partly irrational.” The same thing happens to the phrase “completely powerless.” Neither the adverb nor the adjective can survive. Nor can the word “addiction” itself, which is visibly evaporating. We have to say “they struggle over their compulsion.”
Or you might turn to this definition of addiction from the American Society of Addiction Medicine:
Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.
This definition prompted one writer at Alternet, an influential pro-addiction website, to say:
If you think addiction is all about booze, drugs, sex, gambling, food and other irresistible vices, think again. And if you believe that a person has a choice whether or not to indulge in an addictive behavior, get over it. . . . Fundamental impairment in the experience of pleasure literally compels the addict to chase the chemical highs produced by substances like drugs and alcohol and obsessive behaviors like sex, food and gambling.
In other words, conscious choice plays little or no role in the actual state of addiction; as a result, a person cannot choose not to be addicted. The most an addict can do is choose not to use the substance or engage in the behavior that reinforces the entire self-destructive reward-circuitry loop. So even if the supposed “addict” ceases (as many do) to be “addicted” in practice to the addictive substance or activity, he remains “addicted” in some spiritual, subjective way, which cannot actually be seen in his behavior.
The defender of the concept of “addiction,” confronted with evidence that many “addicts” cease to be “addicted,” will say that of course he didn’t mean to suggest the phenomenon was wholly irresistible and could not be mastered by will. Oh no, he will say, reasonable people quite understand that it is not like that at all. In any normal argument, this would be the end of the matter. Anyone who confesses to using a word in one sense when it suits him, and in a wholly contradictory sense when it also suits him, has expelled himself from the company of all reasonable people and admitted that he respects neither truth nor logic.
In reality, everything pleasurable is “addictive” in the sense that one naturally desires to repeat the experience. The notion that certain unholy pleasures are so powerful that they must inevitably come to dominate those foolish enough to dare to encounter them is really just an imaginatively compelling literary narrative that has been widely accepted as factual.
On my Yale Class email list, this morning, a left-wing classmate forwarded a link and a quoted section of Charles M. Blow‘s morally-self-congratulatory and intellectually-condescending New York Times editorial.
“Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.”
Supporting Trump is a Hail Mary pass of a hail-the-demagogue assemblage. Trump’s triumph as the presumptive Republican Party nominee is not necessarily a sign of his strategic genius as much as it’s a sign of some people’s mental, psychological and spiritual deficiencies.
It’s hard to use the truth as an instrument of enlightenment on people who prefer to luxuriate in a lie.
I replied (this version slightly edited):
Trump supporters are supporting him, not in spite of his vulgarity, his lack of manners, his constant lying and self-contradiction, his ignorance, and his obvious lack of fixed principles; they are supporting him specifically because he is manifestly unconstrained by ordinary conventions of etiquette, ethics, or ideas.
They are so angry at people like you… and so resentful of how they feel they have been treated by the educated elites of this country that they are intentionally supporting a man they perceive as a ruthless thug, hoping to turn him loose on you. Donald Trump is being nominated as a great big “Fuck You!” to leftists like you for your ruthless and tyrannical imposition of your aberrant values and failed policies on America and to conservatives and Republicans like me for failing to stop you. The peasants are in open, and thoroughly irrational, revolt.
There’s been a certain amount of complaining about my insulting people by referring to them as “low-information-voters.” The problem is: I’m right. That’s exactly what they are, as Ilya Somin explains at some length.
A specter is haunting this year’s presidential election: political ignorance. Both Democrats and Republicans love to accuse the other party’s supporters of that sin. Sadly, both are often right.
The presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump has raised exploitation of ignorance to new heights. Many of the main themes of his campaign prey on it. Trump’s campaign first took off when he claimed we are being inundated with Mexican immigrants, who increase the crime rate because many are “criminals” and “rapists.” In reality, net migration from Mexico has been close to zero for the last 10 years. Yet few Americans seem to know that. And while studies consistently find that immigrants have lower crime rates than native-born Americans, a 2015 Pew Research Center study found that 50% of Americans (and 71% of Republicans) believe immigration is making crime “worse.”
Trump’s claim that nations such as China, Mexico and Japan are “killing us on trade” because we have trade deficits with them also relies on ignorance. As economists across the political spectrum recognize, free trade benefits the economy, and a bilateral trade deficit between two nations is no more an indicator of economic failure than is my trade deficit with my local supermarket. Unfortunately, studies show that trade is one of the areas where there is the greatest gap between general public opinion and informed opinion.
Trump is far from the only candidate to exploit ignorance this year, merely the most successful. Bernie Sanders, the “democratic socialist” who has mounted an unexpectedly strong challenge for the Democratic nomination, shares some of Trump’s demagoguery on trade.
Like Trump, Sanders has also put forward budget projections that most experts, even in his own party, regard as fantastical. Surveys consistently show that most Americans greatly underestimate the percentage of federal spending devoted to big entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Social Security, which are among the largest areas of federal spending. As a result, many voters accept Trump and Sanders’ claims that we can not only deal with our serious fiscal problems without reforming them, but also pile on enormous spending increases (Sanders) or tax cuts (Trump). A survey of Sanders supporters by Vox found that the vast majority are unwilling to pay more than a fraction of the tax increases that even Sanders’ own projections say would be required to fund the new health care and education programs he proposes. Most likely do not realize the true cost.
The problem of ill-informed voters is certainly not confined to Trump and Sanders, or to the 2016 election; more conventional politicians often manipulate ignorance, as well. It is also not limited to specific issues, instead extending to the basic structure of government.
What I tend to refer to as “Low-Information-Voter” Trump support is based on a widespread acceptance of a couple of astonishing (and obviously entirely mythical) narratives.
Myth 1: There are no real conservatives. All of them: the Conservative intellectual opposition, the most conservative Republicans in Congress, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, are all sell-outs and traitors, in league with the liberal elite to sell out Middle America to the forces of Progressivism. Republicans and Conservative intellectuals could have defeated Barack Obama and the democrats, but chose deliberately not to.
Myth 2: In the midst of this desolate landscape of opportunism, selfishness, and universal corruption, there is a single bright and shining light, that working-class hero, Donald J. Trump, the heroic, self-made businessman who understands how things really work, who has created his own fortune, a fortune so large that he is completely above pecuniary considerations and will not be beholden to any special interests but can devote his energies selflessly to serving the interests of his people, the little people, the ordinary Americans despised, exploited, and neglected by the system. Donald Trump is volunteering to enter public service in order to make America great again, just for them.
I see in my mind’s eye a nation of Trump supporters, singing the Blues:
After B.B. King:
Nobody loves me, but The Donald
And he could be jivin’ too
Nobody loves me, but The Donald
And he could be jivin’ too
That’s why we Trumpkins act so funny,
That’s why we do the things we do
But when The Donald screws us over
What then are we gonna do?
Media reports about the guns were misleading as ever, describing them as “legally purchased” typically as part of a ideologically-loaded effort to demonstrate the lack of Gun Control regulations which might have kept such weapons out of the hands of mass killers like Farook & frau.
But MRC TV’s Dan Joseph yesterday noted that, in fact, those two AR rifles were almost certainly not legally acquired.
San Bernardino, Calif., officials have confirmed that the two rifles used by gunman Syed Rizwan Farook in Wednesday’s massacre were purchased not by Farook himself, but rather by a friend. This means that at some point the rifles were either sold, stolen or given to Farook by his friend, sometime within the last three or four years.
According to California’s firearms laws, it is “illegal for any person who is not a California licensed firearms dealer (private party) to sell or transfer a firearm to another non-licensed person (private party).” The prohibition on transfers – except those between family members- that do not involve a licensed gun deal Went into effect on January 1, 2011.
This means that unless, Farook’s friend was an authorized weapons dealer in the state of California or the transfer occurred in another state, then the rifles were acquired illegally.
Today, Jacob Sullum, at Reason, confirms that either a straw purchase or an illegal transfer must have occurred.
Federal officials say Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the massacre’s perpetrators, bought the two 9mm pistols used in the attack, a Springfield and a Llama, from gun shops in San Diego and Corona. That means he passed background checks, which indicates he did not have a disqualifying criminal or psychiatric record. An acquaintance of Farook’s bought the two AR-15-style rifles used in the attack, a DPMS A-15 and a Smith & Wesson M&P15, also at gun shops in San Diego and Corona.
Sullum goes on to note the ineffectiveness of legislation targeted at “bad” military-style weapons in preventing human ingenuity from developing work-arounds which render the regulations meaningless.
The DPMS A-15 and Smith & Wesson M&P15 both come in “California legal” versions, which means they have “bullet buttons” that require the insertion of a loose round (or some other tool) to detach the magazine. With that feature, the magazine is not considered “detachable,” which is part of the state’s “assault weapon” definition.
Gun controllers tend to view bullet buttons as a sneaky end run around California’s “assault weapon” ban. Huffington Post reporter Daniel Marans calls the bullet-button option a “technical loophole.” Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center (VPC), complains that gun manufacturers are “cynically exploiting an inadvertent limitation” of the law. But bullet buttons are explicitly allowed by California Department of Justice regulations, which say “‘detachable magazine’ means any ammunition feeding device that can be removed readily from the firearm with neither disassembly of the firearm action nor use of a tool being required.” The DOJ adds that “a bullet or ammunition cartridge is considered a tool.”
Since rifles with bullet buttons do not have what California considers detachable magazines, they can include military-style features that would otherwise be forbidden, such as folding stocks, pistol grips, or flash suppressors. “Assault weapon” is an arbitrary, legally defined category, so the fact that California does not consider these rifles to be “assault weapons” means they aren’t “assault weapons.” It makes no sense to complain that California’s “assault weapon” ban misses some “assault weapons,” which are whatever legislators say they are. Nor does it make sense to complain about design changes, such as bullet buttons, aimed at complying with the law. Gun manufacturers that produce “California legal” guns are doing precisely what the state has told them to do.
But, wait, more than human ingenuity and work-arounds using technical loopholes occurred here. According to The Wall Street Journal, the ATF discovered that two highly-illegal modifications of those rifles were made.
The rifles used in the San Bernardino mass shooting were illegal under California law because they were modified and violated the state’s ban on assault weapons, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives determined on Thursday. …
The two semiautomatic rifles were versions of the popular AR-15 model, according to San Bernardino officials. One was made by DPMS Inc., and the other by Smith & Wesson.
While they were originally sold legally, with magazine locking devices commonly known as bullet buttons, the rifles were subsequently altered in different ways to make them more powerful, according to Meredith Davis, a special agent with the ATF.
The Smith & Wesson rifle was changed in an attempt to enable it fire in fully automatic mode, while the DPMS weapon was modified to use a large-capacity magazine, she said.
Modifying the DPMS A-15’s to accept larger capacity magazines would be a felony in California. On the other hand, converting Smith & Wesson M&P15 to full-auto capability did not only violate California gun laws, it was also a serious federal crime, violating the National Firearms Act of 1934, the Gun Control Act of 1968 (which would make the couple, as felons, persons prohibited from owning full-auto weapons), and the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 (banning civilian ownership of new machine guns).
The notion that more Gun Control laws would prevent such shootings was satirized yesterday on Facebook with this image:
The French Société de Calcul Mathématique SA., a think tank devoted to matters mathematical & statistical, delivered, last month, a devastating white paper, which characterized the battle against Global Warming as “an absurd, costly, and pointless crusade.”
As the United Nations gears up for its next international conference on climate change in Paris next month (COP 21), a scathing white paper released by a society of French mathematicians calls its fight against global warming “absurd” and “a costly and pointless crusade”.
“You would probably have to go quite a long way back in human…history to find [such a] mad obsession,” according to a translated summary of the document released in September by the Paris-based Société de Calcul Mathématique SA.
The mathematicians harshly criticized a “crusade [that] has invaded every area of activity and everyone’s thinking,” noting that “the battle [against] CO2 has become a national priority.
“How have we reached this point in a country that claims to be rational?” they ask, adding that mathematicians “do not believe in crusades. They look at facts, figures, comments and arguments.”
“There is not a single fact, figure…[or] observation that leads us to conclude the world’s climate is in any way ‘disturbed,” the paper states. “It is variable, as it has always been. … Modern methods are far from being able to accurately measure the planet’s overall temperature even today, so measurements made 50 or 100 years ago are even less reliable.”
Noting that concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) have “always” varied, the French mathematicians also said that after processing the raw data on hurricanes themselves, they verified that “they are no more frequent now than they have been in the past.”
“We are being told that a temperature increase of more than 2 degrees C[elsius] by comparison with the beginning of the industrial age would have dramatic consequences and absolutely has to be prevented.
“When they hear this, people worry. Has there not already been an increase of 1.9 degrees C?
“Actually, no. The figures for the period 1995-2015 show an upward trend of about 1 degree C every hundred years! Of course, these figures, [which] contradict public policies, are never brought to public attention,” the white paper stated.
The French mathematicians also said that the UN’s climate models have failed to take into account natural phenomena that affects climate far more than human activity.
Human impact on the climate is “tiny, quite negligible in comparison with natural causes,” they point out. “Human beings can do nothing about solar activity, the state of the oceans, the temperature of the Earth’s magna, or the composition of the atmosphere.”
Furthermore, the work done by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) does not meet the basic standards set by reputable scientific journals because its “conclusions go [contrary] to observed facts; the figures used are deliberately chosen to support its conclusions (with no regard for the most basic scientific honesty); and the variability of natural phenomena is passed over without comment.”
Even if there were such a thing as global warming, “then we should celebrate,” the mathematicians said. “And if it does not exist, then we simply shall have to carry on switching on the central heating.”
Ari H. has a good essay offering a list of reasons why Climate Change Alarmism resembles a religious cult.
The alarmist movement stubbornly refuses to debate its dogma, calling it “settled science” and viciously attacking its critics. The attacks are not limited to name calling but include prohibiting scientific research that contradicts this dogma. Significant figures within the movement call for criminal persecution of those who publicly disagree with the dogma and, in some cases, for those who do not follow it. Proposed punishments for “heretics” and “infidels” include prison and even death.
The alarmist movement has a formal doctrine-setting body — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The reports and summaries by this body are considered by the alarmists to be the main source of authority on all things related to climate, energy, the biological cycle, and consequentially, everything else. The cult followers (individuals, organizations, and even governments) regularly quote these unholy texts and use them to justify their decisions.
The alarmist movement has its own priest class: taxpayer-funded impostor “climate scientists” who have no independent (of the climate alarmism) scientific achievements. Frequently, they do not even have scientific degrees. The alarmists sincerely believe that only members of the priest class are capable of understanding and seriously discussing “climate science.” Physicists, biologists, meteorologists, engineers, mathematicians, and other outsiders need not apply. …
The climate change cult appears to worship the computer models that its shamans built with their own hands — literally man-made idols. Needless to say, much of the content of IPCC’s texts comes from these computer models. …
The alarmists appeal to medieval science errors. These errors can be described as beliefs that nature has existed forever in some unchanged state. The inability of a common man or a medieval scientist to observe such changes was the cause of these beliefs. The alarmists revive these errors by denying, ignoring, or underestimating natural climate change; evolution (including species’ disappearance and adaptation); higher CO2levels in the geological past; natural sea level increases in the current interglacial period; tectonic movement; the complex trajectory of the Earth’s motion around the Sun; and the astronomic observations of stars similar to the Sun.
“Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”
• George Wald, Harvard Biologist
“We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation.”
• Barry Commoner, Washington University biologist
“Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from intolerable deterioration and possible extinction.”
• New York Times editorial, the day after the first Earth Day
“Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.”
• Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist
“By… some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.”
• Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist
“It is already too late to avoid mass starvation.”
• Denis Hayes, chief organizer for Earth Day
“Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions….By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.”
• Peter Gunter, professor, North Texas State University
“Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support…the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution… by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half….”
• Life Magazine, January 1970
“At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.”
• Kenneth Watt, Ecologist