CartmanAuthoritahOver at Morgan’s we’re having another endless thread about “science.”  This time it’s about the proper use of “authority,” and the fallacy of Appeal to same.

An Appeal to Authority is a logical fallacy of the form “X is true because person Y says so.”  It’s a fallacy both formally and informally.  It’s formally wrong because the truth of a proposition doesn’t depend on the speaker — two plus two is four even if Hitler says so; it’s not five even if Gandhi insists it is.

It’s infomally wrong because it’s nebulous, and here’s where it gets interesting.  Most people trust authorities up to a point.  It’s part of the social contract.  If I’ve got a cold, I go to the doctor instead of cracking a textbook on cell biology and firing up the bunsen burner.  The doctor in turn trusts his mechanic when it comes to engine repair, the mechanic trusts his accountant on taxes, etc.  Society as a whole benefits from such specialization, and so we’ve agreed to outsource a part of our thinking to field specialists.

Part, but not all.  If you go to the doctor with a headache and the first thing he wants to do is order up a colonoscopy, a reasonable person asks for an explanation.  This is true no matter how many degrees the doctor has or from where, his publication record, or anything else.  It’s just common sense.

Liberals, as a general rule, don’t seem to believe this.  Which is funny, because they write endless polemics showing that liberals are more comfortable with nuance, or that conservatives are more authoritarian.  Yet when it comes to a lists of Things Which Shall Not Be Questioned, the liberal list dwarfs the conservative.  Things like:

  • the proper capacity of a rifle’s magazine
  • the point at which life begins
  • the future temperature of the atmosphere
  • how much money is “too much”
  • that IQ exists
  • that men and women have inherent differences
  • that powers not delegated to the federal government, or to the states, are reserved for the people
  • that our common citizenship is trumped by ethnic ancestry
  • that the life of a fetus is only the mother’s concern, but the life of a tree affects us all


It’s one of the main reasons I’m not a liberal — it’s too confusing.  Anne Hathaway makes a million dollars for two months’ work, which means she’s Made Enough Money (TM), but she’s also a feminist, so she gets a pass.

The only way out of this dilemma is to outsource all your thinking.  Anne Hathaway is a kulak, but Lena Dunham says she’s ok, so we’ll go after that Ann Coulter bitch instead.

This is the mentality that makes the liberal world go.  It’s frankly Stalinist, but since Alinsky-lite liberals and neo-Gramscians have taken over the organs of our culture, it’s the attitude that makes modern society go.  It’s ok to hate, provided an authority figure tells you how… and whom.

It’s the only way to overcome the Molotov-Ribbentrop dissonance that would cause more honest heads to explode.  Eventually the Party leadership will decree something that is so perpendicular to common sense that your whole worldview will be thrown into disarray.  At that point, the intellectually honest will leave the Party… while all the various toadies, lickspittles, and other asskissers who cherish their group identity above their balls will elevate Appeal to Authority from a logical fallacy to the infallible lodestone of life.

This is one of the nastiest implications of 1984.  Winston Smith spends his days doctoring history in the Ministry of Information, but it’s unnecessary.  The Party members– the only ones who have the power to challenge Big Brother — are so invested in their Party membership they’d believe no matter what their lying eyes said.  We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.

Welcome to 2013.

Questions You’re Not Supposed to Ask

What the fuck does this accomplish?

BERKELEY — For the 100 or so women and girls — and a smattering of male allies — who danced in Civic Center Park on Thursday afternoon, Valentine’s Day wasn’t about hearts and candy.

Organizers called the day, replicated in communities throughout the U.S. and in 205 countries, “One Billion Rising,” named for the one-in-three women and girls across the globe who will be raped or beaten in their lifetime.

“We have reclaimed Valentine’s Day,” said Satya Starr, an abuse survivor who participated in the event. “Women actually need to have an end to abuse and rape. That’s what they really need, not chocolate and flowers.”…

One Billion Rising used dance to celebrate women’s bodies, which organizers said are often denigrated, and encouraged participants to protest violence against women. As they executed the choreographed movements posted on the One Billion Rising website, many of the dancers sang along to recorded music reverberating through the park: ” … This is my body, my body’s holy/ No more excuses, no more abuses …”

I’m really trying to figure out a scenario in which this activity would be useful.  As in, maybe there’s a rapist in the audience who, overcome by the “choreographed movements posted on the One Billion Rising website,” decides to quit raping and turn himself in to the cops?  Or there’s a potential rapist who encounters same, and decides to hold off?  Or there’s a third world despot somewhere trolling YouTube on his off hours and, overcome, decides to shut down the rape annex in the Ministry of Truth?  Or a spectator decides to join the police?

Commenter Soozcat calls this kind of thing junk-food activism, which is such a great phrase I’m going to steal it for the Dim Devil’s Dictionary with her permission.  Not only is its effect negligible by design, it could actually make things much, much worse — this being Berkeley, I can see some naive girl walking down a darker street later at night than she normally would, because just last week the One Billion dance-a-thon ended rape in the community.

Question the second:  “one-in-three women and girls across the globe who will be raped or beaten in their lifetime.”  One in three?

Call me a horrible patriarchal pig if you must, but that number don’t pass the sniff test.  So I followed the links from the One Billion Rising website.  One led to this booklet from “UN Women,” which said

Throughout the world, one in three women will experience violence in their lifetime, such as beating, rape, or assault.

Notice the qualifier:  “violence…such as.”  Which — of course — makes it sound like they’re claiming that one in three women will be beaten, raped, or assaulted.  But when you click on the .pdfs of the report, you get

One in three women throughout the world will suffer this violence in her lifetime; she will be beaten, raped, assaulted, trafficked, harassed or forced to submit to harmful practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM).

Not to take a thing away from the severity of those other crimes, but…. “harassed”?  I’ve seen enough fudged data in my lifetime to spot a weasel word when I see one.

The other link from the One Billion Rising website led to this .pdf, which claims

The most common form of violence experienced by women globally is physical violence inflicted by an intimate partner. On
average, at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of her

Which also looks pretty weaselly.  “Coerced” covers a lot of ground.  Having had a few intimate partners in my lifetime, I’d sure like to know just how they’re defining that one.  Is “an expensive dinner on our anniversary” coercion?  (And if so, was I “coerced” into shelling out most of my week’s paycheck?).*

Which leads to question the third:  why do they feel the need to juke the stats in the first place?  Call me a sexist if you must, but I’d like to go on record as saying that rape is bad.  So are assault and genital mutilation.  If I found out about an uptick in any of them in my community, I’d….

Well, actually, now I’m starting to figure it out.  We’re seeing, I think, one of those quintessentially liberal dilemmas where two competing streams of goodthink collide.  One is the standard “all women are victims of something.”  The other is that sense of information pollution Morgan wrote about.  Let’s look at that list again:

she will be beaten, raped, assaulted, trafficked, harassed or forced to submit to harmful practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM).

Except for that weasel word “harassed,” the rest of those are specific acts.  In America, at least, the police keep pretty good records.  You can look up crime in Berkeley, for instance, with maps and everything.  The cops, no doubt, have far more detailed data than this, with advanced statistical analysis.  And looking at that yellow-orange blob smack in the middle of all that red, it seems the Berkeley police are doing a pretty good job, all things considered.

Now before you start screaming that I’m “blaming the victim” or something, let’s take a step back and calm down.  Notice what I’m actually saying, not what you assume a Krazy Kapitalist Konservative would say.  Any rape, assault, genital mutilation, etc. is a tragedy.  If the One Billion ladies of Civic Center Park were out there dancing to raise awareness of these crimes in Berkeley, I’d get out there and boogie with them, just on the off chance it might help.**  If they were taking donations to fund something tangible in their community, I’d kick in.  Hell, if they were taking donations to fund some global do-goodery I’d contribute, because this targets real people who are victims of real, horrible crimes.

But they aren’t doing any of that.  They’re trying to “raise awareness,” worldwide, of crimes they themselves are statistically less than likely to be the victims of.  Instead of doing something tangible for their community, they fudge the numbers up to make it look like one out of every three females is going to be the victim of a horrible crime, and then organize a big to-do that’s somehow supposed to affect the entirety of Planet Earth.  And when this has no appreciable impact on local conditions — as it pretty much can’t by definition — the net result is to make folks like me take the whole idea of “awareness raising” even less seriously.

It’d be silly if it weren’t so sad.  These are people who have the time, money, and energy to organize a hundred like-minded folks on a workday (Valentine’s Day was a Thursday this year).  Obviously that energy could be mobilized to do something tangible, with measurable goals and results.  But instead, the entire point seems to be to raise the emotional temperature of the already excitable, then set them gyrating in activity that’s purposeless by design.  Do any of them know the real crime stats in Berkeley?  What would they do differently if they did?

To ask is to answer.  Which is why, I suppose, you get in trouble if you ask them.



*if, you know, that happened.  Which I’m not saying it did.  The last thing I need is some UN global sex police jacking me up because I said “c’mon, please?!” when the lady said she had a headache.

**assume for the purposes of this post that I live in Berkeley.

Never mind the AGW, here’s the real problem

We’re going to have to start setting money aside for this right now.  Fortunately, it will have a long time to accumulate interest, so we’ll have some real resources at our commend when crunch time comes.

I hope no one’s going to doubt the word of these Higgs-Boson people.  They’re real scientists, not like those dumb engineers, what do they know.  I don’t want to hear any complaints about the BBC reporter, either.  He’s just trying to make things vivid for us, because what we need is a clarion call to action.

I’m Not Nostradamus….

….but are they trying to provoke an armed confrontation with their own citizens?

In the wake of the recent school shooting, every Democrat, Goodperson, Virtue Junkie, and assorted supposedly-apolitical-but-really-doctrinaire-liberal dipshit with a Facebook page all across this fair land have been agitating for “gun control.”  It’s just “common sense,” they say.  Well, here’s what “common sense” gets you:

“In order to continue to possess an assault weapon that was legally possessed on the effective date of this section, the person possessing shall … safely and securely store the assault weapon. The sheriff of the county may, no more than once per year, conduct an inspection to ensure compliance with this subsection.”

In other words, come into homes without a warrant to poke around. Failure to comply could get you up to a year in jail.

That’s proposed Washington State senate bill 5737, coming soon to a Reichstag near you.

It doesn’t take Nostradamus to see where this is going to end, because every Republican, NRA member, civil libertarian, and frothing-at-the-mouth-rightwing-nutter with a Facebook page all across this fair land has been publicizing this stuff as the assault on our fundamental liberties that it is.

In either case, the end result is publicity.

You think some overzealous Washington State sheriff isn’t going to try to enforce this at a place he knows has guns and a bad attitude?  He’ll be the toast of MSNBC.  Katie Couric will flirt with him on-air and do who knows what to him back in the green room, amirite?

You think those self-same curmudgeons with guns aren’t literally drooling at the thought?  They’ll be the toast of Fox News.  O’Reilly will give them signed copies of his latest erotic thriller and a weekend hunting getaway with Dick Cheney.

Hmmm…. truculent zealots, private property, warrantless searches, and oh yeah, everybody involved is armed to the fuckin’ teeth.  No way that ends poorly.

My condolences in advance to the families.


D3: “The Banzai Gambit”

We must pass it to find out what's in it!

We must pass it to find out what’s in it!

Ban*zai Gam*bit.  noun.  Essentially the imperative form of moonwalking, the Banzai Gambit is a proposition in the form “X, therefore Y,” where X is empirical, Y is political, and X is unknowable by definition.

I remember one of my first political apostasies, back in high school.  We were studying World War II in the Pacific.  The teacher showed us a filmstrip that featured banzai charges and kamikazes.  My hand shot up.

“Weren’t they even trying to win?” I asked.

At the time, I was just glad to escape a trip to the principal’s office.  I wrote the whole incident off as yet another example of students being smarter than their teachers (not at all uncommon, in the hippy-dippy citadel where I endured grade school).  It was only years later when I finally realized what a bind I’d inadvertently stuck that poor lady in:

No, obviously, they weren’t trying to win.  At that point in the war, the objective was to lose with honor.  But according to liberal dogma, this is impossible.  All cultures are equally good.  No culture actively prefers death, especially when those deaths prolong an already unwinnable conflict.  And kamikazes certainly couldn’t have deliberately targeted hospital ships, since these were protected by international treaties

Well, that’s PC for you.  Still, I couldn’t help feeling a pang of regret towards Ms. Jerkins (not her real name, obviously) while following yet another desperate attempt by leftist gadflies to create a Thread that Won’t Die, and this nice piece of sarcasm from Sonic Charmer.

In both cases, the liberal argument boils down to:  “We don’t know X; we can’t know X; therefore hugely intrusive Y.”

It’s an interesting tactic.  Appeals to ignorance have long been among the feeblest of logical fallacies. And there’s the obvious Underpants Gnome quality to it, basing an entire plan of action on something that’s by your own definition unknowable.  Like kamikaze attacks and banzai charges, these “arguments” seem deliberately counterproductive.  If you really want to win the war, you’d carefully husband every man and resource.  If you really want to convince someone to get behind your hugely expensive, socially transformative policy, you wouldn’t start with an admission of ignorance on one of the fundamental points.

And yet, the Banzai Gambit does work — witness ObamaCare, which we had to pass to find out what’s in it (warning: video auto-plays).  The Zachriel differ from other alwarmists only in their OCD level — we have no idea where the “green tech” to reduce emissions will come from, much less any clue how the “binding treaties” on pollution will be enforced, but both have to be committed to posthaste.  And now the minimum wage must be raised, even though, as Sonic notes,

I might think that when the government puts a price floor on labor that has an effect – in the only conceivable possible direction for that effect to point – but I’m not allowed to ever say or think so without untangling this effect perfectly from every last variable with a definitive, complete ‘study’. Which is something that would be impossible for humans to do, hence, the minimum wage is permanently fine.

In any rational society, people who made “arguments” like this would be immediately deported to third grade, and not allowed to play kickball at recess until they’d read Logic for Dummies cover to cover.*

Alas, we don’t live in a rational society.  Our liberals have decided — evidently correctly — that most voters will fail to notice the only constant in these proposals, which is that more and more power accrues to them and people who think like them.  Banzai!!!!


*yes, this is a real book.  God help us.

Rules of thumb and unreliable models

We were discussing below the scourge of U.C.H.  I am referring, of course, to the unintentionally humorous criticism by Dan Kahan of the “unreliable cognitive heuristics” of the unwashed masses.  We just cannot get them to take our word for stuff any more.  They keep relying on their guts to decide whether we’re crying wolf and trying to dazzle them with B.S.  Where’s the trust?

What’s funny is the idea that your average smart Yalie uses something better than rules of thumb to weigh essentially unquantifiable risks for political purposes.  If you’re of a rigorous turn of mind, you can get a pretty good handle on risks in repetitive situations that are susceptible to statistical analysis.  You can’t get anything like a rigorous handle on risks from models of the behavior of chaotic systems that have never met the gold standard of predictions confirmed by observations (and no fair back-fitting with previously unidentified critical factors).  The best anyone could ever get out of an emerging science of prediction is a gut feel, an instinct for where to focus future research.

Richard Feynman analyzed the failure of the Challenger shuttle.  He found that people were sharpening their pencils to an absurd degree and fooling themselves into thinking they had pinpointed risk out to a number of decimal points.  In fact, they were piling probability assumption on probability assumption, when no single assumption had a solid empirical basis:

It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life.  The estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000.  The higher figures come from the working engineers, and the very low figures from management.  What are the causes and consequences of this lack of agreement?  Since 1 part in 100,000 would imply that one could put a Shuttle up each day for 300 years expecting to lose only one, we could properly ask “What is the cause of management’s fantastic faith in the machinery?”

. . .

There is nothing much so wrong with this as believing the answer!  Uncertainties appear everywhere. . . .When using a mathematical model careful attention must be given to uncertainties in the model.

. . .

There was no way, without full understanding, that one could have confidence that conditions the next time might not produce erosion three times more severe than the time before.  Nevertheless, officials fooled themselves into thinking they had such understanding and confidence, in spite of the peculiar variations from case to case.  A mathematical model was made to calculate erosion.  This was a model based not on physical understanding but on empirical curve fitting.”

He concluded with one of my favorite statements, a truly reliable rule of thumb:  “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

Losing the jackpot

The conventional liberal wisdom is that the capitalist system has to be tightly controlled by a benevolent state in order to prevent the rich from getting richer and the poor from being trapped in poverty.  And yet, anyone reading this post already is more than familiar with evidence that the strongest indicator of poverty is the failure to follow a couple of basic rules:  don’t have children until you’re married, and don’t marry until you finish high school.   Most of the other things you’ll need to do will follow naturally from those humble beginnings.

Oh, but people cry, how can you understand how difficult it is for someone starting from nothing, you heartless silver-spoon types?  I think a more interesting question is how difficult it is even for someone starting with quite a lot, if he doesn’t first absorb some basic precepts for maintaining prosperity.  A case in point is NFL players who hit the jackpot.  An ESPN documentary called “Broke!” found that an astonishing 78% of NFL players go into bankruptcy within two years of retirement.  It’s not a question of never being able to earn enough money to get your head above water, quit living hand-to-mouth, and accumulate some capital for investment.  It’s more a question of learning to live within an income — any income — while taking fully into account what expenses you’re facing now and will likely face in the future.  NFL players are an exaggerated example because the money-spigot starts and stops so abruptly relatively early in life.  Few NFL stars find a lucrative second career.  But the income from their first careers is enough to support any family in security for life, with the most modest attention to simple principles.

(I encountered something new in the article:  “jock taxes.”  These are “stop-and-frisk” state income taxes levied against non-resident professionals who earn well-publicized salaries while traveling around the country.  Even if they live in states without an income tax, like Texas, they may find themselves paying as much as half a million a year in income taxes to various states where their games are scheduled.  While not an athlete, I ran into something like this years ago when I was a partner in an enterprise with offices in New York, and had to pay New York City and state income taxes that would curl your hair.  New York owes me big time.)

Immigrants from entrepreneurial cultures arrive here penniless and build good futures within one generation.  Lucky SOBs from non-entrepreneurial cultures win the lottery and still go broke in a matter of months.  Capitalism and the free market are not the culprit in poverty.  Nor is denial of access to a “good education” the issue, unless we are to imagine that American colleges routinely graduate young people with a grasp of basic economics.

There is no income, private or national, that will cover an infinite wish-list.  When budgets don’t balance, financial systems collapse, whether we’re looking at individuals or great nations.

He’s from Yale, he must be smart

Dan Kahan of the Cultural Cognitive Project at Yale is getting very meta about the proper evidence-based approach to persuading the public that AGW-ist scientists’ conclusions are evidence-based:

Scientists and science communicators have appropriately turned to the science of science communication for guidance in overcoming public conflict over climate change.  The value of the knowledge that this science can impart, however, depends on it being used scientifically.  It is a mistake to believe that either social scientists or science communicators can intuit effective communication strategies by simply consulting compendiums of psychological mechanisms.  Social scientists have used empirical methods to identify which of the myriad mechanisms that could plausibly be responsible for public conflict over climate change actually are.  Science communicators should now use valid empirical methods to identify which plausible real-world strategies for counteracting those mechanisms actually work.  Collaboration between social scientists and communicators on evidence-based field experiments is the best means of using and expanding our knowledge of how to communicate climate science.

Whew.  I can’t help thinking if they put that much effort into ensuring that the climate science that is reaching the public is evidence-based, there wouldn’t be so much public controversy requiring a science-based approach to persuasion techniques.  In a related paper, although he makes hard work of it, Kahan admits that empirical data do not support the conclusion that conservatives are less cognitively sophisticated than liberals.  Instead, he makes the interesting finding that high cognitive scores are associated with the fervency of ideological beliefs on both sides of the political spectrum:

Seeming public apathy over climate change is often attributed to a deficit in comprehension.  The public knows too little science, it is claimed, to understand the evidence or avoid being misled.  Widespread limits on technical reasoning aggravate the problem by forcing citizens to use unreliable cognitive heuristics to assess risk.  A study conducted by the Cultural Cognition Project and published in the Journal Nature Climate Change found no support for this position.  Members of the public with the highest degrees of science literacy and technical reasoning capacity were not the most concerned about climate change.  Rather, they were the ones among whom cultural polarization was greatest.

Kahan tries hard to figure out how this could possibly mean that AGW makes the most sense, but can’t get there.  He fears that ideologues on both sides of the fence are more concerned with fitting in with their tribes than with arriving at truth; he worries about “the tragedy of the risk-taking commons” and the proper “communication” strategies that must be employed by people who know the real score.  He reluctantly concludes that no amount of “clarification” of the AGW position will bring the public around “so long as the climate-change debate continues to feature cultural meanings that divide citizens of opposing worldviews.”  He recommends, therefore, that

communicators should endeavor to create a deliberative climate in which accepting the best available science does not threaten any group’s values.  Effective strategies include use of culturally diverse communicators, whose affinity with different communities enhances their credibility, and information-framing techniques that invest policy solutions with resonances congenial to diverse groups.

And from there he’s back to the need for a “new science of science communication.”

Myself, I hypothesize that AGW science is too weak to win committed converts except among people with a strong social-justice worldview, who are drawn to the most common AGW amelioration schemes, and whose enthusiasm grows the more familiar they are with the schemes.  The suspicion that AGW is junk science in service of a social-justice political agenda, in turn, tends to turn conservatives more rabidly against the AGW hypothesis the more they investigate it.  It’s not necessarily a difference in an approach to pure science at all.  The portion of the public paying the most attention, and best equipped to evaluate the evidence, knows that the science is far from definitive, especially when you consider not only the fact that it is based on predictions generated by emerging models, but also the need to assign definitive blame to human activity and to evaluate a cost-benefit analysis of proposed remediation that itself must be based on highly speculative information.  Given that murky picture, why should it be surprising that the most educated part of the public polarizes primarily around its reaction to the proposed solutions?

It Isn’t Science

On the whole climate change thing, as far as the science goes, my position isn’t too remarkably different from blogger friend Phil’s. I think it is perhaps measurable lately, due to our inevitably sharpening skills and technology in measuring things, that human activity is having an impact on the environment around us. But not in any way remarkably different from the effect any other species has on its environment, as the environment certainly has an effect on all those species. It is a relationship involving mutual dependence and mutual effect.

This is simply not the question crying out for resolution, I think. Or if it is, then this thing we lately call “science” is clearly not the tool to be deployed in answering it, for we lack certainty in our understanding of what the tool is. You can’t draw a straight line with a straightedge that isn’t straight, and you cannot use one enigma to resolve another. This thing we lately call “science” is different from the science I know, in two meaningful ways. First, at key points in its exercise, it is evidence-immune. Climate models assume a certain warming from carbon, this will release a certain quantity of water vapor, a climate sensitivity is presumed by which this water vapor will continue to heat things further, and by such-and-such a date the temperature will be up so-and-so degrees. It doesn’t happen, so this climate sensitivity number is re-computed with this objective in mind of “Hooray! We’re still doomed!” And so the “science” triumphs. Trouble is, it’s triumphant over reality itself, and when that is the objective then it’s not science anymore.

The other thing is, its foundations are all screwy. Real science is impure and flawed, by nature, since it is exercised by impure and flawed humans. It cannot strive toward purity, it can only strive to maintain awareness of its own flaws and find ways to tamper down the effect of those flaws. I’m hearing this phrase “peer review” thrown around quite a lot; it seems to be lost to history, that this is supposed to be peer review’s purpose, to try to sift the flaws of the human condition away from the work, and minimize the effect of the vestigial remnants that can’t be removed. This thing we lately call “science” seeks to exacerbate the effect of the flaws of the human condition. It uses peer review to keep them in. We saw this in the University of East Anglia e-mail scandal, which isn’t supposed to count anymore because…quite predictably, just like Atlas Shrugged villains…the institutions involved convened a big fancy panel which then cleared the key players of any wrongdoing.

That is, of course, what institutions always do when they prove the Conquest Rule a bit too well (#2, organizations not explicitly right-wing sooner or later become left-wing), and then get caught at it. These elements are constants in the equation. Some blue-ribbon-panel, filled with functionally anonymous VIPs in which the rest of us are supposed to place unlimited trust. Ooh, a panel! And, a clean bill of health from the panel. Well okay then, move along folks. Nothing to see here. Wouldn’t want to question the panel.

But the fact remains. You cannot settle questions in nature or anything else, using an implement to settle the questions that is, itself, questionable. I have no doubt that the climate is changing, none whatsoever. That is what it is supposed to do. Who ever said otherwise? I have a lot of doubts in some of the other things, like the tipping-point concept first and foremost. But when people use the “science” to show me I shouldn’t be questioning this or anything else, I’m noticing the differences between real science and this square-quote “science.” There’s a lot of anti-science and red-dot science involved in this weird brand of science they use. Which is to say, it’s more important to get rid of information than accumulate it, and it’s more important to figure out what’s going on by way of feeling than by way of rational thought. After a time, the only similarity I can see between real science and the “science” being used to convince me of the tipping point, or other things, is the word itself.

And it becomes unavoidable to conclude that we must be studying the wrong thing. Knowns cannot be delivered to us by way of an unknown. Can’t draw a straight line with a straightedge of questionable straightness. The science, itself, must be studied.

And based on all I’ve seen over the years, going back to the beginning of Al Gore’s crusade about this, before his vice-presidency during which time he did little or nothing about it (link goes to video that auto-plays): This doesn’t seem to be science, as we have known it and understood it through the hundreds of years before that time, but a big bundle of pathologies.

In my opinion, we are way too quick to accept the label, to trust it unconditionally. Good science doesn’t demand trust. This “science” does. Well, we should not comply. We should study the pathologies that give rise to it. We should be studying these before we find out what it has to say. We cannot depend on this new-age brand of “science” to minimize the effect of human frailty against its effectiveness in finding the right answers. Because it doesn’t believe in those frailties. First step to reducing the effect of something, is to believe it is there, and this “science” doesn’t reach that first step, so it cannot reach any subsequent one.

I have identified twelve. They are generally distinguished from one another although there are exceptions to this, in that some are strongly related, and in some places overlap considerably. Each one of the twelve could reasonably be described as a personality disorder, with greater logical defense than many other foibles and eccentricities that really are diagnosed as personality disorders. And, on a side note, that has always struck me as a bit odd and weird about the way we do things in this modern day and age: We think of things that are not disorders as disorders, and think of things that really should be considered disorders, as not disorderly. Both with mental and behavioral health, we do this.

But the following should be diagnosable. Diagnosis is the first step toward treatment. Not-diagnosing is the first step toward taking things more seriously than they should be taken, and I think that’s the mistake we’ve been making here.

1. If I can’t have it, neither can you (wealth and income)

This has long been recognized as a telltale sign of mental instability, at least since the heyday of mystery novels during which time many villains sought to eliminate their former belles who found new suitors, with the motivation of “if I can’t have you than neither can he (or anybody else).” We know this is not a proper way to think. And yet much of the global warming legislation proposed, particularly in the international accords, is based on this charter principle of “developing” nations being given waivers to pollute more than the “developed” nations. The public at large, generally, doesn’t understand how bad the situation is.

To be sure, when you start to consider the economic consequences of implementing some of the solutions proposed, it does make sense. In the same way that a waitress making minimum wage would be completely devastated if she was taxed at the same rate as a millionaire, the developing nations would be similarly devastated if called on to implement the same targets as a developed nation. But that’s just justification for the same progressive politics we see with our tax system, and in both cases, progressivism is the point: Those who have more, should be taken down a peg.

If you have tall poppy syndrome and like having it, that’s all very helpful. But let’s be honest, that has nothing to do with saving the planet. If we’re in imminent peril because “humans” have trashed the environment, we wouldn’t be starting with the objective of granting some of those humans a break. That would make no sense. But if we’re out to redistribute resources and re-align the balance of power among nations, then it would make lots of sense. Well, that’s the way climate repair is done. So what really is the mission? What really is the goal?

Climate change “science” hurts people. Because it is supposed to.

2. If I can’t have it, neither can you (sense of purpose)

Where tall-poppy syndrome has to do with taking the advantaged down a few notches, crab mentality has more to do with sharing a fate. “I don’t care whether not I live, so long as you die.” It is said that if you carry a crab to a kitchen in a bucket, you need a lid on the bucket, but if there’s more than one crab then you don’t need to worry about the lid. Every time one starts to crawl out, the others will pull him back in.

Climate change “science,” when it is channeled into political action, invariably fosters an attack on achievement itself. It seeks to elevate the cost of energy, so that it can elevate the cost of building things that help people. It does this under the guise of helping people. This is not just irony; it is derailment of the entire argument, for no responsible or effective thinking can proceed from a point where some meaningful thing is conflated with, and perceived to be identical to, its opposite. The real goal here is to equalize sense of purpose. Some people manage to have one, and some people don’t. The ones that don’t, rather than focusing their energies on coming up with one, seek to attack the productive livelihoods of others.

3. Collectivist organization (lucre)

Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle and other works, and noted socialist candidate, hit the nail on the head here: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” Ayn Rand, speaking through John Galt during the famous fifty-page speech, hit the nail on the head again: “The man who speaks to you of sacrifice speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be master.” Climate change champions who speak of this “science,” don’t show the curiosity that is associated with real science. Their minds are all made up. They’re in the mode of “when do we get to the fun part, where I tell everyone else what to do and they go do it.” They aren’t seen wanting to learn anything, for a simple reason: They don’t want to. They intend to be the masters. They think the new world order will result in a “salary,” or some other kind of bonus or livelihood, or power.

4. Collectivist organization (creativity inhibit) (partially redundant with #2)

You can tell a lot about people by the way they observe and celebrate human achievement. We’ve got a lot of people walking around among us who make a lot of noise celebrating what key historical figures have done in the past to help us out here in the present; but, they don’t celebrate these things the way normal people do. Just as a sentence can be framed in active voice versus passive voice — “I picked up the ball” versus “The ball was picked up, by me” — inventions and discoveries can be described in the same way. The person who actually did the thing, can be singled out for emphasis, or for de-emphasis. This is essentially the difference between old and new Star Trek episodes: Captain Kirk did this, Captain Kirk did that…fast forward a hundred years, you see “The Federation” has become some umbrella corporation, existing for the purpose of removing individual identity from any notable achievement. “Starfleet scientists” came up with this or that. And you can’t go faster than Warp Five.

We don’t need to wait for the faster-than-light engines to be invented to see this in action. People are scared of individual achievement right now. They find the collectivist lifestyle to be a soothing tonic, because it dulls down the sharpness of human victory. You didn’t build that. Nobody should be able to accomplish anything unless they’re in a group effort.

For the achievements we require tomorrow, we can always count on government. Government is like Starfleet: Safely anonymous. No one individual will get the credit.

5. Turnstyle (you can’t make a living until you punch our dance card)

For centuries, it has been a human ambition we don’t like to discuss, to become a turnstyle in the middle of the linear progress of others. This pathology doesn’t seek to diminish the success of others, or to obstruct it, quite so much as to tax it. And so we have college classes that purport to enhance the future earning capacity of the students that attend them, but don’t do anything to make it happen. We have commission after commission after commission, and board after board after board, awarding and revoking licenses and certificates. These pieces of paper are tickets, in the sense that if you do not have one, then you cannot “enter.” You cannot practice. Some of them are enforced by law, and you can be arrested or fined for doing X without having Y.

For no practical purpose, since the members of the board do not have the confidence of anybody. Oh, the board does, but the people on them who make the actual decisions, do not. For the most part, nobody involved even knows their names. But their decisions are supposed to be infinitely wise, and therefore, unquestioned.

It is true that a certification process can be used to elevate quality, enhance order and diminish chaos. That has the possibility of being the intent, and also the effect. It does not necessarily follow that these are the case. Certifications can be used by big companies to keep little (newer) companies out of the market. And they can be used against the big companies, too, by their governments.

Some people are motivated by this. Obviously, if that is the motivation, it isn’t too helpful to anybody else, so it’s fair to call it out when the possibility exists.

6. Repent for the End of the World is Nigh (partially redundant with #5)

Another sad thing about human faults and frailties that we’ve seen for centuries, is this curious thing: A lot of people look forward, with breathless anticipation, to the end of the world. I mean, the imminent end of the world. Months or weeks from now. Curiously, never “sometime today” or “this coming Thursday” or anything like that. There has to be at least enough time for a media sensation to slowly build so people can become famous. It’s been going on so long that it is impossible to declare some constant window of time, since the history of “here comes the end of the world” stretches backward deep into the middle ages, and further, to when information flowed much more slowly. But throughout all that, it’s a constant that people look forward to the last page of human history being turned in the great massive book, and that they should be among the ones around to see it.

And it seems once they get that far off the beaten path, most of them continue onward to include this other vital ingredient: “We” caused it. Yes, God’s pissed at something we did, or we’ve been hurting the environment…I remember when it was we were endangering the species and doing a lot of littering, and we wouldn’t have any water to drink. Nowadays, we’re spewing stuff into the atmosphere and making it hotter.

The fear that these people don’t want to face, is this: In this massive dusty diary of human existence, from its birth to its eventual demise, we are somewhere in the middle. That notion fills them a dread they cannot even fathom, can’t keep it in their heads for a microsecond. For that means, there is nothing exceptional about us, save for the good and bad things we do. We won’t be around to sing Amen. You and I won’t be around to see the back cover slammed shut. We’re just insects, living for a season, and if we want to be immortalized as special insects then we’d better get busy.

These people fancy themselves as being imbued with some special power to appreciate human mortality, thinking themselves keenly and uniquely aware while everyone else stumbles around in ignorance, with false delusions of immunity from eventual death. The truth is the exact opposite of this.

7. Look at Me! I’m Doing Good!

Virtue junkies.

8. Look at Me! I’m Doing Good! And You’re Not! (#7 is an absolute, this is a relative)


9. Look at Me! And Stop What You’re Doing! Right Now! Do What I Say! Or We’re All Screwed!

This is the central plank of modern liberalism itself. We saw it with ObamaCare and a whole bunch of other progressive ideas throughout the last hundred years. Here, I’ll describe it, and you should take note of how detailed I can get as I describe it — and yet, you cannot tell from my detailed description exactly which legislation I have in mind, or even if I have one in mind, since it applies to all of them.

There is a plan. The plan is going to involve some benefits, along with some obligations. Those who are to enjoy the new benefits are not necessarily to be the same as those who labor under the new obligations, but that’s just the way things are going to have to be. We are all to be put under the protection, and effect, of the plan. The plan is very important. A crisis awaits if we do not implement the plan. The plan will cost, but the cost of doing nothing will be considerably greater. We must “act,” as soon as possible, and this action has to involve invoking the plan, right now. There is to be no opt-out from the plan. It must affect everybody whether they want it to or not. The plan cannot be tested out in a sandbox. It has to affect everyone, on the production floor as it were…we’re pretty sure it’s going to do what it’s supposed to do, or in any case, you should not be allowed to suggest otherwise.

Even though the plan should be imposed on everyone, only a few people among us should have any say in figuring out further details of the plan. Some people will have to leave the room, because they lack the “qualifications” to suggest anything constructive. They lack understanding, and/or sanity, and/or good pure clean motives. They should leave so we can have our grown-up talk. Yes, the plan applies to the commoners, but only the elites can say what the plan is going to be. In fact, that is most of the plan; a lot of monologuing about who can’t shape the plan. We are not allowed to point this out in mixed company lest an argument ensue, but those who have the greatest faith in the plan, seem to believe most strongly in that aspect of it. Some loathed people among us should be stripped of any & all influence, particularly with the details of this plan that has not yet been fully formed.

But on their way out of the room, could they please leave their wallets and purses behind. We like their money. Just not them.

10. It Are Science. I Talks Science. It Makes Me Teh Smarts.

In the same way a guy with a little dick feels the need to drive a big, impressive-looking, cherry-red sports car…some people feel the need to discuss scientific findings in great detail, even as they demonstrate highly questionable understanding of what those findings really mean, or of the way science really works. One wonders why they feel the need to do this. It obviously has to do with defining their identities, just like the guy with the sports car. They’re compensating for something. I don’t know what, exactly. I imagine the answer to that would vary from case to case.

11. Creation vs. Destruction

It’s easy to define this problem; it’s done through the defining. If you like to go through the motions of building something big and grand and remarkable, but can’t define what exactly it is, then you’re probably afflicted with this personality disorder. If your enemies would be able to easily define what it is you seek to destroy, and you in large part would agree with them about this, then that pretty much settles things. You would then be a destructive agent masquerading as a creative force.

There’s a lot of this going around, in this day and age. I’m not sure why. Since I’m already in trouble for using one Star Trek metaphor, I’ll dig deeper by imaging it has something to do with what Spock said in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: “As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy than to create.”

12. I Just Like Winning Arguments

Because it’s normal, natural human behavior to want to win, and not want to lose.

It’s not normal to make that a central, primary objective though. To lust so strongly after the “me smart, you dumb, me win, you lose” thing that you support the realignment of international balances of power, toward the benefit of complete strangers, just so you can win an argument. That’s as much a personality disorder as anything else. Well, just about anything else.

Cross-posted at House of Eratosthenes and Right Wing News.

Who put the “liar” in “liar loans”?

Megan McArdle has a fine post up at the Daily Beast on the housing market collapse. I’ve read far too much about how the big banks caused the problem. That’s true in a sense; they certainly rode a bubble all the way up, then presented us all with a scary prospect when it seemed they might all fail at once, precipitating a liquidity crisis.

But I find too few articles looking closely at how fraud happened. Most writers completely miss the function of interest rates in allocating risk in a lending market. You can stop reading right away if an author starts talking about interest rates and monthly payments that give borrowers a “fair” chance of buying the house we all think they deserve as a human right.

Likewise, there’s almost no talking to anyone who thinks that someday there’s going to be discovered a substitute for people actually repaying the debts they incur. This problem is particularly acute in the home mortgage context, because most buyers don’t seem to understand that the bank didn’t loan them a house; it loaned them cash to pay to the seller of the house. The seller walked away with the cash. The bank is out the cash. It is not fundamentally the bank’s problem if the house later drops in value, any more than the bank is entitled to a windfall if the house rockets up in price. The buyer/borrower really, truly owes the cash to the bank, even if he’s disappointed in his expectations of a flourishing housing market, even if he loses his job, and even if he has to move to another city. Am I unsympathetic to a homeowner in this situation? Of course not. But I’m not inclined to say it’s the bank’s problem to bear the cost, either. That’s just another way of saying we’re so tender-hearted that we want charity for a guy in a tough spot, but we want someone else to pay for it. (This is my nomination for the social-policy error that creates the great confusion and damage while permitting the maximum preening by people who want to look and feel altruistic at no personal expense.)

Anyway, I liked McArdle’s article because she looked carefully at the incentives for writing the garbage loans to begin with. Her commenters chimed in with more clear thinking about the incentives further down the chain of investment, all the way to the government-sponsored entities (GSEs) whose limitless appetite served as the vacuum pressure back up through the supply pipe, to the would-be homeowner.

Now, if the GSEs had been purely private investors, all that would have happened is that they would have gone broke when it turned out they had been buying garbage loans in a bubble market. But the GSEs weren’t quite private. They had powerful friends in Congress who implied all along that they could count ultimately on taxpayer bailouts, because we have to ensure stability, and everyone (in both parties) knows that homeownership is part of the American Dream. Those same friends in Congress never missed a chance to bully banks into loaning money to whatever members of their constituencies weren’t actually qualified for a big loan in the harsh light of soulless financial calculations (a/k/a “the Man”). Without the GSEs standing at the far end of the pipeline ready to soak up whatever came through the spigot, Congress would have had limited ability to force banks to make loans that were unlikely to be repaid (or to be more accurate, to buy packages of bad loans that independent “originators” put together). Yes, the banks could bundle the bad loans up and sell them off in strips to investors of greater or lesser sophistication, but the investors in turn had a big appetite only because of the GSEs standing down at the end of the pipe.

Wait, you say, wasn’t it the fault of the rating agencies? Shouldn’t they be accused of fraud for rating garbage as triple-A? Well, what are the odds they would have stuck to the triple-A ratings without the presence of the GSEs, with their implied (and later actual) taxpayer underwriting?  Look at the abuse they took when they finally started to hedge about the wisdom of giving a triple-A rating to anything that could be said to have U.S. government support.

But although this is a big, multifacted picture, the fraud element is not as complicated as much of the press over the last five years would lead you to believe. The fraud all boiled down to lying about the ability of homeowners to repay their loans. Buyers fudged their creditworthiness so they could get a loan.  Originators fudged the buyers’ creditworthiness so they could qualify the loan. When the originators sold the loans in bundles, they lied to the banks about the same thing. Buyers of the loan packages theoretically shouldn’t have lied to themselves about it, but individuals within buyer institutions had a big motive to lie to other individuals within the same institutions, to close the deal, get the annual bonus, keep the job, and so on. It wasn’t their personal money, right? And then those buyers bundled up the packages of loans and sliced them various ways and sold them again — and at that stage the same kind of lying occurred again.  By the time the pipeline had grown really long and the investment instruments had grown really intricate, investors simply persuaded themselves that the risk couldn’t possibly be that great, and boy, look at those yields!

At some point, you’re supposed to reach a buyer whose own skin is in the game, and who is motivated to stop listening to lies and stop lying to himself about whether all those homeowners could repay, because that’s what the risk boils down to at every stage in this domino structure. The beauty in this system is that you never reached that person with skin in the game until you came to the taxpayers. And then the taxpayers (not an outstanding bunch in the area of financial acuity) were persuaded that the problem lay almost anywhere you can imagine except with the practice of lying about the homeowners’ credit.  Because who wants to be mean to people who are being thrown out of their houses?

The McArdle article goes further than most, by identifying some empirical investigation into just who knew the most about homeowner creditworthiness, and how they let it affect either their willingness to close or their willingness to set a low interest rate.  She was also lucky enough to attract this intelligent commenter, “circleglider”:

People follow rules because those rules are congruent with their morals or because the risk/reward ratio of any sanction is unfavorable.

When governments regulate otherwise private economic transactions, they necessarily create principal-agent problems.  Rules – especially arbitrary ones – only exacerbate agency costs.

This is one of the many reasons why command and control economies fail.  And the diversion of ever more resources into rule enforcement is a signal step in their decline.

In those rare cases where true market failures exist, the most effective interventions are those that minimally impact incentives and consequences.  The U.S. housing finance system operates almost entirely contrary to these principals.

. . .

The vast majority of markets work just fine.  “Economic crashes” are separate from market failures and may or may not be exacerbated by them; government intervention is almost always the causative factor.  There are few true monopolies or oligopolies outside of those created by government (hint: try naming any that constitute even 10% of the U.S. economy).  Asymmetric information, while technically a type market failure, can be and is often rectified by private actors.  And by definition, the Tragedy of the Commons only occurs where market forces are not allowed to operate – otherwise, the commons could not exist.

Throughout history and across the globe today, there is an inescapable inverse relationship between economic growth rates and government interference in private economic affairs.

Most alleged market failures are simply outcomes that some person or group finds objectionable.  Indeed, some of the most often decried outcomes are those that represent markets doing what they do best — facilitating mutually beneficial trade and allocating resources to their best and highest uses. Markets are where people come together to do what they do best:  self-organize.

Those who work and live in the private economy rarely see markets fail.  Those who work and live in the public sector rarely seem them work.

This sorry spectacle should make us take especially careful note of what California public entities are getting up to lately in the way of issuing bonds.  They really need the money, and they really don’t have it.  They’ve already tried borrowing it, but they need to commandeer more than the resources of the the next few years of taxpayers.  What they really need is the resources of taxpayers forty years from now.  But they’d be thrown out of office if they tried to get next year’s taxpayers to start paying on a forty-year obligation for this year’s schools or pension obligations, so they came up with a brainstorm:  balloon bonds!  Pay nothing now, and then the payments will mushroom later, much later, don’t even worry about it.  Sound familiar?  When that structure crashes, will people remember that the problem was that the public entities should have known right from the start that they were borrowing more than they could possibly afford to repay?  Or will there be a confused scramble to sue the Big Banks that helped structure the deals?