Sexual Misconduct: A New Crime, A New Kind of Justice

Not all bad behavior is, or should be, the subject of official investigation, prosecution, and punishment. It should be enough, in the vast majority of cases, to stop bad behavior and discourage its repetition by simply saying “no”, administering a spanking, or subjecting the miscreant to social scorn.

These time-honored methods gave way decades ago to the sob-sister school of pseudo-psychology, which instructs all and sundry that it is harmful to young psyches to say “no” without a long explanation (couched in psychological rather than moral terms), to spank (or otherwise administer corporal punishment), or to squelch “creativity” (i.e., mischief-making) by any method of communication, from frowning to screaming.

It should therefore come as no surprise that several generations of persons born after World War II — which includes almost all of today’s practicing politicians, lawyer, judges, and celebrities — have lacked the benefit of moral guidance. What they seem to have learned is not to eschew bad behavior, but to feign contrition for it when caught. Pseudo-contrition can be made to seem genuine by a method-acting technique: converting mortification for being caught into sorrow for having committed the offending deed.

Meanwhile, the broader system of justice, which encompasses the kinds of social censure discussed above, is shifting away from the inculcation of traditional morality (which would reinforce “white privilege” and “patriarchy”) and becoming a delivery vehicle for socio-political vengeance. This perversion seemed to have peaked with the Obama-Holder regime’s penchant for launching federal investigations of shootings by police when the persons shot were black, under the rubric of “civil rights”, and with the refusal of campus and municipal officials to curb violence committed by leftists and their protégés (e.g., Antifa and BLM).

But the perversion of justice has reached a new low with the wave of public accusations of sexual misconduct fomented by the #MeToo campaign,

to denounce sexual assault and harassment, in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against film producer and executive Harvey Weinstein. The phrase, long used in this sense by social activist Tarana Burke, was popularized by actress Alyssa Milano, who encouraged women to tweet it to publicize experiences to demonstrate the widespread nature of misogynistic behavior.

Dozens of prominent or high-ranking men in politics, entertainment, and business have been accused of various acts of sexual misconduct. Many of them have lost their jobs as a result of the accusations. Roy Moore probably lost the special election in Alabama because of the accusations. It is a widely held view on the left that Donald Trump should lose his job because of accusations that have been leveled against him, and also because he’s a creepy loud-mouth who mainly takes a conservative political stance and is a “racist” to boot. (“Racist” is the go-to word for leftists who want to open the southern border to more waves of future Democrat voters.)

In other words, there’s a new crime on the block: sexual misconduct. It consists not only of actual crimes — such as rape — that ought to be prosecuted, and have been prosecuted since long before the #MeToo campaign. It also consists of any perceived sexism or slight on the part of a male toward a female.

This new, ill-defined crime is in the mind of the beholder. She may perceive a crime simply because she hates men or finds it psychologically satisfying to think of them as the enemy — along with Republicans, Israelis, “the rich” (one of which she may well be), climate-change “deniers”, NASCAR fans, and on and on.

In fact, it’s the old double-standard at work: Misogyny (real or imagined) is bad, but man-hating is good. Or so it has become among many women (and their male sycophants) who, with unintentional irony, call themselves “liberal” and “progressive”.  It is illiberal in the extreme to deprive someone of life, liberty, property, or a job based on mere accusations, but that is what is happening. It is regressive in the extreme to wage war against half the population (minus the mental cuckolds who are their allies) when it is the half of the population that does the really hard and dangerous jobs that make it possible for them to live in a hypocritical state of comfort and security.

So, despite my schadenfreude about the comeuppance of many left-wing males (most of whom probably deserve it), I am unenthusiastic about this latest incarnation of the Salem witch-trials. It is too much of a piece with the many memes that have captured the fickle attentions of neurotic leftists in recent decades, years, months, weeks, and days; for example, eugenics, prohibition, repeal of prohibition, peace through unilateral disarmament, overpopulation, global cooling, peak oil, global warming, carbon footprints, recycling, income inequality, unconscious racism, white privilege, forced integration, forces segregation (if blacks want it), coeducation, mixed-sexed dorms, single-sex schools, any reference to or image of a firearm, keeping score, winning, cultural appropriation, diversity, globalization, free speech (not), homophobia, same-sex “marriage”, smoking, gender “assignment” at birth, “free” college for all, “settled science”, collective guilt (but only of straight, white, conservative males of European descent, and Germans in 1933-1945), racial profiling and stereotyping (except when leftists do it), etc., etc., etc.

Each “good” can be attained and each “bad” averted simply by enacting laws, regulations, and punishments. Though nature and human nature are not so easily controlled (let alone changed), the neurotic appetite for action can be sated temporarily by the mere enactment of laws, regulations, and punishments. And when these have been piled one on top of the other for decades, the results are as predicted by conservatives and libertarians: the suppression of liberty and economic growth.

There’s real crime for you.

Related posts:
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Liberalism and Sovereignty
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Penalizing “Thought Crimes”
Democracy and Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Inventing “Liberalism”
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
In Defense of Marriage
The Left
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
Our Enemy, the State
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
“Occupy Wall Street” and Religion
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
More about Merit Goods
The Morality of Occupying Private Property
Prohibition, Abortion, and “Progressivism”
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
The Fallacy of Human Progress
Fighting Modernity
Defining Liberty
The Culture War
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Getting Liberty Wrong
Romanticizing the State
Governmental Perversity
The Pretence of Knowledge
“The Science Is Settled”
Ruminations on the Left in America
No Wonder Liberty Is Disappearing
Academic Ignorance
More About Social Norms and Liberty
The Euphemism Conquers All
Defending the Offensive
The War on Conservatism
A Dose of Reality
God-Like Minds
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
Society, Polarization, and Dissent
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
The Rahn Curve Revisited
Social Justice vs. Liberty
The Left and “the People”
Why Conservatives Shouldn’t Compromise
Liberal Nostrums
Liberty and Social Norms Re-examined
Retrospective Virtue-Signalling
The Left and Violence
Four Kinds of “Liberals”
Leftist Condescension
If Men Were Angels
The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
The Left and Evergreen State: Reaping What Was Sown
Liberty in Chains
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
What Is Going On? A Stealth Revolution
Libertarianism, Conservatism, and Political Correctness
“Liberalism” and Leftism
Disposition and Ideology
Much Ado about the Unknown and Unknowable
A (Long) Footnote about Science
Down the Memory Hole
The Dumbing-Down of Public Schools
Cakes and Liberty

Will Unhinged

George F. Will, the pseudo-don of political punditry, began to unravel last year when faced with Donald Trump’s candidacy, nomination, and electoral victory. Inasmuch as I don’t read Will as religiously as I used to — when he had sensible things to say about Barack Obama — I failed to witness the point at which he became unhinged. But unhinged he is, as evidenced by a recent column in The Washington Post. It’s about the possibility of a Trump-ordered first strike against North Korea:

A U.S. war of choice against North Korea would not be a pre emptive war launched to forestall an imminent attack. Rather, it would be a preventive war supposedly justified by the fact that, given sophisticated weapons and delivery systems, imminence might be impossible to detect.

Will ends the column with this:

It would be interesting to hear the president distinguish a preventive war against North Korea from a war of aggression. The first two counts in the indictments at the 1946 Nuremberg trials concerned waging “aggressive war.”

The counts refer to the aggression against Poland. There is no parallel between Poland, with its relatively primitive armed forces and lack of bellicosity, and Kim Jong-un’s North Korea.

Further, though there was moral justification for war-crimes prosecutions of Nazis after World War II, the legal footing of the Nuremberg trials is on shaky ground. Here are some passages from the Wikipedia article about the trials:

Critics of the Nuremberg trials argued that the charges against the defendants were only defined as “crimes” after they were committed and that therefore the trial was invalid as a form of “victor’s justice”. The alleged double standards associated with putative victor’s justice are also evident from the indictment of German defendants for conspiracy to commit aggression against Poland in 1939, while no one from the Soviet Union was charged for being part of the same conspiracy. As Biddiss observed, “the Nuremberg Trial continues to haunt us. … It is a question also of the weaknesses and strengths of the proceedings themselves.”…

Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court Harlan Fiske Stone called the Nuremberg trials a fraud. “(Chief U.S. prosecutor) Jackson is away conducting his high-grade lynching party in Nuremberg,” he wrote. “I don’t mind what he does to the Nazis, but I hate to see the pretense that he is running a court and proceeding according to common law. This is a little too sanctimonious a fraud to meet my old-fashioned ideas.”

Jackson, in a letter discussing the weaknesses of the trial, in October 1945 told U.S. President Harry S. Truman that the Allies themselves “have done or are doing some of the very things we are prosecuting the Germans for. The French are so violating the Geneva Convention in the treatment of prisoners of war that our command is taking back prisoners sent to them. We are prosecuting plunder and our Allies are practising it. We say aggressive war is a crime and one of our allies asserts sovereignty over the Baltic States based on no title except conquest.”

Associate Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas charged that the Allies were guilty of “substituting power for principle” at Nuremberg. “I thought at the time and still think that the Nuremberg trials were unprincipled,” he wrote. “Law was created ex post facto to suit the passion and clamor of the time.”

U.S. Deputy Chief Counsel Abraham Pomerantz resigned in protest at the low caliber of the judges assigned to try the industrial war criminals such as those at I.G. Farben.

Will himself has questioned the legality of the Nuremberg trials. It was an act of intellectual desperation to bring them into the discussion.

All in all, Will’s recent column is weak on the facts and weak as a matter of historical analysis. The main impetus for the column seems to be Will’s fixation on Trump. His doubts about Trump’s stability and soundness of judgment may be justified. But Will ought to have stuck to those doubts, and elaborated on them.

Cakes and Liberty

Mark David Hall yesterday posted “Phillips Likely to Win Masterpiece Cakeshop Case, Five Votes to Four” at Law & Liberty. I fervently hope that Phillips wins, and by a greater margin than 5-4 (though that’s probably too much to hope for).

I must say, however, that I do not much care for the First-Amendment grounding of Phillips’s case. As Hall points out, Phillips was found guilty of violating Colorado’s public accommodation statute by the state’s Civil Rights Commission when he refused to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding.

And therein lies the real injustice, which stems from the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That law (among several things) prohibits racial discrimination in “public accommodations“, which are

generally defined as facilities, both public and private, used by the public. Examples include retail stores, rental establishments and service establishments as well as educational institutions, recreational facilities, and service centers.

What is going on with Masterpiece Cakeshop, and similar cases involving florists and photographers, is what has been going on since the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the U.S. Supreme Court’s subsequent rulings to uphold the law: the abrogation of property rights, liberty of contract, and freedom of association.

The only excuse for pursing Phillips’s cause as a First Amendment issue is that it is far too late to restore property rights, liberty of contract, and freedom of association — all of which have been smothered by the dense web of legislative, executive, and judicial decrees that suppresses liberty in the name of liberty.

Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are hanging on by the barest of threads. If Phillips loses in the Supreme Court, they will go the way of property rights, liberty of contract, and freedom of association.

Related posts:
Substantive Due Process, Liberty of Contract, and the States’ Police Power
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead
“We the People” and Big Government
Getting “Equal Protection” Right
The Writing on the Wall
How to Protect Property Rights and Freedom of Association and Expression
The Principles of Actionable Harm
Judicial Supremacy: Judicial Tyranny
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
Substantive Due Process, Liberty of Contract, and States’ “Police Power”
Why Liberty of Contract Matters
The Answer to Judicial Supremacy
There’s More to It Than Religious Liberty
Turning Points
Equal Protection in Principle and Practice
Freedom of Speech and the Long War for Constitutional Governance
Academic Freedom, Freedom of Speech, and the Demise of Civility

“Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

That’s how a correspondent characterized an op-ed by Mitch Daniels* that appeared yesterday in the online edition of The Washington Post. Daniels says, in part, that

ours is an era when it seems no one ever confesses to being wrong. Moreover, everyone is so emphatically right that those who disagree are not merely in error but irredeemably so, candidates not for persuasion but for castigation and ostracism….

John Maynard Keynes is frequently credited with the aphorism “When I find I’m wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?” Today, the problem may less be an attitude of stubbornness than that fewer people than ever recognize their mistakes in the first place.

In a well-documented fashion, steady doses of viewpoint reinforcement lead not only to a resistance to alternative positions but also to a more entrenched and passionate way in which thoughts are held and expressed. When those expressions are launched in the impersonal or even anonymous channels of today’s social — or is it antisocial? — media, vitriol often becomes the currency of discourse and second thoughts a form of tribal desertion or defeat. Things people would not say face to face are all too easy to post in bouts of blogger or tweeter one-upmanship.

I doubt that it’s possible to return to the “golden days” of political comity, whenever they were. The U.S. hasn’t come close to attaining a sense of national unity since World War II. And even then, FDR’s popular vote share dropped between 1940 and 1944, and the GOP picked up House and Senate seats in 1942 and 1944. At any rate, things have gotten a lot worse since then — there’s no doubt about it.

How might they get better? Someone — an extremely influential someone — has to make the first move, and be willing to lose on an important issue. And he has to bring influential allies with him, or else his move will likely be nullified by a stiffening of his side’s position on the issue.

I submit that the stakes are too high for this to happen, unless a greater objective than “winning” a political debate emerges. Right after 9/11, it appeared that such an objective had emerged, but the sense of unity against a common enemy didn’t last. And it wasn’t entirely Bush’s fault for pushing the war in Iraq. I witnessed (on TV) HRC’s eye-rolling performance during Bush’s post-9/11 speech to Congress, a performance aimed not only at the Dem colleagues near her but also at anti-Bush zealots around the country. (Bush’s “theft” of the election less than a year earlier was still a sore spot for a lot of Democrat politicians and voters.)

It would be the same again with Trump in office. In fact, he’d be blamed (by Democrats) for whatever dire thing happens, and polarization would strengthen instead of weakening.

I shudder to think what it might take to achieve real and lasting unity, or at least a willingness to engage in honest and open discourse. The nation may be better off if the status quo persists. I certainly do not want compromise if it means giving any more ground to the left.

* I came to know Mitch slightly when we had business dealings about 30 years ago. He is the anti-Trump in size, thoughtfulness, articulateness, and manner. He is exactly the kind  of person who might be able to put the country more or less back together. But having said that, I am glad that Trump is in the White House now. His uncompromising push for conservative policies and judges is exactly what’s needed to counterbalance the Dems’ continuing slide into loony leftism.

Related posts:
September 20, 2001: Hillary Clinton Signals the End of “Unity”
I Want My Country Back
Undermining the Free Society
Government vs. Community
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
Society and the State
Well-Founded Pessimism
America: Past, Present, and Future
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The View from Here
“We the People” and Big Government
The Culture War
The Fall and Rise of American Empire
O Tempora O Mores!
Presidential Treason
A Home of One’s Own
The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism
Surrender? Hell No!
Romanticizing the State
Governmental Perversity
Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America
1963: The Year Zero
How Democracy Works
“Cheerful” Thoughts
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Turning Points
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?
How America Has Changed
Civil War?
The “H” Word, the Left, and Donald Trump
Red-Diaper Babies and Enemies Within
The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
The Left and Evergreen State: Reaping What Was Sown
Academic Freedom, Freedom of Speech, and the Demise of Civility
Death of a Nation
The Invention of Rights
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
What Is Going On? A Stealth Revolution
Politics Trumps Economics
Down the Memory Hole
Dining with “Liberals”

Further Thoughts about Probability


A few weeks ago I posted “A Bayesian Puzzle”. I took it down because Bayesianism warranted more careful treatment than I had given it. But while the post was live at Ricochet (where I cross-posted in September-November), I had an exchange with a reader who is an obdurate believer in single-event probabilities, such as “the probability of heads on the next coin flip is 50 percent” and “the probability of 12 on the next roll of a pair of dice is 1/18”. That wasn’t the first such exchange of its kind that I’ve had; “Some Thoughts about Probability” reports an earlier and more thoughtful exchange with a believer in single-event probabilities.


A believer in single-event probabilities takes the view that a single flip of a coin or roll of dice has a probability. I do not. A probability represents the frequency with which an outcome occurs over the very long run, and it is only an average that conceals random variations.

The outcome of a single coin flip can’t be reduced to a percentage or probability. It can only be described in terms of its discrete, mutually exclusive possibilities: heads (H) or tails (T). The outcome of a single roll of a die or pair of dice can only be described in terms of the number of points that may come up, 1 through 6 or 2 through 12.

Yes, the expected frequencies of H, T, and and various point totals can be computed by simple mathematical operations. But those are only expected frequencies. They say nothing about the next coin flip or dice roll, nor do they more than approximate the actual frequencies that will occur over the next 100, 1,000, or 10,000 such events.

Of what value is it to know that the probability of H is 0.5 when H fails to occur in 11 consecutive flips of a fair coin? Of what value is it to know that the probability of rolling a  7 is 0.167 — meaning that 7 comes up every 6 rolls, on average — when 7 may not appear for 56 consecutive rolls? These examples are drawn from simulations of 10,000 coin flips and 1,000 dice rolls. They are simulations that I ran once — not simulations that I cherry-picked from many runs. (The Excel file is at — coin flips are on the first tab, dice rolls are on the second tab.)

Let’s take another example, which is more interesting, and has generated much controversy of the years. It’s the Monty Hall problem,

a brain teaser, in the form of a probability puzzle, loosely based on the American television game show Let’s Make a Deal and named after its original host, Monty Hall. The problem was originally posed (and solved) in a letter by Steve Selvin to the American Statistician in 1975…. It became famous as a question from a reader’s letter quoted in Marilyn vos Savant’s “Ask Marilyn” column in Parade magazine in 1990 … :

Suppose you’re on a game show, and you’re given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1, and the host, who knows what’s behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, “Do you want to pick door No. 2?” Is it to your advantage to switch your choice

Vos Savant’s response was that the contestant should switch to the other door…. Under the standard assumptions, contestants who switch have a 2/3 chance of winning the car, while contestants who stick to their initial choice have only a 1/3 chance.

Vos Savant’s answer is correct, but only if the contestant is allowed to play an unlimited number of games. A player who adopts a strategy of “switch” in every game will, in the long run, win about 2/3 of the time (explanation here). That is, the player has a better chance of winning if he chooses “switch” rather than “stay”.

Read the preceding paragraph carefully and you will spot the logical defect that underlies the belief in single-event probabilities: The long-run winning strategy (“switch”) is transformed into a “better chance” to win a particular game. What does that mean? How does an average frequency of 2/3 improve one’s chances of winning a particular game? It doesn’t. As I show here, game results are utterly random; that is, the average frequency of 2/3 has no bearing on the outcome of a single game.

I’ll try to drive the point home by returning to the coin-flip game, with money thrown into the mix. A $1 bet on H means a gain of $1 if H turns up, and a loss of $1 if T turns up. The expected value of the bet — if repeated over a very large number of trials — is zero. The bettor expects to win and lose the same number of times, and to walk away no richer or poorer than when he started. And for a very large number of games, the better will walk away approximately (but not necessarily exactly) neither richer nor poorer than when he started. How many games? In the simulation of 10,000 games mentioned earlier, H occurred 50.6 percent of the time. A very large number of games is probably at least 100,000.

Let us say, for the sake of argument, that a bettor has played 100,00 coin-flip games at $1 a game and come out exactly even. What does that mean for the play of the next game? Does it have an expected value of zero?

To see why the answer is “no”, let’s make it interesting and say that the bet on the next game — the next coin flip — is $10,000. The size of the bet should wonderfully concentrate the bettor’s mind. He should now see the situation for what it really is: There are two possible outcomes, and only one of them will be realized. An average of the two outcomes is meaningless. The single coin flip doesn’t have a “probability” of 0.5 H and 0.5 T and an “expected payoff” of zero. The coin will come up either H or T, and the bettor will either lose $10,000 or win $10,000.

To repeat: The outcome of a single coin flip doesn’t have an expected value for the bettor. It has two possible values, and the bettor must decide whether he is willing to lose $10,000 on the single flip of a coin.

By the same token (or coin), the outcome of a single roll of a pair of dice doesn’t have a 1-in-6 probability of coming up 7. It has 36 possible outcomes and 11 possible point totals, and the bettor must decide how much he is willing to lose if he puts his money on the wrong combination or outcome.


It is a logical fallacy to ascribe a probability to a single event. A probability represents the observed or computed average value of a very large number of like events. A single event cannot possess that average value. A single event has a finite number of discrete and mutually exclusive outcomes. Those outcomes will not “average out” — only one of them will obtain, like Schrödinger’s cat.

To say that the outcomes will average out — which is what a probability implies — is tantamount to saying that Jack Sprat and his wife were neither skinny nor fat because their body-mass indices averaged to a normal value. It is tantamount to saying that one can’t drown by walking across a pond with an average depth of 1 foot, when that average conceals the existence of a 100-foot-deep hole.

Related posts:
Understanding the Monty Hall Problem
The Compleat Monty Hall Problem
Some Thoughts about Probability
My War on the Misuse of Probability
Scott Adams Understands Probability

The Dumbing-Down of Public Schools

You may have read stories about the difficulty of tests given to public-school students in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some of the questions would have challenged even the brighter seniors in today’s schools. This anecdotal evidence suggests that educational standards were generally much higher in the public schools of yore than they are now. One reason, I suspect, is the dumbing-down of schools that probably accompanied the social and legal push to keep children in school through the 12th grade.

In Michigan, when my father was of school age, it wasn’t uncommon for children (especially boys) to drop out after the 8th grade. High school, in those days, seemed to be considered preparatory for college. Boys like my father, who was intelligent but of a poor family, weren’t considered college material and would often drop out after completing the 8th grade in order to go to work, perhaps even to learn a trade that would pay more than they could earn from manual labor. (When my father dropped out, the Great Depression was at its depth and it was all the more necessary for him to take whatever job he could get, to help support his family.)

The prep-school thesis came to me when I was browsing old yearbooks and found a yearbook for 1921 in which my high-school principal is pictured as a high-school senior. (It was the high school that my father would have attended had he gone beyond the 8th grade.) One page of the yearbook gives a list of the 1920 graduates and tells what each of them is doing (e.g., attending the University of Michigan, working at a particular factory, at home without a job). Here are some things I gleaned from the page:

The class of 1920 consisted of 28 males and 50 females. This is an improbable male-female ratio, which supports my thesis that dropping out to work was common among males. (Most male members of the class of 1920 would have been only 16 at the end of World War I ended, so it is unlikely that the war had more than a minute effect on the number of males who reached graduation age.)

A year after graduation, two-thirds of the males (19 of the 28) were enrolled in college (mostly at the University of Michigan), and another one was attending a technical school in Chicago. That two-thirds of the males were in college in 1921, long before the insane push for universal higher education, support the idea that most males who went to high school were considered college material.

Of the 50 females, only 8 were definitely in college, with 5 of them at teachers’ colleges (then called “normal schools”). Several others gave locations that might have indicated college attendance (e.g., Oberlin, Albion). But there were at most 14 collegians among the 50 females.

Two females were already teaching, presumably in small, rural schools. But the fact that they were teaching at the age of 19 (not uncommon in the “old days”) is testimony to the quality of high-school education in those days. It also says a lot about the needless inflation of standards for teaching young children.

It pains me to think of the tens of millions of young persons — male and female alike — who have been pushed into high school, and then into college, instead of being allowed to find their own way in life. They have been denied the opportunity to learn a trade through apprenticeship, or just by working hard; the opportunity to learn self-reliance and responsibility; and the opportunity to contribute more to the well-being of others than most of them will contribute by going to college.

Smaller high-school enrollments would also mean fewer public-school teachers and administrators to feed at the public trough and fuel the expensive (and largely fruitless) war among school systems to see which one can spend the most per pupil.  Fewer students pushed into college would also mean fewer college-professors and administrators to feed at the public trough, and to spew their pseudo-intellectual nonsense.

The best thing about smaller high-school enrollments would be the reduction in the number of impressionable young persons who are indoctrinated in left-wing views by high-school teachers, and then by college professors.

Related posts:
School Vouchers and Teachers’ Unions
Whining about Teachers’ Pay: Another Lesson about the Evils of Public Education
I Used to Be Too Smart to Understand This
The Higher-Education Bubble
The Public-School Swindle
Is College for Everyone?
A Sideways Glance at Public “Education”

The End of an Era?

What do these people have in common?

Roy Moore
Harvey Weinstein
Kevin Spacey
Louis C.K.
Al Franken
Charlie Rose
John Conyers
Matt Lauer
Garrison Keillor

I’m sure I’ve missed some names. They’ve been coming too fast for me to keep up. And that’s just this year’s crop — though Bill Clinton always heads the list of past offenders (proven and alleged).

What they have in common, of course, is a rap for sexual harassment or worse — sometimes much worse.

What they also have in common is that they are all public figures who are either in politics or entertainment (which includes “news”).

The most important thing that they have in common, with the exception of Roy Moore, is their attachment to left-wing politics. Oops, here comes Clinton, again.

The day of the free pass because “his heart’s in the right place”* seems to be over.
* This is a reference to following passage in “The Devolution of American Politics from Wisdom to Opportunism“:

The canonization of Ted Kennedy by the American left and its “moderate” dupes — in spite of Kennedy’s tawdry, criminal past — reminds me of the impeachment trial of William Jefferson Clinton. Clinton’s defense attorney Cheryl Mills said this toward the end of her summation:

[T]his president’s record on civil rights, on women’s rights, on all of our rights is unimpeachable.

In other words, Clinton could lie under oath and obstruct justice because his predatory behavior toward particular women and the criminal acts they led to were excused by his being on the “right side” on the general issue of “women’s rights.” That makes as much sense as allowing a murderer to go free because he believes in capital punishment.

Where’s the Outrage?

UPDATE (11/18/17): It’s only fair to note that in the three days since I posted this I haven’t seen any objections to the Wumo strip. It’s either too funny for outrage or not on the radar of the easily outraged — perhaps both.

This funny Wumo strip, though dated November 3, appeared in today’s papers:

I expect Wumo and/or many of the newspapers to apologize abjectly for giving offense to transgendered persons. Those who are secure in their adopted sexual identity will find it funny. But there will howls of outrage from “liberals”, whose search for “victims” to defend is never-ending.

Dining with “Liberals”

Yesterday evening my wife and I dined at the Austin home of her female first cousin, once removed. Others in attendance were the cousin’s husband, the cousin’s parents (the father is my wife’s first cousin), the cousin’s brother and his wife, and my wife’s sister and her husband. The cast was white, college-educated, professional (the host and hostess are lawyers), and various shades of left (except for me). The topics of conversation — other than children, grandchildren, and renovations — included Trump, Rand Paul, guns, abortion, stereotyping, and the Austin school-bond proposal, which passed 70-30 on November 7.

You can guess how it went:

Trump is crazy and evil. People who voted for him didn’t know what they were doing.

There was an initial “cover up” about the extent of Rand Paul’s injuries. (Actually, he didn’t realize their extent for quite a while after he was blind-sided by his neighbor, Rene Boucher.) So maybe there’s some hanky-panky involving Paul and the attacker’s wife. That one was pulled out of thin air, but there was no mention of the more credible, widely discussed, political motivation for the attack. As one source puts it, “Boucher is a registered Democrat. He is shown through Facebook postings to be highly critical of President Donald Trump, Boucher is also an advocate for gun control and healthcare reform [i.e., Obamacare].” (I strongly suspect that Boucher is a James Hodgkinson without a rifle, a one-man Antifa mob.)

Guns should be controlled, but not “my” guns.

Men have no business deciding what women do with “their bodies”, as if an unborn child were an appendix.

Stereotyping is bad. This topic was introduced by a woman who recalled that an “ignorant” woman once made anti-Semitic remarks in her presence, not knowing that she is Jewish — because “I don’t look Jewish”, she said. So she was actually stereotyping Jews while objecting to stereotyping. And there was much stereotyping of people who voted for Trump, people who own guns (themselves excepted, of course), rural types, and all the other usual suspects.

It’s wonderful that the school-bond proposal was adopted, even though (no one said this) it will drive more low-income families out of Austin and cause “liberals” to find more ways to subsidize “affordable housing” (i.e., try to keep Austin from becoming entirely white), even though such subsidies will cause taxes to rise even more. (“Liberals” never seem to grasp the connection between their voting habits and their tax bills.)

I kept my mouth shut, of course, having no wish to upset my wife or spoil the feeling of smug unanimity that prevailed. Further, I actually like those people. They are truly nice, and good company when they’re not virtue-signalling to each other.

Down the Memory Hole

The present drive to deny history is part of the broader movement to impose uniformity of thought by denying to the targeted group its sense of uniqueness and its badges of greatness. It is an ages-old and successful strategy. It puts the targeted group on the defensive. And divides the targeted group by seducing many of its members into joining the cause, in the name of “liberalism” and in repudiation of “white supremacy”.

Thus the eagerness of media elites, academicians, collegians, and others who are swayed by “correct” opinion to join the lynch mob that is baying for the blood of heterosexual white males of European descent — retroactively and prospectively. It won’t end with heterosexual white males of European descent, as is already evident. Having succeeded in dominating its primary target group, the lynch mob will begin to purge the “impure” from its ranks, starting with heterosexual white females of European descent.

Asians will be next because they are no longer among the “oppressed”, and are generally just too smart and successful to be “victims” on a par with Hispanics and blacks. An uncivil war will break out between those two groups, which will leave the field open for the real instigators of the whole mess — white elites of European descent and various sexual persuasions.

It is those elites who started the revolution in the Progressive Era, have kept it going for almost 150 years, and have managed to survive (despite their ethnicity and coloration) by dint of their cunning and rhetorical skills. Their persistence and success is a testament to the allure of power, which is far stronger (among them) than the allure of wealth, fame, or liberty.

Related reading:

Bill Vallicella, “Did the U.S. Defeat the S.U. Just to Become Another S.U.?“, Maverick Philosopher, November 11, 2017

Monica Showalter, “The Triumph of Bill Ayers“, American Thinker, November 12, 2017

Related posts:
I Want My Country Back
Undermining the Free Society
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
Society and the State
Well-Founded Pessimism
America: Past, Present, and Future
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The View from Here
O Tempora O Mores!
A Home of One’s Own
The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism
Surrender? Hell No!
Romanticizing the State
Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America
1963: The Year Zero
How Democracy Works
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Turning Points
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?
How America Has Changed
Civil War?
The “H” Word, the Left, and Donald Trump
The Hypocrisy of “Local Control”
Red-Diaper Babies and Enemies Within
Suicidal Despair and the “War on Whites”
Death of a Nation
What’s Going On? A Stealth Revolution

The Battle Flag Restored

I had removed the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia from my sidebar, just to declutter it. But today I read this:

In Austin, Texas, Mayor Steve Adler won’t be marching in Saturday’s Veteran’s Day parade because groups marching in the parade will be carrying the Confederate battle flag.

“Symbols of racism, Civil War secession, and white supremacy should not be forgotten or erased, but they need to be remembered and studied in museums and classrooms, not cheered and applauded in parades,” said Adler.

And so I have restored the Battle Flag to a place of prominance in my sidebar for the reasons that I give below it:

On this blog, as in most places where it appears, the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia — Lee’s Army — stands for deliverance from an oppressive national government and resistance to political correctness, not racism. For more, see my post, “Defending the Offensive“.

Adler is typical of Austin, a place that commands my taxes and repels my soul.

A (Long) Footnote about Science

In “Deduction, Induction, and Knowledge” I make a case that knowledge (as opposed to belief) can only be inductive, that is, limited to specific facts about particular phenomena. It’s true that a hypothesis or theory about a general pattern of relationships (e.g., the general theory of relativity) can be useful, and even necessary. As I say at the end of “Deduction…”, the fact that a general theory can’t be proven

doesn’t — and shouldn’t — stand in the way of acting as if we possess general knowledge. We must act as if we possess general knowledge. To do otherwise would result in stasis, or analysis-paralysis.

Which doesn’t mean that a general theory should be accepted just because it seems plausible. Some general theories — such as global climate models (or GCMs) are easily falsified. They persist only because pseudo-scientists and true believers refuse to abandon them. (There is no such thing as “settled science”.)

Neil Lock, writing at Watts Up With That?, offers this perspective on inductive vs. deductive thinking:

Bottom up thinking is like the way we build a house. Starting from the ground, we work upwards, using what we’ve done already as support for what we’re working on at the moment. Top down thinking, on the other hand, starts out from an idea that is a given. It then works downwards, seeking evidence for the idea, or to add detail to it, or to put it into practice….

The bottom up thinker seeks to build, using his senses and his mind, a picture of the reality of which he is a part. He examines, critically, the evidence of his senses. He assembles this evidence into percepts, things he perceives as true. Then he pulls them together and generalizes them into concepts. He uses logic and reason to seek understanding, and he often stops to check that he is still on the right lines. And if he finds he has made an error, he tries to correct it.

The top down thinker, on the other hand, has far less concern for logic or reason, or for correcting errors. He tends to accept new ideas only if they fit his pre-existing beliefs. And so, he finds it hard to go beyond the limitations of what he already knows or believes. [“‘Bottom Up’ versus ‘Top Down’ Thinking — On Just about Everything“, October 22, 2017]

(I urge you to read the whole thing, in which Lock applies the top down-bottom up dichotomy to a broad range of issues.)

Lock overstates the distinction between the two modes of thought. A lot of “bottom up” thinkers derive general hypotheses from their observations about particular events. But — and this is a big “but” — they are also amenable to revising their hypotheses when they encounter facts that contradict them. The best scientists are bottom-up and top-down thinkers whose beliefs are based on bottom-up thinking.

General hypotheses are indispensable guides to “everyday” living. Some of them (e.g., fire burns, gravity causes objects to fall) are such reliable guides that it’s foolish to assume their falsity. Nor does it take much research to learn, for example, that there are areas within a big city where violent crime is rampant. A prudent person — even a “liberal” one — will therefore avoid those areas.

There are also general patterns — now politically incorrect to mention — with respect to differences in physical, psychological, and intellectual traits and abilities between men and women and among races. (See this, this, and this, for example.) These patterns explain disparities in achievement, but they are ignored by true believers who would wish away the underlying causes and penalize those who are more able (in a relevant dimension) for the sake of ersatz equality. The point is that a good many people — perhaps most people — studiously ignore facts of some kind in order to preserve their cherished beliefs about themselves and the world around them.

Which brings me back to science and scientists. Scientists, for the most part, are human beings with a particular aptitude for pattern-seeking and the manipulation of abstract ideas. They can easily get lost in such pursuits and fail to notice that their abstractions have taken them a long way from reality (e.g., Einstein’s special theory of relativity).

This is certainly the case in physics, where scientists admit that the standard model of sub-atomic physics “proves” that the universe shouldn’t exist. (See Andrew Griffin, “The Universe Shouldn’t Exist, Scientists Say after Finding Bizarre Behaviour of Anti-Matter“, The Independent, October 23, 2017.) It is most certainly the case in climatology, where many pseudo-scientists have deployed hopelessly flawed models in the service of policies that would unnecessarily cripple the economy of the United States.

As I say here,

scientists are human and fallible. It is in the best tradition of science to distrust their claims and to dismiss their non-scientific utterances.

Non-scientific utterances are not only those which have nothing to do with a scientist’s field of specialization, but also include those that are based on theories which derive from preconceptions more than facts. It is scientific to admit lack of certainty. It is unscientific — anti-scientific, really — to proclaim certainty about something that is so little understood the origin of the universe or Earth’s climate.

Related posts:
Hemibel Thinking
The Limits of Science
The Thing about Science
Science in Politics, Politics in Science
Global Warming and the Liberal Agenda
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Pseudo-Science in the Service of Political Correctness
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
“Warmism”: The Myth of Anthropogenic Global Warming
Modeling Is Not Science
Demystifying Science
Analysis for Government Decision-Making: Hemi-Science, Hemi-Demi-Science, and Sophistry
Pinker Commits Scientism
AGW: The Death Knell
The Limits of Science (II)
The Pretence of Knowledge
“The Science Is Settled”
The Limits of Science, Illustrated by Scientists
Rationalism, Empiricism, and Scientific Knowledge
AGW in Austin?
The “Marketplace” of Ideas
Revisiting the “Marketplace” of Ideas
The Technocratic Illusion
The Precautionary Principle and Pascal’s Wager
AGW in Austin? (II)
Is Science Self-Correcting?
“Science” vs. Science: The Case of Evolution, Race, and Intelligence
Modeling Revisited
Bayesian Irrationality
Mettenheim on Einstein’s Relativity
The Fragility of Knowledge
Global-Warming Hype
Hurricane Hysteria
Deduction, Induction, and Knowledge
Much Ado about the Unknown and Unkownable

Why I Am Anti-Union

Schadenfreude. That was my reaction to a recent piece by Rick Moran:

A week ago, employees at the Gothamist and DNAinfo were celebrating after a successful vote to join the Writers Guild. The Gothamist is a noted New York City website that is devoted to covering local news. They operate affiliated sites in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

But the reporters’ celebration was shortlived. Yesterday, the publisher of the Gothamist and its parent website, DNAifno, informed all employees that he was shutting them down.

Joe Ricketts, who founded Ameritrade, made the announcement in an email….

The question isn’t whether Ricketts was justified in pulling the plug. The question is why employees thought the outcome would be any different?

Many unions in 21st century America offer a fantasy.   Simple arithmetic would show even the dumbest worker that the dream doesn’t add up and that reality wins in the end. The best example of that is the drive for a $15 an hour minimum wage. When you disconnect the cost of labor from the value of labor, the numbers don’t add up and companies end up losing money or, at best, dramatically reducing profits. In the real world, radically increasing the cost of labor means increasing the price of the products sold. In the case of fast food restaurants, that means a reduction  in traffic leading to fewer customers and less profit.

But organized labor has sold the idea that there are no consequences to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. We are already seeing franchises moving rapidly to automate their operations as much as possible and reduce the number of employees — leading to job losses and, just as importantly, fewer jobs created.

The Gothamist employees are shocked, shocked I say, to find out that a news website doesn’t make money and even a billionaire can tolerate losing only so much money before throwing in the towel. Unionizing also brings other headaches that are intolerable to management unless they are gluttons for punishment.

The writing was on the wall for these employees, but they were blinded by their own delusions and naivete. [“Publisher Shutters Websites after Journalists Unionize“, American Thinker, November 3, 2017]

Schadenfreude because I have been anti-union for 60 years.

It began while I was in high school. I had a part-time job bagging groceries at a supermarket. The supermarket was unionized, as was the norm in my home State of Michigan. My wage rate was set by a contract between the supermarket chain and the union, which I had to join as a condition of employment.

After I had been on the job for several months, the manager of the supermarket added shelf-stocking to my duties. According to the union contract, I should have received a raise for doing something other than bagging groceries, which was the lowest-paid job in the store. I complained to the manager about my wage rate. He fired me. The head of the local union couldn’t be bothered to defend me because he knew that I was going off to college in the fall. And so I received no benefit for paying union dues out my measly earnings.

Did I owe those measly earnings to the unionization of the store? I doubt it. I was a fast and effective bagger, unlike the baggers who work where my wife does most of her grocery shopping. I filled a grocery bag so that it wasn’t too heavy or too light; I put the heavy items on the bottom and the crushable items on top; I separated produce and frozen foods from soap and other scented items; etc. Given my superior skill as a bagger, the effect of the union contract was to penalize me and transfer some of my earnings to the less efficient baggers who worked with me.

That’s a good enough reason to be anti-union. But there are other reasons, having to do with freedom of association and freedom of contract.

I have nothing against the formation of a union, in principle. The formation of a union as a voluntary organization is an exercise of the unenumerated right of freedom of association, which is contemplated in the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. By the same token, when labor laws force a person to join union, that person’s constitutional right to freedom of association is violated.

Moreover, such laws violate the freedom of contract guaranteed in Article I, Section 10, of the Constitution of the United States. The violation impinges on the right of the individual worker to negotiate with an employer. By the same token, the violation impinges on the right of the employer to negotiate with each of his employees, taking into account their particular skills and performance.

Further, forced unionization impinges on the employer’s unenumerated constitutional right to the lawful use of his business property.

There is also the effect of unionization on employment. If the contracted wage rate is set below the wage rate that would obtain in the absence of unionization, workers (or many of them) are underpaid. In the more typical case, where a union strives to set a wage rate higher than the market-clearing rate, employers hire fewer workers than they would absent unionization. (There’s an obvious parallel with the minimum wage.)

I am always gladdened when I read that labor-union membership in the United States has declined, not just as a percentage of the labor force, but in absolute numbers. Personal responsibility isn’t dead in the United States, despite the efforts of most of the nation’s politicians an bureaucrats.

Related posts:
Freedom of Contract and the Rise of Judicial Tyranny
The Upside-Down World of Liberalism
The Interest-Group Paradox
Law and Liberty
Negative Rights
Government Failure: An Example
The Left and Its Delusions
Corporations, Unions, and the State
Judicial Supremacy: Judicial Tyranny
Substantive Due Process, Liberty of Contract, and States’ “Police Power”
Why Liberty of Contract Matters
Society, Polarization, and Dissent

Much Ado about the Unknown and Unknowable

The “official” GISS set of temperature records (here) comprises surface thermometer records going back to January 1880. It takes a lot of massaging to construct a monthly time series of “global” temperatures that spans 137 years, with spotty coverage of Earth’s surface (even now), and wide variability in site conditions. There’s the further issue of data manipulation, the most recent example of which was the erasure of the pause that had lasted for almost 19 years.

Taking the GISS numbers at face value, for the moment, what do they suggest about changes in Earth’s temperature (whatever that means)? Almost nothing, when viewed in proper perspective. When viewed, that is, in terms of absolute (Kelvin) temperature readings:

Yes, there’s an upward trend of about 1 degree K (or 1 degree C) per century. And, yes, it’s statistically significant. But the statistical significance is due to the strong correlation between time and temperature. The trend doesn’t explain why Earth’s temperature is what it is. Nor does it explain why it has varied over the past 137 years.

Those variations have been minute. The maximum of 288.79K  is only 1.1 percent higher than the minimum of 285.68K. This minuscule difference must be swamped by measurement and estimation errors. It is credible that Earth’s average temperature — had it been measured consistently over the past 137 years — would have changed less (or more) than the GISS record indicates. It is credible that the observed uptrend is an artifact of selective observation and interpretation. It has become warmer over the past 30 years where I live, for example, but the warming is explained entirely by the urban heat-island effect.

A proper explanation of the minute variations in Earth’s temperature — if real — would incorporate all of the factors that influence Earth’s temperature, starting from Earth’s core and going out into the far reaches of the universe (e.g., to account for the influence of cosmic radiation). Among many things, a proper explanation would encompass the effects of the expansion of the universe, the position and movement of the Milky Way, the position and movement of the Solar System, and the position and movement of Earth within the Solar System, and variations in Earth’s magnetic field.

But global climate models (or GCMs) focus entirely on temperature changes and are limited to superficial factors that are hypothesized to cause those changes — but only those factors that can be measured or estimated by complex and often-dubious methods (e.g., the effects of cloud cover). This is equivalent to searching for one’s car keys under a street lamp because that’s where the light is, even though the car keys were dropped 100 feet away.

The deeper and probably more relevant causes of Earth’s ambient temperature are to be found, I believe, in Earth’s core, magma, plate dynamics, ocean currents and composition, magnetic field, exposure to cosmic radiation, and dozens of other things that — to my knowledge — are ignored by GCMs. Moreover, the complexity of the interactions of such factors, and others that are usually included in GCMs, cannot possibly be modeled.

In sum:

  • Changes in Earth’s temperature are unknown with any degree of confidence.
  • At best, the changes are minute.
  • The causes of the changes are unknown.
  • It is impossible to model Earth’s temperature or changes in it.

It is therefore impossible to say whether and to what extent human activity causes Earth’s temperature to change.

It is further impossible for a group of scientists, legislators, or opinionizers to say whether Earth’s warming — if indeed it is warming — is a bad thing. It is a good thing for agriculture — up to some point. It’s a good thing for human comfort (thus the flight of “snowbirds”) — up to some point. But for reasons given above, it’s truly unknown whether those points, and others, will be reached. But as they are, human beings will adapt, as they have in the past — unless their ability to adapt is preempted or hampered by costly regulations and counterproductive resource reallocations.

Science is not on the side of the doom-sayers, no matter how loudly they protest that it is.

Related reading (listed chronologically):
Freeman Dyson, “Heretical Thoughts about Science and Society“, from Many Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe, University of Virgina Press, 2007
Ron Clutz, “Temperatures According to Climate Models“, Science Matters, March 24, 2015
Dr. Tim Ball, “Long-Term Climate Change: What Is a Reasonable Sample Size?“, Watts Up With That?, February 7, 2016
The Global Warming Policy Foundation, Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method, 2017
John Mauer, “Through the Looking Glass with NASA GISS“, Watts Up With That?, February 22, 2017
Mike Jonas, “Indirect Effects of the Sun on Earth’s Climate“, Watts Up With That?, June 10, 2017
George White, “A Consensus of Convenience“, Watts Up With That?, August 20, 2017
Jennifer Marohasy, “Most of the Recent Warming Could be Natural“, Jennifer Marohasy, August 21, 2017
Richard Taylor, “News from Vostok Ice Cores“, Watts Up With That?, October 8, 2017
Ian Flanigan, “Core of Climate Science Is in the Real-World Data“, Watts Up With That?, November 22, 2017
Eric Worrall, “Claim: Climate Driven Human Extinction ‘in the Coming Decades or Sooner’“, Watts Up With That?, November 23, 2017
Rupert Darwall, “A Veneer of Certainty Stoking Climate Alarm“, Competitive Enterprise Institute, November 28, 2017

Related posts:
AGW: The Death Knell (with many links to related reading and earlier posts)
Not-So-Random Thoughts (XIV) (second item)
AGW in Austin?
Understanding Probability: Pascal’s Wager and Catastrophic Global Warming
The Precautionary Principle and Pascal’s Wager
AGW in Austin? (II) (with more links to related reading)
Global-Warming Hype

Deduction, Induction, and Knowledge


All Greek males are bald.

Herodotus is a Greek male.

Therefore, Herodotus is bald.

The conclusion is false because Herodotus isn’t bald, at least not as he is portrayed.

Moreover, the conclusion depends on a premise — all Greeks are bald — which can’t be known with certainty. The disproof of the premise by a single observation exemplifies the HumeanPopperian view of the scientific method. A scientific proposition is one that can be falsified  — contradicted by observed facts. If a proposition isn’t amenable to falsification, it is non-scientific.

In the Humean-Popperian view, a general statement such as “all Greek males are bald” can never be proven. (The next Greek male to come into view may have a full head of hair.) In this view, knowledge consists only of the accretion of discrete facts. General statements are merely provisional inferences based on what has been observed, and cannot be taken as definitive statements about what has not been observed.

Is there a way to prove a general statement about a class of things by showing that there is something about such things which necessitates the truth of a general statement about them? That approach begs the question. The “something about such things” can be discovered only by observation of a finite number of such things. The unobserved things are still lurking out of view, and any of them might not possess the “something” that is characteristic of the observed things.

All general statements about things, their characteristics, and their relationshships are therefore provisional. This inescapable truth has been dressed up in the guise of inductive probability, which is a fancy way of saying the same thing.

Not all is lost, however. If it weren’t for provisional knowledge about such things as heat and gravity, many more human beings would succumb to the allure of flames and cliffs, and man would never have stood on the Moon. If it weren’t for provisional knowledge about the relationship between matter and energy, nuclear power and nuclear weapons wouldn’t exist. And on and on.

The Humean-Popperian view is properly cautionary, but it doesn’t — and shouldn’t — stand in the way of acting as if we possess general knowledge. We must act as if we possess general knowledge. To do otherwise would result in stasis, or analysis-paralysis.

The Seven-Game World Series

The Astros and Dodgers have just concluded a seven-game Word Series, the 37th to date. Courtesy of, here are the scores of the deciding games of every seven-game Series:

1909 – Pittsburgh (NL) 8 – Detroit (AL) 0

1912 – Boston (AL) 3 – New York (NL) 2 (10 innings)

1924 – Washington (AL) 4 – New York (NL) 3 (12 innings)

1925 – Pittsburgh (NL) 9 – Washington (AL) 7

1926 – St. Louis (NL) 3 – New York (AL) 2

1931 – St. Louis (NL) 4 – Philadelphia (AL) 2

1934 – St. Louis (NL) 11 – Detroit (AL) 0

1940 – Cincinnati (NL) 2 – Detroit (AL) 1

1945 – Detroit (AL) 9 – Chicago (NL) 3

1946 – St. Louis (NL) 4 – Boston (AL) 3

1947 – New York (AL) 5 – Brooklyn (NL) 2

1955 – Brooklyn (NL) 2 – New York (AL) 0

1956 – New York (AL) 9 – Brooklyn (NL) 0

1957 – Milwaukee (NL) 5 – New York (AL) 0

1958 – New York (AL) 6 – Milwaukee (NL) 2

1960 – Pittsburgh (NL) 10 – New York (AL) 9 (decided by Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the bottom of the 9th)

1964 – St. Louis (NL) 7 – New York (AL) 5

1965 – Los Angeles (NL) 2 – Minnesota (AL) 0

1967 – St. Louis (NL) 7 – Boston (AL) 2

1968 – Detroit (AL) 4 – St. Louis (NL) 1

1971 – Pittsburgh (NL) 2 – Baltimore (AL) 1

1972 – Oakland (AL) 3 – Cincinnati (NL) 2

1973 – Oakland (AL) 5 – New York (NL) 2

1975 – Cincinnati (AL) 4 – Boston (AL) 3

1979 – Pittsburgh (NL) 4 – Baltimore (AL) 1

1982 – St. Louis (NL) 6 – Milwaukee (AL) 3

1985 – Kansas City (AL) 11 – St. Louis (NL) 0

1986 – New York (NL) 8 – Boston (AL) 5

1987 – Minnesota (AL) 4 – St. Louis (NL) 2

1991 – Minnesota (AL) 1 – Atlanta (NL) 0 (10 innings)

1997 – Florida (NL) 3 – Cleveland (AL) 2 (11 innings)

2001 – Arizona (NL) 3 – New York (AL) 2 (decided in the bottom of the 9th)

2002 – Anaheim (AL) 4 – San Francisco (NL) 1

2011 – St. Louis (NL) 6 – Texas (AL) 2

2014 – San Francisco (NL) 3 – Kansas City (AL) 2

2016 – Chicago (NL) 8 – Cleveland (AL) 7 (10 innings)

2017 – Houston (AL) 5 – Los Angeles (AL) 1

Summary statistics:

34 percent (37) of 109 Series have gone to the limit of seven games (another four Series were in a best-of-nine format, but none went to nine games)

20 of the 37 Series were decided by 1 or 2 runs

14 of those Series decided by 1 run (7 times in extra innings or the winning team’s last at-bat)

19 of the 37 Series were won by the team that was behind after five games

six of the 37 Series were won by the team that was behind after four games.

Does the World Series deliver high drama? It depends on your definition of high drama. If a seven-game series is high drama, the World Series has delivered about one-third of the time. If high drama means a seven-game series where the final game was decided by only 1 run in extra innings or the winning team’s final at-bat, the World Series has delivered only 6 percent of the time. There are other ways to define high drama — take your pick.

Thaler on Discounting

This is a companion to “Richard Thaler, Nobel Laureate” and “Thaler’s Non-Revolution in Economics“. See also the long list of related posts at the end of “Richard Thaler, Nobel Laureate”.

Richard Thaler, the newly minted Noble laureate in economics, has published many papers, including one about discounting as a tool of government decision-making. The paper, “Discounting and Fiscal Constraints: Why Discounting is Always Right”, appeared in August 1979 under the imprimatur of the think-tank where Thaler was a consultant. It was also published in the October 1979 issue of the now-defunct Defense Management Journal (DMJ). Given the lead time for producing a journal, it’s almost certain that there is no substantive difference between the in-house version and the DMJ version. But only the in-house version seems to be available online, so the preceding link leads to it, and the quotations below are taken from it.

The aim of Thaler’s piece is to refute an article in the March 1978 issue of DMJ by Commander Rolf Clark, “Should Defense Managers Discount Future Costs?”. Specifically, Thaler argues against Clark’s conclusion that discounting is irrelevant in a regime of fiscal constraints.*

Clark took the position that a defense manager faced with fiscal constraints should simply choose among alternatives by picking the one with the lowest undiscounted costs. Why? Because the defense manager, unlike a business manager, can’t earn interest by deferring an expenditure and investing the money where it earns interest. To put it another way, deferring an expenditure doesn’t result in a later increase in a defense manager’s budget. Or in the budget of any government manager, for that matter.

Viewed in perspective, the dispute between Thaler and Clark is a tempest in a teaspoon  — a debate about how to arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. Discounting is of little consequence against this backdrop:

  • uncertainty about future threats to U.S. interests (e.g., their sources, the weapons and tactics of potential enemies, and the timing of attacks)
  • uncertainty about the actual effectiveness of U.S. systems and tactics (e.g., see this)
  • uncertainty bout the costs of systems, especially those that are still in the early stages of development
  • a panoply of vested interests and institutional constraints that must be satisfied (e.g., a strong Marine Corp “lobby” on Capitol Hill, the long dominance of aviation in the Navy, the need to keep the peace within the services by avoiding drastic changes in any component’s share of the budget)
  • uncertainty about the amounts of money that Congress will actually appropriate, and the specific mandates that Congress will impose on spending (e.g., buy this system, not that one, recruit to a goal of X active-duty personnel in the Air Force, not Y).

But the issue is worth revisiting because it reveals a blind spot in Thaler’s view of decision-making.

Thaler begins his substantive presentation by explaining the purpose of discounting:

A discount rate is simply a shorthand way of defining a firm’s, organization’s, or person’s time value of money. This rate is always determined by opportunity costs. Opportunity costs, in turn, depend on circumstances. Consider the following example: An organization must choose between two projects which yield equal effectiveness (or profits in the case of a firm). Project A will cost $200 this year and nothing thereafter. Project B will cost $205 next year and nothing before or after. Notice that if project B is selected the organization will have an extra $200 to use for a year. Whether project B is preferred simply depends on whether it is worth $5 to the organization to have those $200 to use for a year. That, in turn, depends on what the organization would do with the money. If the money would just sit around for the year, its time value is zero and project A should be chosen. However, if the money were put in a 5 percent savings account, it would earn $10 in the year and thus the organization would gain $5 by selecting project B. [pp. 1-2]

In Thaler’s simplified version of reality, a government decision-maker (manager) faces a choice between two projects that (ostensibly) would be equally effective against a postulated threat, even though their costs would be incurred at different times. Specifically, the manager must choose between project A, at a cost of $200 in year 1, and project B, at a cost of $205 in year 2. Thaler claims that the manager can choose between the two projects by discounting their costs:

A [government] manager . . . cannot earn bank interest on funds withheld for a year. . . .  However, there will generally exist other ways for the manager to “invest” funds which are available. Examples include cost-saving expenditures, conservation measures, and preventive maintenance. These kinds of expenditures, if they have positive rates of return, permit a manager to invest money just as if he were putting the money in a savings account.

. . . Suppose a thorough analysis of cost-saving alternatives reveals that [in year 2] a maintenance project will be required at a cost of $215. Call this project D. Alternatively the project can be done [in year 1] (at the same level of effectiveness) for only $200. Call this project C. All of the options are displayed in table 1.

Discounting in the public sector_table 1

[pp. 3-4]

Thaler believes that his example clinches the argument for discounting because the choice of project B (an expenditure of $205 in year 2) enables the manager to undertake project C in year 1, and thereby to “save” $10 in year 2. But Thaler’s “proof” is deeply flawed:

  • If a maintenance project is undertaken in year 1, it will pay off sooner than if it is undertaken in year 2 but, by the same token, its benefits will diminish sooner than if it is undertaken in year 2.
  • More generally, different projects cannot, by definition be equally effective. Projects A and B may be about equally effective by a particular measure, but because they are different they will differ in other respects, and those differences could be crucial in choosing between A and B.
  • Specifically, projects A and B might be equally effective when compared quantitatively in the context of an abstract scenario, but A might be more effective in an non-quantifiable but crucial respect. For example, the earlier expenditure on A might be viewed by a potential enemy as a more compelling deterrent than the later expenditure on B because it would demonstrate more clearly the U.S. government’s willingness and ability to mount a strong defense against the potential enemy. Alternatively, the earlier expenditure on B might cause the enemy to accelerate his own production of weapons or mobilization of troops. These are the kinds of crucial issues that discounting is powerless to illuminate, and may even obscure.
  • For a decision to rest on the use of a particular discount rate, there must be great certainty about the future costs and effectiveness of the alternatives. But there seldom is. The practice of discounting therefore promotes an illusion of certainty — a potentially dangerous illusion, in the case of national defense.
  • Finally, the “correct” discount rate depends on the options available to a particular manager of a particular government activity. Yet Thaler insists on the application of a uniform discount rate by all government managers (p. 6). By Thaler’s own example, such a practice could lead a manager to choose the wrong option.

So even if there is certainty about everything else, there is no “correct” discount rate, and it is presumptuous of Thaler to prescribe one on the assumption that it will fit every defense manager’s particular circumstances.**

Thaler does the same thing when he counsels intervention in personal decisions because too many people — in his view — make irrational decisions.

In the context of personal decision-making — which is the focal point of Thaler’s “libertarian” paternalism — the act of discounting is rational because it serves wealth-maximization. But life isn’t just about maximizing wealth. That’s why some people choose to have a lot of children, when doing so obviously reduces the amount that they can save. That’s why some choose to retire early rather than stay in stressful jobs. Rationality and wealth maximization are two very different things, but a lot of laypersons and too many economists are guilty of equating them.

If wealth-maximization is your goal, just stop drinking, smoking, enjoying good food, paying for entertainment, subscribing to newspapers and magazines, buying books, watering your lawn, mowing the grass, driving your car (except to work if you have no feasible alternative), and on into the night. You will accumulate a lot of money — if you invest wisely (there’s the rub of uncertainty) — but you will live a miserable life, unless you are the rare person who is a true miser.
* If you are unfamiliar with the background of the Clark-Thaler exchange, and the reference to fiscal constraints, here’s the story: Since 1969 the Secretary of Defense has required the military departments to propose multi-year spending programs that are constrained by an explicit ceiling on each year’s spending. Fiscal guidance, as it is called, was lacking before that. But, in reality, defense budgets have always been constrained, ultimately by Congress. Fiscal guidance represents only a rough guess as to the total amount of defense spending that Congress will approve, and a rougher guess about the distribution of that spending among the military departments.

** Thaler’s example of a cost-saving investment is also a stretch, given how government budgets are decided. I gave it a pass in order to make the point that it wouldn’t save Thaler’s argument even if it were realistic. Here’s the missing reality:

Even if the Secretary of Defense (the grand panjandrum of defense managers) makes the kinds of moves counseled by Thaler, and even if his multi-year program sails through the Office and Management and Budget without a scratch, Congress has the final say. And Congress, though it pays attention to the multi-year plans coming from the Executive Branch, still makes annual appropriations. When it does so, it essentially ignores the internal logic of the multi-year plans (assuming that the Defense plan has an internal logic after it has been subjected to Pentagon politics). Instead, Congress divides the defense budget into various spending programs (see the list for national defense, here), and adjusts each program to suit the tastes, preferences, and moods of staffers, committee members, and committee chairman. Thus it is unlikely that the services’ maintenance and procurement budgets will emerge from Congress as they entered, with cross-temporal tradeoffs intact. A more rational budgeting strategy, from the perspective of the Secretary of Defense, is to submit plans that accord with the known preferences of Congress. Such plans may not incorporate the kind of trivial fine-tuning favored by Thaler, but they will more likely serve the national interest by yielding a robust defense.

The Ken Burns Apology Tour Continues

Ken Burns, of the Burns-Novick team responsible for The Vietnam War and many other documentaries, is known to be a man of the left. Leftists have many tics. One of them, which Barack Obama exhibited vocally and often, is the habit of apologizing for America’s moral imperfections. It is those imperfections that justify the left’s dismissal of America as just another country — nothing exceptional to see here, folks, so just move along.

One of the exceptional things that leftists dismiss is the written (real) Constitution, with its explicit limits on the power of the central government. The left’s aim — everywhere and always — has been to override those limits, so that government can decide what is best for the people, instead of allowing the people to decide that for themselves.

Also exceptional are the sacrifices that Americans have made — in life, limb, and money — to defend people around the world against tyranny. But leftists have a way of turning those sacrifices into sins.

Which brings me back to Ken Burns, whose first and perhaps most famous series revisited the Civil War. Where better to begin hammering away at America but with the Civil War, which was all about slavery — except when it wasn’t? But why would a leftist bother to give serious consideration to the legitimate, constitutional cause that impelled many Southerners to defend their homeland?

Burns managed to turn his baseball and jazz series into extensions of the Civil War, with their long sermons about America’s racism. Burns’s lop-sided history of baseball included the obligatory (and badly distorted) depiction of Ty Cobb as a vicious ballplayer and a vicious racist.

Then came Burns’s epic about World War II, The War, of which I wrote in 2007 (here, here, here, and here). I draw on those earlier posts in the next several paragraphs.

The War illustrates that, however necessary a war, victory may be attainable only at a very high price. The War also makes the case, graphically, that there can be no alternative but to pay that very high price when one is faced with brutal, fanatical enemies. (These are points that The Vietnam War fails to follow through on.)

But The War also spends a lot of time on issues with racial dimensions; specifically:

  • the forced removal and internment of approximately 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans (62 percent of whom were United States citizens) from the West Coast of the United States during World War II
  • government-enforced racial segregation in the armed forces (and, sometimes, among workers in defense plants), against a backdrop of racial tension.

The War neglects to mention the military considerations that justified the internment. (See these three posts, for example.) Instead, The War engages in the kind of second-guessing eschewed by the U.S. Supreme Court when it opined in the case of Korematsu v. United States (1944). It is right to give time to the internment; it was a significant (and temporary) event arising out of the prosecution of the war. But it is wrong to give a one-sided presentation of that event.

Why hammer away at the segregation of blacks and black-white conflict? They were not central to the conduct of the war. Racial tension is an ineluctable fact of life that had nothing to do with World War II, except as it found its way into the armed forces. But so did other social phenomena, including divisions along the lines of class, religion, and region, for example. But leftists — who are as clannish as they come — just cannot abide the thought that other people are also clannish. And in the case of racial tension, the clannishness is depicted as one-sided — as if blacks aren’t just as clannish and prone to race-based violence as whites.

Forced segregation had been (and would remain, for some years), a government policy. Would it have been too much to expect a government that was battling ferocious enemies abroad to take time out to desegregate the armed forces, desegregate civilian life, and deal with the resulting racial conflict (of which there was already enough)? The short answer is yes. That is not to excuse government-sponsored and government-enforced segregation. It is simply to call, once again, for perspective and balance, which The War does not offer.

The effect of the racial sideshow is to tarnish what was a great and noble undertaking: the defeat of Japan and Germany. Which is to say that the racial sideshow plays into the anti-war message of The War. That message is underscored by the exploration of three other themes.

The first is that “no plan survives contact with the enemy”, according to Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891). But after making that observation (in slightly different words and with the wrong attribution), The War goes on to conflate it with a second theme about defective leadership.

The fact that war is an unpredictable endeavor is a thing entirely apart from the fact that some commanders aren’t fit to lead men in battle. We can thank The War for reminding us that unpredictability and bad decisions can be part of any war. But there is too much about bad leadership (which wasn’t endemic among U.S. forces in World War II), and too little about the unpredictability of war and the necessity of working through it to attain the ultimate strategic objective, which is victory.

The third theme is the horrors of war, especially as expressed by Eugene Sledge and the egregious Paul Fussell (see this). Fussell clearly implies that the war wasn’t worth fighting until the Holocaust came to light, late in the war.

Under the heading of horrors, there is the presentation of “balanced” reactions to the dropping of A-bombs on Japan. One of the “witnesses” who appears throughout the series staunchly defends the act. Another notes its strategic wisdom but still wishes it hadn’t been necessary. But it was necessary — and, really, an act of mercy toward the Japanese as well as to America’s fighting men. Why pander to the nay-sayers, who will go to their graves condemning the act, in spite of its moral necessity?

Finally, there is the film’s subtext, which has two main elements. One element is voiced at the very end of the final episode, in the dedication. It is to those who served in World War II, “that necessary war” — not “a necessary war”, as the first episode has it. The implication is that no later war was or is necessary, including (of course) the war in Iraq which was going strong when The War first aired.

The second element of the subtext reinforces the first one, and it is less subtle. That second element is The War‘s insistence on playing up America’s moral failings (as discussed above). The intended message is that because of America’s moral failings, and because war is hell, World War II was barely worth fighting, although it seemed necessary at the time (even to the left, given that the USSR was an “ally”). The left proclaims an act of war against anyone but Hitler (not a Hitler, but the Hitler) to be an act of hypocrisy and brutality by a morally imperfect nation.

In sum, The War affirms the American left’s anti-defense, anti-war dogmas, which reflect the post-patriotic attitude that America is nothing special. It’s as if Burns and Novick were paving the way for the ascendancy of that post-patriotic president, Barack Obama.

The Vietnam War picks up where The War left off. Yes, The Vietnam War is superficially balanced, but its anti-war, anti-American message is in the subtext — or, rather, the missing subtext. The Vietnam War is an exemplar of propaganda by selection and omission.

The ex-soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen chosen for on-camera roles are notable for their range of views: from being stridently against the war to stolidly neutral. Was it impossible to find anyone who served during the war who thought it a worthwhile cause, a cause that was undermined by the media and poll-driven politicians? Surely it wan’t impossible. But Burns and his production partner, Lynn Novick, nevertheless were unable — unwilling, really — to produce such a person out the tens or hundreds of thousands whose testimony would have conflicted the Burns-Novick story line.

To take a second, glaring example, The Vietnam War glosses over the media’s complicity in drumming up anti-war hysteria, especially in the wake of the Tet Offensive. The fact that it was a defeat for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong is mentioned but not pursued. Why did the U.S. government fail to exploit the U.S.-South Vietnamese victory?

Here’s why: LBJ, who at the time of the offensive, was probably aiming for re-election, gave in to the media-led hysteria in the wake of the offensive. LBJ, anxious as ever about “public opinion”, responded to media-led hysteria by turning victory into defeat.

Does The Vietnam War pursue that line of inquiry? No. Instead the viewer is treated to a monotonous stream of snippets from “news” programs. These feature the oracular, avuncular Walter Cronkite (and his imitators) crying doom and gloom and pushing the polls against the war.

So Burns-Novick gladly second-guess the French, the decisions that led the U.S. into Vietnam, and the wisdom of the war itself. But it’s off-limits (for Burns-Novick) to second-guess LBJ’s reluctant-warrior act after Tet. Despite a further troop buildup, the constraints placed by LBJ on the conduct of the war — especially in the air — led eventually to the withdrawal of U.S. forces and the defeat of South Vietnam. It’s as if those ignominious outcomes were inevitable — and perhaps deserved by a nation as flawed as the one the Burns likes to portray.

I am far from alone in my disdain for the Burns-Novick treatment of the Vietnam War:

Lewis Sorley (author of A Better War) appears in The Vietnam War, but if he said anything contrary to the Burns line, it fell to the cutting room floor. Later, in a different setting, Sorley speaks his mind; see the video embedded here, starting at 48:00. There are many other Sorleys out there, I’m sure (e.g., Mark Moyar, author of Triumph Forsaken).

Scott Johnson of Power Line has much to say about The Vietnam War in “Notes on the Ken Burns Version” and “Notes on the Ken Burns Version, Continued“. In both posts he cites and quotes other dissenters from the Burns-Novick narrative.

Another example of informed dissent is George J. Veith’s post at Library of Law and Liberty, “Burns and Novick on Vietnam: A Neutral Film, or a Rifle Butt to the Heart?“, which concludes that The Vietnam War

was at best an imperfect effort to tell an extraordinarily complex story. At worst, it has cemented, perhaps forever, the old stereotypes—the Americans as bumbling interlopers layering mistakes upon bad judgment and governmental deceit; the communists as ardent nationalists simply trying to unify their country; the people in the South as corrupt incompetents not worth the lives of our GIs. The film serves as a stark reminder that, “In war truth is the first casualty.”

And in peace truth is the first casualty when leftists push an agenda.

Another (Big) Problem with “Nudging”

I’ve written recently about Richard Thaler’s Nobel prize and my objections to his (and Cass Sunstein’s) cheerleading for “nudging”. That’s a polite term for the use of business and government power to get people to make the “right” decisions. (“Right” according to Thaler, at least.) It’s the government part that really bothers me. Ilya Somin of The Volokh Conspiracy is of the same mind:

Thaler and many other behavioral economics scholars argue that government should intervene to protect people against their cognitive biases, by various forms of paternalistic policies. In the best-case scenario, government regulators can “nudge” us into correcting our cognitive errors, thereby enhancing our welfare without significantly curtailing freedom.

But can we trust government to be less prone to cognitive error than the private-sector consumers whose mistakes we want to correct? If not, paternalistic policies might just replace one form of cognitive bias with another, perhaps even worse one. Unfortunately, a recent study suggests that politicians are prone to severe cognitive biases too – especially when they consider ideologically charged issues….

Even when presented additional evidence to help them correct their mistakes, Dahlmann and Petersen found that the politicians tended to double down on their errors rather than admit they might have been wrong….

Politicians aren’t just biased in their evaluation of political issues. Many of them are ignorant, as well. For example, famed political journalist Robert Kaiser found that most members of Congress know little about policy and “both know and care more about politics than about substance.”….

But perhaps voters can incentivize politicians to evaluate evidence more carefully. They can screen out candidates who are biased and ill-informed, and elect knowledgeable and objective decision-makers. Sadly, that is unlikely to happen, because the voters themselves also suffer from massive political ignorance, often being unaware of even very basic facts about public policy.

Of course, the Framers of the Constitution understood all of this in 1787. And they wisely acted on it by placing definite limits on the power of the central government. The removal of those limits, especially during and since the New Deal, is a constitutional tragedy.

How’s Your (Implicit) Attitude?

I was unaware of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) until a few years ago, when I took a test at YourMorals.Org that purported to measure my implicit racial preferences. I’ll say more about that after discussing IAT, which has been exposed as junk. That’s what John. J. Ray calls it:

Psychologists are well aware that people often do not say what they really think.  It is therefore something of a holy grail among them to find ways that WILL detect what people really think. A very popular example of that is the Implicit Associations test (IAT).  It supposedly measures racist thoughts whether you are aware of them or not.  It sometimes shows people who think they are anti-racist to be in fact secretly racist.

I dismissed it as a heap of junk long ago (here and here) but it has remained very popular and is widely accepted as revealing truth.  I am therefore pleased that a very long and thorough article has just appeared which comes to the same conclusion that I did. [“Psychology’s Favorite Tool for Measuring Racism Isn’t Up to the Job“, Political Correctness Watch, September 6, 2017]

The article in question (which has the same title as Ray’s post) is by Jesse Singal. It appeared at Science of Us on January 11, 2017. Here are some excerpts:

Perhaps no new concept from the world of academic psychology has taken hold of the public imagination more quickly and profoundly in the 21st century than implicit bias — that is, forms of bias which operate beyond the conscious awareness of individuals. That’s in large part due to the blockbuster success of the so-called implicit association test, which purports to offer a quick, easy way to measure how implicitly biased individual people are….

Since the IAT was first introduced almost 20 years ago, its architects, as well as the countless researchers and commentators who have enthusiastically embraced it, have offered it as a way to reveal to test-takers what amounts to a deep, dark secret about who they are: They may not feel racist, but in fact, the test shows that in a variety of intergroup settings, they will act racist….

[The] co-creators are Mahzarin Banaji, currently the chair of Harvard University’s psychology department, and Anthony Greenwald, a highly regarded social psychology researcher at the University of Washington. The duo introduced the test to the world at a 1998 press conference in Seattle — the accompanying press release noted that they had collected data suggesting that 90–95 percent of Americans harbored the “roots of unconscious prejudice.” The public immediately took notice: Since then, the IAT has been mostly treated as a revolutionary, revelatory piece of technology, garnering overwhelmingly positive media coverage….

Maybe the biggest driver of the IAT’s popularity and visibility, though, is the fact that anyone can take the test on the Project Implicit website, which launched shortly after the test was unveiled and which is hosted by Harvard University. The test’s architects reported that, by October 2015, more than 17 million individual test sessions had been completed on the website. As will become clear, learning one’s IAT results is, for many people, a very big deal that changes how they view themselves and their place in the world.

Given all this excitement, it might feel safe to assume that the IAT really does measure people’s propensity to commit real-world acts of implicit bias against marginalized groups, and that it does so in a dependable, clearly understood way….

Unfortunately, none of that is true. A pile of scholarly work, some of it published in top psychology journals and most of it ignored by the media, suggests that the IAT falls far short of the quality-control standards normally expected of psychological instruments. The IAT, this research suggests, is a noisy, unreliable measure that correlates far too weakly with any real-world outcomes to be used to predict individuals’ behavior — even the test’s creators have now admitted as such.

How does IAT work? Singal summarizes:

You sit down at a computer where you are shown a series of images and/or words. First, you’re instructed to hit ‘i’ when you see a “good” term like pleasant, or to hit ‘e’ when you see a “bad” one like tragedy. Then, hit ‘i’ when you see a black face, and hit ‘e’ when you see a white one. Easy enough, but soon things get slightly more complex: Hit ‘i’ when you see a good word or an image of a black person, and ‘e’ when you see a bad word or an image of a white person. Then the categories flip to black/bad and white/good. As you peck away at the keyboard, the computer measures your reaction times, which it plugs into an algorithm. That algorithm, in turn, generates your score.

If you were quicker to associate good words with white faces than good words with black faces, and/or slower to associate bad words with white faces than bad words with black ones, then the test will report that you have a slight, moderate, or strong “preference for white faces over black faces,” or some similar language. You might also find you have an anti-white bias, though that is significantly less common. By the normal scoring conventions of the test, positive scores indicate bias against the out-group, while negative ones indicate bias against the in-group.

The rough idea is that, as humans, we have an easier time connecting concepts that are already tightly linked in our brains, and a tougher time connecting concepts that aren’t. The longer it takes to connect “black” and “good” relative to “white” and “good,” the thinking goes, the more your unconscious biases favor white people over black people.

Singal continues (at great length) to pile up the mountain of evidence against IAT, and to caution against reading anything into the results it yields.

Having become aware of the the debunking of IAT, I went to the website of Project Implicit. When I reached this page, I was surprised to learn that I could not only find out whether I’m a closet racist but also whether I prefer dark or light skin tones, Asians or non-Asians, Trump or a previous president, and several other things or their opposites. I chose to discover my true feelings about Trump vs. a previous president, and was faced with a choice between Trump and Clinton.

What was the result of my several minutes of tapping “e” and “i” on the keyboard of my PC? This:

Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for Bill Clinton over Donald Trump.

Balderdash! Though Trump is obviously not of better character than Clinton, he’s obviously not of worse character. And insofar as policy goes, the difference between Trump and Clinton is somewhat like the difference between a non-silent Calvin Coolidge and an FDR without the patriotism. (With apologies to the memory of Coolidge, my favorite president.)

Now, what did IAT say about my racism, or lack thereof? I have for years proudly posted these results at the bottom of my “About” page and in the accompanying moral profile:

The study you just completed is an Implicit Association Test (IAT) that compares the strength of automatic mental associations. In this version of the IAT, we investigated positive and negative associations with the categories of “African Americans” and “European Americans”.

The idea behind the IAT is that concepts with very closely related (vs. unrelated) mental representations are more easily and quickly responded to as a single unit. For example, if “European American” and “good” are strongly associated in one’s mind, it should be relatively easy to respond quickly to this pairing by pressing the “E” or “I” key. If “European American” and “good” are NOT strongly associated, it should be more difficult to respond quickly to this pairing. By comparing reaction times on this test, the IAT gives a relative measure of how strongly associated the two categories (European Americans, African Americans) are to mental representations of “good” and “bad”. Each participant receives a single score, and your score appears below.

Your score on the IAT was 0.07.

Positive scores indicate a greater implicit preference for European Americans relative to African Americans, and negative scores indicate an implicit preference for African Americans relative to European Americans.

Your score appears in the graph below in green. The score of the average Liberal visitor to this site is shown in blue and the average Conservative visitor’s score is shown in red.

Moral profile-implicit association test

It should be noted that my slightly positive score probably was influenced by the order in which choices were presented to me. Initially, pleasant concepts were associated with photos of European-Americans. I became used to that association, and so found that it affected my reaction time when I was faced with pairings of pleasant concepts and photos of African-Americans. The bottom line: My slight preference for European-Americans probably is an artifact of test design.

In other words, I believed that my very low score, despite the test set-up, “proved” that I am not a racist. But thanks (or no thanks) to John Ray and Jesse Singal, I must conclude, sadly, that I may be one (or maybe not).

I suspect that I am not a racist. I don’t despise blacks as a group, nor do I believe that they should have fewer rights and privileges than whites. (Neither do I believe that they should have more rights and privileges than whites or persons of Asian or Ashkenazi Jewish descent — but they certainly do when it comes to college admissions and hiring.) It isn’t racist to understand that race isn’t a social construct and that there are general differences between races (see many of the posts listed here). That’s just a matter of facing facts, not ducking them, as leftists are wont to do.

What have I learned from the IAT? I must have very good reflexes. A person who processes information rapidly and then almost instantly translates it into a physical response should be able to “beat” the IAT. And that’s probably what I did in the Trump vs. Clinton test, if not in the racism test. I’m a fast typist and very quick to catch dropped items before they hit the floor. (My IQ, or what’s left of it, isn’t bad either; go here and scroll down to the section headed “Intelligence, Temperament, and Beliefs”.)

Perhaps the IAT for racism could be used to screen candidates for fighter-pilot training. Only “non-racists” would be admitted. Anyone who isn’t quick enough to avoid the “racist” label isn’t quick enough to win a dogfight.