Science and Understanding

Economics and Science

This is the second entry in what I expect to be a series of loosely connected posts on economics. The first entry is here.

Science is unnecessarily daunting to the uninitiated, which is to say, the vast majority of the populace. Because scientific illiteracy is rampant, advocates of policy positions — scientists and non-scientists alike — are able to invoke “science” wantonly, thus lending unwarranted authority to their positions.

Here I will dissect science, then turn to economics and begin a discussion of its scientific and non-scientific aspects. It has both, though at least one non-scientific aspect (the Keynesian multiplier) draws an inordinate amount of attention, and has many true believers within the profession.

Science is knowledge, but not all knowledge is science. A scientific body of knowledge is systematic; that is, the granular facts or phenomena which comprise the body of knowledge must be connected in patterned ways. The purported facts or phenomena of a science must represent reality, things that can be observed and measured in some way. Scientists may hypothesize the existence of an unobserved thing (e.g., the ether, dark matter), in an effort to explain observed phenomena. But the unobserved thing stands outside scientific knowledge until its existence is confirmed by observation, or because it remains standing as the only plausible explanation of observable phenomena. Hypothesized things may remain outside the realm of scientific knowledge for a very long time, if not forever. The Higgs boson, for example, was hypothesized in 1964 and has been tentatively (but not conclusively) confirmed since its “discovery” in 2011.

Science has other key characteristics. Facts and patterns must be capable of validation and replication by persons other than those who claim to have found them initially. Patterns should have predictive power; thus, for example, if the sun fails to rise in the east, the model of Earth’s movements which says that it will rise in the east is presumably invalid and must be rejected or modified so that it correctly predicts future sunrises or the lack thereof. Creating a model or tweaking an existing model just to account for a past event (e.g., the failure of the Sun to rise, the apparent increase in global temperatures from the 1970s to the 1990s) proves nothing other than an ability to “predict” the past with accuracy.

Models are usually clothed in the language of mathematics and statistics. But those aren’t scientific disciplines in themselves; they are tools of science. Expressing a theory in mathematical terms may lend the theory a scientific aura, but a theory couched in mathematical terms is not a scientific one unless (a) it can be tested against facts yet to be ascertained and events yet to occur, and (b) it is found to accord with those facts and events consistently, by rigorous statistical tests.

A science may be descriptive rather than mathematical. In a descriptive science (e.g., plant taxonomy), particular phenomena sometimes are described numerically (e.g., the number of leaves on the stem of a species), but the relations among various phenomena are not reducible to mathematics. Nevertheless, a predominantly descriptive discipline will be scientific if the phenomena within its compass are connected in patterned ways, can be validated, and are applicable to newly discovered entities.

Non-scientific disciplines can be useful, whereas some purportedly scientific disciplines verge on charlatanism. Thus, for example:

  • History, by my reckoning, is not a science because its account of events and their relationships is inescapably subjective and incomplete. But a knowledge of history is valuable, nevertheless, for the insights it offers into the influence of human nature on the outcomes of economic and political processes.
  • Physics is a science in most of its sub-disciplines, but there are some (e.g., cosmology) where it descends into the realm of speculation. It is informed, fascinating speculation to be sure, but speculation all the same. The idea of multiverses, for example, can’t be tested, inasmuch as human beings and their tools are bound to the known universe.
  • Economics is a science only to the extent that it yields empirically valid insights about  specific economic phenomena (e.g., the effects of laws and regulations on the prices and outputs of specific goods and services). Then there are concepts like the Keynesian multiplier, about which I’ll say more in this series. It’s a hypothesis that rests on a simplistic, hydraulic view of the economic system. (Other examples of pseudo-scientific economic theories are the labor theory of value and historical determinism.)

In sum, there is no such thing as “science,” writ large; that is, no one may appeal, legitimately, to “science” in the abstract. A particular discipline may be a science, but it is a science only to the extent that it comprises a factual and replicable body of patterned knowledge. Patterned knowledge includes theories with predictive power.

A scientific theory is a hypothesis that has thus far been confirmed by observation. Every scientific theory rests eventually on axioms: self-evident principles that are accepted as true without proof. The principle of uniformity (which can be traced to Galileo) is an example of such an axiom:

Uniformitarianism is the assumption that the same natural laws and processes that operate in the universe now have always operated in the universe in the past and apply everywhere in the universe. It refers to invariance in the metaphysical principles underpinning science, such as the constancy of causal structure throughout space-time, but has also been used to describe spatiotemporal invariance of physical laws. Though an unprovable postulate that cannot be verified using the scientific method, uniformitarianism has been a key first principle of virtually all fields of science

Thus, for example, if observer B is moving away from observer A at a certain speed, observer A will perceive that he is moving away from observer B at that speed. It follows that an observer cannot determine either his absolute velocity or direction of travel in space. The principle of uniformity is a fundamental axiom of modern physics, most notably of Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity.

There’s a fine line between an axiom and a theory. Was the idea of a geocentric universe an axiom or a theory? If it was taken as axiomatic — as it surely was by many scientists for about 2,000 years — then it’s fair to say that an axiom can give way under the pressure of observational evidence. (Such an event is what Thomas Kuhn calls a paradigm shift.) But no matter how far scientists push the boundaries of knowledge, they must at some point rely on untestable axioms, such as the principle of uniformity. There are simply deep and (probably) unsolvable mysteries that science is unlikely to fathom.

This brings me to economics, which — in my view — rests on these self-evident axioms:

1. Each person strives to maximize his or her sense of satisfaction, which may also be called well-being, happiness, or utility (an ugly word favored by economists). Striving isn’t the same as achieving, of course, because of lack of information, emotional decision-making, buyer’s remorse, etc

2. Happiness can and often does include an empathic concern for the well-being of others; that is, one’s happiness may be served by what is usually labelled altruism or self-sacrifice.

3. Happiness can be and often is served by the attainment of non-material ends. Not all persons (perhaps not even most of them) are interested in the maximization of wealth, that is, claims on the output of goods and services. In sum, not everyone is a wealth maximizer. (But see axiom number 12.)

4. The feeling of satisfaction that an individual derives from a particular product or service is situational — unique to the individual and to the time and place in which the individual undertakes to acquire or enjoy the product or service. Generally, however, there is a (situationally unique) point at which the acquisition or enjoyment of additional units of a particular product or service during a given period of time tends to offer less satisfaction than would the acquisition or enjoyment of units of other products or services that could be obtained at the same cost.

5. The value that a person places on a product or service is subjective. Products and services don’t have intrinsic values that apply to all persons at a given time or period of time.

6. The ability of a person to acquire products and services, and to accumulate wealth, depends (in the absence of third-party interventions) on the valuation of the products and services that are produced in part or whole by the person’s labor (mental or physical), or by the assets that he owns (e.g., a factory building, a software patent). That valuation is partly subjective (e.g., consumers’ valuation of the products and services, an employer’s qualitative evaluation of the person’s contributions to output) and partly objective (e.g., an employer’s knowledge of the price commanded by a product or service, an employer’s measurement of an employees’ contribution to the quantity of output).

7. The persons and firms from which products and services flow are motivated by the acquisition of income, with which they can acquire other products and services, and accumulate wealth for personal purposes (e.g., to pass to heirs) or business purposes (e.g., to expand the business and earn more income). So-called profit maximization (seeking to maximize the difference between the cost of production and revenue from sales) is a key determinant of business decisions but far from the only one. Others include, but aren’t limited to, being a “good neighbor,” providing employment opportunities for local residents, and underwriting philanthropic efforts.

8. The cost of production necessarily influences the price at which a good or and service will be offered for sale, but doesn’t solely determine the price at which it will be sold. Selling price depends on the subjective valuation of the products or service, prospective buyers’ incomes, and the prices of other products and services, including those that are direct or close substitutes and those to which users may switch, depending on relative prices.

9. The feeling of satisfaction that a person derives from the acquisition and enjoyment of the “basket” of products and services that he is able to buy, given his income, etc., doesn’t necessarily diminish, as long as the person has access to a great variety of products and services. (This axiom and axiom 12 put paid to the myth of diminishing marginal utility of income.)

10. Work may be a source of satisfaction in itself or it may simply be a means of acquiring and enjoying products and services, or acquiring claims to them by accumulating wealth. Even when work is satisfying in itself, it is subject to the “law” of diminishing marginal satisfaction.

11. Work, for many (but not all) persons, is no longer be worth the effort if they become able to subsist comfortably enough by virtue of the wealth that they have accumulated, the availability of redistributive schemes (e.g., Social Security and Medicare), or both. In such cases the accumulation of wealth often ceases and reverses course, as it is “cashed in” to defray the cost of subsistence (which may be far more than minimal).

12. However, there are not a few persons whose “work” is such a great source of satisfaction that they continue doing it until they are no longer capable of doing so. And there are some persons whose “work” is the accumulation of wealth, without limit. Such persons may want to accumulate wealth in order to “do good” or to leave their heirs well off or simply for the satisfaction of running up the score. The justification matters not. There is no theoretical limit to the satisfaction that a particular person may derive from the accumulation of wealth. Moreover, many of the persons (discussed in axiom 11) who aren’t able to accumulate wealth endlessly would do so if they had the ability and the means to take the required risks.

13. Individual degrees of satisfaction (happiness, etc.) are ephemeral, nonquantifiable, and incommensurable. There is no such thing as a social welfare function that a third party (e.g., government) can maximize by taking from A to give to B. If there were such a thing, its value would increase if, for example, A were to punch B in the nose and derive a degree of pleasure that somehow more than offsets the degree of pain incurred by B. (The absurdity of a social-welfare function that allows As to punch Bs in their noses ought to be enough shame inveterate social engineers into quietude — but it won’t. They derive great satisfaction from meddling.) Moreover, one of the primary excuses for meddling is that income (and thus wealth) has a  diminishing marginal utility, so it makes sense to redistribute from those with higher incomes (or more wealth) to those who have less of either. Marginal utility is, however, unknowable (see axioms 4 and 5), and may not always be negative (see axioms 9 and 12).

14. Whenever a third party (government, do-gooders, etc.) intervene in the affairs of others, that third party is merely imposing its preferences on those others. The third party sometimes claims to know what’s best for “society as a whole,” etc., but no third party can know such a thing. (See axiom 13.)

15. It follows from axiom 13 that the welfare of “society as a whole” can’t be aggregated or measured. An estimate of the monetary value of the economic output of a nation’s economy (Gross Domestic Product) is by no means an estimate of the welfare of “society as a whole.” (Again, see axiom 13.)

That may seem like a lot of axioms, which might give you pause about my claim that some aspects of economics are scientific. But economics is inescapably grounded in axioms such as the ones that I propound. This aligns me (mainly) with the Austrian economists, whose leading light was Ludwig von Mises. Gene Callahan writes about him at the website of the Ludwig von Mises Institute:

As I understand [Mises], by categorizing the fundamental principles of economics as a priori truths and not contingent facts open to empirical discovery or refutation, Mises was not claiming that economic law is revealed to us by divine action, like the ten commandments were to Moses. Nor was he proposing that economic principles are hard-wired into our brains by evolution, nor even that we could articulate or comprehend them prior to gaining familiarity with economic behavior through participating in and observing it in our own lives. In fact, it is quite possible for someone to have had a good deal of real experience with economic activity and yet never to have wondered about what basic principles, if any, it exhibits.

Nevertheless, Mises was justified in describing those principles as a priori, because they are logically prior to any empirical study of economic phenomena. Without them it is impossible even to recognize that there is a distinct class of events amenable to economic explanation. It is only by pre-supposing that concepts like intention, purpose, means, ends, satisfaction, and dissatisfaction are characteristic of a certain kind of happening in the world that we can conceive of a subject matter for economics to investigate. Those concepts are the logical prerequisites for distinguishing a domain of economic events from all of the non-economic aspects of our experience, such as the weather, the course of a planet across the night sky, the growth of plants, the breaking of waves on the shore, animal digestion, volcanoes, earthquakes, and so on.

Unless we first postulate that people deliberately undertake previously planned activities with the goal of making their situations, as they subjectively see them, better than they otherwise would be, there would be no grounds for differentiating the exchange that takes place in human society from the exchange of molecules that occurs between two liquids separated by a permeable membrane. And the features which characterize the members of the class of phenomena singled out as the subject matter of a special science must have an axiomatic status for practitioners of that science, for if they reject them then they also reject the rationale for that science’s existence.

Economics is not unique in requiring the adoption of certain assumptions as a pre-condition for using the mode of understanding it offers. Every science is founded on propositions that form the basis rather than the outcome of its investigations. For example, physics takes for granted the reality of the physical world it examines. Any piece of physical evidence it might offer has weight only if it is already assumed that the physical world is real. Nor can physicists demonstrate their assumption that the members of a sequence of similar physical measurements will bear some meaningful and consistent relationship to each other. Any test of a particular type of measurement must pre-suppose the validity of some other way of measuring against which the form under examination is to be judged.

Why do we accept that when we place a yardstick alongside one object, finding that the object stretches across half the length of the yardstick, and then place it alongside another object, which only stretches to a quarter its length, that this means the first object is longer than the second? Certainly not by empirical testing, for any such tests would be meaningless unless we already grant the principle in question. In mathematics we don’t come to know that 2 + 2 always equals 4 by repeatedly grouping two items with two others and counting the resulting collection. That would only show that our answer was correct in the instances we examined — given the assumption that counting works! — but we believe it is universally true. [And it is universally true by the conventions of mathematics. If what we call “5” were instead called “4,” 2 + 2 would always equal 5. — TEA] Biology pre-supposes that there is a significant difference between living things and inert matter, and if it denied that difference it would also be denying its own validity as a special science. . . .

The great fecundity from such analysis in economics is due to the fact that, as acting humans ourselves, we have a direct understanding of human action, something we lack in pondering the behavior of electrons or stars. The contemplative mode of theorizing is made even more important in economics because the creative nature of human choice inherently fails to exhibit the quantitative, empirical regularities, the discovery of which characterizes the modern, physical sciences. (Biology presents us with an interesting intermediate case, as many of its findings are qualitative.) . . .

[A] person can be presented with scores of experiments supporting a particular scientific theory is sound, but no possible experiment ever can demonstrate to him that experimentation is a reasonable means by which to evaluate a scientific theory. Only his intuitive grasp of its plausibility can bring him to accept that proposition. (Unless, of course, he simply adopts it on the authority of others.) He can be led through hundreds of rigorous proofs for various mathematical theorems and be taught the criteria by which they are judged to be sound, but there can be no such proof for the validity of the method itself. (Kurt Gödel famously demonstrated that a formal system of mathematical deduction that is complex enough to model even so basic a topic as arithmetic might avoid either incompleteness or inconsistency, but always must suffer at least one of those flaws.) . . .

This ultimate, inescapable reliance on judgment is illustrated by Lewis Carroll in Alice Through the Looking Glass. He has Alice tell Humpty Dumpty that 365 minus one is 364. Humpty is skeptical, and asks to see the problem done on paper. Alice dutifully writes down:

365 – 1 = 364

Humpty Dumpty studies her work for a moment before declaring that it seems to be right. The serious moral of Carroll’s comic vignette is that formal tools of thinking are useless in convincing someone of their conclusions if he hasn’t already intuitively grasped the basic principles on which they are built.

All of our knowledge ultimately is grounded on our intuitive recognition of the truth when we see it. There is nothing magical or mysterious about the a priori foundations of economics, or at least nothing any more magical or mysterious than there is about our ability to comprehend any other aspect of reality.

(Callahan has more to say here. For a technical discussion of the science of human action, or praxeology, read this. Some glosses on Gödel’s incompleteness theorem are here.)

I omitted an important passage from the preceding quotation, in order to single it out. Callahan says also that

Mises’s protégé F.A. Hayek, while agreeing with his mentor on the a priori nature of the “logic of action” and its foundational status in economics, still came to regard investigating the empirical issues that the logic of action leaves open as a more important undertaking than further examination of that logic itself.

I agree with Hayek. It’s one thing to know axiomatically that the speed of light is constant; it is quite another (and useful) thing to know experimentally that the speed of light (in empty space) is about 671 million miles an hour. Similarly, it is one thing to deduce from the axioms of economics that demand curves generally slope downward; it is quite another (and useful) thing to estimate specific demand functions.

But one must always be mindful of the limitations of quantitative methods in economics. As James Sheehan writes at the website of the Mises Institute,

economists are prone to error when they ascribe excessive precision to advanced statistical techniques. They assume, falsely, that a voluminous amount of historical observations (sample data) can help them to make inferences about the future. They presume that probability distributions follow a bell-shaped pattern. They make no provision for the possibility that past correlations between economic variables and data were coincidences.

Nor do they account for the possibility, as economist Robert Lucas demonstrated, that people will incorporate predictable patterns into their expectations, thus canceling out the predictive value of such patterns. . . .

As [Nassim Nicholas] Taleb points out [in Fooled by Randomness], the popular Monte Carlo simulation “is more a way of thinking than a computational method.” Employing this way of thinking can enhance one’s understanding only if its weaknesses are properly understood and accounted for. . . .

Taleb’s critique of econometrics is quite compatible with Austrian economics, which holds that dynamic human actions are too subjective and variegated to be accurately modeled and predicted.

In some parts of Fooled by Randomness, Taleb almost sounds Austrian in his criticisms of economists who worship “the efficient market religion.” Such economists are misguided, he argues, because they begin with the flawed hypothesis that human beings act rationally and do what is mathematically “optimal.” . . .

As opposed to a Utopian Vision, in which human beings are rational and perfectible (by state action), Taleb adopts what he calls a Tragic Vision: “We are faulty and there is no need to bother trying to correct our flaws.” It is refreshing to see a highly successful practitioner of statistics and finance adopt a contrarian viewpoint towards economics.

Yet, as Arnold Kling explains, many (perhaps most) economists have lost sight of the axioms of economics in their misplaced zeal to emulate the methods of the physical sciences:

The most distinctive trend in economic research over the past hundred years has been the increased use of mathematics. In the wake of Paul Samuelson’s (Nobel 1970) Ph.D dissertation, published in 1948, calculus became a requirement for anyone wishing to obtain an economics degree. By 1980, every serious graduate student was expected to be able to understand the work of Kenneth Arrow (Nobel 1972) and Gerard Debreu (Nobel 1983), which required mathematics several semesters beyond first-year calculus.

Today, the “theory sequence” at most top-tier graduate schools in economics is controlled by math bigots. As a result, it is impossible to survive as an economics graduate student with a math background that is less than that of an undergraduate math major. In fact, I have heard that at this year’s American Economic Association meetings, at a seminar on graduate education one professor quite proudly said that he ignored prospective students’ grades in economics courses, because their math proficiency was the key predictor of their ability to pass the coursework required to obtain an advanced degree.

The raising of the mathematical bar in graduate schools over the past several decades has driven many intelligent men and women (perhaps women especially) to pursue other fields. The graduate training process filters out students who might contribute from a perspective of anthropology, biology, psychology, history, or even intense curiosity about economic issues. Instead, the top graduate schools behave as if their goal were to produce a sort of idiot-savant, capable of appreciating and adding to the mathematical contributions of other idiot-savants, but not necessarily possessed of any interest in or ability to comprehend the world to which an economist ought to pay attention.

. . . The basic question of What Causes Prosperity? is not a question of how trading opportunities play out among a given array of goods. Instead, it is a question of how innovation takes place or does not take place in the context of institutional factors that are still poorly understood.

Mathematics, as I have said, is a tool of science, it’s not science in itself. Dressing hypothetical relationships in the garb of mathematics doesn’t validate them.

Where, then, is the science in economics? And where is the nonsense? I’ve given you some hints (and more than hints). There’s more to come.

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XVIII)

Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

Charles Murray opines about “America Against Itself“:

With the publication in 2012 of Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, political scientist Charles Murray – celebrated and denigrated in equal measure for his earlier works, Losing Ground (1984) and The Bell Curve (1994) – produced a searing, searching analysis of a nation cleaving along the lines of class, a nation, as he put it, ‘coming apart at the seams’. On the one side of this conflicted society, as Murray sees it, there is the intellectual or ‘cognitive’ elite, graduates of America’s leading universities, bound together through marriage and work, and clustered together in the same exclusive zipcodes, places such as Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Boston. In these communities of the likeminded, which Murray gives the fictional title of ‘Belmont’, the inhabitants share the same values, the same moral outlook, the same distinct sense of themselves as superior. And on the other side, there is the ‘new lower class’, the white Americans who left education with no more than a high-school diploma, who increasingly divorce among themselves, endure unemployment together, and are gathered in neighbourhoods that Murray gives the title of ‘Fishtown’ – inspired by an actual white, blue-collar neighbourhood of the same name in Philadelphia.

It is in Fishtown that the trends Murray identifies as the most damaging over the past 50 years – family breakdown, loss of employment, crime and a loss of social capital – are felt and experienced. Its inhabitants have a set of values (albeit threadbare ones), an outlook and a way of life that are entirely at odds with those from Belmont. And it is between these two almost entirely distinct moral communities, that the new Culture Wars now appear to be being fought….

Collins: I was thinking about how, in Coming Apart, you explore how the elites seek to distance themselves from the working class. They eat so-called healthier foods, they have different child-rearing practices, and so on. Then, from afar, they preach their preferred ways to the working class, as if they know better. The elites may no longer preach traditional civic virtues, as you note in Coming Apart, but they are still preaching, in a way. Only now they’re preaching about health, parenting and other things.

Murray: They are preaching. They are legislating. They are creating policies. The elites (on both the right and the left) do not get excited about low-skill immigration. Let’s face it, if you are members of the elite, immigration provides you with cheap nannies, cheap lawn care, and so on. There are a variety of ways in which it is a case of ‘hey, it’s no skin off my back’ to have all of these new workers. The elites are promulgating policies for which they do not pay the price. That’s true of immigration, that’s true of education. When they support the teachers’ unions in all sorts of practices that are terrible for kids, they don’t pay that price. Either they send their kids to private schools, or they send their kids to schools in affluent suburbs in which they, the parents, really do have a lot of de facto influence over how the school is run.

So they don’t pay the price for policy after policy. Perhaps the most irritating to me – and here we are talking about preaching – is how they are constantly criticising the working class for being racist, for seeking to live in neighbourhoods in which whites are the majority. The elites live in zipcodes that are overwhelmingly white, with very few blacks and Latinos. The only significant minorities in elite zipcodes are East and South Asians. And, as the American sociologist Andrew Hacker has said, Asians are ‘honorary whites’. The integration that you have in elite neighbourhoods is only for the model minority, not for other minorities. That’s a kind of hypocrisy, to call working-class whites ‘racist’ for doing exactly the same thing that the elites do. It’s terrible.

The elites live in a bubble, which Murray explains in Coming Apart, and which I discuss in “Are You in the Bubble?” — I’m not — and “Bubbling Along.”

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Meanwhile, in the climate war, there’s an interesting piece about scientists who got it right, but whose article was pulled because they used pseudonyms. In “Scientists Published Climate Research Under Fake Names. Then They Were Caught” we learn that

they had constructed a model, a mathematical argument, for calculating the average surface temperature of a rocky planet. Using just two factors — electromagnetic radiation beamed by the sun into the atmosphere and the atmospheric pressure at a planet’s surface — the scientists could predict a planet’s temperature. The physical principle, they said, was similar to the way that high-pressure air ignites fuel in a diesel engine.

If proved to be the case on Earth, the model would have dramatic implications: Our planet is warming, but the solar radiation and our atmosphere would be to blame, not us.

It seems to me that their real sin was contradicting the “settled science” of climatology.

Well, Francis Menton — author of “The ‘Science’ Underlying Climate Alarmism Turns Up Missing” — has something to say about that “settled science”:

In the list of President Obama’s favorite things to do, using government power to save the world from human-caused “climate change” has to rank at the top.  From the time of his nomination acceptance speech in June 2008 (“this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal . . .”), through all of his State of the Union addresses, and right up to the present, he has never missed an opportunity to lecture us on how atmospheric warming from our sinful “greenhouse gas” emissions is the greatest crisis facing humanity….

But is there actually any scientific basis for this?  Supposedly, it’s to be found in a document uttered by EPA back in December 2009, known as the “Endangerment Finding.”  In said document, the geniuses at EPA purport to find that the emissions of “greenhouse gases” into the atmosphere are causing a danger to human health and welfare through the greenhouse warming mechanism.  But, you ask, is there any actual proof of that?  EPA’s answer (found in the Endangerment Finding) is the “Three Lines of Evidence”….

The news is that a major new work of research, from a large group of top scientists and mathematicians, asserts that EPA’s “lines of evidence,” and thus its Endangerment Finding, have been scientifically invalidated….

So the authors of this Report, operating without government or industry funding, compiled the best available atmospheric temperature time series from 13 independent sources (satellites, balloons, buoys, and surface records), and then backed out only ENSO (i.e., El Nino/La Nina) effects.  And with that data and that sole adjustment they found: no evidence of the so-called Tropical Hot Spot that is the key to EPA’s claimed “basic physical understanding” of the claimed atmospheric greenhouse warming model, plus no statistically significant atmospheric warming at all to be explained.

What an amazing non-coincidence. That’s exactly what I found when I looked at the temperature record for Austin, Texas, since the late 1960s, when AGW was supposedly making life miserable for the planet. See “AGW in Austin? (II)” and the list of related readings and posts at the bottom. See also “Is Science Self Correcting?” (answer: no).

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Ten years ago, I posted “An Immigration Roundup,” a collection of 13 posts dated March 29 through September 22, 2006. The bottom line: to encourage and allow rampant illegal immigration borders on social and economic suicide. I later softened my views (see this and this). But I am swinging back toward the hard line because of Steven Camarota’s “So What Is the Fiscal and Economic Impact of Immigration?“:

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have just released what can fairly be described as the most comprehensive look at the economic and fiscal impact of immigration on the United States. It represents an update of sorts of a similar NAS study released in 1997, in the middle of an earlier immigration debate. Overall the report is quite balanced, with a lot of interesting findings….
The most straightforward part of the study is its assemblage of estimates of the current fiscal impact of immigrants. The study shows that immigrants (legal and illegal) do not come close to paying enough in taxes to cover their consumption of public services at the present time. The NAS present eight different scenarios based on different assumptions about the current fiscal impact of immigrants and their dependent children — and every scenario is negative. No matter what assumption the NAS makes, immigrants use more in public services than they pay in taxes. The largest net drain they report is $299 billion a year. It should be pointed out that native-born American are also shown to be a net fiscal drain, mainly because of the federal budget deficit — Washington gives out a lot more than it takes in. But the fiscal drain created by immigrants is disproportionately large relative to the size of their population. Equally important, a fiscal drain caused by natives may be unavoidable. Adding more immigrants who create a fiscal drain, on the other hand, can be avoided with a different immigration policy….
With regard to economics — jobs and wages — the results in the NAS study, based on the standard economic model, show that immigration does make the U.S economy larger by adding workers and population. But a larger economy is not necessarily a benefit to natives. The report estimates that the actual benefit to the native-born could be $54.2 billion a year — referred to as the “immigrant surplus.” This is the benefit that accrues to American businesses because immigration increases the supply of workers and reduces American wages. Several points need to be made about this estimate. First, to generate this surplus, immigration has to create a very large redistribution of income from workers to owners of capital. The model works this way: Immigration reduces the wages of natives in competition with immigrant workers by $493.9 billion annually, but it increases the income of businesses by $548.1 billion, for a net gain of $54.2 billion. Unfortunately, the NAS does not report this large income redistribution, though it provides all the information necessary to calculate it. A second key point about this economic gain is that, relative to the income of natives, the benefit is very small, representing a “0.31 percent overall increase in income” for native-born Americans.
Third, the report also summarizes empirical studies that have tried to measure directly the impact of immigration on the wages of natives (the analysis above being based on economic theory rather than direct measurement). The size of the wage impact in those empirical studies is similar to that shown above. The NAS report cites over a dozen studies indicating that immigration does reduce wages primarily for the least-educated and poorest Americans. It must be pointed out, however, that there remains some debate among economists about immigration’s wage impact. The fourth and perhaps most important point about the “immigrant surplus” is that it is eaten up by the drain on the public fisc. For example, the average of all eight fiscal scenarios is a net drain (taxes minus services) of $83 billion a year at the present time, a good deal larger than the $54.2 billion immigrant surplus.

There’s much more, but that’s enough for me. Build that wall!

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It’s also time to revisit the question of crime. Heather Mac Donald says “Yes, the Ferguson Effect Is Real,” and Paul Mirengoff shows that “Violent Crime Jumped in 2015.” I got to the root of the problem in “Crime Revisited,” to which I’ve added “Amen to That” and “Double Amen.”

What’s the root of the problem? A certain, violence-prone racial minority, of course, and also under-incarceration. Follow all of the links in the preceding paragraph, and read and weep.

Brandeis’s Ignorance

Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941; Supreme Court justice, 1916-1939) penned many snappy aphorisms. Here’s one that “progressives” are especially fond of: “Behind every argument is someone’s ignorance.” Here it is in larger context:

Behind every argument is someone’s ignorance. Re-discover the foundation of truth and the purpose and causes of dispute immediately disappear.

Spoken like the true technocrat that Brandeis was. The “truth” was his to know, and to enforce through government action, beginning long before his ascent to the Supreme Court.

There are fundamental and irreconcilable differences that Brandeis’s “truth” cannot bridge. Brandeis and his intellectual kin would never admit that, of course, so bent were (and are) they on imposing their “truth” on all Americans.

Is it ignorant to value liberty over the promise of economic security, especially when it’s obtained at the expense of liberty?

Is it ignorant to treat terrorism as a risk that’s categorically different than a traffic accident or lightning strike?

Is it ignorant to defend traditional values and their civilizing influence against the depradations of one’s cultural and physical enemies?

Is is ignorant to fear that America’s police and armed forces will become less able to defend peaceful citizens when those forces are weakened in the name of “sexual equality”?

Is it ignorant to oppose the subversion of the institution of marriage, which is the bedrock of civil society, in the name of “marriage equality”?

“Progressives” will answer “yes” to all the questions. Thus proving the ignorance of “progressives” and the wisdom of opposing “progressivism.”

Related posts:
Getting It All Wrong about the Risk of Terrorism
A Skewed Perspective on Terrorism
Intellectuals and Capitalism
Intellectuals and Society: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty
The 80-20 Rule, Illustrated
Economic Horror Stories: The Great “Demancipation” and Economic Stagnation
The Culture War
The Keynesian Multiplier: Phony Math
The True Multiplier
The Pretence of Knowledge
Social Accounting: A Tool of Social Engineering
“The Science Is Settled”
The Limits of Science, Illustrated by Scientists
A Case for Redistribution, Not Made
Evolution, Culture, and “Diversity”
Ruminations on the Left in America
McCloskey on Piketty
The Rahn Curve Revisited
Nature, Nurture, and Inequality
The Real Burden of Government
Diminishing Marginal Utility and the Redistributive Urge
Rationalism, Empiricism, and Scientific Knowledge
Academic Ignorance
The Euphemism Conquers All
The “Marketplace” of Ideas
A Dose of Reality
Ty Cobb and the State of Science
Understanding Probability: Pascal’s Wager and Catastrophic Global Warming
God-Like Minds
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
Revisiting the “Marketplace” of Ideas
The Technocratic Illusion
Capitalism, Competition, Prosperity, and Happiness
Further Thoughts about the Keynesian Multiplier
The Precautionary Principle and Pascal’s Wager
Marriage: Privatize It and Revitalize It
From Each According to His Ability…
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Unsurprising News about Health-Care Costs
Further Pretensions of Knowledge
“And the Truth Shall Set You Free”
Social Justice vs. Liberty
The Wages of Simplistic Economics
Is Science Self-Correcting?

“Feelings, nothing more than feelings”

Physicalism is the thesis that everything is physical, or as contemporary philosophers sometimes put it, that everything supervenes on the physical. The thesis is usually intended as a metaphysical thesis, parallel to the thesis attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Thales, that everything is water, or the idealism of the 18th Century philosopher Berkeley, that everything is mental. The general idea is that the nature of the actual world (i.e. the universe and everything in it) conforms to a certain condition, the condition of being physical. Of course, physicalists don’t deny that the world might contain many items that at first glance don’t seem physical — items of a biological, or psychological, or moral, or social nature. But they insist nevertheless that at the end of the day such items are either physical or supervene on the physical.

Daniel Stoljar, “Physicialism” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
first published February 13, 2001, substantively revised March 9, 2015)

Robin Hanson, an economics professor and former physicist, takes the physicalist position in “All Is Simple Parts Interacting Simply“:

There is nothing that we know of that isn’t described well by physics, and everything that physicists know of is well described as many simple parts interacting simply. Parts are localized in space, have interactions localized in time, and interactions effects don’t move in space faster than the speed of light. Simple parts have internal states that can be specified with just a few bits (or qubits), and each part only interacts directly with a few other parts close in space and time. Since each interaction is only between a few bits on a few sides, it must also be simple. Furthermore, all known interactions are mutual in the sense that the state on all sides is influenced by states of the other sides….

Not only do we know that in general everything is made of simple parts interacting simply, for pretty much everything that happens here on Earth we know those parts and interactions in great precise detail. Yes there are still some areas of physics we don’t fully understand, but we also know that those uncertainties have almost nothing to say about ordinary events here on Earth….

Now it is true that when many simple parts are combined into complex arrangements, it can be very hard to calculate the detailed outcomes they produce. This isn’t because such outcomes aren’t implied by the math, but because it can be hard to calculate what math implies.


what I’ve said so far is usually accepted as uncontroversial, at least when applied to the usual parts of our world, such as rivers, cars, mountains laptops, or ants. But as soon as one claims that all this applies to human minds, suddenly it gets more controversial. People often state things like this:

I am sure that I’m not just a collection of physical parts interacting, because I’m aware that I feel. I know that physical parts interacting just aren’t the kinds of things that can feel by themselves. So even though I have a physical body made of parts, and there are close correlations between my feelings and the states of my body parts, there must be something more than that to me (and others like me). So there’s a deep mystery: what is this extra stuff, where does it arise, how does it change, and so on. We humans care mainly about feelings, not physical parts interacting; we want to know what out there feels so we can know what to care about.

But consider a key question: Does this other feeling stuff interact with the familiar parts of our world strongly and reliably enough to usually be the actual cause of humans making statements of feeling like this?

If yes, this is a remarkably strong interaction, making it quite surprising that physicists have missed it so far. So surprising in fact as to be frankly unbelievable.

But if no, if this interaction isn’t strong enough to explain human claims of feeling, then we have a remarkable coincidence to explain. Somehow this extra feeling stuff exists, and humans also have a tendency to say that it exists, but these happen for entirely independent reasons. The fact that feeling stuff exists isn’t causing people to claim it exists, nor vice versa. Instead humans have some sort of weird psychological quirk that causes them to make such statements, and they would make such claims even if feeling stuff didn’t exist. But if we have a good alternate explanation for why people tend to make such statements, what need do we have of the hypothesis that feeling stuff actually exists? Such a coincidence seems too remarkable to be believed.

Thus it seems hard to square a belief in this extra feeling stuff with standard physics in either cases, where feeling stuff does or does not have strong interactions with ordinary stuff. The obvious conclusion: extra feeling stuff just doesn’t exist.

Of course the “feeling stuff” interacts strongly and reliably with the familiar parts of the world — unless you’re a Robin Hanson, who seems to have no “feeling stuff.” Has he never been insulted, cut off by a rude lane-changer, been in love, held a baby in his arms, and so on unto infinity?

Hanson continues:

If this type of [strong] interaction were remotely as simple as all the interactions we know, then it should be quite measurable with existing equipment. Any interaction not so measurable would have be vastly more complex and context dependent than any we’ve ever seen or considered. Thus I’d bet heavily and confidently that no one will measure such an interaction.

Which is just a stupid thing to say. Physicists haven’t measured the interactions — and probably never will — because they’re not the kinds of phenomena that physicists study. Psychologists, yes; physicists, no.

Not being satisfied with obtuseness and stupidity, Hanson concedes the existence of “feelings,” but jumps to a conclusion in order to dismiss them:

But if no, if this interaction isn’t strong enough to explain human claims of feeling, then we have a remarkable coincidence to explain. Somehow this extra feeling stuff exists, and humans also have a tendency to say that it exists, but these happen for entirely independent reasons. The fact that feeling stuff exists isn’t causing people to claim it exists, nor vice versa. Instead humans have some sort of weird psychological quirk that causes them to make such statements, and they would make such claims even if feeling stuff didn’t exist….

Thus it seems hard to square a belief in this extra feeling stuff with standard physics in either cases, where feeling stuff does or does not have strong interactions with ordinary stuff. The obvious conclusion: extra feeling stuff just doesn’t exist.

How does Hanson — the erstwhile physicist — know any of this? I submit that he doesn’t know. He’s just arguing circularly, as an already-committed physicalist.

First, Hanson assumes that feelings aren’t “real” because physicists haven’t measured their effects. But that failure has been for lack of trying.

Then Hanson assumes that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. Specifically, because there’s no evidence (as he defines it) for the existence of “feelings,” their existence (if real) is merely coincidental with claims of their existence.

And then Hanson the Obtuse ignores strong interactions of “feeling stuff” with “ordinary stuff.” Which suggests that he has never experienced love, desire, or hate (for starters).

It would be reasonable for Hanson to suggest that feelings are real, in a physical sense, in that they represent chemical states of the central nervous system. He could then claim that feelings don’t exist apart from such states; that is, “feeling stuff” is nothing more than a physical phenomenon. Hanson makes that claim, but in a roundabout way:

If everything around us is explained by ordinary physics, then a detailed examination of the ordinary physics of familiar systems will eventually tells us everything there is to know about the causes and consequences of our feelings. It will say how many different feelings we are capable of, what outside factors influence them, and how our words and actions depend on them.

However, he gets there by assuming an answer to the question whether “feelings” are something real and apart from physical existence. He hasn’t proven anything, one way or the other.

Hanson’s blog is called Overcoming Bias. It’s an apt title: Hanson has a lot of bias to overcome.

Related posts:
Why I Am Not an Extreme Libertarian
Blackmail, Anyone?
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty (II)

Is Science Self-Correcting?

A long-time colleague, in response to a provocative article about the sins of scientists, characterized it as “garbage” and asserted that science is self-correcting.

I should note here that my colleague abhors “extreme” views, and would cross the street to avoid a controversy. As a quondam scientist, he thinks of a challenge to the integrity of science as “extreme.” Which strikes me as an unscientific attitude.

Science is only self-correcting on a time scale of decades, and even centuries. Wrong-headed theories can persist for a very long time. And it has become worse in the past six decades.

What has changed in the past six decades? Sputnik spurred a (relatively) massive increase in government-funded research. This created a new and compelling incentive: produce research that comports with the party line. The party line isn’t necessarily the line of the party then in power, but the line favored by the bureaucrats in charge of doling out money.

On top of that, politically incorrect research is generally frowned upon. And when it surfaces it is attacked en masse by academicians who are eager to prove their political correctness.

Thus it is that the mere coincidence of a rise in CO2 emissions and a rise in temperatures in the latter part of the 20th century became the basis for kludgey models which “prove” AGW — preferably of the “catastrophic” kind — while essentially ignoring eons of evidence to the contrary. Skeptics (i.e., scientists doing what scientists should do) are attacked viciously when they aren’t simply ignored. The attackers are, all too often, people who call themselves scientists.

And thus it is that research into the connection between race and intelligence has been discouraged and even suppressed at universities. This despite truckloads of evidence that there is such a connection.

Those two examples don’t represent all of science, to be sure, but they’re a sad commentary on the state of science — in some fields, at least.

There are many more examples in Politicizing Science: The Alchemy of Policy-Making, edited by Michael Gough. I haven’t read the book, but I’m familiar with most of the cases documented by the contributors. The cases are about scientists behaving badly, and about non-scientists misusing science and advocating policies that lack firm scientific backing.

Scientists have been behaved badly since the dawn of science, though — as discussed above — there are now more (or different) incentives to behave badly than there were in the past. But non-scientists (especially politicians) will behave badly regardless of and contrary to scientific knowledge. So I won’t blame science or scientists for that behavior, except to the extent that scientists are actively abetting the bad behavior of non-scientists.

Which brings me to the matter of science being self-correcting. I am an avid (perhaps rabid) anti-reificationist. So I must say here that there is no such thing as “science.” There’s only what scientists “do” and claim to know.

It’s possible, though not certain, that future scientists will correct the errors of their predecessors — whether those errors arose from honest mistakes or bias. But, in the meantime, the errors persist and are used to abet policies that have costly, harmful, and even fatal consequences for multitudes of people. And most of that damage can’t be undone.

So, in this age of weaponized science, I take no solace in the idea that the errors of its practitioners and abusers might, someday, be recognized. The errors of knowledge might be corrected, but the errors of application are (mostly) beyond remedy.

Here’s an analogy: The errors of the builders, owners, captain, and crew of RMS Titanic seem to have been corrected, in that there hasn’t been a repetition of the conditions and events that led to the ship’s sinking. But that doesn’t make up for the loss of 1,514 lives, the physical and emotional suffering of the 710 survivors, the loss of a majestic ship, the loss of much valuable property, or the grief of the families and friends of those who were lost.

In sum, the claim that science is self-correcting amounts to a fatuous excuse for the irreparable damage that is often done in the name of science.

*      *      *

Related posts:

Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
The Fallacy of Human Progress
Pinker Commits Scientism
AGW: The Death Knell (with many links to related readings and earlier posts)
The Limits of Science (II)
The Pretence of Knowledge
“The Science Is Settled”
The Limits of Science, Illustrated by Scientists
Not-So-Random Thoughts (XIV) (second item)
Rationalism, Empiricism, and Scientific Knowledge
AGW in Austin?
Understanding Probability: Pascal’s Wager and Catastrophic Global Warming
The Technocratic Illusion
The Precautionary Principle and Pascal’s Wager
Further Pretensions of Knowledge
“And the Truth Shall Set You Free”
AGW in Austin? (II)

AGW in Austin? (II)

I said this in “AGW in Austin?“:

There’s a rise in temperatures [in Austin] between the 1850s and the early 1890s, consistent with the gradual warming that followed the Little Ice Age. The gap between the early 1890s and mid-19naughts seems to have been marked by lower temperatures. It’s possible to find several mini-trends between the mid-19naughts and 1977, but the most obvious “trend” is a flat line for the entire period….

Following the sudden jump between 1977 and 1980, the “trend” remains almost flat through 1997, albeit at a slightly higher level….

The sharpest upward trend really began after the very strong (and naturally warming) El Niño of 1997-1998….

Oh, wait! It turns out that Austin’s sort-of hot-spell from 1998 to the present coincides with the “pause” in global warming….

The rapid increase in Austin’s population since 2000 probably has caused an acceleration of the urban heat-island (UHI) effect. This is known to inflate city temperatures above those in the surrounding countryside by several degrees.

What about drought? In Austin, the drought of recent years is far less severe than the drought of the 1950s, but temperatures have risen more in recent years than they did in the 1950s….

Why? Because Austin’s population is now six times greater than it was in the 1950s. The UHI effect has magnified the drought effect.

Conclusion: Austin’s recent hot weather has nothing to do with AGW.

Now, I’ll quantify the relationship between temperature, precipitation, and population. Here are a few notes about the analysis:

  • I have annual population estimates for Austin from 1960 to the present. However, to tilt the scale in favor of AGW, I used values for 1968-2015, because the average temperature in 1968 was the lowest recorded since 1924.
  • I reduced the official population figures for 1998-2015 to reflect a major annexation in 1998 that significantly increased Austin’s population. The statistical effect of that adjustment is to reduce the apparent effect of population on temperature — thus further tilting the scale in favor of AGW.
  • The official National Weather Service station moved from Mueller Airport (near I-35) to Camp Mabry (near Texas Loop 1) in 1999. I ran the regression for 1968-2015 with a dummy variable for location, but that variable is statistically insignificant.

Here’s the regression equation for 1968-2015:

T = -0.049R + 5.57E-06P + 67.8


T = average annual temperature (degrees Fahrenheit)

R = annual precipitation (inches)

P = mid-year population (adjusted, as discussed above)

The r-squared of the equation is 0.538, which is considerably better than the r-squared for a simple time trend (see the first graph below). Also, the standard error is 1.01 degrees; F = 2.96E-08; and the p-values on the variables and intercept are highly significant at 0.00313, 2.19E-08, and 7.34E-55, respectively.

Here’s a graph of actual vs. predicted temperatures:

Actual vs predicted average annual temperatures in Austin

The residuals are randomly distributed with respect to time and the estimated values of T, so there’s no question (in my mind) about having omitted a significant variable:

Average annual temperatures_residuals vs. year

Average annual temperaturs_residuals vs. estimates of T

Austin’s average annual temperature rose by 3.6 degrees F between 1968 and 2015, that is, from 66.2 degrees to 69.8 degrees. According to the regression equation, the rise in Austin’s population from 234,000 in 1968 to 853,000 (adjusted) in 2015 accounts for essentially all of the increase — 3.5 degrees of it, to be precise. That’s well within the range of urban heat-island effects for big cities, and it’s obvious that Austin became a big city between 1968 and 2015. It also agrees with the estimated effect of Austin’s population increase, as derived from the equation for North American cities in T.R. Oke’s “City Size and the Urban Heat Island.” The equation (simplified for ease of reproduction) is

T’ = 2.96 log P – 6.41


T’ = change in temperature, degrees C

P = population, holding area constant

The author reports r-squared = 0.92 and SE = 0.7 degrees C (1.26 degrees F).

The estimated UHI effect of Austin’s population growth from 1968 to 2015 is 2.99 degrees F. Given the standard error of the estimate, the estimate of 2.99 degrees isn’t significantly different from my estimate of 3.5 degrees or from the actual increase of 3.6 degrees.

I therefore dismiss the possibility that population is a proxy for the effects of CO2 emissions, which — if they significantly affect temperature (a big “if”) — do so because of their prevalence in the atmosphere, not because of their concentration in particular areas. And Austin’s hottest years occurred during the “pause” in global warming after 1998. There was no “pause” in Austin because its population continued to grow rapidly; thus:

12-month average temperatures in Austin_1903-2016

Bottom line: Austin’s temperature can be accounted for by precipitation and population. AGW will have to find another place in which to work its evil magic.

*     *     *

Related reading:
U.S. climate page at WUWT
Articles about UHI at WUWT
David Evans, “There Is No Evidence,” Science Speak, June 16, 2009
Roy W. Spencer, “Global Urban Heat Island Effect Study – An Update,” WUWT, March 10, 2010
David M.W. Evans, “The Skeptic’s Case,” Science Speak, August 16, 2012
Anthony Watts, “UHI – Worse Than We Thought?,” WUWT, August 20, 2014
Christopher Monckton of Brenchley, “The Great Pause Lengthens Again,” WUWT, January 3, 2015
Anthony Watts, “Two New Papers Suggest Solar Activity Is a ‘Climate Pacemaker‘,” WUWT, January 9, 2015
John Hinderaker, “Was 2014 Really the Warmest Year Ever?,” PowerLine, January 16, 2015
Roy W. Spencer, John R. Christy, and William D. Braswell, “Version 6.0 of the UAH Temperature Dataset Released: New LT Trend = +0.11 C/decade,”, April 28, 2015
Bob Tisdale, “New UAH Lower Troposphere Temperature Data Show No Global Warming for More Than 18 Years,” WUWT, April 29, 2015
Patrick J. Michaels and Charles C. Knappenberger, “You Ought to Have a Look: Science Round Up—Less Warming, Little Ice Melt, Lack of Imagination,” Cato at Liberty, May 1, 2015
Mike Brakey, “151 Degrees Of Fudging…Energy Physicist Unveils NOAA’s “Massive Rewrite” Of Maine Climate History,” NoTricksZone, May 2, 2015 (see also David Archibald, “A Prediction Coming True?,” WUWT, May 4, 2015)
Christopher Monckton of Brenchley, “El Niño Has Not Yet Paused the Pause,” WUWT, May 4, 2015
Anthony J. Sadar and JoAnn Truchan, “Saul Alinsky, Climate Scientist,” American Thinker, May 4, 2015
Clyde Spencer, “Anthropogenic Global Warming and Its Causes,” WUWT, May 5, 2015
Roy W. Spencer, “Nearly 3,500 Days since Major Hurricane Strike … Despite Record CO2,”, May 8, 2015

Related posts:
AGW: The Death Knell (with many links to related readings 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

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XVII)

Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

*     *     *

Victor Davis Hanson offers “The More Things Change, the More They Actually Don’t.” It echoes what I say in “The Fallacy of Human Progress.” Hanson opens with this:

In today’s technically sophisticated and globally connected world, we assume life has been completely reinvented. In truth, it has not changed all that much.
And he proceeds to illustrate his point (and mine).

*     *     *

Dr. James Thompson, and English psychologist, often blogs about intelligence. Here are some links from last year that I’ve been hoarding:

Intelligence: All That Matters” (a review of a book by Stuart Ritchie)

GCSE Genes” (commentary about research showing the strong relationship between genes and academic achievement)

GWAS Hits and Country IQ” (commentary about preliminary research into the alleles related to intelligence)

Also, from the International Journal of Epidemiology, comes “The Association between Intelligence and Lifespan Is Mostly Genetic.”

All of this is by way of reminding you of my many posts about intelligence, which are sprinkled throughout this list and this one.

*     *     *

How bad is it? This bad:

Thomas Lifson, “Mark Levin’s Plunder and Deceit

Arthur Milikh, “Alexis de Tocqueville Predicted the Tyranny of the Majority in Our Modern World

Steve McCann, “Obama and Neo-fascist America

Related reading: “Fascism, Pots, and Kettles,” by me, of course.

Adam Freedman’s book, A Less than Perfect Union: The Case for States’ Rights. States’ rights can be perfected by secession, and I make the legal case for it in “A Resolution of Secession.”

*     *     *

In a different vein, there’s Francis Menton’s series about anthropogenic global warming. The latest installment is “The Greatest Scientific Fraud of All Time — Part VIII.” For my take on the subject, start with “AGW in Austin?” and check out the readings and posts listed at the bottom.

“And the Truth Shall Set You Free”

The truth contained in Drs. Lawrence Mayer and Paul McHugh’s “Sexuality and Gender” (The New Atlantis No. 50, Fall 2016) will fall on the same deaf ears as many other truths. The “party of science” is really the party of magical thinking — about many things, including economics, climate, race, war, and (most recently) “gender.”

“Gender” is the latest egregious example of seeing the world as one wishes it were, instead of the way it is. “Gender” smacks of Victorian prudery; it’s a euphemism for “sex.” But it’s more than that, because it connotes more than a mere biological fact of life; it connotes a state of mind that somehow transcends biology. (Very Zen, don’t you think?)

Among the subjects addressed by Drs. Mayer and McHugh is “gender identity” The executive summary of Part Three, which addresses that subject, gives these findings:

● The hypothesis that gender identity is an innate, fixed property of human beings that is independent of biological sex — that a person might be “a man trapped in a woman’s body” or “a woman trapped in a man’s body” — is not supported by scientific evidence.

● According to a recent estimate, about 0.6% of U.S. adults identify as a gender that does not correspond to their biological sex.

● Studies comparing the brain structures of transgender and non-transgender individuals have demonstrated weak correlations between brain structure and cross-gender identification. These correlations do not provide any evidence for a neurobiological basis for cross-gender identification.

● Compared to the general population, adults who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery continue to have a higher risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes. One study found that, compared to controls, sex-reassigned individuals were about 5 times more likely to attempt suicide and about 19 times more likely to die by suicide.

● Children are a special case when addressing transgender issues. Only a minority of children who experience cross-gender identification will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood.

● There is little scientific evidence for the therapeutic value of interventions that delay puberty or modify the secondary sex characteristics of adolescents, although some children may have improved psychological well-being if they are encouraged and supported in their cross-gender identification. There is no evidence that all children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behavior should be encouraged to become transgender.

Don’t get me wrong, I bear no animus toward those few persons who are truly conflicted about their sexuality. But I have no sympathy for juvenile faddishness and the unseemly (and temporarily halted) eradication of privacy in the name of “gender equality.” It’s as if time-honored codes of conduct have somehow become unnecessary and unduly discriminatory. (Where have we heard that before?)

And, as usual, the rush to remake the world in a new, trendy image won’t stop with “equality.” It will become (and has become, in some places) verboten to refer to anyone by anything but an approved label, just as it has become verboten in some places to refuse to bake a wedding cake or provide flowers for a homosexual “marriage.”

It’s easy enough for a black, a woman, or any one of a long list of “protected groups” to march into an EEOC office and file a baseless discrimination claim. It’s unsurprising that the list of protected groups now encompasses anyone who identifies as LGB or T. (What’s wrong with Q?)

What I want to know is why the EEOC and all of the other equality-enforcing agencies of government are still in business. Given the relatively small number of persons who aren’t in a protected group — namely straight, white, non-Hispanic males under the age of 40 who are neither disabled (a broad category) or veterans — it seems to me that equality has already been achieved. Except for the unprotected, of course, but only their mothers give two hoots about them (maybe).

*     *     *

Related posts:
Two-Percent Tyranny
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Euphemism Conquers All
The War on Conservatism
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Identity and Crime
There’s More to It Than Religious Liberty
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
Privilege, Power, and Hypocrisy
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
The Technocratic Illusion
Equal Protection in Principle and Practice
Society, Polarization, and Dissent

Multiplicative Hogwash

The Economist offers an almost-balanced view of the Keynesian multiplier, starting with its inception in Keynes’s General Theory, its theoretical refinement by Alvin Hansen and Paul Samuelson, and subsequent theoretical and empirical work. This sums it up: “Decades after its conception, Keynes’s multiplier remains as relevant, and as controversial, as ever.” It’s relevant only in the sense that a lot of economists and policy-makers still believe in it. What it is is hogwash:

The Keynesian Multiplier: Phony Math
The True Multiplier
Further Thoughts about the Keynesian Multiplier

Further Pretensions of Knowledge

The Economist‘s second article in its series on “seminal economic ideas” is about Hyman Minsky’s theory that “booms sow the seeds of busts”:

Having grown up during the Depression, Minsky was minded to dwell on disaster. Over the years he came back to the same fundamental problem again and again. He wanted to understand why financial crises occurred. . . .

Minsky . . . developed his “financial-instability hypothesis”. It is an examination of how long stretches of prosperity sow the seeds of the next crisis, an important lens for understanding the tumult of the past decade. . . .

Minsky started with an explanation of investment. It is, in essence, an exchange of money today for money tomorrow. A firm pays now for the construction of a factory; profits from running the facility will, all going well, translate into money for it in coming years. Put crudely, money today can come from one of two sources: the firm’s own cash or that of others (for example, if the firm borrows from a bank). The balance between the two is the key question for the financial system.

Minsky distinguished between three kinds of financing. The first, which he called “hedge financing”, is the safest: firms rely on their future cashflow to repay all their borrowings. For this to work, they need to have very limited borrowings and healthy profits. The second, speculative financing, is a bit riskier: firms rely on their cashflow to repay the interest on their borrowings but must roll over their debt to repay the principal. This should be manageable as long as the economy functions smoothly, but a downturn could cause distress. The third, Ponzi financing, is the most dangerous. Cashflow covers neither principal nor interest; firms are betting only that the underlying asset will appreciate by enough to cover their liabilities. If that fails to happen, they will be left exposed.

Economies dominated by hedge financing—that is, those with strong cashflows and low debt levels—are the most stable. When speculative and, especially, Ponzi financing come to the fore, financial systems are more vulnerable. If asset values start to fall, either because of monetary tightening or some external shock, the most overstretched firms will be forced to sell their positions. This further undermines asset values, causing pain for even more firms. They could avoid this trouble by restricting themselves to hedge financing. But over time, particularly when the economy is in fine fettle, the temptation to take on debt is irresistible. When growth looks assured, why not borrow more? Banks add to the dynamic, lowering their credit standards the longer booms last. If defaults are minimal, why not lend more? Minsky’s conclusion was unsettling. Economic stability breeds instability. Periods of prosperity give way to financial fragility. . . .

[A]s an outsider in the sometimes cloistered world of economics, Minsky’s influence was, until recently, limited. Investors were faster than professors to latch onto his views. More than anyone else it was Paul McCulley of PIMCO, a fund-management group, who popularised his ideas. He coined the term “Minsky moment” to describe a situation when debt levels reach breaking-point and asset prices across the board start plunging. Mr McCulley initially used the term in explaining the Russian financial crisis of 1998. Since the global turmoil of 2008, it has become ubiquitous. For investment analysts and fund managers, a “Minsky moment” is now virtually synonymous with a financial crisis. . . .

. . . In a speech in 2009, before she became head of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen said Minsky’s work had “become required reading”. In a 2013 speech, made while he was governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King agreed with Minsky’s view that stability in credit markets leads to exuberance and eventually to instability. Mark Carney, Lord King’s successor, has referred to Minsky moments on at least two occasions.Will the moment last? Minsky’s own theory suggests it will eventually peter out. Economic growth is still shaky and the scars of the global financial crisis visible. In the Minskyan trajectory, this is when firms and banks are at their most cautious, wary of repeating past mistakes and determined to fortify their balance-sheets. But in time, memories of the 2008 turmoil will dim. Firms will again race to expand, banks to fund them and regulators to loosen constraints. The warnings of Minsky will fade away. The further we move on from the last crisis, the less we want to hear from those who see another one coming.

I am left with this question: Is the Minskyan trajectory a bad thing or a good thing? Is there a better, feasible way to finance economic growth? Or is the alternative some kind of government-enforced algorithm in which one-size-fits-all-regulation fosters hyper-bubbles (as with the directive to lend more to poor, minority mortgagors) or hypo-bubbles (in which rising investment is stifled long before it becomes a bubble).

Government doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to fine-tuning the economy. It’s true that the economy has been somewhat more stable since the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913. But the price of stability is high; namely, it is inversely related to long-run economic growth. And the two deepest economic downturns in America’s history — the Great Depression and the Great Recession — happened on the Fed’s watch, and can be blamed (in part, at least) on the Fed.

Economics can be a powerfully descriptive discipline. But its power to describe is far from infallible, as Arnold Kling shows in his must-read tome, Specialization and Trade: A Re-introduction to Economics. Among many things, Kling explains why the Keynesian multiplier — the hoariest of fine-tuning ideas — is a terrible idea. (I heartily agree with Kling.)

Even if economics were an infallibly descriptive discipline, it shouldn’t be taken as an infallibly prescriptive one. Friedrich Hayek put it this way in his Nobel Prize Lecture, “The Pretence of Knowledge“:

It is true that . . . systems of equations describing the pattern of a market equilibrium are so framed that if we were able to fill in all the blanks of the abstract formulae, i.e. if we knew all the parameters of these equations, we could calculate the prices and quantities of all commodities and services sold. But, as Vilfredo Pareto, one of the founders of this theory, clearly stated, its purpose cannot be “to arrive at a numerical calculation of prices”, because, as he said, it would be “absurd” to assume that we could ascertain all the data. . . .  I sometimes wish that our mathematical economists would take this to heart. I must confess that I still doubt whether their search for measurable magnitudes has made significant contributions to our theoretical understanding of economic phenomena – as distinct from their value as a description of particular situations. Nor am I prepared to accept the excuse that this branch of research is still very young: Sir William Petty, the founder of econometrics, was after all a somewhat senior colleague of Sir Isaac Newton in the Royal Society!

The chief point we must remember is that the great and rapid advance of the physical sciences took place in fields where it proved that explanation and prediction could be based on laws which accounted for the observed phenomena as functions of comparatively few variables – either particular facts or relative frequencies of events. . . .  A theory of essentially complex phenomena must refer to a large number of particular facts; and to derive a prediction from it, or to test it, we have to ascertain all these particular facts. Once we succeeded in this there should be no particular difficulty about deriving testable predictions – with the help of modern computers it should be easy enough to insert these data into the appropriate blanks of the theoretical formulae and to derive a prediction. The real difficulty, to the solution of which science has little to contribute, and which is sometimes indeed insoluble, consists in the ascertainment of the particular facts. . . .

. . . To act on the belief that we possess the knowledge and the power which enable us to shape the processes of society entirely to our liking, knowledge which in fact we do not possess, is likely to make us do much harm. In the physical sciences there may be little objection to trying to do the impossible; one might even feel that one ought not to discourage the over-confident because their experiments may after all produce some new insights. But in the social field the erroneous belief that the exercise of some power would have beneficial consequences is likely to lead to a new power to coerce other men being conferred on some authority. Even if such power is not in itself bad, its exercise is likely to impede the functioning of those spontaneous ordering forces by which, without understanding them, man is in fact so largely assisted in the pursuit of his aims. We are only beginning to understand on how subtle a communication system the functioning of an advanced industrial society is based – a communications system which we call the market and which turns out to be a more efficient mechanism for digesting dispersed information than any that man has deliberately designed.

If man is not to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order, he will have to learn that in this, as in all other fields where essential complexity of an organized kind prevails, he cannot acquire the full knowledge which would make mastery of the events possible. He will therefore have to use what knowledge he can achieve, not to shape the results as the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate a growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner in which the gardener does this for his plants. There is danger in the exuberant feeling of ever growing power which the advance of the physical sciences has engendered and which tempts man to try, “dizzy with success”, to use a characteristic phrase of early communism, to subject not only our natural but also our human environment to the control of a human will. The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society – a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.

(This post offers more on this subject of the limitations of knowledge, and the implications for economic policy.)

The ability to describe a phenomenon in a general way is far from knowing how to improve on it. In fact, the ability to describe a phenomenon in a general way says nothing about whether it can be improved on. Such things as investment bubbles, market failure, and winners and losers from trade are the normative judgments of observers who simply don’t like what they see and believe (mistakenly) that they know how to “make things right.”

The Precautionary Principle and Pascal’s Wager

Reduced to its essence, the precautionary principle (PP) is this: Avert calamity regardless of the cost of doing so.

The thinking person, as opposed the the extreme environmentalist or global-warming zealot, will immediately and carefully pose these questions about the PP: What, specifically, is the calamity to be averted? How might it be averted? With what degree of certainty? What are the opportunity and monetary costs of the options?

Take death, for example. Most persons who are in good health (and even many who are in declining health) consider death to be a calamity. So, too, do their loved ones (usually). How, then, might death be averted, with what degree of certainty, and at what cost?

Death can be averted only temporarily. That is, death often can sometimes be postponed, but never defeated. So the question is how can it be postponed, and at what cost. Let’s take an extreme case of a man dying of a virulent cancer (confirmed by extensive tests and procedures) for which there is no known treatment, other than palliative care. What good will it do that man (or his heirs) to spend his fortune in search of cure for his disease? He will almost certainly die before a possible cure is identified and can be supplied to him. But in funding the search for a cure he would have followed the PP by doing his utmost to avoid the calamity of death, without regard for the calamity thereby visited upon upon his heirs.

In sum, the PP shouldn’t be followed in cases where:

  • there is nothing that human beings can do to avert the calamity, or
  • the cost of ameliorating the calamity is itself calamitous.

Extreme environmentalists and global-warming zealots are guilty of sub-optimizing. They focus on particular calamities, not on the big picture of human flourishing. Take global warming. It has been said many times that warming has many advantages, such as a longer growing season and a lower death rate (cold is a bigger killer than heat). It has also been shown that warming hasn’t been occurring as fast as projected. The over-estimation of warming is probably due to (a) overstatement of the effects of CO2 emissions on temperatures and (b) inadequate modeling that omits key factors. But the zealots remain undeterred by such considerations.

The only thing that’s saving humanity from total impoverishment at the hands of global-warming zealots is the ridiculously high cost of (probably futile) efforts to combat global warming. Shutting down coal mines is bad enough, though tolerable given the advances that have been made in the extraction of natural gas and oil. But there is little taste (except among well-fed elites) for shutting down factories, forcing everyone to drive battery-powered cars, shifting to high-cost and unreliable sources of energy (solar, wind, and hydro), forcing people to live in densely populated cities, and so on. And if all of those things were to happen, what difference would it make? Almost none.

Moreover, there is nothing unusual about the rising temperatures of recent decades, neither in rapidity nor level. As Bob Tisdale observes, during three global warming periods — 1916-1946, 1964-1993, and 1986-2015 —

there were similar observed changes in global surface temperatures. It’s tough to claim that the recent global warming is unprecedented when surface temperatures rose at a comparable rate over a 30-year timespan that ended about 70 years ago.

Second, climate models are not simulating climate as it existed in the past or present.  The model mean of the climate models produced for the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report simulates observed warming trends for one of the three periods shown in this post. Specifically, during the three global warming periods discussed in this post, climate models simulated three very different rates of warming (+0.050 deg C/decade for 1916-1946, +0.155 deg C/decade for 1964-1993, and +0.255 deg C/decade for 1986-2015), yet the data from GISS indicated the warming trends were very similar at +0.16 deg C/decade and +0.166 deg C/decade. If climate models can’t simulate global surface temperatures in the past or present, why should anyone have any confidence in their prognostications of future surface temperatures?

Third, the models’ failure to simulate the rate of the observed early 20th Century warming from 1916-1945 indicates that there are naturally occurring processes that can cause global surfaces to warm over multi-decadal periods above and beyond the computer-simulated warming from the forcings used to drive the climate models [emphasis added].  That of course raises the question, how much of the recent warming is also natural?

Fourth, for the most-recent 30-year period (1986-2015), climate models are overestimating the warming by a noticeable amount. This, along with their failure to simulate warming from 1916-1945, suggests climate models are too sensitive to greenhouse gases and that their projections of future global warming are too high.

Fifth, logically, the fact that the models seem to simulate the correct global-warming rate for one of the three periods discussed [1964-1993] does not mean the climate models are performing properly during the one “good” period.

Despite such reasonableness, global-warming-zealot proponents of the PP are not to be deflected. For theirs is a religion, which seems to take Pascal’s wager seriously. Here’s Robert Tracinski on the subject:

Do you freaking love science? Then you might be a big enough sucker to fall for a claim like this one: “Across the span of their lives, the average American is more than five times likelier to die during a human-extinction event than in a car crash.” Which was actually made by an environmentalist group called the Global Challenges Foundation and reported with a straight face in The Atlantic….

There is something that sounded familiar to me about this argument, and I realized that it borrows the basic form of Pascal’s Wager, an old and spectacularly unconvincing argument for belief in God. (Go here if you want to give the idea more thought than it probably deserves.) Blaise Pascal’s argument was that even if the existence of God is only a very small probability, the consequences are so spectacularly huge — eternal life if you follow the rules, eternal punishment if you don’t — that it makes even a very small probability seem overwhelmingly important. In effect, Pascal realized that you can make anything look big if you multiply it by infinity. Similarly, this new environmentalist argument assumes that you can make anything look big if you multiply it by extinction….

If Pascal’s probabilistic argument works for Christianity, then it also works for Islam, or for secular versions like Roko’s Basilisk. (And yes, an “all-seeing artificial intelligence” is included in this report as a catastrophic possibility, which gives you an idea of how seriously you should take it.) Or it works for global warming, which is exactly how it’s being used here.

Pascal was a great mathematician, but this was an awful abuse of the nascent science of probabilities. (I suspect it’s no great shakes from a religious perspective, either.) First of all, a “probability” is not just anything that you sort of think might happen. Imagination and speculation are not probability. In any mathematical or scientific sense of the word, a probability is something for which you have a real basis to measure its likelihood. Saying you are “95 percent certain” about a scientific theory, as global warming alarmists are apt to do, might make for an eye-catching turn of phrase in press headlines. But it is not an actual number that measures something.


Tracinski later hits a verbal home run with this:

This kind of Pascal’s-Wager-for-global-warming is part of a larger environmentalist program: a perverse attempt to take our sense of the actual risks and benefits for human life and turn it upside down.

If we’re concerned about the actual dangers to human life, we don’t have to assume a bunch of bizarre probabilities. The big dangers are known quantities: poverty, squalor, disease, famine, dictatorship, war. And the solutions are also known quantities: technology, industrialization, economic growth, freedom.

Global-warming zealots are usually leftists, and leftists claim to be upholders of science. Yet they cling to two anti-scientific dogmas: the precautionary principle and Pascal’s Wager. As Tracinski says, “global warming has become a religion with a veneer of science.”

Immigration and Intelligence

I haven’t written about intelligence since April 18, 2015 (here, third item). What’s on my mind now? This:

1. Immigrants to the U.S. are overwhelmingly poor and possibly (but not necessarily) below-average in intelligence.

2. The availability of immigrants seeking employment is a boon to entrepreneurs. Investments in capital (often modest ones such as lawn mowers and chain saws) can be turned into gainful employment for immigrants and profits for entrepreneurs.

3. The employment of immigrants is also a boon to American consumers, who are able to obtain some things more cheaply and some things that they might otherwise not be able to afford (e.g., fresh fruit, maid services, yard work).

4. Consumers should be indifferent about the origin of the labor that benefits them.

5. Taxpayers should care about the origin of labor only to the extent that immigration drives up the taxes because of state support for immigrants (e.g., schooling, medical care, welfare programs where citizenship isn’t a prerequisite).

6. Each taxpayer is also a consumer, and each taxpayer is therefore in a different position with respect to the net benefits (or costs) of immigration. But every consumer-citizen is likely to benefit to some degree because of immigration, though the benefit may not offset the rise in every consumer-citizen’s taxes.

7. Low-skilled Americans who have opted for the dole have no stake in the matter of immigration. If some low-skilled Americans lose jobs that they might otherwise have held, they aren’t “losers” any more than the wagon-makers who lost their jobs when automobiles come along. Voluntary economic change doesn’t have winners and losers — it takes arbitrary government interventions (e.g., minimum-wage laws) to create them.

8. Yes, government allows immigration, but the original intervention that created winners and losers is the one that restrained immigration. If it’s all right for a piece of fruit to move from Mexico to Texas, why isn’t it all right for a worker to move from Mexico to Texas? If it’s all right for a Californian to move to Texas, it is definitely all right for a Mexican to move to Texas.

9. So the only question is whether immigration imposes net costs on some consumers who are also taxpayers. And it’s an issue only because of government programs that allow immigrants to impose costs on taxpayers.

10. The real issue, for me, isn’t immigration, it’s government interventions that may encourage immigration (at a rate higher than the “natural” one) and subsidize immigrants. As usual, government is the problem, not the solution.

What does this have to do with intelligence? This post was spurred by a recent one at West Hunter by Gregory Cochran, “Our Dumb World.” Cochran’s post, combined with another one of his to which he links, can be read as follows:

  • There’s a strong link between the average IQ of a nation and its economic success. (True.)
  • Some things have skewed the relationship (e.g., the imposition of Communism), but the link is there nonetheless.
  • Mass migration from low-IQ countries (presumably Mexico and other Central American nations) to a country with a higher average IQ (e.g., the United States) will reduce the average IQ of the receiving country and therefore harm it economically.

I don’t buy it. For one thing, immigration — even immigration by low-skilled workers with (perhaps) below-average intelligence — can be a boon to the residents of the receiving country, as discussed above. For another thing:

Low-IQ immigrants do not reduce the productivity of high-IQ natives – any more than short immigrants reduce the height of tall natives. (See here for further discussion).

To repeat myself, the real issue is whether government action causes immigrants to impose burdens on natives that wouldn’t be imposed in the absence of government action. And to be clear, government action is any action that results in a rate of immigration which is higher or lower than would occur in the absence of that action (e.g., immigration quotas, implicit or explicit promises of government aid to indigent immigrants).

What about the political and cultural effects of massive immigration from south of the border? I am at the point of declaring that it doesn’t matter. The welfare state is so firmly entrenched in America that I really don’t expect it to be uprooted, except by non-electoral means. Mass culture is already so degenerate that it’s hard to see what could make it worse. And I have no reason to believe that, in general, Hispanics are more vulgar than American Anglos. (Just look at the prime-time TV lineup.) Those of us who prefer high culture can enjoy it without mingling with the hoi polloi.

I have been for years an opponent of illegal immigration. I am on the verge of changing my mind — something of which I am capable. My main reservation now has to do with the effect of mass immigration on crime, about which I can only offer conjectures.

The Technocratic Illusion

Kevin Williamson explodes it:

Professor [Neil deGrasse] Tyson, who may be the dumbest smart person on Twitter, yesterday wrote that what the world really needs is a new kind of virtual state — he wants to call it “Rationalia” — with a one-sentence constitution: “All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence.” This schoolboy nonsense came under withering and much-deserved derision. Conservatives, who always have the French Revolution in their thoughts, reminded him that this already has been tried, and that the results are known in the history books as “the Terror.” Writing with a great deal of reserve in Popular Science, Kelsey D. Atherton notes:

Rationalia puts a burden on science that it cannot bear: to work, it must be immune to the passions of the day, promising an objective world and objective truth that will triumph over obstacles.

That’s true enough, but it shortchanges the scientific objection to Tyson’s Rationalia pipe dream, which is that it implicitly presupposes quantities and types of knowledge that are not, even in principle, available, even if the scientists in question were the dispassionate truth-seekers of Atherton’s ideal.

But will the technocrats be deterred from trying to make the world more perfect, thus making it more hellish? No, they will not be deterred. The world is full of biased know-it-alls — many of whom claim to be scientists (e.g., Neil deGrasse Tyson).

The last word goes to G. Shane Morris:

Tyson … has a philosophy, whether he realizes it or not. It’s called “scientism,” the belief that science is the only valid source of knowledge. The rule-by-self-identified-experts he envisions for the happy land of Rationalia is scientism’s logical outcome. But when you insist that facts and evidence speak for themselves, it has a funny way of silencing everyone else. As one intrepid Twitter user replied to Tyson’s initial tweet, “Convenient how the ‘evidence’ always seems to line up with Tyson’s personal beliefs.”

The real problem, of course, is that Rationalia doesn’t take into account the fallenness of human nature, or the fact that we all approach reality with a certain set of assumptions. If we’re to build a new country based on rationality, the question is simply, “Whose rationality?” I certainly don’t want it to be from someone who’s blind to his own biases, to the flaws of science, and to other people’s perspectives.

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Related posts:

Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
The Fallacy of Human Progress
Pinker Commits Scientism
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

A Rather Normal Distribution

I found a rather normal distribution from the real world — if you consider major-league baseball to be part of the real world. In a recent post I explained how I normalized batting statistics for the 1901-2015 seasons, and displayed the top-25 single-season batting averages, slugging percentages, and on-base-plus-slugging percentages after normalization.

I have since discovered that the normalized single-season batting averages for 14,067 player-seasons bear a strong resemblance to a textbook normal distribution:

Distribution of normalized single-season batting averrages

How close is this to a textbook normal distribution? Rather close, as measured by the percentage of observations that are within 1, 2, 3, and 4 standard deviations from the mean:

Distribution of normalized single-season batting averrages_table

Ty Cobb not only compiled the highest single-season average (4.53 SD above the mean) but 5 of the 12 single-season averages more than 4 SD above the mean:

Ty Cobb's normalized single-season batting_SD from mean

Cobb’s superlative performances in the 13-season span from 1907 through 1919 resulted in 12 American League batting championships. (The unofficial number has been reduced to 11 because it was later found that Cobb actually lost the 1910 title by a whisker — .3834 to Napoleon Lajoie’s .3841.)

Cobb’s normalized batting average for his worst full season (1924) is better than 70 percent of the 14,067 batting averages compiled by full-time players in the 115 years from 1901 through 2015. And getting on base was only part of what made Cobb the greatest player of all time.

Understanding Probability: Pascal’s Wager and Catastrophic Global Warming

I love it when someone issues a well-constructed argument that supports my position on an issue. (It happens often, of course.) The latest case in point is a post by Robert Tracinski, “Pascal’s Wager for the Global Warming Religion” (The Federalist, May 3, 2016). Tracinski address this claim by some global-warming zealots:

Across the span of their lives, the average American is more than five times likelier to die during a human-extinction event than in a car crash.

There’s a lot more wrong with that statement than the egregious use of plural (“their lives”) and singular (“is”) constructions with respect to “the average American” (singular). Here’s what’s really wrong, in Tracinski’s words:

There is something that sounded familiar to me about this argument, and I realized that it borrows the basic form of Pascal’s Wager, an old and spectacularly unconvincing argument for belief in God. (Go here if you want to give the idea more thought than it probably deserves.) Blaise Pascal’s argument was that even if the existence of God is only a very small probability, the consequences are so spectacularly huge — eternal life if you follow the rules, eternal punishment if you don’t — that it makes even a very small probability seem overwhelmingly important. In effect, Pascal realized that you can make anything look big if you multiply it by infinity. Similarly, this new environmentalist argument assumes that you can make anything look big if you multiply it by extinction….

If Pascal’s probabilistic argument works for Christianity, then it also works for Islam, or for secular versions like Roko’s Basilisk. (And yes, an “all-seeing artificial intelligence” is included in this report as a catastrophic possibility, which gives you an idea of how seriously you should take it.) Or it works for global warming, which is exactly how it’s being used here.

Pascal was a great mathematician, but this was an awful abuse of the nascent science of probabilities. (I suspect it’s no great shakes from a religious perspective, either.) First of all, a “probability” is not just anything that you sort of think might happen. Imagination and speculation are not probability. In any mathematical or scientific sense of the word, a probability is something for which you have a real basis to measure its likelihood. Saying you are “95 percent certain” about a scientific theory, as global warming alarmists are apt to do, might make for an eye-catching turn of phrase in press headlines. But it is not an actual number that measures something.


Tracinski later hits a verbal home run with this:

This kind of Pascal’s-Wager-for-global-warming is part of a larger environmentalist program: a perverse attempt to take our sense of the actual risks and benefits for human life and turn it upside down.

If we’re concerned about the actual dangers to human life, we don’t have to assume a bunch of bizarre probabilities. The big dangers are known quantities: poverty, squalor, disease, famine, dictatorship, war. And the solutions are also known quantities: technology, industrialization, economic growth, freedom.

Repeat after me:

A probability is a statement about a very large number of like events, each of which has an unpredictable (random) outcome. Probability, properly understood, says nothing about the outcome of an individual event. It certainly says nothing about what will happen next.

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Related posts:

Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State

Some Thoughts about Probability

My War on the Misuse of Probability

Ty Cobb and the State of Science

This post was inspired by “Layman’s Guide to Understanding Scientific Research” at bluebird of bitterness.

The thing about history is that it’s chock full of lies. Well, a lot of the lies are just incomplete statements of the truth. Think of history as an artificially smooth surface, where gaps in knowledge have been filled by assumptions and guesses, and where facts that don’t match the surrounding terrain have been sanded down. Charles Leershen offers an excellent example of the lies that became “history” in his essay “Who Was Ty Cobb? The History We Know That’s Wrong.” (I’m now reading the book on which the essay is based, and it tells the same tale, at length.)

Science is much like history in its illusory certainty. Stand back from things far enough and you see a smooth, mathematical relationship. Look closer, however, and you find rough patches. A classic example is found in physics, where the big picture of general relativity doesn’t mesh with the small picture of quantum mechanics.

Science is based on guesses, also known as hypotheses. The guesses are usually informed by observation, but they are guesses nonetheless. Even when a guess has been lent credence by tests and observations, it only becomes a theory — a working model of a limited aspect of physical reality. A theory is never proven; it can only be disproved.

Science, in other words, is never “settled.” Napoleon is supposed to have said “What is history but a fable agreed upon?” It seems, increasingly, that so-called scientific facts are nothing but a fable that some agree upon because they wish to use those “facts” as a weapon with which to advance their careers and political agendas. Or they simply wish to align themselves with the majority, just as Barack Obama’s popularity soared (for a few months) after he was re-elected.

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Related reading:

Wikipedia, “Replication Crisis

John P.A. Ionnidis, “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False,” PLOS Medicine, August 30, 2005

Liberty Corner, “Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent,” April 12, 2006

Politics & Prosperity, “Modeling Is Not Science,” April 8, 2009

Politics & Prosperity, “Physics Envy,” May 26, 2010

Politics & Prosperity, “Demystifying Science,” October 5, 2011 (also see the long list of related posts at the bottom)

Politics & Prosperity, “The Science Is Settled,” May 25, 2014

Politics & Prosperity, “The Limits of Science, Illustrated by Scientists,” July 28, 2014

Steven E. Koonin, “Climate Science Is Not Settled,”, September 19, 2014

Joel Achenbach, “No, Science’s Reproducibility Problem Is Not Limited to Psychology,” The Washington Post, August 28, 2015

William A. Wilson, “Scientific Regress,” First Things, May 2016

Jonah Goldberg, “Who Are the Real Deniers of Science?, May 20, 2016

Steven Hayward, “The Crisis of Scientific Credibility,” Power Line, May 25, 2016

There’s a lot more here.

My War on the Misuse of Probability

In the preceding post I say that “the problem with history is that the future isn’t part of it.” That is subtle criticism of the too-frequent practice of attributing a probability to the occurrence of a future event — especially a unique event, such as a war here or a terrorist attack there.

A probability is a statement about a very large number of like events, each of which has an unpredictable (random) outcome. Probability, properly understood, says nothing about the outcome of an individual event. It certainly says nothing about what will happen next.

A fair coin comes up heads with a probability of 0.5, and comes up tails with the same probability. But those aren’t statements about the outcome of the next coin toss. No, they’re statements about the approximate frequencies of the occurrence of heads and tails in a large number of tosses. The next coin toss will eventuate in heads or tails, but not 0.5 heads and 0.5 tails (except in the rare and unpredictable case of a coin landing on edge and staying there).

There’s a vast gap between routine processes of the kind to which probabilities attach — coin tosses, for example — and the complexities of human activity. Human activity is too complex and dependent on intentions and willful actions to be characterized (properly) by statements about the probability of this or that action.

It is fatuous to say, for example, that a war on the scale of World War II is improbable because such a war has occurred only once in human history. By that reasoning, one could have said confidently in 1938 that a war on the scale of World War II could never occur because there had been no such war in human history.

(Inspired by Bryan Caplan’s fatuous post, “So Far.”)

Time and Reality

There’s an argument that time is an illusion. There’s nothing but the present — the now — or, rather, an infinite number of nows. In the conventional view, one now succeeds another, which creates the illusion of the passage of time. In the view of some physicists, all nows exist at once, and we merely perceive them sequentially (or so it seems).

A problem with the conventional view is that not everyone perceives the same now, according to Einstein’s special theory of relativity. A problem with the view that all nows exist at once (known as the many-worlds view), is that it’s purely a mathematical concoction.

Oh, wait, that’s also true of the special theory of relativity, though the underpinnings of the theory have been proven experimentally. But, as I understand it, the Lorentz transformation enables one to reconcile the various nows of special relativity, that is, to stand in the place of an omniscient observer. So, in effect, there really is a now — or an infinite series of nows, perceived sequentially.

This leads to the question of what distinguishes one now from another now. The answer is change. If things didn’t change, there would be only a now, not an infinite series of them.

What happens between one now and the next now? Change, not the passage of time. What we think of as the passage of time is really an artifact of change.

Time is really nothing more than the counting of events that supposedly occur at set intervals — the “ticking” of an atomic clock, for example. I say supposedly because there’s no absolute measure of time against which one can calibrate the “ticking” of an atomic clock, or any other kind of clock. (See Einstein’s special theory of relativity.)

In summary: Clocks don’t measure time. Clocks merely change (e.g., “tick”) at supposedly regular intervals, and those intervals are used in the representation of other things, such as the speed of an automobile or the duration of a 100-yard dash.

Time is an illusion. Change is real. But change in what — of what does reality consist?

There are two basic views of reality. One of them, according to Bishop Berkeley and his followers, is that the only reality is that which goes on in one’s own mind. The other basic view, held by most people (including most scientists), is that there is an objective reality out there, beyond the confines one’s mind. How, after all, can so many people agree about the existence of certain things (e.g., Cleveland) unless there’s something out there?

Over the ages, scientists have been able to describe objective reality in ever-increasing, ever-minute detail. But what is it? What is the stuff of which it consists? No one knows or is likely ever to know. All we know is that stuff changes, and those changes give rise to what we call time.

Pardon my seriousness. Someone must have put something in my soup.





A Summing Up

I started blogging in the late 1990s with a home page that I dubbed Liberty Corner (reconstructed here). I maintained the home page until 2000. When the urge to resume blogging became irresistible in 2004, I created the Blogspot version of Liberty Corner, where I blogged until May 2008.

My weariness with “serious” blogging led to the creation of Americana, Etc., “A blog about baseball, history, humor, language, literature, movies, music, nature, nostalgia, philosophy, psychology, and other (mostly) apolitical subjects.” I began that blog in July 2008 and posted there sporadically until September 2013.

But I couldn’t resist commenting on political, economic, and social issues, so I established Politics & Prosperity in February 2009. My substantive outpourings ebbed and flowed, until August 2015, when I hit a wall.

Now, almost two decades and more than 3,000 posts since my blogging debut, I am taking another rest from blogging — perhaps a permanent rest.

Instead of writing a valedictory essay, I chose what I consider to be the best of my blogging, and assigned each of my choices to one of fifteen broad topics. (Many of the selections belong under more than one heading, but I avoided repetition for the sake of brevity.) You may jump directly to any of the fifteen topics by clicking on one of these links:

Posts are listed in chronological order under each heading. If you are looking for a post on a particular subject, begin with the more recent posts and work your way backward in time, by moving up the list or using the “related posts” links that are included in most of my posts.

Your explorations may lead you to posts that no longer represent my views. This is especially the case with respect to John Stuart Mill’s “harm principle,” which figures prominently in my early dissertations on libertarianism, but which I have come to see as shallow and lacking in prescriptive power. Thus my belief that true libertarianism is traditional conservatism. (For more, see “On Liberty and Libertarianism” in the sidebar and many of the posts under “X. Libertarianism and Other Political Philosophies.”)

The following list of “bests” comprises about 700 entries, which is less than a fourth of my blogging output. I also commend to you my “Not-So-Random Thoughts” series — I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, and XVI — and “The Tenor of the Times.”

I. The Academy, Intellectuals, and the Left
Like a Fish in Water
Why So Few Free-Market Economists?
Academic Bias
Intellectuals and Capitalism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
We, the Children of the Enlightenment
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Euphemism Conquers All
Defending the Offensive


II. Affirmative Action, Race, and Immigration
Affirmative Action: A Modest Proposal
After the Bell Curve
A Footnote . . .
Schelling and Segregation
Illogic from the Pro-Immigration Camp
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy, Revisited
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Evolution and Race
“Wading” into Race, Culture, and IQ
Evolution, Culture, and “Diversity”
The Harmful Myth of Inherent Equality
Nature, Nurture, and Inequality


III. Americana, Etc.: Movies, Music, Nature, Nostalgia, Sports, and Trivia
Speaking of Modern Art
Making Sense about Classical Music
An Addendum about Classical Music
My Views on Classical Music, Vindicated
But It’s Not Music
Mister Hockey
Testing for Steroids
Explaining a Team’s W-L Record
The American League’s Greatest Hitters
The American League’s Greatest Hitters: Part II
Conducting, Baseball, and Longevity
Who Shot JFK, and Why?
The Passing of Red Brick Schoolhouses and a Way of Life
Baseball: The King of Team Sports
May the Best Team Lose
All-Time Hitter-Friendly Ballparks (With Particular Attention to Tiger Stadium)
A Trip to the Movies
Another Trip to the Movies
The Hall of Fame Reconsidered
Facts about Presidents (a reference page)


IV. The Constitution and the Rule of Law
Unintended Irony from a Few Framers
Social Security Is Unconstitutional
What Is the Living Constitution?
The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design
The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design: Part II
Law, Liberty, and Abortion
An Answer to Judicial Supremacy?
Final (?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution
More Final (?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution
Who Are the Parties to the Constitutional Contract?
The Slippery Slope of Constitutional Revisionism
The Ruinous Despotism of Democracy
How to Think about Secession
A New, New Constitution
Secession Redux
A Declaration of Independence
First Principles
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
The Unconstitutionality of the Individual Mandate
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?
Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?
Substantive Due Process and the Limits of Privacy
The Southern Secession Reconsidered
Abortion and the Fourteenth Amendment
Obamacare: Neither Necessary nor Proper
Privacy Is Not Sacred
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Obamacare, Slopes, Ratchets, and the Death-Spiral of Liberty
Another Thought or Two about the Obamacare Decision
Secession for All Seasons
Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead
“We the People” and Big Government
How Libertarians Ought to Think about the Constitution
Abortion Rights and Gun Rights
The States and the Constitution
Getting “Equal Protection” Right
How to Protect Property Rights and Freedom of Association and Expression
The Principles of Actionable Harm
Judicial Supremacy: Judicial Tyranny
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power? (II)
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
Substantive Due Process, Liberty of Contract, and States’ “Police Power”
U.S. Supreme Court: Lines of Succession (a reference page)


V. Economics: Principles and Issues
Economics: A Survey (a reference page that gives an organized tour of relevant posts, many of which are also listed below)
Fear of the Free Market — Part I
Fear of the Free Market — Part II
Fear of the Free Market — Part III
Trade Deficit Hysteria
Why We Deserve What We Earn
Who Decides Who’s Deserving?
The Main Causes of Prosperity
That Mythical, Magical Social Security Trust Fund
Social Security, Myth and Reality
Nonsense and Sense about Social Security
More about Social Security
Social Security Privatization and the Stock Market
Oh, That Mythical Trust Fund!
The Real Meaning of the National Debt
Socialist Calculation and the Turing Test
Social Security: The Permanent Solution
The Social Welfare Function
Libertarian Paternalism
A Libertarian Paternalist’s Dream World
Talk Is Cheap
Giving Back to the Community
The Short Answer to Libertarian Paternalism
Second-Guessing, Paternalism, Parentalism, and Choice
Another Thought about Libertarian Paternalism
Why Government Spending Is Inherently Inflationary
Ten Commandments of Economics
More Commandments of Economics
Capitalism, Liberty, and Christianity
Risk and Regulation
Back-Door Paternalism
Liberty, General Welfare, and the State
Another Voice Against the New Paternalism
Monopoly and the General Welfare
The Causes of Economic Growth
Slippery Paternalists
The Importance of Deficits
It’s the Spending, Stupid!
There’s More to Income than Money
Science, Axioms, and Economics
Mathematical Economics
The Last(?) Word about Income Inequality
Why “Net Neutrality” Is a Bad Idea
The Feds and “Libertarian Paternalism”
The Anti-Phillips Curve
Status, Spite, Envy, and Income Redistribution
Economics: The Dismal (Non) Science
A Further Note about “Libertarian” Paternalism
Apropos Paternalism
Where’s My Nobel?
Toward a Capital Theory of Value
The Laffer Curve, “Fiscal Responsibility,” and Economic Growth
Stability Isn’t Everything
Income and Diminishing Marginal Utility
What Happened to Personal Responsibility?
The Causes of Economic Growth
Economic Growth since WWII
A Short Course in Economics
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
Monopoly: Private Is Better than Public
The “Big Five” and Economic Performance
Does the Minimum Wage Increase Unemployment?
Rationing and Health Care
The Perils of Nannyism: The Case of Obamacare
More about the Perils of Obamacare
Health-Care Reform: The Short of It
Toward a Risk-Free Economy
Enough of “Social Welfare”
A True Flat Tax
The Case of the Purblind Economist
How the Great Depression Ended
Why Outsourcing Is Good: A Simple Lesson for “Liberal” Yuppies
Microeconomics and Macroeconomics
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
The Deficit Commission’s Deficit of Understanding
“Buy Local”
“Net Neutrality”
The Bowles-Simpson Report
The Bowles-Simpson Band-Aid
Competition Shouldn’t Be a Dirty Word
Subjective Value: A Proof by Example
The Stagnation Thesis
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
Money, Credit, and Economic Fluctuations
A Keynesian Fantasy Land
“Tax Expenditures” Are Not Expenditures
The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty
Does “Pent Up” Demand Explain the Post-War Recovery?
Creative Destruction, Reification, and Social Welfare
What Free-Rider Problem?
Why the “Stimulus” Failed to Stimulate
The Arrogance of (Some) Economists
The “Jobs Speech” That Obama Should Have Given
Say’s Law, Government, and Unemployment
Regime Uncertainty and the Great Recession
Regulation as Wishful Thinking
Extreme Economism
We Owe It to Ourselves
In Defense of the 1%
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down
Irrational Rationality
The Burden of Government
Economic Growth Since World War II
The Rationing Fallacy
Government in Macroeconomic Perspective
Keynesianism: Upside-Down Economics in the Collectivist Cause
How High Should Taxes Be?
The 80-20 Rule, Illustrated
Economic Horror Stories: The Great “Demancipation” and Economic Stagnation
Baseball Statistics and the Consumer Price Index
Why Are Interest Rates So Low?
Vulgar Keynesianism and Capitalism
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
“Ensuring America’s Freedom of Movement”: A Review
“Social Insurance” Isn’t Insurance — Nor Is Obamacare
The Keynesian Multiplier: Phony Math
The True Multiplier
Discounting in the Public Sector
Some Inconvenient Facts about Income Inequality
Mass (Economic) Hysteria: Income Inequality and Related Themes
Social Accounting: A Tool of Social Engineering
Playing the Social Security Trust Fund Shell Game
Income Inequality and Economic Growth
A Case for Redistribution, Not Made
McCloskey on Piketty
The Rahn Curve Revisited
The Slow-Motion Collapse of the Economy
Nature, Nurture, and Inequality
Understanding Investment Bubbles
The Real Burden of Government
Diminishing Marginal Utility and the Redistributive Urge
Capitalism, Competition, Prosperity, and Happiness
Further Thoughts about the Keynesian Multiplier


VI. Humor, Satire, and Wry Commentary
Political Parlance
Some Management Tips
Ten-Plus Commandments of Liberalism, er, Progressivism
To Pay or Not to Pay
The Ghost of Impeachments Past Presents “The Trials of William Jefferson Whatsit”
Getting It Perfect
His Life As a Victim
Bah, Humbug!
PC Madness
The Seven Faces of Blogging
Trans-Gendered Names
More Names
Stuff White (Liberal Yuppie) People Like
Driving and Politics
“Men’s Health”
I’ve Got a LIttle List
Driving and Politics (2)
A Sideways Glance at Military Strategy
A Sideways Glance at the Cabinet
A Sideways Glance at Politicians’ Memoirs
The Madness Continues


VII. Infamous Thinkers and Political Correctness
Sunstein at the Volokh Conspiracy
More from Sunstein
Cass Sunstein’s Truly Dangerous Mind
An (Imaginary) Interview with Cass Sunstein
Professor Krugman Flunks Economics
Peter Singer’s Fallacy
Slippery Sunstein
Sunstein and Executive Power
Nock Reconsidered
In Defense of Ann Coulter
Goodbye, Mr. Pitts
Our Miss Brooks
How to Combat Beauty-ism
The Politically Correct Cancer: Another Weapon in the War on Straight White Males
Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare
Social Justice
Peter Presumes to Preach
More Social Justice
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Empathy Is Overrated
In Defense of Wal-Mart
An Economist’s Special Pleading: Affirmative Action for the Ugly
Another Entry in the Sunstein Saga
Obesity and Statism (Richard Posner)
Obama’s Big Lie
The Sunstein Effect Is Alive and Well in the White House
Political Correctness vs. Civility
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
Sorkin’s Left-Wing Propaganda Machine
Baseball or Soccer? David Brooks Misunderstands Life
Sunstein the Fatuous
Good Riddance
The Gaystapo at Work
The Gaystapo and Islam
The Perpetual Nudger


VIII. Intelligence and Psychology
Conservatism, Libertarianism, and “The Authoritarian Personality”
The F Scale, Revisited
The Psychologist Who Played God
Intelligence, Personality, Politics, and Happiness
Intelligence as a Dirty Word
Intelligence and Intuition
Nonsense about Presidents, IQ, and War
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
Greed, Conscience, and Big Government
Privilege, Power, and Hypocrisy


IX. Justice
I’ll Never Understand the Insanity Defense
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
A Crime Is a Crime
Crime and Punishment
Abortion and Crime
Saving the Innocent?
Saving the Innocent?: Part II
A Useful Precedent
More on Abortion and Crime
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Cell Phones and Driving: Liberty vs. Life
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime, Explained
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
What Is Justice?
Myopic Moaning about the War on Drugs
Saving the Innocent
Why Stop at the Death Penalty?
A Case for Perpetual Copyrights and Patents
The Least Evil Option
Legislating Morality
Legislating Morality (II)
Round Up the Usual Suspects
Left-Libertarians, Obama, and the Zimmerman Case
Free Will, Crime, and Punishment
Stop, Frisk, and Save Lives
Poverty, Crime, and Big Government
Crime Revisited
A Cop-Free World?


X. Libertarianism and Other Political Philosophies
The Roots of Statism in the United States
Libertarian-Conservatives Are from the Earth, Liberals Are from the Moon
Modern Utilitarianism
The State of Nature
Libertarianism and Conservatism
Judeo-Christian Values and Liberty
Redefining Altruism
Fundamentalist Libertarians, Anarcho-Capitalists, and Self-Defense
Where Do You Draw the Line?
Moral Issues
A Paradox for Libertarians
A Non-Paradox for Libertarians
Religion and Liberty
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Whose Incompetence Do You Trust?
Enough of Altruism
Thoughts That Liberals Should Be Thinking
More Thoughts That Liberals Should Be Thinking
The Corporation and the State
Libertarianism and Preemptive War: Part II
Anarchy: An Empty Concept
The Paradox of Libertarianism
Privacy: Variations on the Theme of Liberty
The Fatal Naïveté of Anarcho-Libertarianism
Liberty as a Social Construct
This Is Objectivism?
Social Norms and Liberty (a reference page)
Social Norms and Liberty (a followup post)A Footnote about Liberty and the Social Compact
The Adolescent Rebellion Syndrome
Liberty and Federalism
Finding Liberty
Nock Reconsidered
The Harm Principle
Footnotes to “The Harm Principle”
The Harm Principle, Again
Rights and Cosmic Justice
Liberty, Human Nature, and the State
Idiotarian Libertarians and the Non-Aggression Principle
Slopes, Ratchets, and the Death Spiral of Liberty
Postive Rights and Cosmic Justice: Part I
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice: Part II
The Case against Genetic Engineering
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice: Part III
A Critique of Extreme Libertarianism
Libertarian Whining about Cell Phones and Driving
The Golden Rule, for Libertarians
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice: Part IV
Anarchistic Balderdash
Compare and Contrast
Irrationality, Suboptimality, and Voting
Wrong, Wrong, Wrong
The Political Case for Traditional Morality
Compare and Contrast, Again
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
The Fear of Consequentialism
Optimality, Liberty, and the Golden Rule
The People’s Romance
Objectivism: Tautologies in Search of Reality
Morality and Consequentialism
On Liberty
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Democracy and Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Inventing “Liberalism”
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
What Is Conservatism?
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Law and Liberty
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
The Unreality of Objectivism
“Natural Rights” and Consequentialism
Rawls Meets Bentham
The Left
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
On Self-Ownership and Desert
Understanding Hayek
Corporations, Unions, and the State
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
What Is Libertarianism?
Nature Is Unfair
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
A Declaration and Defense of My Prejudices about Governance
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Cato, the Kochs, and a Fluke
Why Conservatism Works
A Man for No Seasons
Bleeding-Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists
Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
The Fallacy of the Reverse-Mussolini Fallacy
Defining Liberty
Getting It Almost Right
The Social Animal and the “Social Contract”
The Futile Search for “Natural Rights”
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Getting Liberty Wrong
Romanticizing the State
Libertarianism and the State
Egoism and Altruism
My View of Libertarianism
Sober Reflections on “Charlie Hebdo”
“The Great Debate”: Not So Great
No Wonder Liberty Is Disappearing
The Principles of Actionable Harm
More About Social Norms and Liberty


XI. Politics, Politicians, and the Consequences of Government
Starving the Beast
Torture and Morality
Starving the Beast, Updated
Starving the Beast: Readings
Presidential Legacies
The Rational Voter?
FDR and Fascism
The “Southern Strategy”
An FDR Reader
The “Southern Strategy”: A Postscript
The Modern Presidency: A Tour of American History
Politicizing Economic Growth
The End of Slavery in the United States
I Want My Country Back
What Happened to the Permanent Democrat Majority?
More about the Permanent Democrat Majority
Undermining the Free Society
Government Failure: An Example
The Public-School Swindle
PolitiFact Whiffs on Social Security
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
About Democracy
Externalities and Statism
Taxes: Theft or Duty?
Society and the State
Don’t Use the “S” Word When the “F” Word Will Do
The Capitalist Paradox Meets the Interest-Group Paradox
Is Taxation Slavery?
A Contrarian View of Universal Suffrage
The Hidden Tragedy of the Assassination of Lincoln
America: Past, Present, and Future
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
Progressive Taxation Is Alive and Well in the U.S. of A.
“Social Insurance” Isn’t Insurance — Nor Is Obamacare
“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!
Social Accounting: A Tool of Social Engineering
Playing the Social Security Trust Fund Shell Game
Two-Percent Tyranny
A Sideways Glance at Public “Education”
Greed, Conscience, and Big Government
The Many-Sided Curse of Very Old Age
The Slow-Motion Collapse of the Economy
How to Eradicate the Welfare State, and How Not to Do It
“Blue Wall” Hype
Does Obama Love America?
Obamanomics in Action
Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America
1963: The Year Zero


XII. Science, Religion, and Philosophy
Same Old Story, Same Old Song and Dance
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
Free Will: A Proof by Example?
Science in Politics, Politics in Science
Evolution and Religion
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
What’s Wrong with Game Theory
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Pseudo-Science in the Service of Political Correctness
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
Science, Axioms, and Economics
The Purpose-Driven Life
The Tenth Dimension
The Universe . . . Four Possibilities
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
“Warmism”: The Myth of Anthropogenic Global Warming
More Evidence against Anthropogenic Global Warming
Yet More Evidence against Anthropogenic Global Warming
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
Achilles and the Tortoise: A False Paradox
The Greatest Mystery
Modeling Is Not Science
Freedom of Will and Political Action
Fooled by Non-Randomness
Randomness Is Over-Rated
Anthropogenic Global Warming Is Dead, Just Not Buried Yet
Beware the Rare Event
Landsburg Is Half-Right
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
Wrong Again
More Thoughts about Evolutionary Teleology
A Digression about Probability and Existence
Evolution and the Golden Rule
A Digression about Special Relativity
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
Temporal and Spatial Agreement
In Defense of Subjectivism
The Atheism of the Gaps
The Ideal as a False and Dangerous Standard
Demystifying Science
Religion on the Left
Analysis for Government Decision-Making: Hemi-Science, Hemi-Demi-Science, and Sophistry
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
Luck and Baseball, One More Time
Are the Natural Numbers Supernatural?
The Candle Problem: Balderdash Masquerading as Science
Mysteries: Sacred and Profane
More about Luck and Baseball
Combinatorial Play
Something from Nothing?
Pseudoscience, “Moneyball,” and Luck
Something or Nothing
Understanding the Monty Hall Problem
My Metaphysical Cosmology
Further Thoughts about Metaphysical Cosmology
The Fallacy of Human Progress
The Glory of the Human Mind
Pinker Commits Scientism
Spooky Numbers, Evolution, and Intelligent Design
AGW: The Death Knell
Mind, Cosmos, and Consciousness
The Limits of Science (II)
Not Over the Hill
The Pretence of Knowledge
“The Science Is Settled”
The Compleat Monty Hall Problem
“Settled Science” and the Monty Hall Problem
Evolution, Culture, and “Diversity”
Some Thoughts about Probability
Rationalism, Empiricism, and Scientific Knowledge
AGW in Austin?


XIII. Self-Ownership (abortion, euthanasia, marriage, and other aspects of the human condition)
Feminist Balderdash
Libertarianism, Marriage, and the True Meaning of Family Values
Law, Liberty, and Abortion
Privacy, Autonomy, and Responsibility
Parenting, Religion, Culture, and Liberty
The Case against Genetic Engineering
A “Person” or a “Life”?
A Wrong-Headed Take on Abortion
In Defense of Marriage
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty
Dan Quayle Was (Almost) Right
The Most Disgusting Thing I’ve Read Today
Posner the Fatuous
Marriage: Privatize It and Revitalize It


XIV. War and Peace
Getting It Wrong: Civil Libertarians and the War on Terror (A Case Study)
Libertarian Nay-Saying on Foreign and Defense Policy, Revisited
Right On! For Libertarian Hawks Only
Understanding Libertarian Hawks
Defense, Anarcho-Capitalist Style
The Illogic of Knee-Jerk Civil Liberties Advocates
Getting It All Wrong about the Risk of Terrorism
Conservative Revisionism, Conservative Backlash, or Conservative Righteousness?
But Wouldn’t Warlords Take Over?
Sorting Out the Libertarian Hawks and Doves
Shall We All Hang Separately?
September 11: A Remembrance
September 11: A Postscript for “Peace Lovers”
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Non-Aggression?
NSA “Eavesdropping”: The Last Word (from Me)
Riots, Culture, and the Final Showdown
Thomas Woods and War
In Which I Reply to the Executive Editor of The New York Times
“Peace for Our Time”
Taking on Torture
Conspiracy Theorists’ Cousins
September 11: Five Years On
How to View Defense Spending
The Best Defense . . .
A Skewed Perspective on Terrorism
Not Enough Boots: The Why of It
Here We Go Again
“The War”: Final Grade
Torture, Revisited
Waterboarding, Torture, and Defense
Liberalism and Sovereignty
The Media, the Left, and War
Getting It Wrong and Right about Iran
The McNamara Legacy: A Personal Perspective
The “Predator War” and Self-Defense
The National Psyche and Foreign Wars
A Moralist’s Moral Blindness
A Grand Strategy for the United States
The Folly of Pacifism
Rating America’s Wars
Transnationalism and National Defense
The Next 9/11?
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
September 20, 2001: Hillary Clinton Signals the End of “Unity”
Patience as a Tool of Strategy
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
The Cuban Missile Crisis, Revisited
Preemptive War
Preemptive War and Iran
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Riots, Culture, and the Final Showdown (revisited)
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The World Turned Upside Down
Utilitarianism and Torture
Defense Spending: One More Time
Walking the Tightrope Reluctantly
The President’s Power to Kill Enemy Combatants


XV. Writing and Language
“Hopefully” Arrives
Hopefully, This Post Will Be Widely Read
Why Prescriptivism?
A Guide to the Pronunciation of General American English
On Writing (a comprehensive essay about writing, which covers some of the material presented in other posts in this section)


Not-So-Random Thoughts (XV)

Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

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Victor Davis Hanson writes:

This descent into the Dark Ages will not end well. It never has in the past. [“Building the New Dark-Age Mind,” Works and Days, June 8, 2015]

Hamson’s chronicle of political correctness and doublespeak echoes one theme of my post, “1963: The Year Zero.”

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Timothy Taylor does the two-handed economist act:

It may be that the question of “does inequality slow down economic growth” is too broad and diffuse to be useful. Instead, those of us who care about both the rise in inequality and the slowdown in economic growth should be looking for policies to address both goals, without presuming that substantial overlap will always occur between them. [“Does Inequality Reduce Economic Growth: A Skeptical View,” The Conversible Economist, May 29, 2015]

The short answer to the question “Does inequality reduce growth?” is no. See my post “Income Inequality and Economic Growth.” Further, even if inequality does reduce growth, the idea of reducing inequality (through income redistribution, say) to foster growth is utilitarian and therefore morally egregious. (See “Utilitarianism vs. Liberty.”)

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In “Diminishing Marginal Utility and the Redistributive Urge” I write:

[L]eftists who deign to offer an economic justification for redistribution usually fall back on the assumption of the diminishing marginal utility (DMU) of income and wealth. In doing so, they commit (at least) four errors.

The first error is the fallacy of misplaced concreteness which is found in the notion of utility. Have you ever been able to measure your own state of happiness? I mean measure it, not just say that you’re feeling happier today than you were when your pet dog died. It’s an impossible task, isn’t it? If you can’t measure your own happiness, how can you (or anyone) presume to measure and aggregate the happiness of millions or billions of individual human beings? It can’t be done.

Which brings me to the second error, which is an error of arrogance. Given the impossibility of measuring one person’s happiness, and the consequent impossibility of measuring and comparing the happiness of many persons, it is pure arrogance to insist that “society” would be better off if X amount of income or wealth were transferred from Group A to Group B….

The third error lies in the implicit assumption embedded in the idea of DMU. The assumption is that as one’s income or wealth rises one continues to consume the same goods and services, but more of them….

All of that notwithstanding, the committed believer in DMU will shrug and say that at some point DMU must set in. Which leads me to the fourth error, which is an error of introspection….  [If over the years] your real income has risen by a factor of two or three or more — and if you haven’t messed up your personal life (which is another matter) — you’re probably incalculably happier than when you were just able to pay your bills. And you’re especially happy if you put aside a good chunk of money for your retirement, the anticipation and enjoyment of which adds a degree of utility (such a prosaic word) that was probably beyond imagining when you were in your twenties, thirties, and forties.

Robert Murphy agrees:

[T]he problem comes in when people sometimes try to use the concept of DMU to justify government income redistribution. Specifically, the argument is that (say) the billionth dollar to Bill Gates has hardly any marginal utility, while the 10th dollar to a homeless man carries enormous marginal utility. So clearly–the argument goes–taking a dollar from Bill Gates and giving it to a homeless man raises “total social utility.”

There are several serious problems with this type of claim. Most obvious, even if we thought it made sense to attribute units of utility to individuals, there is no reason to suppose we could compare them across individuals. For example, even if we thought a rich man had units of utility–akin to the units of his body temperature–and that the units declined with more money, and likewise for a poor person, nonetheless we have no way of placing the two types of units on the same scale….

In any event, this is all a moot point regarding the original question of interpersonal utility comparisons. Even if we thought individuals had cardinal utilities, it wouldn’t follow that redistribution would raise total social utility.

Even if we retreat to the everyday usage of terms, it still doesn’t follow as a general rule that rich people get less happiness from a marginal dollar than a poor person. There are many people, especially in the financial sector, whose self-esteem is directly tied to their earnings. And as the photo indicates, Scrooge McDuck really seems to enjoy money. Taking gold coins from Scrooge and giving them to a poor monk would not necessarily increase happiness, even in the everyday psychological sense. [“Can We Compare People’s Utilities?,” Mises Canada, May 22, 2015]

See also David Henderson’s “Murphy on Interpersonal Utility Comparisons” (EconLog, May 22, 2015) and Henderson’s earlier posts on the subject, to which he links. Finally, see my comment on an earlier post by Henderson, in which he touches on the related issue of cost-benefit analysis.

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Here’s a slice of what Robert Tracinski has to say about “reform conservatism”:

The key premise of this non-reforming “reform conservatism” is the idea that it’s impossible to really touch the welfare state. We might be able to alter its incentives and improve its clanking machinery, but only if we loudly assure everyone that we love it and want to keep it forever.

And there’s the problem. Not only is this defeatist at its core, abandoning the cause of small government at the outset, but it fails to address the most important problem facing the country.

“Reform conservatism” is an answer to the question: how can we promote the goal of freedom and small government—without posing any outright challenge to the welfare state? The answer: you can’t. All you can do is tinker around the edges of Leviathan. And ultimately, it won’t make much difference, because it will all be overwelmed in the coming disaster. [“Reform Conservatism Is an Answer to the Wrong Question,” The Federalist, May 22, 2015]

Further, as I observe in “How to Eradicate the Welfare State, and How Not to Do It,” the offerings of “reform conservatives”

may seem like reasonable compromises with the left’s radical positions. But they are reasonable compromises only if you believe that the left wouldn’t strive vigorously to undo them and continue the nation’s march toward full-blown state socialism. That’s the way leftists work. They take what they’re given and then come back for more, lying and worse all the way.

See also Arnold Kling’s “Reason Roundtable on Reform Conservatism” (askblog, May 22, 2015) and follow the links therein.

*     *     *

I’ll end this installment with a look at science and the anti-scientific belief in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming.

Here’s Philip Ball in “The Trouble With Scientists“:

It’s likely that some researchers are consciously cherry-picking data to get their work published. And some of the problems surely lie with journal publication policies. But the problems of false findings often begin with researchers unwittingly fooling themselves: they fall prey to cognitive biases, common modes of thinking that lure us toward wrong but convenient or attractive conclusions. “Seeing the reproducibility rates in psychology and other empirical science, we can safely say that something is not working out the way it should,” says Susann Fiedler, a behavioral economist at the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods in Bonn, Germany. “Cognitive biases might be one reason for that.”

Psychologist Brian Nosek of the University of Virginia says that the most common and problematic bias in science is “motivated reasoning”: We interpret observations to fit a particular idea. Psychologists have shown that “most of our reasoning is in fact rationalization,” he says. In other words, we have already made the decision about what to do or to think, and our “explanation” of our reasoning is really a justification for doing what we wanted to do—or to believe—anyway. Science is of course meant to be more objective and skeptical than everyday thought—but how much is it, really?

Whereas the falsification model of the scientific method championed by philosopher Karl Popper posits that the scientist looks for ways to test and falsify her theories—to ask “How am I wrong?”—Nosek says that scientists usually ask instead “How am I right?” (or equally, to ask “How are you wrong?”). When facts come up that suggest we might, in fact, not be right after all, we are inclined to dismiss them as irrelevant, if not indeed mistaken….

Given that science has uncovered a dizzying variety of cognitive biases, the relative neglect of their consequences within science itself is peculiar. “I was aware of biases in humans at large,” says [Chris] Hartgerink [of Tilburg University in the Netherlands], “but when I first ‘learned’ that they also apply to scientists, I was somewhat amazed, even though it is so obvious.”…

One of the reasons the science literature gets skewed is that journals are much more likely to publish positive than negative results: It’s easier to say something is true than to say it’s wrong. Journal referees might be inclined to reject negative results as too boring, and researchers currently get little credit or status, from funders or departments, from such findings. “If you do 20 experiments, one of them is likely to have a publishable result,” [Ivan] Oransky and [Adam] Marcus [who run the service Retraction Watch] write. “But only publishing that result doesn’t make your findings valid. In fact it’s quite the opposite.”9 [Nautilus, May 14, 2015]

Zoom to AGW. Robert Tracinski assesses the most recent bit of confirmation bias:

A lot of us having been pointing out one of the big problems with the global warming theory: a long plateau in global temperatures since about 1998. Most significantly, this leveling off was not predicted by the theory, and observed temperatures have been below the lowest end of the range predicted by all of the computerized climate models….

Why, change the data, of course!

Hence a blockbuster new report: a new analysis of temperature data since 1998 “adjusts” the numbers and magically finds that there was no plateau after all. The warming just continued….

How convenient.

It’s so convenient that they’re signaling for everyone else to get on board….

This is going to be the new party line. “Hiatus”? What hiatus? Who are you going to believe, our adjustments or your lying thermometers?…

The new adjustments are suspiciously convenient, of course. Anyone who is touting a theory that isn’t being borne out by the evidence and suddenly tells you he’s analyzed the data and by golly, what do you know, suddenly it does support his theory—well, he should be met with more than a little skepticism.

If we look, we find some big problems. The most important data adjustments by far are in ocean temperature measurements. But anyone who has been following this debate will notice something about the time period for which the adjustments were made. This is a time in which the measurement of ocean temperatures has vastly improved in coverage and accuracy as a whole new set of scientific buoys has come online. So why would this data need such drastic “correcting”?

As climatologist Judith Curry puts it:

The greatest changes in the new NOAA surface temperature analysis is to the ocean temperatures since 1998. This seems rather ironic, since this is the period where there is the greatest coverage of data with the highest quality of measurements–ARGO buoys and satellites don’t show a warming trend. Nevertheless, the NOAA team finds a substantial increase in the ocean surface temperature anomaly trend since 1998.


I realize the warmists are desperate, but they might not have thought through the overall effect of this new “adjustment” push. We’ve been told to take very, very seriously the objective data showing global warming is real and is happening—and then they announce that the data has been totally changed post hoc. This is meant to shore up the theory, but it actually calls the data into question….

All of this fits into a wider pattern: the global warming theory has been awful at making predictions about the data ahead of time. But it has been great at going backward, retroactively reinterpreting the data and retrofitting the theory to mesh with it. A line I saw from one commenter, I can’t remember where, has been rattling around in my head: “once again, the theory that predicts nothing explains everything.” [“Global Warming: The Theory That Predicts Nothing and Explains Everything,” The Federalist, June 8, 2015]

Howard Hyde also weighs in with “Climate Change: Where Is the Science?” (American Thinker, June 11, 2015).

Bill Nye, the so-called Science Guy, seems to epitomize the influence of ideology on “scientific knowledge.”  I defer to John Derbyshire:

Bill Nye the Science Guy gave a commencement speech at Rutgers on Sunday. Reading the speech left me thinking that if this is America’s designated Science Guy, I can be the nation’s designated swimsuit model….

What did the Science Guy have to say to the Rutgers graduates? Well, he warned them of the horrors of climate change, which he linked to global inequality.

We’re going to find a means to enable poor people to advance in their societies in countries around the world. Otherwise, the imbalance of wealth will lead to conflict and inefficiency in energy production, which will lead to more carbon pollution and a no-way-out overheated globe.

Uh, given that advanced countries use far more energy per capita than backward ones—the U.S.A. figure is thirty-four times Bangladesh’s—wouldn’t a better strategy be to keep poor countries poor? We could, for example, encourage all their smartest and most entrepreneurial people to emigrate to the First World … Oh, wait: we already do that.

The whole climate change business is now a zone of hysteria, generating far more noise—mostly of a shrieking kind—than its importance justifies. Opinions about climate change are, as Greg Cochran said, “a mark of tribal membership.” It is also the case, as Greg also said, that “the world is never going to do much about in any event, regardless of the facts.”…

When Ma Nature means business, stuff happens on a stupendously colossal scale.  And Bill Nye the Science Guy wants Rutgers graduates to worry about a 0.4ºC warming over thirty years? Feugh.

The Science Guy then passed on from the dubiously alarmist to the batshit barmy.

There really is no such thing as race. We are one species … We all come from Africa.

Where does one start with that? Perhaps by asserting that: “There is no such thing as states. We are one country.”

The climatological equivalent of saying there is no such thing as race would be saying that there is no such thing as weather. Of course there is such a thing as race. We can perceive race with at least three of our five senses, and read it off from the genome. We tick boxes for it on government forms: I ticked such a box for the ATF just this morning when buying a gun.

This is the Science Guy? The foundational text of modern biology bears the title On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. Is biology not a science?

Darwin said that populations of a species long separated from each other will diverge in their biological characteristics, forming races. If the separation goes on long enough, any surviving races will diverge all the way to separate species. Was Ol’ Chuck wrong about that, Mr. Science Guy?

“We are one species”? Rottweilers and toy poodles are races within one species, a species much newer than ours; yet they differ mightily, not only in appearance but also—gasp!—in behavior, intelligence, and personality. [“Nye Lied, I Sighed,” Taki’s Magazine, May 21, 2015]

This has gone on long enough. Instead of quoting myself, I merely refer you to several related posts:

Demystifying Science
AGW: The Death Knell
Evolution and Race
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?