Quick Roundup 471

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Monbiot on Debating Science

He smears "climate change deniers" by lumping them together with creationists, and is guilty of an ad hominem attack later in this opinion piece. Nevertheless, George Monbiot makes the following thought-provoking point about scientific debates before lay audiences:

[T]rying to debate with ["deniers"] is a frustrating and often futile exercise. It takes 30 seconds to make a misleading scientific statement and 30 minutes to refute it. By machine-gunning their opponents with falsehoods, the deniers put scientists in an impossible position: either you seek to answer their claims, which can't be done in the time available, or you let them pass, in which case the points appear to stand. Many an eminent scientist has come unstuck in these situations. This is why science is conducted in writing, where claims can be tested and sources checked.
Unfortunately, Monbiot is discussing Ian Plimer's new book, Heaven and Earth, which I have recently read. Plimer has, in my opinion, unfortunately, set the table very nicely for Monbiot and other proponents of the Anthropogenic Global Warming view, as well as those who hope to use it as an excuse to greatly expand state control over the economy.

Leaving the book and the scientific debate aside for the moment, Monbiot's ad hominem raises some interesting questions.
Most of the prominent climate change deniers who are not employed solely by the fossil fuel industry have a similar profile: men whose professional careers are about to end or have ended already.
For one thing, the raising of the issue, however underhandedly, of a scientist's funding source possibly undermining his integrity hides in plain sight the fact that a great many scientists on his side arguably regard it as in their interests to ensure an uninterrupted flow of state research funds for their work. For another, it brings up a set of interrelated questions I have been contemplating for some time: What is the right time, place, and way to educate the public on scientific matters?

State funding of science, by entangling scientific debate with public policy, has unparalleled potential to corrupt the science itself and, by often prematurely or inappropriately making highly specialized matter the business of untrained laypeople, to hinder objective communication about scientific findings.

He probably does...

There are many, many things I disagree with in this blog posting on a recent speech about innovation by Barack Obama, but I think the following quote is much closer to the truth than its author does:
It is therefore conceivable that President Obama thinks innovation will occur as a result of altruistic means and in spite of patent protection.
Of course, it's also conceivable, given the effects many of his other policies will eventually have on the economy, that Barack Obama doesn't really want innovation to occur at all.

A License to Beg

If roads were privately-owned, I suspect that there would be no impetus for the government to issue permits to panhan-- I mean, trespassers .

Of Features and Bugs

During a fascinating discussion about "e-memory," Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell makes the following quip:
Forgetting is not a feature, it's a flaw. I don't think forgetting is an important feature of human memory. I think it's important to be able to remember things accurately.
His remark indrectly reminds me that control of when you remember things -- which could loosely be called "forgetting" -- actually is a feature. Just ask someone with super autobiographical memory (aka hyperthymesia).
Probably the best known of the four, Jill Price has described her "gift" as "nonstop, uncontrollable and totally exhausting." She was the first to be diagnosed with the condition, and recently published a memoir, The Woman Who Can't Forget. Price remembers most details of nearly every day she's been alive since she was 14 and compares her super memory to walking around with a video camera on her shoulder. "If you throw a date out at me, it's as if I pulled a videotape out, put in a VCR and just watched the day," she has said. [minor edits, formatting dropped]
Of course, Bell's work offers the interesting prospect of striking a happy medium between Jill Price's indiscriminate recall of everything and getting the past information you actually need when you need it.

That said, it does also raise the question of whether you'd want to rely too heavily on e-memory. I face basically the same issue every time I drive in Boston, and consider whether to use GPS. For now, I don't, because being lost is part of how you learn your way around.

-- CAV


Beth said...

I would love to hear your thoughts on Plimer's book. I am still trying to decide if I think it is more of an asset or a detriment in the fight against catastrophic anthropogenic global warming.
Plimer seems to include every article and study which has any potential to undermine the AGW arguments, but he does so without sufficient review of the quality of those papers and studies. He includes a fair number of items which are poorly carried out and have been appropriately criticized and dismissed by the opposition. By including such pieces, he has made it too easy for his entire book to be dismissed--and all the good stuff along with it.
On the other hand, by compiling such an extensive collection of material, he has provided a good resource for someone to use in order to rigorously sift out the wheat from the chaff.
What do you think?

Andrew Dalton said...

I had the misfortune of coming across this even more unhinged rant by George Monbiot today. It's pure envy and rage:

"So where are the movements protesting about the stinking rich destroying our living systems? Where is the direct action against super-yachts and private jets? Where's Class War when you need it?"

(Note: in Leftese, "direct action" means domestic terrorism.)

I disagree with David Horowitz on a lot of things, but he does a great service in pointing out the sheer malice of the Left. I think he said, quite correctly, that these types of people would put us in concentration camps if they had the chance.

Gus Van Horn said...


I am about where you are regarding the book, leaning strongly towards the book being bad on balance for those who want to gain some understanding of the scientific debate that is being used to camouflage the attack on freedom.

There will be more from me on this later, but that will have to be it for awhile.


I'm with you there. Too bad he seems to be getting away with foisting his irrational political agenda on the public while posing as a champion of reason.


z said...

For your next roundup: Did you hear? Michael Jordan is building a home in Florida. Close to 40,000 square feet.

“Who needs that kind of a footprint,” (LOL!) said Joanne Davis, a growth management specialist with 1000 Friends of Florida. “It’s insane(LOL!), a waste(LOL!). Cities see nothing more than a tax base in these giant homes, but I can’t imagine anyone needing anything like that(LOL!), except to show off. “This house is going to require an enormous use of natural resources(LOL!) for no good reason.(LOL!)”

(My comments in parentheses.)

Gus Van Horn said...

The very first line -- "Who needs that kind of a footprint," -- shows the intellectual bankruptcy of the Green variant of altruism.

Ethics is needed only by living, volitional beings, as advice for their being able to survive and prosper. Michael Jordan needs that house. He harms no one by building it. Nature just is.

And yet the implied answer to that question is: Nature. Its alleged needs are to guide Michael Jordan's actions, and it, not Michael Jordan is to be the beneficiary of those actions. And what of Micheal Jordan? Plenty of environmentalists will go the next step and argue explicitly that "Nature" would be better off without him.

Mo said...

speaking of Michael Jordan here is a very good clip:


Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks. I'll have to check it later, though: No sound and slow feed as of now. Perhaps it's a peak hour for YouTube...

Jim May said...

that Barack Obama doesn't really want innovation to occur at all.

That would be rather conservative of him.

Andy said...

On the GPS front, having lived in Boston for a couple of decades on and off: having a GPS, and using it daily, is a godsend. Not to save me when I'm lost, but to have up so I can gain better familiarity not only with the route I'm on, but with how it might have an adjacency to another route.

Gus Van Horn said...


Heh! Shhhh! You're getting too close to the awful truth about the two "ends" of the current political "spectrum" here!


I definitely see merit in using one eventually. To say that Boston isn't laid out as a grid is a gross understatement! And, on top of that, you have things like I encountered on my last trip: A road, midway through the route I wanted to take, transitioned from two-way to one-way (the wrong way).

I'm not going to charge myself with remembering EVERY instance of that sort of thing. I think that here, knowing the lay of the land in areas you drive frequently is a reasonable goal, but learning the whole town borders on being a fool's errand.