Quick Roundup 490

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"If you value X, then you have to agree with everything I say about Y."

Someone left the following very astute comment to a recent post of mine:

[T]he environmentalists have seized upon global warming as a flagship issue is precisely because it is hard to understand. The better to befuddle their opponents. [minor format edit]
I completely agree that this is the case. Understanding a complex piece of science like global warming is very difficult: There can be major (and perfectly honest) disagreements between experts in the field, mistakes on lower levels than the theoretical, outright fraud, and even whole areas that do not admit of ready investigation at the current level of technology.

Add to that the usual difficulties of making any political argument and the fact that laymen familiar enough with one side of such a scientific argument will often become all but unreachable because there is no way to know every detail of every nook and cranny of a scientific literature (and thus not look foolish to them). What better way could there be to cause one's opponents to waste valuable time and effort than to give them an endless reading assignment consisting of (often poorly-written) academic papers?

This is all true, but until I learned that Senator Harry Reid had "doubled down" on a particularly asinine comment likening opposition to Obamacare to opposition to the end of slavery, I felt like I was missing part of the exact method of argument, which I haven't fully conceptualized yet:
"At pivotal points in American history, the tactics of distortion and delay have certainly been present," Reid said. "They've certainly been used to stop progress. That's what we're talking about here. That's what's happening here. It's very clear. That's the point I made -- no more, no less. Anyone who willingly distorts my comments is only proving my point."
One one level, Reid is not doing the same thing as the warmists. There is no package dealing of a scientific question with one of political philosophy. For example, this debate hasn't included massive reading of medical literature by both sides. Nevertheless, Reid is clearly -- like the warmists -- indulging in a species of the argument from intimidation. But he adds a twist similar to what we see from the global warming alarmists. Who wants slavery? Who doesn't value progress?

And who doesn't value the earth we live on? Reid and the alarmists are, as incredible as it might sound, using self-interest as a means of inducing unearned guilt, and they are doing it by attempting to make people doubt that they are being conscientious enough about what they value. In a culture where most people have poorly-defined values (and even senses of self) and are thus not used to thinking deeply about their own self-interest, such a tactic, I suspect, is highly effective.

To love is to value, which is to understand the full nature of that which one values. (And regarding "full nature," it is crucial to reject omniscience as the standard of knowledge.) In the case of global warming, the question everyone who tries to become a climatological expert will fail to get (along with omniscience) from the scientific literature is: "What is the earth for?" On a metaphysical level, it has no purpose, of course, but on the ethical level, it does: To help us live. And living, for rational animals, consists in much more than the "sustainable" subsistence-level existence (if that) promoted by global warming hysterics.

If we are dead (or physically alive, but miserable), we accomplish no good by adopting the warmists' recommendations. This is very interesting to note since we haven't even reached the level of politics in the philosophical hierarchy! On that level, the current proposed "solutions" to global warming are out the window on the grounds that they violate individual rights.

There is an important difference between agreeing on principles and agreeing on how to apply them. Both matters can involve honest mistakes or evasion. (And the latter, at the personal level can also involve matters of personal taste, but this is not important here.) For example, if we grant, arguendo, that Harry Reid favors progress, we would have to say at minimum that he misunderstands the nature of progress or is misapplying the concept in some way when he equates it with what is in fact physician slavery.

Book Reviews

Fun with Gravity recently reviewed Jennifer Burns's Goddess of the Market, and The Objective Standard is making Robert Mayhew's Winter 2009 issue review of same publicly available from its web site.

I am also pleased to announce that my review of Ian Plimer's Heaven and Earth also appears in the print edition of the same issue of TOS.

More Government Corruption of Science

On the one hand, the simple fact that a scientist works for private industry as opposed to the government or academia (which is functionally almost the same thing as working for the government now) does not impugn his motives. Barring independent wealth, we all have to work for somebody, don't we?

That said, the common (and inverted) leftist premise that the government is somehow the guardian of scientific impartiality is -- finally -- being called into question by ClimateGate.

Might there now be a SwineGate to go along with ClimateGate?
World Health Organization scientists are suspected of accepting secret bribes from vaccine manufacturers to influence the U.N. organization's H1N1 pandemic declaration, according to Danish and Swedish newspapers.
Yes, but only if intellectual activists make the point whenever possible that the bribery was made possible by government interference in medicine in the first place.

In a truly free medical sector, there would probably be something like WHO in its role of keeping an eye out for epidemics and the like, but that "something" would also be non-governmental, like a Consumers' Union. If it cried "wolf" enough, people would stop listening to it and be free to move to a more conscientious and reliable body of scientists for advice on such matters. Such an organization would have a financial incentive -- that WHO does not have -- to avoid bribery and it would lack the backing of government power that WHO does possess.

As things stand now, though, the pharmaceutical firms involved, though not innocent, are getting more than their share of the blame and innocent firms are unjustly suffering "guilt" by association.

Obama Warns of "Command and Control"

It's bad when President Obama warns against too much government control, and worse that neither he nor anyone else has proposed abolishing or at least severely curtailing the powers of the EPA.

Or would that fall under "frightening" the American people too much?

What Obama is really doing instead is using the impending EPA rules to make whatever the Democrats can cook up instead seem reasonable -- as if nothing can be done about the EPA.

A Smooth Road in South Africa?

There are no excuses for the American national soccer team to fail to make a respectable showing in the 2010 World Cup: They drew an easy set of first round opponents:
U.S. national soccer coach Bob Bradley usually has a permanent scowl etched across his face, his lower lip scrunched into his upper lip like he just sucked on a lemon or got a bad meat pie from a Cape Town street vendor.

But yesterday he couldn’t help himself. He broke into a broad smile.

He caught himself, pursed his lips, furrowed his brow ... and lost the battle again. Another smile escaped.

Hard to fault him, though, after the draw for soccer's 2010 World Cup handed the Yanks one heavyweight (England) and two junior flyweights (Slovenia and Algeria) in Group C of the first round.
As an added bonus for me, anyway, England, the team I default to whenever "the Yanks" get yanked, is almost certain to make it to the next round -- especially if our side blows it again.

Objectivist Roundup

It's at Titanic Deck Chairs this week.

-- CAV


: Corrected a typo and added link to roundup.


Mike said...

I wrote on the issue of the EPA power-grab as well, pardon the link, and I definitely want to support that discussion wherever I find it (such as on New Clarion this morning also). The average person has a notion that executive agencies are a power-absorbing cancer on government, but I'm not sure people understand just how entrenched they've become, even in the face of supposed checks and balances from the other two branches.

Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, just an amusing note for you. Yesterday I had occasion to go to the office of an academic library, and the secretary had this postcard hanging above her telephone:


That's an old Soviet poster from WWII; the Russian means "The telephone chatterbox is a collaborator of the fascist spy." She (or even better, her boss) has exactly my sense of humor--but I was still extra-polite to her just in case it's not from someone's sense of humor that it was put up there. In any case, I want to get one or seventeen of them for myself now.

Gus Van Horn said...


No worries about the link -- and interesting parallel by the way. That matter has deserved much more attention from me that I have been able to give.


That commie quote is right up there with (something like), "The worker and the revolutionary are like the flower and the bee. Neither can survive or propagate without the other." That comes (I think) from an old, boring movie about Che Guevara that was made before leftists discovered the importance of hiding how dishwater-dull they were.

The quote, I think I got from a Book of Lists listing of all-time boring movies. But I won't swear by it as it was at least twenty years ago that I read it!


Andrew Dalton said...

"What Obama is really doing instead is using the impending EPA rules to make whatever the Democrats can cook up instead seem reasonable -- as if nothing can be done about the EPA."

Exactly. What was glaringly absent from the news accounts was a third possibility: that Congress can amend the Clean Air Act to curtail the EPA's power -- including making an explicit exception for carbon dioxide.

Gus Van Horn said...

Yes. Truly sickening.

Katrina said...

Your thoughts on AGW alarmists preying on under-developed self-interest is spot on, IMO. Some time ago I debated the issue with some coworkers (NEVER again will I do that!) It ended with one of them saying she supported government action against AGW because she wants her daughter to "live in a better world." At that point I got too ruffled and snapped that her daughter was going to live in a totalitarian hell. *Sigh* I'm really not cut out for activism. I just don't know what to do when I run up against a person who doesn't understand what's wrong with accepting a point of view without verifying its veracity.

Gus Van Horn said...

"I just don't know what to do when I run up against a person who doesn't understand what's wrong with accepting a point of view without verifying its veracity."

Perhaps not, but you were pretty close: You stop wasting your time on them and move on to someone who does understand the importance of his views conforming to reality.

Grant said...


I don't think global warming is all that complex. As I tried to (but failed) to say succinctly in my comment a couple of days ago, the whole thing boils down to much ado about nothing.

Even if you accept the AGW-proponents scientific assertions as true, what their "solution" (government-caused reductions of industrial activity) accomplishes is, overall, exactly the same thing as what they predict will happen without said "solution." If you cut industry with government, wealth is destroyed and people (mostly in the non-industrialized world) die (mostly of starvation). Conversely, if you don't cut industry, and it turns out that it's current levels are "unsustainable", wealth is destroyed (rising sea levels, hurricanes, etc) and people die (weather patterns mess up food production).

What's the difference?

Now, that argument certainly doesn't account for the "Nature is an end in itself, and thus man has no right to mess with it" premise. It's doesn't take on those more hard-core environmentalists who are willing to advocate large swathes of people die for the sake of nature, but taking on environmentalism in toto is one thing; taking on global warming is another.

Yes, eventually, even using my argument, you'll have to get into the philosophical arguments about man and nature, but at least you won't have to spend even a moment arguing the science about whether or not AGW is really happening.

Mo said...

the roundup was very interesting especially the link to this:


noticed the comments about "socialism light"

Benpercent said...

"Understanding a complex piece of science like global warming is very difficult: There can be major (and perfectly honest) disagreements between experts in the field, mistakes on lower levels than the theoretical, outright fraud, and even whole areas that do not admit of ready investigation at the current level of technology.

"Add to that the usual difficulties of making any political argument and the fact that laymen familiar enough with one side of such a scientific argument will often become all but unreachable because there is no way to know every detail of every nook and cranny of a scientific literature (and thus not look foolish to them)."

The difficulty and time-consumption involved in studying the science is exactly why I have remained consciously neutral in the global warming debate. Of course, as an Objectivist I am entirely opposed to the proposed government solutions as a matter of principle: I just am not qualified to judge the actual scientific matter as to whether or not the globe is warming.

Given this, how would you suggest studying the issue of global warming, Mr. Van Horn? Or, better yet, would you happen to know some resources on the proper scientific method?

Gus Van Horn said...


I think you're missing my point here.

First, the scientific question is complex and that complexity is being used as a big red herring by AGW alarmists.

Second, your argument dismisses that a scientific issue could ever legitimately warrant intervention by a government. This simply is not true.

If, for example, a chemical is known or discovered to be poisonous such that its presence in my ground water endangers my life, then it should be illegal for you to dump it in such a way that it would contaminate my well.

Now, while I doubt that global warming (if it is occurring and due to human activity) is the same type of danger, you would need to assess it scientifically if, say, there was solid evidence that it was occurring and due to human activity. You would need to ask, "Is this a big and immediate enough danger that there might be (for example) some legitimate claim of liability."

What I'm saying boils down to this: You (really meaning some pro-capitalist intellectuals) still need to be able to say something intelligent about the science if only to be able to legitimately box it into the category of "things we don't really need to worry about."

THAT issue would still exist even in a fully free society.


Grant said...


I disagree, and something Leonard Peikoff said comes to mind. I don't remember the context (if was in response to some question), but he made the point that if you want to experience the benefits of industry (and for the vast majority of humans on Earth the benefit the experience are their very lives), you cannot eschew the costs associated with it (assuming there are any - which is a scientific issue yet to be proven).

Even people who don't want to pay the costs - people who go off and live in the wilderness, and yet would still experience effects from AGW - have no legitimate claim against industry at large because, as I said, the very majority of humans owe their very lives to the existence of industry.

Gus Van Horn said...

That is PART of why I doubt you could ever end up having torts over global warming and a valid point, but such torts would apply only to people who suffered immediate effects, like rapid property loss anyway. the loons who moved to the wilderness would get nothing.

Grant said...


I'm confident you could never have torts over global warming. Even people who suffered immediate effects wouldn't have any lives/property to be affected if not for industry. At this level of thinking, life is a gamble, and sometimes you lose. That's a risk you must accept if you want to live.

Besides, even if we did accept that those people who suffer ill-effects which could be proven to be the result of something as diffuse as AGW should be compensated, who's guilty? It's absurd.

Gus Van Horn said...

Good points, AND you caused me to remember an interesting piece from a while back by Noumenal Self, in which he notes that, "But one of the problems with the GW hypothesis is precisely that the torts are so ill-defined," and goes on some more.

Thanks for your comments. This question is part of a larger bit of thinking I am doing and I do appreciate your persistence.

Grant said...


No problem. Thank you for allowing me to make them. I haven't had an opportunity to articulate them in a hands on manner like that, so I appreciate it.

Mo said...

here is some response i keep reading up on:

"The protection of the environment is the protection of property. The primary purpose of the government is to protect people from the initiation of force. If someone is taking an action that will inevitably lead to the destruction of other people's property, government has a mandate to intervene."

Steve D said...

“as incredible as it might sound, using self-interest as a means of inducing unearned guilt,”

I’ve noticed this type of argument is used a lot and wondered about it. How often are we told that we need public education because it is in our self-interest to live in a well-educated society or we need to recycle so we don’t have to live next to a dump? Heath care is pushed by the argument that they can make it cheaper.

Is this a good way to appeal to people like American’s who may have a very benevolent sense of life and are not ready to fully accept altruism? Hit them from both sides. If you are selfish government program A is in your best interest, but if you are altruistic think of all the good program A will do for the public?

So the argument is basically. Accept slavery. It is in your self-interest.

Gus Van Horn said...


I learn quite a bit from comment exchanges and have grown to think of them as crucial to my philosophical education.


What you bring up is the flip-side to what Grant was saying (and which the NS post I link to above wrestles with). I plan to look at his argument again and think about this more myself. (Also, I see that a previous old comment of yours popped up in the queue, in case you were wondering what happened with it...)


Your old comment has also just shown up today. (It's as if the manhole fire that knocked my DSL out today weren't enough, so Google had to have a hairball.)

I can't say I can strongly recommend any one source on global warming so far. Some of the scientists on this list, particularly the ones who buy into AGW, but dispute aspects of it appear to be worth reading because they understand the theory, yet also seem not to be invested in stirring up panic.

My best advice is general and applies to any question, scientific or not: Learn from multiple sources. If you are not firmly convinced on a point, admit that you don't really know and either learn what you must to become able to know or make the decision that you don't really need the knowledge at the moment. Compare any piece of potential new knowledge with what you already know, and on multiple levels. (For a small example: As a child, I remember being convinced for awhile that I had to "conserve" water -- until I learned about the water cycle. Then the whole idea of "conserving" an effectively infinite resource seemed ridiculous.)


Mo said...

well I think I am going to answer that by pointing out that protection of private property is not presupposed by protection of the environment.

Gus Van Horn said...


I think I may have misunderstood your question. Is this person somehow claiming an intrinsic value of the environment as a basis for property rights?


Steve D said...

“how would you suggest studying the issue of global warming”

Its not going to be easy and will probably require a significant time investment. To truly understand this it requires a lot of different types of expertise (meteorology, chemistry, physics etc.) as well a general background in science. I would strongly recommend that you do NOT start from scratch unless you have sufficient expertise in climatology or in one of the other fields related to climate.

The best way for a lay person to approach this is to start with editorials or essays in the popular media (or websites) written by respected scientists on both sides of the debate and then pick out the specific points they make that seem important to their arguments. Then you verify these by moving back to through the literature towards the original studies. Whether you need to actually read the original scientific literature or can just rely on reviews and summaries will probably depend upon the specific issue. The verification process will allow you to evaluate the credibility of their arguments but it will also give you basic familiarity with the literature and knowledge about other points not directly related to the specific point you are trying to verify.

Trying to find important points where respected scientists disagree on the issue but may agree on other issues and applying the above method of verification would also help to increase your understanding.

Given the comment by Gus about the scientists who dispute specific aspects of the theory please revise my statement above from ’both’ sides of the debate to ‘many’ sides of the debate.

If you do want to start from scratch you would have to break down the argument into many component parts from for example the GH properties of CO2 all the way along to what the effects of GW would actually be. In the comments to a couple of previous posts I listed SOME questions I thought were pertinent but I am sure there are lots I left out.

Also, there is an awful lot of garbage in the scientific literature and it will often be difficult for a non scientist to access the quality of the work.

“would you happen to know some resources on the proper scientific method”

There are a number of books on this subject but I wouldn’t worry too much about this at the moment since I think you can go along way with a healthy dose of common sense. It might help to read a book about a completely separate topic which is also subject to controversy. For example there are a lot of good books on the creationism vs. evolution argument which will give you a very good idea (along with real live examples) how science works and how people try to corrupt it.

Well, this addresses the limits of the theory but not the difficulty in discovery or understanding. However, since I'm a biochemist and my physics training happened long in the past I'll accept your assessment on the relative difficulty understanding the two theories.

The important point, however is how difficult they were to discover. Some theories like Aristarchus' heliocentric theory and natural selection are very simple to grasp yet took a tremendous intuitive leap to discover. This is obvious because the information necessary to come up with the theories existed for centuries before the they were discovered or rediscovered. They may seem simple but in retrospect they really were not. So my question is: given the knowledge and culture of the times, which theory (relativity or quantum mechanics) took the greatest leap of intuition and imagination.

It was said in the early days of relativity that almost no one could understand it Even accounting for some rhetorical exaggeration there was a lot of truth in this. it makes me wonder if so few people at the time could even understand the theory, how special the person

Gus Van Horn said...


That -- despite appearing to be missing a chunk -- was an excellent answer, and much better than mine on specifics. Thanks for taking the time to post that!


Steve D said...

Whoops. The last three paragraphs of my previous comment were not meant to be included since they were part of a separate discussion . I must have copied them over by mistake.

Anyway, one thing I should stress is that no matter how you go about it or whether you are a scientist or not, understanding the GW/AGW science WILL take a significant time investment.

I'm a biochemist and I've spent a reasonable amount of time looking into this and my answer is still, "I don't know". People always seem surprised to get that answer from a scientist, especially if he is reasonably informed on the subject.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for the clarification.

As to THAT topic, I am fully agreed: I expect to spend a significant time and still not be sure, but at least better able to comment on AGW more intelligently.