Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, August 14, 2020

Notable Commentary

Image by Kaleidico, via Unsplash, license.
"What new steps will businesses need to take in the future to protect themselves from presidents who, instead of the Art of the Deal, prefer the Art of the Shakedown?" -- Raymond Niles, in "The Art of the Shakedown" at The American Institute for Economic Research.

"The inability of patent owners to obtain injunctions is wreaking havoc in the U.S. innovation economy by creating disincentives for inventors and investors." -- Adam Mossoff, in "The Supreme Court or Congress Must Restore Injunctions for Patent Owners" (PDF) at The Heritage Foundation.

"The great paradox of the American promise, however, is that it unites two seemingly contradictory principles: equality and inequality." -- C. Bradley Thompson, in "Equality and the American Dream" at RealClear Politics.

"[W]hen we read stories about various drugs or vaccines that might (or might not) work, it's probably wise to temper our initial exuberance (or disappointment) at early results." -- Paul Hsieh, in "Blood Type May Have Minimal Effect on Covid-19 Health Risk" at Forbes.

"To do better we need to take seriously, and strictly delimit, the government's necessary role in an infectious disease pandemic." -- Onkar Ghate and Elan Journo, in "It's Past Time for a Pandemic Testing Strategy" at The Hill.

"Shouting that they're evading and being dishonest isn't helpful, because in the best cases what's actually going on is they know you might be right and they're afraid of the enormous impact changing their mind would have on their life." -- Don Watkins, in "The 7 Realities of Political Persuasion" at Don's Writing.

"To understand why this absence of any positive ideals is so worrisome, and why a counter-movement focused on negatives has to either fail or lead to something worse than the status quo, consider two examples." -- Don Watkins, in "If You Stand for Nothing, What Will You Fall For?" at Don's Writing.

-- CAV


Dinwar said...

One of the more depressing aspects of the pandemic is that it brings into sharp focus just how broken society's concept of science is. As a scientist I've found the research around Covid-19 to be good, solid, but not terribly novel research. I don't mean to diminish the efforts or accomplishments of those who are doing the research; I just mean that they aren't shifting any paradigms here. They are applying well-vetted tools to a novel virus in ways already known to get results--exactly what we need. The general public, in contrast, sees the constant revisions to our understanding of the virus as somehow a failure of science. People seem to think that scientists changing their minds is a sign that the process doesn't work.

What Dr. Hsieh presents is a perfect example. Any researcher knows that when you have a small number of tests, random chance can play a huge role in things. Divide a population by any arbitrary feature and study an unrelated measurable aspect and you'll see variations. If you're in a classroom you can divide kids by shirt color and it's almost a certainty that one group will be on average taller than the others. To a scientist, or anyone familiar with statistical reasoning, Dr. Hsieh's point is trivially true; it's pretty much a given. But the general public simply doesn't understand this. I've seen people--intelligent, educated people--argue that this means early studies are somehow flawed. They fail to understand the importance of further study, and the importance of having an idea to test in the first place.

I think a big part of the problem is that we teach science as a body of facts. Despite lip service paid to "the scientific method" (something that I have never, in over a decade as a professional scientist, heard or read a researcher say they're using), we simply don't emphasize the experimental nature of science. Look at any test given in a science class. You rarely get a test that looks at experiments, data, or what further questions can be asked. What you get are questions on known equations, on historical trivia (while giving credit where it's due is important, fundamentally what does an accountant care who developed the nebular theory of planetary formation?), and free-floating out-of-context facts. This leads to a society where people may enjoy random scientific facts but where people fail to understand the process of doing science.

I've heard it said that the pandemic is going to shake up our educational institutions. One can only hope that part of this shake-up is to drastically improve the way we teach science!!

Gus Van Horn said...


"But the general public simply doesn't understand this. I've seen people--intelligent, educated people--argue that this means early studies are somehow flawed. They fail to understand the importance of further study, and the importance of having an idea to test in the first place."

And don't forget all the global warming catastrophists screaming that "the science" is "settled."

In addition to the fact that most people are miseducated in science, inordinate government control of the economy results in people treating scientists more like infallible gurus than as the advisors they actually are, and who sometimes have to revise their opinions ... just like everyone else.


Anonymous said...

Hi Gus, and Dinwar,

While I agree with the ideas expressed in your comments, I have to say that I think the problem is less that of society at large and more of a problem with the scientific community itself.

How many times in the past 40 years has the scientific community aided and abetted ideological advocates pushing a political agenda that, for some reason, is consistently anti-individual rights and for the accretion of power in the hands of the bureaucracies? And doing so by either promulgating or not calling out that the false-to-fact assertions that conveniently drive this anti-human and broadly left-wing agenda. (And that's leaving aside the cases where the scientists themselves are political activists.)

Putting aside the question of global cooling, I mean, global warming, I mean climate change, these are just a few of the things that I can recall, off the top of my head.

Population Bomb
Famines killing millions by 1985
Heterosexual AIDS
particulates (at increasingly smaller sizes) and public health
Banning firearms as a 'public health' issue - a favorite of the CDC until they were legislatively forbidden to pursue it
Fossil fuels' deleterious effects on EVERYTHING!
the 'threat' of nuclear power generation
how agriculture is going to create massive desertification and erosion of top soils
how the cattle industry is going to destroy range lands
acid rain
how pesticides make the food chain unsafe
how the timber industry will lead to massive deforestation, erosion, destroying rivers, etc.

Then we have Ferguson of the UK's whose model was used to justify the economic lockdowns
Mis-predicted the BSE-CJD crisis in Britain by 3 orders of magnitude
Screwed up the first Ebola outbreak predictions
Having learned his lesson, made the next Ebola prediction so vague as to be unusable
As far as I can tell, Ferguson has yet to get any major epidemiological prediction right and our 'crats STILL used his model to make policy in the U.S.

All of the above crises have a few things in common:
The proposed solutions are always an expansion of gov't and a curtailment of economic and personal freedom.
There is little to no push back from the scientific community in regard to those policy prescriptions. (This is likely because the scientific community is overwhelmingly technocratic with left-wing sympathies)
Laymen who push back on the policy prescriptions are maligned as know-nothings at best, and Holocaust-Denier-Equivalents at worst, with some members of the 'scientific community' recommending prison time and re-education.

There's a name for this. It's called 'Lysenkoism'.


Anonymous said...


So, even if solid research is being done on the corona virus, the public is rightly skeptical of the changing narrative and unlikely to put it down to an exercise of the scientific method because:
1) The history of scientists using their prestige to push ideological and negative public policies onto laypeople in general.
2) The fact that the CDC lied (in classic Krugman 'nudge' fashion) about the efficacy of masks, only to reverse themselves when the expedient moment passed.
3) The behavior of these technocrats wherein the idea of 'Rules for Thee But Not for Me' seems paramount, including, but not limited to Fauci and his First Pitch Masking/Grandstand Unmasking and Ferguson With His Mistress Episode.
4) The fact that not one of these science/policy/political people is going to miss a single meal, let alone a paycheck whilst the general population is having their finances, careers, businesses, and lives destroyed. As Taleb would put it; they have no skin in the game. (Arguably, they have 'negative skin' in the game.)
5) All of this happening in the context of the Left in America being on record as wishing and hoping for an economic recession so that they can 'Get Rid of Trump'. And I'd lay odds that includes a substantial proportion of the 'scientific' bureaucracies. Something on the order of 85%, if I recall the surveys correctly.

And while I agree that education in this country leaves a great deal to be desired regarding scientific literacy (a problem that can also laid at the feet of the Technocrats), the politicized behavior of the scientific community bears far more blame on this topic. Because they should, and probably do, know better. But are willing to sacrifice their integrity for political motives. And are on record saying as much.

c andrew

Gus Van Horn said...


You are correct to point out where the scientists themselves are to blame -- be it uncritically or cynically -- for pushing government encroachments on liberty.

Dr. Birx hit the news just this morning saying the US should have locked down like Italy. (And I recall that Obamacare's architect advocated the same ... until there is a vaccine). This is myopic at best, and shows the limits of trusting experts ... outside their fields.


Dinwar said...

The problem (and this relates to today's blog post) is separating out the science from the policy-making. Science is the discovery of facts about our world via hypothesizing and testing hypotheses (natural experiments being included under the heading "testing"). Someone examining ice cores and determining the past temperature of the Earth is conducting science; someone saying "Therefore we must cut fossil fuel consumption" is engaging in policy. Separating the two can be a lot trickier than the people (including scientists) often believe, especially when you're doing research that involves time-series because any statement of "This could happen in the future" implies certain actions should be taken.

It's sort of darkly amusing that you include climate change in that list. I'm an outlier there. Iv'e studied paleoclimatology, isotopic paleothermometers, and a few other relevant fields, and I've drawn my own conclusions on the subject. I don't fit in either the Denier OR the Alarmist camp. So how folks view my stance depends on what they believe--if they're a Denier I'm an Alarmist, and if they're an Alarmist I'm a Denier. I've had people who barely know what an isotope IS tell me I need to get educated on the topic because I didn't buy into their pet hypothesis, along with threats of violence should I continue to disagree (from both sides, though the Alarmists tend to be more violently inclined). The idea that this is a complex topic not really amenable to Us vs Them thinking eludes even many researchers in the field.

All of this is exacerbated by the funding mechanisms and reporting mechanisms in science. Our society has bought wholesale the ridiculous notion that government money is pure and good and wholesome, while industry and private money is vile and corrupt and taints everything it touches. The reality is that NO ONE offers you tens of thousands of dollars without the expectation that you'll tell them what they want to hear. There are a lot of ways, subtle and gross, to use funding to manipulate a field of study, and unfortunately scientists don't usually consider them when the funds come from taxpayers. And when your funding comes from a group who's only marketable skill is convincing people to give them power, guess what answers they want to hear?

Ultimately, I agree with you: scientists as a whole need to get our acts together. We need to re-examine how we fund research, we need to re-examine how we publish research, and we need to seriously consider how advocacy and research interact.

Gus Van Horn said...