Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The next tack in Climate Disruption denialism - Scientists must be Nihilists

The Earth's atmosphere refracts the sunlight, ...Image via Wikipedia
Pair of posts on Keith Kloor Collide-a-Scape, about the Q&A with Judith Curry.

Might as well prepare for the next tack in Climate Disruption denialism, pieced together from those salivating at the opportunity presented by Judith Curry's delight in the role of "anti-warmist" gadfly:

1) Rollicking dialogue favored over disciplined argumentation

1 Prime) Consider dialogs under discipline that allow them to terminate at conclusions where it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.  Call these dialogs "rationally terminating" dialogs.  Beware any forum where "rollicking dialogue" is always preferred to "rationally terminating" dialogs.  Those forums simply exist to aid the Art of Controversy.

[ quote web search: "perverse to withhold provisional assent" Gould ]

2) Scientists must be held to a higher standard than their critics... becomes... The critics of scientists can sink to impossible shameful depths of poor argumentation... becomes... It is off limits to point out in the critics their impossible shameful depths of poor argumentation.

2 Prime) If there exists a forum where there is no crime that brand someone a bad actor, that forum simply exists to aid the Art of Controversy. (No problem with scientists being held to a higher standard - the problem is when the critics are never under risk to their status as a member in good standing, no matter how impossibly shameful their tactics.  Also, the standard should be stated up front, or else the floor can sink down into a infinite number of basements of shameful argumentation.)

3) With the critics of scientists, you must never consider the motivation of those critics (strangely, scrutinizing the motivation of the scientists themselves is encouraged).

3 Prime) You don't need to be much of a Bayesian to see value in being informed by judgements of motivation.  Forums where there are peculiar restrictions on when motivation can be considered simply exists to aid the Art of Controversy.

4) Scientific facts can be contaminated by a scientist with an outcome preference or a policy preference, and the critics of scientists are under no burden to speculate on the mode of contamination.  And demonstrating contamination can be a substitute for demonstrating falsehood.

4 Prime) Forums where such a concept of contaminated facts is allowed simply exist to rid the record of facts that a group of augmenters find fatal to their viewpoint.

5) Only certainty can motivate action, and uncertainty can never motivate action.  That is why nobody ever buys homeowners insurance without getting a statement of intent from an arsonist that your home is scheduled for a fire.

5 Prime) A peculiar status for uncertainty gives the motivation for the Art of Controversy.

4 + 5) Scientists must behave as perfect nihilists.  A policy or outcome preference from a scientist, even if the logical consequence of a common humane morality of care-taking for the benefit of future generations, is disallowed.  (Strangely, this requirement to be perfect nihilists only applies to scientists.)  If imperfect nihilism is demonstrated, the publications affected can be discarded.

Commentary on 4 + 5) Forums with such a concept of mandatory scientific nihilism simply exist to rid the record of facts that a group of augmenters find fatal to their viewpoint.

6) Scientists writing in casual forums always risk their reputation, for a certain group of scientists.  Scientists writing in casual forums always have their casual statements enhanced by their reputation from scientific publication, for a certain *different* group of scientists.

6 Prime) Forums with such a concept of a blessed group of scientists simply exist to rid the record of facts that a group of augmenters find fatal to their viewpoint.

7) You are not to notice that delay serves privileged groups well.  So the Art of Controversy must be only seen as a Quest for Truth.

7 Prime) Forums where the profits from delay are off limit topics simply exist to be in harmony with those profits, if not to be compensated by a fraction of those profits.

Conclusion) I will assume the burden of discipline to avoid these failure modes, in anticipation that I will be called out when I violate them.  Then, properly shamed, I will document my failure and correct.

Finially, with a sour taste in my mouth, I end with a comment reply:

"Roger Pielke Jr. Says: April 27th, 2010 at 1:12 pm" speaking of "stealth advocacy"
> No one can control how their statements are used by others.  One can however be clear on how their views map onto policy.
This implies that "stealth advocacy" can be a sin of omission.

And, let me guess, a fact put forward by a scientist guilty of "stealth advocacy" has permanent fractional worth, irregardless of the truth of the fact.

You don't need to be much of a Bayesian to see value in informing an initial judgement in a fact from a judgement of the motivation of actor positing the fact.  But it is only fair to apply this to scientists, critics, pundits, others alike.  And, eventually, the judgement of the fact in isolation of political outcomes has to swamp out the initial judgement informed by motivation.  And, the judgement process must provisionally terminate, because the value is in the result, not in the sustained controversy (provisional on information fatal to the judgement).  And, uncertainty can compel action, in the same way that uncertainty about the risks to my home can compel me to spend money on homeowners insurance, now.

It is my opinion that you would not agree with the above.  I would like to be assured otherwise (of course, you are under no obligation).

Another of my comments:
> Stealth advocacy occurs when someone claims to be only discussing the fact, but in reality, is working to constrain the scope of policy options.  Such work can be intentional or unintentional...
The thing to be maximized is not the "scope" of policy options.  I could enlarge the scope of school-day bed-time options by actively soliciting the opinion of my middle-school daughter, but I am maximizing for long term education outcomes.

Publishing valid results of the significant possibility of climate disruption inconsistent with post-industrial human population numbers would "constrain the scope of policy options", if the published work was taken seriously.  Surely this is not what you want to curtail?

If I was to be uncharitable, I would say discussing "stealth advocacy" is a technique to indefinitely prolong the process of committing to an action commensurate with the possibility of climate disruption, because uncomfortable scientific results could be judged guilty of "constraining the scope of policy options" by removing comfortable but [untenable] options from consideration.

[more 4/27/10]

quoting "Roger Pielke Jr. Says: April 27th, 2010 at 4:35 pm"
> Discussion of issues related to advocacy among scientists long pre-date arguments about climate policy.
How could I forget the controversy of tobacco carcinogenicity? ... Oops, there I go, "constraining the scope of policy options" again.

from "Judith Curry Says: April 27th, 2010 at 6:03 pm", quoting Mike Hulme: "Heated debate" http://www.thersa.org/fellowship/journal/features/features/heated-debate

I agree with Hulme that "different legitimate positions people adopt about these ideological and ethical entanglements" can, with rhetorical tricks, be falsely turned into "arguments about belief (or otherwise) in scientific claims".

But, without a motivating morality about care-taking for future generations, the whole climate disruption argument is just so much dry stuff.  And, with that motivating morality, uncertainty is a call to action, not an excuse for inertia.

Again, using the example of [purchasing] homeowners insurance, certainty does not have a monopoly on rational reasons for action.

And it would be a peculiar motivating morality about care-taking for future generations, if it did not prompt skepticism against those who would prolong discussion before meaningful action.  If it did not, it could hardly be called morality at all.

Accepting this, you would expect some viewpoints to remain permanently separated.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Pannus is just another word for nothing left to lose

This picture I drew does not represent the state of my body.  I weigh 240 lbs currently, about 50 lbs too heavy for my 6'1" frame (maybe losing that much weight would leave me pretty scrawny, but around there).  My huge belly, my jowly fat-face, and my dangerously fatty liver hold this extra weight.

Discussed with a small Loved One about the idea of a "front butt", so I sketched this out.

I wanted to bring attention to the great atheist and erotic blogger Greta Christina, and her "dieting/not-dieting/healthy-living" experience



I had lost 15 pounds, just to gain it back.  Right now I am more interested in enhancing my intentionality with eating and enjoying being active everyday.  There is evidence that your weight is a function of the availability of tasty fats and carbs, and tasty empty calories, and very little to do with individual will power.  So enhancing my intentionality about what and how and how much I eat makes more sense to me.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Don't start group discussions by sharing initial preferences

Flickr StreetFly JZ
Don't start group discussions by sharing initial preferences

British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog


When groups of people get together to make decisions, they often struggle to fulfil their potential. Part of the reason is that they tend to spend more time talking about information that everyone shares rather than learning fresh insights from each other. In a forthcoming paper, Andreas Mojzisch and Stefan Schulz-Hardt have uncovered a new reason groups so often make sub-optimal decisions. The researchers show that when a group of people begin a discussion by sharing their initial preferences, they subsequently devote less attention to the information brought to the table by each member, thus leading the group to fail to reach the optimal decision. The practical implications are clear - if you can, avoid beginning group decision-making sessions with the exchange of members' initial preferences.

I personally don't think groups should meet until they write up their own views in advance. I will strive to focus on the task of "devoting attention to the information brought to the table by each member", maybe the output of the first meeting should be nothing more or less than a summary of all the different viewpoints, and a rough ad-hoc synthesis of all the viewpoints into a whole (however inelegant). And "real" work begins at the SECOND meeting, in a manner where nothing can be swept under the rug, meaning no viewpoint can be discarded.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

What does an Unsustainable Society look like?

A segment of a social networkImage via Wikipedia

A long form comment inspired by:

Michael Tobis - "Only In It For The Gold": Still Bupkis

Quoting "watchingthedeniers":
> We should perhaps be looking at it in the context of other [successful] "PR" campaigns (in the sense the whole thing was manufactured).
Quoting "Steve Bloom"
> WtD, what gave the "scandal" media legs was the behavior of three journalists (Revkin, Pearce and Monbiot) at two outlets (the NYTimes and Guardian). In essence their coverage gave permission for the rest of the media to pile on. Revkin is most at fault IMHO.
> Actually it would be informative to re-examine Revkin's article in light of present information.
Hear, hear!

I wish I had a fraction of the gifts of John Mashey, to replicate the quality and thoroughness of his work on anti-science organizations and the few scientists they have been able to co-opt, but apply it to techniques and social structures.

What follows is a laughably bare outline, of dubious worth:

A society that is unsustainable in the long term, but stable in the short term, has this structure:

[The terms "vital few", "trivial many" are from Pareto]

"The vital few" - elites dedicated to maintaining their relative status in the short term, even to the detriment of their objective well-being in the long term.  Slavishly dedicated to seeking out short-term local maximums of their relative status.  They react badly and shut down discussion if anyone suggests their status be contingent on successful long term responsible leadership.  Stable because of all the energy these few disburse in maintaining the political structure and rules of decorum of the upper point of the pyramid.

"The trivial many" - common folk dedicated to shedding adult responsibility and shrinking the scope of their responsibility, even to the detriment of their objective well-being in the long term.  Slavishly dedicated to seeking out short-term local maximums of distractions and coping behaviors, with both distractions and coping behaviors preferred over enlarging the scope of their responsibility.  They react badly and shut down discussion if anyone suggests they enhance their responsibility and enlarge their scope of responsibility.  Stable because they have been promised plentiful distractions and pats on the head as a reward for laying prone in rough heaps - to be stepped upon by the vital few.

"The Insignificant" - everyone else who doesn't fall into the above two categories.  Too few to count.  The Internet allows these people an unprecedented ability to organize themselves.  But ultimately it is like two tiny bits of bacon in a massive bowl of split pea soup - the scarcity is so embarrassing it would almost be better to replace it with the complete absence.  And probably I am being too optimistic.  Stable because too few to count.

[Not all the members of "the insignificant" are responsible actors.  But all responsible actors, by exclusion, must be part of "the insignificant"]

The expected role of journalism: journalists are barely a part of the vital few, they have their noses pressed up the glass to better watch the waltzes and curtsies of the elites.  Journalist are under economic pressure, because neither the vital few or the trivial many are willing to pay for the type of corrective active journalism the US Founding Fathers imagined.  So really-existing contemporary journalists are attracted to an easy "he said/she said" narrative, and attracted to sources that can supply ample dumbed down copy.  Both play into the hands of well-funded PR sources, and since there is no financial mechanism to borrow dollars from a sustainable future, the money comes from the exploitation of historical unsustainable resources.

The techniques are all the old tools of the Art of Controversy.  Nothing is so easy to do as to shush down an idea nobody is comfortable with.  You would think with each error pointed out, the journalists would adopt disciplines to prevent that error from even happening again.  But everything is playing out as past anti-scientific obscurantism did, because no discipline is ever permanently retained.  [This explains why the punishment for plagiarism is so much greater and swifter than the punishment for lying and sloth and craven stenography for the purposes of the elites, in journalism.]

And, this form of journalism is socially stable because the vital few fear: (1) the responsibility of sustainability and (2) a society of plentiful human fulfilment, because they both pose a risk to their short-term relative status.  And, this form of journalism is socially stable because the trivial many fear the suggestion of enhancing their responsibility and enlarging their scope of responsibility, denying them their precious distractions and pats on the head.

The advantage of viewing all through the lens of this model is that time and energy can be saved by avoiding dialog with those who have no capability to remake themselves into responsible actors.  [Why argue with those who hold their opponents to a much higher standard of discourse than they do themselves and their friends?  Those who want a higher standard of discourse will lead by example.  This immediately paints all the alleged "reasonable skeptics/deniers" as bright red prats, you will notice.]

My preferred future: take actions to develop the pervasiveness of the morality of the sustainable long view, and the morality of plentiful human fulfilment.  Develop the pervasiveness of such morality *first*, and the programs of social and economic change *second*.  Any desire to short-cut the process will play into the hand of demagogues that simply want to change one set of worthless "vital few" with another set of worthless "vital few", to the cheers of the "trivial many".

Much like social activism of abolitionists in the late 1600's eventually led to the significant (but incomplete) eradication of slavery on December 10, 1948 (United Nations General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights).  Unfortunately, the social change of human society is literally glacial, when it comes to acquiring higher standards of morality.  Even *with* immense levels of personal dedication on the level of John Brown, Bleeding Kansas, 1855.

I appreciate your criticism of the above, so I can replace the garbage of my poorly constructed thoughts with something better.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Poppycock from Keith Kloor, whining for the loss of Climategate "He said/She said" journalistic narrative

The reconstruction of the RMS TitanicImage via Wikipedia

Poppycock from Keith Kloor.

Collida-a-Scape: Choosing Sides

Nothing here except pouting from Kloor because somebody took his journalistic "he said/she said" narrative away from him, and now he is cranky.

"He said/she said" is for shit, when the Titanic is 15 minutes away from the last possible moment the boat can be steered away from the iceberg. If re-arranging the deck-chairs while the boat sinks is folly, how much more greater the folly if the re-arranging of the deck-chairs takes place when the wheel must be turned - folding/unfolding deck-chairs in the stead of saving the ship.

The only part worth reading is Michael Tobis's comment:
You mistake anger for gloating. I am angry. The harping on the sheer nothingness behind the accusations is not celebration. It is a necessary correction. There is nothing to the accusations against Jones. I am not dancing in the street. I am feeling somewhat vindicated for getting matters right in the first place, but my dominant emotion is outrage.
Does that mean science is constructed ideally? No, far from it. I myself advocate both for far greater openness and for formalisms that go to conduct rather than just to final publication. I think pure science should look more like applied science, and in particular climate science needs to wake up to being an applied science. I see the point about circling the wagons. I see the point about opacity. I see the point about arrogance. If seeing these things more clearly is a side effect of this charade, so much the better.
But positive side effects aside, it’s still a charade. There is no cause for vilifying Jones or CRU any more than there has been in the past about Mann or Santer or whoever the bete noir of the year is in denialist circles.
The only substantive question at hand is, when someone publishes someone else’s correspondence, which party committed the crime. I would have thought it was the party doing the stealing, not the party doing the having been stolen from.
If the press continues to get that wrong, it isn’t time to be talking about two-bit tribalism or wagon-circling in the scientific community. A criminal act was committed which resulted in the persecution of the victim. That is the story. It is a pretty interesting story. Why don’t you just run with that one for a while and then get back to us, mmmkay?
Tobis continues on "Only In It For The Gold": Still Bupkis:
Until the innocence of CRU becomes clear to the casual observer, the press is complicit in a vile and inexcusable act of calumny. We won't have much to gloat about until the press examines its role in this absurd disaster.
These "science reporters"... with "friends" like these...

The take-away is:
  • Scientists will have to blog their way the front line of the narrative, to reach the public with the ability to tell shit from Shinola.
  • Pure science should look more like applied science.
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Expected Outcome, and working backwards from the Unthinkable

Diablo Canyon Power Plant in San Luis Obispo C...Image via Wikipedia
I was going through my notebook, and I just cannot find the source for one of my notes.

I am pretty sure it is from The Economist, Feb 13, 2010, special report on financial risk, but I just cannot pin it down.

The idea was that to use probabilistic tools not just to work out expected outcomes and their distributions, but also to take the Unthinkable Horrific eventualities, and work backwards to puzzle out the most likely ways that they could come into being.  And then use that to mitigate.

So, if you were considering building a nuclear power plant, you would not simply work forward to calculate expected outcomes and their distributions, but you would assemble a list of Unthinkable Horrific eventualities that relate to nuclear power plant.  You would work backwards, to assemble a list of the ways those horrific eventualities could take place, along with a likelihood (or distribution over variables).  Then you would have the basis for decisions about mitigation under economic constraints.

This cannot be done without complete transparency.  Everyone needs access to your published assumptions, because you need to be called out when your view is too narrow.  Ego and procedural niceties be damned.

Random notes: trees of scenarios, working backward under assumption of failure mode, black swans, alternatives to VAR (value-at-risk): conditional VAR, mean excess loss, mean shortfall, tail VAR.
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Monday, April 12, 2010

Michael Specter’s new book ‘Denialism’ misses its targets

Book review on Grist.org, by Tom Philpott


Scientific Denialism is an important topic, but we have to be wary of those who would simply pick winners and losers among those who sponsor denialism; in Michael Specter's book, for example, carbon fuel burners goodorganic food producers bad.  But both make scientific denialism part of their public relations schemes.
But there's another, even more glaring oversight at work here. In a book devoted to "denialism," and "how irrational thinking hinders scientific progress, harms the planet, and threatens our lives," there is almost no discussion of the most powerful and successful of all the denier cliques: those who insist human-induced climate change is a hoax.
But political and economic power are precisely what elude Specter's gaze. This great defender of science appears to be cursed with something that a love of science should have cured: naiveté. To be sure, the kind of know-nothing, reflexive anti-scienticism that Specter deplores certainly exists; and its adherents need a kick in the pants. Specter's boot misses the target. Moreover, he sees deniers everywhere, except where they are actually powerful and effective: denying climate change.
Unfortunately, to bring seriousness to the issue of climate disruption, it will take just as much work among the "friends" of science as among the "enemies" of science.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Procrastination and Falling in Love with Your Capacity to Really Fail

Characteristic hands-raised anjali greetingImage via Wikipedia

I had an unusual brainstorm on Easter weekend.  Before I continue, let me type out thoughts that help me get from an unproductive state to a productive state, and then I will get into new thoughts about procrastination.

I based all this on collecting failure modes.  As you run into difficulty, add the corrective thought to the list, that corrects the failure mode you just experienced in your life.  When the list gets too long and too unwieldy, just scrap the whole thing, and start with a fresh mind, because you are probably in a different place due to new habits of thoughts and actions and new life situations.

So, in my life, recently, I added these thoughts to a list that I force myself to contemplate when I am in a unproductive or incapable state.

The First Four:

Embrace Philosophical Security - this is the peace and security of the Stoic philosophers, such as found in Epictetus.  More than a lack of anxiety, it is a positive goal.

Embrace Epicurean Delight - In my mind it is taking enthralling happiness from the commonest of physical experiences, like a breath of morning air, or a sip of cold pure water, or grass felt by bare feet while morning rays hit your shoulders.

Embrace Graciousness - Tolerance - Accommodation - for other people and outside things, offer them all graciousness, tolerance, accommodation.  Easy to imagine the current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, acting naturally in this manner.  Just copy that way of being

Embrace Being Informed by Honest Work - how wonderful to enter a situation being informed by honest work.  You can speak with understanding, assurance, and earned confidence.

Two More:

Is my current action or inaction in opposition to any conceivable personal hierarchy of values and goals? You have some intuitive knowledge of all possible effective hierarchies of goals and values, so kick-start yourself into a compatible action, if you find your current coping or distracting action/inaction is utterly incompatible.

Link happiness to growth & improvement, and vice-versa. You have the right to define happiness however you wish, and to call whatever you wish happiness, so why not make happiness synonymous with growth and improvement.

The Latest Two:

Allowing yourself to drift through life without active intention is poisonous, just as if you bit into the bulb of a large mercury thermometer. Do everything in your power to avoid the thieves of intention.

Procrastination is not success postponed - be serious - the habit of procrastination is already failure.  Bouts of procrastination are hammer blows on the coffin lid.  When you procrastinate, you demonstrate that you ARE a failure.  These are all demonstratively true from first principals; procrastination is just a name for a form of anxiety that helps you preserve your ego, because you are clinging to the idea of success being postponed.  So, if you have the habit of procrastination, you will eventually have a crash, and a humiliating blow to your station in life.  Your only task left is to make this crash as soft a landing as possible, and to hopefully raise the bottom to limit the extent of the drop in status.

OK, done.  The heaviest thoughts are about procrastination.

There are two viewpoints when it comes to desire, intention, values, and goals.  There is the personal + intimate + internal + subjective + 100% inclusive view where your stated future desires are taken at full face value.  There is also the economic view which is external + impersonal + objective + cohort statistical based, where your stated future desires are given zero weight.

Procrastinators will be seen as wildly different in the two views.  Objectively, the procrastinator has distraction, consumption, amusement, and numbing as their highest goals, mixed in with some self torture (anxiety about how success is being postponed) only to preserve ego and a positive self-image.  This is an extremely negative way to view a person under the spell of procrastination, but it can be defended as demonstratively objectively true.

Procrastination is the funeral ceremony of your aborted higher self, the higher self that had the ability to accomplish those higher goals.  It is the funeral ceremony because you have demonstrated no ability to fulfill those higher goals, because the creatures that can fulfill those higher goals have no time for procrastination.  If the desire truly was there, you would procrastinate on your procrastination, and just dive right into your work, like a fish flailing on land, when it finally splashes back into the water, is too busy swimming to take time to beach itself again.  Procrastination is the signal that your higher self, whatever embryonic form it managed to manifest, is now dead.

Action is based on habit, and personal desires are the genesis of new habits, or the genesis of self-flagellation to preserve ego.  If all your personal desires just prompt bouts of self-hatred because of procrastination, and never prompt simply throwing yourself into your work, what are those personal desires there for?

OK, we talked about two views: the intimate & personal or the economic.  Your expected outcome is most likely to be predicted by the economic.  The End.

Am I taking things too far?  I remember that I lost my religiosity because I focused too much on an intense commitment to perform all the duties of religious faith.  I overdid it, because it is not the job of the common believer to maintain that intense commitment; I took it too far, I used a partial commitment as an excuse to dispense with all commitment.  I have mixed feelings about this, because, on the one hand, I am being honest about having a false viewpoint about religion, and, on the other hand, I cannot "rewind" my mind back to that earlier state, and I cannot say that I would prefer to be a believer again.

OK, back to the issue at hand; am I taking things too far, by calling procrastination the nails on the coffin of a higher life goal or value?

I will have to try out this viewpoint for a few days.  I will do this... Really bring into mind the feeling of realizing that my higher life goals, that I have had as constant companions for all my life, must be set aside for moving forward with more down-to-earth issues, and concentrating on preparing myself for the day when I must submit to a humiliating loss of status, and disown a big part of my past ego.  It brings things into sharp focus, and it brings home how serious is the issue of losing intention to the distractions, vices of consumption, vices of cheap amusement, vices of self-numbing.

I like this, because I cannot think of anything more fundamental than acting under intention under a moral commitment.  Forget procrastination and anything I may be procrastinating, this concentrating on action under intention is the primary important issue.
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