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Attacking Science to Defend Beliefs

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One of the odd things I observe is the way some posts or issues regularly elicit heated reactions. For instance, early in the days of euro wobbliness, some readers in Europe would go a bit off the deep end at the suggestion that the Eurozone has serious structural weaknesses. It wasn’t so much that these readers found weaknesses or shortcomings in the post; it’s that its conclusion was clearly deeply offensive to them. While many of the upset reactions still addressed the substance of the argument, others, when you cut to the chase, simply attacked the source or were otherwise incoherent.

The problem is the difficulty of recognizing when one’s mental model of how the world works maps reasonably well onto currently available information, and the difficulty of dealing with “information” (which can include statistics, anecdotes, opinion from Credible Experts) that is inconsistent with that framework. Few of us have the intellectual flexibility of Keynes, who defended his repudiation of some of his earlier work by saying, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” When dissonant facts start showing up, is it that the data is suspect or the model that is out of whack?

A disconcerting tendency that may also impair adaptability (and this seems to be particularly pronounced in the US) is the tendency to engage in black and white thinking. If (in someone’s mind) the only alternative to one view is its polar opposite, that makes it hard to adjust one’s perspective.

Ars technica presents a more specific example of this phenomenon, of how people defend their mental models in the face of confounding evidence. A study from the Journal of Applied Social Psychology looked into some of the mechanisms that individuals use to reject scientific information that is at odds with their views. Admittedly, this is a small scale study, so one has to be cautious in generalizing from it. But it does seem consistent with some of the strategies I routinely seem in comments.

From ars technica:

It’s hardly a secret that large segments of the population choose not to accept scientific data because it conflicts with their predefined beliefs: economic, political, religious, or otherwise. But many studies have indicated that these same people aren’t happy with viewing themselves as anti-science, which can create a state of cognitive dissonance. That has left psychologists pondering the methods that these people use to rationalize the conflict.

A study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology takes a look at one of these methods, which the authors term “scientific impotence”—the decision that science can’t actually address the issue at hand properly. It finds evidence that not only supports the scientific impotence model, but suggests that it could be contagious. Once a subject has decided that a given topic is off limits to science, they tend to start applying the same logic to other issues…

Munro polled a set of college students about their feelings about homosexuality, and then exposed them to a series of generic scientific abstracts that presented evidence that it was or wasn’t a mental illness (a control group read the same abstracts with nonsense terms in place of sexual identities). By chance, these either challenged or confirmed the students’ preconceptions. The subjects were then given the chance to state whether they accepted the information in the abstracts and, if not, why not.

Regardless of whether the information presented confirmed or contradicted the students’ existing beliefs, all of them came away from the reading with their beliefs strengthened. As expected, a number of the subjects that had their beliefs challenged chose to indicate that the subject was beyond the ability of science to properly examine. This group then showed a weak tendency to extend that same logic to other areas, like scientific data on astrology and herbal remedies.

A second group went through the same initial abstract-reading process, but were then given an issue to research (the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent to violent crime), and offered various sources of information on the issue. The group that chose to discount scientific information on the human behavior issue were more likely than their peers to evaluate nonscientific material when it came to making a decision about the death penalty.

Yves here. I’m not certain whether the authors are being tongue in cheek in this section:

….it might explain why doubts about mainstream science seem to travel in packs. For example, the Discovery Institute, famed for hosting a petition that questions our understanding of evolution, has recently taken up climate change as an additional issue (they don’t believe the scientific community on that topic, either). The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine is best known for hosting a petition that questions the scientific consensus on climate change, but the people who run it also promote creationism and question the link between HIV and AIDS.

Yves again. It is worth considering whether some of this “science can’t evaluate this area” meme exists is at least in part because it is being marketed. Perhaps I lead a cloistered life, but when I was younger, say 20 years ago, I can’t recall encountering this line of argument.

The book Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance gives a detailed account of how the tobacco industry first tried to keep research about smoking-related cancers out of the public eye, and when that started to fail, to attack the science (“Doubt is our product”). One of its late-stage techniques was to promote the idea that the topic wasn’t settled when a tally of the then-available research would say otherwise. Given that knowledge is often the product of political and cultural battles, promoting higher-order anti-science ideas (“science has very considerable limits, there are a lot of areas outside its ken”) gives those who would seek to reshape mass opinion more freedom of action.

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138 comments

  1. Mogden

    It reminds me of the common tendency of people to adopt their chosen political party’s philosophies on a whole range of issues, rather than considering them individually, even when these philosophies are obviously bankrupt or contradictory.

  2. eric anderson

    “Regardless of whether the information presented confirmed or contradicted the students’ existing beliefs, all of them came away from the reading with their beliefs strengthened.”

    This sounds like a study my favorite radio preacher brought to my attention recently, with a caution that argumentation can often be counterproductive. You may leave the person you oppose with an stronger attachment to his opinion, even if you present reliable facts and sound logic to support your position.

    Fraud in the financial system, continual blatant lying from the political class, and being strengthened in one’s views when presented with evidence opposing those views — these are all facets of a human capacity for deception, including self-deception. It is a moral sickness.

    The practical takeaway point is that if you correct someone’s error and find him completely impervious to sound argument, just quit and go away. To continue to press your point is counterproductive, solidifying your opponent in his position, making it harder than ever for him to ever see light.

      1. alex black

        “The first Priest was the first rogue who met the first fool.” – Voltaire

        1. i on the ball patriot

          If You Meet The Science On The Road, Kill It.

          All science is predatory, exploitative, and deceptive in intent, as it is used to get the needs met of the individuals performing the science.

          The facts are always that the intent of the scientifically gathered facts are to get needs met and further the evolution of the facts gatherer. Performing science, gathering facts, is an integral part of the process of perception.

          The core struggle in all organisms, in self and in aggregate societies, is deception, in all of its forms, pitted against perception.

          Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

  3. Debra

    Um… Yves ?
    May I call you by your first name ?
    I highly suggest you take a look at Theodore Roszack’s book “Where the Wasteland Ends”, for a discussion on scientific materialism proposed by a man who is definitely NOT a radical Republican.
    I consider myself, and my thinking, to be in the continuity of… my Occidental heritage. I have read… Plato. Rousseau. Freud, among others. And the Bible, too, in parts. (Read THEM, and not cliff notes.)
    Just some… semantic questions…
    WHAT is “science” ?
    The word “science” has a very long history in our civilization, and emerged as an activity directly in relation to God in medieval (NOT DARK AGES…) times.
    It is a word that has… changed meaning radically in the course of 1000 years.
    Is it possible to talk about “science” (which is a substantive), while… neglecting scientists ?
    Is… BELIEF in “science” possible ?
    If you believe in science, HOW do you know that what you believe is… TRUE, for example ?
    Because everybody else thinks it’s true ?
    Because your society has a consensus saying that the product of scientific experiments is truth ?
    The problem is… this consensus no longer exists in our society.
    What makes… other people’s beliefs.. LESS VALID than yours, if you are of a scientific bent ?
    Personally, I am a relativist.
    I do not believe in.. the TRUTH.
    I do not believe that “the truth” can be found ANY MORE in scientific experiments than it can in… religious systems.
    Does that make me… “irrational” ?
    WHO says that the people, in our historical times that call themselves scientists advance ABSOLUTE PROOF of their… BELIEFS ?
    Isn’t PROOF also a matter of sheer… consensus ?
    WHAT makes the experts… EXPERTS ? From “what” does their authority derive ?
    Our ancestors were convinced that what THEY BELIEVED was the “truth”, too.
    And WE, looking back at them, say that they were.. wrong (when we don’t cruelly laugh at their beliefs in sheer hubris).
    In three hundred years, what will our descendants say about… OUR BELIEFS ??
    As I have already stated here, most people do not have a clue how scientific materialism STILL inflects their… BELIEFS about their world.
    You can’t escape belief. Imagining you can is… hubris.
    What you CAN and DO escape most of the time is your consciousness of YOUR belief.
    I won’t go into the rationality issue here. It would make this comment too long.

    1. alex black

      BZZZT! Oh, I’m sorry, but you just challenged a predominant consensual belief. But thanks for being a contestant on our show. Johnny, what do we have for our loser?

      “We have societal exile, soon to arrive in the form of outraged responses.”

      Epistemology can be fun when played by people who are willing and able to examine EVERYTHING they believe, and are willing to give it up. Unfortunately, few qualify.

      But since you’ve read Plato, you may have met one of the very few who ever did. When someone told Socrates that the Oracle at Delphi had declared him to be the wisest man alive, Socrates said, “Huh. Interesting. That’s probably because I’m the only one who knows that I don’t know anything.”

      1. Debra

        Alex.. are you SURE you looked at Socrate’s reponse closely enough ?
        “I’M THE ONLY ONE WHO KNOWS that I don’t know anything”.
        Sounds like Plato was having a little fun there, wasn’t he ?

        1. alex black

          Debra – I’m going off memory – I read Plato when I was 16, and did a lot of mescaline when I was 17…. :-)

          1. Piero

            You should try I.F. Stone’s book The Trial of Socrates. The impression formed is quite different from the typical false modesty version of Socrates. Stone began the book thinking he was going to be writing a tome about how ignorant masses hate the learned. What he found was that the leaders of anti-democratic movements in Athens had consistently been proteges of Socrates. The great Socrates comes off rather like an insufferable snob and actually some degree of threat to democracy, perhaps not deserving of exile or the cup of hemlock he chose to take but far from the unblemished Socrates of hazy popular imagination.

    2. DownSouth

      Debra,

      Even though I’m certainly no relativist (more of a skeptic or agnostic), I nevertheless find your comments refreshing. Some questioning and examination of the scientific materialism that dominates our culture is certainly in order.

    3. Ming

      There is an error your logic. You say do not believe in absolute truth; that in fact all truth is relative or via consensus…. But this statement itself is an absolute statement…. Which means an absolute truth does exist. It is logical to conjecture that if one absolute truth does exist, other absolute truths may exist.

      My position on truth is a combination of different ideas, some truth is relative and some truth is absolute.

    4. Attitude_Check

      Truth can stand scrutiny, Falsehoods cannot.

      Of course the testing may take time — hence the old saying “… has withstood the test of time”

  4. alex black

    People who get happiness from a belief will NOT give it up, unless they find another one that makes them happier – or until some aspect of reality overwhelms it. A million examples exist, but since this is an economics blog, here’s a fun one.

    I have a friend here in San Francisco who is a psyhotherapist. Here, the closest thing we’ve had to a collective religious belief is that “housing prices will always rise, or recover.” Last year, he told me that 80% of his new patients were people who were trying to sell their homes, and had discovered that they couldn’t get 2007′s price, shattering their plans and dreams – and were simply unable to cope with the way that their core belief, which had made them feel so secure and happy for years, was being defied by the facts on the ground.

    He said it takes a lot of work to help them re-orient. A lot of them became Buddhists.

    1. Ming

      I can sympathize with those folks…..I experienced plenty of financial and personal pain after the Dot-con Crash of 2000.

      But pain can be very constructive, as strips away ones illusions about life and about oneself. I am thankful for that experience, although I would have perferred to have learnt the wisdom without having so
      much pain .

      But I do still have one gripe though, the bankers, although caught with blatant lies, still got away with the whole deception and their bonuses intact. Only frank quatrone had some trouble, but he was still got away.

  5. Debra

    Alex…
    Re Jacques Barzun…
    I BELIEVE.. that you can tell when decadence has arrived in a civilization by the incapacity of that civilization’s belief systems (including scientific materialism, by the way…) to give meaning to the largest number of people within that civilization.
    Housing prices as a belief system…
    No comment.
    What is even worse is… our widespread collective cynicism about those belief systems.
    An evident symptom of decadence in my book.
    “Lucidity” and melancoly go hand in hand…

    1. DownSouth

      What is even worse is… our widespread collective cynicism about those belief systems.

      And thus the second great crisis of modernism. (The first great crisis, when modernism’s belief system was shaken to the core, occurred during and in the years immediatley following the WWI-Great Depression-WWII era.)

  6. Kiste

    Here’s the thing: economics is not scientific, it’s more akin to theology. Science requires evidence, not “anecdotes” or “expert opinions” (things you, oddly enough, explixity mention) – neither of which constitutes valid evidence in science. That leaves statistics, but people rarely question statistics, they question the interpretation of statistics.

    What you’re essentially saying is: believe in our conclusions based on anecdotes and “expert” opinions.

    This has nothing to so with science.

    It’s faith.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Kiste,

      Um, did you not notice that I wrote a book attacking mainstream economics? I refer you to the upper right hand corner of this page :-). And it specifically, and at length, attacks the scientific pretenses of economics.

      The ferocity of some of the early rejection by Europeans of the idea that the Eurozone arrangements were going to be under serious stress was that they argued that they could indeed successfully implement the austerity measures. A common reaction was that “Euroskeptics” were unfairly and inaccurately maligning them. The commentary on the economic challenges was seen as an existential attack.

      1. Kiste

        I know. I didn’t read it yet. Still, you seem to be equating science and economics. I find that offensive to science.

        It’s one thing to believe in the veracity of the outcomes of the scientific process with its diligent empiricism, it’s testable hypotheses and its culture of peer review.

        It’s another thing believe in the ramblings of economists whose opinions are based on hypotheses that are often inherently untestable and whose idea of “empiricism” is taking statistical data and then interpreting it through the tinted glasses of their economic pet theory.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I’ve never said that, that is your projection. If you read Links, or the history of this blog, I do not limit the posts strictly to finance and economics (look, we’ve just had a whole series on the Deepwater Horizon, for instance, including guest posts from a former petroleum engineer). In fact, one of the reasons I don’t post as much about global warming as I used to is that I am tired of reading the poorly reasoned yet very loud and insistent complaints I get in comments.

          If you look at my reply to attempter below, the upset reaction of some European commentators was based on THEIR having embraced the ideology of neoclassical economics. They were insistent that wearing the austerity hair shirt would be good for them and they were prepared to take the pain. The illustration was to point out how people react when their belief systems are challenged.

          Over 1/3 of ECONNED is a dissection of what is wrong with economics, with a chapter devoted to how its scientific pretenses, which led to a peculiar fixation with certain types of mathematics as proof of “rigor”, resulted in the obverse of good scientific practice, namely, a lack of interest in empirical testing of theory (and worse, continued reliance on theory as a guide to policy when it clearly has little application and even some of the creators of those policy-influencing theories have effectively renounced them).

          1. Kiste

            I’ll make sure to read your book.

            Unless I completely misread your article, you seem to compare people who rejected the point of view of the “euroskeptics” with people who irrationally reject scientific evidence.

            My point is: it’s not the same thing. Rejecting scientific evidence to maintain your believe is irrational.

            In the realm of economics, there little rationality to begin with. It’s a wash. It’s like following one school of Islam or the other. It’s like believing in the words of one evangelical TV preacher or another. When you’re in a “my bullshit vs your bullshit” world, like economics, then there is little reason to believe anything. Might as well stick to your ideology.

          2. Yves Smith Post author

            Kiste,

            I am quite cognizant that social sciences are not the same as hard science. I used the example of the EU to pick something other than the obvious example (global warming) because if I used global warming, I was certain to have comments go off the rail on that topic, and not deal with the substance of the post. And if you bothered to re-read the first paragraph, I was explicitly separating out those who has substantive, reasoned objections, versus those who had emotional responses because I had offended their belief systems. Your characterization of that paragraph is inaccurate.

            I then have several paragraphs of bridge from the general case of the use of mental models and the way people seek to defend them rather than adapt, to the specific topic under discussion, that of the rejection of scientific findings, and the particular tactic of questioning the ability of science to tackle areas of legitimate scientific inquiry. The post treats the rejection of science as a particular illustration of a broader phenomenon, namely how people can have a considerable investment in certain beliefs about reality.

  7. attempter

    For instance, early in the days of euro wobbliness, some readers in Europe would go a bit off the deep end at the suggestion that the Eurozone has serious structural weaknesses and that the austerity regimes required of the deficit countries looked unattainable (and even if they could be met, success would be a Pyrrhic victory). It wasn’t so much that these readers found weaknesses or shortcomings in the post; it’s that its conclusion was clearly deeply offensive to them.

    Yes, it’s true that many people find the proposition morally deeply repulsive that the non-rich, already beleaguered by job destruction and the shredding of the safety net, should be crushed by “austerity” in order that the banks can be bailed out and the rich can continue evading taxes, such that even if there were reason to believe this course of action would bring broad prosperity 20 years from now they’d still reject the idea.

    Of course neoliberalism has been dominant for c. 40 years now, and that broad “prosperity” remains just as much a vapor on the horizon today as it ever was, except to the extent that a debt ponzi scheme could temporarily prop up a version of it.

    The fact is that we know by now, empirically, that neoliberalism’s version of the “sacrifice today so we’ll have utopia tomorrow” lie is the exact same Big Lie as when any other ideology or regime told it. We know for a fact that prosperity will never “trickle down”, and that it was never intended to trickle down.

    So by now anyone who rejects the predatory prescriptions of the kleptocracy is acting based on the overwhelming evidence, therefore “scientifically” for purposes of this discussion, while anyone who still retains faith in trickle down is truly mired in a cult fundamentalist mindset.

    So much for the proposition that broad-based prosperity can be attained by continuing down the neoliberal path. As for whether exponential debt can be forever zombified under any circumstances, let alone whether reality-based growth could ever again be attained, it’s the physics of energy which says No, while the cornucopianism of debt and energy is always reduced in the end to the religious proposition, “technology will save us; technology will always find a way”.

    So there too, whatever emotions may go into the skeptical mindset, science is not on the side of the pollyannas.

    Technology did not in fact find much of a way (by modern standards) prior to the fossil fuel age, and a scientifically sober mindset would start with the theory that it will not be able to sustain anything like this level of energy consumption and massive, top-heavy, high-impact centralization post-Peak Oil.

    And then there’s every other resource limitation. There’s the stark unreality of the very concept of exponential growth. Really, it’s hard to imagine a less scientific mindset than that which believes there’s a way to “grow” out of this already absurdly unsustainable predicament.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I suggest you go back an read the posts in question. The reaction of the loud and upset EU commentators was the OPPOSITE of the one you riff out.

      They SIDED with the need for fiscal austerity, and INSISTED their societies were ready to make the sacrifice. Readers from Spain, Greece, and Portugal all took this stance.

      By contrast (see the accompanying post tonight), we’ve said this is not a good idea. There is NO pretty way out of this mess. However, the highly probable end result of this path the EU is choosing is default (the only open question is what the mix of sovereign v. private sector defaults will be). It’s better to do it sooner, via restructuring,

      1. attempter

        Sorry, I wasn’t clear. I was thinking of some of the arguments they make, not that of this OP.

        So let’s say it was in anticipation. Beat the rush. :)

  8. Michael

    I’m always confused by the strong opinions the global warming debate elicits. I consider myself to be an intelligent person, but I have no problem admitting that the science of global warming is completely over my head. I’m incapable of having any kind of intelligent viewpoint on it because I don’t understand the science and I’m personally not all that interested in learning about it. All I know is that there seems to be a consensus among scientists that global warming exists, though there’s no consensus on what the probable effect of global warming on the planet will be. That’s the extent of my knowledge, and you know what? I’m okay with that. I live in a modern society with lots of people specializing in different tasks, and I’m confident that there are intelligent people making a serious analysis of the issue, so I don’t worry about understanding it.

    I imagine most people are like me in this regard, yet so many of them will still argue vehemently for or against it. I really don’t get that. It would be akin to medical researchers finding a new treatment for some disease, and a bunch of non-doctors and TV talking heads angrily denouncing the treatment and refusing to accept that it could work. Why would someone who doesn’t study this stuff for a living think they can refute some idea based a couple of articles they found on the internet, or what some radio show told them? Perhaps they distrust the sources of information we have available to us (I’m looking at you, “news” media). Or maybe it’s a function of a distracted, multi-tasking culture, where people only have enough time to expose themselves to a limited amount of information, and the quality of that information ends up having extra significance.

    Or maybe we’re all just a bunch of stubborn, ignorant apes.

    1. Piero

      I think the predominant view of the global warming skeptics is that noble cause corruption has led much of the science astray. The biggest proponents of the theory of anthropogenic global warming have had no answer to the critiques of Stephen McIntyre. And the turnabout of having this forming mining engineer steadily and persistently destroy one paper after another has driven some of them nearly around the bend as they find themselves in the position of being the ones attacking science and trying to ignore facts in order to maintain beliefs.

      It’s a very dangerous thing to simply say that, well, Mr. X is a “scientist” and therefor we must trust what Mr. X says about his field.

      As Yves shows in her book, many trained, certified and renowned economists made much greater claims of certainty in their field than could be justified.

      At least they were largely transparent in their explanations. The AGW crowd had been intentionally opaque in their dealings, refusing to make public data or methodologies, a reluctance that surely should have set off warning bells but somehow didn’t till McIntyre started showing how Mann, Briffa and others were mistaken or perhaps fraudulent. If you want a good overview of it, I would suggest The Hockey Stick Illusion by Montford.

      1. Michael

        I would never say that we should trust the word of any one researcher on this issue, but we could safely rely on consensus, no?

        Then again, I’m in no position to determine whether the basis for the consensus even makes sense, and I’m dependent on the media to report the issue correctly. But since I’m not interested in really educating myself on the science of global warming, all I can do is follow the debate and live at the mercy of whatever legislative measures (if any) are enacted to deal with it. I can’t, however, argue for or against it, and if I did I’d just be running my mouth.

        1. eric anderson

          “Then again, I’m in no position to determine whether the basis for the consensus even makes sense, and I’m dependent on the media to report the issue correctly.”

          That’s a hopeless position to be in. The mainstream media generally doesn’t even know the right questions to ask. That’s true in economics, it’s just as true in science reporting. We live in a society brimming with knowledge that is grasped only by a few. Most in the media probably avoided as many science and advanced math classes as they could. At least, the students I know who followed that path are partially crippled in lack of math and science knowledge. As a consequence, they do not know how to question what scientists are telling them, whether it is the consensus group or the skeptical scientists.

          Sad, but it’s true.

          1. Piero

            I agree. It’s quite sad that it’s true. But this issue really is an example of the internet supplanting the supposedly irreplaceable investigative function of journalism. A lot of different blogs such as McIntyre’s Climate Audit and even pro AGW Deltoid run by Lambert have provided information in depth that the establishment media simply hasn’t bothered to give to the general public.

            But, regarding the previous poster’s expressed quandary of whom to trust, I think the default position should be skepticism until trust is warranted. I think I immediately refused to get on that global warming bandwagon in the late 80′s when Jim Hansen professed a bizarre degree of certainty about exactly what would happen to the world’s climate under different scenarios of CO2 creation. Some 20 years later a much much wiser and intelligent scientist than Jim Hansen, Freeman Dyson, was still very skeptical that Hansen et al should be professing to know as much as they claim.

      2. Francois

        “The biggest proponents of the theory of anthropogenic global warming have had no answer to the critiques of Stephen McIntyre.”

        Come again?
        Inquiring minds are examining realclimate.org archives as well as http://www.desmogblog.com for a merciless, fact-based and thorough refutation of everything McIntyre has ever postulated.

  9. JimS

    I think there is a difference between being anti-science with a small “s” and being anti-Science with a capital “S”. Few would argue that 2+2=4, but theoretical physicists seem to be evenly divided on string theory. Paradoxically the bigger the picture is, the more binary the beliefs. This is not due to disagreement with the data points but with the underlying principles. Consider the following familiar exchange:

    Student: “I’ve run the regression analysis, and here is my model.”

    Professor: “Very good, but are you sure you’ve identified all the variables that might be significant?”

    People don’t question individual mechanisms; it’s whether or not the right mechanisms are being accounted for. In that sense the datum is irrelevant.

    What do skeptics and good scientists have in common? They both question if all the significant variables have been found.

    As for denial, well, people are fundamentally irrational–that is to say we are only rational to a certain point–but on top of that we’re less educated. A friend of mine observes that he learned debate in school, but not logic from which to debate. It seems to me that education is more formulaic these days, sacrificing critical thinking (even though all text books have those grey-background “critical thinking” boxes).

    For the record, as a Christian I do not find God and evolution to be mutually exclusive; nor God and quantum physics for that matter. Can God bake a potato so hot that He can’t eat it? Is Schrödinger’s cat dead or alive?

    1. alex black

      We’ll never know if Schrodinger’s cat is dead or alive until we open that box and find out if he ate that potato that was too hot for God to handle.

  10. Kevin de Bruxelles

    While I can agree with the main thrust of the argument; to label as science the on-and-off-again twenty year Anglo-Saxon campaign to kill the Euro is quixotic at best even if recently this campaign has been leaving some dark blue marks across the eurozone’s face. The fact is economics is nothing more than religion. And sure, like most religions it certainly contains some nuggets of wisdom. But to pretend that economics and the recent attacks on the euro has anything approaching objectivity is quickly proven wrong by the fact that similar data points in the US or UK are handled differently. For example where are the outcries of the break-up of the dollarzone since California and other US states are imposing austerity programs? Should the mid-western states that have growing ghost towns break off a hillbilly dollar? When the euro goes up it is a sign of disaster, when the euro goes down it is also a sign of disaster. When European trade increases it is called “beggar thy neighbour”; but when the eurozone by its very nature does not allow “beggar thy neighbour” between its members it is called an suboptimal currency area.

    According to Robert Nozick, one cannot have knowledge of something if one does not accept that the opposite could also be true. For the eurozone critics it would go like this:

    1.Statement Y: The eurozone is doomed to failure

    2.Person X believes Y (the eurozone is doomed to failure)

    3.If Y were false (the eurozone were not doomed to failure), Person X would accept the eurozone is viable if it were so.

    4.If statement Y is true, Person Y would believe it.

    Nozick uses the example of a father who “knows” his son is innocent of a crime. After the trial the father cannot really say he “knew” his son was innocent since if the kid had been found guilty he would still have believed him innocent. The same is true of some eurozone critics; they have “known” the eurozone would fail and they will keep on knowing it until the day it eventually happens, one way or the other. They can never accept that the eurozone could survive because this would blunt the force of their attacks. But this doesn’t mean that their critiques are false. For example some critics quite correctly point out that the European financial architecture is flawed. But the second anyone moves towards correcting any flaws, these critics will immediately scream about eurozone fascism. The point is that the many of the attacks are only meant to help bring the eurozone down. Other onslaughts against the euro are by the mouthpieces of Anglo-Saxon elites who are more concerned that European style social democracy never again raise its head in the US. They were scared by the recent health care debate where America’s unjust and inefficient health care system was openly compared to the more advanced and fair European systems. Anyone who knows how well the rich in America are cared for can understand why they don’t want to share any of their advantages with any other social class. The next time any American compares their social benefits to Europe they will be slapped down by the fact that the Euro has obviously collapsed all the way back to the midpoint of its historic value range.

    No the battle of the Euro cannot be studied by science any more than the Eastern Front in WW2 could be. The way it has to be studied is as a power struggle.

    And as a media campaign the only comparison in recent memory was the wall of noise heard before the invasion of Iraq. The only remaining question is which Anglo-Saxon economist will get to play Colin Powell and make the requisite speech before the UN giving Europe an ultimatum to dismantle the eurozone? And yes some euro-symps lash out and get angry by these insistent attacks on the euro. And this is understandable since arguably the eurozone’s recent troubles started when European banks started barebacking loads of infected American subprime paper from their Wall Street beaus. In more vulgar terms the US has given Europe the financial equivalent of a sexually transmitted disease and now as the eurozone’s sores and scabs become more apparent the Anglo-Saxon press is shouting with glee about what a skanky debt-ho Europe is! And as a result of the growing Anglo-Saxon infection Europe’s financial immune system is weakening and has to undergo some pretty drastic procedures, the shaming and ridicule has risen to a fever pitch.

    But while outrage is understandable, people in Europe really need to put their energy into counterattacks and building defences while always understanding that the most natural thing in the world is for the powerful Anglo-Saxons to attack the less powerful Europeans. Thucydides described it well in the Melian Dialogue. The more powerful Athenians decided they were going to invade the island of Melos. They sent a delegation there to convince the local leaders to surrender. One of the arguments they used was:

    For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretences- either of how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Mede, or are now attacking you because of wrong that you have done us- and make a long speech which would not be believed; and in return we hope that you, instead of thinking to influence us by saying that you did not join the Lacedaemonians, although their colonists, or that you have done us no wrong, will aim at what is feasible, holding in view the real sentiments of us both; since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

    In the end the Melians declined to surrender and they were subsequently overrun by the Athenians, who killed all the men, and raped some and enslaved all of the women and children.

    So Europe has to decide whether it will stand up and fight for the Euro or weakly submit to the Anglo-Saxon attacks. European energy should not go into being outraged by the attacks on the eurozone since this reeks of naivety. Better that the hard decisions be taken. Since WW2 Europe has played the undisciplined child to the US’ parental role. Since Europe is still more or less living under the US’ roof is it wrong for the US to call the shots like abandoning the Euro? Is Europe ready to finally grow up, become fully independent move out and the US’s comfortable and protective house? It will be questions like this, not science, that will decide if the eurozone survives or not.

    For example what would be the best European counterattack to the Anglo-Saxon onslaught? Exporting deflation? Perhaps. Which of the main global economic blocks is balanced and stable enough to come through a good bout of deflation? The US – never. China – hardly. Japan – perhaps. Europe – probably.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Kevin,

      Please see my response to Kiste above. I’m NOT suggesting that economics is science. I wanted to pick an example that was not global warming as an illustration of how people react when their belief are attacked (and I CLEARLY separate out the reasoned criticisms from the knee jerk upset ones).

      But it seems any live example is going to produce the kind of reaction (arguing with the intro example rather than dealing with the substance of the post) that I was trying to finesse.

      I think the problem here is people read the headline and then see the first para and think it is meant to illustrate the headline (when like newspapers, I write headlines so as to get people to read the post). I’ll revise the headline.

      1. Kevin de Bruxelles

        Yves,

        But as I said in my first sentence I agree with your arguments. In fact the Robert Nozick quote reinforces what you are saying. What separates science from belief is that in science you must allow for the possibility that you are wrong. In the world of belief there is no possibility of being wrong.

        The only thing I objected to was the idea that economics was science and that therefore the euro vultures have objectivity on their side. But I see you have cleared this up. Since we are currently seeing a form of economic war and my fortunes for better or worse are locked into one side of this war, I was just trying to point out that it will be the principles of power which will determine who is right or wrong in the case of the euro, not science.

        But viewed from a point of view of power, is it better to obstinate in your beliefs or to waver and prevaricate? Was Churchill wrong to disregard the power of Germany and hold out? It was not very scientific of him. Was Lincoln wrong to continue to battle the South after years of frustration and defeat? In the world of power and conflict true believers are sometimes required. Taken too far this type of rigidity will destroy a culture or movement. The best analogy I can think of is that obstinacy can serve as the reinforcing bars of the concrete of a society or organization at war. Too many reinforcing rods destroys the integrity of the culture just as quickly as too few. As with so much of life it is all a question of balance. So from a strategic point of view there is logic for both sides of the Euro war to stay locked into their positions but at the same time they must remain flexible to adapt to the ebbs and flow of the conflict.

        People often demand their leaders show some spine. I only hope European leaders will muster some and show both a little irrational exuberance as well as some strategic smarts in defending the euro.

        1. Anonymous Jones

          I agree with you both. Great post and great comment.

          I would just like to soften KdB’s comment a bit by saying that economics, other social sciences and “hard” sciences lie on a continuum between faith and facts. It is not one or the other!!!

          1. Kevin de Bruxelles

            Thanks AJ and I agree with your comment on the continuum.

            Where I get frustrated with economists and some critics of the Euro is that they use floating and ever shifting criteria for their attacks. For example they decry deflationary austerity plans for Greece which try to correct obvious economic overshooting during the past ten years. But then they turn around and openly suggest Greece leave the eurozone. This would mean that the value of Greece as a whole would be cut in half (except their outstanding debt if there is any remaining). This would be wildly deflationary; Greek purchasing value would be cut in half! But of course Greek assets would also become dirt cheap and the vultures would flood in and buy up anything worthwhile in the new drachmas. Then they also say Greek could print its own money and export its way to full employment. But when the euro drops in value its all about beggaring thy neighbour and that the rest of the world will never buy all that olive oil.

            But there are other economists who do use consistent criteria and do not necessarily have an ulterior agenda behind their words. These economists can indeed approach the level of science and European leaders would be wise to listen to them.

          2. i on the ball patriot

            Second on that good post Kevin!

            Regarding the continuum …

            The common denominator of the continuum between faith and facts is the struggle between perception and deception, in individuals, and in aggregate society. Perception and deception in all organisms are the core forces of evolution. The intent, or purpose of, first perception and then deception, is ALWAYS to get needs met and further the individual or societal grouping down the trail of evolution.

            In societal groupings (alliances) the business of getting needs met is characterized as ’altruistic’ because the alliance of individual organisms combine to perceive and deceive other individual organisms and groups of organisms and not those within the group. Rah, rah, and comfort for the home team at the expense of the preyed upon.

            So, all of the continuum of faith and facts is predatory, exploitive, and deceptive in intent, as it is used to get the needs met of the individuals or groups of individuals performing the science. Performing science — gathering facts — is an integral part of the process of perception that will be used in deceptions to deceive other organisms and control and utilize lifeless inorganic resources.

            Why is it important to realize that we truly are cannibals, where our every act, our every externalization is a deception made to get our needs (perceived or real) met? Why am I such a nut job about this?

            Because I believe we will never rise above the process unless we recognize the process. We will always be subject to drinking some other deceptive brand of kooky kool aid.

            Recognizing our cannibalistic nature does not automatically make one a disciple of Ayn Rand or an atheistic freak as some on this site would have you believe, rather it allows you to still exercise your free will and greater human intellect to make more perceptive decisions about how we should all more fairly direct the base cannibalization process that we have all been thrust into (cursed or blessed, your choice).

            Given the situation one thing that immediately jumps out at you is that in order to maintain fair and harmonious societal alliances transparency and regulation is a must, all members of the alliance must have a voice, and limits must be set on consumption.

            Not the case now because so many are prevented from seeing the reality as they have drunk deeply of others kooky kool aid of which there are now so many on the trail of enlightenment or deception — again your choice.

            Einstein said; “We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality.”

            When he said our intellect has “no personality” I think he was referring to this organism eat organism nature of human intellect. But what we need to realize is that we can and should use the powerful muscles of our intellect
            to rise above it by recognizing what it truly is and what we are, and give that intellect a personality that will benefit us all.

            This is an ‘altruistic’ deception from i on the ball patriot.

            Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

          3. Kevin de Bruxelles

            i on the ball,

            Thanks and its good to see you back.

            I was very interested in the discussions you had with DownSouth on dog eat dog. It is related to one of my favourite areas (military strategy) so I will give you my take.

            One of the most profound thinkers in the late 20th century, certainly at least, on military strategy was Col John Boyd of the US Air Force. Sadly not too many people have heard about him (although he was mentioned a few weeks ago on this blog in comments). He developed a conceptual framework of combat called the OODA-Loop. I don’t want to go into detail but basically he broke down loops of interaction between combatants (on multiple scales) into four parts: Observe (take in information from your environment) Orient (pass this information through your cultural and intellectual channels) Decision (decide how to react) Action (implement the decision). Orient is by far the most important.

            What is fascinating about Col Boyd is that he was a polymath. He is known for having a famous reading list (I own about half of it now). From this list it is clear that his theory is exceptionally general – at the limit it is based on the interactions single cell amoebas and how they search for food within their environment. Even at this level you start to see the interplay of perception and deception which becomes even more obvious as you move up the food chain. At the critical Orient stage, over and over again, a successful hunting organism must decide what is food and what is not. And the prey certainly have every evolutionary incentive to deceive the hunter. There is no question that our deepest psyches are based on this interplay of perception and deception.

            But humans are different from other organisms in that we have developed a complex system of morality and culture. The best way I can describe this is looking at the example of an oil well. The raw power and upward pressure of the oil well is similar to our evolutionary impulses. But culture and morality serve as a sort of Blow-out Protector which twist, turn, block and channel these deep evolutionary dog-eat-dog impulses into our every day actions. Now there is no question that certain people (mass murderers and senior Wall Street bankstas for example) have defective BOP’s and the raw evolutionary impulses are allowed to blow-out and pollute our society. There are also certain areas of human activity – foreign policy, sports, seduction / breeding, criminal organizations, etc – where the raw power of perception and deception are quite often allowed out for a nice walk in the park.

            I think where DS was coming from (and I certainly hesitate to speak in his place) is that he sees the importance of these human BOP’s and sees the whole Ayn Rand movement as an attempt to get humans to rid themselves of their cultural BOP’s. The rape scene in the Fountainhead would be one of many examples of this. But human society certainly needs their BOP’s or genocide surely follows.

            On the other hand political correctness can run rampant and if our cultural BOP’s are too constrictive, if we get too far away from our raw evolutionary impulses, we end up like the passive and child-like Eloi from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine who allowed themselves to be dominated by the evil Morlocks who indeed still allow their evolutionary juices to flow. Altruism is to be encouraged and should always be met with more altruism but the raw forces of power need to be at the ready and waiting in the shadows to respond to grasping and unjust greed.

            So there you see the battlefield. In order for good to triumph it must constantly punish bad. Through weakness or pure fatigue the good must never allow the evolutionary knowledge of perception and deception to fall fall exclusively into the hands of the bad. The Ayn Rand way of disposing of our BOP’s certainly contains the danger of massive strife and endless conflict. But slamming shut our BOP’s and completely losing access to our evolutionary impulses simply leads to slavery.

          4. i on the ball patriot

            Kevin, interesting comments, thanks. It is nice to see that you recognize the importance of the interplay of perception and deception and the BOP metaphor is a useful one.

            Regarding this; “But humans are different from other organisms in that we have developed a complex system of morality and culture.”

            There is a deeper core difference that must be recognized and considered in order for one to see more clearly the difference between humans and other organisms and to understand the ‘complex system of morality and culture’, the ‘BOP’, that you speak of. That is, one must see the greater ability of humans to externalize their cerebral and motor skills in order to get their needs met. These externalizations, where motor skills have evolved from the wheel, pick, and shovel, to; bulldozers, aircraft, nuclear bombs, etc., and, cerebral skills have evolved from, grunting and groaning, pictures scratched on caves, more formal language, etc., to; papyrus, the printing press, the rule of law, bibles, computer hard drives, flash memory, etc. (and of course there is overlap as the individual externalizations become more sophisticated — guided missiles can ‘think’). MOST important is to recognize that ALL of these externalizations are made to get needs met and further the organism, or group of organisms, down the evolutionary trail. As such they are all predatory in nature, they are all tools of dominance, and they are all deceptions. Looking at their development in a historical evolutionary time frame allows one to see the life sustaining purpose of the externalizations and also to see when the concept of ‘altruism’, ‘morality’ and ‘culture’ come into play in different societies in differing time frames. Taking this historical viewpoint one can also see more clearly the infra cannibalization that has taken place in various cultures — the deceptions, which are in essence a devious commandeering of the tools of dominance to get one’s own needs (again, perceived or real) — and also, very important, the aggregate effect of the externalizations through time.

            I see where DS was coming from, and I know that we share similar goals in wanting a more fair world. But I bridled at his characterizing me as a disciple of Ayn Rand and an atheist simply because I too feel that the cultural BOP’s need a gross house cleaning and that REALISTICALLY recognizing our human nature is key to making that house cleaning. Ultimately the choice is up to the individual as to who they will cannibalize and how.

            Yes, ‘altruism’ is to be encouraged, but lets not ascribe some silly pie in the sky when you die rationale for it, or some other “warm glow” motivational characteristic that allows academic sell outs like Mirco Tonin and Michael Vlassopoulos to get their own pay check needs met and add more confusion and deflective complexity to the mix.

            Lets look at ‘altruism’ for what it truly is, an alliance of one cannibal with another to cannibalize some other organism. Lets “see the battlefield”, recognize what we truly are, and rise above it. We won’t until we do.

            I believe Jocelyn Elders was right, they should teach jerking off in high school. The facts should rule. I think we should also teach cannibalism in the first grade. We need to develop a new curriculum that will allow acceptance of the natural deceptive nature that we are thrust into existence with. Defending and supporting all of the old kooky kool aid only perpetuates it, prevents progress, insures more and greater conflict, and worse, it allows those who accept the Rand philosophy a good supply of suckers.

            Yes, I recognize the parameters of choking the individual at the expense of the group and vise versa, and I also see the magnitude of the undertaking, and even that it is a formidable project and frightening for many. Let the flat earthers scream, the planet is round, the truth will out.

            Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

        2. Ming

          Very good post Kevin. I think your post demonstrates that a
          life requires a combination of belief and obstinancy as well as reason and flexibility. The billion dollar question is when to use these various ‘ingredients’ and in what proportion and when to change the formula. Unfortunately, no one will ever know that answer.

        3. IF

          Thank you Kevin! I think you have spelled out rather well how I am feeling about this topic. I strongly believe in the scientific process and I have always written that Europe will chose long stagnation over abrupt changes if it can engineer it. My problem this year always was figuring out the background of the debate that suddenly was pushed across the pond. Except as another scratch mark against efficient markets the question remains, who benefits and why now? Economic war is a good point. I am currently back in Europe (Switzerland, Germany) and I am curious how it changed in the pat 18 months since I last visited. If you are an ant and keep going hungry to bed year after year, maybe you have to start starving the grasshoppers.

        4. CS

          I think it’s an ideological war, not simply an economic one that’s being waged – by American critics of the Eurozone. I remember reading long ago about one, Jean Monnet, a Frenchman who worked with the British and Americans organizing the fight against Hitler. He’s considered the father of European federation and believed that the leaders of European nations had to, after WWII, even in the face of resistance of their respective populations, form a European Union. The first step would be to form a monetary union. There was a belief system involved in Monnet’s policy – that Europe’s leaders must never again subject their people to the horror of a conflict like the second world war. European Social Democratic political systems have become the whipping boy for American conservative politicians and economists – mainly to serve their aspirations at home and an expressed belief in what they call the American free enterprise system. Of course they fail to cop to the collapse of the American credit system on which about all “free enterprise” depends.

      2. attempter

        But it seems any live example is going to produce the kind of reaction (arguing with the intro example rather than dealing with the substance of the post) that I was trying to finesse.

        I’d recommend never using Ron Paul as an example of anything.

        For example, Greenwald put up a good piece yesterday about the Status Quo Lie:

        http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/05/28/crazy/index.html

        And this comedy ensued. As we can see, he tried to anticipate in the main body of the post, but nothing doing:

        Just to preempt non sequiturs, this isn’t a discussion of Ron Paul, but of the irrational use of the “crazy” accusation in our political discourse and the effects of its application.

        UPDATE: I’ll try this one more time: for those wanting to write about all the bad things Ron Paul believes, before going into the comment section, please read and then re-read these three sentences:

        There’s no question that Ron Paul holds some views that are wrong, irrational and even odious. But that’s true for just about every single politician in both major political parties . . . My point isn’t that Ron Paul is not crazy; it’s that those who self-righteously apply that label to him and to others invariably embrace positions and support politicians at least as “crazy.”

        This is a comparative assessment between (a) those routinely dismissed as Crazy and (b) the two party establishments and their Mainstream Loyalists who do the dismissing. Assessing (a) is completely nonresponsive and irrelevant without comparing it to (b).

        That’s one of several examples I’ve recently seen. Mention the name “Ron Paul” (or his son) at all even in passing, and supporters and/or detractors will make the discussion all about him.

        1. JTFaraday

          Don’t miss Greenwald’s UPDATE II, with which I happen to very much agree:

          “UPDATE II: One other point: intense, fixated mockery of marginalized, powerless people has the benefit of distracting attention from the actions of those who are actually in power.”

          I guess he didn’t get very far making his points.

          1. attempter

            Yup. To give a few examples, on the escalating scale, Ron Paul (evidently having far more consistency and integrity than his son) never had and never will ahve real power.

            Sarah Palin never had real power but did come close, and it’s still not hard to see how she could end up witreal power, so her “specter”, while not a pressing issue at the moment, is still a valid issue.

            But right now Obama and the Dems have all the power. The most pressing issue is always therefore how they’re using that power. That includes if they choose to allow Wall Street, BP, and others actually be de facto warlords and dictators, as they have.

            Yet even on the Naked Cap boards you see the type who want to whitewash Obama and ignore his use of power. They’re probably the same ones who would turn around and make a big deal out of Rand Paul and the Civil Rights Act (which is certainly in no danger whatsoever; I gather Wall Street has no beef with it; but I’m sure Wall Street is thrilled to see idiots arguing about it).

    2. borker

      Boy, did you take the bait! Lotta shots here, most wide of the mark. You prove Yves’ point. Extreme position (Eurozone breakup) as straw man. Black and white reasoning.

      The US isn’t directly comparable to the Eurozone, has a big overlay of Federal taxes and spending.

      1. Kevin de Bruxelles

        You may be right but it was worth it just for that line about the “skanky debt-ho Europe”. I’ve been laughing about that to myself all day! :)

    3. DownSouth

      Kevin de Bruxelles,

      I very much dislike your framing of the issue.

      If Europe opts for austerity, which I and many of the posters on this blog believe will rip Europe asunder; it seems to me this is something Europe is doing to itself.

      Your framing of the issue as European vs. Anglo-Saxon draws the battle lines in the wrong place. This is really a battle between rank and file Europeans vs. Europe’s financial elite.

      Now granted, deficit hawkishness has been a permanent fixture of Anglo-Saxon thought. So I suppose if one wants to take the blame-the-Anglo-Saxon game to the next level, one could allege Anglo-Saxon cultural imperialism. But one must recall that it was a couple of immigrants from Europe—-Mises and Hayek—-who were most responsible for austerity’s revival, and this in the wake of lessons that we should have learned from the WWI-Great Depression-WWII era.

      It is certainly true that the beliefs of Mises and Hayek are presented as “science,” and this claim to science gives them more cache than they would otherwise have. But you yourself said: “What separates science from belief is that in science you must allow for the possibility that you are wrong.”

      Hayek’s and Mises beliefs are based on a phenomenon that happened in Europe in the first part of the 20th century, specifically in the Weimar Republic. They took this very limited amount of evidence and made sweeping generalizations. And then, when evidence mounted that these sweeping generalizations were wrong, or at least inadequate, did the Austrians admit they were wrong? No, quite the opposite, their original conclusions merely ossified into an unshakable dogma. Is this science?

      This is not the first time that truth, or the quest for truth, has been sacrificed on the altar of specious political, philosophical and economic conceits, nor will it be the last time. But is the fact that this happens reason to abandon the quest for truth?

      1. Kevin de Bruxelles

        DS,

        My framing of the Anglo-Saxon / European conflict was based over the assault on the Euro. For the most part, besides a few European commentators working for Anglo-Saxon media organizations, the attacks on the Euro are from Anglo-Saxon sources.

        But let me address your concerns on austerity. First of all, I totally understand where you are coming from. In Latin America or even America I would be against austerity programs. Austerity in an unfair society is unfair. But conversely, austerity in a just and fair society can very well be fair.

        The question I would ask is whether the people in general have benefited from the previous good times? If so, if GINI scores are low, if benefits and salaries have been rising, then it is fair that austerity hits all classes. If all classes rise in the good times then they have to fall back together some in the bad times. But at the end of the cycle all classes will hopefully be better off than before.

        But in America where the rich have been rising and the poor falling even in the good times is it fair to ask the poor to take the austerity hit alone? Hell no.

        And believe me, I speak from experience about austerity. As an architect we live these cycles harder than most. During the goods times we are flying around doing towers in places like Moscow, creating insane mixed-use complexes in Dubai, doing huge housing complexes in London, off to Rio for a corporate campus, doing entire cities in China, next to Switzerland for some filthy rich international organization’s headquarters, etc. And you can be sure that during these times we try to push our still modest salaries up as high as we can and push to get nice bonuses. But then all of a sudden the recession hits and fifty percent of our colleagues are laid off. Those that survive get automatic 10% pay cuts, bonuses become ancient memories (which means a total of 25% pay cut) and we get excited to have the most humble sort of project to work on. In other words its winter time but the cycle of life goes on. Spring will eventually come and the cycle starts over again. As the days start to get sunnier, many of those colleagues come back. Some of the cool projects get the go ahead, and the 10% salary cut finally gets rescinded.

        It’s currently economic winter in Europe but it is still fundamentally a fair and just society. So everyone must pull together to get through these trying times.

        One area where I still hold suspicions though are the Dutch and German banks who bought all that subprime crap from Wall Street. Were they really just stupid euro-country bumpkins or was it more than that? The jury is still out on that one.

        1. DownSouth

          Kevin de Bruxelles,

          I think the question is, if Europe puts itself through the austerity routine, and even if the suffering is shared fairly, what does it gain by doing so? Does the austerity routine only deepen and prolong the recession (or turn it into a depression)? Or are there other gains—-for instance, are these periodic hardships necessary correctives for proper societal functioning?

          It all rings too much like the self-flagellation in religious or sadomasochistic contexts that is still a common practice here in Mexico. So I’m not convinced that austerity is necessary.

          1. DownSouth

            Kevin de Bruxelles,

            The use of the Flagellants was a bit of a cheap shot, because some of my most admired historical figures also advocated self-sacrifice:

            He (Gandhi) required the intellect, meanwhile, to undergo a parallel renunciation. It had to rid itself of dogmatic certainty. Shedding dogma was the counterpart in the intellectual world of nonviolence in the physical world: it was mental disarmament. Only if the faithful were ready to open their minds to the worth and validity of other faiths were they likely to be able to hold to the vow of nonviolence. The test of the “absoluteness” of faith became not adherence to the exact prescriptions of any sacred text—-what today we call fundamentalism—-but the willingness to make sacrifices, including the sacrifice of one’s life, for one’s admittedly fallible beliefs. Sacrifice and suffering without violence (“self-suffering,” as Gandhi put it), not doctrinal purity, was the evidence and “proof” of faith.
            –Jonathan Schell, The Unconquerable World

            I have lived these last few years with the conviction that unearned suffering is redemptive.

            There are some who still find the cross a stumbling block, and others consider it foolishness, but I am more convinced than ever before that it is the power of God unto social and individual salvation. So like the Apostle Paul I can now humbly yet proudly say, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” The suffering and agonizing moments through which I have passed over the last few years have also drawn me closer to God. More than ever before I am convinced of the reality of a personal God.
            –Martin Luther King, “Suffering and Faith,” Christian Century, 27 April 1960

            When I read testaments like the above, I’m often reminded of the phrase the body builders use: “No pain, no gain.”

          2. Kevin de Bruxelles

            DS,

            No I think it is a very valid question; what is the purpose of austerity? In this case I would answer that the purpose is to bring into balance consumption and production in certain countries. These countries got seduced by the Anglo-Saxon chimera that you can create wealth through the shear force of will – along with lots of credit. A few years ago the Anglo Saxon press was agog about how the growth rates of these countries were leaving Germany and other manufacturing countries in the dust. Reality is a bitch though.

            So when consumption starts approaching consumption in these countries then the necessary correctiona will have been made and stimulus can be injected into the system to jump start some growth again.

  11. Coldcall

    Yes but whats interesting is that science and scientists suffer that same bias in ideology, philosophy or religion as the rest of us.

    A good example of how science misrepresents reality can be found in chaos theory and even in quantum theory.

    Today, scientists like to call chaos theory “deterministic chaos”. But in fact, that is a contradiction because what we know about complex open ended non-linear systems like the weather, is that they are inherently unpredictable. Anyone who doubts that needs to read any major texts on chaos or complex non-linearity. Science only gets away with prefixing “chaos” with the “determinstic” tag because they caveat the unpredictability by saying: “well if we could measure initial conditions to infinite accuracy it would be fully deterministic”. Problem with that is its impossible for us to measure anything to infinite accuracy.

    So for all practical purposes (FAPP) chaotic systems are not predictable, but scientists insist on sort of pretending that we could if we wanted to. This is total nonsesne and fails simple greek logic, but science keeps pushing it. Why do they insist on deluding themselves over this question> Well it could be because they feel that if they have to admit that the majority of systems in the universe (being non-linear) are unpredictable then what are they good for (the scientists). So its clear scientists lie and delude themselves and us using semantics and little caveats.

    Same thing has occured in quantum mechanics with interpretations which try to remove the Heisenberg Unvcertainty principle of quantum states. This goes to the heart of Einsteins rather classical view that “god does not play dice with the universe”. This uncertainty so incensed some like Bohm, that he invented a whole other way of interpreting the HUP in order to pretend we still exist in a classical universe – one in which all and everything can be predicted to perfection.

    There are many other examples where science is also infected with the human disease of bias.

    1. alex black

      You call it “the human disease of bias.”

      I prefer to think of it as “the spice of life.”

      I just hate when it gets its hands on weapons though.

      1. Coldcall

        i agree our ability to have such different opinions certainly spices up life, fuels plurality etc..

        But i would say our “cicero” ability as i like to call it, can be used to destroy as well as create. And this capacity we have for argument is as much a mass killer as any weapon we can envisage.

        i have a very dualistic feeling about modern law. We have almost become too clever by far in how we lie, exaggerate, build straw man argument.

        We now find it easier to argue a point, than to actually solve practical problems.

        This credit crisis is a great example.

        1. pros

          Yes, “science” has always been infected with bias…
          the inability of a scientist to disassociate the ego from the idea.
          In academia it is quite common for “inconvenient” research and/or “uncomfortable” questions to be discouraged.
          I am aware of one prominent business school where the statisticians were shooting huge holes in the non-rigorous methods of the economists and finance professors,
          easily demonstrating that widely held economic “laws” and valuation methods were unproven and/or unprovable and/or plainly wrong–
          they are disbanding the statistics department.

    2. DownSouth

      Yep.

      As Debra alludes to above, it’s a real shame that science has to be conducted by scientists.

  12. Doug Terpstra

    This really informs our vast political divide today. It’s interesting the some commenters have assumed Yves was implying economics as science-based, when her book ECONNED is a total refutation of faith-based neoclassical economics.

    > “Few of us have the intellectual flexibility of Keynes, who defended his repudiation of some of his earlier work by saying, ‘When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?’ When dissonant facts start showing up, is it that the data is suspect or the model that is out of whack?”

    Also surprising was the hot reactivity of some Euro-bloggers to earlier criticism of the eurozone, as if it was personal. One guy, Bas (blogging from a Dutch bar it seemed:) showed regressive tribalism akin to a soccer hooligan, going off the rails while competely missing the facts in the post—a ‘perfectly’-irrational model for Yves post today. I had thought Europe was generally more liberal, per Webster’s first definitions, “open-minded” and “generous”.

    1. DownSouth

      I had thought Europe was generally more liberal, per Webster’s first definitions, “open-minded” and “generous”.

      Wow!

      It’s great to see someone else admit they fall victim to the same sort of irrational prejudices I do. Just imagine, I managed to convince myself that just because Obama is black, that he somehow represented the second coming of Martin Luther King.

      1. DownSouth

        Which sets the stage for another great Eric Hoffer quote:

        The beginning of thought is in disagreement – not only with others but also with ourselves.

      2. LeeAnne

        DownSouth “I managed to convince myself that just because Obama is black, that he somehow represented the second coming of Martin Luther King”

        this is a love note: I don’t believe you.

  13. Ina Deaver

    I am a massive science snob. I insist on things being done properly before I allow the mantel of “science” to be laid over some bit of misshapen crockery. Science is an extraordinary tool, but like fire, can be a destructive force if misused. I feel it is misused on a huge scale, and that destroys the power it should have when real science tells us something true.

    And I question whether the ultimate attack on science hasn’t been as the tobacco attack is described: to cheapen and misrepresent for the public the incremental and accretive way that knowledge develops. The demand for immediate, easy answers is itself a kind of religion – but a false one. And one that is fed to juries and television viewers every day. I mean, we all want dessert now, but that is not how things work in the real world.

    I would heartily agree that most Americans demand black and white, good and evil, on and off. But isn’t it a huge failing of our education system that we do not teach people to read the lie with bar charts as a lie: to really understand what science is and when its name is being invoked in vain, and to understand the ways in which the brain is wired to believe certain mistakes or lies? I think that the pace of information is so torrential, we sort of naturally expect more of it to have value than apparently does. But if I had a nickle for every time I see horrifically bad statistical work – reported as causation for this or that – I could retire happy.

    But why aren’t they teaching people to think for themselves these days? I suspect that it is not in the interests of someone important. But also, in a world that moves like this, black and white is so much more comfortable than an ocean of grey.

    The better to fleece you with, my dears.

  14. ex-PFC Chuck

    “It is worth considering whether some of this “science can’t evaluate this area” meme exists is at least in part because it is being marketed.”

    Ya think?

  15. pros

    Very little that people “believe” and use to guide their behavior is based upon knowledge formed by the scientific method of hypothesis-testing and proof.
    Most is consensus-based belief, and “conventional wisdom”—
    going along with the crowd…

    then there is the realm of the “Noble Lie” so well laid out in the Republic by Plato….we have not advanced much since Plato…still don’t understand human motivation and how societies work and why.

    rational thinking and behavior do not seem to offer much guidance

  16. craazyman

    I’m still looking for the luminiferous ether. Because it’s what I know how to look for and damnit it all, I get paid well for it. So it’s got to be there.

    -Prof. Cy En’Tiste du Monde
    Director and Chairman
    Victorian Institute of Physical Sciences

    1. LeeAnne

      craazyman, for the convenience of your readers, a footnote for luminiferous ether here

      Thank you. I learn from you. I also learn from Alex Brown –he’s making more sense every day –oops!

  17. Debra

    I live in Europe. I’ve lived here for over thirty years now.
    I remember the first time I came here, when I was 15.
    It was pretty.. AWESOME driving 300-400 miles and all of a sudden hearing people speaking DIFFERENT LANGUAGES, with different customs over such a tiny geographical space.
    Much current economic theory seems to neglect “little” problems like.. geography, history, linguistics, for example.
    There is NO common language to federate around in the Euro zone.
    Umm… I wonder if that could have a bearing on the way this is playing out right now ?
    There is little solidarity in the Euro zone. There always HAS been little solidarity.
    Because, from the outset, the Euro zone was basically federated around… money.
    AND the desire of our fathers to AVOID a repeat performance of the catastrophies of the two world wars in the future.
    Trouble is… now that the last members of the generations that were eyewitnesses to the catastrophies of the world wars are dying, it is rather hard to federate around this ultimately… NEGATIVE “ideal”.
    Calling “economics” a religion allows people to disqualify it while still continuing to believe in the religion of scientific materialism, religion that many SCIENTISTS NO LONGER believe in, by the way…
    The meaning of the word “science” has NOT been written in stone, as far as I know…

    1. K Ackermann

      It’s not that big of a deal. I thought the point of the post was very clear.

      Examples of cognitive dissodence abound.

      I guess I believe in God or a creator, or something, and I guess I’m supposed to be a Christian, but I don’t believe much of anything in the Bible, because it’s so full of logical fallicies.

      Can God make a rock so big that He cannot lift it?

      If God made man in His image, then does God have an asshole? What brand toilet paper does He use?

      Can he get cancer?

      There are any number of issues I can raise here, but it won’t sway anyone from believing or not believing. I didn’t bring science into this once.

  18. tkarn

    For anyone interested in this topic I would recommend reading Donna Haraway, especially Primate Visions. She thinks and writes well on this topic from a perspective deeply informed by both science, philosophy, and the history of science.

    I’ll suggest that much of the disrespect for science comes from the way “objectivity”, which is a wonderful tool and tactic, is used to reinforce the authority of science, when there is absolutely nothing objective about the way choices are made about the funding of science. On some level we realize that the scientist, while she may have discovered some truth, it is not a neutral and objective truth, but a grant funded truth.

    1. Edward Lowe

      Thanks tkarn … My sentiments too. People do need to read Harraway and Latour’s (We’ve Never Been Modern) for starters. This “research article” that Yves makes reference too did not study people’s ability to reason with the scientific method. This study was about people’s willingness to trust “Scientific Authority” — in the form of research abstracts. It is precisely this “authority” that most policy driven “science” seeks to assert. This form of science merely asserts, loudly “TRUST US, WE KNOW WHAT WE ARE SAYING, SOME OF US ARE EVEN SCIENTISTS. … Now please do not bother with the man behind the curtain (aka funding sources, methodological limitations, data limitations, profit potential of our ‘discoveries,’ etc. etc..)”

      Big Science is a 20th century phenom…much of it has been and is misguided, poorly developed, methodologically blind … all too often … dangerous…but very very profitable (in terms of lifestyle and prestige at the very least) to its highest flying practitioners.

  19. JB

    Funny nobody’s mentioned Godel’s theorem yet, nor the uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics… That is, there are some things Science is unable to solve. In this case, they are extremely narrow and well defined.

    More generally, any science other than mathematics builds models that allow to make predictions. It does not pretend to uncover the ultimate truth. That’s a contradiction with the presentation of Science as absolute Truth, as it’s usually presented. And that makes it much more easier to attack it: any flawed experiment, false theory will instill doubt. I guess it is also very difficult to accept that you don’t know why the sun rises every morning and sets every night.

    In the end, I guess humans tend to sacrifice consistency for completeness

    1. K Ackermann

      You have it backwards: science is the study of probabilities, while religion is the study of absolutes.

  20. Vinny

    “One of the odd things I observe is the way some posts or issues regularly elicit heated reactions. For instance, early in the days of euro wobbliness, some readers in Europe would go a bit off the deep end at the suggestion that the Eurozone has serious structural weaknesses. It wasn’t so much that these readers found weaknesses or shortcomings in the post; it’s that its conclusion was clearly deeply offensive to them. While many of the upset reactions still addressed the substance of the argument, others, when you cut to the chase, simply attacked the source or were otherwise incoherent.”

    Yves,

    Indeed, this is typical European (Western European, really). As I spend half of my time in the US and the other half in Europe, I too have been troubled by such reactions, and as a psychoanalyst have tried to understand it. My psychological explanation is that much of this is driven by a deep covert hatred and envy of the United States, coupled with a complex of inferiority in front of the US. However, this complex of inferiority is projected as arrogance, or even narcissism. Nonetheless, as most psychologists will tell you, narcissism is merely a facade covering a fragile ego and that darned complex of inferiority. Therefore, these reactions are largely irrational, stemming from a poorly understood European unconscious (or, shall we say, “Collective Unconscious”, if we invoke Jung).

    Therefore, in Western Europe it is customary to attack the messenger before even hearing the message, especially if the messenger is American. Nonetheless, the facts remain: the US is still an economic powerhouse, the Dollar remains the world’s reserve currency, and most importantly, America still holds the most prestigious universities and the most creative corporations in the world. These facts are hard to swallow for many Western Europeans.

    One other interesting observation I have made is that Americans in general (barring a few Bible Belt residents) seem to be more willing to change their minds when presented with facts not supporting their views than are Western Europeans. Personally, I find the Americans to be more open-minded.

    But don’t get me wrong. I certainly am not pro-American, and neither am I anti-European. America has a great deal of problems, but it also offers many advantages. Europe also has problems, but also offers many advantages. This is why I spend my time in both.

    My 2 cents on this otherwise beautiful day here in the newest member of the Third World (that would be Greece). And, by the way, there are very few foreign tourists in sight around here this season, which is much of what this country has lived off these past 35 years (in addition to high debt).

    Vinny

        1. Moneta

          Because I can probably scientifically prove that the majority of Americnas think they are more open-minded while most non-Americans think not.

          LOL.

  21. Moneta

    A few hundred years ago, people were killed for saying the earth was round. Practically, the masses had no way of proving it.

    Most people today still don’t have the mathematical tools to prove it but believe it because of the inventions that use the concept: cameras, satellites, aerospace…

    In our current world of information overload overtaken by millions of thriving snakeoil salesmen, I think it is only normal to deny the unobservable.

    If you want the masses to believe in a concept, there has to be a consumable product that confirms without doubt what is being told.

    The 50s were all about better living through chemistry. Science was put on a pedestal. Then after a couple of decades of seeing the effects of our chemical experiments, we started to doubt the “quality” of our scientists.

    It does not help that we mass produced them while lowering the quality of education. But then again, maybe the 2 are correlated.

    20 years ago, we still believed we were in control. I think it’s becoming clear that we are totally out of control.

  22. nowhereman

    I’ve truly enjoyed this post and the comment debate was brilliant. However, I feel for most people “science” means something other than what is spoken of here.
    Science is those little filler articles in the news paper or the 10 second spot on the news, you know, those “a glass of wine a day will make you live longer” (or is it coffee).
    The worst offenders are commercials like “the science of aging” to sell facial products to women.
    Don’t get me started on statistics, “9 out of 10 doctors recommend” bull crap.
    This is what science is to a great many Americans, and I would guess it may be the majority, (I hope I’m wrong but somehow I doubt it).
    This is what frightens me the most. The “cult of the expert”. This irrational belief that someone has the ability to know everything on a specific topic. This kind of belief system lead us to the war in Iraq and to the conclusion that CO2 is somehow “toxic”, and that Bernanke knows what he is talking about.
    I guess, no matter how hard I try, I’ll never understand the human phenomenon. (but I do keep trying to extend my existence by drinking wine daily)

  23. LeeAnne

    Just a suggestion about “A disconcerting tendency that may also impair adaptability (and this seems to be particularly pronounced in the US)”

    My suggestion is that because US people are fed a steady diet of propaganda with a self-reinforcing loop, ordinary discussion requiring an open mind eager to learn something, particularly in the last 25 years or so, can only exist with a person perceived as an authority; therefore, no discussion between ‘ordinary’ people; therefore, Oprah.

    I know. I’ve watched her at least 3 times for about 10 minutes. Of course my exposure to her image and influence are not always within my control, nor yours dear reader.

  24. a

    “For instance, early in the days of euro wobbliness, some readers in Europe would go a bit off the deep end at the suggestion that the Eurozone has serious structural weaknesses.”

    Strawman. They went off the deep end because you would quote a well-known Torygraph europe-hater as if had the insight of a combination of Jesus Christ and John Maynard Keynes. Or they would go off the deep end when yet another American commentator couldn’t grasp the difference between Europe and the eurozone. Or any other number of provincial American idiocies or Anglo-Saxon biases. But hey, if you think that’s “science,” go ahead.

    The eurozone obviously has deep structural weaknesses. Yes, very good. The United States also has deep structural weaknesses. And the world economy has deep structural weaknesses. Most people here believe this, and this has been true for almost a decade. The nonsense was when Americans talked about Greece and how the “only” solution was for it to leave the eurozone but didn’t talk about Hungary which *did* leave the eurozone (having left the ERM) a couple of years ago and isn’t doing so hot economically. Maybe Greece in the end will leave the eurozone, don’t know, but I do know it doesn’t “have to”. It’s not a question of having the euro or not having the euro which is causing the economic pain; it’s a question of having racked up too many debts.

    1. RalphR

      Strawman, indeed. NC has cited many sources on the euro, and I don’t recall any singling out of Evans-Pritchard as having a special standing. And he does support his opinion with a lot of information. Just because you don’t like him doesn’t mean he has his facts or argument wrong.

  25. debra

    Very interesting debate.
    There’re lots of comments because… this topic is STILL in the equivalent of earthquake zone in our culture. Probably always will be, moreover.
    People STILL get really excited about it, and that is a good thing, in my book, even if the heat makes some people uncomfortable.
    As a former shrink… I feel that human beings are basically animals with a deep desire to be absolute.
    There is no.. REASON to hold that “reason” and emotion are opposites, by the way. No other “reason” than the… polarization one, for example. (And… what kind of a reason is that, anyway ?)
    And as a linguist, I wonder if the polarization that is going on these days is in relation to the need to REDEFINE words like “science” and “belief”.
    One of the ways we redefine words (give them new meaning) is through polarization, probably.
    By the way… I do not BELIEVE that belief is necessarily absolute.
    Absolute belief that will not suffer any contradiction, in shrink terms, is qualified as delusional thinking.
    (My apologies to any here who may have received shrink training in the Anglo Saxon mold, mine was NOT in this mold, and I don’t employ its vocabulary.)
    The great… SAINTS of the Catholic faith were doubters, for the most part.
    Fanaticism is human.
    It is NOT… illness, unlike what many people would like to believe.
    Not in my opinion, in any case.
    By the way, I don’t see any great differences between the people I know in my country here, in Europe, and the ones I “meet” over the internet in the States, for example.
    If anything… more polarization in the (pseudo) public spaces in the U.S. than in France, from my experience…

  26. Valissa

    “At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to state this or that or the other, but it is “not done”… Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.” –George Orwell

    I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men’s minds without their being aware of the fact. — Claude Levi-Strauss

    “Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.” -Albert Einstein

    “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.
    We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
    - Albert Einstein

    “We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality.” – Albert Einstein

    E.F. Schumacher http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._F._Schumacher
    Three Planes of Thought
    May 1957 he called his talk ‘The Insufficiency of Liberalism’ and it was an exposition of what he termed the “three stages of development”. The first great leap, he said, was made when man moved from stage one of primitive religion to stage two of scientific realism. This was the stage modern man tended to be at. A few move to the third stage in which one can find in the lapses and deficiencies in science and realism, and that there is something beyond fact and science. He called this stage three. The problem, he explained, was that stage one and stage three appear to be exactly the same to people stuck in stage two. Consequently, those in stage three are seen as having had some sort of a relapse into childish nonsense. Only those in stage three, can understand the differences between stage one and stage three.

    Opinion 104: The Shocking State of Contemporary “Mathematics”, and the Meta-Shocking
    Fact that Very Few People Are Shocked http://www.math.rutgers.edu/~zeilberg/Opinion104.html
    I just came back from attending the 1052nd AMS (sectional) meeting at Penn State, last weekend, and realized that the Kingdom of Mathematics is dead. Instead we have a disjoint union of narrow specialties, and people who know everything about nothing, and nothing about anything (except their very narrow acre). Not only do they know nothing besides their narrow expertise, they don’t care!

    1. debra

      Fascinating. I’m not surprised at all.
      Compartmentalization has been moving us this way for quite some time.
      We need new… global thinkers, now…
      New humanists.
      My current love is Barzun, who has an incredibly generalist mind, and is a great writer too.
      Have you noticed that the demise of science is accompanied by the demise of.. our language too ? (Dry, dusty stuff light years away from our bodies…)
      The word “science” seems to be going the way of our culture…

  27. Hugh

    About 30 years ago, I realized that religious fundamentalism was on the rise in all the world’s major religions in botht the East and the West. I decided that it was less a return to traditional morals and more a flight from uncertainty. If you know what the truth is than you don’t have to suffer the insecurity of doubt. If your life is constantly being assaulted by economic and ideological forces beyond your control then embracing religious dogma can give you something to fix your life to. It can give you a kind of inner peace of mind, even as it sets you in conflict with everyone who does not believe as you do. It is not so much a rejection of the materialism of modernism (though there can be some of that) as the chaos and disempowerment associated with it. And in this regard science is the symbol of modernism, and hence the main target of those disenfranchised by it.

    Now there can be counterweights to this, social progress for one with its greater material benefits, equality, fairness, and stability. But in the last 30 years what we have seen is only some increased material benefits and marked declines in all the others. Why has this been the case? Because our peculiar form of modernism has given rise to predatory elites. Chaos, uncertainty, insecurity, dislocation, these are not unavoidable, inevitable aspects of modernism. They are tools of our elites to shock us into numbness and inaction. They are meant to make us feel powerless. Our elites only think in the short term and about themselves. Good government and social progress take work. How much easier to loot a population permanently in shock. How simple to take up and espouse their fears, their anti-modernism, their anti-science, to keep them divided and ripe for the plucking.

    1. debra

      Na, Hugh…
      Religious fundamentalism is as present in those who believe in science as it is in those who (fanatically) believe in organized religion.
      Chaos, insecurity, uncertainty, these are, to a very great extent… FACTS OF LIFE that we have been hiding from for quite some time.
      Dislocation is a result of the neoliberal… creed, which itself is highly tributary to industrialisation as process and ideology.
      OUR elites are not too different from the elites of the Renaissance, for example.
      Funnily enough, I was reading Régine Pernoud yesterday, a great French medieval scholar who reported that she was amazed to see the NUMBER of GIFTS made by the aristocracy and royalty during those… DARK AGES… THOSE ancestors seemed to be a little less caught up in… buying and selling maybe ? Making a profit ?
      Why do WE call them “dark”, by the way ?
      Could there be just a smack of… ideological bias there, by the way ?

      1. Hugh

        A July 9, 2009 Pew poll (http://people-press.org/report/?pageid=1549) found that while 83% of the public professed a belief in God only 33% of scientists did.

        12% of the public and 18% of scientists professed belief in a higher being or spirit. (I would suppose this would equate with deism.)

        Only 4% of the public believed in neither God nor a higher spirit while 41% of scientists did.

  28. Ray Sawhill

    Fun posting, great comments. Can I add one other thing? Y’all are having a lot of fun distinguishing between science and non-science. It’s also worth keeping in mind that there’s such a thing as bad science. Some things that are accepted and promoted by educated and powerful scientific authorities (and the medical, and political, and journalistic people who support the) turn out to be completely wrong. “Whole grains are good for you; fats are bad” is one huge and obvious for-instance. It has been nutrition-science dogma for the last 40ish years, and it appears to have been a major (and destructive) goof.

    I wish more people would read Gary Taubes’ “Good Calories, Bad Calories.” It’s a great treatment of modern science gone wrong.

    Anyway, my takeaway: science is great, a big fan of it myself. But there are also loads of things science doesn’t know, loads of people claiming the authority of science to support their own hobbyhorses — and at least some establishment science that appears to be solid that on closer examination stinks. Worth keeping these facts in mind too.

  29. mock turtle

    most people do not want to know the truth

    they want their prior beliefs validated

    and are often willing to kill people who hold to other religious beliefs

    and want to control governments and education systems to advance their beliefs

    they rant endlessly about “common sense”

    which of course tells us quite clearly that the sun goes around the earth

    much if not most organized, institutional, religion is based on a willingness to believe on that which can not be proved using the scientific method

    and thus

    is diametrically opposed to science

    many who adhere to scientific principals, such as i do, are deeply religious, but dont pretend to be able to prove their beliefs nor “market” or force these beliefs on others

  30. Joseppi

    Monetary theology is alive and well today as Ponzi preachers testify that god is prosperity and those chosen through their good works and predatory cleverness will inherit the spoils from the meek on earth.

    Like Manna from heaven, money is created like a mirage in the desert as a gift from the elites with kleptomaniac powers that can steal money from the heavens and we, salt of the earths, humbly implore them to keep it comin’ at any cost.

    Today, even as the lords of financial soothingly pontificate, our financial fidelity is being tested in the rough seas of structural chaos that only those with desperate faith are blinded by the increasing waves and graphs of grief, while those with theological doubts look to the ancient relic of barbarians and how to grow herbs for profit.

    The great existential question of the moment is should we wait until the Red Sea parts or should we all get together and prepare for a Tsunami?

  31. john bougearel

    Yves poses the question: “When dissonant facts start showing up, is it that the data is suspect or the model that is out of whack?”

    Generally speaking, from empirical observation, the pro-cyclical [and other] models employed by the financial industry over the past 20-30 years proved to have been flawed. These flaws were readily exposed by counter-cyclical data.

    I would suggest looking at the models and their frameworks when dissonant facts start showing up. Unfortunately, human nature is not naturally predisposed towards “bayesian updating” when new info contradicts. Not only is it naturally predisposed to ignore new information, most folks are hard-wired to not just ignore new info but to vehemently deny and discredit new contradictory facts. Global warming science is a good example of folks vehemently discrediting and denying new contradictory facts.

    There are three planes of thinking in this world, linear, sequential and configural. Most folks do well with the first two, but configural thinking gets much more complex. Could the tendency towards black and white thinking make it difficult to incorporate new and contradictory info into one’s worldview framework? Certainly it could.

  32. benf

    I am so glad you posted this because I find the same thing inexplicable. But a large class of people seem to behave like this and they always end up being wrong in whatever their belief if, though that does not cause them to be self-reflective.

    I know I am generalizing, but I find a lot of libertarians to suffer from the problem you described above.

  33. Keith

    I am wondering what you think science is Yves. If it is not falsifiable per Karl Popper, then there is actually no need to reconcile scientific views that are at variance with each other, they are merely opinions. You seem to suggest that conflicting scientific views should remain in conflict. Certainly theories can do this for considerable periods of time, but empirical, specific and accurately recorded observations should hold sway. Experiments are amenable to repetition and verification, as are observations of the natural world when undertaken in a coherent, consistent and properly recorded manner. As we (and you should) now know Climate Science is riddled with compromised records, presided over by a relative hand full of scientists, who additionally have extended their control to the editorial control of the publication of scientific papers. This is not Science, it is self-fulfilling political indoctrination. In such an environment, scientific consensus is an expected outcome. Hence the visceral hatred of those scientists who have been bullied into silence, or who have been effectively censored. Science remains an ongoing process, despite the best efforts of those who would derail progress. You seem unwilling to discuss climate change even with the benefit of a few name changes along the way : global warming, AGW, CAGW, and now climate change. Are you seeing the process ?
    One day I hope we will understand the climate much more fully than we do today. However, the large impediments to this remain our ongoing attachment to green house, tipping points, and positive feedback (while ignoring negative feedback). I cannot help but think that, had scientific discourse been encouraged and defended, then we would have made much more progress in the last decade or so.

    1. mock turtle

      keith, really?

      and what pray tel would you accept as convincing scientific evidence

      that

      1. the planet is warming

      and

      2. human activity resulting in the dumping 30 billion metric tons of CO2 per year into the atmosphere is beginning to insulate the earth

      i know how this works…when we really begin to cook in 10 or 20 years, the climate change deniers will insist it is entirely a natural event

      at some point in the foreseeable future we will be forced to shift to renewable energy sources

      lets play climate roulette till we run the reserves of oil down so low it costs 500 dollars a barrel

      thats only a decade or so into the future

      lets play chicken… with the planet in the balance, cause you know, what the hell.. with the worlds population ready to double by 2055… sheeeeit…lets just prove a point

      right?, cause you are so sure… or maybe you feel lucky

      well do ya keith?

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Your entire attack is counterfactual. Climate science is NOT ” riddled with compromised records, presided over by a relative hand full of scientists,” Given the length of time over which observations are made, there are bound to be inconsistencies in record-keeping, which require data scrubbing. That is NOT unusual or suspect, your harrumphing to the contrary. And the discipline is most certainly NOT presided over by a “relative handful of scientists”.

      Do you believe in gravity? If so, you ought to believe in AGW. From a scientific standpoint, both questions are equally settled.

      The National Academy of Sciences just published their most comprehensive review ever on the topic (http://www.americasclimatechoices.org/)

      Their conclusions are as definitive as science gets:

      Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems.

      Most of the warming over the last several decades can be attributed to human activities that release carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—for energy is the single largest human driver of climate change, but agriculture, forest clearing, and certain industrial activities also make significant contributions.

      Individually and collectively, these changes pose risks for a wide range of human and environmental systems, including freshwater resources, the coastal environment, ecosystems, agriculture, fisheries, human health, and national security, among others.

      The Academy is clear that this does not mean that every question about climate change has been “settled.” In fact, the report recommends a robust research program to further refine our knowledge. But the Academy is also clear that its basic conclusion that heat-trapping pollution is causing global warming is about as settled as the theory of gravity:

      Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.

      1. Coldcall

        “Do you believe in gravity? If so, you ought to believe in AGW. From a scientific standpoint, both questions are equally settled.”

        Just to kmake clear i am agw agnostic. Afetr all the research i have read this question is still way up in the air, nothing has been proven either way.

        First of all, we dont even know the “cause” of gravity. We understand how it effects mass but to this day no scientists understand what causes gravity. This is a fact, not an opinion.

        But even if you said “we understand agw as well as gravity” that would also be incorrect because we understand gravity pretty well from a mechanical point of view, and we know almsot nothing about the infintie factors and references points which contriobute to create our climate system. Co2 is one tiny factor which effects the climate system.

        Even hardcore AGW scientists would not claim that sort of certainty you have.

        My litmus test for proving we understand the climate would be met when some wall st genius makes a computer model which accrately predicts price movements every day, every week, every year. Thats the sort of accuracy we require in climate models in order to say we can make accurate predictions a decade or a century from now.

        The Met office who pride themselves on having the best climate computer model, used the same base system to try to predict the concentration of volcanic ash which shut down air traffic for days.

        When BA and other airlines went to test the model’s predictions they were so wrong that the CAA has more of less given up on the Met’s models, and allowed airlines to make their own decisions re the ash clouds.

        1. DownSouth

          Coldcall,

          You claim to be an “agw agnostic.”

          And yet you proclaim that “Co2 is one tiny factor which effects the climate system” as if it were sure truth.

          This tips us off that you are not an agnostic at all. You are a full-blown AGW denier.

      2. Stumpy

        Yves, it’s disappointing to see you resorting to invoking consensus (“The National Academy of Sciences just published their most comprehensive review ever on the topic”, etc.).

        Science as practiced in the last 50-100 years has become on the one hand a source of technological progress, wealth generation, and improved health care – at least for the Western societies. (It also brought us such wonders as robotic UAV killing drones, automated mass surveillance, Bhopal, MIRV nukes and the Deepwater

        Horizon.)

        Since Science wields this kind of power, expecting its outward appearance to be disinterested, or “objective”, unsullied by propaganda or political expediency is naive at best – I believe this is at least part of the point i ball is trying to make. Science, in its most ruthlessly impartial form, its truest expression, does not care a whit about consensus. Science is not parliamentary democracy – “experts” don’t get to vote on it. Accurate science is about which hypothesis fits the facts best, no matter how few or many people recognize this or how throughly it embraces or destroys whatever consensus exists.

        Again and again science has formed a party line that turned out to be incorrect. This didn’t stop with Galileo and Copernicus. If anything, it’s worse now. With more money at stake due to the large rewards given to successful science (drug patents, computer innovations, etc.), science is controlled largely by the machinery of grants, in which the status quo is enforced as throughly as any monopoly attempts to defend its kingdom against disruptive change. I have a scientist friend who is convinced that AGW is occurring, and whose latest paper has been giving him some media attention (prime time, big-three network news). He freely

        admits that he would not be getting grant money or flattering attention if his data and hypotheses pointed to global cooling.

        Yves, you expressed some confusion about this section:

        “It’s probably worth making the effort, however, because it might explain why doubts about mainstream science seem to travel in packs… The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine is best known for hosting a petition that questions the scientific consensus on climate change, but the people who run it also promote creationism and question the link between HIV and AIDS.”

        I’m unfamiliar with the organization, and a quick cruise of the site doesn’t tell me much. But I’d argue there are at least two things going on here, interacting in a confusing fashion.

        1) Once you have become convinced that a mainstream scientific belief you once believed was true is most likely false, you are often forced to admit that it is not merely possible, but likely, that there are other mainstream beliefs that could be incorrect.

        2) Guilt-by-association is being used to paint AGW skeptics and AIDS skeptics with the same brush as that used to condemn creationists. This is a classic propaganda technique, and often an effective one.

        AIDS skeptics can see the same propaganda techiques, control of grant money and journal access, and media whitewash present in the climate change debate. In this they are similar.

        (My advice to anyone out there who is totally convinced that HIV must cause AIDS confront their certainty head on. Open your mind long enough to read Duesberg’s book “Inventing the AIDS virus” in its entirety. The fact that the HIV/AIDS hypothesis cannot explain the fact that the incidence of HIV in North America hasn’t budged since testing began in the 80′s should be enough to cause grave doubts in anyone. Combine that with the fact that the mainstream medical establishment has actively worked to obscure that fact, and you have something even scarier at work – a consensus that not only promotes dangerous drugs (AZT, etc.), but does it knowingly.)

        “An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.” – Gandhi

        1. DownSouth

          Stumpy,

          Absolutely amazing!

          I wish you’d tell some of my friends who’ve been kept alive for the last 10 or 15 year by antiviral drugs that AIDS isn’t caused by a virus.

          Why don’t you and Coldcall do us all a favor by making like the Flying Nun and floating away in your gravity-free universe.

          After all, as Sister Bertrille explained: “When lift plus thrust is greater than load plus drag, anything can fly.”

          1. Stumpy

            DownSouth:

            Let me first say I am an ongoing fan of your comments and find myself in sympathy with a great deal of what you generally have to say. So, thank you for all your past efforts here.

            I don’t want to try to compress any further discussion into a comment down 4 levels of chat indents on an economics blog – it’s out of place and borderline rude. Nor do I want to anger someone like yourself for whom I have a great deal of respect, or our host.

            I will say just this: If your friends are on the protease inhibitors and aren’t dead yet, it might only be because the newer drugs are less toxic than AZT/ddI/ddC, and/or because they are taking less AZT, etc. All these drugs are indiscriminate chemotherapy drugs that terminate forming DNA chains. None of them have any direct or specific mechanism for targeting viruses, let alone a specific virus.

            I implore you to examine the evidence against the HIV/AIDS hypothesis for yourself. Don’t take my word for it, don’t take the mainstream’s word for it. I believed HIV caused AIDS for years, but when I actually sat down and confronted the skeptics case I found it overpowering, and deeply unsettling.

            Peter Duesberg: Inventing the AIDS virus
            Rebecca Culshaw: Science Sold out

          2. DownSouth

            Stumpy,

            Peter Duesberg:

            In this and subsequent writings, Duesberg proposed his hypothesis that AIDS is caused by long-term consumption of recreational drugs and/or antiretroviral drugs, and that HIV was a harmless passenger virus. The scientific consensus is that HIV is the causal pathogen that leads to AIDS;[5] Duesberg’s HIV/AIDS claims have been rejected as incorrect and disproven by the scientific community.

            Duesberg’s views on HIV/AIDS are cited as major influences on South African policy under the administration of Thabo Mbeki. Duesberg also served on an advisory panel to Mbeki, convened in 2000. The consequent failure of South Africa to provide antiretroviral drugs in a timely manner is thought to be responsible for hundreds of thousands of preventable AIDS deaths and HIV infections.[9][10] Duesberg disputed these findings in an article in the journal Medical Hypotheses,[11] but the journal’s publisher, Elsevier, later retracted the article over accuracy and ethics concerns as well as its rejection during peer review.[12][13] The flap prompted several complaints to the University of California, Berkeley, which began a misconduct investigation of Duesberg in 2009.
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Duesberg

            Rebecca Culshaw

            I pointed out in one comment that her (Culshaw’s) training is in math, and not biology, and that from her articles, she showed a very poor understanding of not only basic biological techniques (such as the polymerase chain reaction) but infectious disease epidemiology in general.

            [....]

            It’s things like this that make scientists tear their hair out. Culshaw claims that “it was not the mathematical models themselves that caused [her] to doubt HIV, but rather the scientific literature on which the models are based.” So clearly, she must know more than HIV virologists who’ve spent their careers studying the cell biology, pathogenesis, immunology, epidemiology, etc. of the virus. But even in this current interview, her interviewer is the one who has to set her straight regarding some very basic viral biology. This is the reason why I discussed how arguments from authority should be taken with a great deal of salt. Having knowledge in one area doesn’t make you an expert across the board.

            [....]

            As I’ve mentioned many times, if Culshaw’s objections were applied universally to all infectious disease research, we’d have many more germ theory deniers out there. At least they’re consisent.
            http://scienceblogs.com/aetiology/2006/08/interview_with_hiv_rethinker_r.php

      3. Keith

        Your strident gain saying aside, you don’t seem to address the pertinent point – science is falsifiable. Please point to where the climate models, as developed by the climate scientists you most admire (yes, you are free to pick whom ever your choose) has actually correctly forecast the global temperature (again feel free to choose the one you feel is most representative). Now, note the divergence between the observation and the forecast. How many sigmas from the forecast does the observation lie ?

        Your “science is settled” comment is pretty revealing – it is not a scientific statement. Science is never “settled”, and you appear to be siding with those who would prevent progress. Science has suffered such obstacles in the past and this is just another one.

        Your quoting of the Academy of Science reveals that you would rely on a survey of scientific opinion, rather than more specifically climate scientists for example. Do you know for example how the Academy arrived at their opinion ?
        Was there any dissent ? If so, how much ? What were the grounds of the dissent ? These are thoughts you would normally have when you discuss economic matters. You fail to do this on this subject.

        1. Francois

          So much BS, so little time…where to start?

          “science is falsifiable”

          Really? Not bad Watson! There is only one thing that is an eternal and non-falsifiable truth: We’re all going to die. So yes, science is falsifiable.

          But that is not the question under consideration here. The crux of the matter is: How likely is the science underlying AGW falsified?

          To pull off a successful falsification is science, you need a very small group and a clear motive, most likely peer recognition and/or seeking fame. The scientific method, by definition, requires reproducibility under a set of well described conditions. For complex systems like climate studies, one needs to describe the models, the underlying assumptions, any prior science pertinent to it. Then, and only then, can other researchers than the original ones test the hypothesis for confirmation, refutation and flaws.

          Climate scientists started to be aware of the possibility of the role of atmospheric CO2 in planetary warming in…1979.
          Stop and think about that for a minute; If one is thinking falsification, how probable is it to maintain that during 30 + YEARS? Seriously!

          Furthermore, how many scientists of different disciplines have worked on the AGW theory, since 1979? (BEWARE: in science, theory is NOT a hunch!) Several thousands. Again, if one is thinking falsification, how probable is it to maintain that when so many different people, for different backgrounds, from different countries are working on this problem? It stretches the imagination way beyond clinical paranoia to believe that. Yes! I’m aware that not all the paranoids are diagnosed but hey!

          As for fame seeking, we shall pulverize this canard right now: Does anyone knows any other scientists that have been so vilified and harassed by hordes of PR goons at the service of Big Money and slothful journalists than climate scientists? Not a chance!

          Please point to where the climate models, as developed by the climate scientists you most admire (yes, you are free to pick whom ever your choose) has actually correctly forecast the global temperature

          There is a marvelous invention that helped mankind to exit the Dark Ages. It’s called, a dictionary. I’ll go easy here and give you the most basic definitions.

          As per Mirriam-Webster:

          Temperature: degree of hotness or coldness measured on a definite scale.

          Climate: : the average course or condition of the weather at a place usually over a period of years as exhibited by temperature, wind velocity, and precipitation.

          An opus in 3 volumes isn’t necessary here; temperature is measured at a given place during a precise moment, while climate is all about trends over long periods of time. It’s the difference between a day trader and Warren Buffet.

          So, NO! Climate models are NOT designed to forecast temperatures in a given week, month or year. This is what several meteorologists conveniently forget when they criticize climate science. Apart from the fact that they go far out of their field of competence, they pretend to subject climate science to the framework of weather technology. Apples and Pineapples: sound the same but very different animals. (well…fruits)

          Your “science is settled” comment is pretty revealing – it is not a scientific statement. Science is never “settled”, and you appear to be siding with those who would prevent progress.

          I read several posters signaling their dissatisfaction about this. Sorry people, but this is utter sophistry. You can’t have it both ways: requesting certainty about the science and negating any validity to a consensus among the experts at the same time.

          What the Academy of Sciences published was a REVIEW, not a poll, or a popularity contest. A scientific review answers one question: What is the state of what is known at this time in a particular field? (In this case, climate change.)

          Please, read their conclusions carefully and in its entirety:

          Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems.

          Most of the warming over the last several decades can be attributed to human activities that release carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—for energy is the single largest human driver of climate change, but agriculture, forest clearing, and certain industrial activities also make significant contributions.

          Individually and collectively, these changes pose risks for a wide range of human and environmental systems, including freshwater resources, the coastal environment, ecosystems, agriculture, fisheries, human health, and national security, among others.

          Note that over the years, the conclusions of the Academy have become clearer and more forceful. There is a very simple reason for that: scientific progress.

          Now, for the DUH! section: The Academy is clear that this does not mean that every question about climate change has been “settled.” In fact, the report recommends a robust research program to further refine our knowledge. But the Academy is also clear that its basic conclusion that heat-trapping pollution is causing global warming is about as settled as the theory of gravity:

          Note: Physicists are STILL trying to disprove the Theory (not the hunch) of Gravity. Why would they do such a thing? Scientific method, pure and simple. It is by successive attempts at refutation (please…not to be confounded with “debate”. Sucks for some among us, but science is not an opinion among many.) with the scientific method that science settle facts.

          Back to our august fellas:

          Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.

          “How did they arrived at these conclusions?” Read the report.

          Was there any dissent ? If so, how much? What were the grounds of the dissent?

          Newsflash: Since the dawn of Science as a human endeavor, there has been dissent among scientists. There are some famous cases: the derivation of the continents is well known. Some refused to “believe” (as if believing something could alter the facts) in it until the day they died! They died being wrong too.

          What matters in case of dissent is this: is it substantive or peripheral? Again, I’m NOT talking about the professional climate change denialists, but dissent within the ranks of those who know their stuff and truly qualify as recognized experts in the field.

          There are very few climate scientists who reject the conclusions of their peers. Oh! They receive an inordinate amount of attention in the media, no doubt about it. But if one is to confound amplified noise from true signal, one might as well conclude that in the realm of American politics, Liz Cheney and Sarah Palin occupy the White House. (a truly terrifying prospect, no?)

          Decision time folks! Who you gonna trust? The best minds America and the world has to offer, or professional paid shills subsidized by Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil and the US Chamber of Commerce, all with a shitload of interested money n the line?

  34. Debra

    The extremely emotional… climate surrounding the global warming issue concerns essentially.. THE RESPONSIBILITY of human beings in global warming.
    How human beings, and human activity connects to it.
    Since man is an oxymoronic animal, he enjoys feeling… all powerful up to a certain point (re private business until the shit hits the fan, and uncontrollable/unpredictable events tear apart… business as usual). And when the shit hits the fan, well, he seems to enjoy his whimpering too. His… “why me ?” his “but how could little ole me have triggered off something so.. enormous ?” attitude…
    If we bothered to read our Greek tragics, we would see where the word “hubris” comes from.
    And WHY the Greeks coined it, too…

  35. Coldcall

    one more thing:

    You often hear agw proponents say something along the lines of: “oh but the weather is not the climate”. This is the biggest load of bull and should make any objectively minded individual very suspicious. Its one of the reasons i have real reservations about the honesty and integrity of climate science.

    There’s only one reason why agw proponents try to make this point and that is because if the climate was correctly categorised as a chaotic system then the same restictions about predictbaility would apply to the climate models.

    I noticed this when debating with Gavin Schmidt at Real Climate. I challenged him on this point and the best he could do was to say “well we dont really know if the climate is chaotic”.

    At that point i knew i was dealing with a dishonest scientist because he knows damn well the climate is chaotic.

    So buyer beware is all i can advise anyone who has taken the word of IPCC contributors at face value.

    1. Francois

      You often hear agw proponents say something along the lines of: “oh but the weather is not the climate”. This is the biggest load of bull and should make any objectively minded individual very suspicious

      The biggest load of grade-AAA enzyme free donkey fazoo is in your quotation above.

      I shall quote myself, since it is late and I’m lazy:

      As per Mirriam-Webster:

      Temperature: degree of hotness or coldness measured on a definite scale.

      Climate: : the average course or condition of the weather at a place usually over a period of years as exhibited by temperature, wind velocity, and precipitation.

      An opus in 3 volumes isn’t necessary here; temperature is measured at a given place during a precise moment, while climate is all about trends over long periods of time. It’s the difference between a day trader and Warren Buffet.

      So, NO! Climate models are NOT designed to forecast temperatures in a given week, month or year.

      And by the very basic definitions from above, it goes without saying that weather is not climate.

        1. tkarn

          I wasn’t trying to catch anyone unaware. The Sokal hoax and the ensuing discussion were at one time fascinating to me. I have respect for both Sokal and some of his debunking allies, and for many of the philosophers and writers he punked. We’re all in this mess together.

  36. Dan Duncan

    Just the same old bullshit.

    This post isn’t about science or demarcation problems, etc..

    This post is about backward Conservatives who refuse to accept science, and the refusal is either out of sheer ignorance or a dishonest denial of “the facts”.

    It’s a debate that’s been going on for what…about 400 years now?

    And of course, it devolves into climate change…and the Left/Right Divide.

    C’mon…I thought this place was populated with Enlightened “Brights” (as Dawkins would say). Please help this unenlightened ignoramus with the following:

    1. We all know about the folly of humans following superstition and religious dogma. And thankfully, we have science as a counter force. But what about a world where there’s no counter-force to science?

    2. We all know that the Right will–too often–attack science to defend a belief. But what about the phenomenon that occurs–too often by the Left–whereby science is exaggerated to extend a belief? Isn’t this just as bad?

    3. Isn’t blind acceptance of “scientific studies” without the least bit of inquiry into the methodology of the underlying study just as ignorant as a knee-jerk, blind denial?

    4. Think about Robert Pirsig’s assertion from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “The duration of a fact is inversely proportional to the amount of scientific inquiry surrounding it.” It’s a damn interesting possibility. Combine it with our outdated and achingly slow evolution…and this earth has a disoriented, if enlightened apex species on its hands.

    5. Is there such a thing as “scientific wisdom”? Reasonable people can disagree, but it seems like in order to access this wisdom, some breaks are needed. A physicist might even say—Mu, a coefficient of friction, is necessary for controlled progression. If we don’t get the friction from tradition-based beliefs, then where will we get it? Should there even be a counter-force to science?

    Science vs. Anti-science: It’s a never-ending tension, replete with ignorance, dishonesty and hypocrisy. I, being the ignorant, dishonest hypocrite that I am (or so I’m told by many Naked Cap readers)… hope it continues.

    1. DownSouth

      Dan Duncan,

      Where are the champions of anti-science?

      They hardly exist.

      There are plenty of scientists.

      And there are plenty of pseudo-scientists. The trick here is to dress up one’s political or economic agenda as science. This is done to imbue that agenda with the tremendous status and prestige science has built up over the past couple of hundred years, mostly through its accomplishments in the physical sciences.

      Then there are a handful skeptics and agnostics.

      And then there are many pseudo-skeptics and pseudo-agnostics, like Coldcall (see comments above). The pseudo-agnostic poses as an agnostic, but is your true anti-scientist. The goal here is to discredit science, and the scientific method.

    2. i on the ball patriot

      Dan, I find your comments thought provoking …

      1. We all know about the folly of humans following superstition and religious dogma. And thankfully, we have science as a counter force. But what about a world where there’s no counter-force to science?

      That would be a world without perception. The “never-ending tension” you speak of in your closing line would end. Game over time.

      2. We all know that the Right will–too often–attack science to defend a belief. But what about the phenomenon that occurs–too often by the Left–whereby science is exaggerated to extend a belief? Isn’t this just as bad?

      Yes.

      3. Isn’t blind acceptance of “scientific studies” without the least bit of inquiry into the methodology of the underlying study just as ignorant as a knee-jerk, blind denial?

      Yes.

      4. Think about Robert Pirsig’s assertion from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “The duration of a fact is inversely proportional to the amount of scientific inquiry surrounding it.” It’s a damn interesting possibility. Combine it with our outdated and achingly slow evolution…and this earth has a disoriented, if enlightened apex species on its hands.

      Evolution is no longer slow, we are now in overdrive. The chick has made major cracks in the shell, the growth IS fucked up!

      5. Is there such a thing as “scientific wisdom”? Reasonable people can disagree, but it seems like in order to access this wisdom, some breaks are needed. A physicist might even say—Mu, a coefficient of friction, is necessary for controlled progression. If we don’t get the friction from tradition-based beliefs, then where will we get it? Should there even be a counter-force to science?

      Science is perception made to effect deceptions — to create deceptive externalizations, tools of dominance, in order to get needs met.

      The counter-force to science is the science itself, the onotron, the aggregate externalizations of humanity that now crack the shell and drive and morph humanity into its newer form.

      Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

      1. DownSouth

        i on the ball patriot,

        • If You Meet The Science On The Road, Kill It.

        [...]

        • Science is perception made to effect deceptions — to create deceptive externalizations, tools of dominance, in order to get needs met.

        At least you’re out front and honest about your denunciation of science, which is a far sight better than the stealth science-bashers that hail from the religious and political right.

        1. i on the ball patriot

          Errrr …. its not a denunciation of science. Its a statement of what science, the intent of science, is. There is nothing wrong with trying to perceive shit. Its natural. Read my comments to KD through AJ above.

          Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

      2. Dan Duncan

        I am much obliged i on the ball patriot.

        I definitely hear what you’re saying: Like you, it’s not science I distrust. It’s the unscientific acceptance of all things labeled as “science” that I distrust. Too many F*ing agendas— on BOTH sides of the aisle. [ie the bullshit of "Intelligent Design"]

        I disagree, however, with your assertion that “evolution is no longer slow.” Scientific change (or progress depending on point of view), is indeed, accelerated. Our evolution, unfortunately, is not. Our evolution is hopelessly antiquated.

        The lag probably wasn’t as noticeable (or problematic) when we went from shouting to smoke signals…from foot to horseback or from bare knuckles to a sling shot…

        But the lag is a problem as we go from a Colt 45 to a heat-seeking, laser guided thermo-nuclear missile.

        We’re not adapted to hyper-modernity. We’re driven to distraction with all the multi-tasking and the constant barrage of instantaneous communication. We’re not up to speed with the data overload. Everything moves at a much greater speed, except us—because we’re sitting on our asses all day. Read about the health problems associated with sitting. [Not a lack of exercise, mind you. Just sitting. Even if you exercise, sitting for the rest of the day is terrible.] We’re not even adapted for sitting in a chair!

        Even though each of us has more information at our finger-tips than any other human in history…we still blindly accept, at face value, the bullshit spewed by our oracles, priests, kings, congressmen and academic professors.

        Progress no longer marches forward. It careens. As such, our evolution needs to evolve. [The last line in your response seems to be a far more interesting and artful way of saying the same.]

        1. i on the ball patriot

          Dan says: “I disagree, however, with your assertion that “evolution is no longer slow.” Scientific change (or progress depending on point of view), is indeed, accelerated. Our evolution, unfortunately, is not. Our evolution is hopelessly antiquated.”

          Some thoughts …

          Dan, consider that the externalizations, the predatory deceptions — what I perceive as the onotron that we are morphing into — are also an integral part of evolution and it is that component of evolution that is speeding up and speeding us up. The externalizations that have been created by — yes, slower physically, you are right — evolving humans, in their aggregate, are now far more powerful and faster than any one human that it (the onotron) is still ‘birthing’ from and linked to, and as each day goes by the onotron takes on a more discernible form and becomes more powerful. To conceptualize it consider that if all human life on earth were to suddenly cease, the onotron, in its infancy, would still ‘live’ on for at least a relatively short while. Images would still come back from space and be processed by still running computers, solar powered irrigation pumps would still irrigate fields, clocks and thermostats would still operate (some for years), emergency generators would kick on, etc. Relatively short lived yes, but far longer than a thousand years ago when a donkey might plod around a primitive well pump for a few hours if everyone disappeared. Note the growth.

          So our externalizations, our predatory deceptions, now drive us and demand more of us. Humanity is being consumed in a morphing process by its own externalizations that it has created — the onotron.

          That is why in answer to your last question which was; “If we don’t get the friction from tradition-based beliefs, then where will we get it?”, I answered, “The counter-force to science is the science itself, the onotron, the aggregate externalizations of humanity that now crack the shell and drive and morph humanity into its newer form.”

          Said another way, we are in competition with our own ever more rapidly growing predatory externalizations, the onotron. We compete with each other (the friction) to get our needs met.

          The transition is now more rapid, and yes, less physically and emotionally evolved humans, stuck in the old belief systems, and bogged down by the effects of aggregate generational deception from the past, feel anxious and not as well adapted to the new — your term, a good one — “hypermodernity”.

          Also, keep in mind that as the onotron devours us in order to get its needs met and grow itself, we still continue to create present day predatory deceptions and devour each other to get our own needs met, e.g., the wealthy ruling elite intentionally strip us of our resources and pit us one against the other in a perpetual conflict, create global debt traps, and set the them off with deceptively complex, over-leveraged derivative products.

          Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

    3. Coldcall

      well i love how you are painting folks into political cubby holes based on their thoughts on climate science, and agw theory.

      While there are many on the right in the sceptics camp, there are many of us who certainly dont feel particularly right wing. I consider myself pretty “liberal” *agnostic*,,,horror shock!

      Sorry to dissapoint you that im no frothing at the mouth gun-totting evangelist :-)

  37. Debra

    Anybody realized yet that we’re basically arguing about the MEANING of the word “science” ??

  38. mock turtle

    coldcall at 530 wants you to believe that weather is climate and to distinguish between the two are in his or her words “BS”

    one might wonder of coldcall also thinks that seasons are climate.

    and coldcalls embraces the notion that climate and weather are such “chaotic systems” as to be unpredictable and inscruitable

    so now we have the “know nothing party”….of science…

    recognize this philosophy ? …the adherants deny more than just scientific evidence of climate change

    they deny cause and effect

    1. Coldcall

      weather is a subset of the climate, they are part of the same system.

      They are chaotic by all standards of the defintion of a “chaotic system.”

      My point is that the reason why agw proponents try to make space between the two is because if they are both part of the same chaotic system then folks come to the obvious conlcuclsions that if we cannot predict (by probabilities) the weather more than a couple days in advance, then it may suggest that climate prediction is perhaps more difficult than suggested by the simplified models used to make such projections.

    2. Coldcall

      I’m not denying cause and effect. But complex non-linearity does not have a simple a —) b relationship. So it does not necessarily follow that if you keep adding Co2 to the atmosphere than there will be some simple linear increase in temperatures. With perhaps an infinite of factors and variables involved its far more complex than our simplified models which appear to predict catastrophe within decades.

    3. Coldcall

      and next time, why not reply under my post? That way I’ll not miss your musings :-)

  39. jdmckay

    Yves:

    Your link to ars technica (IMO) is pertinent, accurate, and telling. It also is reminiscent of many similar studies in the past, and reflects my own observations as well.

    But w/all due respect, your introduction describing thin skinned EURO’ites critical of so many dubious NC articles on EU problems to this is damn thin skinned on your part. A whole lot of those articles had whole lot of holes, and in many cases were more the culprit of this articles them than victims.

    You run a great blog, it’s very worthwhile, and I applaud your effort. I also think you’d do well to let go of some grudges which you express as you did in this intro… many of those articles deserved criticism they received in comments here.

    It’s a good thing to dive on the sword when one makes a mistake.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I suggest you re-read the intro. You are projecting motivation that is absent, and you are also overstating what I said.

      Many of the articles I post elicit some discussion, and occasionally, readers provide arguments and analysis which differs from the thesis (if there is a clear point of view) in the material presented here. I wanted to chose a recent and still live example where some readers clearly had an emotion-laced reaction and a subset did not offer a rational rebuttal. It was you who used the term “thin skinned”, that is a far stronger statement than what is in the post and is your projection.

      This is an accurate statement:

      some readers in Europe would go a bit off the deep end at the suggestion that the Eurozone has serious structural weaknesses. It wasn’t so much that these readers found weaknesses or shortcomings in the post; it’s that its conclusion was clearly deeply offensive to them. While many of the upset reactions still addressed the substance of the argument, others, when you cut to the chase, simply attacked the source or were otherwise incoherent.

      The Eurozone does have serious structural weaknesses: Its creators were well aware of that fact. They hoped that enough time under the unfinished structure plus a crisis would force resolution of the issues that were left open that were known to be troublesome. This is not a controversial statement, yet you seem to disagree with it.

      I said “some readers” got agitated, and if you look at the posts, that is accurate. It is also true that some offered their own analysis and information, while others mainly engaged in name calling (it seems the fact that I cited UK sources was seen as a sign of bias, when both US sources and contacts I have in Germany concur). So again I don’t see what you find objectionable.

      Finally, I don’t have a vested interest here, as you imply. It’s simply that I don’t find the analysis on the other side terribly persuasive. You suggest I am in error without offering any substantive rebuttal.

      I could have chosen any one of a long list of topics for this characterization; you’ll see this mix common to op-eds of many topics. I find it odd that my choosing this as an example elicited a reaction from you.

      1. Debra

        Reading your many comments on this post, Yves, I COULD conclude that you feel that reason and emotion are irreconcilable opposites, and that emotional responses are bad because they are not rational.
        Is this my projection ?
        It is very difficult to escape polarization in our thinking, particularly when our environment, our social body is putting so much pressure on us as individuals to make good/bad judgments on everything and everyone, moreover.
        I think that the cause of reason has been supremely disserved by this polarization, and that the number of radical Republicans are an indication of this.
        Our society has imagined for too long now that being rational means being cold, calculated, unempathetic, and unemotional.
        It has given a very bad name to reason.
        We need to integrate and to intricate reason and emotion.
        Not imagine that “objectivity” is the name of the game.
        Reason and objectivity are NOT synonyms.

      2. jdmckay

        Yves, I have no desire to embarrass, deride you, etc. However,you have demonstrated this tendency before, on several subjects. And in defense of some obliquely false statements, you’ve snapped back w/insults &/or defense of said statements w/cheap shots.

        You have my email address: if you like, send me an email address I can reach you and I’ll give you specific details so you can judge for yourself. Again, I have no desire to pollute NC w/a public pissing contest… I’d prefer to say my piece in private mail.

        I’m glad your book is doing well, that you’re getting media attention, the success of NC, et’al. So w/this growing success, how about renewed effort to get some critical things right?

  40. Charles Frith

    Einstein said “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

    Science is not in safe hands if we let the scientists be the measure of everything.

  41. Swedish Lex

    Morning all,

    Good post and great discussion.

    Some of you may have seen Sam Harris’ recent TED speech (link below) regarding the possibilities, or not, of a scientific approach to morality. Harris’ framing is drawing a fair amount of criticism from many quarters, I have the impression, including from scientists.

    I concur with Harris’ assertion that these are issues that need to be addressed scientifically, perhaps only to find out that they indeed are beyond the limits of science as we know it today. But at least we would then know that such is the case.

    I have no idea whether Harris is a good scientist or not, but I hope that his thought provoking style will prompt batches of good scientists to go out, do research, disagree and come back in a couple of decades time with a new body of scientific knowledge that hopefully will help bring matters beyond the current stone tablets state of affairs.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj9oB4zpHww

  42. MinnItMan

    “The thoughts are to the passions as scouts and spies, to range abroad to secure the things desired….” Thomas Hobbes

    “we have not advanced much since Plato.”

    Same problem [philosophical problem], different day.

    I do like indoor plumbing, though, which in a very literal sense, understood procedurally, separates the modern from the ancient (contra Strauss, or maybe not). My oldest kid is named after a plumber.

    “According to Boethius, the argument from authority is the weakest of all.” Thomas Aquinas

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