Very good sentences

by on November 4, 2012 at 4:35 pm in History, Science | Permalink

Call this hyperscience, a claim to scientific status that conflates the PR of science with its rather more messy, complicated and less than ideal everyday realities and that takes the PR far more seriously than do its stuck-in-the-mud orthodox opponents. Beware of hyperscience. It can be a sign that something isn’t kosher.  A rule of thumb for sound inference has always been that if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. But there’s a corollary: if it struts around the barnyard loudly protesting that it’s a duck, that it possesses the very essence of duckness, that it’s more authentically a duck than all those other orange-billed, web-footed, swimming fowl, then you’ve got a right to be suspicious: this duck may be a quack.

That is from Shapin on Velikovsky, with the link from The Browser.

dcdrone November 4, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Good description of Nate Silver!

TGGP November 4, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Would you care to bet against him?

DocMerlin November 4, 2012 at 11:22 pm

If he gave me decent odds. He’s predicting an 85.5% chance of Obama winning. I’d be more than willing to take him on a bet near those odds. Heck, I don’t need 7 to 1, i’d be willing for 5 to 1.

Danton November 5, 2012 at 2:27 am

I would take betfair/pinnacle/intrade line against his any day of the week if youre offering.

Lajaaz November 16, 2012 at 5:22 am

Clearly the global scicnee engineer gods are unleashing hell on this earth. Most of them don’t even believe in a Creator/Lord/Heavenly Father. The suicidal maniacs worship death! It’s like the North Korean system has taken over the world. Insane!!! Sadly, the kids today are born into this, never knowing a time w/out war, chemtrails, a poisoned life mind control. Yet, we are the adults of those children. If you believe in God of Moses, Abraham, David Jesus we better protect the kids now!

dearieme November 4, 2012 at 6:11 pm

A very good sentence? It’s boringly predictable, enlivened only by its generous supply of colons.

Thor November 4, 2012 at 6:29 pm

i don’t disagree except that two colons isn’t a generous supply.

GiT November 4, 2012 at 8:19 pm

Better start the colon rationing.

So Much For Subtlety November 4, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Shouldn’t we wait until Wednesday? Then we will know if colons will be rationed or just too expensive for ordinary people.

Personally I think colons should rank high in anyone’s voting decisions – they can have my colon when they prise it from my cold dead hands!

GiT November 4, 2012 at 10:06 pm

I don’t think we can afford to let anyone have colon’s anymore. People are entitled to a semi-colon, at most.

So Much for Subtlety November 4, 2012 at 6:22 pm

I suppose it is mandatory to mention Climate Change.

Adrian Ratnapala November 4, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Well, now you have.

dgl November 4, 2012 at 7:40 pm

The other way though–this is an apt description of climate change denialism.

So Much For Subtlety November 4, 2012 at 7:47 pm

I don’t think it is. The Warming Camp seems to read from the same song sheet. They are boringly predictable. As if they co-ordinated their responses. The Skeptics are a messy, chaotic bunch with a variety of positions from outright denial to we-can-all-cope-despite-the-warming positions.

What is more, using terms like “Denial” with its associations with the Holocaust isn’t merely not scientific, it is a-scientific. It is a type of political bullying. Lysenkoism.

But then I am a Denialist, is that a word?, so I would think that. But in large part I started out scepitcal because this is not how science should work. They would not be so angry if they did not have something to hide. Although Velikovsky does bring out some of the same behaviors.

Andrew' November 4, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Why aren’t the scaremongers ecstatic over geoengineering?

Geoengineering denialists. If we broke it, we can fix it.

mulp November 4, 2012 at 8:58 pm

Hey, economists can fix the economy by fiscal and monetary policy after breaking it fine tuning the economy with fiscal and monetary policy, right?? That was the optimistic economics of the 50s and 60s based on the fantastic results in the 30s and 40s.

Yeah, I know, economic historians have rewritten the history of the 30s and 40s to prove that FDR made things worse and that’s why he was soundly defeated in 1936 with Congress switching hard right in 1934 to a Republican takeover. And yeah, the central planning made things worse in the 40s and economic output was far lower than the free market could have been – just compare how rapidly the free market delivered new technology for the War on Terror compared to the decades long struggle of central planners to build the weapons needed to end WWII.

Hmmm, maybe FDR had more psychic power than Uri Geller and could influence 40 million voters to vote irrationally, and he influence Hitler and Tojo and their minions to kill themselves and surrender unconditionally, because government can’t influence the economy positively….

maguro November 4, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Pretty dumb to contrast “centrally planned” military procurement in WWII with “free market” military procurement in the War on Terror. DoD procurement is no more or less centrally planned now than it was then – The services state a requirement, industry bids on it and someone gets a contract awarded to build a plane, a ship or a tank.

Andrew' November 5, 2012 at 5:20 am

Why did everything FDR did work, good intentions? Isn’t it more reasonable to think that he tried a lot of things that didn’t work? Or could he do no wring because he had the ‘D’ of Win in front of his name?

For me, the null hypothesis is that a decade plus depression that never ended until world war during a century of otherwise prosperity indicates that not everything was done right. But that’s just me.

jtf November 5, 2012 at 8:19 am

Geoengineering is bullshit. The idea is bad but because (1) for everything other than band-aids, i.e. those schemes trying to actively sequester carbon, the economics do not work out because of fundamental thermodynamical reasons. (2) Those band-aid schemes that might work are inherently dependent on continual and repeated application, and must therefore create an inherently unstable equilibrium. I don’t want to live in an unstable equilibrium. And (3), something that pro- and anti-AGW people are likely to agree on is that if we don’t have sufficient understanding of the climate now to create models that fully describe the climate, how on earth are we going to presume that our efforts will work at all when we are still limited to squabbling over second-order effects, let alone third or fourth?.

Andrew' November 5, 2012 at 10:27 am

What if we decided to release carbon dioxide in order to cause global warming? Wouldn’t that be geoengineering?

Andrew' November 5, 2012 at 10:30 am

BTW, a stable equilibrium isn’t in the cards.

We can’t limit the ideas to putting the carbon genie back into the bottle, but by “thermodynamic reasons” I assume you mean that releasing carbon releases energy and to sequester it requires the same amount of energy plus inefficiency losses.

But that doesn’t really matter with things like trees and algae because there is plenty of energy from The Sun.

Ricardo November 5, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Andrew’, if we take coal as an example, your suggestion might be to use trees and algae — or some synthetic equivalent — to capture CO2 in the atmosphere and then somehow sequester the carbon in the ground. But there is actually an even cheaper way to sequester the carbon that is otherwise released by burning coal — leave the coal in the ground and just start using the solar power directly. After all, coal originally comes from dead plants that had their carbon “sequestered” below ground for millions of years. It’s not clear how your idea for “geoengineering” beats out some sort of direct or indirect solar power in terms of energy efficiency.

jtf November 5, 2012 at 1:25 pm

I was actually referring to the free energy of mixing. Dispersion of carbon dioxide from high concentration to low concentration in air is thermodynamically favorable and must be overcome with the application of additional energy. This is why point source remediation of carbon emissions, from stack gas that has ~30% concentration, is far more efficient than from atmospheric where the concentration hovers around ~1%. Also the relationship is highly nonlinear, it takes over 100 times the energy on a per-pound basis to scrub CO2 from 1% in air than from 30% in stack gas.

It isn’t a matter of reversal; the energy that we get from CO2 producing activities is chemical potential energy and has nothing to do with the behavior of the resultant gas. Your identity would be true if we were trying to convert carbon dioxide back to hydrocarbons. Some people do this, notably Carbon Recycling Inc. of Iceland, but it depends on extraordinarily cheap energy to be economical.

Plants as a carbon sequestration mechanism is iffy at best. Higher carbon concentrations usually end up with algae and trees running short of some other critical nutrient such that growth is effectively the same. Fertilization is economically and systemically dubious given that there are second-order effects that tend to bring things back to equilibrium. And sunlight isn’t costless. Land on which to gather said sunlight costs money and has an opportunity cost associated with profitable activities that could be undertaken on it.

As for your comments about geoengineering, well, let’s just say that we are in the middle of a large-scale uncontrolled experiment. See also my earlier point 3. The difference with carbon dioxide is that there is a consensus that the half-life of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is of a certain order of magnitude measured in hundreds of years, and that the half life of the mitigation-focused geoengineering solutions (sulfur aerosols, water vapor, etc.) is on the order of days to weeks. And by “consensus” I mean that even the anti-AGW crowd largely doesn’t dispute that carbon dioxide sticks around for a while.

So Much For Subtlety November 6, 2012 at 1:42 am

Ricardo, it may make sense to burn the coal and sequester the carbon some other way. The coal is concentrated and it is storable. It is available to be burnt when we need the energy. None of those things is true for solar power. What is more, there may be some limiting factor that is preventing the sort of growth that would sequester large amounts of carbon – iron sulphate in one recent experiment. We could throw some iron compounds into the sea and cause vastly more CO2 to be taken out of the atmosphere than we used to make the iron in the first place. We don’t know but we ought to be finding out.

jtf, what is wrong with repeated applications? This is a good thing, not a bad thing. It means that if it doesn’t work out or has some other side effect, we can stop and go back to the status quo ante. Which is a bonus. We are now active managers of the environment. There is virtually nowhere that is in a stable equilibrium without counting the active involvment of humans. Even, say, Yellowstone National Park. Or the Amazon. Just consider the introduction of European species to the United States. We need to control their numbers and prevent a new equilibrium that would destroy what is left of the pre-Columbus landscape. Is this bad?

jtf November 6, 2012 at 11:03 am

Unstable equilibria are bad in the context of geoengineering. You draw several examples of natural unstable equilibria, and I agree that those are indeed unstable. However, the order of magnitude of the timescales for those changes that you’ve described – Yellowstone, Amazon, etc. – are greater than a human lifetime.

Instability due to geoengineering is bad because of the vulnerability of the mitigation measures and the timescale on which changes can occur. These range from near instantaneous climactic shift if some exotic solution like a system of reflectors placed at an Earth-Sun Lagrange Point fails and suddenly increases solar output, a few weeks if we are speaking of water vapor generators, and a few months if we are speaking of sulfur aerosols. What makes the specter of AGW scary is that it is happening relatively quickly, on a timescale of decades. Imagine that instead it took place in under a year. It’s not the new equilbrium that’s expensive but the shift to it, and its rapidity.

Now note that geoengineering is a massive collective action problem that essentially requires the unilateral action of a rich and altruistic actor. It must not be disrupted by war, lack of funding, mechanical failure, nation-states advantaged by global warming, non-state actors (i.e. terrorists), fuel disruption, etc. I don’t like the idea of geoengineering because I don’t want the whole world to essentially be the Zuyderzee.

I don’t consider large scale algal carbon sequestration of the type you’re suggesting to be a viable geoengineering technique for technical reasons. In fact that’s precisely the example I had in mind when I wrote that there are natural feedback mechanisms against large-scale fertilization.

Your other example – invasive species – have low costs and ultimately few effects on human welfare if there is a failure.

Lord November 4, 2012 at 7:07 pm

Don’t you mean, hypereconomics?

NAMEREDACTED November 4, 2012 at 8:11 pm

“But there’s a corollary: if it struts around the barnyard loudly protesting that it’s a duck, that it possesses the very essence of duckness, that it’s more authentically a duck than all those other orange-billed, web-footed, swimming fowl, then you’ve got a right to be suspicious: this duck may be a quack.”

Does this mean we should be wary of evolutionary theory?

W.E. Heasley November 4, 2012 at 8:37 pm

“Don’t you mean, hypereconomics?” (Lord) vs. “Beware of hyperscience.” (Cowen)

Maybe, just maybe, F.A. Hayek’s sciencetism is involved in Cowen’s remarks. One can surely take science and turn it into a politico position and shape science into sciencetism within a social studies argument.

Stated alternatively, if one wants to make a political argument to persuade James and Jane Godfellow, does one use science or sciencetism?

Andrew' November 5, 2012 at 5:47 am

The question is why would science care except when some political issue threatens science itself.

The closest is when people argue over elementary school, but that is nowhere close to actual science.

Andrew' November 5, 2012 at 5:53 am

Can’t let it go.

It’s crazy that people think even doubting the “consensus” on global warming is a threat to science. You know what every scientist is trying to do? Upset the prevailing consensus. There are very few points for replication studies. That, in fact is a threat to science. The biggest actual threat to science is scientists.

Brian Donohue November 5, 2012 at 8:22 am

Popper would say that even scientists can’t thwart science, though they can take things temporarily in the wrong direction. There are enough real scientists with a real understanding of what science is that I have zero fear for science itself. That doesn’t mean I’m optimisitic about the future of Public Discourse on the subject.

“If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,”

mulp November 4, 2012 at 8:38 pm

The context of the above is with the reaction to the following events:

“If this story makes you feel even the slightest stab of recognition, you’re probably at least fifty years old, because it’s a summary of the key ideas in Immanuel Velikovsky’s Worlds in Collision. Published in New York in 1950, the book is now almost forgotten, but it was one of the greatest cultural sensations of the Cold War era. Before it was printed, it was trailed in magazines, and immediately shot onto the American bestseller lists, where it stayed for months, grabbing the attention and occupying the energies of both enthusiasts and enraged critics. The brouhaha subsided after a few years, but the so-called Velikovsky affair erupted with greater violence in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the author gathered a gaggle of disciples and lectured charismatically (and at times incomprehensibly) to large and enraptured campus audiences.”

I honestly can’t remember on bit of any of this, but I do recall a host of equal nutcases and fraudsters, which led to the the founding of Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, now CSI, James Randi’s foundation, the Skeptic Society. That was when I learned Johnny Carson was an accomplished magician, and came to the understanding of the most common excuse for things not behaving as nutcases predict: bad vibes, non-believers and their bad/negative energy. Uri Geller was amusing because he was so pathetic when he tried to fool Johnny. And yet he took on Randi, and lost after decades of lawsuits.

Yet over the past few decades, a number of corporations have funded nutcases a thousand times worse than Uri Geller and Peter Popoff et al. But now it is the nutcases attempting to discredit science and convince Americans to believe in the paranormal. Katrina wasn’t the result of environmental damage on a huge scale, but a sign of god’s wrath because America no longer kills gays, a modern replay of Sodom and Gomorrah.

But this is not limited to the AGW deniers: tobacco doesn’t cause cancer, mercury and lead poisoning doesn’t cause retardation, and anything else where regulation is proposed which changes the profit mix between industries.

But it has extended beyond physical sciences to economics. No matter the evidence “tax cuts create (jobs|growth|wealth)” and the only reason the past 15 years of tax cut after tax cut after tax cut has resulted in the worst performance of all these is Obama’s bad karma or the refusal of liberals to believe tax cuts create wealth. Tyler makes the case for TGS beginning four decades ago, but he does not connect it to 40 decades ago marked the end of four decades of tax hike after tax hike after tax hike, with the defining feature of the past four decades being tax cut after tax cut after tax cut. Lots of papers that prove tax cuts create a great economy and tax hikes destroy the economy, but any hint the tax cuts of the past decade have led to the dismal economy of the past decade needs to be attacked and mocked.

Another economic claim is competition drives down costs, confusing price with costs, and rejecting the fundamentals of micro and the firm and its pricing – lower prices to a point increase revenue, which is the aggregate cost to everyone else by getting more people to substitution your good for the others they currently consume. Thus “free market competition” in health care should be expected to drive up aggregate costs, And many consumers wanted the tech industry to drive up their costs of computers and cell phones from zero to whatever price is low enough to make them spring for the high cost – higher than zero. When we look at health care costs in the US, we need to compare them to many other nations who have systems with lower costs and better services and goods. Except, that is not allowed – the average Canadian is compared to the well paid American with really good corporate benefits, ignoring the uninsured minimum wage worker with a serious illness.

“But there’s a corollary: if it struts around the barnyard loudly protesting that it’s a duck, that it possesses the very essence of duckness, that it’s more authentically a duck than all those other orange-billed, web-footed, swimming fowl, then you’ve got a right to be suspicious: this duck may be a quack.” is referring to the AGW deniers, the America’s health care system is the best and would be better with more payment out of pocket, Monsanto GMOs is the key to great food for the entire world, …

Cliff November 4, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Yes, this post is a great excuse to beat your dead horses. “Everything I don’t like is a great example of the terrible thing described here!”

Andrew' November 5, 2012 at 5:29 am

mulp,

When the government doesn’t cut spending and continues borrowing at unprecedented levels your accusations against tax cuts are probably invalid.

It’s almost impossible to engage you, but I shall continue to try.

john personna November 4, 2012 at 11:26 pm

Sounds like a science phobia. As if examining the duck, or designing a test for duckness, is too daunting. Much easier to insist that all scary ideas are false.

DocMerlin November 5, 2012 at 12:36 am

Because many “scientific” things are not scientific at all.

john personna November 5, 2012 at 9:28 am

You did it again there, didn’t you? You see, a generic argument against “scientific” things is way down the wrong path.

DocMerlin November 5, 2012 at 12:38 am

And giving tests for scientificity makes it much harder to act biased. People want ammo to not have to change their worldviews. Worldview changes are painful.

Andrew' November 5, 2012 at 5:32 am

Scientists doing science are to busy to care.

Andrew' November 5, 2012 at 5:33 am

to busy to spell, in fact.

Marcellus Shale November 5, 2012 at 12:57 am

what is a duck?

Andrew' November 5, 2012 at 6:44 am

Anything that walks like a duck or quacks like a duck.

john personna November 5, 2012 at 9:32 am

Well, based on a brief google, I’d guess that everything outside family Anatidae is not a duck. Duck, duck, goose is much harder.

jtf November 5, 2012 at 1:28 pm

But that begs the question. So what is a member of family Anatidae?

Walt G November 5, 2012 at 1:38 pm

I well remember, back in the Sixties and Seventies, scientists and, perhaps oddly, science fiction writers attacking Velikovsky. Their reasoning was sound but I found their righteous anger bewildering.

This review helped me understand that the backlash partially sprang from scientists wanting to secure their new, post-WWII authority.

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