Further reply to Julian Karswell

May 22, 2008

I’ll now reply to the second comment by Julian Karswell beneath my post Satanism and politics: Question for Julian Karswell and other LaVey-based Satanists on my Google/Blogspot blog.

Julian, I would like to suggest that you reply either here on WordPress.com or, better yet, on your own blog.

“Orthodoxy” vs. “scientific fact”

Julian wrote:

2)I’d like to quibble over the use of the word ‘orthodoxy’. I use it in the sense that it is a view endorsed by authority, and I can make the difference between orthodoxy and scientific fact thus: when it was proved that the sun remained static relative to the earth, the Catholic Church continued to maintain that it was the sun that revolved around the earth. An orthodoxy is saying ‘this is right because we say so’ whereas the work of Copernicus was demonstrable fact.

The line between “demonstrable fact” and “a view endorsed by authority” can be hard to draw when you’re talking about things that are “demonstrable” only by experiments (or by very large sets of observations) that are beyond the capability of the average person without relevant scientific training plus a research grant. So, in practice, most people, even most well-educated people, have little choice but to rely on the authority of the scientific community for their scientific “facts.” More precisely, most people rely on mass media oversimplifications of the scientific consensus, and do not even have enough time to determine for themselves what the scientific consensus is on most issues, beyond what the mass media say it is, let alone determine how well-established the scientific consensus is on any given issue.

Furthermore, all scientific findings are at least slightly tentative. There’s no such thing as a scientific proof that’s as definitive as, say, a mathematical proof. A “law of science” is simply a generalization which has been found to be true so far. It’s not physically possible for anyone to ascertain, for sure, whether any universal generalization really is true absolutely everywhere and at all times. And, every now and then, “laws of science” get revised in light of further evidence. (Well-known examples: Newton’s laws no longer apply at speeds close to the speed of light, or for subatomic particles, for which physicists had to invent the theories of special relativity and quantum mechanics, respectively.) Of course, some scientific findings are much better established than others. But this is only a question of degree.

Anyhow, global climate trends are definitely in the category of things that the average person is in no position to demonstrate directly. It requires massive amounts of temperature data, from many places, over long periods of time. Only a large, well-trained and well-funded team of specialists could possibly hope to gather all this data, let alone analyze it correctly. Furthermore, only specialists in the field are in a good position to evaluate how good a job other specialists have done so far.

While I may have over-egged the pudding to say all orthodoxies are wrong, I would still say they should all be challenged.

Questioned, yes. As for actually challenging a scientific orthodoxy in any scientifically meaningful way, that would require quite a bit of original research plus an in-depth familiarity with the basis of the current consensus on any given issue.

Global climate change and political pressures

Julian wrote:

This issue of political influence in the global warming (sorry- climate change) scam is a complex one.

What, precisely, is your basis for deeming the current scientific consensus to be a “scam”?

While there may be a Republican in the White House, many of the people administering government grants are not political appointees.

True. But how do you think they got their jobs? And what do you think influences their choices of which projects to fund, besides the actual scientific merit of a given project?

To the extent that U.S. government funding of atmospheric science is influenced by any kinds of political pressures at all, what do you think these pressures would likely be, besides top down pressures from the elected officials who are are political appointees? The only other source of pressure I can think of would be the desire to keep one’s career options open in terms of getting subsequent jobs either in academia or with private corporations. And, even in academia, there’s little or no pressure on natural scientists to tow a left-wing political line. All the less so is there any such pressure in private corporations.

Also, while some scientists clearly do have an agenda to prove climate change, they are not the danger.

Here you seem to suggest that there isn’t a consensus amongst the vast majority of atmospheric scientists as to the existence of anthropogenic global warming, but that this is just an “agenda” of “some” scientists. If that’s what you believe, how have you determined what the vast majority of atmospheric scientists think, and on what basis?

The danger comes from a vocal minority of ‘environmental campaigners’ who are have fallen off the extreme-left bandwagon, and see environmentalism as a way of curbing capitalism and globalisation.

Can you provide examples and evidence? Also, do you believe that for most environmentalist activists, environmentalism is merely a means toward the larger end of “curbing capitalism and globalisation”? If so, what is your evidence for that belief?

They are using pressure to put climate change into every policy issue.

But wouldn’t this be a logical thing to do even if climate change predictions were based on nothing more than a well-established scientific consensus?

The truth is there is no proof that the so-called evidence of climate change is anything but good, old fashioned weather.

What is your basis for knowing this “truth”? How deeply have you delved into atmospheric science?

There is indeed a difference between climate and weather. Climate is long-term, whereas weather is short-term.

And there are many areas of science where it is possible to predict long-term or otherwise large-scale behaviors much further in advance than one can predict short-term or otherwise small-scale behaviors. For example, if you blow air into a balloon, you can predict that the balloon will expand, even though you can’t predict where each molecule of air will go.

Looking around for some scientifically literate though lay-accessible debates on the topic of climate change, I tried the JREF forum. Here are lists of threads on global warming and climate change. (Note: AGW = anthropogenic global warming.)

An especially interesting thread is the one on CTs Concerning Global Warming Science (CT’s = “condpiracy theories”). This thread is about the question of how various political agendas might actually be influencing the scientists, or the popular portrayals of relevant science, and the evidence for any such claim of undue political influence. See especially this post. See also this BBC News article: Climate science: Sceptical about bias by Richard Black, Wednesday, 14 November 2007.

Another very interesting thread is For TokenConservative – Where should we get our information on climate from?. Another thread is Global warming resources?.

Somewhere on the JREF forum, someone linked to Climate Change Versus Loose Change, which compares some of the arguments against AGW with the arguments for some alternative 9/11 theories. I disagree with some of what the author has to say about the alternative 9/11 theories, but I don’t have time to go into that right now. Still, this article makes some important epistemological points. See also a subsequent comment by the author: Correlation vs. Causation (again).

I would be interested in your comments on the above.

(P.S., 5/23/2008: Also, have you looked at a standard academic textbook on atmospheric science? That would probably be the best kind of source on exactly what the current scientific consensus is and how iit was arrived at.)

Revolutionary Communists

Julian wrote:

Yes, I do mean revolutionary communism. Many University lecturers during the 1960s and 1970s were card-carrying communists whose intention was to cause a breakdown in society so that a Marxist-Leninist revolution could take place.

Exactly what kind of “breakdown” were they trying to cause, and what is your evidence for this?

It seems to me that Communists would aim for some kinds of “breakdown” but not others. They would aim to build, not break down, labor unions and various other kinds of grassroots community organizations. A total “breakdown in society” would better serve the aims of right wing would-be dictators than Communists, it seems to me.

Anyhow, here in the U.S.A,, I don’t think the Communist Party ever had enough “card-carrying menbers” for very “many” of them to be university faculty. Here in the U.S.A., the heyday of the Communist Party was the 1930’s and 1940’s. They were dealt a very heavy blow by McCarthyism in the 1950’s. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, there were left-wing movements on many campuses, but not an awful lot of “card-carrying” Communists.

I do know that Communist parties have been much more popular in Europe, especially in parts of Italy, than they ever were here in the U.S.A. In Italy, there are large cities where the Communists have even won municipal elections, which, as far as I am aware, is unheard of here in the U.S.A.

Religious trends in the U.S.A. and the U.K.

Julian wrote:

You’re probably right about underestimating what is called the ‘charismatic’ movement within modern Christianity in the UK. It is growing, but England is much more cynical about religion and religious loonies than America is

Even Americans outside the Bible Belt tend to be very “cynical” about religious loonies. Large coastal cities like San Francisco and New York are a lot like Western Europe in that regard, I think.

Here in New York, I still run into people who are in denial about the power of the religious right wing. A lot of people assume that the religious right wing must be dead because the Republicans did badly in the 2006 elections. (No, this doesn’t mean that the religious right wing is anywhere near dead. It just means that a lot of people were sick of Bush, for various reasons.)

and it will be a long time before issues of religion become the kind of poltical football it is in the USA.

It may happen sooner than you think. In the 1970’s, not many people expected the religious right wing to become very powerful here in the U.S.A. either.

On economic matters

Julian wrote:

I don’t know of anywhere where Capitalism is pure or unfettered.

The U.S.A., in the 1800’s, came pretty close to pure and unfettered capitalism.

My point is that in the UK, Canada and in many European countries the idea that being poor is a consequence of an unfair society has had a good, long run and has become (if I can use the word) an orthodoxy. As a result, if you didn’t pay attention at school, if you got knocked up at 14, if you don’t really feel like getting up at 6.30 on a January morning and going to work, or if you want have more children than you can afford – you get to put your hand in my pocket.

I think we should refrain from making judgments about “the poor” in general. Some things are the fault of the individual, and some things aren’t.

Some unemployment seems to be unavoidable. In a modern economy, there seems to be an inherent tradeoff between inflation and unemployment. Subject to this tradeoff, the levels of both inflation and unemployment are controlled by whoever is in charge of a country’s central bank. The person in charge of the central bank is supposed to try to make the unemployment level as low as it can safely go without triggering an unacceptable level of inflation. But that level is, necessarily, nonzero.

Have you taken any economics courses? If not, I would suggest that you read an introductory economics textbook.

See also the collection of articles on Crank economics by economist Paul Krugman, including Vulgar Keynesians.

(P.S., 5/25/2008: Looking now at some online economics textbooks that are a bit more up-to-date that what I studied in college, I see that my remarks above about a tradeoff between unemployment and inflation, and about the central bank trying to control both, may be outdated. Some economists argue that central banks should try to control only price stability, not employment, while others still argue that they should try to control both. In any case, in a large and complex economy, the level of unemployment is affected by many factors that are beyond the control of individual workers.)

Some earlier remarks revisited

Back to your previous comment. You wrote:

For example, those that those who would advocate eugenics, can never get a serious hearing for their ideas, because whenever the subject is raised, the emotional arguments are always immediately put forward that the road to eugenics must always lead to Belsen and Dachau.

Well, some aspects of what was once known as “eugenics” are still very much around under the name of “medical genetics.” I recently came across a blog about it, What Sorts of People. It includes a post explaining the differences between eugenics and medical genetics. But there are obvious commonalities, without the coercion involved in eugenics as it was formerly practiced. What do you think of medical genetics?

I have the dubious pleasure of living in the UK under the Stalinist heel of Commisar Brown.

Surely that’s a rhetorical exaggeration?

Anyhow, I added a P.S. to the section on The population control taboo in my previous post, Satanisms and politics: To Julian Karswell:

(P.S., 5/18/2008: I just now came across a page which claims it’s not true that families on welfare tend to have more children than nonwelfare families, at least here in the U.S.A.: Myth: Welfare gives mothers an economic incentive to have more children. Fact: Studies have not found a correlation between size of welfare benefits and families. I have yet to verify this article’s claims, which, in any case, deal only with the U.S.A. Things might be different in Europe.)

I’ve never really researched this issue in any depth. Have you? (If you haven’t, you should, if you’re going to continue to make a point of advocacy on this issue.) Or do you just assume that the answers are “obvious”?

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