I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.
Now it behooves me, of course, to tell you what they’re missing.But it would be just about as difficult to explain to the South Sea Islanders how they have to arrange things so that they get some wealth in their system. It is not something simple like telling them how to improve the shapes of the earphones. But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school–we never explicitly say what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty–a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked–to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.
Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can–if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong–to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition. » Read more
Author Archives: tarran
But the special function of certain Newspeak words, of which oldthink was one, was not so much to express meanings as to destroy them. These words, necessarily few in number, had had their meanings extended until they contained within themselves whole batteries of words which, as they were sufficiently covered by a single comprehensive term, could now be scrapped and forgotten. The greatest difficulty facing the compilers of the Newspeak Dictionary was not to invent new words, but, having invented them, to make sure what they meant: to make sure, that is to say, what ranges of words they cancelled by their existence.
George Orwell 1984
Today an email landed in my inbox sent by the Peter Schiff campaign. Breathlessly and self-importantly, it declared:
One week ago today, our new website was repeatedly attacked by cyber terrorists bent on slowing the progress of our campaign.
What the hell? Saboteurs, perhaps, but terrorists?
Are people who launch denial of service attacks on a politician they disapprove of to be lumped in with people who massacre innocents in order to paralyze a population with fear?
One of the greatest dangers to liberty is that the ideas of freedom will die out and be forgotten. The 19th century had a rich tradition of freedom, including a powerful vocabulary of ideas, a vocabulary that contained numerous words for similar or related concepts, with different words used to express nuance with specificity.
Let’s for example consider people who use violent means for political action. Consider the words we have to choose from:
These words all are related to each other. Yet they describe a wide range of people engaged in political action. Some terms describe people engaged in reprehensible acts, other describe people whom we view as being honorable.
In choosing to use the word ‘terrorist’ to describe the people launching DOS attacks on his website, Peter Schiff is falling for the linguistic Newspeak-like trap laid by the United States Government, which describes its enemies as terrorists so that an honest farmer trying to protect his opium crop is lumped in with pacifists holding prayer meetings an with men who make “snuff porn” movies by sawing the heads of living people in front of a camera.
We must defend our language as seriously and consciously as we defend our homes. For our civilization is dependent on language, and when different concepts are all subsumed together under a single word, we thinking with clarity and precision becomes more difficult, and communication becomes far more difficult.
For shame Mr Schiff… For shame.
The Soldier Pays the Biggest Part of the Bill: an Excerpt from a Speech by Maj Gen Smedley Butler, USMC
[The] soldier pays the biggest part of the bill.
If you don’t believe this, visit the American cemeteries on the battlefields abroad. Or visit any of the veteran’s hospitals in the United States. On a tour of the country, in the midst of which I am at the time of this writing, I have visited eighteen government hospitals for veterans. In them are a total of about 50,000 destroyed men — men who were the pick of the nation eighteen years ago. The very able chief surgeon at the government hospital; at Milwaukee, where there are 3,800 of the living dead, told me that mortality among veterans is three times as great as among those who stayed at home.
Boys with a normal viewpoint were taken out of the fields and offices and factories and classrooms and put into the ranks. There they were remolded; they were made over; they were made to “about face”; to regard murder as the order of the day. They were put shoulder to shoulder and, through mass psychology, they were entirely changed. We used them for a couple of years and trained them to think nothing at all of killing or of being killed.
Then, suddenly, we discharged them and told them to make another “about face” ! This time they had to do their own readjustment, sans [without] mass psychology, sans officers’ aid and advice and sans nation-wide propaganda. We didn’t need them any more. So we scattered them about without any “three-minute” or “Liberty Loan” speeches or parades. Many, too many, of these fine young boys are eventually destroyed, mentally, because they could not make that final “about face” alone.
In the government hospital in Marion, Indiana, 1,800 of these boys are in pens! Five hundred of them in a barracks with steel bars and wires all around outside the buildings and on the porches. These already have been mentally destroyed. These boys don’t even look like human beings. Oh, the looks on their faces! Physically, they are in good shape; mentally, they are gone.
There are thousands and thousands of these cases, and more and more are coming in all the time. The tremendous excitement of the war, the sudden cutting off of that excitement — the young boys couldn’t stand it.
That’s a part of the bill. So much for the dead — they have paid their part of the war profits. So much for the mentally and physically wounded — they are paying now their share of the war profits. But the others paid, too — they paid with heartbreaks when they tore themselves away from their firesides and their families to don the uniform of Uncle Sam — on which a profit had been made. They paid another part in the training camps where they were regimented and drilled while others took their jobs and their places in the lives of their communities. The paid for it in the trenches where they shot and were shot; where they were hungry for days at a time; where they slept in the mud and the cold and in the rain — with the moans and shrieks of the dying for a horrible lullaby.
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To the Members of the California State Assembly:
I am returning Assembly Bill 1176 without my signature.
For some time now I have lamented the fact that major issues are overlooked while many
unnecessary bills come to me for consideration. Water reform, prison reform, and health
care are major issues my Administration has brought to the table, but the Legislature just
kicks the can down the alley.
Yet another legislative year has come and gone without the major reforms Californians
overwhelmingly deserve. In light of this, and after careful consideration, I believe it is
unnecessary to sign this measure at this time.
Now that you’ve read the whole letter, read the first column of letters.
… patients are an expense or liability to be gotten rid of rather than a source of profit who must be served.
Much of the problems with government supplied health care can be traced to this truth concerning incentives. A hospital is not paid more if they treat people well. They don’t lose money if they do a poor job. They face no liability; any judgment the government permits to be levied against them is made up by taxes looted from the productive classes.
And, the goal of a medical care provider is to please his pay-masters rather than the patients he treats; and all to frequently when the interests of patients and the government clash, the patients will lose out.
This phenomenon is quite evident in the sad case of British Corporal Matthew Millington of the Queen’s Royal Lancers who died at the age of 31 from lung cancer, after receiving – in a transplant – the cancerous lungs of a smoker who averaged 30 – 50 cigarettes a day.
Why would a hospital implant the lungs of a person who smokes so many cigarettes a day into a patient? Was it the result of an inexperienced surgical team making a ghastly mistake? No. The surgery was performed by Papworth Hospital in England, which is the main transplant hospital in the United Kingdom, whose spokesmen claim that in fact everything was done properly!
A spokeswoman for Papworth, the UK’s leading cardiothoracic hospital, said that it was not unusual to use smokers’ lungs, adding that all organs are “screened rigorously” before a transplant. “We have a strong record of high quality outcomes and this is an extremely rare case.”
In the past year there were 146 lung transplants in the UK, and 84 people died while waiting on the transplant list, she added. “If we had a policy saying we did not use the lungs of those who smoked, then the number of lung transplants would have been significantly lower.”
Let us ignore the fact that the supply of organs is kept low by the superstitiously premised laws outlawing people from selling their own organs. Let us pass over the laughably implausible claim that transplanting smokers’ lungs results in acceptably good outcomes.
Let us, instead, focus on the question of how the hospital handled the case of Corporal Millington of the Queen’s Lancers and compare it to how a hospital that saw him as a customer would have treated him.
Often the detractors of free markets accuse it of being a dehumanizing system of cut-throat competition. What they do not realize is that when two people engage in trade, they are cooperating. The competition is between actors striving to be the best cooperators with prospective trading partners. In a free market, the providers of health care services would be competing to see which one of them could better care for a prospective customer.
Thus, in a free market, Corporal Millington would have contracted with the hospital that sought to cooperate with him most effectively. He would have chosen a hospital that committed to satisfy his need for undiseased, functional lungs at an affordable price. In a free market, the availability of disease-free lungs would have been much higher; people would be far more likely to sign up to supply their organs for transplant if their heirs or estate would be paid a fair market price for them, and the hospital would not have to worry about waiting lists.
However, had the new lungs developed cancer (and let’s not forget occasionally non-smokers get lung-cancer too), the hospital would have had a strong incentive to make it right, either out of a sense of obligation or out of fear of retribution; In a free market, there are two incentives to keep unscrupulous people treating their customers well. The first is, of course, the fear of lawsuits. the second, though, is their greed for future profits and their fear of losing these future profits should they ever develop a bad reputation. The latter can particularly devastating. The McDonald-Douglas Aircraft Company, for example, was nearly driven into bankruptcy by the perception that the DC-10 was an unsafe aircraft. To this day, the Massengill corporation has never returned to the drug-making business after the debacle of 1938. The yellow press would love nothing better to go after a hospital for transplanting diseased organs into a patient; the readership and viewership of such pieces would bring in a tidy sum in advertising dollars.
Thus the hospital, if nothing else to avoid the collapse of their business after a widespread accusation of incompetence/malpractice, would face a huge opportunity cost if they forewent transplanting in a new, second set of lungs.
But, unfortunately for Corporal Millington, he wasn’t the customer of Papworth. Rather, some officials of the NHS were. The desire of the actual customers (NHS) were to keep costs down by a) cutting corners on the type of lungs transplanted into patients, b) concerning themselves with patient outcomes in the aggregate, and reducing seemingly unnecessary, redundant duplication of services by centralizing transplants as much as possible.
Thus they faced no economic loss for allowing him to die of cancer. There was no profit to saving him; in fact, saving him would have been an expense. They didn’t have to cooperate with Corporal Millington and so they didn’t.