Category Archives: General

Scientists, Signalling, and Sides

Recently, a scientist who I generally quite like… and who in geek circles has a lot of cred and “cool” (though he’s done a good job of beclowning himself in the past few weeks), Neil Degrasse Tyson; has used the big soap box of his reimagined “Cosmos” TV show, to essentially dismiss anyone opposed to the theory of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming causing catastrophic climate change, as being “anti-science”.

He is sadly incorrect in this…

There are plenty of scientifically literate, educated, pro-science folks, who understand the facts and the issues at hand, and do not subscribe to what is in fact a rather radical theory which is thus far not only not supported by the evidence, but which is in fact contradicted by it.

Unfortunately… he is correct ENOUGH, that it has become a matter of ingroup and outgroup identification and “the drawing up of sides” (which, of course, has exploded into total ridiculous “politics as a team sport” over the past few weeks with the quote fabrications issue).

All too often, ones position on this matter IS a matter of scientific ignorance, and has become simply signalling of ones sociopolitical/ideological position.

Often enough that it’s a good enough proxy for many to simply make the assumption…

NOTE: This leaves aside the corruption of funding question. The funding corruption issue is an entirely separate issue. It’s a serious and important issue that I’ve addressed before… and it is a large part of the explanation of why the proponents in and around the field of environmental science behave as they do. The funding question however, is neither necessary, nor sufficient, to explain the political or social positioning, or the passion and intensity thereof, when it comes to the huge majority of scientists whose funding has nothing to do with environmental and climate science whatsoever.

The problem is, for Tyson… and for a lot of other scientists… This stopped being about the facts of the case …or for that matter about science at all… a long time ago.

It became about sides…

One side being pro science, the other side being anti-science.

One side being everyone who respects science, and education, and opposes ignorance…

The other side being the Kansas and Texas textbook authority people. And the creation museum people. And the anti-gay, anti abortion people. And the science funding cutters and actual anti-science nutjobs.


Since the “social conservatives” drew up some pretty clean lines, with congressional support and legislative activity on “their side” (particularly on the state level), everything else, which had been fairly fractured politically from the perspective of science, felt an existential threat. Those who were not politically active and motivated got so, in a big way, quickly, when they saw the way things were going.

As soon as this bloc hardened up, it had to become unassailable… It couldn’t admit error or fault in even the smallest way, or it would become politically vulnerable. The “other side” would use that error to force their anti-science agenda through.

This isn’t to say the liberals didn’t already have their blocks of agenda science… Of course they did; the entire block of ” environmental science” formed its core and still does. If you consider “social science” a science at all (at it’s best, it is, but mostly it isn’t), that is even more politicized and agenda driven, and always has been.

But the “social conservatives” (who, I keep emphasizing in these pages, are mostly anything but “conservative”, they are mostly populist religious reactionaries) essentially unified the vast majority of science, and mostly aligned on the left (since the anti-science folks are mostly aligned on the right) against their direct assault.

And yes, often, it has been a direct assault. A mostly weak, futile, and stupid one to be sure, centered around local and state level action, mostly in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Alabama, and Arkansas… But very direct and tangible assault it has been and continues to be.

An Aside: Don’t try to defend the “social conservative” position here for the most part. If it were an actual social conservative position, that would be fine… and defensible…

The only “socially conservative” science position has to be “science is science, leave agendas out of it, left OR right. Stop using it as an excuse for social experimentation and social engineering”.

It would be things like “stop trying to teach sex-ed in kindergarten as a mask to set up a gay rights educational agenda for 5 year olds” (something I actually fought down in Phoenix, and I generally support “gay rights”… but that’s MY job to teach, when and how I think it’s appropriate for MY kids… not the schools job).

But right now, the self identified “social conservative” position and agenda certainly isn’t that. It’s trying to make it illegal to teach ACTUAL SCIENCE in high school for example.

And no, your personal religious views… NO MATTER WHAT THEY ARE… have NO place in the classroom.

In any way.

Under any circumstances.

So long as we compel public education and there is no publicly funded alternative, this must always be so.
Stop trying to disguise it with “intelligent design” or “teach the controversy” garbage as well… it’s a disingenuous lie, insulting to everyone elses intelligence, and everyone knows it.

It’s not about “inclusiveness” or “teaching alternatives”… It’s about trying to force society to stop teaching actual science and history, and start teaching what YOUR church tells YOU to believe.

If you want to teach your kids that everything their science and history teachers teach them is wrong and against Gods will and teaching… go for it. That’s what churches and home bible study, and home religious schooling, and private religious schools are for.
But you don’t get to legislate that my kids have to be taught your religion, or that they NOT be taught what your religion says is false. In fact, you don’t even get to try…

What is more… by trying, you permanently forfeit any right to participate any more in any public process other than voting and speechifying. You have proven that you neither understand, nor respect, the rights and liberties of others. You have proven, that you are not to be trusted.

If you think that somehow your moral or religious superiority justifies ignoring (or altering) our societal rules, moral conventions, laws and constitution… because God looks on your views with special favor and you have to see his good works through… or some other such twaddle… You think the ends justify the means, and you are not to be trusted.

That view makes you every bit as dangerous as the islamists… and every bit as dangerous as the left wing think you are…
Not just dangerous to their agenda… Dangerous to the United States, to science, to education, to the fight against ignorance, and to the fight for liberty.

And yes… that means that the atheists and the liberals “automatically win” in schools when it comes to science.
Get over it.

They “won” the second you decided that science and history were your enemy. You SHOULD lose here… For the United States to continue, you NEED to lose on this issue.

The schools are not supposed to be a battleground (yes, they are, but they are not supposed to be and making it worse is not helping), and your side here is flat wrong… Better in degree than the Islamicist lunatics, but not in kind.

If you think your beliefs can’t stand up to the “threat” presented them by science and history… Well the first thing is you might want to take a look at your personal faith… and the second is, you may want to re-evaluate those beliefs.

So for right now, it has become impossible for those who support science as a whole, but want GOOD science to prevail, to assault the BAD science that dominates the field of environmental science. The entire science “bloc” is in “defend science against anti science bigots and extremists and idiots at all costs no matter what” mode.

Every time someone gets up there and says “I believe every word of the bible is literally true and you shouldn’t be allowed to teach children otherwise” they make it worse.

Oh and before anyone tries to say I’m an atheist, or anti religious… nope. I am a confirmed and sincere catholic. I’m just anti-stupid.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Houston Loses Collective Mind – Subpoenas Pastors

Here is the news story in its original form for your shocked brains to attempt to process:

Houston Subpoenas the Churches Over ‘HERO’

The Alliance Defending Freedom is countering this abuse of freedom with legal action – a motion to stop these subpoenas from going ahead (and you can find their legal reasoning here.

Notably, ADF claims that the city’s subpoenas, which the city claims go toward answering a lawsuit filed by Houston citizens over this new rule (dubbed HERO – cute), is a fishing expedition, and that the pastors being subpoenaed were not even involved in the lawsuit. It looks as though the city may be hunting for some way of legally punishing the city’s religious leaders for taking a position counter to ‘HERO’, and their methods are questionable at best.

But let’s step back a minute and talk about that rule.

‘HERO’ states that transgendered persons who identify as a different gender than what shows up biologically cannot be denied access to opposite-gender bathrooms in any public building in Houston. The theory is that it is a hardship for a biologically male (or female) person who identifies as the opposite gender to be forced to use the bathroom of their biological gender.

A lawsuit filed to stop this rule from going live is what brought the debate to a boil, but I do want to briefly discuss the merits of the rule itself. I want to be sympathetic here – but how can any purveyor of a public restroom be certain of the state of mind of anyone wishing to use the opposite gender bathroom? It is well known, thanks to the internet and its cornucopia of platforms for discussion of sexual orientation and proclivities, that there exist a not-insignificant number of individuals who obtain sexual gratification from spying on the bathroom habits of the opposite sex. Houston is the place for these folks! Simply claim you are transgendered and spend all the time you want in there. I, for one, do not believe it is possible to uphold this law without creating a huge array of unintended consequences, not the least of which being a big increase in sexual assault and rape in ladies rooms in the city.

But – and this is hard to believe – there is a bigger issue. In order to enforce the rule and punitively punish anyone who would bring a legal challenge, city officials feel within their rights to spy on – oops, I mean subpoena – the sermons of pastors not directly involved in said legal challenge on the topic of this rule. It is a deeply alarming world in which we now live, if it is considered normal behavior for a city to decide that compliance with this rule shall include absolute verbal agreement at the threat of legal action; and that in order to obtain this agreement, they shall have the unfettered right to pry into the private worship of any congregation in their jurisdiction on a fishing expedition. What’s next – the Justice Department deciding that it has the right to subpoena all churches to make sure they comply with the Affordable Care Act or do not explicitly oppose democrat candidates? Oh wait – the IRS is beginning to consider spying on churches to make sure they do nothing “political”.

Here’s hoping that ADF is successful in its challenge – but, to be honest, I doubt it will matter in the long run if these abusive legal tactics become the norm (as they already seem to be doing).

I fear for us all.

Windowpanes, Pencils, and Paperclips

A few days ago I wrote something on facebook that bears repeating here:

A comprehensive understanding of the pencil problem, combined with a thorough understanding of the broken window fallacy (and its inputs and corollaries… Hazlitt for example), makes a pretty good inoculant against socioeconomic lies and stupidities.

Although they are implied by the conditions above, perhaps one should also specifically reference the scale and complexity problems, the perfect information fallacy, the perfect man fallacy, and the law of unintended consequences…

Some of our readers may be unfamiliar with the pencil problem.

In comments, the novelist Ryk Spoor provided a decent explanation, which I’m going to paraphrase here, with my own edits and revisions (and the addition of the last bit, about planning and control):

No one man, can make a pencil, or at least a pencil which could be sold economically.
In general terms, the pencil problem, is that even simplest and most common objects in our civilization generally require an immense number of people and inputs; to not merely build, but manufacture and sell in sufficient numbers, to make it worthwhile to build them cheaply (or at least so that they can be sold economically).

The applies to everything from cars and computers, to pencils, to paperclips.

If you wanted ONE paperclip, it would be an epic undertaking, from locating the appropriate ores, refining them, turning them into steel, figuring out how to draw the steel into the appropriate size of wire, and then finally producing the paperclip from that wire. The amount of effort involved in it would be months of your labor, assuming you had the talent and resources to do it at all.

Instead, you go to a store and buy a 100ct box of them for a dollar; or even at minimum wage, a few minutes of your time for a hundred of the things.

Multiply that by all the different types of goods and services in a modern civilized society, and it starts to become clear just how many people, in how many different specialties, with how much infrastructure, are needed to keep everything running.

Given that scale and complexity, it should also be clear how impossible it would be to plan, control, and manage, anything approaching a national economy or infrastructure centrally; or in fact in any way other than as devolved and decentralized as possible.

The original statement of the problem in this way came from an essay by Milton Friedman (which was a restatement of an earlier essay, “I, Pencil” from Leonard Read, which was a restatement of Hazlitt, which was a restatement of Bastiat and back down the chain).

A video of Friedman explaining the problem:

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

The problem with “Wouldn’t it be…” and “Wasn’t it…”

Progressive ideas usually begin with:

“Wouldn’t it be great if…” (progressives are generally theorists)

Ok, right there with you so far…

Conservative ideas usually begin with:

“Wasn’t it great when…” (conservatives are generally empiricists)

Yup, that works for me too…

The complication is the next step, taken by both progressives and conservatives:

“Since that would be great, it is our moral obligation, to use the force of government to MAKE it that way”

… and that’s where we part ways.

The problem, is that I believe I have no moral right to force MY personal beliefs, preferences, or ideas on anyone else (no matter how “great” or “right” they may be).

I also believe that we have a moral obligation to use the force of government as little as possible (even if doing so may be “for the greater good”).

Of course, that’s where the kicker hits, from both left and right…

“Since you oppose something which is great, and which is a moral obligation, you must either be stupid, or evil”

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Quote of the Day: MLK Day Edition


Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is unquestionably one of the most famous speeches in American history. In listening to the speech today, I found the following passages that aren’t as often quoted to be some of the most powerful lines in the speech.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

America has come a long way since King delivered this speech. Racial and ethnic minorities have made great strides thanks to courageous individuals like King who made a stand for liberty and justice (and in King’s case, paid with his life) and we are all better off for it.

Here is the rest of the speech. Listen and be inspired.

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