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This week I posted a youtube video about how Michael Crichton was wrong about climate change. Snowman did the art for the comic above used in the video – I think it turned out great.
Crichton said, “The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.” I see that as edging into misleading. Yes, the final authority of science is experiment, not consensus. Yes, scientists had to break with consensus to present truly novel theories, hypotheses, and results. But… this makes it seem like breaking consensus correlates with being correct.
And that’s not true at all.
If 100 measurements are made, and there’s one outlier, that’s not the ‘most likely to be accurate.’ Take outliers seriously? Re-examine our assumptions? Sure. This isn’t about that. It’s about multiple fields of measurement, observations, theory: biologists observing species changing where they live, chemists making observations of the heat storing and reflecting capacity of atmospheric gas, climatologists with decades of precise satellite measurements, paleontologists with millennia of climate observations. It’s about all of that pointing at a set of clear conclusions, and that all being dismissed because there’s snow one day in December in one northern city.
But the biggest problem is that the story of the lone dissenter is dramatic and appealing… and it works really well for bad faith arguments. Crichton’s take on consensus has been used to justify incorrect anti-scientific beliefs. They want to suggest the fact that dissent exists is reason for skepticism around evolutionary theory as well.
The idea of the lone dissenter plays into the frustrating narrative of “WE, the persecuted minority, must stand up to THEM and their cruel suppression of our views.” And this is the deceptive bit. It takes the natural consequences of being wrong and pretends that they are the same as persecution. The world is a globe. The scientific consensus is correct. Arguing the contrary will mean that serious people will stop listening to you. You are not entitled to their attention. That’s not persecution.
I must be in a political mood because I started a political discussion on Reddit, too. A long time ago I ran across the Nolan Chart. If you’re not familiar, it’s another way to look at political preferences on a 2D square instead of a left-right line. More state control of ‘social’ stuff is graphed on one axis. More state control of ‘economic’ stuff is graphed on the other axis. Then you can classify ideologies on this grid.
First problem: some things are both – what about sin taxes (on alcohol, tobacco, and gambling), for instance? Are they economic or social? The lines are blurry.
Second problem: the original plot seems designed to show how libertarian-ism is the ideal while hiding the obvious criticism: government is not the only form of abusive control.
Biggest problem: The Nolan plot completely misses the point that a government can be all about freedom for “us” but end up being quite authoritarian to “them.” And the boundary between “us” and “them” can move to wherever it’s convenient for the “us.”
Anyway, it provides a way to classify libertarian-ism (and anarchy) that shows how those are not either ‘left’ or ‘right.’ Likewise, it helps explain the apparent “horseshoe” of authoritarianism. When a government gets to the far left OR the far right, it can veer down toward authoritarianism. Left and Right authoritarians tend to look very similar to the person with the boot on their neck.
Why do I care? Is there a better plot out there? More quantitative? Provides more insight?
I was thinking that we could do better. I’m not a political scientist. Being unfamiliar with the literature, I have not found the name for this idea. So if you know what this is called, please let me know in the comments. I’m calling it the Haidt-Mesquita plot.
Haidt argues that the distinction between Left and Right is a moral distinction: People who see morality as primarily about harm-reduction and fairness will tend Left. People who also see morality as about Loyalty, Purity, and Authority will tend Right.
I see this as “rhetoric flavor.” The story that politicians will use to appeal to their constituents. The appeal of kicking out the disloyal will really only work with the Right; the appeal of free drug addiction treatment will really only work for the Left.
The other axis, the more important axis, is the question posed by de Mesquita: HOW MANY VOTES/VOTERS MATTER?
If everyone votes and everyone is a possible swing voter, then politicians are playing one game. If a few people vote and even fewer are willing to change their party, then the game is very different. If you do away with votes and the only voices that matter are the general, the head of police, and the chief tax collector… then it’s another game again.
Let me tell you, I did not get any useful feedback on this from Reddit. I should stop with this kind of thing on Reddit.
In other news, I was playing with Ableton and Output Arcade to make some background music for my video. That was fun-ish? It’s a powerful tool, that’s for sure.
You can arrange a composition from a bunch of loops and apply all kinds of professional effects to make it sound good. I don’t know what I’m doing, but in the right hands it can make complex, layered music really quickly. Of course, the libraries of music for Youtube are extensive, too. Making my own is just for fun.
Links I enjoyed:
Michael Crichton, world’s most famous global warming denier, dies – ThinkProgress
Arguments from Global Warming Skeptics and what the science really says
Greenhouse Gas | MIT Technology Review
Livin’ Mask-Free (Music Video) – YouTube
Everything You Need to Know About the First Pig-Human Heart Transplant – YouTube