Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Training Video

With the Trumps and Farages striding around on the world stage so confidently, these demagogues, (whether they accept it or not) have helped open up a Pandora's box of nasty sectarian opinions. Opinions that once felt rather reticent about making themselves heard are now, in some quarters, ringing out loud and clear. So let's get used to the new milieu with its freely expressed bigotry. Here's a training video to help initiate us into the new ethos:

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Thanks to climate change sceptics I'm now a climate change alarmist!

PZ Myers introduces the above video from feminist Rebecca Watson with the following words:

An advisor to Trump and member of the transition team just bare-faced asserted that the Earth is less than 6000 years old. This was after Anthony Scaramucci tried to invalidate modern science by arguing that scientists once argued that the Earth was flat and that the universe rotated about it. Never mind that those ideas preceded modern science and were relatively rapidly dispelled as evidence was acquired

That Scaramucci's brand of thinking is found in high places and is also coupled to a president-elect who may well prove to have fascist leanings doesn't bode well for Western Civilisation.  I wonder where Scaramucci thinks the idea that the Earth isn't flat or the cosmos isn't geocentric came from? It came from centuries of scientific thinking and observation, starting with the Greek period circa 600 BC when it became apparent the Earth is spherical. The Copernican revolution, of course, dates back over four hundred years to the sixteenth century. But if Scaramucci distrusts the academic establishment so much why should he stop at climate change theory? Why not be skeptical of Copernicanism and spherical Earth theory? Or perhaps he should question whether the Sun is really a star or whether Cosmic ages are largely a delusion wrought by God upon man. After all some people are thinking along these lines and they are very likely to be Trump sympathetic fundamentalists. See here:


The kind of material in the foregoing links is hardly a recommendation for the Trump supporting fundamentalist aptitude for science.

The complex questions around climate change are not something I've given a lot of consideration to. To analyse climate change theory properly would require more time and study than I'm able to give it. But what better place to start than the de-facto "Intelligent Design" website "Uncommon Descent", a website whose contributors  are by and large very much in opposition to the academic establishment. What do they say about climate change? Perhaps they can reassure me with some of their nifty science that catastrophic climate change isn't on the way. Below I quote a UD correspondent who Barry Arrington, Uncommon Descent's chief of staff, showcases approvingly in his post here:

The thing that frustrates me is that the alarmist side does not even attempt cost benefit analysis. For example, they claim that droughts can reduce crop yields, while ignoring that CO2 increases crop yields. Crop yields are way up over the last century — there is yet no direct evidence that warming so far has caused any crop yield reduction, although it is possible technology has merely outpaced losses due to warming so far, and will eventually be overwhelmed. 

My Comment: Is this guy accepting that Global Warming is taking place? His logic seems to be predicated on it: .....no direct evidence that warming so far has caused ...".  Given this predicate his contention is that it's effect isn't as great as the "alarmists" make out.   He also admits that crop yield increases don't prove much as we have to factor in enhancements in agricultural science. In other words he doesn't know if, as far as crop yields are concerned, whether the predicated climate warming is potentially detrimental or not. Perhaps he ought to ask himself if he is willing to take the chance!

What evidence is there that any catastrophe will occur? There is no statistically significant trend in drought, no trend in flooding, no trend in tornadoes, and no trend in tropical storms worldwide. The present represents the longest recorded period with no category 3 or greater hurricanes making landfall in North America. All belief that catastrophe will occur is based on computer models, not evidence. Even the EPA’s website says that scientists only have “medium” confidence that storms will be worse with warming.

My Comment: I'll accept (provisionally) this correspondent's claim that major trends haven't been noticed - but of course with so much chaotic background noise in the weather system it's difficult to tell one way or the other. His doubt about computer models echoes somewhat the right-wing Australian senator Malcolm Roberts who is so science illiterate as to be of the opinion that theoretical modeling isn't empirical science: But such models are constructed using theoretical constructs which have their roots in observation. True, given that theories and models can only ever be based on limited sets of data samples and have inherent simplifications they must be used and interpreted with caution. But modelling and testing models are the stuff of empirical science; if science were simply a catalog of empirically compiled data devoid of theoretical modelling it would be all-but useless. In the case of climate change, however, the experimental test bed of our models isn't a well isolated and controlled context in some laboratory but is in fact the whole of the environment on which we depend! Alarming!

The only “catastrophe” with actual evidence to support it is sea level rise affecting coastal regions, but that will occur in such slow motion that it’s not going to kill anyone. And sea level rise has been occurring for the past 12,000 years, including pre AGW, and there is yet no sign of the rate accelerating. It’s unclear what percentage of current sea level rise would have occurred anyway due to the pre-existing natural trend.

My Comment:  He's admitting to a sea level rise with evidence to support it! That sounds potentially catastrophic to me especially if I lived in a low lying area. Once again our UD correspondent isn't able to enlighten us as to the Anthropogenic Global Warming component of this rise. Interestingly, once again he seems to have taken AGW as a predicate! Alarming!

Besides sea level rise, the only observable result that agrees with computer models is an increase in average precipitation levels. It’s hard to say how the warmists can predict both increased precipitation and increased drought. I guess they are saying that drought will increase in some places, and decrease in others. The computer models themselves are at such a coarse resolution that they have no ability to simulate regional variation, so at best claims that certain regions will be worse or better off with warming are completely unfounded speculation. The computer models can’t physically simulate El Nino, oceanic cycles, clouds, storms, etc.

My Comment: So he's admitting that the computer models agree with sea level rise and precipitation increases. That's just a little alarming as it suggests that something is happening out there however crude human modelling of it may be. Our correspondent spots the obvious and likely flaw in any argument which tries to portray predictions of both increased precipitation and increased drought as a contradiction in climate change science.

Let me ask you a question — how do scientists know that the current specific temperature of the planet is optimal for life and humanity? I think we can all agree that colder is infinitely worse, such as during the last ice age when mile thick glacial ice covered the present locations of Chicago and New York. So if you were trying to decide an optimal temperature, we know that there would be a curve where cold is bad, and life gets better with increased temperature up to a certain inflection point, where further warming makes it get worse. How do we know we are at that point?

We know that in the peak of the last interglacial, temperatures were around 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In prehistoric times, it has been 5 degrees warmer or more, with no ice at the poles. None of those previous warm periods resulted in runaway warming, or mass extinctions.

My comment: Yet again he seems to construct his logic based on those much despised "warmist" predicates, in this case the predicate that temperatures will increase. But in his question as to whether or not we need to be "alarmist" over this increase he's settling for "We don't know if we should be alarmed".  That sounds pretty alarming to me. On this logic I conclude that if I'm playing Russian roulette and I don't know if my chamber has a bullet in it, I don't know whether I should alarmed!

Yet scientists are saying we need to limit temperature to 2 degrees above pre-industrial. Maybe they are saying that the warming is going to be “too fast” for the planet to handle. A 2 degree temperature difference is equivalent to moving poleward around 300 miles, or up in elevation around 600 feet. Are we saying that animals won’t be able to move fast enough to adjust to that? How did animal and plant species survive the 7 degree swing in temperature at the end of each interglacial?

These are all questions I would like to ask a climate scientist…

Summing up: Given that Arrington & co are so highly motivated to find fault in the academic establishment the foregoing amounts to a pretty mild attack on climate change science! In fact those questions are fair enough if you're like me and not a climate scientist. But it hardly makes me feel any less alarmed to know that I, and perhaps even climate scientists, don't know the answers. Going on a World War II bombing mission knowing that there's a 1 in 20 chance that my aircraft will be shot down is pretty alarming!  I've often hoped that this stuff about climate disequilibrium is all wrong and that burgeoning human populations aren't in for a rough ride over the next centuries. So wouldn't it be nice if climate change skeptics could come up with their own solid science showing that climate change is nothing to be feared. But from the above alone it seems they can't do this; they are as much in the doubting dark as anyone else; climate change sceptics don't really know. But therein lies the rub; if we don't know we may have to proceed under the rule that it is better to be safe than sorry. Barry Arrington's attempt to pour oil on troubled alarmist waters has simply exposed a sceptic's ignorance of climate science. The irony is that I am now much more of a climate change alarmist than before I started reading Barry Arrington's article. Thank you Barry!

Thursday, December 08, 2016

The Trump Victory. Part 1: Folksy Levellers.

Brexiters see themselves as folksy levellers opposing the establishment intelligensia

About nine years ago on this blog I did a series of posts called “Mathematical Politics” (See March 2007 to July 2007). It was my attempt to grapple with the subjects of politics and economics – not my favourite topics at all, as I don’t find it easy to think outside the mathematical box and these subjects are difficult, if not in principle impossible, to render in formal terms. In fact my series never really got finished; that may be because I felt that the socio-politics of the day was in a relatively stable state, part of the benign environmental furniture among which I lived. Therefore I had no sense of urgency to get to grips with the whys and wherefores of this environment in any more detail. But how times have changed recently! Today in the West the spectre of right-wing dictatorship, although admittedly it still seems a remote prospect, is not an entirely unreal scenario if a little imagination is applied. With people like Trump and Farage rocking the establishment boat in what vaguely resembles the course taken by pre-World War II Germany I’m beginning to feel just a little sea sick and thinking that I ought to stop and take stock of the “new world order”.  But what is this new world order? Does it have any real substance? Here is a small sample of characters who capture something of the new mood which has brought us to this juncture.

Donald Trump
US president elect. Pseudo-libertarian*. Glories in political incorrectness. Anthropogenic climate change sceptic. Wants to "drain the swamp" of the ruling liberal establishment elite. His campaign played on anxieties generated by social & economic disequilibrium caused by global trading and immigration. Trump attracts the disaffected, the fundamentalists, racists and neo-nazis, all of which brings me to :
Nigel Farage
UK independent party. Friend of Trump. Detests the Euro-elite. Outsider to the liberal establishment elite and the quasi-aristocratic conservative party. Farage played on anxieties over immigration during the Brexit campaign. His party has attracted fundamentalists, racists and the extreme right, although Farage has distanced himself from these extremists (He’s a clever politician – unlike Trump). Anthropogenic climate change sceptic.
Milo Yiannopoulos
British Pundit for the slippery and diffuse Alt-right tendency. Arguably neo-fascist. Pseudo-Libertarian. Social Darwinist. Brexiteer and Trump supporter. Against the liberal establishment elite.  Anti-feminist. Catholic (!). An enemy of academia. Anthropogenic climate change sceptic
Matt Ridley
Libertarian social philosopher, Anthropogenic climate change sceptic. Sceptical of the liberal establishment elite. Socio-economic evolutionist. See the following links:
Denise O’Leary
De facto-Intelligent Design pundit, Canadian Trump supporter. Anthropogenic climate change sceptic. Probably Pseudo-libertarian. Anti-political correctness. Against the liberal establishment elite and particularly hates publically funded academia.
Ken Ham
Christian fundamentalist. Probably a Trump voter. Anthropogenic climate change sceptic. Against the liberal establishment elite. Has obvious reasons to particularly hate academia.
Kent Hovind
Christian fundamentalist. Probably a Trump voter. “Sovereign Citizen”. Pseudo-libertarian. Anthropogenic climate change sceptic, Against the liberal establishment elite. Has obvious reasons to particularly hate academia. Extreme fundamentalist Steve Anderson is an ally of Hovind. Likely to be at odds with Ken Ham.

Put these people in a room together and it wouldn’t be long before each person was rowing violently with everyone else (Although Trump and Farage are chums at the moment); such are their differences. And yet these characters are the figureheads of trends which have a common interest in seeing the overthrow of the political and academic establishment. With Brexit followed by the election of Donald Trump as US president, each of them probably feels that the worlds they are striving for are now just a little closer.  It is ironic that the outspoken and arguably crypto-fascist Milo Yiannoploous may in fact express sentiments common to all of the above. This is what Yiannoploous’ Wiki entry says:

As a "cultural libertarian"[5] and "free speech fundamentalist", he is a vocal critic of feminism,[6] Islam, social justice, political correctness, and other movements and ideologies he claims to be authoritarian or belonging to the "regressive left".

That protest against authoritarianism is ironic. Of course, few people will admit to being authoritarian, but it hardly needs pointing out that the neo-fascists, Trump, and Ken Ham are among the most authoritarian personalities out there and I can’t imagine that their societal vision is anything other than repressive. Ken Ham, for instance, has no qualms about trying to intimidate with spiritual threats about divine displeasure being upon who disgaree with him, whether they be professing Christians or otherwise.  

What brings this diverse group together? There are, after-all, huge differences between them about the ultimate nature of reality, but they all have a common antipathy toward the public establishment and in particular the publically funded liberal academic establishment of which they are antagonistic outsiders.  Matt Ridley is by far and away the most intelligent and reasonable among the characters above and I had to think long and hard before including him in the list, but in the final analysis he’s an academic outsider who shares enough of the anti-establishment association complex for him to qualify for my list. Moreover, his concept of evolution as an information-less (= undirected) process which somehow poofs things into existence is not at all unlike that of O’leary’s and Ken Ham’s straw man concept of evolution.  Like the others, Ridley is sceptical about the climate change science of the intellectual establishment. Ridley also has much faith in decentralised libertarianism (a flaky concept in my opinion – see part II) and this is something which the above clients try to make a show of courting one way or another and use as an ideological cudgel with which to hit the much hated political and academic establishment. “Libertarianism” is intended to conjure up a vision of a peaceful decentralised free trading idyll, an idyll untrammelled by the strictures of “big government” which, it is implied, is out to cramp one’s style in favour of its continued existence. The extreme wing of libertarianism is into conspiracy theorism; here government is portrayed as a self-serving conspiracy of the elite. However, knowing human nature I’m sceptical of these aspirational decentralised social idylls: “Libertarianism” is an appellation which is to the right-wing as “Dictatorship of the proletariat” is to the left wing; in fact “Libertarian Marxism” strives for a peaceful post-revolution government-less communist paradise where having done away with the inherent conflicts of interest in capitalism it is believed that an era of peace and cooperation will reign. The extreme right wing and extreme left wing worldviews have a common vision of a cosy decentralised folksy idyll which, given human nature, seems a wholly unlikely scenario. These sorts of vision, when implemented by zealous partisans, have a tendency to descend into autocratic nightmares, as evidenced by some of the religious cults ruled by authoritarian patriarchs.

But why aren’t those Marxists who seek the overthrow of the established status quo and the ultimate dismantling of the state also part of my list?  In their view the state is necessarily an outcome of the social conflicts which have their roots in laissez-faire capitalism and therefore they explicitly stand against the free market evolutionism of the right-wingers listed above. Moreover, Marx did at least bring to bear a worthy critique of capitalism, a critique that has some merit in its own right even if you feel that a Marxist society is utterly untenable. There is some mileage to be had from Marx’s critique of social history if not from his prescriptions which were largely vague wishful thinking. There is also the matter of the respect for Marx among liberal academics which, needless to say, further distances the anti-establishment right-wing from academia who they think of as extreme "lefties".**

There are several ironies in the positions taken by the characters in my list: Denise of O’leary is likely to look favourably upon decentralised free market evolutionism as described by Ridley and yet she cannot accept conventional evolutionary theory as a decentralised process. Ridley is a free market evolutionist and sees centralised human interventions in the market as disrupting and harmful. And yet he is not on the side of those anthropogenic climate change lobbyists who suggest that inadvertent human intervention in the (decentralised) climate system has harmfully disrupted it. Also, it is ironic that Yiannopoulos is a social Darwinist and yet he’s attached himself to a political culture that in the final analysis is likely to be inexorably drawn to promoting the most authoritarian and centralised government system one could imagine.

I would style myself as a “Liberal-left capitalist”,  whiggish in outlook. We have much to be thankful about the way the decentralised market economy encourages innovative entrepreneurial effort and tries to sync production and demand. But Marx was probably right about some of those capitalist ills; the free market is not unlike an old banger of a car that is very useful but liable to breakdowns, breakdowns which are sometimes compounded by ill-judged human attempts at repair. But although I appreciate what the free market has done for us,  my critical take on capitalism and a willingness to accept competent attempts at repair when it breaks down is likely classify me as a “socialist” as far as the extreme right are concerned.

I’ve actually been staring at this public-civic sector vs private sector polarisation for some time without really understanding its socio-political significance:  Over the last tens years as I have considered the intelligent design/creation debate in this blog it has become clear that the de facto IDists and various Christian fundamentalists were very anti-public establishment and in particular hated, above all, publically funded academia. Initially it seemed to me that this attitude was just bound up with their anti-establishment take on the natural sciences.  So, at first it seemed just a strange coincidence that the de facto IDists and fundamentalists were also taking a stand against anthropogenic climate change science – after all, what does climate change have to do with ID? The deeper connection, however, is that libertarianism provides a philosopohical rationale against the spectre of government emissions regulations and taxes that are justified using anthropogenic climate change science. Hence, certain conservatively oriented business interests therefore had common cause with the IDists and fundamentalists against the establishment intelligentsia. Some fundamentalists have also tried to bundle their climate change theory with their Young Earth Creationism which perhaps gives YEC more appeal to some conservative business interests.

Christian fundamentalists voted Trump: they wanted to 
return to the traditional social certainties and securities of 
a time when society could unequivocally be called "Christian"

Since the 1960s Christians have become more and more culturally marginalised. Therefore alternative narratives involving so-called Intelligent Design, Young Earth Creationism and prophetic conspiracy theorism helped to focus and give rationale to their sense of marginalisation and alienation from the public intelligentsia. Thus, dualist “anti-naturalist” creation accounts and anti-climate change attitudes have been neatly woven into seamless conspiracy narratives that sit well with right-wing Christian alienation from the secular intelligentsia of public and civic life. Popular rank and file disaffection with this elite governing community has also been exacerbated by market instabilities precipitated by globalisation and immigration related xenophobia. Worst of all, however, is that the neo-fascists found themselves in the same boat as the IDists, Christian fundamentalists, libertarians, some conservative business interests and the disaffected white working class who have suffered under global market instabilities.

There are, I believe, some parallels here with the situation in England during the seventeenth century. On more than one occasion during that century the middle class interests represented in parliament found themselves at odds with Royal demands for money needed to finance the King's pet projects (in effect taxes). Coupled with Charles I and James II belief in their absolute soveriegnty this lead to the 1642 civil war against Charles I and the 1688 Bloodless Revolution against James II which ultimately resulted in the installation of a constitutional monarchy. In spite of good intentions Cromwell failed to set up a democratic republic and instead became a dictator; he was repulsed by the untidy constitutional row that any democratic government must ultimately become and so suspended parliament. At the puritan extremes were found the Fifth monarchsists who awaited the eminent return of Christ and even sought the overthrow of Cromwell's puritan dictatorship. Just as today, the political situation yielded neatly to the interpretation of conspiracy theorists and Christian prophetic ministries which saw the government as the instrument of Satan and/or malign forces which seek to dominate the individual believer. There was also an historical adjunct: After the restoration of the (constitutional) monarchy many disillusioned and disenfranchised puritans settled in North America seeking religious freedom from state religion, only to find in time that the Mother country was burdening them with taxes in order to finance the war against France. The American revolution followed, of course. Since those days politics, taxation, religion and the apocalyptic in the US have had a tendency to get bound up with one another.

In the next part I’ll take a closer look at so-called “libertarianism”

Relevant links:

Other links:

* Pseudo-libertarian: This means that they would fail the Chinese or African test question: Viz: Would they be prepared to accept Chinese or African produce without tariffs? Matt Ridley is probably the only genuine libertarian in my list

** Marx and Academia: See here: