UR is on vacation

At an undisclosed East Coast location with intermittent connectivity and a lot of tiger mosquitoes. Normal service will return next week.

I did, however, manage a somewhat irascible contribution to this GNXP thread, posted by a young and surely well-intentioned Dr. Pangloss with a spreadsheet. Topics include the democratic crime epidemic, Chinese statistical poetry, and the etiology of male homosexuality. Toward the end, these themes merge into a single savage crescendo of penetrative numerical degradation. Not recommended for those under 18.

I also experimented a little with baiting the “senior public-health scientists and practitioners” (the plural seems questionable) and hardcore progressive propagandist(s) at Effect Measure. Note the difference in tone. If you want to seriously unsettle these people, you have to attack from above. They don’t expect that. Appeal directly to their conscience. They have one, generally. You will never see it—but that doesn’t mean it’s too tiny and withered to hurt.

Unfortunately, after a couple of exchanges I set the hook too hard, as a fisherman would say, and ended up in the moderation basket. I fear “Revere” does not have quite Professor Burke’s grasp of netiquette. Then again, this sort of thing is standard operating procedure in the world of policy science. It’s not easy being an anaerobic bacterium in this strange new age of oxygen.

So I saved my last comment, and here it is. Not a substitute for a real UR post, I realize, but:

Dear Revere,

I hate to break this to you, but post-WWII American academia is in practice an agency of USG, because it (a) is funded by USG, and (b) drives USG policy. (Especially in fields such as yours, which exist largely for the purpose of telling USG what to do.)

Just as Milloy is beholden to the corporations who fund and/or funded him. Just as Michaels is beholden to the tort lawyers who fund and/or funded him. Who pays the piper, as you correctly assert, calls the tune. But those who live in glass houses, etc.

I notice, for instance, that Milloy appears to have no interest whatsoever in debunking corporate “junk science.” I also notice that you appear to have no interest whatsoever in debunking the work of tort lawyers, environmental activists, and/or fellow professors. Do these people never, ever, err? If so, please show me where.

Here’s an analogy that may help you understand my perspective. Perhaps you remember a country called the Soviet Union. Now, when you hear that Soviet science proved X or Y or Z, what do you think? You think: X or Y or Z might be true, or it might not. To know, you’d have to look into it.

Even if X or Y or Z was written in the Great Soviet Encylopedia. Even if it was endorsed by a unanimous vote of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Even if Chairman Brezhnev himself declared it to be an ineluctable consequence of dialectical materialism. You say: I’d have to look into it.

And why is this? Because you don’t trust the process by which the Soviet system generated scientific results—despite the many excellent scientists who worked within it. And nor do I. We share (if I may assume) the belief that Soviet science could discover and amplify truth, and also discover and amplify error. Thus: “trust, but verify.”

Now, if we compare (a) the organizational structure of post-WWII Western science, to (b) the organizational structure of pre-WWII Western science, to (c) the structure of Soviet science, we see that (a) looks a lot more like (c) than like (b).

Namely: it is centrally funded and centrally planned, even when conducted in “private” universities. Consensus can be produced by a few bureaucrats—excuse me, public servants—who choose to fund the believers and defund the deniers. Moreover, since these public servants (e.g., at NSF or NIH) are scientists themselves, it is terribly easy for one faction to exclude another. There is no effective independent supervision. There is certainly no way to shut down an entire field that has become pseudoscientific.

Whereas before WWII and Vannevar Bush, consensus actually meant something, because the (much smaller) funding of science was decentralized and independent, and most important depended far less on the results of that work. To retain their status and funding, scientists had to convince critical, intelligent, and independent nonscientists. They had far less incentive to exaggerate the public-policy importance of their work. Whereas nowadays, even in my own field (computer science) the typical grant application is richly marbled with preposterous claims of public importance. Everyone does it, so everyone has to.

Thus a reasonable person would expect the type of scientific malfeasance so frequently seen in the Soviet system to emerge in the West. And when he sees it—for instance, in the likes of a Michael Mann or a Phil Jones, both of whom fail the most basic tests of scientific integrity and should be driving taxis for a living—but have been embraced and protected by their peers, rather than disowned—he has no reason to be surprised.

Yet (b) trades on the reputation of (a), and in large part retains it. For now. Would you like Western science to retain this reputation, which took centuries to earn? If so, I encourage you to behave as if (a), not (c), remained the real reality. In other words: try harder to convince the genuinely unconvinced. As any tort lawyer would tell you, insults and browbeating are not the way to the jury’s heart. Nor are appeals to personal confidence and/or official authority.

So: sure, David Michaels is a friend and colleague of yours. Michael Mann and Phil Jones may not be, but they are on the same side as you. Thus their opponents are thought-criminals or “deniers,” who in a just world would probably be prosecuted. Science, at least the old science, science (a), is not a matter of collegiality, team play, or argument ad authoritatem—it is a matter of truth. Nullius in verba.

Have you looked into these matters yourself? If so, you have every reason to defend your friends and colleagues, and you can do so using facts and argument, rather than Vyshinskyesque curses—“pimp,” etc. If not, may I respectfully recommend that you be more careful when lending your own credibility to your friends. You may be a friend of Michaels and an enemy of Milloy. I am neither, and nor is most of the world. Your time is not well served by preaching to the choir.

For instance: if you’ve seen Milloy denying that cigarette smoking causes cancer etc., point me to it. As far as I’m aware, what he denies is that “secondhand smoke” is a serious health concern—a considerably more dubious result. (Perhaps you could share your position on “thirdhand smoke.”) Again, you score no points by misrepresenting the position of your opponents.

And no, I am not a libertarian. I’m a fan of Mill’s pal Carlyle. If you’re uncertain as to what Carlyle thought, you can refresh your memory here. It’s about as far from libertarian as you get. The proper term is reactionary, though I’ll also answer to paleoconservative.

None of which matters. What matters is that you use terms you don’t understand as pejoratives. No one who had any significant exposure to right-wing thought would call a mainstream National Review conservative like Milloy “far right.” “Far right” means either a paleoconservative or reactionary, like me, or an actual neofascist. (It is also incorrectly applied to libertarians, who don’t consider themselves right-wing at all.) When was the last time you read anything by anyone in any of these categories? Quite some time ago if ever, I suspect, since you seem unable to distinguish them.

You’ll notice that I address you as a progressive, rather than a “far leftist,” even though I have no idea who is to the left of you. (Who is? Are these people?) This is because I know, understand and respect the progressive movement.

(Indeed, my father’s parents, CPUSA members into the ’70s, always described themselves as “progressives.” But I’m not sure today’s young progressives understand the origin of the euphemism. In fact, given my preference for the likes of Metternich, I’m quite happy to agree with Earl Browder’s claim that “Communism is 20th-century Americanism.” Therein lies the whole of the problem.)

I have read your posts on BPA. What I’m looking for is not a prosecution, but a rebuttal. A rebuttal implies that you have read, engaged with, respect and understand those who disagree with you. Again, Mill:

In the case of any person whose judgment is really deserving of confidence, how has it become so? Because he has kept his mind open to criticism of his opinions and conduct. Because it has been his practice to listen to all that can be said against him, to profit by as much of it as was just, and to expound to himself and upon occasion to others, the fallacy of what was fallacious. Because he has felt that the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion and by studying all modes in which in can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of the human intellect to become wise in any other manner.

If you do disagree with this, I wish you’d say so. Mill himself is no plaster saint—he was wrong, for instance, in his great argument with Carlyle. I cite him because on this point I find him convincing, not to argue ad authoritatem.

Yeah, I know, that last Carlyle link is a little much. I got carried away.

Again, it takes a long, slow trail of M&Ms to bring an apparatchik face-to-face with his atrophied conscience. Don’t expect it to overcome him, either, like Darth Vader at the end. But they are human—they bleed inside, but bleed they do.