Musings about the Leftist Man-God and his unshakeable belief in his infallibility

Michaelangelo hands of God and AdamI continue to be unpleasantly overwhelmed by deadline intensive work.  Breaks are few and far between.  The virtue of this is that, separated from the minutiae of daily news, I’ve had the opportunity to step back and focus on larger trends.  My musings today too me into the realms of Leftist Infallibility.

One of the most frightening things that characterizes the Left it its sense of its own god-like power and knowledge. That’s always been present in its atheistic tendencies (look at the bloodshed of the French, Russian, and Chinese revolutions), but we’re seeing a different version of it in the 21st century, one that I think arises because of “scientific utopianism.” When I say “scientific utopianism,” I’m talking about a sense that began with post-WWII culture and, all emerging data to the contrary, continues to escalate amongst Lefties.

Scientific utopianism used to be summed up in the old slogan “Better living through chemistry.”  That was a commercial line to sell products, both licit and illicit.  Amongst Leftists, however, it’s the belief that science — or, more specifically, their take on science — offers all the cures for mankind, not to mention the power to destroy mankind.

Back in the 1950s, although people understood that science could wreak unbearable havoc (e.g., the atom bomb), at the same time possibilities seemed so limitless and exciting. I think Disney captured it best in educational cartoons celebrating medical and scientific advances, in Tomorrowland, and in the Carousel of Progress. People envisioned a world of clean, easy, unlimited travel; perfect health; endless food and clean water supplies; the ability to wage war quickly, efficiently and, if possible, relatively painlessly; day-to-day comforts that effectively ended work; and comfortable control over the environment.

Barring that looming mushroom-shaped cloud, this scientific utopianism promised the Baby Boomers (and their progeny) that Nothing was Impossible. The ordinary consumer, not given to deep thought, understood these  “Better living through chemistry” and “Nothing is impossible” slogans to mean basic, and wonderful things, such as the eradication of polio and the introduction of the microwave often.

For the Leftist intellectual, though, these slogans meant something much greater: If nothing is impossible for man, who needs God? Man is God. So as not to offend those “voting morons in flyover country” (and yes, that is how the Left thinks of you), it’s dangerous to be tactless enough to admit that man is his own God, but the Leftist intellectual class certainly concluded that this was the case.

If man is God, he has asked all the right questions and, solipsistically, has all the right answers. Your Man-God has cleared the way for himself: His beliefs about the Big Bang (a Catholic priest may have come up with the idea, but it clearly means no God); climate (man is more powerful than the earth, and the solar system); diet (science or their accompanying Gaia worshippers, who are the crunchy version of God deniers, know exactly what you should and shouldn’t eat); medicine (which merges perfectly with the “man is God” ethos about science and food); and gender (mere biology is so limiting, and Man-God can and should transcend it) have create to the Man-God’s satisfaction a fully realized universe and moral doctrine. Moreover, given that this is a faith, whether achieved through white-collar science or crunchy Gaia-worship, this new Man-God, is just like that nasty, judgmental, homophobic, probably racist, and definitely misogynistic Biblical God in one very significant way:  He is infallible.

Except that every month a slew of news stories shows that your newly anointed Man-God  is not infallible. Indeed, far from it.  In a very short time, we’ve learned the following (and I’ll leave you to search for links, if you’re so inclined): butter in moderation is not bad for you; cheese in moderation is not bad for you; whole milk in moderation is not bad for you; salt in moderation is not bad for you; artificial sugar in any amount is bad for you; polar bears are not going extinct; glaciers are not vanishing; the Arctic and Antarctic are still here; hurricanes are not worse; the ocean has not risen to the proportions of that mythical Biblical flood; the Big Bang theory may be wrong; unlimited amounts of marijuana probably aren’t harmless; chocolate is healthy (I always knew this); coffee is healthy; vaccinations do not cause autism; and on and on. I bet that, even as you’re reading this, you’re mentally tallying up all the recent stories I’ve forgotten that turn conventional wisdom on its head.

The problem with having elevated yourself to the altar is that the view from there is nice. There’s a heady pleasure in seeing people bow down, worship, and obey your every command. The world’s collective Leftists are therefore unwilling to acknowledge their all-too-human fallibility. Instead, they’re doubling down on their assertions, predictions, demands, and sense of infallibility.

Think of it: In a Judeo-Christian era, when individuals or select groups arrogated god-status to themselves, they’d be appropriately ridiculed and marginalized. Now, they’re worshiped and we offer them the keys to our earthly kingdom.

When it comes to Islam and politics, Leftist stupidity unfortunately has the bully pulpit

People taking how stupid question as a challengeOne of the things that’s frustrating for conservatives is to see that stupidity is ascendant in our culture. And by stupidity I mean something very specific, which is that Leftists routinely use incoherence, ignorance and a complete lack of logic to challenge purely factual statements (or obviously humorous ones), and then congratulate themselves endlessly on their cleverness and the fact that the successfully “pwned” a stupid conservative.

Even worse, these illogical, incorrect arguments become the dominant narrative and are celebrated as wise and worthy. It has the surreal quality of someone being lionized and feted for responding to the statement “It’s daytime because the sun’s out,” by saying “No, it’s just a bright moon because I see cows jumping in the field.” I mean, we’re talking that kind of stupid.

Not unsurprisingly, the top two examples of this kind of stupidity relate to Leftist attempts to analogize modern mainstream Christianity to radical Islam. If you’ve been on social media at all, you’ll know that J. K. Rowling, who really is a stellar children’s writer, tried her hand at religious and political commentary in the wake of a couple of Rupert Murdoch tweets.

As a matter of fact, Murdoch’s tweets makes perfect sense:

Yes, most Muslims are peaceful, although Murdoch’s “maybe most” makes sense when one considers a few facts.  Six to ten percent of Muslims worldwide are extremists who have or will engaged in terrorism.  This means that about 96,000,000 to 160,000,000 of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are extremists are actively engaged in terrorism in their home countries or abroad, or are willing to be actively engaged..  In addition, depending on the country (say, Saudi Arabia versus France versus the U.S.) another roughly 30% to 40% Muslims (that would be 480,000,000 to 640,000,000 Muslims), although not denominated as extremists think that their co-religionists’ terrorism is a good thing.

Murdoch is sensibly saying that, to the extent hundreds of millions of Muslims think a jihadist is the good guy, there’s no telling when, or in what way, they’ll switch from passive to active support.  So, “maybe most” Muslims are peaceful; and maybe not.

The bottom line, which Murdoch understands, is that that there is within Islam a fractionally small, but numerically large, violent contingent of Muslims who not only approve of terrorism in theory, but practice it in fact. And as long as their coreligionists offer them moral support, the West is going to have to engage in long, bloody (very bloody) wars to stop them.  As New Age thinkers are so fond of saying, real change has to come from within.

This is as true of religions as it is of a person’s own psyche.  After all, history has shown us that religious reforms always come from within the religion, not from outside of it.  England and Europe in the 1500s were riven by reformation and counter-reformation.  If Islam is to leave its own Middle Ages, Muslims have to make it happen — and it’s not going to be the terrorists who do it. Egyptian President Sisi is trying to start this process, and Leftists would do better to praise him than to snipe at Murdoch.

Murdoch is also factually correct when he says that jihadists are highly active from the Philippines to Africa to Europe to the US.  Every person who reads the news knows this, but the dominant PC political and social classes in the West don’t want to acknowledge this reality. Which brings us back to where I started, which is the amazingly stupid responses Rowling came up with. These are the things that Leftist idiots (yes, idiots) consider a slam dunk:

I have to ask: What in the world does Rowling mean? Has Murdoch slaughtered journalists, raped and enslaved women, crucified Christians, stoned “adulterers”, hanged homosexuals? And more than that, is Rowling saying that whatever it is that Murdoch did of which she disapproves, his acts arose directly because of his interpretation of Christian Biblical mandates?

Asking those questions reveals that Rowlings tweet is an incoherent mess that can best be interpreted as a meaningless non sequitur. Such is the stupidity of the Left, though, that Rowling was immediately hailed as a debating genius.  This only encouraged her. Rowling therefore doubled down on stupid:

Uh, pardon me, J.K. but would you remind me when the inquisition (which was a perversion of Christian doctrine) took place? [Cricket sounds.]

Never mind. I know you can’t answer that. I can, though.  The Spanish Inquisition’s heyday was in the late 15th century in Spain. Catholics, appalled by the violent perversion of Christ’s teachings, eventually abandoned the Inquisition. There is no more Spanish Inquisition.

The Muslim inquisition, on the other hand, has been ebbing and flowing relentlessly since the 7th century. We are in a period of flow, and stupid tweets such as Rowlings are of no help whatsoever to those Muslims who, like Christians of yore, would like reform.

Oh, and about Jim Bakker.  When his behavior came to light, Christians immediately did what Murdoch asks of Muslims: They didn’t deny his Christianity, thereby disassociating themselves for any responsibility for his wrongdoing; instead, they castigated him for violating core Christian precepts.

“Go away and sin no more!” Christians said to Bakker.  This differs greatly from the Leftist and Muslim response to Jihadists, which translates to “You’re embarrassing me right now, so I’m going to pretend I don’t know you, but meet me for dinner later when no one’s paying attention.”

Rowling rounded out her idiot trilogy with this racist tweet:

As I read that, Rowling is saying we shouldn’t be getting our knickers in a twist, because the important point to remember is that Muslims really get their kicks slaughtering other Muslims. That is correct. But rather than seeing this as further evidence of the problem with Islam, J.K. “The Great Debater” Rowling believes this horrible truth shuts down any critiques of Islam.  I think this last tweet establishes more clearly than anything else could ever have that Rowling’s a racist. Her bottom line is that, as long as the brown-skinned people are killing each other, we don’t need to care.

Sadly, Rowling isn’t the only brainless Leftist with a bully pulpit (and honestly, it’ll be hard ever for me really to admire the whole Harry Potter series again). My Progressive friends have been kvelling about some guy named James O’Brien who, they claim, really shut down someone who dared say Islam was somehow connected to the whole “Allahu Akbar”-“I love ISIS”-“Don’t diss Mohamed”-“Kill the Jews” attacks in Paris last week.

It began when a caller to O’Brien’s show said Muslims owe the world an apology. I’ll agree that the statement went a bit too far.  But the reality is that the opposite is true:  It’s not that Muslims need to apologize (although they should challenge and excoriate their co-religionists).  It’s that Muslims need to stop saying after every “Allahu Akbar” attack that that they, the Muslims, are the real victims (as opposed to the dead and wounded) because of potential hate crimes that never happen.

But back to that alleged O’Brien shut-out:

O’Brien then replies by asking the caller if he had apologised for the attacks, prompting the caller to reply ‘Why would I need to apologise for that’.

It’s at this point that O’Brien really begins to make the caller look a bit silly, and replies by stating that a previous Muslim caller would have no need to apologise either, as the attack occurred when he was in Berkshire and was not committed in the name of Islam.

O’Brien continues to question the man, called Richard, by saying that the failed shoe bomb attack of 2001 was committed by a man called Richard Reid, and by the caller’s logic, he should consequently apologise for atrocities committed in the name of all Richards, irrespective of being entirely different people.

Apparently O’Brien missed school on the days when the teacher instructed students about common denominators. Let me say this again, in words of few syllables: Not all Muslims are terrorists, but almost all terrorists are Muslims.

To take O’Brien’s puerile argument as a starting point in our common denominator lesson, the name Richard is not a common denominator. Being an army psychiatrist at Fort Hood is not a common denominator. Being two Chechen brothers in Boston is not a common denominator. Living in Sheffield is not a common denominator. Attending flight school is not a common denominator. Having bombs in your undies is not a common denominator.  (Yes, I can do this all day.) Looking at all the bombings, knifings, shootings, crashings, burnings, bombings, etc, over the past few years around the world, the common denominator is . . . drum roll, please . . . ISLAM!

There is a problem in Islam. There is a cancer in the Koran. People from all over the world, when they start taking the Koran too seriously, go rabid. That’s the common denominator and that’s what we need to talk about.

The Left, of course, headed by world chief Leftist Obama, can’t bear to talk about this common denominator. To the extent Obama couldn’t even make himself show up in Paris for what was, admittedly, a spectacle, not a solution, Roger Simon sums up Obama’s and the Left’s problem:

There had to have been a reason for his non-attendance and the bizarre dissing of this event by his administration. I believe it stems from this: There are two words our president seems constitutionally unable to put together — “Islamic” and “terrorism.” For Obama (and, as a sideshow, the zany Howard Dean), these terms are mutually exclusive, an oxymoron. Appearing in Paris, Obama might be put in the unusual position of having to link them, our complaisant press rarely having the nerve to ask such an impertinent question.

For my last example of Leftist stupidity, arising from denying facts and ignoring logic, let me leave the world of Muslim terrorism and head for climate change. Gizmodo, which occasionally has amusing stuff, decided to go off the rails with an attack against Ted Cruz for being “anti-Science.” This is a hot issue because, with the Senate now in Republican hands, Ted Cruz will be overseeing NASA.

During the past six years, NASA has put on the back burner stupid hard science things like space exploration.  (Hard science, you know, is sexist, whether one is talking about hula shirts or the masculinist hegemony demanding accurate answers in math.) Instead, it’s devoted itself to (a) making nice with Islam and (b) panicking about climate change.

Ted Cruz, bright guy that he is, has made it clear that he intends to rip NASA out of its feminist, Islamophilic, climate change routine and force it back into racist, sexist hard science.  The minds at Gizmodo know what this means: Cruz must be destroyed. To that end, the Gizmodo team assembled what they describe Cruz’s embarrassing, laughably dumb quotes about science.  Too bad for the Gizmodo team that everything Cruz said was accurate, rhetorical, or humorous (not that these facts stopped the article from spreading like wildfire through Leftist social media):

  • “‘Net Neutrality’ is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.” - Ted Cruz on net neutrality.  [Bookworm here:  This is a rhetorical argument that goes to Cruz's basic political philosophy, which is limited government.  Nothing dumb about this clever rhetorical take on things.]


  • “The last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming. Contrary to all the theories that they are expounding, there should have been warming over the last 15 years. It hasn’t happened.”- Ted Cruz on climate change.  [Bookworm here:  This quotation is out of date because, for the past 18 years, there has been no global warming, despite all promises to the contrary.  Ted Cruz isn't dumb.  He's factually accurate. And a word to the dodos at the Washington Post: local weather variations and temperatures are not the same as global warming.  If that was the case, with the record-breaking winter temperatures the last couple of years, we'd be talking about global cooling.  Oh, and while I'm on the subject of global cooling....]


  • “You know, back in the ’70s — I remember the ’70s, we were told there was global cooling. And everyone was told global cooling was a really big problem. And then that faded.” - Ted Cruz on climate change [Bookworm here:  Absolutely correct.  Back in the 1970s, people were talking about global cooling.  Climate fanatics are now trying to downplay that, of course, but the fact remains that the heart of the infamous Time Magazine article so many cite was that the earth was indeed cooling.  Once again, nothing dumb about Cruz's statement.  It's factually accurate.]


  • “You always have to be worried about something that is considered a so-called scientific theory that fits every scenario. Climate change, as they have defined it, can never be disproved, because whether it gets hotter or whether it gets colder, whatever happens, they’ll say, well, it’s changing, so it proves our theory.” - Ted Cruz on climate change[Bookworm here:  Again, true, not dumb.  Global warming morphed into climate change because the theory had to adapt when the facts change.  Every time some prediction proves wrong (whether melting glaciers, dead polar bears, or rising waters), the theory flexes to accommodate the failed prediction.  This isn't science, it's faith.  Global warming has turned into a closed-system, non-falsifiable theory.  Score another point for Cruz.]


  • “I was disappointed that Bruce Willis was not available to be a fifth witness on the panel. There probably is no doubt that actually Hollywood has done more to focus attention on this issue than perhaps a thousand congressional hearings could do.” - Ted Cruz on space threats.  [Bookworm here:  Again, this is rhetorical.  There is no science in this statement.  It's a joke, guys.  And let me add here that whoever said Leftists have no sense of humor was correct.]


  • “I wondered if at some point we were going to see a tall gentleman in a mechanical breathing apparatus come forward and say in a deep voice say, “Mike Lee, I am your father” … and just like in “Star Wars” movies the empire will strike back.” – Ted Cruz during his 21-hour Obamacare speech.  [Bookworm here:  Let me get this right:  Gizmodo is saying that making a pop culture reference to a movie is the same as making dumb scientific statements?  I think Gizmodo is grossly guilty of making stupid pop culture statements.]


  • “The authorizing committees are free to set their agency budgets, and that includes NASA.” - Ted Cruz when he tried to cut NASA funding in 2013 (This one is more scary than stupid, since Cruz is now in charge of agency budgets.)  [Bookworm here:  As for me, all I can say is hank God someone who actually understands the difference between fact, humor, science, non-falsifiable belief systems, and pop culture, is finally in charge of at least one facet of our government.  At long last, we can stop using taxpayer dollars so our space program can fund Muslim outreach and continue to salvage a scientific theory that has been proven wrong every stop of the way.]


  • “Each day I learn what a scoundrel I am.” - Ted Cruz on his attempts to defund Obamacare [Bookworm here:  Yet another cute rhetorical statement and one, moreover, that has nothing to do with science.  It is interesting, though, to see it in the context of a blog post at a major internet site that has shown itself exceptionally humorless and ignorant in its efforts to tar as a scoundrel a man who has a firm grasp on reality, facts, science, and humor.]

There you have it:  three examples of simply abject stupidity on the part of those who lean Left politically.  I get it.  There are people out there who never learned history, logic, math, humor, or basic data analysis.  What’s so irritating is that they have such enormously wide sway.  It’s as if the world’s elementary school students, complete with ignorance and snark, have managed to take over the planet.  Worse, these powerful people with infantile intelligence are preaching to to the converted.  After all, their audience went to the same schools they did, and these were (and are) schools in which facts and logic made way for propaganda, moral relativism, and political correctness.

A response to Judith Levy’s comment about a “religion versus science” post I wrote

Last week, I wrote about an image I saw in Facebook, which sought to disparage religion by showing that religion tears people down, while science builds them up:

Facebook poster saying religion demeans people

My response was to mock up an alternative poster that the little girl could have held up, one that shows that religion elevates the individual while pure science has no regard for the individual:
Religion versus Science
Somehow that post came across the radar of Judith Levy, who blogs at Ricochet. Judith believes that I used the wrong tactics in the battle against anti-religious bias:

The incredibly depressing photograph to the right has been flying all over the interwebs recently. As you can see, a cute little girl is being used as a prop to bash religion and tout science (which, of course, are assumed to be mutually exclusive).

I was struck by the response to this photo on a blog called, the subhead of which claims that “conservatives deal with facts and reach conclusions”.

At this point, Levy offers a few quotations from my poster, the one that has religion acknowledging life’s creation from the moment of conception, versus the scientific view that we are a bag of chemicals. She then wraps up by concluding that I offered the argument to defend religion:

Now, I understand the anguish of religious Christians when they see offensive tripe like the above photo disseminated, especially with the big steaming side of self-righteousness that always accompanies it. (One yearns to give the people zipping it out to all their Facebook friends a good patsch to wipe away the smirk.) Still, responding by announcing that religion = pro-life seems counterproductive: it reduces the issue down to pro-life vs. pro-choice and shuts the conversation down immediately. (It also discounts the reality of religious believers who are also pro-choice, but that’s a secondary issue here.)

What has always amazed me about the God vs. Science line of thinking on the left is how unimaginative it is. Why not attack on that line instead? Why not force a leftist to explain why the math behind the movement of the spheres disproves the existence of a creator? Put them on the defensive, don’t go into your own defensive crouch. A person who puts a sign like this in his own daughter’s hands is not going to hear a word you say if you open with a pro-life argument. That’s for later, no?

Aside from finding it amusing that Levy thinks that I, a vaguely theistic Jew, am a “religious Christian,” I think it’s worth clarifying what I was setting out to do.  Levy apparently believes that I somehow abandoned my commitment to facts by engaging in pro-Life propaganda, and others may also have misunderstood what I set out to do.

Contrary to Levy’s assumption about my goal in writing that post, I was not attempting to prove religion. Why not?  Because I don’t see disproving religion as the central point of the original photograph.  Look carefully at the poster.  It can be summed up as follows:  “According to religion I am [all sorts of negative things]” versus “according to science I am all sorts of [wonderful].”  The point that child’s parent is trying to make isn’t that God is dead, but that religious practices and people devalue humans beings, while pure science, especially as practiced on the Left, elevates them.

You don’t have to take my word for it.  Go back and read the poster carefully.  It doesn’t challenge religion at all. There is not a single word in there that can be interpreted to mean “There is no God.” Instead, it says only that those who believe in God do not value human life, while those who believe in science do. That was the central canard I was attacking.

Within the context of the poster’s implicit argument, every statement I made was a factually true challenge to the poster.  I wasn’t arguing religious doctrine or ultimate scientific fact.  Instead, I took on the poster writer’s world, in which religious people think humans are worthless, evil and valueless, and demonstrated that, in the real world — and the world of those facts I cherish — America’s religious Christians (as opposed to those Leftist’s who, like the Devil, can quote scripture) have a fanatic belief in each individual’s value. To that end, I focus closely on the way in which America’s religious class practices its religion.

On the flip side, I wasn’t challenging whether science is right or wrong. (Although I will say here that, to the extent science is based on data and conclusions that can be drawn from that data, it’s rather silly to think that hard, real science deals in value-laden terms as “beautiful,” “full of wonder” and “smart.”)  Instead, I pointed out, entirely accurately, that it’s the nature of science to reduce life to the lowest common denominator — a collection of chemicals.  Moreover, it’s the “scientific” Left that has taken this definition and concluded, in true Orwellian fashion, that not all lives are equally valuable.

In sum, Levy seems to believe that I failed to counter the original photo because I didn’t engage in a theological argument about God’s existence.  And she’s right, I didn’t and nor would I do it differently if I could re-write the post.  To the extent I believe that the original photo intended to say that religion and God place different values on human lives, I cut through the conclusory language in the original photo and replaced those value-laden terms with hard facts about the way in which religious people differ in their approach from those who elevate science to a religion when it comes to determining each individual’s true worth.

Tuesday tossed salad (and Open Thread)

Victorian posy of pansiesOh, my gosh!  There is an embarrassment of riches out there this morning when it comes to thought-provoking, interesting, informative, or funny articles and videos.  Here are my favorites, in no particular order:

I pointed out here that terribly flawed, infantile, dangerous, and very non-scientific reasoning supported a study purporting to show that all the scientists in the world agree with anthropogenic climate change.  I didn’t have data, I just had common sense to back me up.  The data is now in, though, and it too shows how dreadful these “everybody believes in AGW” studies are.  No wonder Patrick Michaels is writing at Forbes that the age of science may end, as people view once-respected scientists as little more than ignorant shamans shaking sticks at the climate gods.  (My words, not his.)


For a little bit of real science, this approach to sealing gunshot wounds is wonderful.  Think of all the lives that will be saved in Democrat-run cities such as Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Detroit, where Democrat voters routinely shoot each other.


Will it surprise you to learn that Richard Hofstadter, one of the darlings of Progressive academics, was full of it?  No?  Well, it didn’t surprise me either.  (Link corrected.)


“Zero tolerance” is one of the worst things ever to hit the Western world.  Before the dawn of that noxious notion in the West, zero tolerance was reserved for tyrannies:  Nazis had zero tolerance for Jews, gays, and gypsies; Iranians had zero tolerance for gays; Singaporeans had zero tolerance for spitting on the street; Saudis had zero tolerance for school girls with uncovered heads trying to escape burning buildings; etc.

Zero tolerance is never allied with either intelligence or human decency.  At about this time last year, in schools across America, zero tolerance was the justification for suspending elementary school kids possessing pizza slices or pastries that they’d chewed into gun shapes or little girls with water pistols that they never even brought to school.

Now, Canada has gotten into the act:  a retired Army sergeant made a wrong turn in Vermont and found himself at a border crossing.  Rather than letting him turn around as he requested, they interrogated him, searched his car, found his wife’s gun, ignored his concealed carry license, arrested him, and are now threatening him with three years in jail.  Obama’s State Department seems to be staying out of this one — no doubt because it’s thrilled to see Canada take the type of stand that Obama wishes he could.


I wrote just yesterday that I wasn’t surprised that Philip Seymour Hoffman was a junkie who died of a heroin overdose.  To my mind, there was always something off about him.  Both Kevin Williamson and Jonah Goldberg look at the “off-ness” that lies the heart of heroin addictions.


Here’s another addiction, one to which sick cultures always turn:  anti-semitism.


Rob Miller (aka Joshuapundit) has another wonderful article up at The Times of Israel, this one about Israel’s reality — dealing with boycotts, lies, and intimidation.


One wonders if the kids are getting a better or a worse education in a school captained by a principal with a great sense of humor.  I like to think that humor helps everything.  (But keep in mind that Jerry Seinfeld is being pilloried for suggesting that humor is not about skin color.)

Unscientific methodology attempts to refute legitimate challenges to anthropogenic climate change orthodoxy *UPDATED*

I want you to play a little game with me.  Imagine that you’re an archivist, going through Nazi-era German documents. While doing that review, you stumble across the following article, published in a reputable Nazi business magazine:

Aryan superiority chart

The next time you hear someone dispute that Aryans are the superior race, remember this pie chart.

It represents eugencist Helmut Scheingarner’s review of 2,258 peer-reviewed scientific articles about Aryan superiority, written by 9,136 authors, published between Nov. 12, 1937 and December 31, 1938.

Of all those hundreds of papers and thousands of researchers, Scheingarner found one article, authored by a single scientist, that challenged Aryan superiority:  “The Unusual Intellectual Aptitude of Hebrew People,” by J. K. Grubenman, appearing in the Luxeumbourg Science Journal, Vol. 10, No. 1.

Scheingarnder, a past president of Berlin and Hamburg Univerities, invites anyone to reproduce his survey of the science:

Anyone can repeat as much of the new study as they wish — all of it if they like. I will give you a database with the 2,258 articles here. It includes the title and document number for each article.  Scan the titles to identify articles that might reject Aryan superiority.  Then, I will work with you to locate the article and review it.  If you find any candidates that I missed, please mail me at Aryan Superiority Division, Reichstag, Berlin.

Scheingarner’s earlier survey of peer-reviewed studies published between January 1, 1933 and November 11, 1937 yielded the same results.

white supremacy 3

Within seconds of seeing that first, big chart and reading only a sentence or two of the article, you’d immediately recognize the fatal flaw in its reasoning. To the extent that Aryan supremacy was the prevailing orthodoxy in Nazi Germany, anyone advancing opposing views would be subject to professional ostracism or worse.  With the scientific journals completely controlled by people who couldn’t imagine a paradigm other than Aryan supremacy, the likelihood of scientific journals publishing countervailing articles hovered at zero.

Nazi race-education class

Nazi race-education class

Knowing that, you’d also realize that the frequency of articles subscribing to Aryan supremacy in no way proved that this “scientific” doctrine had merit.  Instead, as you’d fully understand, the notion of Aryan supremacy represented the closing of the German scientific mind. Nazi journals would inevitably refuse to accept anything challenging the white supremacist doctrine. For a supremacist to point to the number of such published articles would therefore be meaningless.

Nazi science book "proving" Aryan superiority

Nazi science book “proving” Aryan superiority

As you’ve probably figured out by now, the above article did not come from Nazi Germany and did not involve Aryan supremacy. Instead, it’s a Business Insider article “proving” that all scientists in the world support anthropogenic warming.  I changed the name of the scientist proudly boasting about his find, his university affiliations, and the article dates, and I substituted “Aryan supremacy” for “anthropogenic climate change.”  Otherwise, the two articles are identical.

What the proud scientist failed to note are some even more compelling facts:  (1) At least 31,400 scientists around the world have stood up and declared that they do not believe in anthropogenic climate change (here’s a list of some of the better known skeptics); and (2) Climategate revealed not just that climate change advocates were manipulating numbers but, more significantly, that they were blocking anyone with opposing views from getting published.

The mantra justifying this closed door is “expert consensus.” Let me state something very important here: An expert consensus is not a fact. Experts used to think the sun revolved around the earth (wrong), that bad air caused disease (wrong), that spicy food and stress caused ulcers (wrong), that autistic people are mentally retarded because their mothers didn’t love them (oh, so wrong), etc. Experts are wrong all the time.

Oh, I almost forgot:  Here’s the real kicker — contrary to those cute little pie charts, there are peer-reviewed journals that challenge climate change orthodoxy, and that’s true despite the significant barriers in place denying publication to climate change skeptics.

In other words, the gloating Business Insider pie charts are exactly as false as that imaginary Nazi article would have been.  Both are the work of ideologues masquerading as scientists, who use fundamentally flawed analyses to deny that any valid opposition exists.

UPDATE:  This article, about science’s (or, more accurately, scientists’) failure nowadays to be self-correcting seems apropos.

Yale Prof. offers a revealing glimpse into the Ivy League’s epistemic closure

A lot of sites have been linking to a blog post from Daniel Kahan, a law professor at Yale because it contains a very surprising confession.  To appreciate both what Kahan said (which was good) and what he refused to do (which was very, very bad), you need to know a little more about Kahan’s specialty.  According to the Wikipedia entry about Kahan, he’s a “leading scholar in the fields of criminal law and evidence and is known for his theory of Cultural cognition.”  (Emphasis mine.)

For the Luddites among us (and I proudly include myself in that number), “cultural cognition” is defined as follows:

The Cultural Cognition Project is a group of scholars interested in studying how cultural values shape public risk perceptions and related policy beliefs. Cultural cognition refers to the tendency of individuals to conform their beliefs about disputed matters of fact (e.g., whether global warming is a serious threat; whether the death penalty deters murder; whether gun control makes society more safe or less) to values that define their cultural identities. Project members are using the methods of various disciplines — including social psychology, anthropology, communications, and political science — to chart the impact of this phenomenon and to identify the mechanisms through which it operates. The Project also has an explicit normative objective: to identify processes of democratic decisionmaking [sic] by which society can resolve culturally grounded differences in belief in a manner that is both congenial to persons of diverse cultural outlooks and consistent with sound public policymaking [sic].

In English:  the good professor thinks that people use their preexisting values and data to analyze new information.  If you can get people to think the right way (I believe the Chinese communists called it “reeducation”), then you can get them to agree to Progressive policies.  (If you read on, you’ll understand why I translate “sound public policymaking” to mean “Leftist policies.”)

As an aside, shouldn’t Yale professors know that “policy making” and “decision making” are two words, rather than each being one portmanteau word?  Yeah, yeah.  Just call me fussy.

For those wondering about the value of a modern Ivy League education that little paragraph pretty much tells you what you need to know:  The Ivy League needs a guy with an expensive Harvard J.D. (and you know how highly I value those pieces of paper) and an even more valuable Yale job to figure out that people operate from their biases, both in collecting and analyzing data.

And speaking of people operating from their biases, Kahan has now confessed that his biases just received a stunning blow.  In the next few paragraphs, I’ll give him some credit for being honest about his recent discovery, but I’ll then explain why he only gets a small nod from me, not a big one.  For the most part, his post leaves me both disdainful and depressed.

Oh, I didn’t tell you what his discovery is.  It turns out that Tea Partiers, the ones who think that AlBore is a scam artist; that humans can pollute but that they lack the power to change the climate, something the sun has been doing fine on its own for several billion years; and that a country that insists on spending money it doesn’t have will soon go broke, are actually more scientifically knowledgeable than the Progressives who worship at the altars of global warming and Keynesian economicsYes, really.  Buried in a sea  of really awesomely impressive statistical jargon, that’s exactly what Kahan says:

In this dataset, I found that there is a small correlation (r = -0.05, p = 0.03) between the science comprehension measure and a left-right political outlook measure, Conservrepub, which aggregates liberal-conservative ideology and party self-identification. The sign of the correlation indicates that science comprehension decreases as political outlooks move in the rightward direction–i.e., the more “liberal” and “Democrat,” the more science comprehending.

Do you think this helps explain conflicts over climate change or other forms of decision-relevant science? I don’t.

But if you do, then maybe you’ll find this interesting.  The dataset happened to have an item in it that asked respondents if they considered themselves “part of the Tea Party movement.” Nineteen percent said yes.

It turns out that there is about as strong a correlation between scores on the science comprehension scale and identifying with the Tea Party as there is between scores on the science comprehension scale and Conservrepub.

Except that it has the opposite sign: that is, identifying with the Tea Party correlates positively (r = 0.05, p = 0.05) with scores on the science comprehension measure:

Again, the relationship is trivially small, and can’t possibly be contributing in any way to the ferocious conflicts over decision-relevant science that we are experiencing.

(I must confess that reading the above made me just ecstatically happy that I no longer practice law.  Think how much academic writing that spares me.)

You’ve probably seen the above quotation everywhere over the last two days.  It certainly makes sense to conservatives, because people who pay attention to actual facts are more likely to conclude that Anthropogenic Global Warming is a hoax.  (If you’re a data junkie, I recommend Watts Up With That.)  It’s the believers who are stuck in the epistemic closure loop.  Climate warmer?  AGW!!  Climate cooler?  AGW!!  No climate movement at all?  AGW.  Models wrong?  Still AGW!  That’s faith, my friends, not science.

But getting back to Professor Kahan.  What’s really fascinating is what comes after his confession regarding what is, to him, a counter-intuitive statistical anomaly.

May I take a moment here to remind you what Professor Kahan’s specialty is?  It’s “cultural cognition,” an expensive sounding theory that posits what your grandmother could have told you for free:  Our biases predispose us to interpret information in certain ways.  This obviously includes as a subset the fact that people look to certain authorities for information.  I can guarantee you that Obama reads the New York Times, and not National Review.  In this way, of course, he is distinct from conservatives, who read both.

Kahan believes that, if he can render cultural cognition into set data points, he can drag people into “sound public policymaking.”  (I believe George Orwell called it “groupthink.”)  Lift their blinders, and they will see the light.

But what about Kahan’s own blinders?  And that’s where his little post gets really interesting.  If you want to see a closed intellectual universe, Kahan invites you right into his:

I’ve got to confess, though, I found this result surprising. As I pushed the button to run the analysis on my computer, I fully expected I’d be shown a modest negative correlation between identifying with the Tea Party and science comprehension.

But then again, I don’t know a single person who identifies with the Tea Party.  All my impressions come from watching cable tv — & I don’t watch Fox News very often — and reading the “paper” (New York Times daily, plus a variety of politics-focused internet sites like Huffington Post & Politico).

I’m a little embarrassed, but mainly I’m just glad that I no longer hold this particular mistaken view.

Of course, I still subscribe to my various political and moral assessments–all very negative– of what I understand the “Tea Party movement” to stand for. I just no longer assume that the people who happen to hold those values are less likely than people who share my political outlooks to have acquired the sorts of knowledge and dispositions that a decent science comprehension scale measures.

I’ll now be much less surprised, too, if it turns out that someone I meet at, say, the Museum of Science in Boston, or the Chabot Space and Science Museum in Oakland, or the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is part of the 20% (geez– I must know some of them) who would answer “yes” when asked if he or she identifies with the Tea Party.  If the person is there, then it will almost certainly be the case that that he or she & I will agree on how cool the stuff is at the museum, even if we don’t agree about many other matters of consequence.

What a charming confession.  It even includes an embarrassed moue, along the lines of “I’m so embarrassed that I assumed Tea Partiers were dumb.”  That almost hides a rather spectacular omission.  Kahan fails to include the logical follow-up that any intelligent person invested in cultural cognition should make.  What he should say after his little confession is “Maybe I should check out what these surprisingly intelligent people believe and argue.”

Instead, what Kahan says after admitting to his intellectual bubble is that he’s just fine with it.  He has no interest in actual data.  Instead, based solely on his predefined values, he will continue “to subscribe to [his] various political and moral assessments — all very negative — of what I understand the ‘Tea Party movement’ to stand for.”  Or as I translate that, “Please, people!  I’m a Yale genius who’s looking for ways to re-educate you.  Don’t bother me with facts and, to the extent that I inadvertently stumbled onto some facts myself, be assured that I will assiduously ignore them.”

I have said for years that, while I’ve never met a post-1984 Harvard Law grad who wasn’t arrogant and ill-informed,* I’ve been impressed with Yale grads.  After my little insight into the thought process of a current Yale professor, I fear that, should any recent Yale grads pop up on my legal radar, I’m going to discover that Yale has gone all Harvard.  Clearly, you’re getting what you pay for at the premier law schools only if you desire social and professional cachet layered upon close-mindedness, chronic epistemic closure, arrogance, and ignorance.

We can all guess, of course, why the Ivy League crowd is so incurious.  They’re afraid that, if they look beyond the narrow confines of their own Progressive cultural cognition, they might follow David Mamet’s path.  Next thing you know, they’ll be cranking up the air conditioner, using excess amounts of toilet paper, and listening to Rush Limbaugh, while muttering “Ditto!”


*And yes, I know Ted Cruz is a post-1984 Harvard Law, but I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him.  I’m just basing my “Harvard lawyers are not people I’d ever hire for myself” attitude on the people I have worked with and opposite.  And of course, if Cruz is a Harvard anomaly, Obama, serenely enveloped in his ignorance and arrogance, is a Harvard poster child.

Something enjoyable for those among us who think Andrew Sullivan is an intellectual fraud and tyrant

There are two thinkers on the Left whom I credit with helping me become more conservative:  Paul Krugman and Andrew Sullivan.  Both of them wrote (and still write) incredible horse pucky in publications I routinely read as a yuppie liberal.  I eventually realized that, if these two were lauded as the shining intellectual lights of my political ideology, than I was in the wrong ideology.  (And yes, I know Sullivan used to advertise himself as “conservative,” but that was a skin deep pose as far as I’m concerned.  His writing always pushed Progressive boundaries.)

Both men are not only ideological dead ends, they’re also unpleasant human beings, given to hurling personal insults and hiding behind their own hyper-inflated reputations.  Andrew Sullivan, though, adds to this a measure of spite and monomania — something that became apparent with his obsession about Trig Palin’s birth — that makes him the kind of person one just loves to see knocked down, and then kicked around a bit.  I don’t mean physically, of course, I mean intellectually.

If you enjoy the sight of having Andrew Sullivan get the intellectual stuffing kicked out of him, please take a few minutes to read Jesse Bering’s Scientific American post detailing the “debate” he’s had with Sullivan over male circumcision:  Hey, Andrew Sullivan, Stop Calling My Penis “Mutilated”.  Debate really isn’t an accurate word, though.  Sullivan’s contribution is a single shrill, vicious, emotion-laden, fact-free, strawman-filled, heterophobic screed.  Even by Sullivan’s own standards, it’s bad.  Bering’s part of the debate is humor and lots and lots of scientific fact.

By the way, as you read it, please keep in mind that Sullivan is a darling of all the science-worshiping Progressives.  He perfectly illustrates the fact that science is to be worshiped only when it marches in lockstep with the agenda.  When it doesn’t, as the Climategate scam demonstrated, Progressives will bend the science rather than change the agenda.

A sense of gratitude and wonderment

My mother is a testament to the wonders of modern medicine.  But for the drugs, surgery, and implanted equipment upon which she relies, she would have been dead a long time ago.  Perhaps even more importantly, to the extent that she’s not dead, she has a fairly good quality of life.  Thanks to cataract surgery and high tech glasses (trifocals, anti-glare coating, etc.), she has twenty-twenty vision.  Thanks to teeny little hearing aids that are practically invisible, she’s not deaf.  Thanks to state-of-the-art pain medicines, delivered via state-of-the-art technology, she tends to forget that she once suffered from chronic pain.  She also takes medicines that control the pain and nausea associated with all the other medicines she takes just to stay alive.  She is a walking wonder.

What’s truly amazing about my mother is that she takes all of this for granted.  She is peculiarly unimpressed that modern medicine has her alive and functioning, even though she’s basically held together by glue and spit.  She’ll periodically complain about past or present sufferings, but I never hear from her an awed exclamation about the absence of pain in her life, or about the joy of twenty-twenty vision, or about the pleasure of hearing her grandchildren’s voices, or about the fact that she’s alive at all.

I’m quite different from my mother in this regard.  I’m am constantly overwhelmed by the wonders and miracles that see me alive and kicking (and doing some pretty damn fine kicking on my good days, if I do say so myself).

Modern medicine means that, a long time ago, when I needed emergency surgery, I got that surgery rather than hemorrhaging to death.

Modern medicine means that I didn’t die of hyperemesis gravidarum during either of my pregnancies.  Charlotte Bronte wasn’t so lucky.

Modern medicine means that I didn’t die when I was delivering one of my children, despite the fact that things went wrong.  And thanks to the epidural I had, not only did I not die, but I didn’t even realize that something had gone wrong.  (The kid was all right too!)

Modern medicine means that, although nature intended me to be practically blind, I not only see thanks to my glasses but, when I put my contacts in, I look gorgeous and I kick butt at martial arts.

Modern medicine means that, thanks to over-the-counter products, I have ridiculously young looking skin for someone my age.  (And yes, I’m boasting.)

And that’s just medicine!  I have iPhones and iPads welded to my hands; telephones in every room of my house; cars that talk to me; machines that wash my clothes and my dishes, and then dry them too; a computer system that has me actively connected to most of the world, 24/7; and that’s just the beginning.  The wonders of technology permeate every aspect of my life, including the allergy free pillow on which I rest my head at night.

Despite the fact that I grew up in this modern world, something that distinguishes me from my mother, who is old enough to remember little European villages that had no cars, I’ve never become blase about the wonders of science and technology.  I am endlessly grateful for the manifest benefits these things have brought to my life.

This sense of gratitude is, I think, part of why I am so proud to be an American, specifically, and part of the western tradition, generally.  All human beings have the capacity to create, but it is the West that had the curiosity and America that had the driving competitive energy, to take theory and make it fact.  Put another way, man has long dreamed of flying, but it was Orville and Wilbur, two American hobbyists, who made flight a practical reality.

Obama campaign turns off the “honesty” switch (and a related side note about dishonest “science”)

Funnily enough, the MSM isn’t picking up on this story, the one that provides proof (proof that can easily be replicated) that the Obama campaign machine is set up to encourage completely fraudulent campaign donations.  The same proof exercise shows that the Republican candidates have set up their donations to block fraud.

Hmm.  Obama encourages fraud for cash; Republicans do not.  It sounds like a distillation of the entire Obama administration.

Incidentally, my reference to “proof that can easily be replicated” was not random.  A poll came out recently stating that conservatives distrust science.  Except that, if you dug down into the data that reported this “scientific” conclusion, the facts behind the study didn’t support the conclusion.  Instead, the fact revealed that conservatives distrust scientists, which is a far cry from distrusting science.

Turns out that they have reason to:  scientists are not trust-worthy or, at the very least, they’re not reliable:

A former researcher at Amgen Inc has found that many basic studies on cancer — a high proportion of them from university labs — are unreliable, with grim consequences for producing new medicines in the future.

During a decade as head of global cancer research at Amgen, C. Glenn Begley identified 53 “landmark” publications — papers in top journals, from reputable labs — for his team to reproduce. Begley sought to double-check the findings before trying to build on them for drug development.

Result: 47 of the 53 could not be replicated. He described his findings in a commentary piece published on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The MSM hasn’t yet figured out that “science” is only as good as the scientists that produce it.  Conservatives, however, are ahead on that curve.  This may explain why the MSM is ignoring the easily reproducible facts proving that Obama is cheating.

Dear Government, Please keep your cotton-pickin’ fingers out of my business *UPDATED*

When I was a little girl, one of the refrains in my life was “get your cotton-pickin’ fingers out of that.”  I didn’t mean to be destructive.  I was always certain I could make things better.  I had bald Barbies, because I was pretty sure I could make their hair look better.  I had misshapen stuffed animals, because I thought I could fix stuffing defects.  My generous destructive tendencies didn’t stop with my own stuff.  Cameras lost lenses, appliance knobs got jammed, and the food my mom was cooking got ruined.  I thought I was “fixing” things.  My parents knew that my cotton-pickin’ fingers were wrecking havoc.

I was a little girl, and had an excuse for my ill-fated attempts to improve things.  What’s the excuse our government has for continually interfering with things in which it has no business?  And even worse, what’s the excuse of citizens who keep demanding more interference from the government?  I don’t want Washington to “fix” the economy.  I want it to back off.  Let people who know something about business, about supply and demand, about capital, about finances, about consumers, and generally about the facts on the ground, be the ones who fix business.  All that government offers, whether Democrat or Republican, is stupid good will and cotton-pickin’ fingers.

After I expounded on this theory to my sister, she asked, “What should government do?”  I started the usual list:  National Security, Epidemic and Pandemic Control (as opposed to telling people what to eat or how much to weigh), Transcontinental Road and Bridge Building and Maintenance (not “intercontinental,” but “transcontinental”) — basically, things in which it has an interest.

Take national security, for example.  Government definitely has an interest in national security.  That’s one of its biggest jobs and, more importantly, it’s not a job that can be handled competently by states or individual citizens.  Because the government is very goal oriented when it comes to national security, it tends to do it efficiently.  Sure, there’s waste and graft and corruption, but on the whole, as long as the political will is there, our national security system does its core job very well, whether its our men and women in on foreign battle fields, or our information gatherers here at home.

People confuse the main national security goal with the often beneficial by-products it produces.  A classic example is to support a demand that the government fund science by pointing to the huge surgical strides Americans have made during every war since WWI, or to the far-reaching scientific and technological innovations flowing from NASA.  But what they forget was that, in each case, the government had a bigger goal than better sutures or a computer chip.  The government was not trying to improve surgery but was, instead, trying to keep its troops alive so that they could fight and win.  And up until Obama turned NASA into a Muslim outreach organization, it’s purpose was to help us beat the Soviets in the Cold War. That its technology benefited the private sector was great, but that wasn’t the government’s job.

Problems always arise when government tries to micromanage things in which it has no interest.  Government is neither a consumer nor a business, so when it meddles in the marketplace, it does so without any coherent goals, strategies or tactics.  It’s inefficient because it can be inefficient:  as long as things are sort of moving in one direction or another, there is no specific outcome the government is heading towards.

The same holds true for science:  Nowadays, the government tries to pick scientific winners or losers, depending on the political flavor (and trendy Hollywood star) of the day.  As ethanol, biofuels and Solyndra show, the government has an uncanny knack for backing the wrong horse.  Because government spends our money using a mystical and poisonous combination of politics, bureaucracy and corruption, its decisions are unrelated to practical realities.  It’s the marketplace that should be investigating the best way to reduce pollution, whether that means increasing fossil fuel outputs and cleaning emissions, or finding entirely new energy strategies.  Because government as an entity has no responsibility for science qua science, it shouldn’t pretend — at great taxpayer expense — that it does.

And that, my children, is your sermon for the day.

UPDATEBiden’s Solyndra speech pretty much makes my point.  This Jim deMint article does too.

The nuclear plant problem in Japan — and the problem with ideologues in science *UPDATED*

Mr. Bookworm, New York Times reader, was telling the children that there was a total catastrophe in Japan, with the Japanese and the world exposed to the possibility of massive radiation poisoning.  I calmed the children’s fears by telling them that the paper could be right, but it could be wrong.  First, newspapers sell well on disasters, so it’s in their interest to play them up.  Second, I said, it’s doubtful that most of the reporters have any understanding of nuclear technology, so they’re winging it.  (What I didn’t add is that, almost certainly, the Times’ reporters have as their only “experts” anti-nuclear activists.  There’s nothing wrong with getting the activists’ point of view, but the reporting would be more honest if (a) the Times revealed their biases and (b) the Times talked to some people on the other, non-hysterical side.)  The children, bless their hearts, said “Mom, we know that!”

Anyway, if you want a view from the other side, written in the clearest English I’ve ever seen in a science-based article, read Charlie Martin on the nuclear meltdown and the media.  Whether or not you agree with him, he writes so well, you will certainly understand him.

By the way, this is a great place to tell a story I’ve had in my brain for several days.  I have to digress a teeny bit to set the story up, so please bear with me.

I own a Kindle.  I love the convenience (no more suitcases full of paperbacks when I travel), but I find the book pricing off-putting.  With the choice of free books at the library, or cheap books at Goodwill, I’m not thrilled about spending $10.00 on a book.  What makes it worse in my mind is that, while hardback books are marked down about 40-50% (hence the $10 or $12 Kindle pricing), paperback books are priced down only about 5%.  I’m too cheap to buy a full-priced paperback at the best of times (preferring to gamble that I’ll find something I like at Goodwill or the library), so I’m certainly not going to buy the same book for a mere 5% discount.

So I’ve got a Kindle, but I’m unwilling to buy the books.  The answer is to get the free books that show up on Kindle.  Sometimes, there are real finds there.  For example, if a reputable author is publishing the most recent book in a long-running series, the publishers will put out the first book for free, as a loss leader, to entice people.  That works for me and I have been enticed.  There are also free classics (or low priced, 99 cent, classics).  There are a lot of books that are pure garbage and are free because no one will or should pay any other price.  And there are books that see a publisher just trying to get titles out there and gin up some interest.

That last e-publishing approach is how I ended up with a free copy of Sherry Seethaler’s Lies, Damned Lies, and Science: How to Sort through the Noise around Global Warming, the Latest Health Claims, and Other Scientific Controversies. The publisher’s blurb promises that the book will help savvy news consumers understand the science in the news:

Every day, there’s a new scientific or health controversy. And every day, it seems as if there’s a new study that contradicts what you heard yesterday. What’s really going on? Who’s telling the truth? Who’s faking it? What do scientists actually know—and what don’t they know? This book will help you cut through the confusion and make sense of it all—even if you’ve never taken a science class! Leading science educator and journalist Dr. Sherry Seethaler reveals how science and health research really work…how to put scientific claims in context and understand the real tradeoffs involved…tell quality research from junk science…discover when someone’s deliberately trying to fool you…and find more information you can trust! Nobody knows what new controversy will erupt tomorrow. But one thing’s for certain: With this book, you’ll know how to figure out the real deal—and make smarter decisions for yourself and your family!

Watch the news, and you’ll be overwhelmed by snippets of badly presented science: information that’s incomplete, confusing, contradictory, out-of-context, wrong, or flat-out dishonest. Defend yourself! Dr. Sherry Seethaler gives you a powerful arsenal of tools for making sense of science. You’ll learn how to think more sensibly about everything from mad cow disease to global warming–and how to make better science-related decisions in both your personal life and as a citizen.

You’ll begin by understanding how science really works and progresses, and why scientists sometimes disagree. Seethaler helps you assess the possible biases of those who make scientific claims in the media, and place scientific issues in appropriate context, so you can intelligently assess tradeoffs. You’ll learn how to determine whether a new study is really meaningful; uncover the difference between cause and coincidence; figure out which statistics mean something, and which don’t.

Seethaler reveals the tricks self-interested players use to mislead and confuse you, and points you to sources of information you can actually rely upon. Her many examples range from genetic engineering of crops to drug treatments for depression…but the techniques she teaches you will be invaluable in understanding any scientific controversy, in any area of science or health.

^ Potions, plots, and personalities: How science progresses, and why scientists sometimes disagree
^ Is it “cause” or merely coincidence? How to tell compelling evidence from a “good story”
^ There are always tradeoffs: How to put science and health claims in context, and understand their real implications
^ All the tricks experts use to fool you, exposed! How to recognize lies, “truthiness,” or pseudo-expertise

At first, the book seemed to live up to its promises.  Seethaler explained that it was entirely legitimate for scientists to disagree, because science is not as black-and-white as elementary, middle and high schools imply.  Different techniques, different equipment, and different starting hypotheses can all result in differing outcomes that are open to legitimate dispute.  Seethaler explains that, quite often, conventional wisdom has proven to be plain wrong.  The nature of hypotheses is that they are tested, and then tested again, especially as new information and technology come along.

Seethaler also talks about modeling.  The way in which a scientist sets up a model — the parameters he chooses, the information he enters, and the calculations he applies — may dramatically affect the conclusions he reaches.

In light of all these variables, Seethaler acknowledges that, as she says, “scientific revolutions really happen.”  Conventional wisdom frequently gets turned on its head.  Few things are fixed in the world of true science.  What’s important, she says, is that “disputes are not a sign of science gone wrong.”  Instead, they represent scientists dealing with all of the problems, and variables, and information, and scientific development described above.  This can mean, Seethaler writes, that one person, one outlier, can turn conventional wisdom on its head.

After all this, you’d think, wouldn’t you, that Seethaler would carry these conclusions through to the subject of anthropogenic global warming, right?  Oh, so wrong.  Turning her back on everything she wrote in the preceding chapters, Seethaler has this to say on global warming, in the context of a warning the newspapers like to play up conflict, but don’t really understand scientific methodology:

Another problem is what sociologist Christopher Tourmey referred to as pseudo-symmetry of scientific authority — the media sometimes presents controversy as if scientists are evenly divided bewteen two points of view, when one of the points of view is held by a large majority of the scientific community.  For example, until recently, the media often gave equal time and space to the arguments for and against humans as the cause of global climate change.  Surveys of individual climate scientists have indicated that there is discord among scientists on the issue, but that the majority of scientists agree that humans are altering global climate.  One anlaysis of a decade of research papers on global climate change found no papers that disputed human impacts on global climate.  Also, all but one of the major scientific organizations in the United States whose members have expertise relevant to global climate change, more than a dozen organizations in all, have issued statements acknowledging that human activities are altering the earth’s climate.  The American Association of Petroleum Geologists dissents.  Therefore, there is a general consensus within the scientific community that humans are causing global climate change.  While it is legitimate to explore the arguments agianst the consensus position on global climate change, it is misleading for the media to present the issue so as to give the impression that the scientific community is evenly divided on the matter.

Have you read any media in the last ten years that “gave equal time and space to the arguments for and against humans as the cause of global climate change?”  I haven’t.  With the exception of Fox, the media has monolithically climbed aboard the AGW bandwagon, and ignored or discredited any contrary voices.

Also, considering that Seethaler spent pages and pages and pages warning against assuming that science is fixed, explaining how different approaches to models and hypotheses can affect scientific conclusions, and applauding outliers who challenged (correctly) institutional consensus, do you find it as peculiar as I do to have her suddenly announce that AGW is definitely proven and that any voices to the contrary should be ignored?  It also doesn’t seem to have occurred to her that, in this monolithic intellectual climate, the absence of published papers challenging AGW may arise from the fact that the challengers are being barred at the gates.

I deleted Seethaler’s book from my Kindle at this point.  The woman is a foolish ideologue, incapable of practicing what she preaches.  She’s also probably pretty typical of the science writers and “experts” bloviating about the very real nuclear problems in Japan.  That is, there are real problems, and real risks, but never trust an ideologue to be honest with you when it comes to the conclusions to be drawn from the facts.

UPDATE:  Another good example of the media’s gross (and, I suspect, intentional) scientific ignorance.