It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Moe's Catch 22

The following are excerpted from a rather impenetrable article by Moe G. I think they work better standing alone.

I would call it "The Art of Controversy: Denialist Rules of Engagement" or "The Requirement of Perfect Nihilism".
1) Rollicking dialogue [is] favored over disciplined argumentation

2) Scientists must be held to a higher standard than their critics. The critics of scientists can sink to impossible shameful depths of poor argumentation. It is off limits to point out in the critics their impossible shameful depths of poor argumentation.

3) With the critics of scientists, you must never consider the motivation of those critics (strangely, scrutinizing the motivation of the scientists themselves is encouraged).

4) Scientific facts can be contaminated by a scientist with an outcome preference or a policy preference, and the critics of scientists are under no burden to speculate on the mode of contamination. And demonstrating contamination can be a substitute for demonstrating falsehood.

5) Only certainty can motivate action, and uncertainty can never motivate action. That is why nobody ever buys homeowners insurance without getting a statement of intent from an arsonist that your home is scheduled for a fire.

4 + 5) Scientists must behave as perfect nihilists. A policy or outcome preference from a scientist, even if the logical consequence of a common humane morality of care-taking for the benefit of future generations, is disallowed. (Strangely, this requirement to be perfect nihilists only applies to scientists.) If imperfect nihilism is demonstrated, the publications affected can be discarded.

6) Scientists writing in casual forums always risk their reputation, for a certain group of scientists. Scientists writing in casual forums always have their casual statements enhanced by their reputation from scientific publication, for a certain *different* group of scientists.

7) You are not to notice that delay serves privileged groups well. So the Art of Controversy must be only seen as a Quest for Truth.

7 comments:

manuelg said...

Err, don't thank me. I just provided stenography services for the True Masters in two Keith Kloor posts and comment threads. I scraped Collide-A-Scape. ;-)

Michael Tobis said...

Well, the collection of principles itself is a very clever idea. I didn't see it presented that way on c-a-s.

manuelg said...

The more I think about it, the more disgusted I am with RPJr idea in the thread of "stealth advocacy", something he is not able to define (he barely makes an attempt to respond to perverse consequences of his lame attempts at defining it).

I bet we will see more of this charge, from RPJr and the other deniers that take pains to ape reasonableness.

Risking the charge of myself being too melodramatic, the charge of "stealth advocacy" is just like the Stalin Soviet charge of being a "rootless cosmopolitan" - a charge used against Jewish intellectuals.

quoting RPJr

> Stealth advocacy occurs when someone claims to be only discussing the fact, but in reality, is working to constrain the scope of policy options. Such work can be intentional or unintentional...

It is undefinable, it is unanswerable, and it is a fatal charge. It is undefinable because *any* rational analysis might "constrain the scope of policy options" - hopefully by removing from consideration harmful policy option. It is unanswerable because it can be an unintentional sin of omission or ignorance. And it designed to be fatal, so voices and results and papers and viewpoints can be marginalized.

He shows his true colors here.

Also, he could not bring himself to agree with the following:

quoting myself:

> You don't need to be much of a Bayesian to see value in informing an initial judgement in a fact from a judgement of the motivation of actor positing the fact. But it is only fair to apply this to scientists, critics, pundits, others alike. And, eventually, the judgement of the fact in isolation of political outcomes has to swamp out the initial judgement informed by motivation. And, the judgement process must provisionally terminate, because the value is in the result, not in the sustained controversy (provisional on information fatal to the judgement). And, uncertainty can compel action, in the same way that uncertainty about the risks to my home can compel me to spend money on homeowners insurance, now.

Why can't he agree with the previous? Because he is wholly dedicated to the Art of Controversy.

I am just happy he is telegraphing his methods prior to his book coming out. Bjorn is a spent force, because he painted himself into a corner with brushwork of his own ridiculousness. Hopefully, the same fate will take place quicker with RPJr.

William T said...

manuelg: I agree - that is a desperate tactic by the "political class" to try to neuter the "scientific class" in contributing to the developing policy responses to climate change.

The trouble is that "politics" is disconnected from reality. The impact of physics or other "measurable science" on political theories is relatively minor (at least in the short term). However, there is real conflict between different political frameworks because they claim inconsistent approaches to managing human society. But arguing in the "political" arena is all about rhetoric and persuasion - it inherently doesn't rely on "facts" that can be "measured" in any dispassionate sense (any political framework can be made self-consistent by interpreting things appropriately).

Unfortunately for certain present-day political frameworks, climate science imposes some severe physical constraints on human systems. It is saying that the assumption that CO2 disposal is cost-free is actually very wrong. The implication is that the political framework under which the human system operates has to take that cost into account. It's not "negotiable" or "arguable" - nature actually doesn't care about our political rhetoric.

The problem as I see it with certain present-day political frameworks is that they don't want to accept this external constraint on the "purity" of their "theories". It IS inconvenient that the atmosphere isn't an infinite CO2 sink. Whether people are trying to undermine or deny the science (or more honestly to try to find more convenient values for sensitivity); or trying to quarantine the science by erecting walls between "scientific debate" and "policy debate", they are effectively acting to prevent reality-based facts from intruding into the political space. It's pretty apparent that the physical reality of environmental constraints (eg on CO2) contradicts some political "theories", and so tilts the political landscape towards other theories.

Don't say it ain't so.

Martin said...

> RPJr and the other deniers that take
> pains to ape reasonableness

"Plausible denialists"

manuelg said...

replying to "William T"'s comment:

This is a great analysis, much more clearly expressed than I am capable of doing. With you permission (I am already assuming I have your permission :-) I would like to quote the whole of your comment on my little blog.

The only thing I would add is the role of motivating morality leading to active responsibility. I agree with the so-called "Plausible Denialist" that the science should be kept separate from the morality. Where I don't agree with those creeps: I think that morality is the key, and the responsibility that follows compels one to use the science responsibly, that means, correctly.

reply to "Martin":

I have already decided to steal and to use repeatedly your moniker for those creeps of "Plausible Denialist". A perfect description - cheers!

William T said...

manuelg - no problems.