Monday, December 06, 2010

Conspiracies and Wishful Thinking

To what extent is the world filled with conniving villains and dastardly plots... and how much of it erupts from our fertile imaginations?  It may not surprise you much that I take both sides on this matter.

On the one hand, history is rife with schemers and secretive meddlers.  You don't need cryptic societies and Illuminati, just your run-of-the-mill feudal aristocracy that ruled almost every society that ever lifted itself to the level of agriculture.  The mythology of inherited lordship - assisted and promoted by priests and bards - was the great scam that got pulled off on every continent, in every age.

On the other hand, we often see conspiracies where they are not.  The psychological drivers are many and powerful. A need to explain one's own poverty and failure. The allure of enticing pattern recognition, even when the patterns aren't really there. And, above all, the warm feeling we get from being in the know. From being part of the elect group that can see what's going on!  While our foolish neighbors go about their business, bleating like ignorant sheep.

There are no richer, more voluptuous mental drug-highs than self-righteous indignation, resentment, and contempt for fools. 

IS THERE A SYSTEM FOR RECOGNIZING THE DIFFERENCE? 

In the latest issue of Scientific American, Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine, has an excellent article, “The Conspiracy Theory Detector", in which he categorizes the characteristics of conspiracy theories. I’ll summarize a few of his points:  

   1. -- The conspiracy only emerges by “connecting the dots,” linking events that are unrelated except through the allegation of conspiracists.
   2.--The agents behind such a conspiracy would “need nearly superhuman power to pull it off.”
   3.--The conspiracy presumes that a large number of people have maintained total secrecy, often for a substantial period of time.
   4. --The conspiracy involves a grand struggle for control of a nation or economy, or even world domination (the larger the issue, the more likely it's a conspiracy).
   5.--The conspiracy “ratchets up from small events that might be true to much larger, much less probable events.”
   6. –The theory assigns evil, sinister motives to events.
   7. --The theorist mixes facts and speculations, probable and improbable events, is consistently suspicious of all government agencies, and refuses to consider alternative explanations, typically rejecting any evidence that fails to confirm such theories. 

I must add that just because a notion has all these warning signs, that doesn't mean the conspiracy theory is wrong!  In fact, would not the conspiring geniuses fake some of these very traits, in order to discredit the idea and divert smart people away from it?

Still, Shermer's article offers some tools, for you to use as a free mind. 

JUST REMEMBER... YOU ARE THE EASIEST ONE TO FOOL...

Richard Feynman said that. And I'm the one who said that self-delusion is the greatest of all human talents. 

ConspiracyTheoriesSee my videos: Ten Super Secret Rules of Conspiracy Theories and Part 2 as well.

Indeed, recent science shows how good we all are at psychologically ignoring all evidence against our tightly clutched beliefs. Even when those beliefs are simply wrong. ”New research suggests that misinformed people rarely change their minds when presented with the facts — and often become even more attached to their beliefs. The finding raises questions about a key principle of a strong democracy: that a well-informed electorate is best.”
       
LogicalFallaciesWhile we’re on the subject, here is a systematic taxonomy of logical fallacies. No one should graduate high school without knowing these. Seriously, you are ignorant if you aren't at least glancingly familiar with them. 
  
(Hang on a month or so, and I will supply you with an even more important tool: the paraphrase challenge!  Impatient scholars can dive into it here.
    
Dang, how has the species even survived to get this far?  Obstinate, delusional... and desperately clinging to our delusions. 
 
If this sort of thing is common among intelligent species, across the galaxy, then ah, the Fermi Paradox is no paradox.

THIS GOES WAY BACK, OF COURSE, EVEN IN SCIENCE

Controversies and public battles over science are nothing new, particularly when politics enters the fray. An article in New Scientist, “Einstein’s skeptics: Who were the relativity deniers?” begins, “When people don't like what science tells them, they resort to conspiracy theories, mud-slinging and plausible pseudoscience.” Einstein’s battles to defend relativity were reminiscent of today’s climate deniers and creationists. 


In 1920, five years after he published his general theory of relativity, Albert Einstein wrote, "This world is a strange madhouse, Every coachman and every waiter is debating whether relativity theory is correct. Belief in this matter depends on political affiliation." 

Einstein’s publication provoked opponents across Europe and the U.S. who set out to prove that relativity was wrong. Objections were raised not just in scholarly journals, but in letters, newspapers, pamphlets and public lectures.  Some groups promoted anti-semitic conspiracy theories; others raised theological arguments. Their tactics had much in common with those used by creationists and climate-change deniers today. The Academy of Nations, an international network of Einstein’s opponents, published polemics against relativity, which they believed symbolized the incomprehensibility of modern science, and its break from classical physics. The New York Times declared in 1919, that relativity was a theory that could be understood by “only twelve wise men.” 

Arguments continue to this day. The website Conservapedia lists 32 reasons why the relativity theory is wrong, and allows users to document counterexamples to relativity theory. 

===


See also: An Open Letter to Researchers of Addiction, Brain Chemistry and Social Psychology


Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competitiveness for Society's Benefit


Paranoia has many roots and levels
 

110 comments:

omniclimate said...

Somehow the debate about Relativity didn't see the rise of "True Believers" like the climate change debate has? By that I mean, the relatively influential group of people that see climate change in every single weather phenomenon, refuse to admit that climate scientists are not all-powerful gods of forecasting, label anybody that asks any question a "denier", dismiss any talk about adaptation, etc etc.

Or did it? Where there people, in between the World Wars, that were more einsteinians than Einstein, so to speak?

Vergil Den said...

“New research suggests that misinformed people rarely change their minds when presented with the facts — and often become even more attached to their beliefs.”

You can also swap “misinformed” with “incompetent” - The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to realize their mistakes

Vergil Den

Robert said...

Well, you know what they say, Dr. Brin: admitting that you have a problem is the first step in dealing with it. ;)

One thing I find interesting is that the solidarity of the Republican Party is fracturing. We actually have a Republican speaking out against continuing the Bush Tax Cuts though it seems his reasoning is that the tax system is badly damaged and needs a complete overhaul. Which is an accurate assessment. And Ron Paul spoke out against the tide concerning Assange and Wikileaks/Cablegate. It would be interesting to see just what it was that damaged their solidarity. I suspect the influx of Tea Party-sanctioned candidates may be partly to blame, as these people may not have the same ideology as the upper-level Republicans... and I suspect we're having a power struggle start up in the Republican Party concerning what path it will take in the future.

Though that statement might be considered a conspiracy theory I suppose. ;)

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

No wikileaks post? :(

Tony Fisk said...

Why did relativity get this push back? Did quantum mechanics get the same?

Was this the point where 'commonsense' ceased to apply to the real world? (There are precedents: the discovery of irrational numbers. The cardinal who refused to look into Galileo's infernal oracular contraption as it would challenge Church teachings)

re: wikileaks. Things online are moving faster than when 'they' try to take out the grazer facilities in 'Earth' and Daisy lets the angels out. So any comment is likely to get out of date rather quick.

Swiss bank freezes Assange's account.
Swiss bank is, itself, frozen.
Mastercard now joins PayPal in blocking payment.
Twitter appears to be stifling the trending of #wikileaks.

Meanwhile, the man in the eye of the storm is yet to be charged with anything.

insistness: the way you should go about promoting the truthiness of commonsense.

David Brin said...

soon....

Stefan Jones said...

Quantum Theory and the Uncertainty Principle were immensely disturbing to folks of a certain mindset.

Aside: Nikola Tesla never accepted quantum theory, or modern notions about the atom. This, more than conspiracies and Edison's influence, was probably most responsible for the guy's fall into irrelevancy.

Tony Fisk said...

Neither did Einstein, come to that!

(Me? I harbour reservations about dark matter: seems like cosmology is getting the theory ahead of the observation)

idsor: a subconscious irritation

Ian Gould said...

Okay, to my mind this is more interesting than NASA's arsenic-eating bugs.

A species of hornet can extract energy directly from sunlight and does so using a completely novel mechanism.

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/12/oriental-hornets-literally-solar-powered.php

One interesting aspect to this: there's currently a LOT of work being done to copy aspects of photosynthesis to make solar energy more practical. Well now there's whole other biological model to copy.

Ian said...

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/12/oriental-hornets-literally-solar-powered.php

I think this is much more interesting than NASA's arsenic-eating bugs.

A species of hornet can extract energy directy from sunlight using an entirely new process.

Rob said...

Quantum Theory and Uncertainty are observations of emergent properties, in my opinion. That's my story, I'm sticking to it, in the name of Science, amen.

;-)

I read news today that Assange is working with authorities to answer the Swedes' questions, which in my estimation is behavior consistent more with a lawful man than the outlaw some media is painting him as.

Assange is hard to parse. He's clearly too idealistic to do more than knock over the snowman with his ideas, but I can't help wondering if he's going to have ended up doing more good than harm in the long run, or at the very least changing the shape of the threat profile to civilization in general.

If nothing else, he's proved America's de facto hegemony over the entire world, since the entire world establishment condemns it. Not that that needed proving, but there we are: something easy to cite.

Ian said...

"If nothing else, he's proved America's de facto hegemony over the entire world, since the entire world establishment condemns it. Not that that needed proving, but there we are: something easy to cite."

Considering that messages from virtually every major government in the world TO the US were leaked it doesn;t really support your point.

Stuff like the Australian then-Prime Minister talking about the possible need to use force against China as a last resort; the British Conservatives promising to steer arms purchases America's way and the Saudi King urging a military strikes against Iran probably had a lot to do with the condemnation.

Hypnos said...

I think it is also important to consider cultural differences, rather than assume that all humans throughout all history behaved and thought in the way modern humans do.

For example, the Dunning-Kruger effect is an exquisitely American phenomenon. Experiments carried out in Europe failed to find a similar effect, and in East Asia the effect was reversed: competent people underestimated themselves.

Conspiracysm is also an American trait, see "The Paranoid Style in American Politics".

Tony Fisk said...

This tweet has a little something for everyone here:

#Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been arrested [confirmed]. #WookieeLeaks founder Leia "Princess" Organa still at large. She is armed & dangerous.

Jon Mann said...

What we have here is a new kind of aristocratic elite of financial thieves and corporate conglomerates who are rapidly consolidating their control over entire governments.

The difference in countries like China and Russia, is powerful central governments can dictate, intervene and OWN the capitalist forces. In some countries, monarchist forces still retain a modicum of control.

These forces are the same old networks that are out to control the wealth of nations and are often at odds with each other. None dare call it conspiracy. If there are conspiratorial elements they are evolving to control world markets, as in Rollerball, and divide the spoils.

You can call them whatever you like; Illuminati, Bilderberg,Trilateral Commission, etc. They represent a pattern of group dynamics that have existed through history to organize and dominate market forces. They sometimes cooperate and sometimes conspire against each other, but they are the new world order.

When the collapse comes the fittest will survive and inherit the earth.

Robert said...

Here's a prediction: once the U.S. presents an extradition order for Assange, the rape charges will be dropped by Swedish prosecutors and he will be sent promptly to the U.S.

If I were feeling especially cynical I'd say that he then would be charged as an enemy combatant, and likely dropped into Gitmo or a similar prison as a terrorist. But I'm not sure if the U.S. government is quite that far gone... especially as I suspect there would be a bit of an outcry by a number of human rights groups in the U.S. and abroad, and possibly attacks by "hacktivists" from Anonymous which have already started going after those businesses that are working to censor Wikileaks (such as Paypal, Amazon, and the bank in Switzerland that froze Assange's account).

Rob H.

Carl M. said...

Some would say that the entire American Revolution was triggered by conspiracy theorizing. See:

http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2007/12/why-i-am-not-libertarian.html

Glenn Ingersoll said...

I've been working my way slowly through Daniel Goldhagen's Worse Than War, a book about mass murder, mostly in the 20th Century. The book is depressing, long, and somewhat repetitive, but his arguments are worth concentrating on. Goldhagen is the author of Hitler's Willing Executioners. In Worse Than War Goldhagen describes entire populations acting on crazy conspiracy theories to murder, frequently face to face, the supposed conspirators. Death marches, concentration camp systems, death squads, neighbors hacking neighbors to death with machetes, these require (& receive) society-wide approval, Goldhagen says, and he makes a pretty good case. Imagine how convinced in your righteousness you would have to be in order to rape and murder and laugh while doing it - the sort of behavior not just of freaks but ordinary persons during genocides.

rewinn said...

"...A species of hornet can extract energy directly from sunlight and does so using a completely novel mechanism..."

If true, that gives us the world's first solar-powered Vespa!

(the hornet Vespa Orientalis, that is...)

But seriously, this is pretty interesting, assuming that the light-harvesting properties of the xanthopterin molecule can be used large scale (and assuming Piers Anthony feels no need to re-write "The Magic of Xanthopterin"?)

Robert said...

Thought I'd share this with you all (seeing that we're kinda talking conspiracy theories, and the Climate Deniers are a group who mostly believe Global Warming to be a conspiracy) - A Letter To A Denier:

The problem with global warming science is that if we try to stop global warming, either through geoengineering efforts or with an actual reduction of carbon, then when the worse-case scenario does not arrive, the Deniers will cry out "it was a waste of time and money, it was all a lie." Now I want you to consider this from two other angles.

First, economic. Green energy is becoming a huge industry. Whether you're talking biofuels, solar, wind, or nuclear (which I consider a green technology despite the radioactive byproduct, especially as a hybrid fusion/fission process is in the testing stage which uses fusion power to form neutrons to use in a fission process that cannot suffer a meltdown and which can utilize radioactive waste as the fissile fuel to create energy from), we have several developing nations such as China already getting into this field. Private industry, with some financial help from the Federal government (much like the money currently going into the petroleum and coal industries to push down energy costs), could beat the Chinese to the goal. Developing nations would much prefer to utilize renewable power than have to pay OPEC for oil or import coal from Australia or other coal-exporting nations. And you can bet China is spending plenty of government money building up its Green Energy sector.

Further, the airlines are currently investing in biofuels. They have to. When oil hit $150 a barrel, airlines were losing money. Oil is pushing toward $100 a barrel, despite the weak nature of the U.S. economy. There are several hybrid biofuel/jet fuel mixes being tested, with one currently under approval for the final testing on actual aircraft. There is another much more important reason to go into biofuel (or electric vehicles, which is also taking off thanks to Tesla Motors proving electric cars can be viable, if expensive): screwing it to the OPEC nations. Seriously, we're spending trillions on Arab oil (while exporting the oil we drill in the U.S. to China), and that money is going to fund terrorist groups and a handful of nations that want nothing more than to screw us over. Let's pull the plug on them. Dry up their little slush fund. If they're not making that much money off their oil (thanks to the competition of biofuels) then I'm fairly certain those Arabs who are funding terrorism will stop doing so - their own comfort is more important to them.

(continued)

Robert said...

And now let's assume for a moment that global warming is real, that we have increased hurricanes, higher sea levels, nastier storms through the midwest, and damage to our agricultural infrastructure. Who is going to pay for the repairs? You can bet that after the first few big storms hit, insurance companies will refuse to pay and will close shop. Further, who's going to be liable? How many lawsuits will arise against the energy sector because their carbon emissions drove up temperatures? How about lawsuits against the Republican Party because they blocked every effort to regulate greenhouse gas emissions? This is related to the economic issue, mind you. But should global warming happen on a wide scale and cause the damage that even mid-level scenarios show, then widescale litigation against the parties who tried everything to block environmental protections is going to occur, unless you pass laws stating lawsuits aren't allowed. And that is just plain unamerican. It is our fundamental right to sue at the drop of a hat. ;)

There are plenty of reasons for the U.S. to go Green and to help the Green Energy sector. The only reason not to is to line the pockets of the Arabs in the Middle East who are using those profits to wage a terrorist war against us. So why again are we blocking Green industries and environmental protections? Is the petroleum industry, which keeps making record profits at our expense, that important?

Rob H., who considers himself a conservationist, not an environmentalist.

David Brin said...

Very cogent stuff Rob

David Brin said...

Kent wrote in:

I enjoyed the conspiracy theory detector. Thanks. That kind of stuff could and should be taught in school. There are some similarly good lists for detecting frauds, etc. at various government sites (e.g., the FBI’s “Common Fraud Schemes” page).
http://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud

Robert said...

Sadly the Denier took umbrage at the term "Denier" and then claimed that biofuels are not as energy-efficient as oil (the alcohol-based ones are not, but some of the algae-based ones come damn close). I pointed out in a return volley that oil is no longer cost-effective. I've not yet heard from him, but I kind of doubt I will, seeing that he was pushing a Congressional Denier's power point presentation (that weighed in at 1.5 Meg) that could have been written up in a five-page Word Document for far smaller file-size.

I'll have to find a way to revise the Letter to a Denier to eliminate any language that can offend their oh-so-delicate sensibilities while destroying any and all arguments against it. Maybe I'll recruit my friend Avens to help; she loves a good debate and is wily enough that she probably could convince Sarah Palin she's wrong about Obama. (The girl is a brilliant and gifted debater. Why she works retail, I'll never know.)

Rob H.

rewinn said...

@Robert - Excellent essays.
May I suggest more pictures, fewer words?

Denialism is an emotional exercise, not a rational exercise, except for the rare case in which ones financial interests align with denialism (e.g. carbon barons). So to fight it, you need to address the emotional issue.

If "conservationist" works better for you than "environmentalist", by all means go for it ( Teddy Roosevelt and all that!) I might even suggest playing up the distinction, so that deniers can adopt the conservationist position without having to admit they're adopting the environmentalist prescription.

David Brin said...

I find the most effective things are:

1-TWODA Things we ought to be doing anyway.. I dare them to name one thing THEY have proposed to make us more efficient and gain energy independence and stop sending trillions to folks who hate us... all phrases USED by George Bush!

If they don't like carbon taxes & credits, why aren't they negotiating and offering other methods? Why have they in fact savagely cut energy research?

This leaves them boggled. Speechless. But it prove they are in cahoots with the Enemy.

2- list all the enemies. Scientists, academics, Doctors, civil servants, teachers, lawyers... ALL the smart folks who could ever stand up to the one elite group they NEVER attack... trillionaires.

3- follow the money. WHo benefits from the delays?

4- Wanna bet???? Dare them to put money on the line, if they doubt climate change. When it gets to or above $100, they suddenly aren't so sure anymore.

5- Guilt by association. The SAME ad agencies and law firms and think tanks who helped Big Tobacco delay for 40 years are in on this. Huh? No suspicion at all?

ppnl said...

This reminds me, is James Hogan still on a anti-relativity kick?

Tim H. said...

James Hogan is no longer.

Tim H. said...

TWODA would be about the only way to talk to a skeptic without your argument being filed somewhere next to religious tracts.

David said...

It's true that "a well-informed electorate" is the worst sort of decision-maker, until one considers the alternatives.
I find Shermer's point #3 particularly compelling. It seems to me that history has shown repeatedly that secrets are very hard to keep. If the President of the United States can't have a consensual affair for a few months behind the closed doors of the Oval Office without it coming to light, how in the world are the 9/11 or JFK assassination conspiracies even conceivable?

@Rob: Depends, I'm sure, on what "emergent phenomena" means exactly, but we do know that whatever might underlie quantum reality, it's not going to allow us to return to the simpler locally causal world of classical mechanics. Bell's inequality, which has been experimentally verified, tells us that much. That doesn't mean that we know exactly what's going on, but we know what isn't.

@Tony: Actually dark matter (and dark energy) is an example of the observations being way ahead of the theory. There are now many independent forms of evidence that tell us that there is something that makes up most of the mass of large galaxies, galaxy clusters, and space as a whole that interacts with visible matter and radiation gravitationally, but neither emits nor scatters light. At this point we know more about what it this stuff is not than what it is. The theorists are making suggestions and experiments are ongoing to test them. Of course it could be that the explanation of the observations is something else, such as modifications to our current theory of gravitation, but that would be an even bigger story.

@Hypnos: I think Hofstadter was definitely on to something about American politics, but conspiracy theories aren't exclusively American. For example, in much of the Middle East, the long history of very real meddling by the former European colonial powers has left such a bad taste that there is still a strong tendency among many to suspect that the Americans, British, and/or French are behind everything bad. (An otherwise down-to-earth older Iranian friend once confided his belief that the 9/11 attack was planned by Britain. Of course Israel is thought the more likely villain by younger folks.)

@Rob: Nothing I've seen in the Wikileaks document or phenomenon suggests America's hegemony at all. Ian explained perfectly why foreign offices around the world are worried about the leaks. (Which doesn't mean that the leaks are a bad thing.) Meanwhile the cables themselves show a U.S. State Department as frustrated as always by foreign leaders who go off in their own directions.
Hegemony? We haven't even been able to gain control in Iraq or Afghanistan, in spite of our having deployed the bulk of our entire armed forces there. (Of course the really clever conspiracy theorists use our failure to make much headway in either country as proof that we wanted chaos all along. Convenient when the facts always fit the theory. N.B.: I'm not accusing you or anyone else here of this sort of thinking.)

@Robert: Your post was excellent. One of the reasons the climate change debate became so politicized, I think, is that some of the Small is Beautiful crowd did latch onto it as a reason for us to turn back to a simpler, less technological economy, and the Right saw that as a threat, but instead of asking whether there was another possible response, they decided that there only hope was to attack the science. Had they seen it as a business opportunity, as Barack Obama, Rep. Jay Inslee, and many others have, perhaps they would have been more open to the overwhelming evidence we have accumulated. But having hitched once hitched their wagons to the notion that human activity couldn't possible be causing problems, they are loath to unhitch them.

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

Very sorry for the multiple postings. I kept getting messages saying that my Word Verification failed or that my post was too long or just that something had failed, so I kept retrying.

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Ian said...

Quick space question: is there any reason the X-37 couldn't be used to resupply the ISS?

That's assuming it passes its test program obviously.

I can see there might be securtiy or cost issues but it seems odd that I don't think I've even seen the possibility discussed.

ppnl said...

Hogan is dead? I had no idea. But then I wouldn't because I pretty much stopped reading anything he wrote. I remember reading the giants series. It was a joy. Then he got into everything from aids denial to to relativity denial and it showed in his work. I had an overwhelming sense of sadness every time I saw anything by him.

TwinBeam said...

Gore admits his first anti-AGW policy preference - corn based ethanol - was based on getting votes, and provides little or no net energy for the massive subsidies given to it. But he's reformed now, and knows that first generation ethanol was a mistake - he assures us that 2nd or 3rd generation cellulosic ethanol is getting it right...

By the way, I hear he's about to become a billionaire from his CO2 trading business. No conflict of interest here, move along...

Robert said...

SpaceX had a successful launch of its Falcon 9 rocket (the second test flight). It's currently in orbit, and assuming everything goes well it should be deorbited in probably an hour or so after doing maneuvering trials. I hope everything goes well, because this is mud in the eyes of the Congressmen who keep insisting only NASA can put men in orbit and the like, despite their normal claims that private industry is better suited than government to handle things. (I think the word for this is two-faced, though it's an apt description for most politicians in any event.)

Here's to hoping for a completely successful flight. ^^

Rob H.

Rob said...

Depends, I'm sure, on what "emergent phenomena" means exactly, but we do know that whatever might underlie quantum reality

Relax, man, it was a snark.

If America wasn't hegemonic, nobody would care this much about the leaked diplomatic memos. QED.

David Brin said...

And if America were truly hegemonic, nobody would have dared do the leaking...

....and the actual leaks themselves would not be such utter YAWNS! Showing a superpower being bullied and pushed around by absolutely everybody.

Jeepers, have you actually READ the crap? It is all so innocuous - showing America trying desperately to reason with assholes -- that a corner of me suspects that the leaks were prepared on purpose to be leaked!

Robert said...

Dragon has successfully splashed down, returning to Earth on-target (and intact). I expect to start hearing the cynical statements by Congresscritters who want to keep tossing good money after bad with various bloated NASA programs how this was a fluke and that the government should not be in the business of assisting private space industry and should shut down this upstart company immediately before it costs them jobs in their home states. ;)

Rob H.

Rob said...

Nonsense, David. Assange can leak it because he knows we won't kill him. And because he's idealistic. Those properties aren't related to a refutation of American hegemony.

(You can still be hegemonic and be in the process of losing it. How long did Byzantium hang around after it was useless, again?)

I haven't gone through more than a smattering of the documents. To paraphrase Jon Stewart, I have stuff to do. Most of it is related to undergirding American manufacturing, which in spite of all, is still dominant worldwide. That's a point of hegemony, by the way.

(China doesn't make all stuff, just cheap stuff. India doesn't perform all thought work, just cheap thought work.)

Rob

Jonathan Roth said...

I wouldn't say that the leaks were utter yawns. Remember the early leaks? Bombing civilians left and right in Afghanistan? Denying that Iraq was in a civil war when all of the proof coming in to the government said that it was?

Tony Fisk said...

Nonsense, David. Assange can leak it because he knows we won't kill him. And because he's idealistic. Those properties aren't related to a refutation of American hegemony.

I think David's point was that a hegemony would have squished the bug ages ago.
See what happens if Chinese or Russian based cables ever get aired (if they ever are!).

Yes, the cables are banal. What we're seeing in places like the twittersphere is an allergic reaction to the 'official' response. (Sez one lymphocyte)

David Brin said...

Note all... there is a second "David" in the house...

Robert said...

Now you know how I feel with the varied Roberts and Robs here. ;)

Rob H.

Ilithi Dragon said...

I think we should just call everyone Bob and be done with it.

Exershil: What political pundits do to stay in shape when not on the air.

Bob said...

Bob: Or as some would say it:

Just call everyone Bob - and Bob's your uncle!

-Bob

Ian said...

"By the way, I hear he's about to become a billionaire from his CO2 trading business. No conflict of interest here, move along..."

where did you hear that?

I'm somewhat surprised since the last time I checked he didn't own a carbon-trading business.

By the way I hear George Bush eats babies.

Tony Fisk said...

Mmmm! Bush babies!*

On topical matters, Jonathan Holmes muses on where Assange is coming from.

Alex Steffen has a grumpy tweet about Dragon being for billionaire tourists

*With high gelatin content, of course!

jubco: Florida company that makes jelly babies

Tony Fisk said...

... Malcolm Turnbull's opinion (drawing comparisons with the 'Spycatcher' case) is worth reading as well.

He also thinks the US State Dept. should swallow its pride and help vet the cables.

Robert said...

Now, this? This is just sick. And yet Republicans insist that regulations on the banking industry are bad. Of course, if a person did this sort of thing, it would be called "theft" and that person would go to jail. Not so for a corporate entity of course. They get a pat on the back and are bailed out when they fuck us over.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

I don't mind expensive billionaire passtimes that suck up their extra lucre in ways that subsidize the rest of us. Space jaunts qualify, the way first class travel used to.

What I despise is hoarding, using wealth to gain undue influence, and spending it in ways that UNDERMINE us... like corporate and charter jets.

Tony Fisk said...

I'm not really that fussed either. Steffen's gripe is that 1000 spaceflights equate to 1 year's aviation emissions.

I'd be surprised if there are 1000 billionaires rarin' to go.

(unless we're looking at Stark?)

David Brin said...

Some of you asked me for my source on this.

Here it is:

Stunning statistics from the Pew Research Center: Only 6% of U.S. scientists call themselves Republican, while 55% claim to be Democrats, and 32% Independent, 7% uncommitted. How can this repudiation be anything other than meaningful? As American politics becomes increasingly polarized, science should be a middle ground of reason and rationality. Now we know why the Gingrich Congress erased and banned all scientific advisory panels from Capitol Hill. Even those that were certified balanced and neutral. Draw your own conclusions.
http://people-press.org/report/528/
http://www.slate.com/id/2277104/

Tim H. said...

Ian, this headline seems misleading: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/6491195/Al-Gore-could-become-worlds-first-carbon-billionaire.html
When you read the sort article,the wealth is from an investment in smart power line tech, a good thing.

D said...

At some level relativity must be wrong-- because it contradicts quantum mechanics. But the new theory that replaces it will contain relativity as an accurate approximation over a large range of scales. That's how science "disproves" established theories: it subsumes them, rather than destroying them. The conspiracy theorists never get that.

Robert said...

In celebration of SpaceX's successful launch and testing of the Dragon space capsule (and the second launch of the Falcon 9), I give you an article on the launch of a 1:10 scale model of the Saturn V rocket used in the Apollo program. There's also a link in the article to a YouTube video of the launch itself (which I provided here for those not interested in the article).

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

"D" said:

That's how science "disproves" established theories: it subsumes them, rather than destroying them. The conspiracy theorists never get that.


Isaac Asimov had a great essay about that very subject, whose title I unfortunately can't remember. He walked through the fact that Newton proved Aristotle "wrong" about heavy objects falling faster than light ones, but that in the real world (which contains air friction), Aristotle's theory matched real data pretty well. In general, well-established theories aren't so much proven "wrong" as "incomplete".

The only theory I know that the facts prove to be WRONG is supply-side economics. :)

I enjoy reading Asimov's essays as much as his fiction. I still remember one great line of his describing that "vitamin" is a misnomer since it turns out that not all vitamins belong to the amine group. "We've known for 400 years that 'oxygen' is a misnomer too, but what are you going to do?"

Tacitus2 said...

First a couple of non partisan, non jaded observations.

McCain farewell message

A tribute from one classy guy to another.

Secondly, it was cool to see Obama make a cameo on Mythbusters last night. While I generally think that my "employee" should not waste time doing Oprah, or promo spots for George Lopez, or lobbying the IOC, I can make an exception for Mythbusters. Easily the best show on TV and one that probably does more singlehandedly for science education in this fair land than the entire Dept. of Ed. at the Federal level!

Regards that Pew study, I do have to apply a bit of Mythbusters skepticism.....I have dug into the source material a bit and find the sample somewhat...opaque. It was of a large organization with many members in both the physical and social sciences. But the proportions are not evident. It was an internet based poll, which always supplies a potential bias. And it seems intuitively screwy.

Not that a single digit cadre claim to be Republicans. But that Independent was not a larger group. It just seems as if independent thinkers would have a bias towards, well, Independence. And given the forward thinking principles "progressive" would be an appealing second option. (would Conservative/Moderate/Progressive give a different result?)

I am not able to say one way or the other whether the sample was invalid, but you can easily imagine different results if you asked this question of, say, chemists working for the petroleum industry vs. tenured staff in a public university Sociology dept.

Part of the scientific method is a rigorous review of data to make sure it has not been fudged either by accident or intent.

Tacitus

Tacitus2 said...

Well, mea culpa.

I found a somewhat more detailed treatment of the numbers that addresses my questions.

The data still seems odd, but worthy of further study....

Tacitus

rewinn said...

"...if a person did this sort of thing, it would be called "theft" and that person would go to jail. Not so for a corporate entity of course...."

But corporations are persons ... according to the Supreme Corporate. But their persons with the privilege of committing any crime and paying for it with, perhaps, a small fine (and that only if they can't buy a change in the law to protect them).

This is not so much a complaint as it is an observation. The root problem is that pesky human beings feel distress at no longer being in masters of their constructs.

If Mary Shelley were writing today, Frankenstein would be about our financial sector.

Tony Fisk said...

But Frankenstein's monster was a gentle beast, driven mad by expectations.

(Check out Mr. Bent, in Pratchett's 'Making Money'. A novel which is also notable for defining a golem-based financial institution.)

skind: an act of robbery by next of kin. See 'car keys'

David Brin said...

A fascinating... and not entirely unsympathetic... perspective on Glen Beck.

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/dec/09/beck-revelation/?page=1

Tacitus 55% democrat is not that high when you figure HOW very angry the average scientist is, right now. They may not be great. But they are the enemy of the ENEMY.

David Brin said...

Urgent!

Anyone have a favorite web-site hosting service? Mine is going belly up. I need a new home for my very text-filled (more than 100 pages) http://www.davidbrin.com

thanks

Robert said...

There's the people I'm using as a host for Tangents. Let me check to see if they're still taking new customers (they cost around $100/year).

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

Not off-hand.

I take it that, by 'belly-up' they're ceasing operations shortly?

Probably the first thing is to ensure you have a local backup of your stuff.

If it's primarily text/html based then a site like pbworks would probably do in a pinch.

Oh, and it sounds like a good time to switch to Wordpress or some such...

TwinBeam said...

Al Gore's investment company, Generation Investment Management LLP

invests heavily (nearly 20% of ordinary shares) in CamCo International:


"The Camco Group is a leading climate change business in the growing carbon and sustainable energy markets. We offer a full range of carbon-related services to public and private organisations worldwide. The Group has a 20-year track record and manages one of the world's largest carbon credit portfolios.

The Group consists of three business segments:

The Camco carbon assets business is a leading project developer with one of the world's largest carbon credit portfolios. We partner with companies to identify, develop and manage projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and then arrange the sale and delivery of carbon credits to international compliance buyers and into the voluntary market."

So, Ian - let's see your citation on Bush eating babies...

Robert said...

Right here we can see a picture of George W. Bush tearing into a helpless ear of corn. As anyone with a basic understanding of biology knows, corn kernels are in fact fertilized seeds... or in other words, baby plants.

But hey, I like eggs myself. I just don't like to think of what that egg represents. ^^;;

Rob H.

Robert said...

Okay, Dr. Brin. I contacted my host and he said they're always interested in new clients. You can contact him at matt at rcsipublishing dot com (which I broke up into pieces to try and distract spambots and the like).

Rob H.

Stefan Jones said...

What is hypocritical, or wrong, about Gore investing or profiting from businesses which aim to reduce CO2 levels?

If, like the vast majority of reputable scientists in the world, Gore believes that global warming is real and his at it is largely caused by CO2 emissions, then these investments are putting his money where his mouth is and profiting from it is proof that fixing environmental problems doesn't mean we living in concentration camps run by Red Greens, are whatever bullshit scare stories conservatives are scaring people with these days.

What is wrong about Gore changing his mind about an alternative energy industry that didn't work? Being able to change your views when the hard evidence comes in is, well, rational.

Compare this to the useful idiots and ideologues who spew the same fossil fuel industry talking points year after year.

Get over it.

Stefan Jones said...

Christopher Hitchens takes conservatives to task for using the Tea Party to make gains in the last election . . . while ignoring the long-term damage that folks like Glen Beck are doing to the political climate:

Tea’d Off

Tacitus said...

I think I had seen an earlier version of the study results, much is clarified in the 2009 report.

Pew tends to run an honest game. They for instance made allowance for the 25% return rate for the survey by comparing to known demographics of the AAAS.

So, I guess the scientific community is much more likely to vote Democratic, much less likely to believe in God, more trusting of government as an agent of change.

Is this good or bad? mmm..well, it appears that it is just the way things are. Or were at the time of the survey.

Tacitus

David Brin said...

What is left out of commentary about this is simply this:

These are the smartest and most knowledgeable humans.

Yes, smartness doesn't necessarily make one wise. That's a true truism.

But Limbaugh implicitly is sneering that smartness MAKES YOU unwise. Which is something else entirely.

Try this on us when the redders live better lives than blues. When their prescriptions - like abstinence only sex education - actually lower rates of STD, domestic violence, pre-marital sex, unwed births and divorce. (They don't.)

These scientists also have lower divorce and violence rates, live longer, have cleaner habits and lower crime rates. So where is this presumption that pointy-headed (Hannity "pinheaded") scientists are unwise?

Simple. If they are treated with respect, then the Murdochian agenda will be shot down.

Ian said...

AS of December 10 2010, the Camco website does nto include Generation Investment management as a major shareholder.

So Gore, a minority shareholder in a company that owned less than 20% of Camco for at most a little over a year made billions in profits.

Now that's impressive.

http://www.camcoglobal.com/en/invsmajorshareholders.html

Ian said...

Especically considering that their reported profit for the secodn half of 2009 was just over 1,000.000 Pounds.

http://www.camcoglobal.com/media/images/Preliminaryresults2009_803.pdf

Brian said...

Stefan said:

"What is hypocritical, or wrong, about Gore investing or profiting from businesses which aim to reduce CO2 levels?"

Hey, that's easy! It's called conflict of interest, last I checked.



"What is wrong about Gore changing his mind about an alternative energy industry that didn't work? Being able to change your views when the hard evidence comes in is, well, rational."

Not a damn thing. And kudos to him for doing so, though I must admit he did seem to be a bit late to the party.

"Compare this to the useful idiots and ideologues who spew the same fossil fuel industry talking points year after year."

Um Stefan? You need a bandage for the foot wound? There are as near as I can tell a considerable number of folks that remain less than convinced of the environmentalism-as-religion company line that are not, in any way shape or form, by any stretch of a fevered imagination, "useful idiots and ideologues spewing fossil fuel industry talking points."
Insisting they are weakens your case outside of your own echo chamber. They know better, and aren't they the ones you're trying to convince? The result is that your credibility suffers. The normal reaction, once the annoyance of an ad-hominem attack passes, is dismissal. This also very much applies to the kind of character assassination reservered for people with names like Dyson, Rutan, Pournelle or Chricton (to name but a few) that are by no stretch of the imagination industry shills, neocon operatives, or idiots for that matter, but have had the temerity to question the "consensus". They may well be wrong, and I suspect most of them would be onboard with the TWODA concept (Chricton excepted, he's not onboard with much of anything these days, may he RIP...), but they sure as hell have earned a better hearing, more respect for their accomplishments and thought processes than they've received. "Arguments" like this, and like this:

"Get over it."

may feel good, but they don't serve you well, particularly when you're trying to dialog with someone making a good-faith attempt at adult discussion. Not everyone who questions is an industry pimp -- or even fundamentally disagrees with you.

-- Brian

Ian said...

"Um Stefan? You need a bandage for the foot wound? There are as near as I can tell a considerable number of folks that remain less than convinced of the environmentalism-as-religion company line that are not, in any way shape or form, by any stretch of a fevered imagination, "useful idiots and ideologues spewing fossil fuel industry talking points." "

"Environmentalism is a religion" is, of course, a prime example of a fossil industry talking point.

Robert said...

And is also an ad-hominem attack. Yet oddly enough, when ad-hominem attacks are launched against "leftist" theories and beliefs, the non-moderate Right buys into it hook, line, and sinker. Let's see. We've got multiple attacks on the citizenship and religious beliefs of our Commander in Chief, claims that health care ideas that originated with the Republican Party are in fact socialism and will destroy this country, and multiple attacks on scientific principles such as evolution, environmental science, geology, and a multitude of others.

The attacks on these topics is widespread and bought into without any real debate from the very group that claims that the Left is going to strip away our rights. Well, they're right. The Left has stripped away such rights as the right to discriminate against people based on sex, sexual preference, race, religious beliefs, and so forth, the right to force people to go to inferior schools that are "equal but separate," the right to lynch minorities, and so forth. Meanwhile, the Right wants to strip away the religious freedoms of non-Christians (that meet their stringent definition of what is "Christian"), our right to move about the country freely (which is basically what the TSA is about), the right of women to have abortions or even proper knowledge and preventative measures to prevent pregnancy and the spread of disease, the rights of workers to not be screwed over by employers (why else destroy the power of and ability to form unions?) and more.

But these don't count. The Right is definitely for freedom and liberty, unlike the evil socialist communist Nazi Left.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Robert:

But these don't count. The Right is definitely for freedom and liberty, unlike the evil socialist communist Nazi Left.


The dirty little secret is that it is impossible to be "for freedom" full stop. Typically, government has to adjudicate between CONFLICTING freedoms.

In the relationship between bullies and their victims, for example, I think of teachers (or whatever authority figure fits) combatting bullyism as a pro-freedom action. It liberates the victims from having to cater to or live in fear of the bully. However, there is an argument to be made that those teachers are infringing on the BULLY's freedom, and that the pro-freedom thing for authorities to do is to stand aside and (literally) let (the laws of) nature take its course. Bullies and victims get to operate in total freedom and come to agreements as equals.

To me, that's the essential nature of the battle between liberals and Republicans these days (I purposely name the two sides that way because that's the current-day divide as I see it):

Liberals champion the freedom of the less-powerful, which necessarily involves some sort of restricion on the use of concentrated power. Republicans champion the freedom of the holders of concentrated power to do as they wilt. Both sides (somewhat legitimately) see their own position as being in favor of "freedom".

The pertinent question isn't whether you are for or against freedom. It's whether you are in favor of freedom for bullies, or freedom FROM bullies. Freedom for sociopaths, or freedom FROM sociopaths. Feudalism or liberation.

Blight said...

Here's another conspiracy to consider: Wikileaks released material contains very little critical mention of Israel - and you might suspect that some Middle East countries would have less than kind things to say. This raises the speculation that Wikileaks may be directed and funded for particular political purposes. To my knowledge, no one is looking at these leaks with a critical eye. Should one be suspicious of possible conspiracies (didn't Bismark start the ball rolling in this area by hoaxing a letter to initiate one of his wars?). With mass media controlling perceptions, perhaps we need sharper tools for evaluating possible conspiracies, and as David has pointed out - one method is definitely following the money.

Blight said...

Oh, one other war-started: Cheney's yellow cake from Africa. If you have your yellow cake, you can have your war, too.

Brian said...

""Environmentalism is a religion" is, of course, a prime example of a fossil industry talking point."

This may be true. It's also crashingly irrelevant. The parallels between environmentalism and dogmatic spiritual belief systems have been apparent to me for far longer than I've been aware of public comparisons. I'm not part of the fossil fuel industry, and <...checks wallet> they're definitely not paying me. So where does that leave us?

-- Brian

rewinn said...

@Tony Fisk
"But Frankenstein's monster was a gentle beast, driven mad by expectations...."

Good point. Although something similar may be said about the concept of limited liability corporations: they can be gentle creatures if kept in their proper sphere, and very very useful indeed. But the analogy breaks down because Frankenstein's monster really did deserve to be treated as a human. Perhaps Mary Shelly would've written the script for Blade Runner instead?

(Thanks for the Pratchett recommendation; I love his stuff but there's so much of it!)

@Brian -

If environmentalists who risk their money in green tech are doing something wrong ...

And environmentalist who refuse to risk their money in green tech are doing something wrong ("actions speak louder than words")

Then ...

...isn't the root problem that environmentalists are always doing something wrong?

I mean, let's be serious. If we want to adopt the rule that people with financial interests cannot speak on anything affecting those interests ... well, ok, let's do it ... Fox "News" would be the first to go and the public discourse would be greatly enhanced.

But more to the point --- even if Al Gore were totally in the pay of climate scientists who ... per the lunatic theories of Michael Crichton ... invented it all so they could get more grants (...instead of taking their weather-manipulation machine to the Pentagon? who ever heard of the Pentagon paying top dollar for a weapon system???) ... still, the science all points in one direction. The venial Gore/Science Axis of Deception accidentally stumbled on something in accord with the facts. What An Historical Irony!

Brian said...

"And is also an ad-hominem attack. Yet oddly enough, when ad-hominem attacks are launched against "leftist" theories and beliefs..."

Hmmm... If you truly feel my statements constituted an ad-hominem attack, my apologies. I tried to get my point accross without crossing that line and apparently I failed.

Now, please, if you will, connect the dots between my earlier statements and your response. I fail to see much in the way of any real connection(s).

-- Brian

Robert said...

It depends on what you consider a conflict of interests. Is it a conflict of interest for Republicans (and some Democrats) who are getting money from the petroleum industry to even be a part of the climate debate? Is it a conflict of interest for climate scientists to even be warning people about global warming seeing that they make a living researching environmental science? Is it a conflict of interest for the coal and petroleum industries to lobby concerning environmental legislation? Is the fact Al Gore has for years been talking about environmental issues and yet has a financial stake in an environmental company a conflict of interest?

All I can say is, it depends on your perspective.

Rob H.

Brian said...

rewinn;

"If environmentalists who risk their money in green tech are doing something wrong ...

And environmentalist who refuse to risk their money in green tech are doing something wrong ("actions speak louder than words")

Then ...

...isn't the root problem that environmentalists are always doing something wrong?"

If you insist on your worldview being that simple, then perhaps. Mine isn't. My point though, was not that Gore was a crook (leaving aside the politician=crook equation, regardless of affiliation), but that appearances matter. Gore is but a single (and not the best) example. It may well be, and I suspect is, true that his involvement was primarily an effort on his part to do something that he honestly felt needed doing. You can't hand your opponent a club to beat you with. Of greater concern to me is why there was all this emphasis on "cap and trade"? Who would potentially benefit from that regime rather than a far simpler and it would seem to me more effective, approach of taxing carbon consumption? I can't shake the suspicion that the answer to that question is the oligarchs we inveigh against so much around these parts. The more complicated a regime, the more potential it has to be gamed.

"I mean, let's be serious. If we want to adopt the rule that people with financial interests cannot speak on anything affecting those interests ... well, ok, let's do it ... Fox "News" would be the first to go and the public discourse would be greatly enhanced."

Rules? Who said anything about rules? It seems to me we have too many as it is -- and the more of 'em there are, the more likely it is that the rules that really matter will go unenforced, or worse enforced selectively. No, my default reaction to a percieved problem is not "lets pass a new law". I'll leave the grandstanding to the pols, thank you. For the record, I don't watch Fox. I won't watch Fox. But as an uncompromising First Amendment enthusiast, I feel they have the right to say what they wish. Discourse is never enhanced by censorship. I certainly don't have trouble locating alternative viewpoints. Best defense here is something I first heard about awhile back...what was that guy's name....? Transparency.

"But more to the point --- even if Al Gore were totally in the pay of climate scientists who ... per the lunatic theories of Michael Crichton ... invented it all so they could get more grants (...instead of taking their weather-manipulation machine to the Pentagon? who ever heard of the Pentagon paying top dollar for a weapon system???) ... still, the science all points in one direction. The venial Gore/Science Axis of Deception accidentally stumbled on something in accord with the facts. What An Historical Irony!"

How someone who spent most of their career penning cautionary tales about technology and human hubris suddenly changes their spots and starts shilling for the other side... Seriously? When did a PhD start conferring immunity to self interest, political pressure and human nature? Maybe it does, but I'm still waiting for convincing evidence. I listened to an interview with MC three or four years ago, and while I'm no psychiatrist, "lunatic" was not a description I would have applied--unless I made the mistake taking literally the words of a novel of fiction.

-- Brian

Ian said...

"The parallels between environmentalism and dogmatic spiritual belief systems have been apparent to me for far longer than I've been aware of public comparisons. "


Feel free to elucidate.

I'd be particularly interested in any parallels not held in common with any political party or movement; Amway or, for that matter, the fans of any given professional sports team.

Ian said...

About Things WE Ought To Do Anyway - the term of craft is No Regrets Measures.

I used to work on economic modeling of global warming impacts and mitigation measures. I spent far longer than I can to think abotu studyign various national stratgies.

In every single one I saw the emphasis was on No Regrets measures.

(I should also mention that most skeptics have a vastly inflated view of the likely net cost of AGW abatement. This seems to parallel the distorted and outright false claism made by the Republican Party and the other shills for the Koch borthers.

It's almost as though the skeptics simply accepted those claims at face value. which doesn't sound very skeptical at all.)

Ian said...

If environmentalism is a religion, then one would expect that those who adhere to it are less to be adherents of other religions.

This Pew Centre poll shows a consistently high support for tighter environmental regulation across all religious groups - ranging from 73% amongst White Envangelicals to 90% amongst atheists. The gap in support between White Envangelicals and White Mainstream Christians is greater than the gap beteen Catholics and Atheists.

http://people-press.org/report/655/

rewinn said...

@Brian
"If you insist on your worldview being that simple, then perhaps. Mine isn't..."

1. You gave the appearance of having such a "simple" worldview when you argued there is something wrong with Gore risking his money in green tech.

Now you're arguing that your worldview is less simple; you are merely concerned Gore won't be listened to, because of a perceived conflict of interest. the practical result is that therefore it is wrong for Gore to risk his money in green tech. This is a theoretical distinction without a practical difference.

2. Your discussion of the 1st Amendment is off the mark. A "rule" is a general principle to which particular facts are applied to reach a conclusion; it is not necessarily a law, either of nature or of society. You appear to be proposing the rule that it is "wrong" (either immoral or self-defeating) for a person who thinks X is an important issue to have a financial interest in technology relevant to X. I suggest that this is a bad rule, since it would make nearly all nonfiction information transmission "wrong".

3. The "lunacy" (my word) of Crichton's anti-AGW novel (not person: please read carefully!) stems from the plotline: scientists who have developed a way to create lightning storms and tsunamis seek to profit from it by creating an AGW scare and then applying for grants. I mean, seriously ... have you ever applied for a grant? Many people would prefer the tsunami.

4. And none of the above matters; facts matter. Gore could be good or bad, but AGW is supported by the evidence. It therefore behooves us to move on to the question of fixing things.

rewinn said...

On the subject of religion and environmentalism (...or conservation, a perfectly good old-fashioned word ...) I recommend Green Evangelicals.

We who are Christians (of a sort) recognize God's command to care for God's Creation. (It's also in our earthly self-interest but that's another matter.)

Woozle said...

Do I really want to get started on this topic? Your post, Dr.B, has touched on some points which have become rather sore with me -- and I applaud you for looking at them with a contrarian eye.

I'll try to hit the high spots briefly.

Let's start with Shermer. He claims to be a skeptic, but on the topic of 9/11 he ruthlessly twists logic in defense of the status quo.

Second... there certainly is evidence for a cognitive bias towards seeing patterns in evidence when there is no pattern. If one person looks at commonly-known evidence and comes to what seems like an extraordinary conclusion, it makes perfect sense to question that conclusion and to look for other explanations.

What doesn't make sense is the extreme degree of hostility I have seen directed at those advancing extraordinary conclusions on this particular subject.

For what it's worth, any "in the know" bias I might have once had has long since succumbed to a worry that I'm being an idiot somehow. I've largely stopped arguing whenever someone lumps "9/11 Troofers" in with "Creationists" or even "Flat Earthers", because I'm tired of the dismissiveness, the conviction that the official story must be right because anybody sensible is disgusted by the idea that it might not be... all while calling the "Truth Movement" a religion.

I'm hoping it's still safe to say this much: what in the world is wrong with proposing a "conspiracy theory" -- even if it turns out to be dead wrong? Shouldn't it be fun to explore such things, to find the holes and errors of thinking in them, rather than being angered or frightened or irritated by them?

This is probably already too long to qualify as "brief", so I should probably stop now.

Anonymous said...

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — At South Carolina's Secession Gala, men in frock coats and militia uniforms and women in hoopskirts will sip mint juleps as a band called Unreconstructed plays "Dixie." In Georgia, they will re-enact the state's 1861 secession convention. And Alabama will hold a mock swearing-in of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5g02LT3cnj71haIQ8NXfRM-jR69yQ?docId=17de1f3fa7fe4a6999feb41ff12de8a1

Meanwhile, Republican whip Eric Cantor has launched an attack on that most dastardly bastion of anti-american subversion...the National Science Foundation:
http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=588716

David Brin said...

See (!!) John Stewart and Larry Wilmer re Romanticism of the Confederacy.

The secession nostalgists are making it more explicit than I even imagined possible. These supposed "american patriots" openly yearn that the United States should have been broken into pieces 150 years ago and sent into spirals of petty, European-style forever war.

Ian said...

"I'm hoping it's still safe to say this much: what in the world is wrong with proposing a "conspiracy theory" -- even if it turns out to be dead wrong? Shouldn't it be fun to explore such things, to find the holes and errors of thinking in them, rather than being angered or frightened or irritated by them?
"

I agree, after all, what harm could possibly come from composing a theory about how the Jews controlled the world's finances and were responsible for Germany's defeat in world War I?

Ian said...

Viscount Monckton (AKA the Mad Monck) admits AGW is real before going on to spout the same old bollocks about an international communist conspiracy.

Except "skeptics" who've been insisting that the world is actually or that warming is not occurring or that warming is occurring but is not the result of human activity to quote the communist conspiracy bit enthusiasticly whiel ignoring the rest.

Because really, it's not about science; the environment or skepticism; it's about feeding a persecution complex.

Ian said...

Sorry,

Missed the link.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/climatechange/8194951/Cancun-climate-change-summit-Viscount-Monckton-admits-that-global-warming-is-happening.html

Tony Fisk said...

And something has arisen from Cancun... but will it stay risen?

Robert said...

Hey Dr. Brin, how goes the search for a website host?

Rob H.

Robert said...

And on the continued battlefront of Cops vs. Transparency, Transparency is losing on multiple fronts despite that early victory mentioned on Contrary Brin. I think this is going to have to go to the U.S. Supreme Court before we finally have this resolved... and even then we'll probably still have cops harass efforts to film them on the job.

Rob H.

Tacitus2 said...

I am trying, with minimal progress to date, to pick up enough Russian to travel.

Having puzzled over the entry from Oleg for a while I concede how far I have to go.

But the second half appears to be "directing to a photo" so if there is a link with this poster perhaps caution would be in order...

Tacitus

Woozle said...

Ian said "I agree, after all, what harm could possibly come from composing a theory about how the Jews controlled the world's finances and were responsible for Germany's defeat in world War I?"

If you truly believe that 9/11 "conspiracy theories" are capable of harm in a manner similar to anti-semitic conspiracy theories -- i.e. demonizing an ethnic group and using that as an excuse for material attacks against that group -- then this is (at least provisionally) a valid argument.

Is that what you are suggesting? It seems to me that the opposite is rather the case regarding 9/11: it is the official story which says we were attacked by Evil Muslims who they Hate America, and that we need to Strike Back at them.

The "conspiracy theories" say that this is, at best, not the whole story.

If you're going to draw a parallel with anti-semitism, I think you need to explain a little more.

We should not allow the fact that "conspiracy theorizing" has been misused (in an attempt to drum up cultural hatreds) to make us afraid of speculation along certain lines. Any tool can be misused.

David Brin said...

What we see is certain reflexes of human nature that can be exploited, and that are, routinely. One is Suspicion of Authority, a meme that's promoted and expanded in American mythology.

A decent democrat fears undue power by oligarchs and faceless corporations. A decent republican loathes power grabbing snooty academics and faceless bureaucrats (and, increasingly, scientists.) Seldom do we pause to realize that our favorite worry targets aren't the only possible threats to freedom. That, at a basic level, at least, the other side has a reason to worry, too.

It happens I believe the SCALE of this myopia is vastly worse on the right, today. The inability of conservatives to admit who oppressed freedom in 99% of human societies, across 4,000 years, is depressing.

If they would admit that oligarchs can and do conspire - and Rupert Murdoch is their voice - then I will admit that something ought to be done about the Teachers' Unions.

But back to conspiracy theories. Sorry, sometimes it is just reflex gone crazy. The fact that NOBODY will even remotely consider the possibility that Lee Harvey Oswald plotted alone and shot JFK is simply amazing. It's not they they say "there are other possibilities," but rather, the near-universal assumption is that the standard story CAN'T be true...

...even though every last bit of verifiable evidence points to it being precisely what actually and really happened. Oh, I'll admit that other possibilities might be true. As I'll admit that a certain middle eastern nation's West-hating trillionaires may not be fully and consciously aware of the unity and fiercely focused nature of their efforts to destroy the United States.

But for heaven's sake, where do we get this reflex to automatically refuse to even remotely consider the simplest and most likely theory?

Oh, the "spare change" 9/11 "theories" are indeed deeply anti-semetic, too. The parallel with the Reichstag fire is real.

Woozle said...

1a. There are bogus theories arguing that 9/11 is part of a vast Jewish conspiracy, yes. There are other theories arguing that all we really know is that the official account is inconsistent with the available evidence.

Both of these sets of theories tend to get lumped together under the heading "9/11 conspiracy theories" -- and the latter is dismissed because of the repugnance of the former. (This is kind of like deciding that economic prosperity must be bad because it's what Hitler was purportedly trying to achieve through the Nazi policy of genocide.)

1b. The most important "theory" about 9/11 is that the official story is (a) wildly inconsistent with available evidence and (b) based on conclusions which avoided the scientific correction process at every step. The Truth Movement -- the parts of it that aren't agents provocateurs -- has CITOKATE as its primary goal.

"Loose Change" is a mixed bag at best -- mentions some good points, but also ignores some of the more important ones and throws in totally irrelevant stuff.

More relevant is Architect and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, which now has over 1300 credentialed professionals in two highly relevant professions agreeing that the evidence warrants a new investigation.

2. Dr.B says "The fact that NOBODY will even remotely consider the possibility that Lee Harvey Oswald plotted alone and shot JFK is simply amazing."

I think it's entirely possible that the official story is correct in this case, and that JFK conspiracy theorists are making too much out of too little evidence.

That doesn't negate the fact that it would be very nice to have some kind of explanation for some of the weird bits of evidence. The one that always kind of floored me is the film clip showing the limo's bodyguard-riders being pulled off shortly before the assassination. Did the investigation even look into this?

If not, possibly this was just incompetence... but when such a major detail in such an important event goes apparently uninvestigated, and even asking about it is asking to be called a "conspiracy theorist"... I mean srsly, WTF? (Did I get off at the wrong universe again?)

David Brin said...

Do you see what the road is like, through Deally Plaza in Dallas? The caravan left the busy and slow parts of downtown and sped up considerably through areas where the crowds were more sparse. I know nothing for sure. But if I were the head of the secret service detail, I'd pull men off the running boards when the convoy hit such a zone.

As for the 9/11 conspiracy groups, I swallow none of the excuses. If they were genuinely curious, they would list the "conspiracy WTF" items that scream the loudest.

Like the whooshing out of the country, on government paid luxury charters, of every high-placed citizen of the country that launched the attacks, in order to keep material witnesses away from the FBI.

FInd me the 9/11 conspiracy site that ranks that fact highly, or even mentions it. They don't because it interrupts their narrative. Which means it is the narrative that matters to them, not a general curiosity about inconvenient facts.

They are imbeciles at best. At worst agents provocateurs charged with foisting distractions on the gullible.

David Brin said...

onward to next...

Woozle said...

"Like the whooshing out of the country, on government paid luxury charters, of every high-placed citizen of the country that launched the attacks, in order to keep material witnesses away from the FBI."

That is mentioned here, the last sentence under "Shutdowns and Evacuations", with a link to more information on this page.

LarryHart said...

Woozle:

(This is kind of like deciding that economic prosperity must be bad because it's what Hitler was purportedly trying to achieve through the Nazi policy of genocide.)


My formerly-reasonable conservative buddy is so blinded by Obama-hatred that he argues JUST this sort of thing. During the health-care debates, he was actually arguing with a straight face that nationalized access to health-care was part of the Nazi program for Germany, and therefore, that this proves Obama really IS as bad as Hitler.

As if the reason the entire civilized world had to stop Hitler at all costs was because he was threatening to nationalize medicine.

Meanwhile, the same guy had spent much of Bush's term arguing that it was disrespectful to the point of treason to suggest any equation between Bush and Hitler, even something like pointing out the similarities between the Reichstag fire and 9/11.

Tony Fisk said...

he was actually arguing with a straight face that nationalized access to health-care was part of the Nazi program for Germany, and therefore, that this proves Obama really IS as bad as Hitler.

And *that* is precisely the goal of ad hominem attacks.

opit said...

Ad hominem attacks discredit because they are designed to exploit 'conventional wisdom'. But if you happen to think it impossible that the state makes up fairytales to make a false front to cover what it is doing you don't start to understand media control's possibilities.
( And I note Monckton's concession of marginal contribution to AGW - too small to measure - suddenly became him recanting. ) Even on this thread there are people all to eager to tell you what someone else thinks.
People - are individuals. That's why you're here - because you think you might get something back besides the usual drivel.
So to lump all 911 Troofers and Climate Denialists into the same bin with Evolution Deniers - and I've seen that done too - is to perpetuate a lie : that we are all together here in complete agreement on the facts of a case which is unprovable.
Segue then to the part where claims are made that acting on false assumptions is productive regardless.
And you accuse cynics of being tools of conformity. Ha !
And for those who do not believe that government has something up its sleeve besides its arm - conspiracy theories - try this little hummer from geopolitics
http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics/nation/India-has-fallen-into-NPT-trap-BJP/articleshow/3453134.cms