Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why Obstinate Humans Find It Hard To Believe Science

Not even those of us who are scientifically trained actually do objective science consistently well. Like all other humans, we are predisposed, with biased, emotionally prejudiced human minds, to first see what we want or expect to see - a dilemma first illustrated by Plato as the "Allegory of the Cave." In one of the few things that Plato got right, he showed how each of us allows our subjective will to overlay and mask anything inconvenient about the objective world.*

RepblicanWarScienceNow Chris Mooney (author of the Republican War on Science) explains how this age-old human flaw is being analyzed in scientific detail, by researchers who reveal it to be dismayingly intractable. It seems that obstinacy is as deeply rooted as love or sex! See Moooney's article: The Science of Why We don't Believe Science:


Given the power of our prior beliefs to skew how we respond to new information, one thing is becoming clear: If you want someone to accept new evidence, make sure to present it to them in a context that doesn't trigger a defensive, emotional reaction.


Of course, there's hope, or we would never have climbed so far. In the last few centuries w discovered a general way around this dilemma. It is through the enlightenment process that underlies almost everything successful about our civilization - not only science but also free markets, justice and democracy. The one tool that has ever allowed humans to penetrate the veil of their own talented delusions. (See my review of Chris Mooney's Book on my website.)



It is called Reciprocal Accountability -- or criticism, the only known antidote to error.

We may not be able to spot our own mistakes and delusions, but others will gladly point them out for us! Moreover, this favor is one that your FOES will happily do for you! (How nice of them.) And, in return, you will eagerly return the favor. 


In our enlightenment - and especially in science - this process is tuned to maximize truth-output and minimize blood-on-the-floor. But it requires some maturity. Some willingness to let the process play out. Willingness to negotiate. Calmness and even humor.


It doesn't work amid rage or "culture war." Which is precisely why culture war is being pushed on us. By those who want the enlightenment to fail.


Which brings us back to Mooney's cogent and detailed article, which explains the problem of "narrowcasting" to specifically biased audience groups, who get to wallow in endless reinforcement of their pre-existing views, avoiding the discomfort of cognitive dissonance from things like evidence...


... a problem - exacerbated by the internet age - that I predicted in my 1989 novel EARTH - describing a near future in which people shift their attention only to those sources that confirm and reinforce their pre-existing beliefs. (A forecast I would rather not have seen come true.)


---------


* How ironic then, that the Platonists ( including his successors at "logic-incantation," like Hegel, Marx and Rand) have excelled even the priests at weaving subjective spells to mask the real world. Oh we are good at this. Delusion truly is the greatest human talent! Indeed, all you sci fi fans... what talent of YOURS am I paid to cater-to? Hm? ;-)

92 comments:

Sociotard said...

Well, that does go a long way to describing the problem posed by the article I linked to earlier, where they showed that the environmentalists actually had more lobby money in the mix than the denialist camp.

It turns out, it doesn't matter which side advertised harder. Advertising facts doesn't matter. Fascinating.

http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110419/full/news.2011.248.html

Ian said...

A couple of quibbles about the "science cannot operate in an atmosphere of rage" argument.

First let's distinguish science from technology, North Korea and Iran (not to mention Pakistan under Zia UL Haq) have shown that technology can continue to advance in an oppressive authoritarian society where fear of the external enemy and internal dissidents is pervasive.

At a minimum, that's true in select areas where the regime is prepared to throw enormous resources at a problem and where they can copy foreign technology to some extent.

But if we turn to Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia we see paranoid authoritarian societies (one of which, I believe, actually coined the term "culture war").

Not only did some select areas of technology flourish - see Korolev and Von Braun as examples - but there was genuine science being done - see Heisenberg or Sakharov as examples.

Clearly in both cases the regime imposed enormous burdens on scientists - such as Lysenkoism fro Soviets working in the biological sciences.

But, in both cases, scientific innovation cotinued.

Ian said...

To return to SETI:

First let's assume there are widespread advanced and generally benevolent civiizations in our galaxy.

Now let's assume they've detected our radio signals.

Assuming they're restricted to light speed communication, how long is it going to take them to decide whether or not to respond, formulate a response send it and for us to receive it?

Might it not take decades to collect sufficient information on our society, run simulations of the impact of contact on our society, recruit and train experts in the minutiae of Earth's cultures?

what if there are government forms to fill out?

(It takes US years to plan far less complex operations like building a nuclear power plant, much less the LHC or the ISS.)

What if they're a multi-system culture and feel the need to reach consensus amongst themselves before taking this potentially dangerous step?

Add more decades.

Finally, is a radio message the best way to make first contact?

Consider the lag times, the potential for misunderstandings to fester.

Consider too our own concerns about berserkers and hostile civilizations.

Maybe the best way to make contact is by sending a ship, either robotic or manned, so that you can have real-time communications during the opening phases of contact.

And maybe the best way to minimize the risk to your own culture is to ensure that the ship has no information about its point of origin and uses an omnidirectional beacon to send information home.

If initial contact IS made by a ship travelling at say, 1% of light speed, then we're probably centuries away from first contact.

Ian said...

To return to SETI:

First let's assume there are widespread advanced and generally benevolent civiizations in our galaxy.

Now let's assume they've detected our radio signals.

Assuming they're restricted to light speed communication, how long is it going to take them to decide whether or not to respond, formulate a response send it and for us to receive it?

Might it not take decades to collect sufficient information on our society, run simulations of the impact of contact on our society, recruit and train experts in the minutiae of Earth's cultures?

what if there are government forms to fill out?

(It takes US years to plan far less complex operations like building a nuclear power plant, much less the LHC or the ISS.)

What if they're a multi-system culture and feel the need to reach consensus amongst themselves before taking this potentially dangerous step?

Add more decades.

Finally, is a radio message the best way to make first contact?

Consider the lag times, the potential for misunderstandings to fester.

Consider too our own concerns about berserkers and hostile civilizations.

Maybe the best way to make contact is by sending a ship, either robotic or manned, so that you can have real-time communications during the opening phases of contact.

And maybe the best way to minimize the risk to your own culture is to ensure that the ship has no information about its point of origin and uses an omnidirectional beacon to send information home.

If initial contact IS made by a ship travelling at say, 1% of light speed, then we're probably centuries away from first contact.

Hypnos said...

Sociotard: quite unsurprisingly that study on environmentalists having more money to spend on lobbying is a scam. The reviewers that were hired to provide a veener of legitimacy actually withdrew their consent because the study was basically a giant lie.

http://climateprogress.org/2011/04/19/climate-shift-data-reanalysis/

The article you posted does mention this criticism but it does so in a nicely "he said, she said" that pretends to be balanced but is actually a disgrace to journalism.

To mention just one howler, the "study" counted the whole lobbying budget of GE, BP and ConocoPhilips among other... as SUPPORTING cap and trade. There is obviously no evidence for such claim, which runs contrary to reality.

Also, the author manages to blame the defeat of cap and trade on AL GORE, calling him "the Goracle".

Funnily enough, when you look at causes where environmentalists actually outspent the opposition - as with Prop 23 in California - the enviros actually won. Money does count.

Hypnos said...

Dr. Brin: I speak Italian and watched the Dahlia video. It briefly mentions you as the author of the Transparent Society and then goes on to mention how ubiquitous CCTV is converging with biometric technology and creating the possibility of omnipresent surveillance. It compares this to Orwell's imagined future. It does not mention that you view this as a potentially good thing, with the proper caveats.

David Brin said...

A diverse culture includes those who will rush to break the rules and make contact. I know. Ideal with the jerks.

SteveO said...

Goodness - for a great microcosm of not believing in science, read the comments on that self-same article.

At times I despair for the Enlightenment, but I refuse to let my daughters grow up in a world ruled by irrationality.

But my forehead is getting sore from me smacking it over and over...

WV: elogi - a song for the death of logic

Paul said...

Ian,
"First let's assume there are widespread advanced and generally benevolent civiizations in our galaxy." (Mine emphasis.)

But then you continue as if there is just one single civilisation. If there are many, it only takes one to break ranks and your explanation fails.

That's the problem for any explanation for The Silence, it has to apply to every single one of them, like some kind of universal law, but somehow exclude us.

"a ship travelling at say, 1% of light speed"

Any interstellar travel means you can also colonise. And if it's posssible at all, then at least one species in the last few billion years should have done so (and it only takes one). And if they did, they would colonise the whole galaxy within a few million years. (Well, at least ten.)

Paul said...

Speaking of colonising the galaxy...

Look at the cane toad in Australia. The toads at the leading edge of the spreading wave have longer legs and travel faster and further than those behind. Purely because the fastest toads reach new areas first, and the fastest of their offspring spread further still. Just as a side effect of probability.

Now imagine that process applying to colonial culture, over a few million years. Each new colony might be more - or less - expansionist, resource hungry, etc, than its parent colony. But the most aggressive and wasteful would develop their colony quickest, and send out colony ships soonest. And the most aggressive of those colonies would seed the next wave. And so on.

By the time they reach the other side of the galaxy, the leading edge of that colonising wave would be nasty.

(acirans: Anglicisation of the name of our First Contact. Wise, kind, peaceful. Process servers.)

Stefan Jones said...

The media ecosystem does not reward thoughtful coverage. It doesn't encourage reasoned debate.

I've lost all hope that anything will be done about climate change until Nature herself goes all Sherman's March Through Georgia on Middle America.

Pangolin said...

We pay you to be Crazy Eddie-er, than we are ourselves. We pay to tell us stories where some possibility exists that our lives aren't just spent as larger hamsters living in a larger Habitrail we call cities both fated for the same landfill ending.

Because, from where I sit it's Easter Island as far as I can see anywhere in reality. The human race will show up as a smear of lead, mercury and radioactive isotopes in sedimentary rock and then a distinct lack of higher life fossils.

Say it ain't so; I'll give you twelve bucks for a first edition paperback. Twenty if you sign it.

David Brin said...

Paul has been on a major roll. But Pangolin gets post of the day for that one.

Hey I am trying! With encouragement like that...

David Brin said...

Cray Eddie... indeed!

Ian said...

The problem with "just one aggressive expansionistic civilization" is that after a million years of expansion and random genetic and cultural development with limited communication and no no physical interchange is you won't HAVE one civilization any more - you'll have a bunch of civilizations more different from each other than we are from the ancient Babylonians.

Expect fratricide between those divergent cultures.

Then too what happens to the world behind the shockwave - do they continue to be expansionistic and aggressive - if so who do they have to be aggressive agaisnt expect each other and the newer and presulably weaker systems near the front line?

If they cease to be expansionistic and aggressive, they certainly can't act as a conduit to maintain a common aggressive and expansionistic culture between the different areas og continuing expansion.

Then too, if the expansionistic phase is limited (where do you go at the end of 25 million years when you run out of galaxy) the post-expansion cultures may last for far longer implying they may well be more technologically advanced than the expansionists and take a dim view of their activities.

Then too, maybe there are a bunch of expansionist cultures which block each others progress (which would probably also lead eventual to cultural developing into less aggressive and expansionist forms).

Finally, if,say, an expansionist culture cam from a Hot Jupiter why woudl they even be interested in our system?

They might syphon off a few gigatonne of reaction mass from Jupiter and move on to more hospitable surrounds.

Ian said...

Then too, if interstellar travel at more than, say, 1% of the speed of light is impractical your expansionist, aggressive species has to be able to spend centuries cooped up in fragile restricted ecosystem where both aggression and expansionism are unlikely to be survival traits.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin,

Continuing something from the previous post, do you really recall the "Dune" film as being too faithful to the novel?

I admit I only saw the film once, and that would have been when it was new, in...1984 wasn't it?

My impression from back then is that yes, it was very faithful to most of the scenes it chose to depict, but that much of the rich experience of the novel had to end up on the cutting room floor just because of its sheer length. Many of the "plans within plans within plans" went missing.

I also found it a bit off in tone, possibly because it was a Dino DeLaurentis film. Its imagery seemed always to emphasise the homo-erotic, and while some of that was indeed present in the novel, it wasn't THE focus of the novel the way it seemed to be in the film.

Finally, I went into the movie expecting disappointment as soon as I heard that Sting was in it, because I expected that it would be more of a Sting-promotion vehicle than faithful adaptation of the book. For the same reason "Superman III" was doomed by being a Richard Pryor film which happend to include Superman and "Judge Dredd" was a Stallone film first and a Judge Dredd film a distant second.

Still, it has been over 25 years, and I'm willing to be convinced. Too faithful, you say? In what way?

Robert said...

My friend Brian Lacki actually wrote two e-novels concerning just such a scenario - Outside and Naggarok's Children. In Outside the protagonist learns that almost all of the species in the galaxy are in fact the "children" of a species of genociders, who wiped out all alien life (with a couple exceptions that were missed) and who then moved on. The genociders were on a religious crusade to ensure that hyperspace was not contaminated by "unbelievers" (and were rather startled to discover an entity existing in the uppermost level of hyperspace that was hostile toward other life due to it being attacked on multiple occasions by paranoid lesser species).

The sequel deals with the return of the genociders to deal with their "wayward children" after Hyperspace was altered by the ending of the Outside entity. During that tale two of the survivor species were described (I'm rather fond of the Tik myself as I helped Lacki with the concept of a species of spacefaring aliens existing in solar sailships that used biochemical weapons to burn through ship hulls to attack in person. Seeing that the genociders were hardwired into their ships and the sailships were in essence "stealth" ships with a very low profile, they proved fairly effective.)

The B'quli (I likely got the spelling wrong) would go into a galaxy, destroy all other species (most of whom lacked hyperdrives and the like) and then allow the colonization process to commence while they moved on. In essence, they were Berzerkers only using manned ships (that they were hardwired into). Civilization was expected to grow in their wake.

Rob H.

Rob said...

Yeah, more or less, that's the plot of Mass Effect

Robert said...

Considering Brian Lacki wrote these e-novels close to a decade ago and didn't have the B'quli integrate the biology of aliens to make new versions of themselves, I don't quite see the resemblance between the two.

I always looked at the Mass Effect series as a continuation of the ideas evoked by H.P. Lovecraft. The Reapers are in fact Cthulhuian creatures, and to destroy ONE took several fleets (or one huge-ass planetary-level mass driver which left a second one in a somnolent state for a million years).

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Hitting the actual topic of the post (admittedly in an oblique manner):

James Cagney portrays George M Cohan in "Yankee Doodle Dandy", Cohan in turn portraying then-President Roosevelt saying "I'd rather be right than president". Loosely translated, "If it's a choice between the two, I'd rather be factually correct than be the winner of a contest."

In my own opinion, current-day liberals would rather (in the above sense) be right than President. Current-day Republicans would rather be President than right (and would add emphasis of "Of course! Are you nuts?" if you asked the question).

I realize "liberal" vs "Republican" is a strange way to frame the dichotomy, and I don't claim that all voters or all politicians fall into those two categories. I've left off conservative Democrats and non-insane Republicans because they don't fit the pattern. Does that disprove my point, or just limit its scope (which I freely admit).

David Brin said...

Ian said: "The problem with "just one aggressive expansionistic civilization" is that after a million years of expansion and random genetic and cultural development with limited communication and no no physical interchange is you won't HAVE one civilization any more - you'll have a bunch of civilizations more different from each other than we are from the ancient Babylonians."

And my answer is... so? The same thing happens in nature all the time and it doesn't stop rabbits or whatever from expanding. The ancestor doesn't care which of his descendants prove more fit, so long as he does have lots of fit descendants.

"Then too what happens to the world behind the shockwave"

Very good questions. Seriously, have you read:
http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1983QJRAS..24..283B 

?? Really, every scenario you raise is discussed there.

LarryHart. It is foolish to blame movies for being narrower in focus than books. No, the 1984 film was VERY faithful to the book! But the book sucks the reader into IDENTIFYING PERSONALLY with the Atreides like Paul & Jessica. Herbert brilliantly made you adopt their assumptions and then root for them.

The movie couldn't do that. Hence, you see very clearly that the Atreides are - in fact - horrible fascist tyrant assholes. And the Fremen are vicious tribal barbarians. Sure, their enemies are worse - so you hope the Atreides win... by the margin of one wounded corporal, with everybody on all sides dying asap... so the people of the galaxy can breathe a sigh of relief.

Aw, Sting did a fine job and I thought the surfaces - even the homoerotic ones - were brilliant.

Robert: "almost all of the species in the galaxy are in fact the "children" of a species of genociders, who wiped out all alien life (with a couple exceptions that were missed) and who then moved on."

Um... isn't that exactly what happens in Isaac's FOUNDATION universe? Read Foundation's Triumph!

Yeah, liberals do not understand who they are. Or how to fight.

Robert said...

I have read Foundation's Triumph. I don't know if Brian ever did, so I can't say if it influenced his stories (which were in fact inspired partly from one line in the computer game Homeworld: Cataclysm when the alien Bentusi encountered the bioships of the Beast, and based in the Homeworld setting).

Of course, the difference between FT and Brian's stories is that humanity remained one species, while the various races in Brian's stories diverged enough to be separate species after a million years.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

LarryHart. It is foolish to blame movies for being narrower in focus than books.


Fair enough, and I agree.

I'd prefer to see Dune done as a very long miniseries (remember "War and Rememberance"?) with time to explore more of the nuances than is possible in one sitting, even one "Ten Commandments"-length sitting.


Hence, you see very clearly that the Atreides are - in fact - horrible fascist tyrant assholes. And the Fremen are vicious tribal barbarians. Sure, their enemies are worse - so you hope the Atreides win... by the margin of one wounded corporal, with everybody on all sides dying asap... so the people of the galaxy can breathe a sigh of relief.


I hope you don't take this too personally, but that almost exactly describes my attitude reading the post-Asimov Foundation books, including your own. I had to be on Hari Seldon's side, of course, but darn if I wasn't always rooting for the Renaissance worlds to succeed.


Aw, Sting did a fine job and I thought the surfaces - even the homoerotic ones - were brilliant.


I'm probably too hard on Sting, and I was definitely prejudiced against liking him when I saw the film. My preconceived notion (borne out in enough cases) is that a known star imposes too much of his own celebrity-persona over the character he portrays. One of the things I LOVED about "Star Wars" back in '77 was that I had no idea who the main actors were at the time, not even Harrison Ford. (Alec Guiness is the exception that proves the rule--he's "old school" professional enough NOT to do what I expect in this case). "Superman" in 1978 was magnificent, not only because Christopher Reeve really looked the part, but because there was no preconceived "Christopher Reeve" persona to impose on the character.

Compare/contrast this with Micheal Keaton as Batman or Sylvester Stallone as Judge Dredd, or even to some extent Tobey McGuire as Spider-Man to see what I'm talking about.

David Brin said...

I predicted this!

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42667886/from/RSS/

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42667886
/from/RSS/

Can anyone remember where?

LarryHart said...

Trying to separate the on-topic comments from the off-topic ones.

Dr Brin said:

Yeah, liberals do not understand who they are. Or how to fight.


Heh.

That wasn't exactly what I meant by "Liberals would rather be right than President," but I concede the point, and it's a valid one.

David Brin said...

"I hope you don't take this too personally, but that almost exactly describes my attitude reading the post-Asimov Foundation books, including your own. I had to be on Hari Seldon's side, of course, but darn if I wasn't always rooting for the Renaissance worlds to succeed."

Um why should I mind? That's what I wanted.

Best actor for no pre-set image was Frederick March.

ell said...

Ian said: "what if there are government forms to fill out?" Now you're catching on to how these things work...
Even though in-person first contact can communicate with us faster, it cannot communicate with its home faster. (That's one good reason to send astronauts rather than wait for the time lag between Earth and Mars to send an urgent course change message to a robot.) Any aliens sent to Earth by spacecraft will probably be aboard a generation ship (unless the aliens are very long lived) and those generations may not have the same goals or even values as the ancestors who sent them. A peaceful mission after centuries may become a raid for resources.

Patricia Mathews said...

Re prisoners donating organs - I don't remember where you predicted it, but I do know Larry Niven did - and, as is said to happen in China - more and more things became capital crimes to meet the demand.

That's the moral trap we're trying to avoid.

David Brin said...

Specifically a prisoner suing IN ORDER to donate.

Sociotard said...

I would've thought the lethal injection meds would made the organs unusable. Shows how much I know.

David Brin said...

And that's why it might be a ploy! His efforts at altruism might win a reduction in sentence and the scramble for an alternative could take decades.

Pangolin said...

"I would've thought the lethal injection meds would made the organs unusable. Shows how much I know."

Death by opiates, precisely titrated hydrogen sulfide, or carbon monoxide would all be ways you could induce neural death but leave organs intact and functioning. Simple anesthesia and hypothermia would also suffice.

The issue would be that the lethal procedure would take minutes to hours rather than simply seconds in order to insure organ functionality and true brain death. The resulting legal mess could give him years of extra life.......

The death penalty is inefficient in that many distressed people would prefer cessation to their present condition.

David Brin said...

Just learned that the BBC had done a TV series based on Stewart Brand's book on architecture, How Buildings Learn - about how some buildings adapt and others betray their occupants. Great book & series! Alas, after being on YouTube for 2 years it is about to come down, in a week! Tune in now, quick while you can! (I know Stewart; he's a treasure.)

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8639555925486210852#


http://video.google.com/videoplay?
docid=8639555925486210852#

David Brin said...

(thanks Stefan.)

Gee wiz how I hate le Corbusier. All of Frank Lloyd Wright's absurd inattention to livability, with none of FLW's brilliant esthetic sense. None. Ugly & horrible.

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Robert said...

There's a simple method of allowing prisoners to donate organs. Have them sign a form stating they accept death by hanging. Once they have died, cut them down and immediately remove their organs.

And yes, the person gets an added lease on life, but only so far as those organs go. His brain and that ethereal thing known as a soul... would likely end.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Accepting and learning from criticism requires some thick-skinned maturity. The highest percentage you'll find of that kind of thinking is in science, by far. 90% of scientists at least formally swear fealty to this process and maybe half live by it... a little. Alas, the fundamentally delusional talents of human nature make it hard even for them

But here's the genius of the enlightenment founders, Franklin, Adam Smith etc. All you need is enough calm and fealty to the OVERALL SYSTEM of argumentative competition, criticism and Reciprocal Accountability. Individuals may remain perpetually obstinate in refusing to accept criticism... but those around them will also hear the criticism, evaluate it more calmly... and drift away.

Our current crisis is that Culture War seems aimed directly at undermining reciprocal accountability as a general process. It took me years to put the pieces together, but it is the only possible explanation for all the disparate portions of this cohesive campaign. It is the Enlightenment itself that is being targeted

Robert said...

Except I don't think it's a deliberate effort. Instead, I think it is more subconscious. It is a collective self-defense mechanism by people so that their belief systems remain relevant in a world that shows them to be incorrect. People are bonding together in collective incorrectness to maintain their delusions and targeting the one venue that has shown their beliefs to be foolish and false.

And the truly sad thing is, when all is said and done it seems they will still disbelieve. When the ice caps melt and the oceans rise they'll claim "it's not our fault, it was going to happen anyway, we couldn't have stopped it, it's an Act of God, Man can't affect the planet on such a large scale."

Rob H.

Jonathan S. said...

I always looked at the Mass Effect series as a continuation of the ideas evoked by H.P. Lovecraft. The Reapers are in fact Cthulhuian creatures, and to destroy ONE took several fleets (or one huge-ass planetary-level mass driver which left a second one in a somnolent state for a million years).

Well, some fraction thereof, at least (the incursions seem to happen at fifty-thousand-year intervals). There is also the excerpt from the logs of one of the workers aboard the derelict Reaper:

“Chandana said the ship was dead. We trusted him. He was right. But even a dead god can dream. A god — a real god — is a verb, not some old man with magic powers. It's a force. It warps reality just by being there. It doesn't have to want to, it doesn't have to think about it - it just does. That's what Chandana didn't get. Not until it was too late. The god's mind is gone but it still dreams. He knows now. He's tuned in on our dreams. If I close my eyes I can feel him. I can feel every one of us.”

Paul said...

Robert,

In a way, I kinda hope AGW directly causes something reasonably big, reasonably soon.

So many environmental issues have failed to emerge once people become aware of the scale of the problem (acid rain/lakes/etc, lead pollution, ozone hole), because people became aware of the problem.

But it's become easy for deniers to use those very same examples as "eco-hysterical predictions that never came true."

Maybe we need one definite example of "I told you so". The cost of whatever happens being less than the long term cost of having to fight this battle over and over and over and...

Patricia Mathews said...

BTW and possibly OT: I just finished reading two blog posts this week that laid out the attitudes held widely by left, right, center, and the lunatic fringe, that are destroying America.

Dana Blankenhorn says, "the belief that a small conspiracy of evildoers is ruling the world and is out to reduce us to slavery."

The Archdruid says, nihilism.

For what it's worth.

PAt (The Grey Badger) said...

And discovered for the Predictions registry - which noted recently that "the rise of a new environmental religion" was still listed as "likely" (I need that URL to bookmark!), I give you --

“The spirit of Earth Day 1970 did not just happen; its roots could include the gradual stirring of environmental consciousness that accelerated in the 1960s, but that stirring itself had deeper roots in an American consciousness of a special relationship with the land, even if that relationship was often abusive. Still, if there was a year when Wicca (in the broad sense) became “nature religion,” as opposed to the “mystery religion” or “metaphorical fertility religion” labels that it had brought from England, that year was 1970.” – Chas Clifton, Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America"

Blessed be!

Robert said...

Here's a fun little remake of certain classic fables that retell them using the truth. My favorite is the Ant and the Grasshopper. And it's a certain lesson some Republicans should listen to. ;)

Rob H.

Tim H. said...

Rob, thanks for the fables, a couple of those fit with the original subject. When the press, or pressure groups play up the most dramatic extrapolations of research, and they don't come to pass as they were presented, "The sky is falling" or "Wolf!" come to the public's mind. Never mind that the people who did the actual research usually didn't indulge in such hyperbole. Or, they might have missed the nature of what they were looking at, saccharine, anyone? Fertile ground is left for the apologists of wealth to cast doubt on research that has unprofitable aspects, some of it prepared by elements of the environmental movement itself, for one cannot tar chemists and physicists and expect other scientists to remain unstained. Just another aspect of the Compound Failure.

ell said...

The deniers also claim that the Y2K software catastophe would never have happened because it didn't happen. They ignore the fact that virtually all software-using entities hired the programmers to check their code and fix it if necessary. Companies didn't want to lose their ability to bill clients or run their businesses, so they bit the bullet and paid to have it done. The Y2K deniers also ignore the fact that there actually were a few glitches where the software wasn't fixed. (I think one case had something to do with subway turnstiles not working.) The Y2K deniers want us to believe that all that money was wasted on a problem that didn't exist (so we shouldn't waste money on ANY dire warnings).

Disaster prevention costs money. It also requires knowledge (education) and integrity. Why keep up with safety standards (oil rigs, nuclear plants, etc.) when it is cheaper to bribe a politician or inspector than to obey safety rules? It is even cheaper to not have the rules in the first place...until the turnstiles don't turn.

TheMadLibrarian said...

We did extensive research into Y2K, just because we had a large and loud contingent locally of "ZOMGRUNHIDEWEREALLGUNNADIE!" After the 5th such presentation trying to upsell overpriced MREs to the gullible, we looked into our local power grid, water supply, and other infrastructure. Guess what? All of the associated computers and control systems were sufficiently robust that Y2K wasn't going to cause a meltdown of any significance. This is government work, and all these systems were at least a decade old. Maybe the problem was just a trifle overwrought, hmmm?

TheMadLibrarian

honizies -- babes, yowza.

Rob said...

Y2K was real. The reason the prophecies were self-defeating was because it was recognized. I still remember the Washington Mutual CD I bought in 2000 had a maturity year of "19101".

It didn't stop my Dad's boss from treating him like some kind of albatross on the Company, though, when he was a Y2K project manager for a trucking and logistics company. The man actually seemed put-upon that decades of delaying a solution to Y2K meant that he had to pay for it all in '99, and couldn't wait to fire the whole department: "Thanks for all your good work, gentlefolk. Now get out of here." (Paraphrased, of course, and Dad left before they could do it to him first.)

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi I'm with the Mad Librarian, I worked for Cummins and we had totally computerized assembly and test - we spent a fortune on Y2K - far more than the problem warranted

The head office types who were panicking didn't seem to realize that all of our computer systems were prone to failing at the most awkward times and that we had work-arounds for the times when the stuff hit the fans

Some preparation was needed YES

NOT the millions actually spent

Spud said...

We tend to fix problems, after we smell them...

rewinn said...

If you haven't had your geek fix for the week, Harvard's Wireless Sensor Networks blog may be just the ticket. Low-power data gathering might radically transform what we think of as "watching". For example, I type this in a coffeeshop that doesn't know which slightly-zaftig customers who stood in front of the pastry case bought a lemon bar in addition to the drip ... but they could, and pretty inexpensively.

(Insert justified paranoia here)

sociotard said...

the webcomic "Dresden Codak" just put up a new strip lampooning the scientific process. It's worth glancing at.

http://dresdencodak.com/2011/04/19/dark-science-09/

Tim H. said...

Sociotard, thanks, I needed a laugh.

"preterab" possible reference to the dark days of 90k disks?

Robert said...

So. If research shows people can change over time... does that mean there is hope that Ostrich Republicans and pseudo-Libertarians who believe corporate slavehood is a good and just thing might in time change their views as well?

http://ed.stanford.edu/news/new-approach-curbing-effects-bullying

http://ed.stanford.edu/news/
new-approach-curbing-effects-bullying

Rob H.

Pat Mathews said...

CITOKATE: Albuquerque.

Lately when an independent review agency found that the police had mishandled a lethal-force shooting and suggested the cops should go in for de-escalation training, the police union response want one step beyond the usual business/government/powerful person response of "The criticism is totally without merit" and escalated to "How DARE you?"

I finally wrote a letter to the local paper saying that (1) I no longer read, believed, or was interested in anyone's "we never do anything wrong" denials and (2) history is littered with the corpses of empires, dictators, careers of bosses, etc who confused honest feedback with enemy attack.

And I quoted your famous acronym above. Let's hope they publish it!

Pat

Robert said...

I thought Dr. Brin might get a chuckle out of this comic - it takes a look at UFO conspiracies and comes out with a simple fact: the government is not organized well enough to hide the truth on this scale. But, as one listener points out several comics in... there is an organization that WOULD be. The Aliens themselves.

http://entireprizeenterprises.com/saucerseekers/dailycomic/november-4-2009-case-0171/

http://entireprizeenterprises.com/saucerseekers/
dailycomic/november-4-2009-case-0171/

Other than the blatant cut-and-paste artwork in places, it's a rather enjoyable read. :)

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Good luck Pat!

Paul said...

Video explaining how Congress is Saving the Space Program.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIxM1hziRhM

Ian said...

A quick note about Y2K, government responses to the perceived threat varied widely around the world and so did industry awareness.

Countries that did relatively little to prepare seem to have been no worse affected than those that spent quite a lot.

(I believe Taiwan is cited as an example of a developed country that largely ignored Y2K with minimal impact.)

Robert said...

How many of those countries had up-to-date software instead of the plethora of legacy systems that were designed and built back when computer memory was so limited that six-digit dates (month, day, XX year) were used to save on memory? After all, if a nation had already upgraded legacy systems through normal upgrade processes to improve on efficiency and effectiveness, then they would have a minimal need to upgrade their system.

The United States, on the other hand, had massive levels of antiquated software and legacy systems due to the number of businesses that did not wish to invest in their IT infrastructure due to the initial high cost of developing these system. Thus the potential drawbacks to letting the systems crash was theoretically significant, and thus should have (and was) rectified. Also, were there not situations of computers failing because they had not been upgraded? If just one key system was not upgraded and went down as a result, then the damage caused by that could result in a business grinding to a halt due to the loss of information or the failure of machinery.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Guys, while I temporarily remember how, would a lot of you like to join the wiki page that Tony helped set up, to track my predictions?

Go to: http://earthbydavidbrin.pbworks.com/
and ask for membership. I'll approve and in future you'll be able to jot notes to keep me honest!

Robert said...

A little something for people's amusement - seems it wasn't allowed to play by Saturday Night Live when it was created. Amusing, though, even if it primarily pokes fun at GE and NBC rather than other news organizations.

http://news.icanhascheezburger.com/2011/04/25/political-videos-general-electric-snl-banned-taxes-dim-bulbs/

http://news.icanhascheezburger.com/2011/04/25/
political-videos-general-electric-snl-banned-taxes-dim-bulbs/

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Wow that one bites HARD!

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Robert

Over the Y2K period I was working in the USA at one of the most computer reliant manufacturing industries

“If just one key system was not upgraded and went down as a result, then the damage caused by that could result in a business grinding to a halt due to the loss of information or the failure of machinery.”

This was the head office thinking that resulted in a huge waste of resources, those of us closer to the coal face knew that “key” systems “went down” regularly – and because they did we had work-arounds in place for when (not if) they did.

Just as we had work-arounds for the assembly and test computer systems the accounts guys had the same for their accounting systems.

On the actual – moving metal software – this was done by PLC devices and the date was simply irrelevant
The only thing the dates were used for was notification of due maintenance, which was as “warnings”
Anybody who thinks maintenance warnings would have been allowed to actually shut the machinery down has never worked in a manufacturing environment!

Doing nothing would not have been the best option – but it would probably have been more cost effective than spending the ridiculous amount of time and money that was spent

David Brin said...

Y2K was a test run for 9/11. Because "they'll believe anything if we scream loud enough!"

Same basic motive. Prescribe a cure far far worse than the disease.

Tony Fisk said...

So, intelligences vast and cool contrived to remove all references to the current century from computer records, and waited to see what would happen?

My understanding is that Y2K fixes were essential to a lot of systems, and a lot of people worked damned hard to ensure they were in place. Nevertheless, I'm sure that, as part of a last minute scramble, there was a lot of waste (and predation). As long as we wait 'till the last minute, that will continue to be the case.

Personally, I stayed clear of the whole shebang because a) I didn't think the rewards were worth the numbing tedium and b) I thought there were enough on the bandwagon as it was.

Currently reading 'Thinking in Systems'. It contains nothing that a first year electronics student wouldn't be familiar with. However, applying concepts of circuit feedback to social issues leads to some ... interesting ... insights.

David Brin said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FcGTUaG930U

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Seriously. Serbian? There have been great amateur animators there for years. But this is CRAZY!!!!!!

Robert said...

From Fortune Magazine:

http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2011/04/26/john-hussman-cracking-the-autism-code/

http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2011/04/26/
john-hussman-cracking-the-autism-code/

It's the story of an economics professor/fund manager who used his knowledge of numbers and economics to research Autism... and found proof of the genetic link to Autism.

"Hussman's advance, researchers say, consists of the patterns he has found across hundreds of autism cases. Each person is the result of millions of genetic coin flips that occur across the human genome. His algorithm can detect unusual clusters of flips that may be linked to autism. There's a second benefit too. If you look at each coin flip separately to find the ones causing autism, you miss something because the flips are interconnected by genetic material--one flip can influence another. Until now autism researchers haven't been able to fully incorporate that influence into their research. Hussman created a way to do that, using complex statistics he learned from studying markets. "In finance, when you see the same signal across two different markets or countries, you take that as a stronger signal of information than if you only saw that signal in one market," he says. "It's similar in genetics.""

Rob H.

Jumper said...

Nice bunch o' links, David. How'm I to get anything done today?! But thanks, you are on a roll.

Meanwhile Achenblog has good post on ET life.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/achenblog/

Jonathan S. said...

You see, I'm willing to believe that Y2K was real enough, because I worked with legacy systems in the Air Force in the mid-'80s, targeting nuclear weapons. Not long before I arrived at HQ SAC (in fact, one of the causative events - a slot opened up when someone was reassigned to a less critical position), there was an incident involving data fields not being formatted properly which resulted in every missile in the US inventory being targeted at 0 degrees latitude, 0 degrees longitude. Had the Soviets attacked the US in 1984, we would have bombed the hell out of a spot in the Atlantic, off the coast of Africa... It's easy enough to extrapolate that to computers getting odd beliefs with the old six-digit date fields (which were common, back in the dusty old days of COBOL, because few programmers back then believed their software would still be in use twenty frakking years later).

mingless - Flash Gordon finally wins!

ell said...

One of the predicted Y2K glitches was that age-dependent services could be denied. On 1/1/2001, the 112-year-old would suddenly become only 12.

Centenarians aren't that rare. A friend of mine lived to 107; he was still cutting gems and building iron gates for his church well into his 90s. I have relatives in Texas over 100; they are in retirement homes.

ell said...

Why are you wearing a fencing outfit, David?

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

Presumably, someone told him he needed to gain a rapier wit to pull off his next novel, and he misheard them.

Oh, and for a laugh, have a look at Existential French Star Wars
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-uQWNd540I

David Brin said...

Afterbirthers Demand To See Obama's Placenta
www.theonion.com

Anonymous said...

Bah. Anyone who know fencing recognizes that he was merely foiled again.

David Brin said...

cute
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5l8iUNbLrI&feature=youtu.be

David Brin said...

sigh

it's

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5l8iUNbLrI&feature=youtu.be

or

http://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=R5l8iUNbLrI&feature=youtu.be

Tony Fisk said...

If he's foiled, then why is he smiling?

Robert said...

Reminds me of when my friend and I cornered webcartoonist Scott Kurtz and got a picture of him foiled.

http://www.tangents.us/2009/03/23/new-england-webcomics-weekend/

http://www.tangents.us/2009/03/23/
new-england-webcomics-weekend/

He was a good sport about it. =^-^=

Rob H.

Robert said...

From New Scientist:

"So who might be best placed to change Republicans' minds over the EPA bill? Maybe specialists from the insurance industry, which is factoring climate change into its calculations, the military, or religious environmentalists. Kahan accepts that it would be naive to think that climate sceptics will suddenly abandon their position. But he says: "We want to create an environment in which people, regardless of their values, are giving considered attention to the information.""

So it looks like we should be pushing insurance people, military planners, and business leaders into telling people about climate change and global warming. These people can, of course, couch it in terms outside of the science: the cost. For instance, increased insurance premiums, higher military spending for an Arctic Fleet, and increased business costs resulting from climate changes.

Rob H.

rewinn said...

"...Afterbirthers Demand To See Obama's Placenta..."

pft! The so-called "birth certificate" that Obama just released only shows HOW DEEP the conspiracy GOES! Somehow they got INTO the official FILES of the state of Hawai'i and inserted this OBVIOUS FORGERY! Doesn't that PROVE that Obama has something to HIDE????

The only way to PROOOOOVE that this is an AUTHENTIC birth certificate is to carbon-date the thing. Yet Obama has spent over TWO MILLION DOLLARS blocking the carbon-dating of this certificate!!!! Why would he do this if there was NOTHING TO HIDE?!?!?!?

(...and if he does carbon-date the thing, I can PROOOOOVE this is a cover-up too, simply by repurposing Creationist materials ... thousands of SCIENTISTS have cast DOUBT on the carbon-dating of Obama's birth certificate yadda yadda!!!)

David Brin said...

Rewinn just joined the community of guys who can comment or adjust the wiki on my predictions at: http://earthbydavidbrin.pbworks.com

Any of the rest of you want to join, as long as I am logged in and able to approve? (I often lose the pwd!)

one time join-in and then you can add or diss predictions as they prove good or wrong!

Naum said...

On Y2K, while the scare mongering and doom casting that was heralded was extreme and over the top, there was indeed quite an effort needed to repair and rebuild software systems -- though most of it more of the "back office" type -- but that still is critical -- it could have affected reservation systems, utility companies, pharmaceutical claims and adjudication, charge/credit card authorizations, etc.…

…most folks, even many of those working in IT fields today, are not aware of how crusty and antiquated antique systems that are at the core of these corporate business processes -- if you use a charge card, book a flight, have electricity service, fill a prescription, etc.… odds are still good in 2011 even that your transaction goes through the guts of an old school mainframe application (though probably running on a Linux type hosted platform that powers MVS). I'd venture that most all of these systems were riddled (and still perhaps today, as much of the code was just papered over by "windowing" the date range to auto-assume the correct century) with Y2K glitches. Worse, old school hierarchical database platforms (that predate the relational SQL models, and still run, at least at a few places, including a major charge card company and an Arizona power company), where DB record keys were setup in a YYMM 9's complement scheme (to ensure the current month was the first in the "child" chain of DB segments).

But most corporate entities stepped up to the plate 3-4+ years away, threw a lot of money and coders at the problem, or invested in migrating systems onto more modern platforms. I know this, because I worked as a consultant for some of these corporations in these efforts -- and I manned a 24x7 team over the turn of the new century. There were some problems, mostly due to vendor software, is logistically impossible to remedy, feeding corporate systems. But most problems were channeled to legal departments, and even email pertaining to such Y2K issues was deleted at one place I worked.

Also, I worked on a project during the 2000 year to address Y2K + 1 problem -- that is, presumption of software that '01' in the first 2 slots of 6 digit date would be assumed to be DD -- an invalid assumption in 2001.

Granted, these are not the problems that incite the would-be survivalist to stock up on MRE and ammo and dash off to the mountain cabin, but if a billing system or utility company system goes down for more than a few hours, the wheels of civilized society do grind and chug. Even at the minimum, it's a humungous loss of revenue.

David Brin said...

Sympathies & prayers for any of you with loved ones in the tornado afflicted south....

Tony Fisk said...

Alabama, and neighbouring states, have had a nasty experience.
Fortunately, no nuclear reactors appear to have been damaged,

LarryHart said...

rewinn posted:

"...Afterbirthers Demand To See Obama's Placenta..."


Heh. But seriously, "Afterbirthers" would be a good name for the group of folks who continue to insist Barack Obama is ineligible for the presidency, now that he has produced the document THEY CLAIMED would "end this right now".

Now, the right-wing talkers are all going on about how we need to see his grades. Really? I missed the constitutional requirement that a president have a certain grade point average. At least with the birth certificate thing, there was an actual basis for the demand to prove eligibility for the office. Now, they're just being stupid for stupid's sake. Probably because Donald Trump has proven that "stupid" has a large constituency.

Anyone notice that Trump has essentially pushed Glenn Beck off of the map?

David Brin said...

What's amazing is how quickly most birthers are dropping the issue saying "this is all we ever asked for!" Bullshit, they are looking for a way out of the insane corner they dug themselves into. If they were honestly paranoid, they would simply call the long form a forgery.

Paranoid-racist... and hypocritically cowardly about it!

Robert said...

What I would ask any former Birther is one simple question: Does this mean you now agree Barack Obama is Legally and Constitutionally the President of the United States?

If they say yes, then they are dropping it. If not, then they're still hypocrites.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Scientific American interviews me in their Too Hard For Science? series. "David Brin on - Raising Animals to Human Levels of Intelligence. If we cannot find aliens in the stars, we might create new "alien" intelligences on Earth. But it won't be easy, technically, politically or ethically.
http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=too-hard-for-science-david-brin--ra-2011-04-29



http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/
post.cfm?id=too-hard-for-science-david
-brin--ra-2011-04-29

David Brin said...

onward

ThoughtCriminal said...

Could something like Frontline SMS, which is open source software that turns a laptop into an internet-free communication hub be a handy tool for disaster situations?

http://www.frontlinesms.com/

One drawback is that it does require the addition of a laptop to the cell phone, but it has already proven very useful and all that is required is a minimal cell signal to work.