Friday, May 08, 2015

Wagers! Demand Wagers!

First, announcements.

- I speak for the Skeptics Society : In the year 2525: Big Science, Big History and the Future of Humanity at Caltech, Pasadena CA, May 30.

- May 21 I address the Singularity Group in New York City at the Hatchery at 1601 Broadway (7pm).

- June 10, I speak at The Augmented World Expo in Santa Clara, California.  

- After which I fly to give talks in Portugal (Porto) and Madrid.

So many exciting things are happening in our world... like we're about to have a spaceprobe zip by Pluto!  A month ago we orbited Ceres and found oceans!  Before that, human beings (well, Europeans) landed a probe on a comet!  Poverty is declining worldwide.  The U.S. economy is on a great path. The air is getting better and we've seized the right to aim cameras at the police! There are hard problems to solve, and every reason to believe that combinations of technology, law and individual initiative will solve many of them.

And yet, the merchants of gloom have us seized by the throat.

Desperate to turn us away from good news - and especially the confidence to believe problems can be solved - they cast a spell of despair, in all directions.  But let's face it... this illness is especially rife on one end of the lobotomizing political "spectrum."  An end that has simply gone insane.

              Is there something you can do?

Something simple and effective that will give you victory after victory in our ongoing culture wars?  Yes there is!  A simple trick.  One that works!  In fact, it works almost every time.

== The way to get yammering loonies to shut up  ==

Two news items show how fast Barry Goldwater is spinning in his grave.  First, U.S. House Republicans have voted to slash NASA’s budget for the Earth Science division. (Under Bush, they tried repeatedly to eliminate all uses of the word "earth" in NASA programs and missions.)  For 25 years, those who declare "we need more science" to prove/disprove climate change have systematically sabotaged the science that might resolve the issue to a precision demanded by Fox. This follows an earlier decision to to cut NSF’s geoscience budget. And the State of Florida's new regulation forbidding officials from ever even mentioning or considering rising seas or climate change.

This hypocritical cowardice is not aberration.  It is a core hallmark of the New Confederacy.

Here is another --
Jade Helm 15, a military exercise, brings wild speculation in Texas about ‘martial law’.  A large but relatively routine exercise to train troops in counter-terrorism methods has become the latest Black Helicopters fantasy in the minds of the whole posse comitatis crowd. Conspiracy theorists claim it’s an attempt to institute martial law, possibly in collusion with (I kid you not) Wal-Mart. Ted Cruz has signed up to share the Koolaid. (See: The Truth Behind Jade Helm Conspiracy Theories.)  And in response, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has ordered the State Guard to 'monitor' federal troops there during the exercise. 

(Without explaining what 'monitor' means. Never mind that the president can legally federalize the national guard, any time he chooses, and the "state guard" in Texas is not what you think. Nevertheless, in fact, "Mr Transparency" wholly approves of "monitoring"! It is one cure for crazy.)

Yes, yes, this story makes way too much out of a fairly small phenomenon -- some far-right flakes hate-fantasizing about the US military.  Indeed, at the far ends, there are almost as many flakey conspiracy fetishist romantics on the left as on the right.  No, what's important here is the fact that the fanatical fringe on the right sits atop a much much bigger, only slightly less fanatical "main" body of confederates.

Put aside the spectacular insult to our men and women in uniform — any ONE of whom would blow the whistle if anything even 0.01% as nefarious were actually going on.  You know this is not about modeling reality, at any level.  

It is about stoking the insatiable engine of the Indignation Industry.  Hence, disproof won’t make a scintilla of difference.  Open transparency will help a bit. (I almost always prescribe big doses, to ensure that Big Brother does stay far away: as he is right now.) Transparency will limit the number of frenzied conspiracy nuts to a screeching small-but-deeply-harmful minority.  

But even transparency will only see to it that they'll back out of THIS howling mania, gleeful in the after-rush of sanctimony, looking for the next one to wave about, shrugging off any reminder that they predicted, in 2008, that "Obama will take all our guns." Safe in the serene knowledge that the rest of us will fight like hell to preserve their right to be raving morons.

Is the situation hopeless?  Not! As I said -- there is a method.  One that absolutely works. Let me repeat that. It works. 

Again, it works, absolutely. That is, if you parse it carefully.

And not one Blue American of stature has ever once (to my knowledge) actually used this sure-fire method for forcing conspiracy nut-jobs to back off.

== Demand wagers! ==

Put money on it. Offer odds. Insist they step up and offer stakes, like real-men. 

If they are so sure of their paranoid ravings — sure enough to throw America into fever after fever and thus harm us all and insult our professional warriors — then they ought to be willing… even eager… to take my money in a bet!  

What? No? Here's my money! If you are so sure, put yours on the table and then walk away with winnings, when your ravings come true!

Watch... oh watch how they backpedal, the instant there are actual consequences to foaming at the mouth.  The instant facts and evidence threaten to have real bite.

Let me link you to my earlier posting about this: Take the Wager Challenge and Help push back Culture War . And I am serious. It is a weapon Sane America never, ever uses… even though it is one that will work.  It works; and it is a sign of the raw stupidity of liberals, that they have not learned how to wield this sword.

Try it!  Read the write-up. Offer wagers. Watch how fast the cheap cowards back off!

== So why am I optimistic? ==

Remember the confident Republican declarations that Obama would not only take our guns, but give us $200/barrel oil?  

According to tech-economics guru Mark Anderson, the recent drop in the price of oil constitutes a “massive effective tax cut” for the world’s population. Compare estimated expenditures on oil and gas before and after the drop.

Past-year estimate: $866, 875, 000,000
Next-year estimate: $456,250,000,000
Change YTY: $410,625,000,000

Even accounting for a recent uptick, and the fact that all sorts of fatcats and intermediaries will siphon billions in price manipulations and collusively anti-competitive conniving — “Eventually, this tax cut will find its way through the system, driven (one hopes) by competitive market forces rather than by price manipulation schemes. Once this occurs, the world will have almost half a trillion dollars in unexpected windfall cash gains per year to spend on things like hospitals, schools, and infrastructure - right? Or, okay, weapons.

 “All in all, this change may represent the largest change in "externalities" costs the world has seen since World War II - except, perhaps, for the ramping costs of global warming.”

Oh, regarding that other thing - climate change: “How would you like some real estate in Miami? Waterfront prices are actually going up, while the local government is planning on buying 18 pumps to stave off sea-level rise caused by global warming - a term the governor's office has forbidden any state officer from uttering.”

In both cases, the driver that’s absolutely essential is new technology.  Those “game changers” I referred to, earlier.  And those won’t happen if anti-future and anti-science types — some on the far-left and nearly everyone on the entire-right — keep applying fanaticism to problems better addressed by vigorous and optimistic problem-solving negotiation and a can-do spirit.

== The biggest wager … Obamacare ==

With the next presidential election underway, all GOP candidates are swearing to make repeal of Obamacare their central goal, how’s that playing with the American people? Especially with this commie-disaster law ruining health care in America and enslaving everyone and sending costs skyrocketing… except …

...except that nothing of the sort is happening. “The problems that marred the rollout of Obamacare have been fixed. The law, meanwhile, is reducing the number of Americans who lack health coverage as intended, as a new report from the Rand Corp. shows. And just as important, many unintended consequences that critics of the law predicted have failed to materialize.” 

The Bush era skyrocketing of premiums has largely abated.  More people are getting reliable preventative care. Health related bankruptcies have plummeted. The number of people with employer-arranged insurance has risen, rather than fallen. There's been no socialist takeover of the health system. While there are flaws that merit fixing via negotiation, not one of the Chicken Little screech predictions of negative consequences has come true.  Not… even… one.

Oh, how I wish some of the cowards who I offered wagers about Obamacare would have had the cojones to actually put money where their frothing mouths were.  But none of the screeching ninnies would actually take a bet.  Demanding wagers did have one effect though.  They always shut up about the topic... around me.

And it was worth putting the United States through hell, freezing the political process in rigor mortis, such that the only thing the GOP-dominated House of Representatives did, month after month was pass shrill ACA repeals that they knew would never go anywhere… and you maniacs did all of that… over this?

The want the ultimate irony?

 When public approval of the ACA, which has been rising every month for the last twenty, finally passes a critical threshold, Republicans will suddenly remember… 

“Oh yeah!  The ACA was OUR PLAN ALL ALONG! It came from the Heritage Foundation and the GOP party platform and it was called ‘Romneycare’ at one point… It’s ours!  It was always our idea! We'll take the credit now, thank you.”

Watch.  That’ll happen. (Not one other person will be on record, having predicted it.)

 And the dittoheads will conveniently forget every shrill jeremaiad.  Only dig this well, please.  This time we will remember.  That you guys are completely insane.


A.F. Rey said...

The only practical problem I see with wagering the wingnuts is agreeing on what decides the bet.

Half of the AGW deniers don't believe climatolgists are providing accurate data. The Heritage Foundation will give a different assessment of the benefits of Obamacare than the government. And conservatives will point out how the employment numbers are being manipulated by Obama. You can see that by how they keep changing them after they are published!

When we can't even agree on what the facts are, how will we ever agree on politics? :(

Alfred Differ said...

One way to find things to offer for wagers is to see what is being offered at InTrade.

Another source I like to use is at, though they don't lay things out as wagers. It's amusing watching the good doctor do his surveys of people's opinions and compare them to monkeys making random guesses. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

oh well... InTrade used to be one of the places I used.

John Kurman said...

Didn't the mythical Yellow Emperor wear a Jade Helm? If I were cynical, I'd say the spooky was to bump up guns&ammo sales. Walmart creates retail deserts with store shutdowns, w/ people buying even more shit when they shop. But honestly, I see your average Texan shaking his/her head and muttering "Dumbasses". As for the dystopian future? Boring! It's called the past. The shit-covered squalid past. My wager is, is that how you wanna live?

David Brin said...

A.F. It will seldom get to that point. Mostly they just scurry away. But if they ask that question then guess what -- it means they are NEGOTIATING and you've already won a victory.

For some things, like Jade Helm, you offer odds that no one will find a single tangible thing. Climate? Make the bet across ten years. Say: "let's cooperate to find a reputable law professor near our community who can help us parse the bet and who will hold the cash and decide the outcome."

Don't worry, the farther you take it, the more the creazies will chicken out... and the more the quasi sane ones will start thinking fact-based, quasi sane thoughts.

Jonathan S. said...

I still don't get the Jade Helm thing. The US military is supposed to be staging an invasion - of Texas? Wouldn't that be a bit like my trying to "take over" my own left foot? I mean, last I checked, Texas was a state, for good or ill - and one that plays host to a number of military installations, at that.

Alex Tolley said...

A month ago we orbited Ceres and found oceans!

Ceres might once have had oceans, but because it is small and there are no gravitational forces supplying energy, Ceres is probably solid. I think you are confusing Ceres with Enceladus. Want a wager on that?

The U.S. economy is on a great path
For who exactly?
Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate - 25 to 54 years and Median Household Income

I suspect you are accepting the headline addition of jobs and the 0.1% reduction in the official unemployment rate. Yet in reality, the labor force participation rate is still well below its peak for working people and median household income is still likely well below its peak. We are still in a deep recession. We've had more than enough data on the problems of graduate employment, debt, and widening wage disparity. It may well be good for those with good, secure work, but for most working people, the economy is certainly not on a great path.

Alex Tolley said...

As regards wagers, A Republican friend and I made one on the outcome of the presidential election. As a Faux News listener he was convinced of a Romney win. I was more convinced that Nate Silver's analysis was more correct. He lost and did pay up - a very nice dinner at an expensive restaurant. In this case he didn't back away, accepted the bet, and paid up like a gentleman.

Note that Nate Silver's 538 was also completely wrong-footed (as was everyone else including David Cameron) by the UK election on Thursday. However they have written about why they believe they were wrong and are going to adjust their analysis for future predictions. Analytic honesty.

Jumper said...

I'll take that wager on Ceres. $25 on a humanitarian charity of the winner's choice? I say liquid water ocean.

Jumper said...

The problem with adjusting election prediction skews is that in the case of a stolen election, it makes it easier to steal the next one: the actual loser is then seen to have a greater actual chance next time, so if it's stolen again it's not even seen as unusual.

Jumper said...

What if the wide publicity and paranoia-raising about Jade Helm is part of the exercise? If it's a game, it might be one side's strategy somehow. Just brainstorming here.

locumranch said...

Let's call the 'Wager Challenge' what it is, shall we?

It is, quite literally, a 'Buy-In' which demonstrates the willingness of any contrarian, libertarian or Red State conservative to Ante-Up, sit down at the table, COOPERATE, and play the negotiating game according to Blue State rules in a manner that means (as a gleeful David admits) that the Blue Urban agenda has "already won a victory".

This is why both the new US Confederates and the 'newish' EU Nationalists refuse this 'buy-in' and "scurry" so: They have played this particular game before; they know that this negotiating deck has been (hopelessly) stacked against them; and they know (like Greece in the EU) that they must LOSE if they remain at the table or place any wager whatsoever.

This, too, is the problem with the mandatory third-party private insurance 'buy-in' that is Obamacare: It is COMPULSORY; it serves as 'doubling down' on a bad bet; it requires that young healthy individuals "invest" in insurance products that they (probably) cannot consume; and it re-infuses capital into an increasingly dysfunctional healthcare system without addressing its obvious shortcomings.

In effect, the 'Wager Challenge' represents a grandiose circular argument: It is a given that the 'Civilisation Game' (cooperative effort) is an unmitigated and self-correcting GOOD as long as participation remains VOLUNTARY but, as the game becomes increasingly corrupt, more expensive and LESS fair over time, cooperative effort becomes less attractive to those participants who try to opt out and 'leave the gaming table', while Civilisation (like any other game, organism or organization) desires SELF-PERPETUATION above all else, attempts to COMPEL participation, makes participation mandatory and INVOLUNTARY, and recreates itself as a 'Slave Culture' (which, imo, is an unmitigated EVIL).

Many of us are simply opting out: We don't want to honour your sham wagers; we don't want to play with your stacked deck; and, since we KNOW that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed (from OUR CONSENT), we just don't want to play by your BLUE rules any longer.

But, of course, we are always willing to negotiate. You're all welcome to sit at OUR gaming table for a spell. We'll make up all the house rules; we'll tell you what the house game is; we'll tell you what the house stakes are; and then you can all 'chip in', buy a seat at OUR table and place your mandatory bets. House Wins!!


Alex Tolley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex Tolley said...

@Jumper - done.
Let's set it up. Maybe Dr. Brin will offer to be the escrow and keep it honest?

Alex Tolley said...

@locum - so offer a game to play and stipulate your table rules.

Otherwise it just sound petulant.

Jumper said...

"The reason I won't bet is bafflegab LOOK SQUIRREL!"
I'm willing to go by the honor system, Alex. When I win, I'll trust you. I would like to know which charity you pick. If by some remote chance I'm wrong I will do the same. I wonder if there's some place to donate where they'd just send an email verification to your email address. Dunno.
In any case, if NASA says "no evidence" I'll take that as a loss on my part. I predict they will say "almost certain." As I write I'm not sure when the final close-orbit segment will occur, but after they have done that a while they'll probably announce on the matter. Likely by year end we'll have word from them on the matter.

Alex Tolley said...

I will nominate
Doctors without Borders.
The link allows online donations, so it is easy.

So to be clear. My bet is that there is NO subsurface ocean currently in Ceres. (It may have had one in the remote past, but that doesn't count). It has to be an ocean, i.e. no small pockets of water due to impactors, etc. The presence of an ocean is accepted if it is just a part of Ceres, like Enceladus' Southern ocean (you would win the bet).

Acceptable? Or do you want to modify the wording before we confirm the bet.

Someone on this site should also keep a record to ensure we are reminded in case we forget.

I'm hoping we will have an answer within a few months, certainly by the end of the year given the instrumentation aboard Dawn.

The bet size is small, so I am also comfortable that we will both honor it.

Chris Heinz said...

Re ACA, there was an article in today's Lexington Herald Leader stating that many rural hospitals were struggling with decreased revenue from penalties for early readmission. It also stated that (expensive) emergency room visits have not decreased as they were supposed to. Prolly both fixable, but, I think it is not all good news. Just mostly good news.

Jumper said...

Regarding citizen videos, at present there's a large gap which needs to be dealt with, and it's a gap of gullibility regarding computers, the internet and video trickery.
I think there are a lot of tricks the public in general needs to be reminded about. If you need a history of them, I don't know how far back you want to go but I think about the TV show 60 Minutes, because it became clear they'd interview someone and then replace the questions they really asked them later with shots of them asking different but similar questions. Subtle manipulations.
Another I've thought of is the one where you are shown a video, it's said that this is a view of, for example, a police raid during the aftermath of the Boston bombing, but in reality it's a video of some other police interaction at a different time and perhaps place. taken at the usual distance, i.e., fairly far away. How would one know? How often have you watched one and assumed its provenance was as indicated, yet with no reason to really believe it?
Sequencing is often played with. One event is shown, then another, and the viewer assumes that at the actual event, this happened, one-two, just like that. Yet if there was any cut from scene, it's possible.
Lately we've seen actual political stunts pulled like this. The O'Keefe ACORN video was done like that. One of Obama's employees got fired for out-of-context video.
People are believing video which should not be necessarily believed.

Once this gullibility is fixed, we can proceed with the transparency progress.

Jumper said...

Doctors Without Borders is close enough to perfect I will shout "eureka!" and it's quite obviously better than the Brin tip jar LOL

Jumper said...

Did I formally say "I accept Alex's terms?" I accept Alex's terms.

Alex Tolley said...

So Doctors Without Borders is our same choice of charity. Great. Win-Win almost however the bet goes.

Nice theory paper. So it boils down to whether Ceres is sufficiently layered that as cooling occurs, the surface ice pressure can keep a relatively pure H2O layer liquid as an ocean or not.

I think that makes for a very interesting hypothesis and good bet. I just hope we don't find out it is "slush" :)

David Brin said...

Ooog he is back in full-throated jibbering mode. "Fie upon you and your 'facts' and your 'accountability' and your 'manliness" to step up and back up predictions with cash!

"We don't need no stinking wagers!

"H and we don't need your stinking TOLERANCE, either! (Well, in fact we rely on it, utterly, but just wait till we reinstate 6000 years of feudal lockjaw oppressive sameness. THEN we won't need it! Providing my small bunch hap[pens to wind up on top!)"

TheMadLibrarian said...

I would be pretty astonished to find an actual liquid body of water on Ceres. Ceres is smaller than the moon, and unless it has some way of generating heat, either through radioactive decay, gravitational flexing, or an 'ice lens' focusing enough diffuse sunlight to melt ice and create a greenhouse (the last is me pulling ideas out of my bum), any ice we find there is likely to be in the form of cubes :D You also will want some way, once you get that liquid water, to keep it from sublimating even faster than a frozen glacier on the surface.


Paul451 said...

Re: Ceres bet.

How are you defining "ocean"? Under pressure, water ice can become semi-plastic, with only a few pockets of obvious liquid water following local heating patterns.

Think "slushy" vs "scotch-rocks". The latter is obviously an ocean, but how solid can the slushy get before Alex wins the bet?

[Or, more geologically, think mantle vs magma.]

Alex Tolley said...

@paul451 - I will accept whatever the planetologists call it. If they say it is an ocean, then I will accept the bet is lost. If they say it is solid, or plastic, or there is no evidence of an ocean, I will consider that a win.

For $25 I think Jumper and I can agree what is a win or not, without getting heated. And if it really isn't determinable by the planetary scientists, we can call it a draw.

Alex Tolley said...


Ceres surface is very dark and dusty, covering an icy laye. This is probably rather similar to a dead comet. The issue is what is below that icy layer. Is Ceres so large that the materials have effectively separated allowing for a fairly pure water layer. If so, then the paper Jumper posted suggested that pressure alone will keep that layer liquid. If it hasn't and Ceres has stayed reasonably homogenous, more like a comet, then it is more likely the ice and silicate mix will stay solid as it cools.

The obvious difference between Ceres and the icy moons is the lack of gravitational stretching to generate heat. The paper suggests that Ceres is very similar to the icy moons with known subsurface oceans and therefore probably has a liquid subsurface ocean. I think the gravitational stretching is very important in keeping a liquid ocean as the energy ensures the body can easily differentiate and stay liquid in some places.

Finding out is part of the reason for the Dawn mission. We'll find out soon.

LarryHart said...


But, of course, we are always willing to negotiate. You're all welcome to sit at OUR gaming table for a spell. We'll make up all the house rules; we'll tell you what the house game is; we'll tell you what the house stakes are; and then you can all 'chip in', buy a seat at OUR table and place your mandatory bets. House Wins!!

What makes you think that's not the reality of the situation we currently live in?

You red-staters are the whiny-babiest sore winners I've ever seen.

You've got both houses of congress, something like 30 governors and state legislatures, and 5 Supreme Court Justices. No one (all exceptions duly noted) likes your policies, and yet you keep winning elections and consolidating more power. And yet, you're somehow being oppressed by blue-state house rules?

Words fail me.

Tim H. said...

Chris, what I've heard RE ACA is that states that refused medicare expansion are having the rural hospital difficulties, so not so much an ACA problem as "Obama derangement syndrome". Conservatives dislike Obama for the wrong reasons.

LarryHart said...

The increasingly-shrill locumranch in a Glenn-Beckian rant:

In effect, the 'Wager Challenge' represents a grandiose circular argument: It is a given that the 'Civilisation Game' (cooperative effort) is an unmitigated and self-correcting GOOD as long as participation remains VOLUNTARY but, as the game becomes increasingly corrupt, more expensive and LESS fair over time, cooperative effort becomes less attractive to those participants who try to opt out and 'leave the gaming table', while Civilisation (like any other game, organism or organization) desires SELF-PERPETUATION above all else, attempts to COMPEL participation, makes participation mandatory and INVOLUNTARY, and recreates itself as a 'Slave Culture' (which, imo, is an unmitigated EVIL).

As usual, you have reversed the sides. You red-staters invented "slave culture", and are trying like heck to reinstate it. Only by "blue state rules" is slavery considered a bad thing.

You don't even know what you're arguing about any more.

Many of us are simply opting out: We don't want to honour your sham wagers; we don't want to play with your stacked deck; and, since we KNOW that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed (from OUR CONSENT), we just don't want to play by your BLUE rules any longer.

WTF do you think Dr Brin was challenging you to bet on.

I took it to mean that if you're going to say (for example) global warming isn't going to cause Florida to sink beneath the ocean, or that lowering taxes in Kansas will create more revenue for the state, and if you're going to insist that public policy be informed by those predictions, then at least be willing to pay up if your predictions turn out to be the crap that we "blue-staters" know it to be. And yes, if we're wrong, we'll pay you. But we're not, and you know it, which is the only reason you "scurry". Not because the rules of a game are rigged against you, but because you can't manage to rig the rules of reality in your own favor.

No, really. How does "Put your money where your mouth is" force you into a losing game unless you're lying to begin with?

LarryHart said...

Tim H:

Conservatives dislike Obama for the wrong reasons.

Radio host Norman Goldman keeps ragging on Bernie Sanders for terrible salesmanship because Bernie will call himself a socialist. A caller to the show recently pointed out that it's kind of a wash, because Republicans will call any Democratic candidate a socialist, as they do with President Obama.

Paul SB said...

Larry, which do you think is worse, loci's shrill ranting or his Douglas Hyde-level verse? I probably shouldn't complain. I doubt I could do any better.

David Brin said...

Sorry, but all locum can do is armwave assertions about subjective generalities. To the point where any attempt to discuss OBJECTIVE metrics becomes an intolerant imposition of cultural dominance by enlightenment bullies.

Even though the very basis of such whining: ("Don't try to impose homogeneity of culture on us!") is an enlightenment value, that none of the cultures he admires every allowed!

to compare ANY statistics about good living or capitalist effectiveness or anything non delusional.

But he must do that. To lay down any wagers at all would be to be swamped by statistics on teen sex, teen pregnancy, STDs, domestic violence, divorce, dropout rates and a myriad other areas of gross immorality like addiction, alcoholism, drug use, and even obesity... this in an area (Red America) that screams shrilly and aggressively that it knows better how lives should be lived.

The irony? Any truly macho or manly culture would demand that loudmouth ranters step up, when challenged to put money on their rants. I am sure the grandfathers of these red-wimps would have had the balls. "If you got proof, put it here on the table, next to our stakes. I'll live by it. But the winner better buy the next round of drinks."

No more.

Alex Tolley said...

Does locum's response support the idea of using wagers or not? On one hand it does, as he refuses to take or even make one. OTOH I doubt it will have any impact on future responses. If so then then wagering is not going to be any use except as a tactical tool. It certainly won't be a tool in the arsenal to sow doubt in positions when the result is known to change any minds, which is very much an Enlightenment expectation.

Wagering is effectively the same approach as making securities market forecasts and investing your capital in the market based on that forecast. It was analyzing those results that made me abandon being a fund manager as I couldn't see much value added I and my colleagues were making to portfolio performance. As most money managers invest other people's money, it doesn't surprise me that many can hold opinions about the market, and by implication politics based on legislators' beliefs, that are wrong, even delusional.

As Jumper succinctly put it: "The reason I won't bet is bafflegab LOOK SQUIRREL!"

Paul451 said...

I'm not sure if it's been mentioned here, but the virus that causes "German measles" (and congenital birth defects and miscarriages), Rubella, has been eliminated from the Americas.

Note, not from "America", the US, I really mean from the Americas. Last non-imported case was in Argentina in 2009.

This is the third virus eliminated from the two continents after small pox and polio.

Paul451 said...

You've all probably heard about the recent failure of the Progress cargo capsule to ISS. It has resulted in a delay in the next Soyuz mission to ISS, since they share a launch vehicle.

When GWB cancelled the Shuttle program, but before it finished flying, NASA developed a plan to develop commercial US replacements, called COTS. While the unmanned cargo parts of the program went ahead, the crewed version (COTS-D) was killed by the Bush-appointed NASA Administrator. The program was resurrected under Obama (as CCDev then CCiCap/CCtCap) but has been continually underfunded by Congress. Usually it's zeroed in the Republican-controlled House, then in a "compromise" with the Senate, the program gets about half or less of the requested funding, often with stupid riders (like forcing NASA to prematurely down-select to two contractors before a single test flight). This has resulted in several years of delays, with NASA having to buy seats on Soyuz at ever increasing prices, and being restricted to two crew-members on ISS (90% funded by the US).

Congress blocks US companies, launching US astronauts, to a US-funded space station... to support Russian launchers. Because...?

On a similar note, in 2010, Obama asked Congress to fund a new family of US-made large hydrocarbon rocket engines (either Kero/Lox or Meth/Lox), plus other key enabling technologies. All killed by Congress. Five years ago.

One of the two major US launchers, Atlas V, is based around cheap imported Russian engines. Engines which now are subject to US sanctions and Russian random-acts-of-Putin. Now the USAF needs a new US-made Meth/Lox engine to ensure launch for national security payloads. Development is expected to take at least four years....

When David throws around words like "treason", it may seem like hyperbole, but damn.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "You red-staters are the whiny-babiest sore winners I've ever seen."

Is that surprising? Bullies (and their lackeys) know instinctively that might is transient and therefore live with the deep-seated anxiety that the downtrodden will successfully retaliate during their lifetime. If anything, right-wingers in America and Europe being terrified by minorities and plebeians is their most rational trait: it's the fact that they're trying to exorcize their fear by muleheadedly demanding even more ruthlessness from law enforcement that is suicidally, darwin-award-worthy, inane.


* "Congress blocks US companies, launching US astronauts, to a US-funded space station... to support Russian launchers. Because...?"

Because Russia is ruled by a Manly Man who favors his parasitic oligarch buddies at the expanse of the russian Hoi Polloi and therefore is a country inherently superior to the US?

Frankly, given that our leaders keep yapping about "investing in future technologies" I wish the EU ceased being so pusillanimous with the ESA's funding and made Russia redundant.

Paul SB said...

Laurent, I think you have hit on the major meme that cuts so much common sense out of many people's lives. The concept of manliness (or machismo, if you prefer) seems to be able to justify anything. Statistics show that the Red states have (as Dr. Brin pointed out) the highest poverty, the highest teen pregnancy, the highest violent crime, the highest rape, the highest STD rates, alcoholism, obesity, heart disease - you name it! Note also that church attendance and religiosity are highest in exactly these same places. God, like Putin, seems to be a very manly man, one who is wrathful and nukes whole cities because some of its citizens would not join His club. But since gods are made in the image of those who create them, the key problem is not the gods themselves but their PR people.

Consistently wherever the cultural superstructure emphasizes the differences between male and female, you have very violent societies wracked by all the aforementioned evils and more (wherever you see manly men with big beards...). The gorilla alpha male social structure creates enormous, crippling stress, which is probably why hominids have been evolving less sexual dimorphism over at least the last 4 million years, and why they have come to dominate the world while the more manly gorillas teeter on the edge of extinction. Loci's complaint about his so-called "feminization" (the common misperception of neotony by people who rely on stereotype to guide their thinking) is a huge evolutionary pattern he, and all the rest of the red state throwbacks, have little power to change.

Unfortunately these processes are painfully slow, so dealing with these "manly" troglodytes is just part of the growing pains of the species. The rest of us can only shake our heads and hope the superhero memes fade away along with the dimorphism itself, sooner rather than later.

Alex Tolley said...

"Abstinence only" sex ed is a good example of the wager type bet as it is usually an obvious experiment - change the law, allow to cook, measure the result. There is no room to waffle after the experiment that the effects are not fully known. The data is clear. Apart from the vocal religious minority, there is little for politicians to gain as their wealthy donors are not interested in this social issue. And yet it continues to be advocated despite the evidence. The cognitive dissonance must be exploding heads.

I can understand that a deeply religious person would advocate that for their children and usually they get the option to remove their children from other sex education classes. (In CA I got a letter that allowed me to pull my children from classes if I desired). But why the demand that everyone also has to follow abstinence only? This seems remarkably similar to the issue of gay marriage, where choices other people make must be denied by the self-appointed "moral minority".

Kansas economic experiment is a little different. Brownback has done his experiment and wrecked the state's finances. But here he can waffle about when the end point should be measured and he has pressure from his wealthy donors and upper income conservative voters. This is the sort of waffling I saw in a different context with equity analysis. The timing of the forecast was often fudged so that random market movements could be used to confirm the forecast and hide the error.

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451 - On a related note regarding measles (the common rather than German). While teh focus has been on outbreaks, especially in CA, helped by the anti-vax movement, it has been discovered that measles resets the immune system, leaving the person vulnerable to diseases that hitherto become recognized. The focus of news items was that this makes the disease even worse and that one should be vaccinated.

What may be ignored is that there are a number of auto-immune diseases that could do with such a reset. We treat them today with immune suppressors such as steroids, and in extreme cases, bone marrow removal and stem cell replacement (e.g. a UK trial for MS). I'm wondering if the mechanism the mechanism the measles bug uses to reset the immune system can be harnessed to reset the immune system to treat the auto-immune disease.

Just a thought.

Alex Tolley said...

OT - earlier thread. This Wired article on using streaming video to promote justice seems to fit DB's approach. I have added Periscope to my iPhone to test it. The video stream is not real-time, lagging by up to 10 seconds, but good enough. I like the idea that Twitter followers can be notified and watch the stream. So instead of DB's fake "Larry are you recording this?", you can actually can have a lot of people actually watching. The security of knowing that is nice, and it will be interesting if law enforcement changes behavior to response to this. The file can be played back later for evidence and posting.

Now I find this technology almost remarkable. Until recently, video surveillance kit wasn't cheap, although coming down in price. I have used a basic webcam and software to detect animals outside my house at night. Now it is an app on a phone. How long before it is just part of the IoT embedded in cheap, disposable videocams? Software security cams usually have some sort of trigger, e.g. IR or scene change to take stills. This seems trivial to implement for this type of streaming too. I expect all sorts of enhancements over the next few years.

For educators, this has just made using the iPhone to display live images from an instrument, e.g. a microscope even easier. Just focus the camera and have the Twitter feed projected on the class projector. Couldn't be simpler.

Jumper said...

Re. the "abstinence only" business, I was talking with a Gulf War vet and she mentioned how obstinately they tried to force birth control pills on the female troops. Pregnancy was a court-martial-able offense at least for unmarried troops. I did bring up the awful scenario where their position was overrun and rapes occurred. I doubt they are going to go into any of that in the schools, although I'm not sure why not.

Jumper said...

I was just pulling your leg, Dr. Brin, about your tip jar. I was about to propose it when Alex put Doctors Without Borders on the table. For any further bets I would consider the tip jar, as it's nicely symmetric: your own knowledge that the debt was paid and you get paid for the labor of checking to see it's been paid. And it's a worthy cause.

David Brin said...

Hey Jumper I don't mind being the collector of debts via tipjar. Just inform me here when it happens! I'll channel any wagers to charity. Only, of course, this works for nickel-dollar honor bets. If we lived near each other -- buying the group a pitcher.

My wager challenge is meant to have bigger stakes, enough to be a bit painful.

"If you're sure enough about your paranoid trip to inflict pain on our national consensus, then you should be sure enough to put money on the table."

That's more difficult. But it has worked, from time to time.

Paul451 said...

Re: Kansas/Brownback experiment.

I noticed that Forbes is already moving the goal-posts on judging failure. "Too soon to tell", "their mistake was promising too much". (paraphrasing)

Alex Tolley said...

Seems like the apologist for Kansas in Forbes is Rex Sinquefield who is desperate to prove his idea is correct that tax rate cuts are the key to wealth creation in spite of the evidence and what most economists say.

Alex Tolley said...


I noticed that Forbes is already moving the goal-posts on judging failure. "Too soon to tell", "their mistake was promising too much".

I was reading the comments about the Kansas experiment on the econ blog "Marginal Revolution". There were enough commenters who were saying the equivalent of "the experiment would have worked BUT the conditions were changed".

If you make a bet, you want it to be as clean as possible. Who would accept a racing bet if the race course was flooded just as the race started?

If you do insist on strict terms and the loser feels cheated, this doesn't do anything to change minds, just makes the net wager even more difficult to do. Isn't this going to end up with the same results as a repeated Prisoner's Dilemma?

I note that Dr. Brin wants the bets to be "bit painful". When does this transition from a technique to "Watch how fast the cheap cowards back off!" to a perception of bullying?

A.F. Rey said...

Re: regulations (which was last post's subject, wasn't it?). Conservative Charles Murray has a plan to render useless regulations from the EPA, OSHA, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commision. Create a fund to pay for a bunch of small suits against these agencies until they stop enforcing regulations.

Read about it at (an admittedly biased source):

Gator said...

Betting is not new in the climate change world. See for example.

Note particularly the way Lindzen and others wiggle out of it. That does not stop them from continuing the propaganda war. Betting will only be useful if you can drum up the publicity behind it to make them look like liars or fools, and have that seen far and wide, for refusing the bet. Then remind them of it EVERY TIME they show up in public again.

The trouble is that their side is well funded. They can afford to buy billboards and editorials. Who has the money to oppose them?

Alex Tolley said...

It's interesting that when conservatives want to criticize the left, it is called "Judicial Activism", but it is OK when they want to snarl up government.

Extremists have used this technique to block tax collection, property repossession and claims of sovereignty from US soil.

Large companies have use the courts to avoid/delay paying large fines.

Patent trolls also use the courts to extort money from smaller firms.

Legal means were used by Virginia's AG to attempt to "harass"/snare climatologist Michael Mann and the UVA until the VA Supreme Court stopped it.

These tactics are classic. Murray is clever to frame this as a David (everyman?) vs Goliath (big government). Others need to reframe it differently to show how egregious this it.

Alfred Differ said...

@Alex: You've described why economics isn't a science. One cannot falsify their claims because one cannot control the variables that have to be controlled. Simply put, we can't run the experiments we imagine. That's the only argument I accept from climate skeptics nowadays. The economics in future projections aren't science.

Regarding measles... yikes... scary stuff. I seem to have dodged mine with chemo, but my sister still suffers from one that is going to kill her eventually. No cure known today. I guess I better go read up on what you posted.

A.F. Rey said...

You've described why economics isn't a science. One cannot falsify their claims because one cannot control the variables that have to be controlled. Simply put, we can't run the experiments we imagine.

I have to point out, Alfred, that there are plenty of sciences that cannot perform experiments with controlled variables, but are still very much science. Astrophysics. Geology. Most of biology. And, of course, climatology.

What these fields can do is use known priciples to create models, and then look for different examples to test their models.

Saying that any field which cannot perform controlled experiments is not a "real science" is an excuse used by creationists and other denialists to denigrate fields they don't like. But they are considered sciences.

(However, this does not mean I consider economics to necessarily be a science. :))

Alfred Differ said...

My point is their claims cannot be falsified. There are always methods for arguing that the collected information is incomplete because there are too many variables. Worse yet, there are unknown variables they can't properly model.

I'm not knocking the field itself or the people doing the work. It's just that we commit in error in folding it too neatly into our big models when we try to project our climate into the future. A great deal of caution is required to look forward when you know that you don't know so many things. You have to make use of a broad method that makes probabilistic statements that are understood to be unreliable due to the nature of black swans.

I take Popper's hard line regarding what is and what isn't a science, but I do not do so out of some snobbish desire to defend some field or invalidate another. There is plenty of evidence from climate studies to suggest that we must act, but I’m deeply skeptical of any claims to know even the probabilities for the possible futures of even this century. We know the range of what probably possible and that is scary enough to justify action.

The methods of science are appropriate for fields of study where claims can be falsified. They are not appropriate for other fields and we do injury to our knowledge in misapplying them.

Jumper said...

Is there any field of science based 100% on falsifiable propositions? I would guess no, that's math.

Alfred Differ said...

The foundation for sciences aren't falsifiable at all, but once you adopt a set of customs regarding what is considered viable evidence and rules for turning subjective information into objective data you get an institution that rewards us by weeding out knowledge that in another field would be an error of faith.

Popper had an interesting perspective on where the boundary lies. It isn't perfect, of course. Nothing like that could be. It's still useful and relevant, though. I enjoy using it regarding climate science and climate predictions far more than I enjoy making wagers no one will accept. The anti-science people think they've got me and then discover there is a hook embedded in the lovely lure they bit down upon.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

I have problems with your "hard line"
In engineering one of the first things that I find I have to teach is that every number is "soft"

Every time we measure something we really need to know a lot about the measurement system in order to see how much and how exactly we can use that measurement

With that in mind I see no difficulty in seeing economics (and definitely climate science) as being "hard" enough to treat as engineering
I have made a lot of engineering decisions on data much softer than the analysis es performed by the likes of Krugman and Piketty

Jumper said...

Chaos is a beast. I know a dynamometer tech who found strange attractors in chainsaw vibrations.

Paul SB said...

Duncan, I can't honestly say I know a whole lot about economics, so I might not be the best judge here, but I find it difficult to trust not just because of the inherent subjectivity of all human endeavors, but because economics is so directly connected to public policy and business. That direct connection, and how competing economists are endorsed by competing sides in political battles, give the impression that economics is much more scientistic than scientific. Having to make engineering decisions based on squishy numbers sounds bad to most people's ears, but I think that is mostly a result of science PR trying to pass science off as something better than its human components. In a sense it is, because the structure of scientific work ensures that no one individual completely dominates any field. But the public perception of science is that it claims to be perfectly objective, which is not really true. All sciences have a lot of wiggle room, and the entire scientific community can be wrong if they all share a set of underlying assumptions that aren't quite right. What makes the sciences a generally better choice is the fact that it is self-correcting, just as having checks and balances makes democracy a better governance system,

But then, I was trained as a social scientist, so I have never been too impressed by the phallic "hard" vs. "soft" terminology, nor "physics envy." I probably just need to educate myself better on economic issues.

Alex Tolley said...

@Alfred The methods of science are appropriate for fields of study where claims can be falsified.

Any prediction based on data can be falsified. It doesn't require an underlying model of reality, although that would be better. Science works by iteration, stripping away the wrong explanations to leave the underlying correct ones (at least approximately).
Part of that process is experiment or testing observations. As long as you can measure the information in those experiments, you can improve your hypotheses.

Economics is an interesting case as practices can be scientific and non-scientific. Unfortunately the a priori math modeling with little to no testing has gripped much of the academic side. This is clearly unscientific. It would be far better for economists to go back to data analysis again, rather as Piketty has done. However I would argue that when subject to test, then those theories become scientific. A good current popular case is Krugman's pushing of the IS-LM model that predicts low interest rates despite the increase in money supply. The monetarist theory is falsified in this case. Testing this both historically and cross-sectionally with different country policies to economic conditions should be able to falsify it. But economics is very "squishy", and it may be hard to pin down correct theories. Economics used to be a story telling profession until Samuelson made it more mathematical around the middle of the 20thC.

Biology can also be very squishy, especially when doing experiments on organisms, usually with relatively small numbers, and applying statistics to determine results. In practice, cherry-picking observations and incorrectly applied statistics result is a lot of poor science. Research on medical papers (particularly prone to bias) has shown that about 1/3 of all papers use the wrong statistics, and recently it was found that most cancer research published results are not reproduceable. Furthermore this PLOS essay suggests most published research is false. In the UK, physician Ben Goldacre has been waging a campaign about drug research that has been "compromised" by pharma funding. His last book about Big Pharma made my blood boil, and I used to be in that industry back in the early 1980's. It seems to have got much worse as the stakes have risen.

In a sense, PSB's comments about economics apply to much of industrially oriented science. We now have a vast army of scientists, many of whom are having to get funding from sources outside the government. So we get a problem of increased bias in the results, as well as an increasing amount of marginal fluff that is published to ensure an academic post. Ad in all that PR that institutions create and you get a huge amount of noise being pubished, most of it hyped or even just plain wrong.

Finally, that sexy new idea "Data Science" isn't a lot more than doing machine learning correctly. It is called a science, even though it is little more than extracting information outcomes with some chosen variables. To me that borders on scientism, rather than science, as there is no iteration to refine hypotheses of what is really driving the outcomes.

matthew said...

About four years ago, on the advice of someone (Sociotard? Jumper?) here, I entered the Forecasting World Events contest run by IARPA. After two years rated as a "Supercaster" (top 2% in my predictions) at FWE that program was stopped. The top forecasters were encouraged to join the winning iteration of the forecasting contest - The Good Judgment Project. I joined there, and did ok last year but not top 2%. This year is still uncertain how the rankings will come out as a bunch of questions resolve on June 1st.

IARPA seems to be done with the project, but the authors are taking Good Judgment into the commercial realm this year. I'm not sure of how they are going to commercialize the idea, but signups to be a forecaster are here:

I'm signing up to go forward, depending on how the "commercialization" plays out in the contract language.

My experiences with the project have been mostly positive, with some caveats - my team last year was comprised of interesting individuals and very little in the way of teamwork on forecasts. This year, I suspect I was part of a focus group on "what happens when we build a group with many members but no involvement." Out of 16 forecasters two of us performed 98% of the work. It has been a fascinating and fun process though. I've spent a great deal of time doing research on world affairs that I never would have looked at without the intervention of the GJP.

TL:DR - The group predictions forecasting registry that I told the group I'd join four years ago is going commercial and I have enjoyed my experience with the project so far. Signups at the link above if anyone is interested.

David Brin said...

Matthew I'd like to learn more about all this. Email me separately?

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: Popper’s hard line is mostly about the ‘objectivity’ of the data. We start with instruments that measure what we expect to be there (very subjective), but we hold to a set of customs that when followed by all of us produce derivative data that is mostly independent of the minds doing the processing. The end result is considered to be objective because of this independence. There are all sorts of ways to break these customs (cherry picking, lack of attention to good statistical hygiene, fuzzy categorizations, etc) that leave more than the fingerprints of the minds involved embedded in the data. Each science tends to have its own customs to address their peculiar needs and students spend time learning both as they learn the field.

I’m not trying to revisit the nonsense behind what is a hard or soft science. I’m pointing out that economics isn’t a science at all because there is no set of customs for reducing data that can remove the observer minds enough for the data to be judged as objective. There are some parts of the field that do better than others (e.g. econometrics), but economics is fundamentally about human actions and that means human judgments. It is inherently subjective, thus we cannot falsify the hypotheses we craft without getting caught up in a recursive loop that invalidates the effort. We might know when a theory is nonsense, but we have to use the traditional tools of argument and refutation used by philosophers to do it. The refinements available to science are only valid when we can avoid subjectivity.

And those variables we can’t control? They arise because of the subjectivity of the material. They are inside our fractal minds. Argument and refutation are powerful enough to address this space as we’ve learned over the generations. We don’t need to misapply the tools of science to make progress.

Alfred Differ said...

@Alex: My experience doing science taught me that science is not iterative. It looks a bit like it is, but the illusion fades if you look too closely at it. It is more accurate to describe it as evolving with the ‘generations’ looking like iterations. There is no clear goal and rarely a fitness function more sophisticated than the social reward we heap upon each other when we do it right and the blood-letting when we do it wrong. Fitness is measured by social reputation and our customs for reward only partially align with accurate predictions.

Ultimately I hold to two requirements for a subject area to be a science. One involves the customs for making objective information out of subjective data. The second involves the customs around the rigidity of falsification tests. Experiments that test a concept and offer support aren’t enough. What matters are the tests that destroy conceptual neighborhoods. The precession of Mercury’s apsidal line can be explained by General Relativity, but if starlight had failed to bend as it passed by the sun, GR would have been destroyed. Some other narrative would have replaced it. That doesn’t make GR correct. It means it survived a falsification attempt that would have killed it. Show me that kind of potential for economics theories and I’ll consider the field a science. Show me it is a science and I’ll use this to hammer climate skeptics even harder for their blindness and stupidity.

Alex Tolley said...

@Alfred - I agree with you that the actual practice of science does not match the Popperian ideal. Most papers provide a provisional hypothesis, then confirm that it isn't falsified. Rarely does a hypothesis then falsify another.

When teaching students biology, the hardest thing to get over is the idea that when they do a lab experiment, that they should think what hypothesis they are testing, even when the experiment is largely open to them to devise. I suspect that this carries over into professional work too, given what I have seen in commercial settings.

If we think of hypotheses as being in a landscape, science does seem to search for the best ones over time, leaving the false ones unoccupied by current thinking. Phlogiston would therefore be a hypothesis that would now be in a "truth valley" abandoned by occupation of "truth peaks". In some cases, e.g. Newtonian and Einsteinian theories of gravity, the "truth peaks" are separate, but both occupied as being correct (or at least useful) in the appropriate context.

I'm not quite as worried as you are about econ. In general I agree it is not a science. But I see this as more a process issue than one of too many variables. After all, biology is a science, but controlling all variables for a organism, e.g. a caged rat, is impossible. All you can hope is that the key variable you are testing, e.g. a drug, has a much greater effect than the others.
You can create economic experiments to test some ideas, but I agree that natural experiments are rare and few and far between, so reproduceability is difficult.

Duncan Cairncross said...

When teaching students biology, the hardest thing to get over is the idea that when they do a lab experiment, that they should think what hypothesis they are testing, even when the experiment is largely open to them to devise.

When working in engineering development I really struggled to get people to do that.

"‘objectivity’ of the data"
From my viewpoint the data used by people like Krugman and Piketty is pretty damn objective
You can argue that there are grey areas in things like employment numbers but as long as the same criteria are used for the different data sets is it any different than my numbers on "engines passing test"

Quality data is notorious for huge amounts of "fudge" and error
But by using a smidgin of common sense and large amounts of information we were able to drive costs way down
Economics is IMHO the same - maybe it should be called an engineering discipline and not a science
(In both cases the engineer/economist must somehow get his pointy haired boss or political master to actually permit him/her to apply the fix)

David Brin said...


siska said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
siska said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.