Friday. Link. Graph.

A. Good story here from Calah Alexander: Why you should let your kids take risks — especially when they might fail.

I’ve said that I’d never let my kids try a 10-day  (unsupervised European trip – ed) in college, because what if what could have been for me comes true for them? What if they get lost, or mugged? What if they make a poor decision, choose the wrong stop, and get stranded outside an airport in a blizzard? What if they need help and can’t find it?

That one major snafu on our 10-day happened at the end, when we missed our flight back to Rome because we got off the train at the wrong stop. The airport in Brussels wouldn’t let us spend the night inside, so we huddled against the building instead, trying to stay out of the snow. The only thing we had to eat was a backpack full of Cadbury chocolates that my roommate had gotten in London.

As a parent, this story is terrifying. But it’s one of my favorite memories. We made it back to Rome cold, tired, sick of Cadbury, but alive and newly aware of our own resilience (and of the importance of navigational skills).

Ironically, protecting our kids from the pain of failure is itself a failure. It’s failing to let them experience the life we know is coming at them, the life we can’t protect them from forever.

Real choices matter to the kid, are supported by the family, and have real consequences. Leave out any of those three things, and the choosing is an illusion.

One final thing to add: kids also need to see adults sticking with the results of their own decisions. If mommy and daddy are running away – from their responsibilities, their spouses, their own kids – it becomes pretty much a given that the kids will grow up into bitter, whiny irresponsible brats. We wouldn’t want that to happen.

B. Another chart showing something or other:

It’s from Pew, whose methodology is both widely respected and, to give them the benefit of the doubt,  hopelessly flawed. In general, unverified self reporting by the  sort of people willing to take polls, with no concern wasted considering if the responder is at all motivated to tell the truth. (1) The questions tacitly assume that the world really does fall into convenient polar positions on virtually every subject. Which would be really, really convenient – for pollsters. So don’t give Pew polls much weight, in general.

By happenstance, about the same time I saw this I read a quip somewhere, to the effect that ‘Sir,’ Ma’am,’ and ‘Thank you’ will get you farther than a bachelor’s degree. Had to wonder: what’s the overlap between those red bars above and people who would nod at the folk wisdom of that quip? I’d quibble that a bachelor’s in something real PLUS the proper use of sir, ma’am and thank you is the real winning strategy. Nevertheless, with Pew, is often not difficult to see which of the two either/or points of view they’re hammering the world into they want us to consider enlightened.

  1. I’ve wondered since the election about the reported 8% of blacks who voted for Trump. I believe the number was based on exit polls. Now, imagine, in the general atmosphere of the last election, if a black person would feel completely comfortable telling a stranger with a clipboard that he’d just voted for Trump. Not saying one way or the other about what the results show – just that the method used is ignoring a pretty big potential issue when it fails to account for social pressures, or just assumes they cancel out.

C. Something stupid for your possible amusement:

Something about rabbits and chickens, creatures with largely unearned reputations as pacifists, going all Wild West there’s-a-new-sheriff-in-town that cracks me up a little.  One struggles a little coming up with the proper Darwinian just-so story that explains such odd behavior away.  Why are the chickens not content to let the rabbits kill each other if they want to? Have they adopted them, somehow?

D. Apologies. This is plain stupid. This is what an adolescent sense of humor,  + <45 seconds of  web searching  + <10 minutes of  MS Paint will get you:

Female lawmakers ‘bare arms’ in sleeveless attire to support new House dress code

Bear Arms


On the other hand…

Related image
“That’s right, that’s right,” said the Chief Voice. “You don’t see us. And why not? Because we’re invisible.”
“Keep it up, Chief, keep it up,” said the Other Voices. “You’re talking like a book. They couldn’t ask for a better answer than that.” (VDT, Ch. 9)

We’re all Dufflepuds, pretty much, when you get down to it.

“Why, bless me, if I haven’t gone and left out the whole point,” said the Chief Voice.

“That you have, that you have,” roared the Other Voices with great enthusiasm. “No one couldn’t have left it out cleaner and better. Keep it up, Chief, keep it up.” (VDT, Ch. 9)

“Ah, you’ve come over the water. Powerful wet stuff, ain’t it?” (VDT, Ch. 10)

It helps to think of politics as an argument among monopods. Sure, there are a few really bad actors, people who would have been courtesans, flatters,  or assassins in previous ages, the kind of people looking for an opportunity to do the unspeakable so as to gain admittance to the halls of power.  Sometimes, they even do seize the reins, but even when they are stopped, rare is the monarch or tyrant – Charlemagne and St. Louis spring to mind – who is totally immune to their efforts.

Unfortunately, these are also the types deemed most newsworthy (a phrase that has seemlessly passed from ‘English’ to ‘Newspeak’).

But really, mostly we’re all Dufflepuds – I am mostly a Dufflepud – largely harmless and well-intentioned, spouting nonsense, following whatever happens to be moving.

The world is upside-down here versus The Land of the Duffers. There, a magician/angel is visible, and guides and protects the invisible Duffers with a big scoop of benevolent humor.

Image result for voyage of the dawn treader map
You are here. On the right, in the middle. Right. There. 

Here, we’re all visible, but what’s going on is invisible, humorless and not benevolent at all. Not one, but many invisible magician/angels fight over us, some, indeed, with humor and benevolence, but some lacking both.

We are the Dufflepuds, imagining our little world is ours, while Principalities and Powers, unimaginable in their glory and power, fight the eternal battle over us. Our God has died for us.

So, what are we supposed to be outraged over today? Did Trump say something stupid again? Any more Bernie supporters shooting up Republicans? (Because those two things are equally newsworthy – see above.)

Science! Look Close, Find Stuff

[Update: These pics of Juno’s approach from NASA really are dazzling, mysterious and beautiful.]

On some blogazine called Observer, we encounter the breathless and predictable headline:

NASA’s First Close-Up of Jupiter Is Shocking and Surprising Everyone on Earth

17 051 2 NASA’s First Close Up of Jupiter Is Shocking and Surprising Everyone on Earth
Some NASA pic of Jupiter, looking down on the its south pole.

Well, not *everyone* exactly. I, for one, have learned from a lifetime of experience that just about every time some space probe gets a close look at anything in the solar system, it finds that What We Thought Was Wrong! This has a lot to do with planets and moons and comets and stuff being really, really far away. When you’re looking at something from a couple hundred million miles away, it’s pretty likely you’ll miss some important details that will be evident once you get, say, “only” a million miles away. The probe that produced the picture was 52,000 kilometers away at the time – practically spittin’ distance – so I’d be shocked if it didn’t find cool new stuff. I would bet heavily that if, somehow, we got a look from inside Jupiter’s atmosphere or its solid surface, wherever and whatever that might be, we’d find out, again, the Much Of What We Thought Was Wrong! And act all surprised.

This is a tiny and relatively harmless example of Science! in action. NASA, whose political/public relations tail is always trying to wag its scientific dog, is going to try to drum up enthusiasm and gee-wiz us every chance it gets. For example: 

“We are excited to share these early discoveries, which help us better understand what makes Jupiter so fascinating,” said Diane Brown, Juno program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “It was a long trip to get to Jupiter, but these first results already demonstrate it was well worth the journey.”

One can hardly blame the program executive for pointing out her project was a success. That would be an essential part of the job. But that last sentence is telling: the probe has “already demonstrate it was well worth the journey.” A journey, it must be remembered that cost 1.1 billion taxpayer dollars.  By NASA standards, that a bargain, and, again, it is part of an executive’s job description to make the case that the project was worth the money.  It’s also part of the job of us taxpayers to wonder about that.

Me? I’m cool. Love me some Hubble pictures, I get very excited about the Webb, no matter how over budget it is. Space probes are cool, and comparatively cheap. I start getting concerned with manned missions that are projected to cost planetary-level investments, such as a trillion dollars or some such astronomical (heh) sum. That kind of money will attract the worst kind of attention from the most lamprey-like political players, and, being too big for any one country to swallow, will attract world-wide parasitic attention. It could easily end up as logically coherent and focused as the U.N.

And nobody wants that.

Frankly, I’d like to see a real space station where significant numbers of people live for years at a time, or a moon base, before we just throw people at Mars or whatever. Proof of concept. Ya know?

So, glad we’ve discovered all this interesting new stuff about Jupiter, just like we discover new stuff about anything we get a good long close look at for the first time. But keep your pants on.


Science! Attempts to Destroy Itself

And we should help. Here we go: Daryl Bem Proved ESP Is Real.  Money quote:

If you bought into those results, you’d be admitting that much of what you understood about the universe was wrong. If you rejected them, you’d be admitting something almost as momentous: that the standard methods of psychology cannot be trusted, and that much of what gets published in the field—and thus, much of what we think we understand about the mind—could be total bunk.

Of course, anyone sane and conversant in the scientific method would find the idea that “much of what you understood about the universe was wrong” to be nearly a truism, and “that the standard methods of psychology cannot be trusted, and that much of what … we think we understand about the mind—could be total bunk” to be a revelation on the order of “the sun rises in the East.”

These two ideas go together. While it is important – very important – to recognize that science, especially applied science, has produced a large number of very useful and valuable insights into how the world works, that’s not the same as thinking science has gotten to the bottom, or nearly to the bottom, of How Things Are. It is yet another truism that each scientific answer generates an unlimited supply of additional questions. This state of an ever-receding bottom is in addition to the metaphysical questions the answers to which are both essential to the very concept of science and outside the methods of science to answer.

Science should be a humbling exercise, the thrill of discovery balanced with the inescapable reality that there’s more to figure out than will ever be understood. While egomaniacs can be found in all areas of study, it seems there’s an overall bias: the softer the science, the more play there is for ego, the more ready people are to blow their own horn and take offense at legitimate questions.

Back to the article. There’s a useful recap of what happened in parapsychology in the late ’80s. James Randi had made a name for himself by showing, essentially, that parapsychologist are gullible rubes, or, more generously, that scientists are not trained to expect Nature to try to pull one over on them, leaving them vulnerable to frauds. With careers to consider and funding money on the table, this state of affairs must be addressed.

A raft of reforms were proposed and implemented. Experimenters were advised to be wary of the classic test for “statistical significance,” for example, since it could often be misleading. They should avail themselves of larger groups of subjects, so they’d have sufficient power to detect a real effect. They should also attempt to replicate their work, ideally in adversarial collaborations with skeptics of the paranormal, and they should analyze the data from lots of different studies all at once, including those that had never gotten published. In short, the field of parapsychology decided to adopt the principles of solid scientific practice that had long been ignored by their mainstream academic peers.

“the principles of solid scientific practice that had long been ignored by their mainstream academic peers.”  Let that sink in. Psychology is a field where Freud remains among the top handful of most cited sources. For those who have not had the pleasure of reading ol’ Siggy, he perfected and took to new extremes the approach of answering critics *of* his theories from *inside* his theories – typically, any attempt to point out flaws in his theorizing (and they are patent and legion) was answered by the accusation that the critic was obviously repressed. Jung counts on the same dynamic – reflexive dismissal of critics as simple unenlightened – but has vaguer, less vulgar theories and so appears nicer about it. And so, down the lineage of ‘great’ psychologists to this day.

Success in such an environment hinged more on titillating the undergrads and keeping a straight face than on anything remotely related to science.  All serious and fundamental criticism was summarily dismissed – it had to be, or we’d have never heard of these jokers, who, based on the merit of their theories alone, would hold the same intellectual position as Rosicrucians. Instead, they got paying gigs on the public teat at our great universities, and positions of influence over our young.

Not that things never changed. After Skinner and all the rat running (1), it became popular to use cook-book level statistical analysis in studies. To do this, one needs to assign numerical values to data, ignoring that much, maybe most, things that count as data in psychology do not admit of valid numerical values (on a scale of 1 to 5, how happy are you right now?). Low p-values became the ultimate validation that what you were doing was real, just like the real scientists.

Further, in order to get those p-values, it became common practice to follow many paths, ignore the ones that didn’t ‘work’ and report on those that did. This is an example of an old-style scam (not that the researchers were always aware that scamming was what they were doing – could be enthusiasm + ignorance): send a prediction to 1000 people on who will win that week’s big game – 500 predicting the home team, 500 predicting the away team. Next week, discard the 500 you got wrong, and send out 500 more to those you got right on this week’s big game – 250 predicting the home team, 250 predicting the away team. Repeat a few more times. Then send a note to the remaining people who have received an amazing string of predictions that proved right, saying you’ll send them predictions for the upcoming week for a mere $1,000. How could they resist? You’ve never been wrong before!

To Slate’s credit, this is all explained fairly well in the article.

Bern submitted a paper for publication to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the most prestigious and rigorous journal in his field. An E. J. Wagenmakers read it.

Wagenmakers finally managed to get through Bem’s paper. “I was shocked,” he says. “The paper made it clear that just by doing things the regular way, you could find just about anything.”


“Clearly by the normal rules that we [used] in evaluating research, we would accept this paper,” said Lee Ross, a noted social psychologist at Stanford who served as one of Bem’s peer reviewers. “The level of proof here was ordinary. I mean that positively as well as negatively. I mean it was exactly the kind of conventional psychology analysis that [one often sees], with the same failings and concerns that most research has.”

This was all happening way back in 2010. As a result, there is a movement to tighten up research practices. The article neither mentions nor have I read elsewhere any movement to disavow all findings under the previous method, after the manner in which companies recall batches of product that have poison in them. Calling this a ‘replication crisis’ is dramatically underselling the problem: we have a ‘this is a stinking pile and needs to be shoveled out of here’ crisis. But no one in the field will say that. Instead they will say limp-wristed things like ‘these issue call some earlier findings into question.’ Right. (2)

The article, which is in general commendable and full of useful information, still attempts early on the standard ‘science is hard’ spin I’ve found so often in places like fivethirtyeight: any inclination you might have toward dismissing the entire field of psychology must be resisted, because science is hard!

The replication crisis as it’s understood today may yet prove to be a passing worry or else a mild problem calling for a soft corrective. It might also grow and spread in years to come, flaring from the social sciences into other disciplines, burning trails of cinder through medicine, neuroscience, and chemistry. It’s hard to see into the future. But here’s one thing we can say about the past: The final research project of Bem’s career landed like an ember in the underbrush and set his field ablaze.

Note the not so subtle inclusion of medicine, neuroscience and chemistry as other fields that might be affected by these methodological problems. These three fields do not stand in the same relationship to scientific method as the the social “sciences”. If by neuroscience the author means the wild approaches that lead to MRI studies of dead salmon, then, yes, neuroscience is in exactly the position of psychology. Medicine, on the other hand, has always been a combination of art and science, and has always had a lunatic fringe very similar to mainstream psychology in its approaches and conclusions. But medicine also has results – epidemics prevented, successful surgeries, recoveries from formerly fatal conditions – much more measurable and important. Finally, chemistry is wonderful in that it either works or it doesn’t, so that if you make a claim with any real-world implications, incompetence and fraud will soon out.

No, Slate, there’s no chance this is “a passing worry or else a mild problem calling for a soft corrective.” Nor is it likely to have much effect on fields where hard, objective results are routinely demanded.

There is no replication crisis. There is a this is utter BS crisis, to be resolved once people in general conclude: the social sciences are purveyors of utter BS.

Why, yes, I am a little grumpy today. Why do you ask?

  1. Long quote from Feynman’s famous and oft quoted Cal Tech commencement speech:All experiments in psychology are not of this type, however. For example, there have been many experiments running rats through all kinds of mazes, and so on–with little clear result. But in 1937 a man named Young did a very interesting one. He had a long corridor with doors all along one side where the rats came in, and doors along the other side where the food was. He wanted to see if he could train the rats to go in at the third door down from wherever he started them off. No. The rats went immediately to the door where the food had been the time before.

    The question was, how did the rats know, because the corridor was so beautifully built and so uniform, that this was the same door as before? Obviously there was something about the door that was different from the other doors. So he painted the doors very carefully, arranging the textures on the faces of the doors exactly the same. Still the rats could tell. Then he thought maybe the rats were smelling the food, so he used chemicals to change the smell after each run. Still the rats could tell. Then he realized the rats might be able to tell by seeing the lights and the arrangement in the laboratory like any commonsense person. So he covered the
    corridor, and still the rats could tell.

    He finally found that they could tell by the way the floor sounded when they ran over it. And he could only fix that by putting his corridor in sand. So he covered one after another of all possible clues and finally was able to fool the rats so that they had to learn to go in the third door. If he relaxed any of his conditions, the rats could tell.

    Now, from a scientific standpoint, that is an A-number-one experiment. That is the experiment that makes rat-running experiments sensible, because it uncovers the clues that the rat is really using–not what you think it’s using. And that is the
    experiment that tells exactly what conditions you have to use in order to be careful and control everything in an experiment with rat-running.

    I looked into the subsequent history of this research. The next experiment, and the one after that, never referred to Mr. Young. They never used any of his criteria of putting the corridor on sand, or being very careful. They just went right on running rats in the same old way, and paid no attention to the great discoveries of Mr. Young, and his papers are not referred to, because he didn’t discover anything about the rats. In fact, he discovered all the things you have to do to discover something about rats. But not paying attention to experiments like that is a characteristic of cargo cult science.

  2. There are, of course, people who were thrilled at Bern’s results, and accepted them with unfiltered enthusiasm:  “But for Bem’s fellow members of the Parapsychological Association, the publication marked a great success. “He brought a lot of attention to the possibility that this research can be done, and that it can be done in a mainstream establishment,” says Marilyn Schlitz, a sociolinguist who studies psi phenomena and has an appointment at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, California.

Free Speech


Started another long winded post, decided to cut to the chase: Opposition to free speech is a necessary and standard position of Marxists, for 3 main reasons:

  1. Marxism relies for its truth claims on enlightenment, not argument. No one becomes a Marxist because a carefully-constructed string of logically valid and compelling arguments have convinced him it is true. Rather, one merely has one’s consciousness raised – gets woke – which really is a lot less trouble.
  2. Marxists believe there is no such thing as human nature. (1)  This is the bedrock belief that lies under modern feminism and gender theory, but is present in all critical theory.
  3. Thus, Marxists do not believe in inalienable rights. Individual rights, insofar as they can be said to exist at all, accrue to a person only insofar as that person has attained enlightenment, which enlightenment is measured solely by how well their beliefs agree with mine, so long as I’m a Marxist. Not a Marxist? Then you have no rights.

The first point is nothing more than Hegel viewed through Marx’s prism. Hegel, after surveying the logical wreckage of the line of philosophies beginning with Descartes (2) and ending with Kant, concluded that no philosophical progress could be made going down that road. He did admit that logic continued to be very fruitful as applied to science and math, for example, but thought it doomed to failure when applied to philosophy.  Thus, human knowledge was bifurcated: the little people, who were not capable of true philosophy, would continue to use logic to make the sort of real progress seen in applied science and math, while true philosophers would engage in a dialectic wherein logical contradictions are subsumed in the synthesis. In English, that means true philosophers are freed from the requirement of making any sense, but can just blithely plow ahead with their work, counting on the Spirit to validate the greater truth in which the contradictions of thesis and antithesis are held creative tension in the synthesis. Again, in English, the positions of true philosophers cannot be attacked for being unreasonable. That a true philosopher’s positions are self-contradictory is a feature, not a bug.

Marxists merely took this whatchamacallit – insight? Self-delusion? – and ran with it.  You can see this rejection of logic most clearly in the refusal of Marxists to consider any science that contradicts their positions. Instead, science, when it contradicts Marxism, is branded a social construct and a tool of patriarchal oppression, no more valid in its conclusions than any other social construct of oppression. The irony of making such statements over the internet, for example, is lost on them.

The idea of free speech, as in talking things over or even, goodness forbid, arguing out positions, is utterly incompatible with Marxist ideals. On a theoretical basis, it will not move the ball forward on the right side of History to let the unenlightened yammer on about the ideas they hold due to their false consciousness. More important, on a practical level, encouraging people to consider alternative points of view, even merely as an exercise in shooting them down, is far, far too dangerous for Marxists, who rely for their power on vast numbers of people accepting their premises without understanding them in the least. They need useful idiots, and rational discussion will only make them less idiotic – and therefore, less useful. Sure, most of those people will need to be purged once the glorious revolution is complete. But for now, they are indispensable.

The second point falls out naturally from the first. Human nature is the name we give to that collection of characteristics that define what a human being is. This includes both physical and behavioural characteristics. Thus, science concludes that Man is a bipedal, omnivorous mammal exhibiting strong sexual dimorphism. This dimorphism is necessarily both physical and behavioral: men and women, as observed in the real world, both look and behave differently in many important respects.

A feature of human nature as defined by observation of actual human being in the real world is that there is a very wide range of physical and behavioral characteristics found in any sizeable population of people. Nonetheless, generalizations are possible, both globally and in particular sub populations. There are, for example, roles and tasks across all cultures that are typically performed by either men or women, and for which physiologically, men or women are better suited. This observation remains non controversial in practice to this day – except to Marxists.

To appeal to human nature is to appeal to a shared reality against which one can measure one’s ideas. That is a path down which no Marxist will willingly go, as it requires logic and moves away from the primacy of enlightenment.

Finally, given the above, there’s no way a Marxist will support and believe in a right to free speech. The only necessary and allowed speech is speech required for the promulgation of dogmatic Marxism. Everything else is useless and worse than useless.

So Marxist are striving now to label any attempts at open discussion hate speech, and are desperate to keep it off the college campuses which are their strongholds. The useful idiots – and I, at age 19 or 20, was as much an idiot as today’s college students – must be kept useful. Letting them get into the habit of hearing out non-Marxist, let alone anti-Marxist ideas expressed logically is about the worst thing that could happen, as it tends to make them less idiotic and thus less useful.

As is so often the case with Marxism, the vehemence of their reaction to challenges is wildly out of proportion to what they claim to believe. The revolt of the masses and the coming of the Worker Paradise are supposed by Marx to be the inevitable result of the turning of the wheels of capital ‘H’ History. So, what’s to get all worked up about? Don’t Marxists trust their own dogma? I suppose that’s just another contradiction subsumed in a synthesis.

With their rejection of reason and their lightning-quick resort to violence both verbal and physical, Marxist reveal that what they’ve really embraced is not a coherent philosophy – Marxism is hardly that – but a childish revenge fantasy. The possibility that other people are not outraged not because they are not paying attention, but because they have better things to do is, itself, something they find outrageous.  There is also a very strong daddy issues aspect to every Marxist I’ve ever known personally. Still waiting to meet my first pleasant, happy-go-lucky Marxist.

We need to insist on and fight for free speech rights now, while the bulk of people have only unconsciously absorbed Marxist analysis and prescriptions. College student, who are not even aware that they have only heard one side of the story – and that their self-proclaimed betters are desperate to keep it that way – think the problems of the world are entirely the result of oppression, and that the solution to all the world’s problems is to simply remove the oppressors. They think this is a reasonable position held by all reasonable people. Free speech truly practiced stands a fighting chance of disabusing them of this nonsense. That’s why it is hated by Marxists, and why we have to fight for it now more than ever.

  1. This is why one so often finds Marxists flapping their arms and flying to the moon, holding their breath for months on end, and engaged in other activities that demonstrate the non-existence of human nature.
  2. Or maybe William of Ockham. I have not read him, but I hear he’s an anti-Realist or even Nominalist of some sort. Or with Luther and Calvin, who, while hardly philosophers, did start movements that people like Hegel felt a deep need to justify. Since the positions held by the great reformers cannot survive logical analysis, logical analysis has to go. Hegel just formalized the process.



Science! Secret Science Reform

It’s been too long since we’ve done any Science! here at YSotM. Let’s get to it!

Over at the grave and ponderous, yet jig-dancing John C Wright’s blog, a discussion broke out over Secret Science Reform:

“Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) reintroduced a bill known as the Secret Science Reform Act that would prohibit the EPA from “proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based on science that is not transparent or reproducible.”

Now, an appealingly innocent person, still moist aft of his auricular helices, might wonder why such a law would be needed, let alone controversial. Ha, we old guys gently guffaw. Here is what I posted there:

Eisenhower’s farewell address is remembered for his ‘military-industrial complex’ warning, a warning beloved in my youth by all opposed to any military growth or action, but strangely forgotten in the age of cruise missiles and drone strikes – at least, when it’s their guy doing the bombing. But in the very next section of that address:

“Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocation, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet in holding scientific discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.[1]”

In less flowery terms (if only our presidents spoke even this well!): he who pays the piper calls the tune. That’s why citizens should insist on honest, open and tested science, and carry an extra dose of skepticism toward the claims of government-funded science. While privately-funded science has its risks as well, there’s just vastly more money and power and thus more temptation and opportunity for abuse with government funding.

Image result for knife to the throat movie
Funny how suddenly logical and convincing your Science! has become, now that you can kill me. Or at least, kill my career.

Some, whose good intent we will of course assume, tried to make the point that transparency, and therefore replicability, is often not possible for areas where the EPA is called upon to rule. To this I replied:

I hardly know where to start, so let’s start at the beginning: an honest man owes loyalty to the truth, and thus owes a provisional loyalty to scientific findings because the represent an honest, open, tested effort to get closer to the truth of things.

Insofar as ANY of those conditions fail – the effort is not honest, or open, or tested – an honest man owesd NO loyalty to the claims. There is too much detail involved in showing how a nonspecialist can still offer criticism and judge the validity of a claim made in the name of science to cover in a comment, but let it suffice for now to point out that a little bit of philosophical education allows an honest man to judge the overall structure and nature of any claims made in almost all science even if he may not have the technical expertise to judge the details. There are things that might be true, but require X, and things that can’t be true because of Y. Our host has often explored issues of this type.

So, calling science on a claim when a) the political climate is charged (bringing honesty into question); b) the methods are hidden; and c) your critics cannot duplicate your results is, simply, FRAUD. No, personal and financial records don’t enter into it, as others have pointed out. No, you don’t get a pass because your work is so, so important that we need to act NOW. Tyrants always need to act now.

If the EPA is doing stuff where they HAVE TO make rulings but CANNOT reveal the science behind it, then those are exactly the activities an honest man and patriot wants stopped. Now.

So, still waiting for anything like a serious argument why the EPA needs the ability to, effectively, enact laws and bring the police power of the state to bear on people without having to first back it up with actual science. Then I remember (think I might have even blogged on it) a case where a True Believer rejected technological solutions to CO2 accumulation on the grounds that then we wouldn’t need a global totalitarian government – not in those exact words, of course, but that was the gist of the nub. I’m expecting that an argument along the same lines will be made for the requirement that the EPA show its cards and submit to scientific rigor before passing bans and shutting people down – because then it would not be able to ban stuff and shut people down unless they can prove it is necessary! Oh no!

Progress versus Progress

Progress with a small ‘p’ is like a certain kind of good story, one with a clear beginning, middle and end, where things are left better in some way than they were at the beginning. A protagonist is faced with a problem or challenge – the beginning – and takes action and faces challenges – the middle – until a state in some way better is achieved – the end.

An example – and it is typical of such small ‘p’ progress that the example is small and personal – is my front porch. The Beginning: the 1940s vintage concrete slab that lead from the driveway to the small concrete porch had been lifted a good 4-5 inches by walnut roots, making it something of a trip hazard. The porch itself is ugly, if inconspicuously so. The Middle: plans were made – we could take out the concrete path and replace it with brick (after removing the ancient walnut tree that caused the uplift) and clad the porch itself in matching brick. It would be much more level and attractive. Of course, this involved Plot Complications: hiring professionals to take down the tree, gathering bricks (with Craig’s list, and a lot of elbow grease, bricks are ‘free’) and taking out the slab (21 year old son, a strapping, clean limbed and clean living young man, volunteered and did it, Abe Lincoln style), cleaning out the offending roots, for which the 13 year old son volunteered. (Daddy is pushing 60 hard – my sledge and axe swinging days are behind me. To 21 and 13 year old suburban punks, it sounds like fun – which it is, in small doses, when you’re young).

The Caboose, swingin’. This path/porch thing is a sub-project to the grander 4 year Front Yard Project, of which the foreground bricks and potting soil are a further sub-project.

The End, which I’ll need a week or two more to finish, will be a pretty and more useable front walk and porch.

That’s how small ‘p’ progress works. Somebody notices a problem or opportunity, enlists the aid of others in finding and executing a solution, and then executes it. Having fixed one thing, people will then have the opportunity to work on something else. Multiply this process by millions and spread it over centuries, and you have accounted for much of what sane people mean by progress – things getting a little better over and over again. Small ‘p’ progress doesn’t solve, and doesn’t pretend to solve, giant problems. But it gets a septic tank put in, a road paved, a house built and a garden laid out. It is of such things as these that real progress is made.

Small ‘p’ progress is the only sort of progress that works.  Capital ‘P’ Progress, on the other hand, doesn’t have a Beginning, a Middle and an End. Problems to be addressed by believers in Progress are always described in the most vague terms possible: the problem is Injustice, or Oppression, or Bigotry or some other amorphous and fluid thing. No end is really an end, but is rather only another step on a road to – someplace. A Progressive is in favor of making Progress without making much of anything else.

Example – and it is typical of such capital ‘P’ Progress that the examples are large, the goals vaporous but high-sounding, and the end indefinite and unmeasurable – health care reform. Eight years ago, something like 42 million Americans did not have health insurance, and the cost of health care was increasing every year. Note that often the problem or challenge was phrased, not as “how do we provide health insurance to these 42 million people?” but rather as “Healthcare is broken and we must do something!”

It was continually asserted that one way healthcare was broken was in ever-increasing costs. Note that ever-increasing costs are also characteristic of education, and of government in general. Somehow, schooling and government are not characterized as broken, at least, not by the same people who describe medical care that way. No serious attempt at controlling education or government expenses is ever made. In those cases, the only solution is to add more money – this is the simple historical fact.

Thus, the year the ACA took effect, when we had our annual health insurance review at work (we’re an odd company – we bring in a pro every year to explain to us what’s going on with our health insurance), the woman whose job it is to understand what’s going on mentioned in passing that there were, effectively, no cost control measures in the ACA. Events have since shown this to be true.  Just as with education and government in general, the solution to increasing costs is to merely shovel more money at the problem. This creates a moral hazard, to put it mildly- why not see how high you can raise prices, when the buyer is likely to pay you no matter what? That’s how you end up with $60K/yr undergrad education and $1,000 hammers. Under what theory would healthcare be any different?

We start  with a gigantic ill-defined problem, propose actions which do not address even the problem as defined, and end up – where, exactly? With better healthcare, in general or in particular? How? For whom? The number of uninsured people has decreased less than a third, leaving nearly 30 million uninsured. Costs continue to rise. And this is setting aside that only the seriously math impaired could believe this model is sustainable.

There seems to be a counterexample for every example of improvement. For example, the people in my company were well satisfied with our insurance coverage, yet had it yanked out from under us and changed into something we like less. This seems to be a common occurrence. We weren’t being asked to sacrifice for the common good – there’s no logical connection between making coverage people were happy with illegal and providing coverage to the uninsured. If there were, then all those union and government plans exempted from the ACA rules would need to change as well – and they weren’t. (1)

A practical person in favor of small ‘p’ progress would first ascertain *why* people don’t have insurance, to see if, in fact, people not having insurance is ever or always a problem that can or should be solved. Maybe it’s a bunch of different problems, maybe it changes over time for different people. Maybe some people don’t want to pay for health insurance. Maybe there are lots of different causes that cannot be addressed with a blanket solution. Small ‘p’ progress could be made by identifying and addressing as many different problems as could be addressed with comparatively small projects with definite ends. At that point, we’d stand a better chance of seeing what, if anything, is left that requires vast action.

But such an approach would never be tolerated, even though it has worked – it is very nearly the only thing that has ever really worked – repeatedly throughout history. The mere existence of healthcare is the result of some medieval men and women deciding to care for the sick right there in front of them, organizing others to help, getting some buildings, and – caring for the sick. The descendants of these men and women brought this concept to America, where it spread. That’s how we get so many Mercy or St. Mary’s or St. Luke’s Hospitals, Methodist, Baptist and Jewish Hospitals, and how the major clinics got founded. As we got richer, collectively, and technology improved, hospitals became more professional – and more expensive. (Something rarely noted: if we would accept 1960s level health care, then providing it to all uninsured people would be a simple and cheap program. It’s the fancy stuff that costs, almost all of which has been developed in the last 60 years.)

But as in all things made by man, even the best things, healthcare falls short. It is rarely noticed that it mostly fall short where it has fallen away from its roots. The poor are made to wait in the emergency rooms of the county hospitals, when the Sisters of Mercy used to take in everyone who showed up; fancy clinics with state of the art care charge vast sums to whomever can pay them, drawing their customers from distant lands – a feature as much of English socialized healthcare as of American private healthcare.

In a flat moral universe, failure to be perfect is perfect failure. Thus, America can have the best health care for the largest number of people of any nation in the history of the world, which it objectively does, yet that’s not good enough. (2) The methods by which we got the best healthcare in the world have not produced perfect healthcare, and thus must be abandoned in favor of methods that brought the world Soviet health care (3).

To the true believers and useful idiots, the ACA is Progress. The ACA *IS* affordable healthcare, and opposing or even questioning the concrete law is, to them, hating the poor and wanting them thrown out on the street to die. It simply doesn’t matter what the details are, or even if they actually do anything that they were sold as doing. Pelosi understood her audience when she said we’d need to pass the law to see what’s in it. To supporters, the ACA was not just some bill that would do some particular things in good or poor ways – the ACA was in fact affordable healthcare itself! For doers, for the little people who make small ‘p’ progress every day, such a claim is sheer insanity. But years and years of government education and concomitant social pressure has made the insane seem real to an alarming number of people.

Finally, the small people doing small things that add up to big improvements over time require the freedom and rights to do those things. My little porch project is improving my house, yes, but also my neighborhood. Judging by comments I’ve gotten while laying bricks out front, these little projects can help inspire others to undertake their own little improvements. It’s not much, but, over time, a million such projects end up making for a prettier, neater place to live. Capital ‘P’ Progress invariably consists of forcing many people to do things they would rather not do. To Progressives, this trade-off is invisible: millions of small acts are wiped out in order for a big thing to happen, in the same way that the $20M spent by a million individuals $20 at a time is invisible, but the $20M in tax dollars spent on some pet project or other is a triumph. To a Progressive, there is simply no trade off at all! Individuals are assumed to waste their money, while sweetness and light rule government expenditures.

Orestes Brownson’s observation about the inappropriateness of government schools applies here as well: such behavior would be acceptable under the premise that the wisdom of the nation resides in its leaders, but is wholly unacceptable in America, where the nation is founded on the principle that the the wisdom of the nation resides in the people.

  1. For the sake of this example we’re pretending the ACA isn’t just a massive governmental power grab. Described that way – honestly, in other words – it works just great.
  2. Healthcare is not fungible. Getting your health care at John Muir or Stanford medical center is not the same as getting it in a county hospital, let alone the same as getting it in a clinic in Brazil.
  3. And before throwing Sweden out as the counterexample, note that wealthy Americans go to the Mayo Clinic, or John Hopkins or Stanford when they want the best care, not to Stockholm. Follow the money.