Imagine the following scenario. Two guys are walking down the street, in different cities. Guy A has two PhDs, one in quantum physics with a focus on dimensionality dynamics, the other in astrophysics with a focus on relativistic aspects of gravity and black holes. She has published dozens of peer reviewed papers on both topics and is a brilliant mathematician. Guy B never took a physics class but yesterday he finished reading large parts of The Elegant Universe. Suddenly, at the same moment, they each have an idea (they do not have the same idea … they have different ideas) about how to unify quantum level and cosmic level dynamics.

For reasons that I’ll leave out of this thought experiment (because I can’t think of any) the two of them … Guy A and Guy B … become the sole denizens of a short list of possible keynote speakers at the International Union of Physicists Congress, a major meeting held every five years, and that everybody who is anybody in the field goes to. Both guys spent weeks developing the idea they had at the beginning of this parable and are ready and willing to spend an hour regaling the gathering with their thoughts and conclusions.

You are a tax-paying American Citizen and it turns out that the expenses associated with the keynote speaker for this important gathering of scientists are covered by a grant form the National Science Foundation. Including the speaker’s fee, travel expenses, etc., American Taxpayers are about to spend $15,000 on this talk.

You get to vote for who gives the talk. Guy A vs. Guy B. Which would you pick, given the information provided so far?

There are ways in which I could have formulated this parable, leaving out the fact that it was a talk and making it, say, people making comments on a blog post, and other features where the negatives of a bad decision are reduced. Or I could have shifted the nature of the setting from something important-seeming but also esoteric to something more day-to-day, like which guy’s theory gets taught in the AP High School physics class. How would these shifts in context change your decision as to which person’s theory you’d want to hear, if you could only chose one? What if you, an IT manager or English teacher (or some other non-physicist) could choose to hear both, and after you heard both you were not sure which was more likely correct but had to vote in a non-binding poll about it … which would you pick as more likely to be correct? Which would you pick as more valid, or would you say that both are somehow equally valid?

You’ve heard of the arguments about “argument from authority.” Argument from authority is the assertion that a particular idea is valid specifically because an arbitrary label of authority is linked to the person (or institution) making the argument. The arbitrary linkage of authority to a person or thing does not, in fact, validate or improve the rationality or accuracy of an argument put forth by that person or thing. Argument from authority (defined as such) is invalid.

But, we often see the “argument from authority” argument used to squash arguments that are not really arguments from authority. In the scenario given above, there is a difference between Guy A and Guy B that strongly indicates that Guy A’s ideas are potentially worth listening to, while Guy B’s are not. If we needed to pick between the two, especially at some cost, we’d pick A. Also, if we could, with little cost, hear both but still wanted to pick between the two (just for the fun of it) we’d be better off going with Guy A. It is possible that you don’t agree with what I just said. If you don’t, please indicate in the comments why I’m wrong. Just remember, though. I went to Harvard.

Now, please consider an entirely different issue (and when I say “entirely different” I mean “connected in a way that may not be immediately clear”). consider how decisions are made about how to do things in education. Like what to teach in an American classroom about evolution, or how to manage field trips or how to schedule lunches and classrooms. Whatever. How should such decisions be made? By a single authority in Washington DC? By the state that the school is in? By the district, or the individual school? Or the teacher?

There is a strong feeling in US civics as well as among those interested in education that the more local the decision is made, the better the decision will be. This is probably true in many areas. I remember years back when my father was involved in fights over regulation and public housing, and he showed me a project in Arizona and a project he was doing in New York … each adapted to local conditions of climate, urban setting, etc. to optimize the use of resources for heating and cooling, and each project disallowed by Federal Housing Authority regulations written by people who apparently lived in Virginia and had no clue as to how to build a building in a cold climate or a hot climate. Local conditions were not accounted for by those regulations, but local conditions mattered a lot.

On the other hand, is it really the case that there is a local way to teach evolution? Well, yes…. I have a colleague who is totally into everybody teaching evolution by using, in part, studies of diversity of ants in the school yard. Which is great and I love that program. But I know of schools that have no dirt in the yard, and if they do, it is considered unsafe to dig in. I know of schools in habitats where the real diversity is not in ants but in some other organism. So evolution + looking for stuff outside + diversity = good pedagogy, but not necessarily with ants. So, a combination of nationally or internationally conceived and executed programs and local adaptation works.

There are people who argue that the decision of whether evolution is a valid set of theories or should be taught along side creationism, etc, should be a local one. Why? The “logical” reason to think this is that the more local the decision the better it is. Which, I am trying to point out here, is a fallacy. The “real” reason people try to push that idea is that it is politically easier to intimidate, cajole, convince, and trick people into doing what you want them to do if you get secretly organized first, then appear on the scene unexpectedly in a small group or polity, then push for what you want and get it in place before anyone at a larger geographical scale knows what you are up to. And this approach exploits the widespread (but incorrect) belief that “local control” is better.

So what do Guy A and Guy B and local control have to do with each other? Well for one thing, with respect to any issue, as you go from cosmopolitan to local, the number of Guy A’s available goes down, but you don’t run out of Guy B’s until you get to a very small number. Every week in the United states numerous local level actions or ordinances are invalidated by courts because they are unconstitutional. Only a small percentage of state and an even smaller percentage of national laws are struck down by courts. Scale matters in different ways for different things. A thousand committees may come up with a hundred good ideas while one committee may be useless. But there is no need for the forty thousand public high schools in the US to come up with their own list of key facts in teaching evolution, especially when the process of doing so leaves open the possibility of a political fight each time.

I see a version of local empowerment and the demand that each individual’s opinion … a kind of democratization of point of view … in denialist movements. When Pat Buchanan insisted to Andrea Mitchel the other day on MSNBC that “We don’t happen to accept this evidence … global warming is not proven to us” he meant, by “us,” not some group of climate scientists but rather members of a political movement that claims popularism (even though it is owned by the financial elite) known as the Republican Party. He was referring to the Teabaggers. I think if you asked the average Teabagger, “Is your opinion on global warming as valid as some MIT professor of climate studies?” the Teabagger would say “Yes it is, dammit!” and if you asked why you would hear a populist strum and draw of one kind or another. But the Teabagger would be wrong.

The ways in which this is embodied among denialists varies. The “Mommy Instinct” empowers individual women, if they are mommies, to know as much as the AMA about what is medically good for their child. Home schoolers know that they understand both the contents and the pedagogy of all of the subjects taught in school better than anyone else. “Fooled me once, fooled me twice” references to Malthusian arm waving on this very blog appeal to a personal sense of having been put upon as a reason why one might be correct about the complexities of climate modeling. And so on.

Perhaps people tend to trust the members of their own tribes more than they trust outsiders with more evidence. Perhaps denialism is even simpler than that: Perhaps people get some idea at one point in their lives and can’t bear to see it challenged. Perhaps “knowing” (believing, feeling strongly) that something is or is not true can be a matter of trust. The difference between a denialist and a skeptic may end the end be a difference between well placed trust and misplaced trust. How does one know whom to trust?

Comments

  1. #1 Lynn Wilhelm
    December 14, 2009

    Thanks for this post, Greg.
    Personally, I’d choose Gal A with no other info and the chance to only hear one. However, I’d like to hear Guy B as well–you never know when someone’s got something worthwhile to say. Then both would need to back their ideas up with evidence.

    The problem is that many people don’t want to take the time to examine the evidence–or at least corroborate it with expert opinions. I don’t have time to study all of the evidence for evolution, but after lots of blog following, I know where to turn for those expert opinions. It no longer takes that much digging.

    You are so right on the “local is better” thoughts. I definitely think there is a “divide and conquer” mentality–though maybe not always planned. Though planned often enough to be scary.

    Is the anti-intellectualism in this country going to get out of control? Has it already?

    The climate, vaccine and evolution deniers do pride themselves on knowing more than the experts.
    I’m an “expert” in my field–landscape design and horticulture–but I deal with so many people who think they know more about the subject than I do. It’s certainly frustrating.

  2. #2 Erin K
    December 14, 2009

    I think part of the issue with deciding who to trust is that people also trust themselves and their own experiences very strongly. It’s much easier to dismiss information that doesn’t match your experience as incorrect even if that information comes from Guy A, especially when the participants are emotionally charged–like they are in alleged but scientifically unsupported autism-vaccine link.

    Those same people may be perfectly willing to trust the exact same Guy A when their experience supports Guy A’s ideas on something else, but they take their own experience as all the evidence they need to make a decision about who to trust, and the scientific validity of making their decision that way never even comes into it.

  3. #3 Aquinas Dad
    December 14, 2009

    you wrote;
    “The “real” reason people try to push that idea is that it is politically easier to intimidate, cajole, convince, and trick people into doing what you want them to do if you get secretly organized first, then appear on the scene unexpectedly in a small group or polity, then push for what you want and get it in place before anyone at a larger geographical scale knows what you are up to.”

    Really? Local leaders and residents are better able to “…intimidate, cajole, convince, and trick people into doing what you want them to do…” than remote, near-anonymous people/groups that have potentially no local accountability? So the local school board is less accountable than the federal department of education?

    Pull the other one!

    you wrote;
    “I think if you asked the average Teabagger, “Is your opinion as global warming as valid as some MIT professor?” the Teabagger would say “Yes it is, dammit!” and if you asked why you would hear a populist strum and draw of one kind or another. But the Teabagger would be wrong.”

    Ummmm – why? Why does an MIT professor of, say, materials engineering, have an opinion “better” than another person’s? What if that MIT professor was a dedicated rosicrucian – does that devalue his opinion below, say, another prof who is a Reform Jew? And is the Jewish professor’s opinion ‘lesser’ than that of an atheist professor’s? And what if that teapartier was, oh, a person with a degree in organic bio from Smith? *Then* who has a valuable opinion? And who decides?

    You?

    you continue;
    “The “Mommy Instinct” empowers individual women, if they are mommies, to know as much as the AMA about what is medically good for their child.”

    Well, the British NHS study from 1999 discovered that mothers with more than one child were often more accurate in diagnosing illness in their own children than trained medical personnel….

    you continue;
    “Home schoolers know that they understand both the contents and the pedagogy of all of the subjects taught in school better than anyone else. ”

    and, of course, children that are homeschooled continue to academically outperform their public- and private school peers even when controlling for race, income, etc.

    I think you need better examples of how an appeal to authority is valid!

  4. #4 Joshua Zelinsky
    December 14, 2009

    Greg, you make a valid point but I don’t think you explicitly hit on the real logic justifying such distinctions.

    The key issue is that from a perspective of formal logic who Guy A and Guy B are don’t matter. Similarly, for the Teabagger and the MIT prof. But what we are doing here isn’t formal logic. It is a heuristic. There’s too much information in the world for each of us to specialize in every single bit of it. So we rely on specialists and heuristics that certain classes of specialists are more likely to actually have some idea of what they are talking about than non-specialists. This isn’t an appeal to authority problem because it is functioning as a heuristic rather than argument.

  5. #5 Elipson
    December 14, 2009

    Aquinas Dad you bring up four arguments which to me seem a little strange.

    Argument 1:
    It *can* be easier to manipulate a small group of local people, rather then a big government project. Just look at the Creation vs. Evolution debate. There has been very little effort to get evolution excluded on a federal level, because the Creationists know they won’t be able to push it through under that kind of scrutiny.

    Sometimes the slow process time and heavy media attention is a good thing.

    Argument 2:
    If a person has any kind of scientific degree, be it biology, mathematics or whatever, *will* lend credibility to his or her name. That does not mean I will take that person by their word about everything. But it does mean that I will assume they have some kind of understanding of science and mathematics. If you want to debate something as complex as say evolution or climate change, you need to be able to make it clear that you are able to at least partially understand the very complex scenarios within those fields. Mindlessly attacking one minor part of a complex model isn’t all that impressive.

    I’ll just ignore your straw man argument on religion and perspective…

    Argument 3:
    Would you mind supplying a source for this NHS study?
    Even if you can’t supply a source, it doesn’t seem at all impossible that a mother might be better at diagnosing minor diseases in their children. Considering the time spent with a child, and the insight into the child’s behaviour, I would assume that a mother would be able to detect signs of trouble before a doctor could. But that surely does not mean that the mother is better at making medical decisions for her child, just because of this skill.

    That would be like arguing that if I wanted to analyse an electrical circuit, I go talk to a user of the appliance, rather then the engineer who designed the circuit.

    Argument 4:
    I’d very much like a source on this! As far as I am aware, there is no national survey or studies of children who were homeschooled vs. public school children. I’d very much like to see such a study.

    Best Wishes
    Elipson

  6. #6 D. C. Sessions
    December 14, 2009

    The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.

    By all mans put your money on the slow and feeble and I’ll cover your bet.

  7. #7 Russell
    December 14, 2009

    So on climate science, Al Gore would be an example of “Guy B”?

  8. #8 D. C. Sessions
    December 14, 2009

    Russell:

    So on climate science, Al Gore would be an example of “Guy B”?

    Sort of. After all, he didn’t come up with any original ideas, he just popularized the science. However, granting arguendo your comparison, that’s why climate denialists spend far more effort attacking him (not what he says, just him) than on Hansen.

  9. #9 jdhuey
    December 14, 2009

    It seems to me that a more parsimonious explanation of Global Climate Change Denialism is that accepting that GCC is happening and accepting that it is the result of human activity means that we are going to have to change our activities (and most likely in a painful way). It is human nature to simply reject that a bad thing is going to happen if it is far off in time or will happen to other people. Rejecting that GCC is something that we caused and rejecting all attempts to mitigate the impact protects our psyche from the moral implications. If we accept that GCC is real and do nothing (because to do something is painful) and other people suffer horribly then that would make us evil – but we can not accept that we are evil and since we can’t bring ourselves to do the painful things, then the only logical conclusions is that GCC is not real (or if real, not something we can do something about.)

  10. #10 NewEnglandBob
    December 14, 2009

    Elipson, thanks for putting Aquinas Dad’s nonsense in perspective.

    Greg, well put, even for someone who “went to Harvard”, which we can forgive :)

    Last week I drove down to Cambridge and parked on Brattle street, walked down past the square and “went to Harvard” across the street.

  11. #11 D. C. Sessions
    December 14, 2009

    Distractions from Greg’s main point aside, his counter to “local is always better” isn’t to say that “centralized is always better” either, even outside of the counterexamples he provides.

    Sometimes it just comes down to leaving room for experimentation. Alas, we seem to alternate between “one size fits all” programs where it’s damn near impossible to assess relative effectiveness and “experiments” so poorly designed and monitored that we still don’t learn a damn thing.

    Federalism is a great idea — someday we’ll figure out how to do it.

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    December 14, 2009

    Joshua: I’m not seeing the difference between what you are saying I should have said and what I did say.

    Aquinas Dad; BINGO!

  13. #13 Pen
    December 14, 2009

    I’m sure guy A got to be the worthwhile expert she is by studying hard at Harvard or MIT or some such place, then applying her knowledge in real situations for a while, yes? Probably she is qualified to teach the subjects she has studied and worked on?

    Well then, you’d think those homeschooling mommies, nearly all of them graduates of public education, to high school level or more, having knocked around the world at bit, using their knowledge, would be qualified to teach kiddies to read, write and add up.. and even (shock, horror) evolution to a level expected of 16-18 year olds. It doesn’t say much for the public schools if they can’t.

  14. #14 William
    December 14, 2009

    I want to hear what Guy A thinks about what Guy B has to say. (Which is why I show up here at scienceblogs.)

  15. #15 Stephanie Z
    December 14, 2009

    Pen, I don’t remember my public schools covering lesson plans or compensating for learning disabilities–you know, teaching education. Did yours?

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    December 14, 2009

    Russel: No, Al Gore is not Guy B, or Guy A. The purpose of the parable was to provide a thought experiment for the specific intended indicated purpose, not to provide a model into which everybody (or even most people) would fit.

    Pen, if I understand you correctly, I would deeply disagree … getting a high school diploma does not give you the skills to teach high school, and getting a college degree in some subject does not give you the skills to teach any particular subject, though one may or may not be able to address the subject you learned.

    A dentist gets less school that I got earning an MA and a PhD. By your logic, I can fix your teeth. In fact, I can do a lot of things with your teeth with my PhD in biological anthropology. But the first thing I’d do is boil your skull for a couple of days, let the bugs have at you for a few weeks, then I’d pull them out and label and number them and then start in with the calipers … But fix them? No.

  17. #17 Comrade PhysioProf
    December 14, 2009

    There is a big difference between appeal to authority and using heuristics to try to determine how likely a given individual is to be full of shit or not.

  18. #18 MadScientist
    December 14, 2009

    Some people just never learned to think and they’re as thick as planks. I’m sure most people have seen the sort of behavior – and all over the planet too – “Oh NO!, That’s not how it’s done, this is how we were taught.” “That will never work.” and so on. Inability to think = incompetence. Of course, the people who know the least think they know everything.

  19. #19 Greg Laden
    December 14, 2009

    But let’s not forget that sometimes tradition is valuable:

    http://quichemoraine.com/2009/06/the-hurricane-lantern-effect/

  20. #20 D. C. Sessions
    December 14, 2009

    Well then, you’d think those homeschooling mommies, nearly all of them graduates of public education, to high school level or more, having knocked around the world at bit, using their knowledge, would be qualified to teach kiddies to read, write and add up.. and even (shock, horror) evolution to a level expected of 16-18 year olds. It doesn’t say much for the public schools if they can’t.

    Knowledge doesn’t preserve all that well. At best there’s a bit of erosion over time.

    You’re either building it up, or losing it. I know damn well that no matter how well I paid attention to Bob Finkbine forty-plus years ago, I couldn’t pass one of his geography exams today. Far less teach the subject.

    US primary and secondary education is predicated on the idea that teachers can learn enough more than they’re expected to teach that the cracks won’t show too badly. Sometimes it works.

  21. #21 MattXIV
    December 14, 2009

    Greg,

    You’re actually indulging the ad hom fallacy here by conflating the arguments about the person (who is more likely to be correct) with the argument about the theory (which of the two theories, if either, are actually right). While a person with relevant background knowledge, the specific argument being advanced exists independent – a 30 second summary of Guy A and Guy B’s theories would be far more useful in discerning which of them if any has merit than any information about their backgrounds. Given your premise the most likely outcome is that both of them are wrong because whenever anybody claims to have solved a major outstanding problem in physics, skepticism is warranted until the goods are seen.

    Heuristic evaluation is useful but only as long as you recognize you are blindly defering to someone else’s judgement when you use it – it simply doesn’t speak to the underlying arguments. If you don’t have time to evaluate arguments on a given matter, it’s better than flipping a coin, but saying “But Prof Y disagrees with you” does not in any shape, way, or form address the substance of an argument. Heuristic evaluation is also unreliable in the face of the well-credentialed contrarian or the auto-dictat. Who would you believe on global warming – the MIT professor or a law school dropout with a BA in poli sci?

    Heuristic evaluation is not a path to an informed opinion on an issue, it’s a time saving method when you can’t/don’t want to take the time to form an informed opinion. This also means that if you answer someone arguing the theory with a heuristic evaluation of the theory’s proponents or opponents, they’re entirely right to claim that you’re not making a substantiative argument.

    Also, what’s with the decision to assign genders to your abstract persons? Normally that’s something that would be avoided when raising abstract scenarios to avoid triggering gender-related attitudes.

  22. #22 David Marjanović
    December 14, 2009

    Off-topic: was that a glitch, or can a she really be a guy now and I’ve failed to keep up with the evolution of the English language? I’m after all not a native speaker and sitting in an armchair in France. ~:-|

  23. #23 David Marjanović
    December 14, 2009

    (I hasten to add that I know about you%20guys, the plural of you. But that’s not the same phenomenon.)

  24. #24 Stephanie Z
    December 14, 2009

    David, it’s part language engineering and part language evolution. It will raise some eyebrows in native English speakers, but we’ll accept it from there.

  25. #25 Joshua Zelinsky
    December 14, 2009

    Greg, I think I’d just put more explicit emphasis on the difference between an informal argument and a heuristic.

  26. #26 becca
    December 14, 2009

    “In the scenario given above, there is a difference between Guy A and Guy B that strongly indicates that Guy A’s ideas are potentially worth listening to, while Guy B’s are not.”
    Actually, I don’t know if this was intentional, but in the scenario given above there is substantial evidence that suggests that Guy A’s are potentially worth listening to, while there is only minimal evidence that Guy B’s are. There is no evidence that Guy B’s ideas are *NOT* worth listening to. I’m with Lynn Wilhelm on this one.

    “How should such decisions be made? By a single authority in Washington DC? By the state that the school is in? By the district, or the individual school? Or the teacher?”
    What about by the students themselves?

    “Home schoolers know that they understand both the contents and the pedagogy of all of the subjects taught in school better than anyone else.”
    More like, homeschoolers know that they understand both the capacities and the interests of the students better than anyone else.
    If there are some New Yorkers that do not have blueprints for the Taj Mahal, that does not imply their knowledge of New York is not applicable to their building.

    The problem with centralization is that it would work better if when there is a Guy A in the crowd, she’ll be listened to. Guy B does a lot more harm as US secretary of education than as a single local school board member. That is one reason people advocate for local decisions- everyone thinks they’re Guy A (or at least bright enough to listen to her) and they can at least make sure things are done right in their area.

    “As far as I am aware, there is no national survey or studies of children who were homeschooled vs. public school children. I’d very much like to see such a study.”
    Unfortunately, much of the research is old and poorly controlled (as many states do not require testing, there are lots of ways more poorly performing homeschooled students might not be counted). HOWEVER, there is *SOME* data…
    http://www.amazon.com/Strengths-Their-Own-Characteristics-Longitudinal/dp/0965755401
    http://www.hslda.org/docs/study/ray1997/04.asp

    [Homeschooled K-12 science average on nationally normed standardized test- 84% (public school = 50%)]
    Now watch, as everybody ignores the data…

  27. #27 Greg Laden
    December 14, 2009

    Matt: Non in the context of the problem at hand. A 30 second argument … from each as a sort of resume to decide which speaker to engage … about the most elusive problem in physics is most certainly NOT going to do it. The full speech is not likely to do it. That both are wrong does not follow from my premise. A heuristic evaluation is explicitly NOT blindly following someone else’s judgment. Which is also the point. (And I’m using the word heuristic here because you used it, I would not have chosen that word.) You are correct to say that if “Prof Y disagrees it does not address the substance of the argument” but that is beside the point.

    Heuristic evaluation is not a path to an informed opinion on an issue, it’s a time saving method when you can’t/don’t want to take the time to form an informed opinion

    And this is different from what I said how?

    Also, what’s with the decision to assign genders to your abstract persons? Normally that’s something that would be avoided when raising abstract scenarios to avoid triggering gender-related attitudes.

    I find it interesting that this bothers you. I rarely avoid triggering gender related attitudes. This is a blog, after all. Welcome to Sodom and Gamorrah!

  28. #28 David
    December 14, 2009

    The Nobel Prize in economics this year went, in part, to Elinor Ostrom for mechanisms of self-governance and decentralized decision-making.

    So, in a bizarre, self-referential way, isn’t the post’s deference to authority a deference to the wisdom of not deferring to authority?

  29. #29 Greg Laden
    December 14, 2009

    Becca: Regarding Guy B’s ideas, please remember the premise of the parable. The theory of everything. It is not possible for a person who with zero training in any of the related fields to come up with the theory of everything. I understand that the tendency of assigning the possibility of having something interesting to say is there, but he won’t. In a less extreme scenario, of course, you would be right. Also, changing the wording to allow for the possibility that Guy B could have something interesting does not change the overall argument.

    Centralization does not obviate appropriate localization. Also, this is not really an argument about home schooling vs. traditional education. It is more of an argument about local district control of content vs. national standards for content, and global availability of tools of pedagogy and learning (and testing) rather than reinvention of the wheel again and again times 40,000.

    Becca, those data probably should be ignored because they don’t properly match the comparative groups. IN any event, homeschooling, as wonderful an alternative as it is, is simply not available to most people. And, if aggregated data showed homeschoolers to be lower than public school on various tests, this would not cause any change in what people want to do, actually do, or any change in how they do it.

  30. #30 Greg Laden
    December 14, 2009

    David: Where is the deference to authority in this post?

  31. #31 David
    December 14, 2009

    Deference: The post seems to me to be partly about not respecting local autonomy, especially when the locals have no special expertise. You mentioned local school boards, teabaggers holding their opinion over that of real scientists, and people who didn’t go to Hahvahd having opinions contrary to those who did.

    I happen to agree with you. There’s a valid place for recognizing expertise. But the Nobel Laureate (Guy A, as it were) has a different opinion. You and I are Guy B.

  32. #32 Greg Laden
    December 14, 2009

    The whole idea here is the value of expertise, and the need to develop a personal shopping guide to the expertise relevant to your are of interest.

  33. #33 becca
    December 14, 2009

    Greg- it’s not possible for *anyone* to have a true theory of everything, and I still think they might both get partial credit. Nonetheless, *in scenarios in which you are comparing relative merits* your general point is fine.

    As far as centralization- as I say, what you view as a weakness (that it can be better controlled by a smaller group of people) is also potentially a strength (schooling is just an example here; but I think you did kind of miss the obvious point with regard to *what factors are relevant* for whether a decision should be under local control or not)

    My point on the homeschooling data is that you are inclined to dismiss it entirely because it does not support your view. The correct reaction is to take it with a rather large grain of salt, but not to actually ignore it.
    For whatever wonky population that was doing homeschooling and covered under that study, it was working respectably well.

    But we’re all inclined to believe what we want to believe. For example, I’m reasonably sure if you could do a magical perfect study of all homeschoolers you’d come up with exactly the conclusion I did at 10 years of age: The smart kids seem smarter, and all the kids seem happier.
    Which actually could still be true, even if the aggregate data demonstrated the opposite test score trend- since I don’t place much stock in test scores. So maybe it *shouldn’t* change what people are going to do. But some data would be relevant to some people; the homeschooling community I’m familiar with isn’t as denialistic as you are about them.

  34. #34 D. C. Sessions
    December 14, 2009

    It is not possible for a person who with zero training in any of the related fields to come up with the theory of everything.

    Of course it’s possible. More than possible, it happens. Ask someone from India about mathematicians some time.

    However — see my comment above about the odds. Also let’s be serious: I’m less worried about the ability of a left-fielder to come up with a brilliant answer than about hir ability to ask the right questions to tell if that answer is crap.

    Answers, all in all, tend to be much easier (in the “buckets of sweat” sense) than questions.

  35. #35 Danson Singh
    December 14, 2009

    When I hear the word ‘empowerment’,
    I reach for my remote.

  36. #36 Joshua Zelinsky
    December 14, 2009

    D.C., I presume you are talking about Ramanujan? In fact the degree of support he had is often underreported. He had access to a lot of 19th century mathematical theorems but not their proofs. Moreover, while Ramanujan had a lot of very good ideas, I’d hardly characterize any of his work as a theory of everything. Also, some of his work (particularly much of the word related to the distributions of primes) was simply wrong.

  37. #37 Aquinas Dad
    December 14, 2009

    ad hom about religion? Where? And what nonsense? Mr. Laden made a comparison indicating that any professor at MIT has an opinion re: AGW inherently ‘better’ than any tea party opponent. I want to know if that includes, for example, Pam Wood (lecturer in Music) vs. my wife’s friend Jen, who is a tea partier with an MA in molecular bio.

    Don’t think so? Re-read it.

  38. #38 D. C. Sessions
    December 14, 2009

    Also, some of his work (particularly much of the word related to the distributions of primes) was simply wrong.

    Exactly my point — “creativity” is more common than we tend to admit. The ability to filter gold from garf is another matter entirely, and in every instance I’ve ever heard of comes from a long process of studying the ways humans have of coming up with clever bad ideas.

    A “theory of everything” is easy to come up with — as long as you don’t have to cover all of the gazillions of test cases. Learning those test cases, though …

  39. #39 timo
    December 14, 2009

    Whoops. Missed a few keywords. I think you know what I mean.

  40. #40 timo
    December 14, 2009

    Incidentally, along the same lines, besides david Suzuki, can you tell me 5 climate alarmists, that have given up flying, driving, or living in a home which is more than absolutely necessary?

    I’
    Greg?

  41. #41 Greg Laden
    December 14, 2009

    Becca, you would be more effective if you picked your fights rather than just disagreed with Greg no matter what. It is my thought experiment, and in my thought experiment, Guy A and Guy B each claim to have a unifying theory. Such unifying theories are called, in the businesses, “TOE’s”

    Regarding centralization, I sentence you to re-read the entire post and find the places where I indicate both positive and negative features of localization vs. centralization. What I am asking for is a rational approach rather than one that fetishizes one or the other.

    No, I do not dismiss the homeschooling data because it does not support my view. Furthermore, I am confident that you are not capable of representing my view on homeschooling. Because, again, you are blowing arguments out your ass. You can do better. I don’t know why you don’t try.

    The correct reaction is to take it with a rather large grain of salt, but not to actually ignore it.

    That is pretty much what I have done, but it suddenly disturbs me almost as much to know that I’m in accord with your requirements as I am to find that you have a “data-correct” rule.

    But thank you for your annoying comment.

  42. #42 Greg Laden
    December 14, 2009

    Aquinas, at first I had no idea what you were talking about, but then, I realized that I’d made an error. The whole MIT sentence was badly botched. I will change it presently to what I originally intended. Thanks for (indirectly and quite by accident) pointing out my error.

  43. #43 Greg Laden
    December 14, 2009

    Timo, I don’t know what a climate alarmist is, but I know a number of climate scientists who live in modest homes built or reconstructed to minimize energy use, use public transit, etc. etc. For example, many of the scientists who work at NCAR in Boulder CO.

  44. #44 Greg Laden
    December 14, 2009

    It is a false choice.

    It is a parable.. a simplification.. a thought experiment.

    The question on this blog, for me, is trust greg who is not a climate scientist, (an anthropologist)

    A biological anthropologist with a specialty in human-environment interaction who’s done a lot of research that involves paleoclimate, and even had a one PhD student and 2-3 Masters students in the UMN IGRET climate studies program. But don’t worry, most people don’t know what an anthropologist is.

    I suspect you are right that a AGW denialists are more diverse than evolution deniers. On the other hand, now that I think about it, there are a lot of different kinds of evo-deniers.

    But most AGW deniers do indeed get annoyed at being shown to be similar to those evolution deniers. I have noticed that.

  45. #45 timo
    December 14, 2009

    Greg, when I see that climate conferences are being canceled and “klimate koolaiders” (I think I just coined a new phrase, if I’m not mistaken) boycotting flying and driving, then I will wonder if something really is going on.

  46. #46 Greg Laden
    December 14, 2009

    Timo, the winged monkeys continue to fly out of your ass. Climate scientsits routinely teleconference to avoid getting on airplanes.

  47. #47 tiimo
    December 14, 2009

    Btw, you mentioned a green housing program in Boulder. I admitted I am a hypocrite by not being vegetarian, still driving, flying, and not giving away most of my income.
    You haven’t come clean about your housing, flying, and driving arrangements. Oh and driving a prius doesn’t count.

  48. #48 timo
    December 14, 2009

    DELETED

  49. #49 Greg Laden
    December 14, 2009

    Timo you have stepped over a line. Bye.

  50. #50 Robert
    December 14, 2009

    Timo plays yet another tune from the AGW denialist play-book. This one was first used by Fox News on Al Gore. Not very original Timo.

    I wonder what he said to get banned for life?

  51. #51 skeptifem
    December 15, 2009

    The Guy A and B thing is freaking silly. What they have to say is what is important. I would need to actually know what they have to say to pick one. I have no idea why making a bet is significant; we could all be wrong in picking degree dude.

    For example, you could be choosing someone to talk about evolution and pick between a biochemistry professor or someone who has just read a very good book on the subject. Then you realize that you picked Michael Behe. oops. or that crazy professor who got tenure and starting doing non stop bigfoot research. Acting as though there isn’t a way to distinguish which opinions have merit is silly, there absolutely is. I refuse to pick someone based on something other than the merit of their argument. The major concentration centers of authority of any sort are generally not regarded as a perfect meritocracy, and there are barriers for smart, well informed people to make it into positions of authority for many reasons.

    The disrespect for authority that is referenced in the post by itself is not a bad thing at all. It WOULD be a very good thing if most people were actually given the tools to understand situations like health (or know how to find out information when they need to) instead of having to choose between sets of experts. The learning institutions we all take part in make truth into the exact same thing as these folks do; it is whatever so and so says. They pick a brand of truth based on what makes em comfortable. When you rarely get shown the why of anything you learn, it becomes easy to live that way. School teaches obedience and discourages independant thinking and problem solving. I don’t know how people are supposed to miraculously emerge from hard core indoctrination with the ability to think critically. consumer culture also encourages a comfortable unthinking perspective where people can buy something to satisfy any emotional need instead of being forced to deal with reality. There is a lot at work here in addition to what I talked about, but in general I think my perspective has a lot of merit. People probably would not have so much difficulty thinking if there weren’t so many ever present forces there to crush the natural curiosity that they possess. Everything named is useful for depoliticizing people as well, making them apathetic about things that really effect them. If people were naturally so content to exist that way I don’t know why there would be so many organizations that work hard in order to maintain and intensify this state of affairs. The people encouraging this (religious, business, political authorities) have a lot to lose if things change. No one would accept their authority anymore. A small number of people (like scientists) get the kind of education in critical thinking that most people could make use of. People who do get that kind of education are extremely privileged in multiple respects. So yeah. the heart of denialism is a complex thing, and I am not quite sure how change would occur. Talking about it is a start.

  52. #52 Aquinas Dad
    December 15, 2009

    I look forward to your edit; I hope that it reflects some sort of acknowledgment that you slipped into stereotypes when making the ‘MIT/tea partier’ dichotomy, as I tried to point out. I also hope you edit other silliness out [since most mothers certainly do adhere to the guidelines of the AMA and the American Academy of Pediatricians and the majority of homeschoolers do not consider themselves experts in anything but their own children]

    More importantly, how do you resolve your seemingly-core argument [which appears to be 'the opinion/decision of experts is more valuable than the opinion of a non-expert'] with democratic principles? After all, imposing strictures requires legislation [in a free nation, at least]; legislation requires political support. From at least this perspective the opinion/vote of a John Bircher is just as critical as the opinion/vote of a Maoist – feel free to insert other ideologies/education/etc. as you wish.

    That being true even if you are otherwise correct in what I believe you are stating, how do you overcome the brute fact that, in your example, tea partiers can vote, too?

  53. #53 gwen
    December 15, 2009

    When another large earthquake hits the SF Bay Area, and supposes it knocks down the SF-Oak bay bridge. Would you build it according to the plans of a person who had studied bridge building and had years of experience in building this kind of bridge, or would you go with a HS graduate who had read a book about bridge building and had a great idea about how it could be done. As the consumer, whose bridge would you cross. Also, would you use a company with a history of building homes to build a bridge, because they were builders. And as a consumer with this information, would you cross that bridge?

  54. #54 Dacks
    December 15, 2009

    What really messes up public understanding of a difficult subject is scientists with outstanding credentials in one field spouting off nonsense in a field they know nothing about. Pauling on vitamin C, Dyson on climate change. This is the real problem with the argument from authority – both the individual and the public overvalues the proclamation of the expert without subjecting it to enough rigorous review.

  55. #55 daedalus2u
    December 15, 2009

    A real global warming skeptic has to also be skeptical of his/her own skepticism. They need an argument that fits all the facts they are aware of in the most parsimonious way. Invoking a global conspiracy of hundreds of thousands of scientists that has been 99.999% effective at hiding the conspiracy doesn’t cut it as a rational explanation. A skeptic has to consider evidence that such a conspiracy doesn’t exist; appealing to human behaviors to decide if an idea is correct or not is not skepticism. Global warming deniers are not skeptical of their denialism.

    In the example Greg uses, one can make a decision based on incomplete information, but the information one should use is not the information that gives you the answer that you want. Choosing Guy A or Guy B based on knowing that one of the ToE allows faster than light travel via some sort of warp drive and one doesn’t is allowing wishful thinking to interfere with the decision process. This is exactly what the AGW deniers are doing when they disallow any theory of GW that is anthropomorphic, or that has outcomes that are bad, or that to fix would require reductions in status-quo energy consumption. It is the same as rejecting Guy A because she is female or Guy B because he is French or liberal.

    I get hit by pseudo-skeptics all the time for my nitric oxide ideas. Of course they can’t point out any facts that are inconsistent with them, just that there are no clinical trials on using NO to treat diseases which I explain are caused by low NO, and so my talking about my ideas in non-skeptical terms is evidence (to them) that the ideas are wrong or that I am not a skeptic. Their argument has no basis in the facts under consideration and so is a non-skeptical argument.

    I try to explain the facts and logic that I have used, but very few people can follow the facts and logic that I am using simply because there is too much data to absorb before it all fits together.

  56. #56 Greg Laden
    December 15, 2009

    Skeptifem:

    The intention of my example was two fold: 1) to ask the question of how one picks between sources regarding a topic tha is too detailed and specialized for you to really make a fair assessment of, a priori. You have basic information about the sources, but you have to pick without the luxory of really knowing the details. You are making the mistake of comparing that sencario to an alternative, different scenario where you get to chose on the basis of the actual information.

    This is like trying to decide if you think vaccines are generally safe vs. often dangerous, because you are about to vote on some prop or another at the ballot box, you are not an expert, and you were busy investigating other things and never had the chance to reseearch it yourself. Suddenly you are faced with simply knowing that Orac the Science Blogging Doctor and Jenny McCarthy the (whatever she is, I’m not sure … comedienne, I guess) have opposite views and you get to know what each view is.

    The second purpose of the senareo given was to make it easy to pick between the two. If you really honestly thinkk that a person who had devoted her life to the study of the topic and a person who has never thought about it at all until just now when he read some/most of one popular book on it have equally valid opinions given condition one, then I think you need to rethink this. But mostly I think you are not getting the point of this thought experiment.

    Guy A is not a random academic being compared to a random non-academic. I’m not sure why you think that, I took pains to make that clear. There is no way Guy A would be an analog of Michale Behe in this experiment.

    I’ll assume you skimmed the comments and only glanced at the original post.

    A small number of people (like scientists) get the kind of education in critical thinking that most people could make use of. People who do get that kind of education are extremely privileged in multiple respects.

    Exactly. Not necessarily only scientists, but not only does the system produce a small number of critical thinkers, but one might find those critical thinkers more likely to serve as guideposts than others.

  57. #57 Greg Laden
    December 15, 2009

    Aquinas: The edits are made, you can check them out. As I said, all in one sentence. I meant for the MIT professor to be a climate scientist.

    Here’s the thing. You need to stop correcting me, and start identifying the differences between us. We have fundamental differences here, and one of these differences can be found here:

    how do you resolve your seemingly-core argument [which appears to be 'the opinion/decision of experts is more valuable than the opinion of a non-expert'] with democratic principles?

    This is an old Creationist Canard (for those watching) … that scientific “facts” or “assertions” are or can be a matter of voting of some kind of democratic principle. No, they are not. You have correctly identified one of the main points of my post, you have a different point of view, and your point of view is wrong. Sorry.

  58. #58 Greg Laden
    December 15, 2009

    Gwen: Thank you for the parallel parable. I had thought the invoking of Taxpayer as Victim would work, and it probably did for many, but the “Would you drive over the Mickey Mouse bridge” is an excellent alternative. This will also expose intellectual dishonesty as some individuals claim they would (but we know they won’t) in order to maintain a construction that can be used to ruin science education and stuff.

  59. #59 Jason Thibeault
    December 15, 2009

    Science is not rote, but it is taught as such in some fields because what’s being taught is the result of experiments rather than duplicating every experiment in the school. As long as the science is accepted and acceptable to the majority of people familiar with the scientific method, you can safely assume that Guy A, with her degrees in the subject at hand, is more qualified to have understood the difficulties of creating a TOE and to have accounted for them as best she could, whereas Guy B could have the exact same theory but no understanding of how elegantly it compensates for those difficulties.

    So, ultimately, this argument that one should pick Guy A in absence of knowing what their theories are, is an argument for trust in the scientific method, and trust that the folks that are trained in it will have the background necessary to make sure the TOE they came up with is actually building on something, rather than “divinely inspired”, or, say, the product of some good weed.

    The whole sidebar of Teabagger PhD vs Unrelated Field PhD authority is a canard. The vast majority of climate denialists have nothing to base their beliefs on other than a vague sense that politicians are trying to pull one over on them. Ultimately neither “argument from authority” should be accepted, but all the evidence presented and taken on its merits. And the balance of evidence weighs heavily toward AGW.

  60. #60 Alex
    December 15, 2009

    For goodness sake, it’s fairly simple people:

    Guy A (a climatologist) says that global temperatures are rising.

    Guy B (a random guy off the street) says that global temperatures are not rising.

    It is not an argument from authority (or any other kind of fallacy) to say that Guy A is much more likely to be right than Guy B, unless or until you see/measure the data for yourself.

  61. #61 becca
    December 15, 2009

    But beccas don’t wanna be effective; disagreeing with Greg no matter what is WAY more fun.

    Plus, I’m not disagreeing with you (well, ok, I guess I was there. Metadisagreement FTW!!!). I just have a characteristically disagreeable way of agreeing.

    I think an actual “TOE” would be substantially more extensive than a theory reconciling quantum and cosmic scale phenomena, but it’s kind of irrelevant to the question (though I see where I misunderstood what you weren’t saying).
    In a non-thought experiment we usually *can* at least hear from Guy A AND Guy B, and there’s generally value in it at least for me (but I have a high tolerance of kooks).
    But within the parameters of your thought experiment, where there Must Be A Choice, I did agree (just in a disagreeable way).

    As far as centralization, it is not a matter of rational vs. irrational. Small groups or large groups can be irrational. The advantage of small groups is that they are easier for one person to control, so if they happen to be irrational, you’ve got a better chance at changing things. But that is predicated on the assumption that you are rational. Which nearly everybody makes, and most of us, most of the time, make irrationally. That is how we end up with school boards (the idiots were just for practice).

    I’m guessing your position on homeschooling is roughly: it’s an excellent solution for many students, particularly those that aren’t academically challenged in schools (or who are too busy challenging authority and not learning).
    Although it won’t ever be an option for most parents and students and it should not generally be considered a viable part of school reform efforts and don’t get you started on vouchers…
    HOWEVER, it is also used as a smokescreen for some serious nutcases/borderline abuse cases, including from religious kooks, and should therefore be much more seriously regulated than it is; in the form of at least standardized tests that look for content knowledge identical to the public schools (i.e. including evolution and age of the earth from a scientific perspective) and some sort of check up on the physical and psychological wellbeing of the students.

    I realize you aren’t actually ignoring the data, even though you said we probably should ignore the data… but you probably should be more careful of what you say if you want people to believe you’ve got an ounce of actual skepticism on this issue.

    (as an aside,
    I am terribly amused by:
    “Ha! You are a Believer, you aren’t interested in Reality. Show me the data, I would be very interested in seeing such a study”
    “here’s the data, note some caveats, but it’s the best I’ve got. You got any better?”
    “…”
    exchanges. Mostly cause I’ve been on both sides. I at least have the decency to look red-faced when I demand data and then ignore it though. BuellerEpsilon? Epsilon???)

    “But thank you for your annoying comment. “
    Why was it annoying?

    “But don’t worry, most people don’t know what an anthropologist is. “
    Of course we do! An anthropologist is EVERYTHING. Being an anthropologist clearly makes you an expert on anything humans do, from eating (ergo nutrition) to polluting the earth (ergo climate change) to educating children (ergo pedagogy)…
    That’s ok. I got huffy with Dr. Isis when she said I didn’t know nothin about breast cancer just cause I’m currently studying malaria…

    “Would you build it according to the plans of a person who had studied bridge building and had years of experience in building this kind of bridge, or would you go with a HS graduate who had read a book about bridge building and had a great idea about how it could be done.”
    Generally the former. But I do have to ask:
    1) who built the first bridge?
    2) do I really need to cross that bridge at all, given what I know about fault lines?

    daedalus2u – I am totes in favor of anthropomorphic versions of global warming. Global warming is out to get you!!!!11 Global warming shops at IKEA! Global warming wants to marry Al Gore (wait, that one might not work, since humans don’t want to… oh nevermind).
    (sorry, couldn’t help myself)

    Greg- timos problem is that he has seen so many folks take environmentalism as a moral issue that he has taken his position from how he wants to live and worked backwards. Taking skepticism as a moral issue and using camp-identity inferences to determine how you want to live is truly obnoxious behavior (which, for the record, I’m not accusing anyone in particular of, but I have definitely seen bits and pieces of it from time to time around here).

  62. #62 Alex
    December 15, 2009

    More importantly, how do you resolve your seemingly-core argument [which appears to be 'the opinion/decision of experts is more valuable than the opinion of a non-expert'] with democratic principles?

    Wait, so let’s say the police arrested you for murder, and you end up in court. Your defence calls an expert forensic scientist, who shows that the DNA evidence the police have is based on utter pseudoscience. But the prosecution calls their “expert”, who just so happens to be some dude, with no scientific expertise whatsoever, off the street.

    Are you saying that it would be anti-democratic, and therefore wrong, for the jury to trust the second guy’s word just as much as the scientist’s word in your murder trial?

    Or should perhaps the judge use the Daubert standard?

  63. #63 Aquinas Dad
    December 15, 2009

    Greg,
    You are reaching conclusions about me that aren’t where I am leading. Let me retry;
    1) A scientist has an opinion about issue A;
    2) A non-scientist has an opinion about issue A
    3) their opinions differ
    4) within the context of science, one may be supported, the other not – that is moot to my point
    5) within the context of policy as defined in a free nation, both have equal weight at the ballot box

    This is a brute fact. I am a theologian, yet the opinion of someone with absolutely no formal training in ethics has a weight equal to mine within the political arena. A scientist certain she is correct about the science has no more or less weight *as far as policy is concerned* as a scientist that disagrees with her or a high school dropout who agrees with her.

    This is where I believe your examples are breaking down. In the arena of policy there are obviously many people who are leery of some legislation that based upon AGW being factual. This isn’t ‘are we going to let the milkman build a suspension bridge?’, this is ‘is AGW certain enough to enact legislation that affects the economy, building codes, travel, taxes, etc?’

    Since this is an issue larger than, say, the engineering of a single bridge, the decision points are greater in number and more varied than your examples, IMO. For example, although my education is in theology, I am professionally a computer consultant – I have some serious concerns with the actual methods of climate modeling based upon my professional background – how much weight does my opinion have within the scientific debate? Situationally, very, very little. How much weight does my opinion have within the political debate? The same as yours.

    Within the bounds of your article, here, how would you address both the complexity of the issue and the dichotomy between the seeming weight you would give specialists and the parity of specialists and non-specialists in the public arena?

  64. #64 Greg Laden
    December 15, 2009

    Alex: I think what he’s saying is that one forensic expert can’t hold a candle to two or more dumb-ass dudes.

  65. #65 Alex
    December 15, 2009

    Whoops, that came out wrong!

    #64 should say:

    Are you saying that it would be anti-democratic, and therefore wrong, for the jury not to trust the second guy’s word just as much as the scientist’s word in your murder trial?

  66. #66 Stephanie Z
    December 15, 2009

    Aquinas Dad, why do we need to reconcile it? Both are facts. They apply in different spheres and, thus, aren’t contradictory.

    If you mean, on the other hand, what do we do about it, that’s a different question. We’re engaged in that pursuit now. It’s also part of the reason that we don’t have a direct democracy in the U.S. Neither solution is perfect, but both are better than no solution.

  67. #67 Alex
    December 15, 2009

    How much weight does my opinion have within the political debate? The same as yours.

    I don’t see Greg arguing anywhere that democracy doesn’t exist, and that what we do about AGW will be decided democratically, but that those people engaging in their democracy by voting/tea partying/whatever, should value experts more than non-experts when they’re at the ballot box/Fox news studio/wherever.

  68. #68 Aquinas Dad
    December 15, 2009

    Alex, Greg,
    Are *you* saying the people need to demonstrate formal training and ‘proper’ attitudes before they are permitted to vote or speak?

  69. #69 Greg Laden
    December 15, 2009

    Aquainus Dad: Get real.

  70. #70 Alex
    December 15, 2009

    Are *you* saying the people need to demonstrate formal training and ‘proper’ attitudes before they are permitted to vote or speak?

    Good lord, you’re a bit dense. Where have I, or Greg said that?

    No, I am saying that obviously there should be universal suffrage, but that those who do have the suffrage, should, as their moral duty, value the expert more than the non-expert at the ballot box.

    So essentially you are now confusing morality and legality. We are calling something immoral, not asking for it to be made illegal.

  71. #71 Lance
    December 15, 2009

    “… Guy A and Guy B …”

    “She has published dozens of peer reviewed papers on both topics and is a brilliant mathematician.”

    I’m going with Guy B since “Guy” A is clearly still dealing with the effects of a recent double sex change operation and can’t be expected to think clearly until he/she deals with the obvious emotional and psychological issues associated with such a life (and plumbing) changing experience.

    Also stop being such an ass by calling people who disagree with your views on a scientific issue “denialists”. If the recent events at the East Anglia CRU haven’t at least given pause to your strident puffery you should seriously re-examine what it means to be a scientist.

    I would love to see you call Richard Lindzen a “denialist”. By your own standards he makes your scientific credentials on climate science look lilliputian.

    Really the whole post is a very tired and pathetic argument on your part.

  72. #72 Dacks
    December 15, 2009

    “I would love to see you call Richard Lindzen a “denialist”.

    “Describing himself as a global warming “denier” rather than a skeptic,…”

  73. #73 Dacks
    December 15, 2009

    Oops, link did not work. The quote is from the Wikipedia page on Lindzen.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Lindzen

  74. #74 Elipson
    December 15, 2009

    I do apologize Becca, I’ve been slaving away, trying to get a report done before the deadline. I’ll see if I can read the linked report soon :)

    Best Wishes
    Elipson

  75. #75 Aquinas Dad
    December 15, 2009

    “No, I am saying that obviously there should be universal suffrage… ”

    I have 5 kids and am often part of sales efforts and I learned something from my interactions with others some time ago that I feel I should share, to wit;

    if someone asks you a question, the answer probably isn’t that obvious.

    I believe there are interesting implications in what Greg has written. Because of that, I keep asking questions about things like voting and public expression. Greg isn’t directly answering me. That makes feel that the questions are, well, unanswered. I’m funny that way.

    I am not being hostile, just persistent.

    “No, I am saying that obviously there should be universal suffrage, but that those who do have the suffrage, should, as their moral duty, value the expert more than the non-expert at the ballot box”

    First, why? Please demonstrate the moral imperative to consult and heed ‘experts’ before voting. Show your work!

    Second, how? I can name a dozen PhDs that say warming isn’t anthropogenic. How does a non-specialist verify claimed specialization in a contested field without also becoming an expert, making the appeal to authority moot even in heuristics?

    The problem involved in decision-making is that core arguments from both the AGW-supporting experts and core AGW-opposing experts are claimed to be *knowledge-based assessments*. When this occurs [2 or more group of experts making conflicting claims of knowledge-based assessments] this forces non-specialists to resort to *authority-based assessments*, as you claim in the main piece. Authority based assessments are generally inferior to knowledge-based ones, but it is next in line.

    However, between the credentials available on both sides, ad hominems, ClimateGate, etc., most non-specialists can no longer rely on authority-based assessments and must now default to *trust-based assessments* and/or *personal risk-based assessments*. This is similar to the vaccination issue where some non-specialists are forced to default to minimizing personal risk.

  76. #76 Lance
    December 15, 2009

    Interesting link Dacks. One certainly can’t argue with that unimpeachable font of truth, Wikipedia, but it doesn’t list any reference for the claim and one only need view the recent debate at MIT to see that Lindzen objects to that value loaded term.

    I suspect the quote in Wikipedia is taken out of context.

    More germane to our host’s use of the term is “his” definition of the term, He clearly uses it as a pejorative, meaning that the subject is in “denial” of the “truth” of a scientific theory in contravention of indisputable evidence.

    I’m quite sure Lindzen would disagree with being labeled with such a term.

  77. #77 Jason Thibeault
    December 15, 2009

    Wow, Lance, you’re just an all-around stand-up guy aren’t you? Transgender people aren’t any less of experts in their fields just because they confuse YOU. But that’s beside the point, a throwaway you used to paint Greg as inconsistent (and we all know because Greg sometimes makes grammar or spelling errors that means he knows nothing about lions!!!). Everyone else in the thread aside from one non-English speaker was able to adapt to “Guy” used as “Person” rather than gender-specific.

    There’s a very easy to draw distinction between skepticism and denialism. Skepticism is demands for evidence, without which the argument will not be accepted; denialism is axiomatic refusal of the argument. Just because you say “where’s the evidence” over and over and ignore the evidence presented, doesn’t mean you fall into the former camp.

    And as Dacks pointed out, Lindzen calls himself a denier. So… now that you’ve tipped your hand and are holding 2-7 off suit, what’s your move?

  78. #78 Jason Thibeault
    December 15, 2009

    Oh, questioning Wikipedia. How like questioning scientific consensus. And wholly unexpected!

    How about “polemicist” then? Because that’s what he’s doing — taking the opposite position from consensus, in direct contravention to evidence.

  79. #79 Dacks
    December 15, 2009

    Lance, here’s the reference for the denier quote (as given on the Wikipedia page):
    http://audio.wrko.com/m/audio/24111309/richard-lindzen-global-warming-denier.htm

    It’s about 3.5 minutes in.

  80. #80 Stephanie Z
    December 15, 2009

    Aquinas Dad, Greg doesn’t need to answer your questions directly. They’ve already been answered by others in the thread. You haven’t bothered to answer any of those people, just continue to press Greg to use his time on comments for little, old you, no matter how redundant those comments have become. You asked for information. You got it. Continuing to demand it is silly and suggests an agenda for you that has nothing to do with answers and everything to do with undermining the person who wrote such a post.

    Much of the rest of what you have to say is actually tangential to the topic and related to why this post exists, at least as far as identifying the problem goes. There are better ways of sorting between expert opinions than shrugging, and we’re trying to get at them. However, they’re still not anything that’s being addressed in this single post, which is about the expert vs. non-expert opinion. Are we to conclude that you now agree that matter is settled, since you’re moving on?

  81. #81 Lance
    December 15, 2009

    Jason Thibeault,

    It often strikes me that there is a strong positive correlation between the humorless and the clueless. You have just added another positive data point.

    Did you really think I was trying to delegitimize Guy A on the basis of gender? Did you really think I was trying to assail Laden’s argument on the basis of a typo?

    Even if you found the humor lacking one would have thought that you should have at least been able to identify it as a joke.

    I suppose there’s no time for humor when you a moralistic eco-prig about the business of saving the planet.

  82. #82 Stephanie Z
    December 15, 2009

    Guy A being female is no typo. People claim all the time that “guys” is gender inclusive. This is a usage that will make people examine that claim based on their reaction.

  83. #83 Alex
    December 15, 2009

    if someone asks you a question, the answer probably isn’t that obvious

    Well no, since the question you asked was effectively “Are you anti-democratic?”. You may as well have asked me, “Am I a fascist?” Normally in civil conversation, we don’t think to even ask the other person such questions, because most civilized members of society would answer emphatically no.

    First, why? Please demonstrate the moral imperative to consult and heed ‘experts’ before voting. Show your work!

    Come back when you’ve read the blog post, and/or comment #62. The work has already been shown.

    I can name a dozen PhDs that say warming isn’t anthropogenic.

    What are their PhDs in?

    How does a non-specialist verify claimed specialization in a contested field without also becoming an expert, making the appeal to authority moot even in heuristics?

    This does not apply to AGW specifically. How exactly is AGW “contested”? I mean it’s contested in the sense that there are differences over how much CO2 produces how much warming etc, but there aren’t really differences over the general idea.*

    If a field of science is contested, or area of that field is contested, then obviously Greg’s post doesn’t apply there. But plenty of things in science aren’t contested.

    But moreover, Greg is making a thought experiment. Such thought experiments don’t work perfectly in all situations, but they are applicable to some situations. The example I gave in #62 is a real example. Real people have claimed both things. Only one of them can be right. And as has been said, the idea is you should provide more value to the expert claim rather than the non-expert claim “unless or until you see/measure the data for yourself”. So your above comment seems as if you are implying some refutation of what Greg and I are saying, and yet the point is when you have nothing else to go on (for whatever reason – lack of time, lack of ability, lack of data, whatever) you should value the expert judgement more.

    *I would really like you to demonstrate that there is significant disagreement in the scientific community over either (i) whether warming is happening (ii) whether warming is human-caused.

  84. #84 Alex
    December 15, 2009

    Lance:

    Also stop being such an ass by calling people who disagree with your views on a scientific issue “denialists”.

    But it’s okay for you to use the following words, right?:

    ass
    humorless
    clueless
    moralistic eco-prig

  85. #85 Alex
    December 15, 2009

    Oh, and I forgot “strident puffery”.

    Did you really think I was trying to assail Laden’s argument on the basis of a typo?

    So how were you trying to assail Greg’s argument? Because so far, all you’ve said is this:

    Really the whole post is a very tired and pathetic argument on your part.

    So “tired and pathetic” that you didn’t even need to attempt to assail it at all, right?

  86. #86 Lance
    December 15, 2009

    Thanks for the link Dacks.

    It is clear that when Lindzen refers to himself as a “denier” he is doing so in regard to his opinion, as a highly qualified expert in the field, that the evidence in support of catastrophic AGW is lacking scientific credibility.

    I think we can both agree that he doesn’t feel that he is what Laden refers to as a “denialist”. If we can’t agree on that I would have to say that you are not arguing in good faith but just trying to win a word game.

  87. #87 Alex
    December 15, 2009

    Btw Lance, your “joke” about the double sex change operation just shows your normative bias. In your “joke”, a person can’t change their gender without first changing their sex.

  88. #88 Jason Thibeault
    December 15, 2009

    Here’s a quick tip Lance: if you have to TELL people it’s a joke (and I made the point that I thought you were using it as a throwaway for exactly this reason), then it’s probably not funny.

    And you know little to nothing about me, if you think I’m a “moralistic eco-prig about the business of saving the planet”. I’m just a realist when it comes to accepting that the scale of evidence is tipped pretty damn far to one side on this one.

  89. #89 Alex
    December 15, 2009

    If we can’t agree on that I would have to say that you are not arguing in good faith but just trying to win a word game.

    Says the person who playing the word game, and in fact the person who started the word game.

    As for denialist, here is a good explanation of why the word is useful:

    http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/about.php

    Maybe you don’t think certain particular people (e.g. Lindzen) should be described as “denialists”, but don’t think that means that such people don’t exist at all. People who can be accurately described as “denialists” do exist.

  90. #90 Elipson
    December 15, 2009

    Becca I’ll withdraw my comment about homeschoolers. It does indeed seem like homeschooling isn’t as bad as I thought.

    Best Wishes
    Elipson

  91. #91 Lance
    December 15, 2009

    Alex,

    Now that you have shown the ability to recognize negative adjectives perhaps you can work on expressing a cogent point.

    Laden’s argument is based on the “argument from authority” fallacy. Lord Kelvin was the world’s most highly celebrated scientist when he proclaimed,”There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.”

    Einstein was a lowly Swiss patent clerk when he wrote his most influential and profound works making a mockery of Lord Kelvin’s pronouncement.

    Laden is arguing that we should have listened to Lord Kelvin and attacked Einstein as a “denialist”.

  92. #92 Jason Thibeault
    December 15, 2009

    The difference between the AGW “controversy” and Kelvin/Einstein is that Einstein was able to back up his work, Lance. This is the “repressed Galileo” argument that people whose science doesn’t stand for itself, default to in order to gain sympathy for their causes.

    Now, as for your actual argument, what the fuck is it already?

  93. #93 James Sweet
    December 15, 2009

    Einstein was a lowly Swiss patent clerk when he wrote his most influential and profound works making a mockery of Lord Kelvin’s pronouncement.

    Um, but Einstein was not a lowly Swiss patent clerk who did nothing but clerk patents and didn’t go to school. He was working on a doctrol dissertation in physics.

    The idea that Einstein was just a hobbyist is ludicrous. This was his career. The patent clerk gig was to get him through school.

  94. #94 Dacks
    December 15, 2009

    Lance, I wasn’t arguing at all, just pointing out the facts.

  95. #95 Aquinas Dad
    December 15, 2009

    Stephanie,
    When I ask Greg for his opinion I wait to hear it from Greg.

    Alex,
    “Well no, since the question you asked was effectively “Are you anti-democratic?”. You may as well have asked me, “Am I a fascist?””

    What a binary soul you are! Ever hear of Technocracy, Alex? Many supporters of technocracy as an ideology got there because of the very topic Greg brought up. Technocracy certainly isn’t fascism.

    As far as AGW being contested – you obviously have internet access – go look. And if you claim it is settled… what are *your* credentials?

    And I fear I do not see any moral arguments for deference to authority in voting – please be more specific.

  96. #96 Lance
    December 15, 2009

    Alex,

    I think you’ll find that I have very few “normative biases”.

    Christ it was a joke alright. You know an ice breaker meant to lighten the mood.

    The fact that you and Thibeault are trying to make some sweeping judgments about me as a person based on a humorous aside is becoming amusing in its own right. At least you seemed to recognize it was a joke.

    Now your point that there “exist” people who do deny obvious scientific realities has little to do with using the term to generally debase people, including many qualified scientists such as Lindzen, that find the evidence for AGW, at least any AGW that requires sweeping worldwide governmental action, lacking.

  97. #97 Lance
    December 15, 2009

    Yo Sweet,

    Try to answer my actual points and not interject words and ideas that I did NOT say. Where did I say Einstein was a “hobbyist”?

    I also like twisting my words,”… but Einstein was not a lowly Swiss patent clerk who did nothing but clerk patents and didn’t go to school.”

    Where the hell did I say he did “nothing but clerk patents”?

    Here is an excerpt from Nobelprize.org that backs up exactly what I said.

    “In 1901, the year he gained his diploma, he acquired Swiss citizenship and, as he was unable to find a teaching post, he accepted a position as technical assistant in the Swiss Patent Office. In 1905 he obtained his doctor’s degree.”

    “During his stay at the Patent Office, and in his spare time, he produced much of his remarkable work and in 1908 he was appointed Privatdozent in Berne. In 1909 he became Professor Extraordinary at Zurich, in 1911 Professor of Theoretical Physics at Prague, returning to Zurich in the following year to fill a similar post.”

    Did you notice the “in his spare time” part? He could best be described as a gifted graduate student. Lord Kelvin on the other hand…

    Try to actually answer my words with out embellishment this time.

  98. #98 Dacks
    December 15, 2009

    Back to the OP:
    “Or I could have shifted the nature of the setting from something important-seeming but also esoteric to something more day-to-day, like which guy’s theory gets taught in the AP High School physics class.”

    This seems a very different hypothetical than the original proposition. I hope that physics text books err on the conservative side and present a broader picture than “one guy’s theory.”

    Now, if a particular physics teacher knew Guy A or Guy B she could bring one or both in for a one-time lecture. Sounds like a perfect teaching moment to me!

    I know a bio prof who regularly brings a creationist into his freshman class – God bless him!

  99. #99 Stephanie Z
    December 15, 2009

    Aquinas Dad, you do not “wait to hear it from Greg.” You jump in with a bunch of comments in the meantime suggesting he’s up to something ugly because he too busy to take you seriously when you’re being ridiculous.

    You started with a slippery slope fallacy, suggesting political views on Greg’s part that are not inherent or even implicit in this post. He told you to stick to reality. That’s all the answer you should need, if your interest is actually to explore Greg’s views on this subject. The fact that you ignore others pointing out valid and much more likely alternatives to that slippery slope once again show you’re not interested in any kind of discussion on this issue, preferring to work in the land of fallacy, smears and innuendo.

    Since you’re playing the “I don’t have to show my cards but you do” card with Alex, where is your argument that there is no moral imperative for informed voting? A voter is taking an action that has an effect on many other people. Why don’t they have a moral imperative to get it right?

    And who were those dozen PhDs again?

  100. #100 daedalus2u
    December 15, 2009

    With all due respect to Lord Kelvin, he didn’t know the source of energy for the Sun. His estimate of that age of the Earth based on cooling was incompatible with the age necessary for geological processes known to have happened. In 1895 he said “heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible” (neglecting the examples of birds, bats and insects). There were many examples of the speed of light being reference frame invariant. That had no explanation in Newtonian physics. What he did have was a gigantic ego, an ego that blinded him to the work of others and to his own ignorance.

    In the interview of Lindzen, he is arguing not from data, but from personal incredulity, having observed the weather and not personally seen evidence of global warming, and that instrumental measures of that warming are small and from personal incredulity he asserts they must not be important.

  101. #101 Alex
    December 15, 2009

    What a binary soul you are! Ever hear of Technocracy, Alex? Many supporters of technocracy as an ideology got there because of the very topic Greg brought up. Technocracy certainly isn’t fascism.

    I didn’t say anti-democracy was fascist, I said “You may as well have asked me, “Am I a fascist?””

    Similarly, you may as well have asked me, “Am I in favour of a technocracy?” or “Am I a 19th Century-style British Tory?”

    My point was, anti-democracy is one of those things we don’t normally need to ask unless the person has good reason to presume they have a disdain for democracy. I don’t see where I’ve shown such disdain, so I don’t see why the question was asked.

    As far as AGW being contested – you obviously have internet access – go look.

    No, I already can see that it’s not contested. I was asking for you on what basis you think it is (for that is what it seemed you were implying).

    And if you claim it is settled… what are *your* credentials?

    Wait, are you asking me whether I have credentials to evaluate the credentials of others?

    The vast majority of climatologists and scientific organizations say it is happening. That’s me just doing what Greg says in this post.

    (After that, I’ve dug deeper, and from my layman perspective, the arguments of the scientists make more sense to me. But that is irrelevant, since this is not the claim I am debating you over). I am disputing the idea that AGW is in general contested by climatologists. I need no credentials to dispute that. I am asking you on what basis you seem to be arguing differently. Don’t just tell me to google, how many climatologists and scientific organizations do you see that say that AGW is in general still contested?

    And I fear I do not see any moral arguments for deference to authority in voting – please be more specific.

    Well, you’ve obviously not read very carefully through the post and comments, but I’ll give this thought experiment:

    Let’s say the astrophysics community start calling out in the media that next December a massive asteroid will hit New York City unless funding is provided to divert it.

    Let’s also say that the this December, there is an election. And there are two parties standing.

    Party A wants to provide the scientists with that funding.
    Party B is the “Astrology party”. They claim that the scientists are bullshitting, and no funding should be provided.

    This is the only difference between the two parties’ stances in this election.

    Do you not have a moral imperative to vote for party A in this election? If not, why not?

  102. #102 Aquinas Dad
    December 15, 2009

    Stephanie,
    I asked some questions and have not been directly answered despite repeating them. When others made asinine comparisons to what I wrote, I replied in kind.

    as to the moral question – Alex made a claim, I asked him to support it, and now you want me to prove the negative, instead? Talk about dishonest dialog!

  103. #103 Aquinas Dad
    December 15, 2009

    12 PhDs

    Wei-Hock Soon
    Sallie Baliunas
    Ian Clark
    William Gray
    William Kininmonth
    Tim Patterson
    George Kukla
    Nir Shaviv
    Roy Spencer
    Jan Veizer
    Philip Stott
    John Christy

  104. #104 Alex
    December 15, 2009

    Laden’s argument is based on the “argument from authority” fallacy.

    Just asserting it doesn’t make it so. Did you miss the part where Greg showed why he wasn’t arguing from authority?

    Now that you have shown the ability to recognize negative adjectives perhaps you can work on expressing a cogent point.

    Well I’ve made several points in this thread, but with regard to the “negative adjectives”, I’ll spell it out for you since you are being stupid on purpose:

    You are being hypocritical to tell us not to use a negative adjective (or noun) like “denialist” when you are using them yourself like they are going out of fashion.

    Here is an excerpt from Nobelprize.org that backs up exactly what I said.

    “In 1901, the year he gained his diploma, he acquired Swiss citizenship and, as he was unable to find a teaching post, he accepted a position as technical assistant in the Swiss Patent Office. In 1905 he obtained his doctor’s degree.”

    “During his stay at the Patent Office, and in his spare time, he produced much of his remarkable work and in 1908 he was appointed Privatdozent in Berne. In 1909 he became Professor Extraordinary at Zurich, in 1911 Professor of Theoretical Physics at Prague, returning to Zurich in the following year to fill a similar post.”

    Did you notice the “in his spare time” part? He could best be described as a gifted graduate student.

    That’s exactly everyone else’s point. Einstein was a “gifted graduate student” meaning he was hardly a non-expert.

    Now your point that there “exist” people who do deny obvious scientific realities has little to do with using the term to generally debase people, including many qualified scientists such as Lindzen, that find the evidence for AGW, at least any AGW that requires sweeping worldwide governmental action, lacking.

    Except Greg was talking about generic “denialists” which as I said, and you seem to now agree, do exist. So using the word in that context is okay. You seem to be asserting that Lindzen shouldn’t be described as denialist, but then Greg didn’t even mention Lindzen. You’re the one that brought him up.

  105. #105 Dacks
    December 15, 2009

    “How does one know whom to trust?”

    I agree that the expert has a higher probability of being right, but while this may work for the original example, it doesn’t get you very far. Once you’ve heard that keynote speech, whether by Guy A or Guy B, the work of analyzing it begins. The theory has to stand or fall on its own merits, no matter where it came from.

    The reason AGW is true has nothing to do with who is saying it. It is not true because Al Gore says it is; it is not false because AL Gore says it is true. The theory is consistently and inescapably supported by the evidence – it is a robust explanation of the data that continues to be gathered.

  106. #106 Aquinas Dad
    December 15, 2009

    Alex,
    Sorry, that is neither a moral argument nor a rational/logical one. Mere appeal to emotion and essentially valueless in context. You have made a moral claim; please support it or withdraw it.

  107. #107 Aquinas Dad
    December 15, 2009

    “Did you miss the part where Greg showed why he wasn’t arguing from authority?”

    see

    “Just asserting it doesn’t make it so.”

    in the same paragraph

  108. #108 becca
    December 15, 2009

    Elipson- no problem on taking a while to get to the study- I probably should have been doing other things. I tend to go to the net to decompress even while busy (and then usually get more stirred up than decompressed!).
    There are, as Greg pointed out, many problems with the research that has been done on homeschoolers if we are trying to answer the question “what is the effect of homeschooling on educational performance?”. But I don’t think the data that are out there support a broad ‘homeschooling is generally academically inadequate’ type argument. There’s always the socialization arguments, but homeschooling only looks bad there if you take me as data.

    Alex- seriously, who listens to gifted graduate students though?
    ;-)
    Also, I think Greg is a little too trigger-happy with the term ‘denialist’. Not as much as some people- I find the term overused in general. I personally think it should be reserved for people baldly advocating for ignoring the data. People who are ignorant and lazy, who have simply not looked at any data, aren’t denialists until you give them data and they put their heads in the sand ostrich style. Being ignorant is the default human condition, and there ought to be no shame in it. Being lazy (or at least busy with other things to the point you haven’t yet looked up everything you possibly theoretically could) is a very minor transgression in the grand scheme of things.

    I think that once you have data, the skeptic or scientist and the denialist often respond identically at first- they both critique the methods. The only difference is that the scientist or the skeptic is willing to do something on imperfect data (even if it’s only taking part in getting *better* data), whereas the denialist keeps critiquing the data forever.

  109. #109 Alex
    December 15, 2009

    Sorry, that is neither a moral argument nor a rational/logical one. Mere appeal to emotion and essentially valueless in context.

    “Do you not have a moral imperative to vote for party A in this election? If not, why not?

    I just gave you a moral argument. You say it isn’t a moral argument or rational or logical. Show me. Just asserting it doesn’t make it so.

    “Did you miss the part where Greg showed why he wasn’t arguing from authority?”

    see

    “Just asserting it doesn’t make it so.”

    in the same paragraph

    Except, Greg didn’t just assert that he wasn’t making an argument from authority, he showed why he wasn’t:

    But, we often see the “argument from authority” argument used to squash arguments that are not really arguments from authority. In the scenario given above, there is a difference between Guy A and Guy B that strongly indicates that Guy A’s ideas are potentially worth listening to, while Guy B’s are not. If we needed to pick between the two, especially at some cost, we’d pick A. Also, if we could, with little cost, hear both but still wanted to pick between the two (just for the fun of it) we’d be better off going with Guy A. It is possible that you don’t agree with what I just said. If you don’t, please indicate in the comments why I’m wrong.

    And as you can see, he asked for people to indicate in the comments why (if someone believed so) he’s wrong on that i.e. don’t just assert he’s making an argument from authority.

  110. #110 Stephanie Z
    December 15, 2009

    Wei-Hock Soon – PhD in aerospace engineering
    Sallie Baliunas – PhD in astrophysics
    Ian Clark – geochemist who espouses “solar activity” argument
    William Gray – PhD in geophysical science
    William Kininmonth – not a PhD
    Tim Patterson – PhD in geology who espouses “CO2 was higher in the past” argument
    George Kukla – PhD in climatology who thinks we’re headed into another ice age
    Nir Shaviv – PhD in astrophysics who pioneered the “solar activity” argument
    Roy Spencer – PhD in meteorology who says “well, climates vary” as a columnist for a lobbying firm’s “news” site
    Jan Veizer – multiple PhD in geology who espouses “CO2 was higher in the past” argument
    Philip Stott – professor of biogeography who thinks the whole system is too chaotic to be modeled
    John Christy – PhD in atmospheric science who endorses AGW

    Well, that’s 10 PhDs, some even in related fields, who don’t think AGW is real. Tell you what, I’ll also give you Ian Plimer (professor of mining geology) and Tim Ball (PhD in geography who thinks a warmer Earth would be nifty) to make your 12. That covers the majority of PhD scientists in SourceWatch’s skeptics list. It does make a good argument for understanding the utility of scientific consensus, but once again, that isn’t what this post is about. It’s about what is reasonable when faced with complex claims from Guy A versus Guy B, not Guy A and Guy A’s diminutive clone.

    As for your moral argument, you apparently couldn’t suss out the one I presented, so here it is again. A voter is taking an action with consequences, some positive, some negative. Let me know whether you disagree that the the voter is morally responsible for the consequences of that decision.

    We are positing the existence of complex information that makes it possible for the voter to better understand these consequences ahead of time. The voter doesn’t have the background to incorporate all this information and translate it into a vote, but a qualified expert is telling the voter what it means in terms of consequences. Someone else with no qualifications is making contradictory claims about consequences. The voter has the background to distinguish between the qualifications of the two claimants.

    Because the decision on which claimant to listen to has a direct effect on the voting decision, which I assume we’ve already agreed the voter is responsible for, the voter is also responsible for the decision of which claimant they choose to listen to. Listening to the expert versus the jerk off the street has consequences; thus, it has inherent responsibilities.

    Now, what questions that are actually relevant to this post have you not seen answered, and why shouldn’t we advise you, as you advised Alex, to go Google them? “Get real,” and its ilk, by the way, are functional equivalents of, “No.”

  111. #111 Aquinas Dad
    December 15, 2009

    “”Do you not have a moral imperative to vote for party A in this election? If not, why not?””

    You claim that is *any* kind of argument? Good heavens I hope you are a troll.

    As someone else pointed out, what Greg is discussing isn’t logical argumentation but heuristics. Heuristics is a method of filtering and, like I discussed, generally falls into knowledge- authority-, trust-, and personal risk-based decision points. That’s fine and useful. But the value of hueristic decision making does NOT make it logical. The definition of an appeal to authority is;
    ” 1. Person A claims that P 2. Person A is a respected scientist or other authority 3. Therefore, P is true. ”
    There it is, the end.

  112. #112 Jason Thibeault
    December 15, 2009

    Aquinas Dad @ 113: And the argument here is actually, “Person A is trained in a field. Person A makes claim P relating to that field. Person B is not trained in the field and makes a claim in Person A’s field.” The challenge is to pick which of the two arguments to listen to, and the challenge doesn’t even mention whether the claims are identical, of equal or unequal merit, or whether person A is considered an authority at all (as, like Lance pointed out with his Duelling Authorities line of argumentation, some “authorities” are more authoritative than others, since you can dredge up a PhD that believes in all sorts of crazy crap regardless of what field the crap might be in).

    The point is, there’s strength in numbers and with the scientific evidence on display for all to examine, when 99% of the scientists come up with the same answer, it takes some extraordinary and dumbfounding revelation to prove that any member of the 1% is right where the rest are wrong.

  113. #113 Alex
    December 15, 2009

    You claim that is *any* kind of argument?

    No. That is the end of my argument. I quoted it back to you to emphasize the “If not, why not?” part. I even put that bit in bold to help you out. I then said afterwards, “I just gave you a moral argument. You say it isn’t a moral argument or rational or logical. Show me. Just asserting it doesn’t make it so.”

    As someone else pointed out, what Greg is discussing isn’t logical argumentation but heuristics. Heuristics is a method of filtering and, like I discussed, generally falls into knowledge- authority-, trust-, and personal risk-based decision points. That’s fine and useful. But the value of hueristic decision making does NOT make it logical. The definition of an appeal to authority is;
    ” 1. Person A claims that P 2. Person A is a respected scientist or other authority 3. Therefore, P is true. ”
    There it is, the end.

    It’s logical to use heuristics when you have no other information to go on. No-one, Greg, me or anyone, none of us are arguing that heuristics prove that guy A is right, only that it is more logical to believe that guy A’s advice/theory/info is more likely to be right if you have nothing else to go on. This has been explained to you several times in this thread now, by several different people. It’s a wonder you haven’t gotten it now. I got it from just reading Greg’s post. Is there some secret language that the rest of us are using that you are having trouble reading?

  114. #114 Trevor Romans
    December 15, 2009

    I am wondering about the 99% of scientists. Do they all accept every projection of climate scientists? Do they all think that extra CO2 is a serious problem? Just wondering. Just as supporters of AGW lump and label all doubters as Deniers, I am wondering if there is not differing opinions as to the effects of CO2 on the global climate among climate scientists.

    For instance, there are some scientists who think that warmer temerpatures might me a good thing, or at least not as devestating as others predict.

    I am wondering what kind of actions you think need to be taken? It seems to me, that a lot of supporters of reducing global climate emmissions are ideologically in favor of reduced economic activity in general. This may not be your position, but there seems to be a lot of folks who believe the oil companies are conspiring to destroy the planet.

  115. #115 Aquinas Dad
    December 15, 2009

    Alex,
    1) you claimed a moral argument had been made previously – show it
    2) your statement and question are in no way a formal argument. Let me show you;

    “Do you not have a moral imperative to commit suicide to reduce CO2 emissions? If not, why not?”

    I’ll wait while you look for where I demonstrated moral weight on you position.

  116. #116 Aquinas Dad
    December 15, 2009

    Stephanie,
    “A voter is taking an action with consequences, some positive, some negative. Let me know whether you disagree that the the voter is morally responsible for the consequences of that decision.”

    Please look up the is/ought problem then explain why this obligates voters to refer to and defer to experts.

  117. #117 Physicalist
    December 15, 2009

    Just remember, though. I went to Harvard.

    OK, I’ll to use small words for you then. :-)

    There are people who argue that the decision of whether evolution is a valid set of theories or should be taught along side creationism, etc, should be a local one. Why? The “logical” reason to think this is that the more local the decision the better it is. Which, I am trying to point out here, is a fallacy.

    In addition to a question of which is better, we should consider the question of ownership. There’s something to be said for people having more direct control over their lives and that of their children.

    Of course, you’re absolutely right that there’s a fairly high cost of nincompoops wanting to keep their children ignorant — and I’m certainly not arguing that the value of ownership trumps the value of education.

    You’ve heard of the arguments about “argument from authority.”

    In baby logic/critical reasoning classes these days (in philosophy departments) we tend to teach that there are legitimate arguments from authority and fallacious arguments from authority. Obviously appeal to expertise is a legitimate form of reasoning.

  118. #118 Stephanie Z
    December 15, 2009

    Is/ought problem? Really? Are you suggesting that I’m saying that because voting has consequences, it should have consequences?

    If you’re saying something else, please clarify. Otherwise, refer once again to comment 112 and try to argue with what’s already been said. Otherwise, I’ll assume you have no problems with my moral argument. Because right now, you’re just trying to make people do your thinking for you instead of dealing with their arguments. Formal argumentation style isn’t really necessary for anyone who has any flexibility of thinking. I just used it because you don’t seem to be demonstrating any.

  119. #119 Alex
    December 15, 2009

    Alex,
    1) you claimed a moral argument had been made previously – show it

    I’ve already made the moral argument. Ctrl+f on “asteroid” and you’ll find it. You then just asserted that it wasn’t a moral argument. You didn’t say why.

    2) your statement and question are in no way a formal argument.

    I never claimed I did make a “formal” argument.

    Let me show you;

    “Do you not have a moral imperative to commit suicide to reduce CO2 emissions? If not, why not?”

    Sigh. I’ll repeat to you what I just said up above with reference to the double question:

    That is the end of my argument. I quoted it back to you to emphasize the “If not, why not?” part. I even put that bit in bold to help you out. I then said afterwards, “I just gave you a moral argument. You say it isn’t a moral argument or rational or logical. Show me. Just asserting it doesn’t make it so.”

  120. #120 R.C.Hughes
    December 15, 2009

    @55 Gwen,

    When another large earthquake hits the SF Bay Area, and supposes it knocks down the SF-Oak bay bridge. Would you build it according to the plans of a person who had studied bridge building and had years of experience in building this kind of bridge, or would you go with a HS graduate who had read a book about bridge building and had a great idea about how it could be done. As the consumer, whose bridge would you cross. Also, would you use a company with a history of building homes to build a bridge, because they were builders. And as a consumer with this information, would you cross that bridge?

    I dunno. Is one of them going to test their bridge, while the other only uses models?

    Note: The previous subset of 17 words form a phrasing known in the vernacular as a joke and are provided to you for your reading pleasure. The author has no experience or qualifications in the creation, preparation or presentation of humorous materials and humor should be sought at your own risk. The subset is not intended to be factual or represent truth in any form and does not necessarily represent the views of the author or any of his subsidiaries or affiliates. Failure to recognize the subset as a joke, to find humor in the subset or to derive pleasure from the reading of same shall be the sole responsibility of the reader and in no event shall the author or any of his subsidiaries or affiliates be liable for any direct, indirect, incidental, consequential, or exemplary damages from said failure(s).

  121. #121 Doug Henning
    December 15, 2009

    A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.
    – Jebediah Obadiah Zachariah Jedediah Springfield (né Hans Sprungfeld), on the relations of power in a democracy.

  122. #122 Lance
    December 15, 2009

    Alex,

    “Einstein was a ‘gifted graduate student’ meaning he was hardly a non-expert.”

    Gifted grad student = Expert?

    Really, I think the physics faculty here at the university might break into spontaneous laughter were you to say that during the weekly colloquium.

  123. #123 Lance
    December 15, 2009

    “In the scenario given above, there is a difference between Guy A and Guy B that strongly indicates that Guy A’s ideas are potentially worth listening to, while Guy B’s are not.”

    Hmm, the only information given about the two “guys” is that one is an authority and one isn’t but somehow the conclusion is not made by virtue of an appeal to authority?

    Was there an answer from a Ouija board that I missed?

    Note I’m not saying that given ONLY the information based on the authority mentioned in the example I wouldn’t vote for Guy A, just that clearly the decision would be based solely on authority since no other information on either guy or his theories is mentioned.

    Clearly this qualifies as an appeal to authority despite Laden’s rather weak and unsupported statement that it does not.

    Alex based on your powers of deduction I would highly recommend you avoid any street hustlers offering up a game of Three Card Monte.

  124. #124 Stephanie Z
    December 15, 2009

    Lance, gifted grad student may not equal expert. In fact, it took several years and many experiments before people took the theory seriously.

    On the other hand, gifted grad student does not equal someone who just read a book, which is why he was taken seriously enough that people undertook the necessary experiments, and which is the point of this post.

    You seem to be stuck in binary thinking, which is probably also why you have problems with the difference between the argument from authority (A has the authority. B does not. Therefore, A is correct.) and figuring out a probability (A has a strong background in a complicated subject. B does not. A is much more likely to be right and is a good choice if one has to spend time or money on one’s choice.).

    The problem with a fallacy is that it doesn’t prove a particular point, not that it isn’t an accurate representation of the way the world sometimes works. Proof for either A’s theory or B’s would still have to be obtained in the old, rigorous way, but if I had to make the choice to start checking hypotheses, I’d start with those generated by A’s theory.

  125. #125 Lance
    December 15, 2009

    Stephanie,

    Did you miss that I said that I might choose to give the money to Guy A based on his credentials if that was the only information given? But doing so would clearly be based on those credentials which is pure and simple an argument from authority.

    Why am I not allowed to review each of their “ideas”? Must I be limited to their credentials for some reason?

    This is the reason that arguments from authority are fallacious. Guy A while having a swell resume may have come up with a completely whack theory while Guy B, the novice, may have had an epiphany based on his nonprofessional but still valid research and insights.

    My example of Einstein and Lord Kelvin is just such a case. Luckily the people that reviewed Einstein’s first papers were not of a similar mind to our host.

    As to the person that said that Einstein came up with data to back up his theories, no sir! He was not an experimentalist and while his theories did fit the existing data quite beautifully he did no research to back it up.

    His ideas were elegant and profound despite the fact that he was essentially an un-credentialed novice. Our host would have voted to extend the funding to hear Lord Kelvin speak over Einstein.

  126. #126 Stephanie Z
    December 15, 2009

    No, Lance, I didn’t miss what you said, but you seem to have missed the difference between a fallacy (credentials equals correct) and a calculation (credentials equals remarkably higher likelihood of correctness). You’re also still trying to equate Einstein with a guy who read a book on physics. Do try telling that to the next graduate student in physics that you see. The fact that you can’t argue against Greg’s scenario without changing its parameters says something for the argument.

  127. #127 Greg Laden
    December 15, 2009

    Lance: Note I’m not saying that given ONLY the information based on the authority mentioned in the example I wouldn’t vote for Guy A

    This is explicitly a thought experiment. So you are not allowed to disagree with the conclusion of the experiment by assuming factors that are explicitly excluded.

  128. #128 Physicalist
    December 15, 2009

    I’m rather surprised that some people here are having trouble understanding how an argument from authority works, and when it is legitimate.

    If you yourself are in a position to evaluate competently the full argument for some claim, then it is proper to discount the source — only the argument matters.

    However, if you lack the requisite knowledge or training (or the smarts) to be able to evaluate the argument fully and fairly, then it is reasonable (and perhaps obligatory) for you to judge the source of the argument as a reason for accepting or rejecting it. Note that a full competent evaluation of an argument includes being familiar with whether all the premises invoked are true (or likely to be true).

    Obviously for the vast majority of technical matters, we will not personally be in a position to evaluate fully the evidence for and against some claim. Thus we quite appropriately rely on expertise.

    On the other hand, one does not need to be an expert to point out a non sequitur, and for at least some important arguments no specialized training or knowledge is required to be able to evaluate them full and fairly.

  129. #129 Lance
    December 16, 2009

    “This is explicitly a thought experiment. So you are not allowed to disagree with the conclusion of the experiment by assuming factors that are explicitly excluded.”

    I did no such thing. In fact I said that given only the facts of the example, the formal qualifications endowed the two guys, one had no choice but to use authority as the only possible criterion.

    Hence the statement that I would choose Guy A. I was just saying that why would I not at least consider the merits of the theories proposed by both candidates? I was objecting to having that option denied as a criteria.

    The example states, “For reasons that I’ll leave out of this thought experiment (because I can’t think of any) the two of them … Guy A and Guy B … become the sole denizens of a short list of possible keynote speakers at the International Union of Physicists Congress, a major meeting held every five years, and that everybody who is anybody in the field goes to.”

    Well since they are the “sole denizens selected by the International Union of Physicists Congress” one can assume that both theories have at least been deemed worthy of consideration. Why am I being forbidden from comparing the actual merits of the theories?

  130. #130 Greg Laden
    December 16, 2009

    Lance 131: “I said that given only the facts of the example, the formal qualifications endowed the two guys, one had no choice but to use authority as the only possible criterion.” Then you misunderstand the meaning of authority, and that would be a big problem in understanding the whole point here.

    You may have to go back to all the places you got this wrong on the internet and revise.

  131. #131 Lance
    December 16, 2009

    Greg,

    Why are you dodging the question of why one wouldn’t actually look at the respective theories of the two guys?

  132. #132 becca
    December 16, 2009

    So Greg, I’m curious, how wrong did I get it? What exactly is your position on homeschooling? Inquiring minds want to know.

  133. #133 Greg Laden
    December 16, 2009

    Why are you dodging the question of why one wouldn’t actually look at the respective theories of the two guys?

    I am not dodging the question. I created a very simple thought experiment to underscore the difference between expertise and non-expertise, and posed as the test the expenditure of thousands of dollars to chose either one speaker or the other. There are no other alternatives. The point of a thought experiment such as this is to simplify a problem so that a key point can be made.

    This is not hard.

    Becca, my position on home schooling can be found here. A comment in a blog post is hardly the place to describe something that is that complex, but very briefly:

    1) I’m generally supportive of the idea of home schooling.

    2) I think home schooling works better for earlier years than later years, but that is a generalization (but a useful one).

    3) Effective home schooling is accessible to the privileged more so than to others.

    4) Most (but not all) people that I know who are engaged in home schooling are nutbags.

    5) As a whole, as far as I can tell, the broader community of home schoolers is highly suspect as to their methods, their motivations, and their abilities.

    6) Some of my best friends are home schooling their children.

    7) As a person who never walked into a high school classroom from the beginning of 10th grade on, but got edumicated by a combination of home schooling and attending Terrorist School, I appreciate the approach more than most people who also openly question it.

    8) I’ve never met on the internet a group of goatfucking assholes of lower social ability and more worthy of general disdain than the homeschooling activists.

    9) I’ve met few groups of people who are as closed minded and cliquish, demanding that everyone agree with all of what the say to be true and not being able to handle any criticism of any kind, as the on line home schooling activists. Oh, and I should throw in dishonest. They are a bunch of lying fucks.

    Hmm… looking back on it, that’s not such a bad summary.

    And, speaking of dishonesty vs. honesty, full disclosure to those just tuning in: Becca already knew the answer to the question she posed. That is how we met, after all, discussing home schooling.

  134. #134 becca
    December 16, 2009

    Aww greggie, it’s so sweet when you tell the how we met story.

    Inquiring minds were over at your new Sbling’s place, and I wanted to get a summary since not every new reader to that blog can be expected to go and read your entire achieves of ‘homeschooling’ tagged posts just for a little context. So ’tis appreciated.

    Dude, are the homeschooling activists really worse than Kliqueons, anti-vaxers, creationists and Mac fanbois??!! Well, ok, maybe. But lower social ability than 4chaners*? Or anime central fans*? I gotta call bullshit, Greg. Ya might as well say they’re worse than furries (when we all know nobody is worse than a furry).
    (*I realize it’s entirely possible you’ve simply never dealt with these communities. In which case, I say your distain for homeschooling activists is evidence of how very fortunate and sheltered you truly are)

  135. #135 Greg Laden
    December 16, 2009

    Exactly, I’ve not dealt with some of those communities you’ve mentioned. I should modify: They are the worst that I’ve dealt with on a regular basis.

  136. #136 Jason Thibeault
    December 16, 2009

    Your point number eight deserves repetition Greg. Aside from you putting that opinion on its ear, my opinion of homeschooling was entirely formed by those goatfuckers.

  137. #137 Greg Laden
    December 16, 2009

    They totally ruined it for everybody.