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Jon Lawhead

Jon Lawhead 

"I'm not an expert on anything, but I can improvise."

Occupation: "I'm not an expert on anything, but I can improvise." (University of Southern California)

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Followers: 8,954

Following: 950

Views: 2,421,045

Added to CircleCount.com: 12/27/2011That's the date, where Jon Lawhead has been indexed by CircleCount.com.
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Jon Lawhead has been at 7 events

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Daniel Estrada30,661@103315650425474752023 and I will be debating the controversial FLI petition to ban autonomous weapons. I've signed and will be defending the ban; Jon is skeptical and will be defending the side of evil. We haven't talked about this yet and thought it would be fun to think it through together on the air. Everyone is welcome to hop on the stream and join in. More on the petition here:  http://futureoflife.org/AI/open_letter_autonomous_weapons#signatories http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/30/opposition-autonomous-warfare-artificial-intelliegence https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DanielEstrada/posts/92w6cf3TU6iAutonomous Weapons: The Debate2015-08-06 03:00:009  
Daniel Estrada30,661// Continuing a long conversation after a brief intermission! See more here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/events/cjhsk41gv6ggn3sbdubq2klmrc0 > This week an announcement rippled through the internet: a computer passed Turing's test. Soon after the backlash began: the test was rigged, the resulted were hyped, and Eugene, the machine in question, was lame.  Now the backlash is giving way to even stronger criticisms. +Massimo Pigliucci recently argued (http://goo.gl/VdilBI) that not only was this test illegitimate, but Turing's test itself should be abandoned. But Massimo's argument is deeply mistaken about the nature of Turing's test, what it seeks to prove, and why it matters for science.  I've been writing all week about this event: http://goo.gl/J26xbs, http://goo.gl/5RKIm7, http://goo.gl/c07lLG, http://goo.gl/T98ubJ, http://goo.gl/8cMKSI But now that the backlash against the event is directed at Turing's views themselves, I feel something more than an essay is required to address these concerns. To be convincing, this requires a human face and a human voice to speak out in defense of Turing's proposal. I'm fully aware of the irony of this situation.  So come hangout with me and +Jon Lawhead this Friday at 10pm EST while I defend Turing's proposal in light of the criticisms that have accrued over the last week. I'll be providing a defense of Turing's position informed by recent experimental work in psychology. I hope to convince even the skeptics like Massimo that Turing's test deserves a central place in our discussion of artificial intelligence in the modern world. Why the Turing Test Matters II2014-06-14 05:44:028  
Daniel Estrada30,661This week an announcement rippled through the internet: a computer passed Turing's test. Soon after the backlash began: the test was rigged, the resulted were hyped, and Eugene, the machine in question, was lame.  Now the backlash is giving way to even stronger criticisms. @111907992359490335188 recently argued (http://goo.gl/VdilBI) that not only was this test illegitimate, but Turing's test itself should be abandoned. But Massimo's argument is deeply mistaken about the nature of Turing's test, what it seeks to prove, and why it matters for science.  I've been writing all week about this event: http://goo.gl/J26xbs, http://goo.gl/5RKIm7, http://goo.gl/c07lLG, http://goo.gl/T98ubJ, http://goo.gl/8cMKSI But now that the backlash against the event is directed at Turing's views themselves, I feel something more than an essay is required to address these concerns. To be convincing, this requires a human face and a human voice to speak out in defense of Turing's proposal. I'm fully aware of the irony of this situation.  So come hangout with me and @103315650425474752023 this Friday at 10pm EST while I defend Turing's proposal in light of the criticisms that have accrued over the last week. I'll be providing a defense of Turing's position informed by recent experimental work in psychology. I hope to convince even the skeptics like Massimo that Turing's test deserves a central place in our discussion of artificial intelligence in the modern world. Why the Turing Test matters2014-06-14 04:00:009  
Daniel Estrada30,661Seriously, what the hell is Strangecoin?  Join me and @103315650425474752023  this Thursday night at 9pm EST. We'll talk about Strangecoin and the reaction it's getting online, and we'll field questions and comments from the Internet about whatever it is we think we're doing.  The original Strangecoin proposal: http://digitalinterface.blogspot.com/2014/03/strangecoin-proposal-for-nonlinear.html HackerNews thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7494709 SomethingAwful thread: http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3620968 #strangecoin  Strangecoin: The Hangout2014-04-04 03:00:007  
Daniel Estrada30,661Made of Robots Your weekly HoA in the philosophy of technology  Week 5 readings: Andy Clark & David Chalmers (1998) "The Extended Mind"  http://consc.net/papers/extended.html Clark (2010) "Memento's Revenge: The Extended Mind, extended" http://goo.gl/W2GNtQ Every Tuesday at 7pm EST I'll host an HOA on the philosophy of technology.  We'll select short readings made available in advance and begin with an overview of the highlights. Then we'll have a general discussion for an hour, open to anyone who wants to join in, all of which will be archived on YouTube. Beyond doing some good philosophy, Made of Robots hopes to bring together a community of people interested in raising the level of popular discourse on technology.Made of Robots #52014-03-12 00:00:006  
Daniel Estrada30,661Made of Robots Your weekly HoA in the philosophy of technology  Week 4 reading: Andy Clark (2003) _Natural Born Cyborgs_ Ch 3: *Plastic Brains, Hybrid Minds* http://goo.gl/yriTC Every Tuesday at 7pm EST I'm hosting an HOA on the philosophy of technology.  We'll select short readings made available in advance and begin with an overview of the highlights. Then we'll have a general discussion for an hour, open to anyone who wants to join in, all of which will be archived on YouTube. Beyond doing some good philosophy, Made of Robots hopes to bring together a community of people interested in raising the level of popular discourse on technology.Made of Robots #42014-03-05 01:00:007  
Daniel Estrada30,661*Made of Robots* A new weekly HoA in the philosophy of technology  This Tuesday at 6pm EST, I'll lead the first of a weekly series of Hangouts devoted to the philosophy of technology. The topic covers a range of issues in the history of ideas and at the cutting edge of science. Despite its importance, technology can be frightening and bewildering (http://goo.gl/NmwDpm), and we sometimes struggle to know what to make of the world we've made for ourselves.  Made of Robots will be a public reading and disscussion group meeting weekly as an HoA designed to address these issues. We'll select short readings made available in advance and begin with a quick recap of the highlights. Then we'll have a general discussion for an hour, open to anyone who wants to join in, all of which will be archived on YouTube. Beyond doing some good philosophy, I hope Made of Robots will bring together a community of people interested in raising the level of popular discourse on technology and helping others think clearly about it. We'll start this Tuesday (6-8pm EST) with a short, 4 page contemporary classic:  Stephen Kline (1980) What is technology? http://goo.gl/lKOKP Future readings will come from my "short essential reading list" (http://goo.gl/OXqhvP), from these anthologies (http://goo.gl/kxbf41, http://goo.gl/K52alc), and from other sources I have available. I'll announce the next reading on the air. I'm happy to lead the first few (dozen) sessions, but I'd be delighted if others were interested in leading future sessions with readings of their own selection.  If you're interested in participating or have suggestions on the format or for future readings, please let me know!Made of Robots #12014-02-11 23:55:384  

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Most comments: 15

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2016-03-16 02:57:24 (15 comments; 18 reshares; 27 +1s)Open 

My Scientism

I had a great long discussion with someone on Facebook this afternoon in which I laid out an overall framework for my philosophy of science, and in particular my "brand" of pluralistic scientism in what I think is a relatively clear way.  My friend raised most of the standard objections to my view(s), and I've never really put those (plus my answers to them) down in a single place before.  It occurred to me near the end of the conversation that I had a skeleton of a fairly well-worked out paper (or more) giving a holistic account of my view, and why I self-identify with the "scientism" label.  Virtually all of what I have here consists in things that I've said in one place or another (which makes this look like a lot more work to compose than it actually was), either in discussions or in more formal contexts, but I've never aggregated it allan... more »

Most reshares: 43

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2016-04-02 21:48:08 (8 comments; 43 reshares; 16 +1s)Open 

"It is literally a programming language for bacteria," says Christopher Voigt, an MIT professor of biological engineering. "You use a text-based language, just like you're programming a computer. Then you take that text and you compile it and it turns it into a DNA sequence that you put into the cell, and the circuit runs inside the cell."

Most plusones: 27

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2016-03-27 02:16:20 (7 comments; 6 reshares; 27 +1s)Open 

OK, I'm about to throw down some science here.  Prepare yourselves.

This is the first I'd heard about this film, or about the "coverup" that it's supposedly exposing.  I did a little bit of digging into it, so if you're like me and hadn't heard about this latest bout of craziness from the anti-vaccers, here's the story (from what I can tell), along with my analysis of why it's crap.

The Story 

Wakefield and another anti-vaccer named Hooker made contact with a supposed "whistleblower" at the CDC by the name of Thompson.  They claim that Thompson claims (I couldn't find any direct statement from Thompson) that the CDC orchestrated a "cover-up" with respect to the widely-cited 2004 case-control study looking at the age of first MMR vaccine in kids diagnosed with autism vs. neurotypical control kids.  Thatis, ... more »

Latest 50 posts

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2016-04-17 09:25:06 (1 comments; 1 reshares; 5 +1s)Open 

Crazy Bundy's enormous herd of Sovereign Cattle is now slowly starving to death on public land, because he won't take care of them unless he can do it for free. The BLM is (quite reasonably) concerned that if they try to round them up and feed them, they'll get shot by crazy people, so there the cows sit: gradually starving to death while destroying a piece of land the size of Rhode Island. Just like the Constitution says we're all free to do.

Crazy Bundy's enormous herd of Sovereign Cattle is now slowly starving to death on public land, because he won't take care of them unless he can do it for free. The BLM is (quite reasonably) concerned that if they try to round them up and feed them, they'll get shot by crazy people, so there the cows sit: gradually starving to death while destroying a piece of land the size of Rhode Island. Just like the Constitution says we're all free to do.___

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2016-04-17 07:50:43 (0 comments; 2 reshares; 3 +1s)Open 

March was the sixth month in a row to shatter its temperature record. This October, November, December, January, February, and March were all the warmest in recorded history.

Welcome to the future. It's fucking hot here.

"Most likely there is a confluence of events going on to produce this huge spike in temperature—latent heat in the Pacific waters, wind patterns distributing it, and more.

And underneath it all, stroking the fire, is us. [...]

El Niño might produce a spike, but that spike is sitting on top of an upward trend: the physical manifestation of human induced global warming, driven mostly by our dumping 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year.

Until our politicians recognize that this is a threat, and a very serious one, things are unlikely to change much. And the way I see it, the only way to get ourpo... more »

March was the sixth month in a row to shatter its temperature record. This October, November, December, January, February, and March were all the warmest in recorded history.

Welcome to the future. It's fucking hot here.

"Most likely there is a confluence of events going on to produce this huge spike in temperature—latent heat in the Pacific waters, wind patterns distributing it, and more.

And underneath it all, stroking the fire, is us. [...]

El Niño might produce a spike, but that spike is sitting on top of an upward trend: the physical manifestation of human induced global warming, driven mostly by our dumping 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year.

Until our politicians recognize that this is a threat, and a very serious one, things are unlikely to change much. And the way I see it, the only way to get our politicians to recognize that is to change the politicians we have in office."___

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2016-04-14 22:33:01 (4 comments; 4 reshares; 10 +1s)Open 

This strikes me as the political equivalent of what Dan Dennett called a 'deepity.' Depending on how you read it, it's either trivially true (and so inconsequential) or screamingly false (and so inconsequential); to the extent that it's true, it doesn't matter, and to the extent that it matters, it isn't true. Dennett's example was "love is just a word," which is obviously right in one trivial sense ('love' is a word), but obviously wrong in another (love isn't merely a word). A deepity trades on this double meaning to present the illusion of a profound insight where there is none.

This article is one long-form deepity. It's obviously true that most people (not women) want a partner who is a secure, confident, individual with their own personality, interests, and ideas--someone who isn't a "whiny, passive-aggressive... more »

This strikes me as the political equivalent of what Dan Dennett called a 'deepity.' Depending on how you read it, it's either trivially true (and so inconsequential) or screamingly false (and so inconsequential); to the extent that it's true, it doesn't matter, and to the extent that it matters, it isn't true. Dennett's example was "love is just a word," which is obviously right in one trivial sense ('love' is a word), but obviously wrong in another (love isn't merely a word). A deepity trades on this double meaning to present the illusion of a profound insight where there is none.

This article is one long-form deepity. It's obviously true that most people (not women) want a partner who is a secure, confident, individual with their own personality, interests, and ideas--someone who isn't a "whiny, passive-aggressive pushover." It's obviously false that feminism stands in contradiction to those desires, that respect for women turns a man into a person like that, or that women are being "told" to want such partners. Like deepity king Deepak Chopra's nuggets of wisdom, it's an uninteresting assertion either way: the apparent depth and insight is just a mirage stemming from the ambiguity. ___

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2016-04-13 02:38:05 (1 comments; 5 reshares; 6 +1s)Open 

A very cool concrete illustration of the probabilities associated with climate change and its various scenarios, in the form of two Roulette wheels.

"The Greenhouse Gamble™ wheels were developed by the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change to better convey uncertainty in climate change prediction. The roulette-style spinning wheels depict the estimated probability, or likelihood, of potential temperature change (global average surface temperature) over the next 100 years. The face of each wheel is divided into colored slices, with the size of each slice representing the estimated probability of the temperature change in the year 2100 falling within that range.

The Greenhouse Gamble wheel on the left is the "no policy" or reference case, in which it is assumed no action is taken to try to curb the global emissions of greenhouse gases. The medianv... more »

A very cool concrete illustration of the probabilities associated with climate change and its various scenarios, in the form of two Roulette wheels.

"The Greenhouse Gamble™ wheels were developed by the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change to better convey uncertainty in climate change prediction. The roulette-style spinning wheels depict the estimated probability, or likelihood, of potential temperature change (global average surface temperature) over the next 100 years. The face of each wheel is divided into colored slices, with the size of each slice representing the estimated probability of the temperature change in the year 2100 falling within that range.

The Greenhouse Gamble wheel on the left is the "no policy" or reference case, in which it is assumed no action is taken to try to curb the global emissions of greenhouse gases. The median value of the "no policy" wheel, or the temperature at which there is a 50% chance of falling above or below that level (even odds) is 5.2 °C.

The Greenhouse Gamble wheel on the right is the "with policy" case, which assumes that policies are enacted to limit cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases over the century to 3.4 trillion metric tons, measured in CO2-equivalent. The median warming level (even odds) is 2.3 °C.

The resulting change in probabilities when switching from a "no policy" scenario to a "with policy" scenario is shown by the altered size of the representative temperature slices. If policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are enacted, the likelihood of constraining global temperature change in 2100 to below 3 °C warming increases to 90% (9 in 10 odds) from the "no policy" scenario. As global emissions of greenhouse gases continue to increase, the "no policy" roulette wheel continues to spin. By reducing emissions, we can limit the risks from global climate change impacts."___

2016-04-13 00:22:39 (0 comments; 1 reshares; 3 +1s)Open 

Macer: What is our objective?
Graver: To dramatically over-react.
Sicario (2015)

// I watched the film Sicario the other night, knowing nothing about it. It ended up being a pretty strong crime thriller, notable for having a solid female protagonist whose gender wasn't ignored but also wasn't an issue. It's not the kind of thing I would mention, except that the plot involved the explicit discussion of chaos as a strategic weapon in international intelligence operations, which i thought was interesting. I noticed the director mentions chaos explicitly in interviews, but otherwise I couldn't find much explicit discussion of the issue online.

I did find someone on Quora with the same question, though, so I decided to write an answer myself, with help from +Jon Lawhead (which can effectively be assumed). See my full response below. I'm happy to take... more »

Macer: What is our objective?
Graver: To dramatically over-react.
Sicario (2015)

// I watched the film Sicario the other night, knowing nothing about it. It ended up being a pretty strong crime thriller, notable for having a solid female protagonist whose gender wasn't ignored but also wasn't an issue. It's not the kind of thing I would mention, except that the plot involved the explicit discussion of chaos as a strategic weapon in international intelligence operations, which i thought was interesting. I noticed the director mentions chaos explicitly in interviews, but otherwise I couldn't find much explicit discussion of the issue online.

I did find someone on Quora with the same question, though, so I decided to write an answer myself, with help from +Jon Lawhead (which can effectively be assumed). See my full response below. I'm happy to take suggestions for improvement.

> In the movie Sicario, what are examples of how chaos theory was used to solve a massively complex problem?

Graver: This is the future, Kate. Juarez is what happens when they dig in. This is it!
Macer: What am I doing here?
Graver: What you’re doing is you’re giving us the opportunity to shake the tree and create chaos.

https://www.quora.com/In-the-movie-Sicario-what-are-examples-of-how-chaos-theory-was-used-to-solve-a-massively-complex-problem/answer/Daniel-Estrada-4?srid=O5pW___

2016-04-13 00:21:07 (0 comments; 1 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

"We inhabit a world that is not only small but supports efficient decentralized search - an individual using local information can establish a line of communication with another completely unknown individual. Here we augment a hierarchical social network model with communication between and within communities. We argue that organization into communities would decrease overall decentralized search times. We take inspiration from the biological immune system which organizes search for pathogens in a hybrid modular strategy. "

"We inhabit a world that is not only small but supports efficient decentralized search - an individual using local information can establish a line of communication with another completely unknown individual. Here we augment a hierarchical social network model with communication between and within communities. We argue that organization into communities would decrease overall decentralized search times. We take inspiration from the biological immune system which organizes search for pathogens in a hybrid modular strategy. "___

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2016-04-06 04:26:45 (2 comments; 6 reshares; 17 +1s)Open 

"The last-millennium Digital Millennium Copyright Act has managed to stay on the books because we still think of it as a way to pull off small-potatoes ripoffs like forcing you to re-buy the movies you own on DVD if you want to watch them on your phone. In reality, the DMCA's anti-circumvention rules are a system that makes corporations into the only "people" who get to own property -- everything you "buy" is actually a license, dictated by terms of service that you've never read and certainly never agreed to, which give companies the right to reach into your home and do anything they want with the devices you've paid for."

"The last-millennium Digital Millennium Copyright Act has managed to stay on the books because we still think of it as a way to pull off small-potatoes ripoffs like forcing you to re-buy the movies you own on DVD if you want to watch them on your phone. In reality, the DMCA's anti-circumvention rules are a system that makes corporations into the only "people" who get to own property -- everything you "buy" is actually a license, dictated by terms of service that you've never read and certainly never agreed to, which give companies the right to reach into your home and do anything they want with the devices you've paid for."___

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2016-04-06 03:20:10 (2 comments; 15 reshares; 14 +1s)Open 

I turned that thing I wrote yesterday into a more shareably formatted blog post.

I turned that thing I wrote yesterday into a more shareably formatted blog post.___

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2016-04-05 21:33:11 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 4 +1s)Open 

The world is messy, and science is hard.

I really like the scientific method made of memes from ascienceenthusiast.com, but it's too simple. So I've attempted to make it more accurate. Not complete or totally accurate, because that's not possible - just more accurate. It still has a few flaws and it's still a simplification, but I think it gets the point across.

Science is a very different process to the one taught in high schools. As I've written before, it has a lot more similarities to the humanities and particularly the arts than is often appreciated. Yes, it deals in hard facts. But the interpretation of those facts, when it comes to front-line research, is every bit as subjective as the beauty of a Shakespearean sonnet.

The difference is that science makes testable predictions, and it has that all-important "reject hypothesis" scenario. This is no small difference - but the similarities matter too. It's not a black-and-white case of "scientists baffled" versus "mystery solved", whatever the popular media might say. Which matters a great deal, because if you see scientists continually getting things wrong without understanding why that that's integral to the process, of course you'll see them as untrustworthy idiots. Getting children to do experiments is one thing. Getting them to understand that there might not actually be a right answer at all -  just the best answer that's possible given the available data - is quite another.

Thinking about this some more, I think the major deficiencies of this version is that it lacks the extreme cases. You can prove a theory, occasionally. You can also disprove one - nowhere near as easily as a hypothesis, but it can be done.___The world is messy, and science is hard.

2016-04-05 03:21:51 (3 comments; 4 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

11 Climate Myths and Responses

One of my colleagues at USC is teaching a general education course on climate science this semester.  He invited the undergraduates to submit their favorite "myths" or misconceptions about climate change, and collected them all into a single document.  I spent today writing a detailed response to each of these 11 myths.  Here it is.  Feel free to make use of this however you like.

11 Climate Myths and Responses

One of my colleagues at USC is teaching a general education course on climate science this semester.  He invited the undergraduates to submit their favorite "myths" or misconceptions about climate change, and collected them all into a single document.  I spent today writing a detailed response to each of these 11 myths.  Here it is.  Feel free to make use of this however you like.___

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2016-04-02 21:48:08 (8 comments; 43 reshares; 16 +1s)Open 

"It is literally a programming language for bacteria," says Christopher Voigt, an MIT professor of biological engineering. "You use a text-based language, just like you're programming a computer. Then you take that text and you compile it and it turns it into a DNA sequence that you put into the cell, and the circuit runs inside the cell."

"It is literally a programming language for bacteria," says Christopher Voigt, an MIT professor of biological engineering. "You use a text-based language, just like you're programming a computer. Then you take that text and you compile it and it turns it into a DNA sequence that you put into the cell, and the circuit runs inside the cell."___

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2016-04-02 21:01:09 (2 comments; 0 reshares; 6 +1s)Open 

We took a poll of all the seminar participants asking them to rank the United States' level of climate change policy readiness on a scale from 0 to 10, once at the beginning of the seminar and once at the end. The initial mean was about 5 (mode of 4). After hearing me and the other person's talk, the mean dropped to about 2.5 (mode of 3).

One person told me "your talk was really upsetting, and it makes me want to scream at a senator until he cries."

#MissionAccomplished

We took a poll of all the seminar participants asking them to rank the United States' level of climate change policy readiness on a scale from 0 to 10, once at the beginning of the seminar and once at the end. The initial mean was about 5 (mode of 4). After hearing me and the other person's talk, the mean dropped to about 2.5 (mode of 3).

One person told me "your talk was really upsetting, and it makes me want to scream at a senator until he cries."

#MissionAccomplished___

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2016-03-31 02:14:23 (2 comments; 2 reshares; 7 +1s)Open 

 I've finished up my Prezi for the Arsalyn Seminar on Climate Policy & Options this weekend, and here it is. It's called "Everything is Terrible and Nobody Cares." It's supposed to be a survey of the current state of the science, a look at where the Paris agreement might take us, and a survey of some of the basic policy options. I've got an hour, plus time for a Q&A.

I shamelessly stole several images and quotations from +Jordan Peacock 's recent talk.

#climatechange   #climatescience   #climateaction   #climatepolicy   #climate   #science  

 I've finished up my Prezi for the Arsalyn Seminar on Climate Policy & Options this weekend, and here it is. It's called "Everything is Terrible and Nobody Cares." It's supposed to be a survey of the current state of the science, a look at where the Paris agreement might take us, and a survey of some of the basic policy options. I've got an hour, plus time for a Q&A.

I shamelessly stole several images and quotations from +Jordan Peacock 's recent talk.

#climatechange   #climatescience   #climateaction   #climatepolicy   #climate   #science  ___

2016-03-30 04:49:17 (4 comments; 1 reshares; 5 +1s)Open 

Great talk from +Jordan Peacock about climate change and global politics titled "Hope without Optimism: The state of climate geopolitics." The slides are linked in the Soundcloud description. Very nice, Jordan!

Great talk from +Jordan Peacock about climate change and global politics titled "Hope without Optimism: The state of climate geopolitics." The slides are linked in the Soundcloud description. Very nice, Jordan!___

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2016-03-28 02:54:58 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

It's good enough for me

It's good enough for me___

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2016-03-27 02:16:20 (7 comments; 6 reshares; 27 +1s)Open 

OK, I'm about to throw down some science here.  Prepare yourselves.

This is the first I'd heard about this film, or about the "coverup" that it's supposedly exposing.  I did a little bit of digging into it, so if you're like me and hadn't heard about this latest bout of craziness from the anti-vaccers, here's the story (from what I can tell), along with my analysis of why it's crap.

The Story 

Wakefield and another anti-vaccer named Hooker made contact with a supposed "whistleblower" at the CDC by the name of Thompson.  They claim that Thompson claims (I couldn't find any direct statement from Thompson) that the CDC orchestrated a "cover-up" with respect to the widely-cited 2004 case-control study looking at the age of first MMR vaccine in kids diagnosed with autism vs. neurotypical control kids.  Thatis, ... more »

OK, I'm about to throw down some science here.  Prepare yourselves.

This is the first I'd heard about this film, or about the "coverup" that it's supposedly exposing.  I did a little bit of digging into it, so if you're like me and hadn't heard about this latest bout of craziness from the anti-vaccers, here's the story (from what I can tell), along with my analysis of why it's crap.

The Story 

Wakefield and another anti-vaccer named Hooker made contact with a supposed "whistleblower" at the CDC by the name of Thompson.  They claim that Thompson claims (I couldn't find any direct statement from Thompson) that the CDC orchestrated a "cover-up" with respect to the widely-cited 2004 case-control study looking at the age of first MMR vaccine in kids diagnosed with autism vs. neurotypical control kids.  That is, they looked at two groups of children: autistic and non-autistic, and then compared the age at which kids in each of the groups had received their MMR vaccination to see if they could find a link.  Specifically, they examined whether the rates of autism were higher among kids who had received the MMR at 18 months, 2 years, (24 months), or 3 years (36 months) of age.  They (of course) found no link at all.

Hooker/Wakefield are claiming that Thompson (who apparently works at the CDC?) now claims that the data was manipulated to obscure a very particular link: a 340% increased risk of autism among African-American males only who received the MMR vaccine, and that the CDC has spent the last 12 years covering this fact up.  I know we haven't gotten to the "Why It's Crap" section yet, but there are two immediate problems: (1) there's no obvious physiological reason why such an increased risk would manifest only in African-American males, which should make us suspicious immediately and (2) even if this were true, it would only further undermine the main anti-vaccer point that vaccinations put everyone at risk for autism (think of all the big-name anti-vaccination celebrities who supposedly have children that got autism from the MMR, and think of how many of them have African-American sons).

The "manipulation" that Thompson supposedly alleges consisted in the researchers discarding data points that came from children who didn't have valid Georgia birth certificates.  That's not nefarious or suspicious data manipulation, though, because access to the birth certificate is crucial to control for other factors that might be causally relevant here--things like birth weight, whether they were premature, parental age, &c.  Tossing those data points out will give you a more representative data set not a less representative one, because it will be more tightly controlled.  Anything you detect in the bigger dataset is more likely to be noise, and less likely to be signal.

Why It's Crap

But let's let that point slide too.  Based on what I can tell, the "reanalysis" of the original (uncut) dataset basically consisted in Hooker running it through SAS a bunch of times, cutting it up in every possible way and looking for a correlation.  Anyone who's taken a basic statistics (or science) course will tell you that doing this with any data-set will, more often than not, yield some kind of correlation between some factors.  That's why we don't just look for correlations blindly: we go into a study looking for specific things; otherwise we just end up with stuff that could go up on the Spurious Correlation Generator (http://tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations).

Even setting that aside, we can think about where this correlation might have come from.  There are a few obvious possibilities (none of which consists in the MMR vaccination causing autism in Black males).  

(1) The correlation that was (supposedly) detected was that among Black males, there was little correlation between autism and vaccination at 18 months, moderate correlation between vaccination and autism at 2 years, and strong correlation between vaccination and autism at 3 years.  There's a really obvious non-causal explanation for this, though: autism is rarely diagnosed by 18 months, and frequently diagnosed by 3 years of age.  This "reanalysis" discarded the control group, looking only at autistic children to see if there was a link between vaccination age and autism: given that, of course this correlation was there: most of the kids getting vaccinated for the first time at 3 years of age were also at the age where autism is definitively diagnosable, so you'd expect higher diagnosis rates among that group.  That's why the original study (like all reputable studies) used a control group.  You can't detect causal factors like this with this sort of methodology.  I'm not even a statistician (nor do I work in a field where this kind of statistical analysis is used) and that's screamingly obvious even to me.

(2)  There ended up being only five kids in the 3 year vaccination and autism set.  _Five_ kids.  Nice sample size ya got there.  People who wait until their kids are 3 years old to get a vaccination that they're supposed to get when they're 1 year old are (for whatever reason) probably not people who are taking their kids to the doctor for regular preventative checkups.  If that's true, then it's also no surprise that the five late-vaccinators had higher diagnosis rates.  Most people got earlier vaccinations, more regular checkups, and so got an earlier diagnosis (when appropriate).  But since more people overall got their kids vaccinated earlier, the statistical correlation seems to get stronger with later vaccination, because the sample-size shrinks with each step, and the kids who are left at the end are less likely to have seen a doctor at all, and thus less likely to have been diagnosed with anything before then.  But then why does this effect look strongest among African-Americans?  Well...

(3)  Might there be a correlation between race, socioeconomic status, and early-intervention health care?  This dataset was collected in Atlanta, where race and socioeconomic status are highly (negatively) correlated: African-Americans are less wealthy, on average, than non-African-Americans.  Less wealthy people are less likely to be able to make the time and/or have the money for frequent medical appointments, potentially leading to a kind of selection bias: the people who waited the longest to get their kids vaccinated might well have been the poorest people, and African-Americans are disproportionately represented among the the poorest people in Atlanta.  If the late vaccination population is smaller, less likely to have been diagnosed (irrespective of whether or not autism is present), and more likely to be African-American, then it's going to look like there's a correlation between being African-American and being diagnosed with autism.  But that correlation isn't causal: it's an artifact of the confluence of all those other correlations.

So, in conclusion: 

- The "reanalysis" failed to show any general link between MMR vaccines and autism, even if you believe everything in it is true.

- The statistical methodology behind this "reanalysis" was awful and universally recognized as likely to turn up spurious correlations 

- The "manipulation" of the original data set was perfectly legitimate, and designed to allow the investigators to control for other factors (which the reanalysis now cannot control for)

- The "reanalysis" failed to include a control group at all.

- Even if they actually found a correlation, there's a perfectly reasonable non-causal explanation: African-Americans in Atlanta are more likely to be poor, poor people are more likely to skip early-childhood medical appointments, and people who skip early childhood medical appointments are more likely to be diagnosed with autism later on, because it couldn't have been caught earlier.

#science   #vaccines   #antivaccination   #vaccination  +Science on Google+ ___

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2016-03-26 20:58:42 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

The minimal agent

> My goal in this paper is to think about agency by investigating its most deficient case: the minimal agent. By definition, the minimal agent is the simplest possible agent; it can be made no simpler without sacrificing its very identity as an agent. I’ll survey the literature for some proposed “minimal agents” to get a sense of the options available, and I’ll try to systematically analyze the field in order to draw some meaningful conclusions. I will argue that debates within the literature seem to count against any hard lower bound on agency. In other words, there is no minimal agent

https://www.academia.edu/23709061/The_minimal_agent

// This paper was rushed to meet a conference deadline that ultimately rejected it. The ideas in this paper are solid and will probably be used for a project in the future. But in its current form, thispaper is... more »

The minimal agent

> My goal in this paper is to think about agency by investigating its most deficient case: the minimal agent. By definition, the minimal agent is the simplest possible agent; it can be made no simpler without sacrificing its very identity as an agent. I’ll survey the literature for some proposed “minimal agents” to get a sense of the options available, and I’ll try to systematically analyze the field in order to draw some meaningful conclusions. I will argue that debates within the literature seem to count against any hard lower bound on agency. In other words, there is no minimal agent

https://www.academia.edu/23709061/The_minimal_agent

// This paper was rushed to meet a conference deadline that ultimately rejected it. The ideas in this paper are solid and will probably be used for a project in the future. But in its current form, this paper is unlikely to do anything more than sit on my hard drive.

Since it bears directly on Venter's syn3.0 "minimal organism" announced this week (see: https://plus.google.com/+DanielEstrada/posts/Rj6uYioyheT), I thought it better to put online for open discussion.

___

2016-03-26 06:31:47 (0 comments; 3 reshares; 5 +1s)Open 

I gave a 15 minute interview on the Minnesota NPR affiliate this morning about weather modeling, chaos theory, and computational models. Here it is, if anyone wants to hear. I come in about half way through, with Harry Enten from FiveThirtyEight.

This week on the Weather Lab, MPR chief meteorologist Paul Huttner pulled back the curtain on weather modeling and why different agencies can get such different forecasts out of the same underlying weather data. Professor Cliff Mass, writer Harry Enten, and Jon Lawhead of the University of Southern California joined Paul for the discussion.

I gave a 15 minute interview on the Minnesota NPR affiliate this morning about weather modeling, chaos theory, and computational models. Here it is, if anyone wants to hear. I come in about half way through, with Harry Enten from FiveThirtyEight.

This week on the Weather Lab, MPR chief meteorologist Paul Huttner pulled back the curtain on weather modeling and why different agencies can get such different forecasts out of the same underlying weather data. Professor Cliff Mass, writer Harry Enten, and Jon Lawhead of the University of Southern California joined Paul for the discussion.___

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2016-03-26 03:57:35 (1 comments; 4 reshares; 4 +1s)Open 

“I don’t think it really matters if you get the words right,” said Andrew Moore, the dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon. “To me, the most important distinction is whether a technology is designed primarily to be autonomous. ... The second question—of whether this thing, whatever it is, happens to have legs or eyes or a body—is less important.”

“I don’t think it really matters if you get the words right,” said Andrew Moore, the dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon. “To me, the most important distinction is whether a technology is designed primarily to be autonomous. ... The second question—of whether this thing, whatever it is, happens to have legs or eyes or a body—is less important.”___

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2016-03-22 23:30:36 (3 comments; 4 reshares; 6 +1s)Open 

"While any given change in shape for the system is mostly random, the most durable and irreversible of these shifts in configuration occur when the system happens to be momentarily better at absorbing and dissipating work. With the passage of time, the “memory” of these less erasable changes accumulates preferentially, and the system increasingly adopts shapes that resemble those in its history where dissipation occurred. Looking backward at the likely history of a product of this non-equilibrium process, the structure will appear to us like it has self-organized into a state that is “well adapted” to the environmental conditions. This is the phenomenon of dissipative adaptation."

"While any given change in shape for the system is mostly random, the most durable and irreversible of these shifts in configuration occur when the system happens to be momentarily better at absorbing and dissipating work. With the passage of time, the “memory” of these less erasable changes accumulates preferentially, and the system increasingly adopts shapes that resemble those in its history where dissipation occurred. Looking backward at the likely history of a product of this non-equilibrium process, the structure will appear to us like it has self-organized into a state that is “well adapted” to the environmental conditions. This is the phenomenon of dissipative adaptation."___

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2016-03-18 05:25:24 (0 comments; 2 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

Of all the central active fields in complexity theory, I find the stuff about military optimization by far the weirdest. I mean I get it, and this is a fine paper, but still...

"Much like a multicellular organism, human civilization is composed of a set of distinct and heterogeneous social tissues. Responding to disruption and restoring health in a system with highly diverse local social conditions is an essentially complex task. SOF have the potential to mitigate against harm without disrupting normal social tissue behavior. This analysis suggests how SOF might be leveraged to support global stability and mitigate against cascading crises."

Of all the central active fields in complexity theory, I find the stuff about military optimization by far the weirdest. I mean I get it, and this is a fine paper, but still...

"Much like a multicellular organism, human civilization is composed of a set of distinct and heterogeneous social tissues. Responding to disruption and restoring health in a system with highly diverse local social conditions is an essentially complex task. SOF have the potential to mitigate against harm without disrupting normal social tissue behavior. This analysis suggests how SOF might be leveraged to support global stability and mitigate against cascading crises."___

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2016-03-18 05:24:54 (2 comments; 4 reshares; 4 +1s)Open 

Of all the central active fields in complexity theory, I find the stuff about military optimization by far the weirdest. I mean I get it, and this is a fine paper, but still...

"Much like a multicellular organism, human civilization is composed of a set of distinct and heterogeneous social tissues. Responding to disruption and restoring health in a system with highly diverse local social conditions is an essentially complex task. SOF have the potential to mitigate against harm without disrupting normal social tissue behavior. This analysis suggests how SOF might be leveraged to support global stability and mitigate against cascading crises."

Of all the central active fields in complexity theory, I find the stuff about military optimization by far the weirdest. I mean I get it, and this is a fine paper, but still...

"Much like a multicellular organism, human civilization is composed of a set of distinct and heterogeneous social tissues. Responding to disruption and restoring health in a system with highly diverse local social conditions is an essentially complex task. SOF have the potential to mitigate against harm without disrupting normal social tissue behavior. This analysis suggests how SOF might be leveraged to support global stability and mitigate against cascading crises."___

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2016-03-16 02:57:24 (15 comments; 18 reshares; 27 +1s)Open 

My Scientism

I had a great long discussion with someone on Facebook this afternoon in which I laid out an overall framework for my philosophy of science, and in particular my "brand" of pluralistic scientism in what I think is a relatively clear way.  My friend raised most of the standard objections to my view(s), and I've never really put those (plus my answers to them) down in a single place before.  It occurred to me near the end of the conversation that I had a skeleton of a fairly well-worked out paper (or more) giving a holistic account of my view, and why I self-identify with the "scientism" label.  Virtually all of what I have here consists in things that I've said in one place or another (which makes this look like a lot more work to compose than it actually was), either in discussions or in more formal contexts, but I've never aggregated it allan... more »

My Scientism

I had a great long discussion with someone on Facebook this afternoon in which I laid out an overall framework for my philosophy of science, and in particular my "brand" of pluralistic scientism in what I think is a relatively clear way.  My friend raised most of the standard objections to my view(s), and I've never really put those (plus my answers to them) down in a single place before.  It occurred to me near the end of the conversation that I had a skeleton of a fairly well-worked out paper (or more) giving a holistic account of my view, and why I self-identify with the "scientism" label.  Virtually all of what I have here consists in things that I've said in one place or another (which makes this look like a lot more work to compose than it actually was), either in discussions or in more formal contexts, but I've never aggregated it all and presented it in a way that shows how it's all supposed to fit together into a comprehensive view.  This is mostly for my own use later on, though comments are certainly welcome.

There are three main parts here.  First, the basic claim (really two basic claims): one about a commitment to scientism, and one about the role of prediction in science.  Second, an account of how philosophy, history, art, and literature are supposed to fit into this view, and how those pursuits can have value in the context of a scientistic philosophy.  Finally, an account of the relationship between prediction and explanation.

The Basic Claims

Science is the business of identifying real patterns in how the world changes over time, cataloging those patterns, and using them to make predictions about what's going to happen in the world.  This makes science deeply prediction centric: on this view, the central job of the scientist is to find patterns that are stable enough across time and environmental perturbation to be able to ground our predictions about what's going to happen in the future of some system.  Moreover, science is the best and only reliable methodology to accomplish this task.  Other "ways of knowing" (ugh) are legitimate only insofar as they are simply disguised ways of doing science or else have successfully hit on some stable pattern entirely by accident.

So there are two controversial claims here: (1) that prediction is at the core of everything science does (call this the "prediction-centric claim," and (2) that science is the best and only methodology we have for understanding the structure of the world around us (call this "the scientistic claim").  The goal here is to unpack and defend those two controversial claims, show how they relate to one another, and how they don't lead to believing crazy things.

The Humanities as Sciences

There's an immediate objection here: what about the humanities?  People tend to be uncomfortable with scientism as it's standardly articulated because it seems to leave no room for things like philosophy as legitimate pursuits.  Considering that what I'm doing now counts as philosophy, unless I want my argument to be self-undermining, I need an account of how philosophical inquiry--and, more broadly, humanistic disciplines like history--can be legitimate enterprises.  

Let's tackle history as an example case, and generalize from there.  Historians do lots of uncovering patterns in data, but the kinds of patterns they discover don't always (don't usually?) lend themselves to making predictions about the future, it seems.  So what do we say about that?  Is historical inquiry only worthwhile insofar as it uncovers patterns that could lead to predictions about the future?

To begin, I'm not at all sure that historians' patterns don't lend themselves to making predictions about the future. Knowing how things went in the past is an excellent guide to knowing how things will go in the future, and historians can uncover general trends in various kinds of systems that are incredibly useful for making predictions in similar contexts. Moreover, just uncovering facts about what went on in the past is very helpful in lots of other areas. Testing a model of some system or process for retrodictive success is a great way to start to figure out if you've got something that might be a predictive success as well. In some cases, that's actually all we have to go on (most climate models are empirically vetted primarily on the basis of their success at retrodicting paleoclimate trends based on the right initial conditions and parameterizations). In climate science (along with lots of other "mainstream" scientific fields), there are people who almost exclusively do data collection (rather than building models or theories themselves). I'd see historians as fitting into the larger project of science in pretty much the same way in many cases: just doing that kind of data collection is extremely important. Of course, there are also historians who advance more grand theoretical frameworks (maybe somebody like Marx counts here) that are supposed to be explicitly predictive, and they're even easier to fit in.

Here's my view somewhat more generally. I don't want to suggest that the actual business of making particular predictions is the only thing that's worth doing. While I wholeheartedly embrace the "scientism" label, I like to think that my scientism is at least somewhat nuanced or sophisticated (that's the whole point of aggregating all of these arguments). The notion that "the only activity worth doing is making predictions about the future" is a sort of "naive scientism" in the vein of someone like Sam Harris, and I certainly want to contrast my brand of pluralist, pragmatically motivated, naturalistic scientism with that sort of position. 

I've used this metaphor really frequently (including in my dissertation), but I think it bears repeating here:

I think of science as being something like air travel. The (straightforward) point of air travel is to get people safely from one point to another by flying planes. It's quite clear that in order to do that, you need a lot of people who know how to fly planes safely, and that the people doing that are the most salient contributors to the overall project. But it would be extremely silly to suggest that because their contributions are the most salient, they're the only ones doing anything worthwhile in pursuit of that project. It would be silly, that is, to suggest that because the plane mechanics, ground crew, air traffic controllers, mechanical engineers, ticket agents, flight attendants, and so on aren't physically flying planes they're not contributing to the same overall project that the pilots are engaged in--viz., air travel. Without those people, the project of air travel wouldn't (so to speak) fly: it wouldn't work, or at least it wouldn't work nearly as smoothly. It's the entire system of pilots plus all the people working behind the scenes to support them that makes the whole process work as smoothly as it does.

There's an excellent short paper by Stephen Kline called "What Is Technology?" (https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B4wR7F7Si7hseS0yWllsYWxqNkE) in which he distinguishes four different senses of "technology," starting with artifacts themselves and working up to what he calls a "sociotechnical system of use" in which the artifacts--along with their design, manufacture, deployment, management, maintenance, and so on--are deployed. When I talk about science, or claim that the whole business of science is prediction, I have in mind a definition of "science" that's roughly analogous to Kline's definition of "technology" as "sociotechnical system of use" sense; that is, by "science" I mean not just the business of making predictions, but also all the other things that have to happen to make that particular endeavor possible. In the context of the air travel metaphor, scientists are flying the planes, but people in many areas of the humanities (philosophers, historians, and lots of other people besides) can and do contribute by doing aircraft maintenance, air traffic control, and all that other stuff. It's all equally worthwhile in the sense that it's all necessary to make the system function smoothly, and it's all part of science in the sense that it's oriented toward the same broad goal.

Still, this may leave out much of what is interesting about historical inquiry: namely, understanding the specific ways in which the past is not and could never be like the future--the uniqueness and particularity of the past. Certainly, one can be interested in these things not accidentally or secondarily, but primarily. A historian of that kind would be looking out exactly for those features of the past the understanding of which will not lend themselves to making predictions about the future.

All this is surely correct.  Still, it seems to me that identifying those features, clarifying what made them distinctive, and articulating why they couldn't be repeated is still part of the same overall business of identifying patterns. The fact that you've found a pattern that's unlikely to repeat doesn't mean that you've found nothing at all. Knowing why the pattern won't repeat--why it was unstable against a certain kind of perturbation of the boundary conditions, say--can, in many cases, involve (or lead to) an even more intricate understanding of the structure of the system as a whole than just picking out more obvious repeating patterns.

This account generalizes fairly straightforwardly to include standardly "philosophical" pursuits like metaphysics.  Metaphysics (and philosophy in general) can fit in when it works in tandem with science (in the standard narrow sense) to facilitate this predictive project. The extent to which I find a metaphysical theory worthy of consideration (for example) is a direct function of the extent to which it contributes in some useful way to the scientific (in the broad sense I just outlined) project.  Good metaphysics is naturalized in the sense of Ladyman & Ross' Every Thing Must Go: it takes our best contemporary physical theories as its starting point, and engages in a kind of "conceptual engineering" or foundational work.  That is, I take the metaphysician's job to be the clarification, articulation, and (in some cases) critique of the concepts deployed by the natural sciences, in order to facilitate scientific investigation.  

Philosophers in general, I suggest, play a role similar to that of air traffic controllers while scientists play the role of pilots: while it is the pilots who are directly responsible for the success or failure of the project, their job can be (and is) made significantly easier with competent support and direction from the ground.  The air traffic controllers cooperate with the pilots to further a shared goal: the goal of moving people about safely.  Likewise, philosophers cooperate with scientists to further a shared goal: the goal of identifying genuine projectable patterns in the world around us. Philosophers are not scientists in just the same way that dotted yellow lines are not cars, or that air-traffic controllers are not pilots, or that traffic engineers are not commuters trying to get to work on time.  Like our transportation analogues, though, philosophers have a vital role to play in the scientific project as a whole: a role of coordination, general analysis, optimization, and clarification.  

We are suited to play this role precisely in virtue of not being scientists: we are uniquely suited (to both carry the transportation theme and echo a famous metaphor of Wilfred Sellars') "build bridges" between the activities of individual scientists, and between different branches of the scientific project as a whole.  Philosophers are trained to clarify foundational assumptions, note structural similarities between arguments (and problems) that at first glance could not seem more disparate, and to construct arguments with a keen eye for rigor.  These skills, while not necessarily part of the scientist's tool-kit, are vital to the success of the scientific project as a whole: if we're to succeed in our goal of cataloging the interesting patterns in the world around us, we need more than just people directly looking for those patterns.  We might take this as a special case of Bruno Latour's observation that "the more non-humans share existence with humans, the more humane a collective is," and note that the more non-scientists share in the scientific project, the more scientific the project becomes.

Art and Engineering

But what of even more humanistic disciplines?  What of English literature?  More generally, what about art?  How do those fit into this view?  Surely there is no explicit pattern identification or prediction going on there, and yet surely those can still be worthwhile pursuits.  How do we account for this?

Again, I'm not convinced that prediction isn't hidden somewhere in here, at least in many cases.  Something like comparative literature can teach us a lot about how people in various times, places, and circumstances saw the world, what their values and priorities were, and what was culturally salient to them when they wrote what they did. This is a potentially useful adjunct to the scientific project too. The art that people make is a kind of projection of the interplay between their own psychological and social circumstances; looking at it (and especially comparing it) can give you some idea of what those circumstances were, in the same sense that looking at an object's shadow from many different angles can give you some idea of the object's physical structure. Studying the literature, sculpture, folklore, or other artistic work of some culture can teach you a great deal about the culture itself. In at least some cases, disciplines like English literature are doing a kind of cultural anthropology. This is, I take it, part of why people get so upset when curricula include only things written by white male European authors: since the texts are in some sense proxies by which to examine the culture of the author, an "all Western classics" curriculum is exploring only a single culture.

Even still, I'll grant that not every case is going to straightforwardly work that way. In that case, I'd just say that what those people are doing isn't science at all. But that's OK--they don't claim to be. People do all sorts of things that aren't science, even broadly construed, and I certainly don't think that that's a problem. The scientistic claim, recall, isn't the view that everyone should be doing science and nothing else all the time, but just that science is the best and only methodology we have for discerning the structure of the world around us. 

Perhaps more controversially, I think it's reasonable to see the production of art (of any kind) as a species of engineering: the artist is attempting to manipulate the psychological and/or neurological states of the audience in a very specific way. This is straightforwardly true with something like narrative writing: when I'm making a philosophical argument, part of what I'm trying to do is put down some marks on a page that will get you into a particular psychological state, and something similar is true with narrative fiction, I think. Doing the same thing through the more roundabout and indirect interventions consisting of colors on a canvas, or non-narrative writing, or notes on a score is arguably more difficult, and more impressive. The fact that Mark Rothko can reliably induce certain highly specific emotional states in people who look at his pieces just by juxtaposing some blocks of solid colors, for instance, is absolutely astounding, and a remarkable feat of "psychological engineering" (or neurobiological hacking, maybe). All of the people we consider "great artists" produce works that still "resonate" with people hundreds (or even thousands) of years after the work was produced. The fact that a person was able to create something that continues to induce similar psychological states in people in vastly different cultures and circumstances indicates a truly remarkable understanding--conscious or not--of what makes people tick, and how to manipulate parts of the world to effect certain changes in people. Even if that's not science, it's certainly informed by a kind of implicit scientific-ish (scientifish?) understanding of the world: the great artists of history have identified some extremely robust patterns in how our perceptual and psychological systems are hooked up, and figured out how to reliably exploit them to effect certain reactions.

I think I claimed somewhere in my dissertation that everything people do is a kind of science, a kind of engineering, or a kind of recreation. I still think that's basically correct.

An Explanatory Gap?

There may seem to be some tension between the prediction-centric claim and the scientistic claim.  Specifically, the scientistic claim ("the best and only methodology we have for discerning the structure of the world around us"), makes no mention of prediction, instead referencing understanding.  In what sense does prediction lead to understanding, and why is that exclusively scientific? 

It's not obvious how to reconcile those two claims, but I think there's a way to do it. One natural objection to the prediction-centric view of science is that it leaves no room for explanation. Addressing this worry, then, involves giving an account of how prediction and explanation ("understanding" in the context of what I said there, I suppose, though I was speaking loosely) hook up. I don't actually think there's a substantive difference between the two; or, maybe more precisely, I think explanation is a certain kind of prediction (or pattern identification).

We want to say that there's a difference between a well-developed science and a "Magic 8-ball:" some kind of mysterious device that correctly answers questions about what will (or what is likely to) happen in the future (and so generates accurate predictions), but which is explanatorily empty. There's a practical illustration of this drawn from the history of climate science and meteorology. The most popular method for forecasting the weather during the first part of the 20th century involved the use of purely qualitative maps of past weather activity. Forecasters would chart the current state to the best of their ability, noting the location of clouds, the magnitude and direction of prevailing winds, the presence of precipitation, &c. Once the current state was recorded on a map of the region of interest, the forecasters would refer back to past charts of the same region until they found one that closely resembled the chart they had just generated. They would then check to see how that past state had evolved over time, and would base their forecast of the current situation on that past record. This turned forecasting into the kind of activity that took years (or even decades) to become proficient in; in order to make practical use of this kind of approach, would-be forecasters had to have an encyclopedic knowledge of past charts, as well as the ability to make educated guesses at how the current system might diverge from the most similar past cases. This approach faded away as people got a better theoretical understanding of atmospheric physics and other relevant theoretical processes underwriting the weather and climate systems. Eventually, it was replaced entirely by computational modeling that's grounded in stuff like fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, and other relatively well-understood physical processes.

It seems natural (and correct) to say that something was added to meteorology when people started making predictions based on things like atmospheric circulation models and other well-articulated theories grounded in formal models, rather than just looking at past weather maps. It also seems like whatever it was that was added in that transition is at least partially independent of predictive success: even if the weather map method was about as good at predicting tomorrow's weather as the computational modeling method, the latter seems more like a mature science in virtue of explaining why tomorrow's weather prediction is what it is. In both this case and the Magic 8-Ball case, the thing that seems missing is explanation. Most people take this to mean two things: (a) explanation is separate from prediction, and (b) good science explains in addition to predicting.

I think that (b) is right, but that (a) is mistaken: explanation is definitely a part of good science, but it's just a species of pattern identification, which makes it a species of prediction.  When I was taking a graduate seminar on the philosophy of the special sciences with Michael Strevens, he neatly summed up this view as "explanation is just prediction with a fancy hat on". I think that's the perfect slogan. 

More precisely, explanation is the unification of multiple different predictive schemes, generally operating at different scales of analysis or from multiple perspectives on system individuation. The 8-ball case bothers us because the predictions of the 8-ball seems to "float free" of the rest of what we know about the world; we'd want to know how it works, which is just a demand for an account of the 8-ball from the perspective of another set of patterns (e.g. Newtonian mechanics). Likewise, we took the weather forecasting approach to be explained once we saw how it was that the patterns they saw--patterns like weather fronts and storm systems--were related to things like the Navier-Stokes equations in fluid dynamics, and how the circulation of the atmosphere drove weather. This is still a widening of our predictive capacities, because it consists in bridge-building between different ways of carving up the same system. Hooking up multiple sets of prediction-bearing patterns in this way strengthens our overall predictive framework, because it helps us understand how the dynamics of one "kind" of system--i.e. the dynamics of the world corresponding to one system individuation--correspond to those of another. 

This is a sort unificationist account of explanation, but I think it's unification of a different kind than (grounded wholly differently from) that of Kitcher and the rest of the standard unificationist account of explanation folks. I think it follows fairly straightforwardly from the way that I've laid out science as a general project, plus the sort of pluralist "rainforest realism" metaphysics behind the way I've articulated the system individuation problem in that paper that's coming out in BJPS one of these days (http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/11832/).  

The formal account of this view would discuss the system individuation problem a bit, and show how all of this fits in there as well.  I already have that in one place, though, and don't feel the need to rehash it here.  This is all just a sketch, and would need a lot of filling in and referencing for formal presentation.  Still, it's a good start.

#scientism   #philosophy   #philosophyofscience___

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2016-03-15 23:19:09 (3 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

A couple of days ago, I published a longish post (Good Science, Failed Science, and Pathological Science, https://plus.google.com/u/0/+JonLawhead/posts/6R32xdB1crT) about the demarcation problem,  arguing that we should replace the "science vs. pseudoscience" distinction with a simpler distinction between good science, failed science, and pathological science.  Today, randomly, I came across this paper written by Philip Kitcher (my PhD advisor), and published the month I was born.

From that paper:

"We can manage without a criterion of demarcation. I prefer to change the problem. The division between science and pseudoscience is not what is at stake in this controversy. The issue is the location of various proposals on a continuum. To put the point briefly: There is excellent science, good science, mediocre science, poor science, and dreadful science."more »

A couple of days ago, I published a longish post (Good Science, Failed Science, and Pathological Science, https://plus.google.com/u/0/+JonLawhead/posts/6R32xdB1crT) about the demarcation problem,  arguing that we should replace the "science vs. pseudoscience" distinction with a simpler distinction between good science, failed science, and pathological science.  Today, randomly, I came across this paper written by Philip Kitcher (my PhD advisor), and published the month I was born.

From that paper:

"We can manage without a criterion of demarcation. I prefer to change the problem. The division between science and pseudoscience is not what is at stake in this controversy. The issue is the location of various proposals on a continuum. To put the point briefly: There is excellent science, good science, mediocre science, poor science, and dreadful science."

Literally an identical point to the one I was making, almost an identical title, and published the month I was born.  Apparently he was advising me in utero.  What the actual fuck.___

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2016-03-11 22:10:58 (0 comments; 3 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

"A representation is a map of a system onto mathematical variables. More correctly, a representation should be understood as a map of the set of possible states of a system onto the possible states of mathematical variables. A faithful representation must have the same number of states as the system it is representing. This enables the states of the representation to be mapped one to one to the states of the system. If a model has fewer states than the system, then it can’t represent everything that is happening in the system. If a model has more states, then it is representing things that can’t happen in the system. Conventional models often do not take this into account and this results in a mismatch of the system and the model; they are unfaithful representations and do not properly identify the behavior of the system, and thus ultimately its response to environmental forces or interventions wemig... more »

"A representation is a map of a system onto mathematical variables. More correctly, a representation should be understood as a map of the set of possible states of a system onto the possible states of mathematical variables. A faithful representation must have the same number of states as the system it is representing. This enables the states of the representation to be mapped one to one to the states of the system. If a model has fewer states than the system, then it can’t represent everything that is happening in the system. If a model has more states, then it is representing things that can’t happen in the system. Conventional models often do not take this into account and this results in a mismatch of the system and the model; they are unfaithful representations and do not properly identify the behavior of the system, and thus ultimately its response to environmental forces or interventions we might consider. Because we are interested in influencing the system, we only want to know the distinctions that matter. We have to focus attention on those states that are distinguishable at a particular scale of observation."___

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2016-03-11 22:10:18 (0 comments; 6 reshares; 4 +1s)Open 

"A representation is a map of a system onto mathematical variables. More correctly, a representation should be understood as a map of the set of possible states of a system onto the possible states of mathematical variables. A faithful representation must have the same number of states as the system it is representing. This enables the states of the representation to be mapped one to one to the states of the system. If a model has fewer states than the system, then it can’t represent everything that is happening in the system. If a model has more states, then it is representing things that can’t happen in the system. Conventional models often do not take this into account and this results in a mismatch of the system and the model; they are unfaithful representations and do not properly identify the behavior of the system, and thus ultimately its response to environmental forces or interventions wemig... more »

"A representation is a map of a system onto mathematical variables. More correctly, a representation should be understood as a map of the set of possible states of a system onto the possible states of mathematical variables. A faithful representation must have the same number of states as the system it is representing. This enables the states of the representation to be mapped one to one to the states of the system. If a model has fewer states than the system, then it can’t represent everything that is happening in the system. If a model has more states, then it is representing things that can’t happen in the system. Conventional models often do not take this into account and this results in a mismatch of the system and the model; they are unfaithful representations and do not properly identify the behavior of the system, and thus ultimately its response to environmental forces or interventions we might consider. Because we are interested in influencing the system, we only want to know the distinctions that matter. We have to focus attention on those states that are distinguishable at a particular scale of observation."___

2016-03-11 04:33:24 (0 comments; 5 reshares; 5 +1s)Open 

Good Science, Failed Science, and Pathological Science

I've always been really critical of the demarcation problem, because I'm a science totalitarian.  I want to count everything as science, and the distinction between science and pseudoscience has never been particularly successful anyway.  Irving Langmuir, a mid-20th century chemist, gave a talk (attached) in which he coined the term "pathological science."  Langmuir defined pathological science as "the science of things that aren't so," but which nonetheless remain areas of research that "will not go away," despite having been long abandoned by most scientists.  I've always liked this concept a lot, and I think it suggests a very natural way to think about (or perhaps avoid) the demarcation problem.  Rather than distinguishing between science and pseudoscience, I prefer to distinguishbetw... more »

Good Science, Failed Science, and Pathological Science

I've always been really critical of the demarcation problem, because I'm a science totalitarian.  I want to count everything as science, and the distinction between science and pseudoscience has never been particularly successful anyway.  Irving Langmuir, a mid-20th century chemist, gave a talk (attached) in which he coined the term "pathological science."  Langmuir defined pathological science as "the science of things that aren't so," but which nonetheless remain areas of research that "will not go away," despite having been long abandoned by most scientists.  I've always liked this concept a lot, and I think it suggests a very natural way to think about (or perhaps avoid) the demarcation problem.  Rather than distinguishing between science and pseudoscience, I prefer to distinguish between "good science," "failed science," and "pathological science."

A solution to the demarcation problem is supposed to act something like a door bouncer at a nightclub, determining who does or doesn't get into the club, and excluding those that don't meet the right criteria before they get through the door.  I prefer to be extremely permissive when it comes to admission: anything claiming to identify real patterns in how the world changes over time gets counted as science.  However, once a candidate is "through the door," as it were, it's held to the same standards as everyone else: produce evidence that the pattern's you're claiming to identify are real, and can underwrite useful predictions.  Many candidate sciences will fail to meet these standards, and some of those will be things that usually get counted as pseudoscience, but some will not be.  I don't think making that distinction is important or useful: those that fail to meet the standards are just failed science.  What's important then is how the theory's proponents proceed in the face of this failure.

Consider astrology, one of the paradigm cases of pseudoscience, and (for most people) something that falls clearly into that category.  It has a long track record of failure, has been rigorously tested, and has been shown not to make specific predictions that are better than chance.  It checks most of the pseudoscience criteria I mentioned above, and is very clearly not science.

Moreover, astrology lacks a mechanism for its predictions.  There's no sensible way to fit in the central claims of astrology into the framework of scientific theories--almost everything we know would have to be revised in order to make it the case that the position of celestial bodies at the time of one's birth has lasting, detectable, strong impacts on their personality and events in their life.

However, consider the way things look when astrology was originally proposed as a theory (in its modern European form, this was around 1000 CE).  At that point, the totality of our solid scientific knowledge was much shakier, and astrology looked a hell of a lot more plausible.  We didn't have a good understanding of the mechanism for much of anything, so astrology was no more suspect than most other proposals.  At the same time, though, the predictions of astrologers in 1000 CE were no more reliable than they are today--the fact that it didn't openly conflict with what we knew didn't make it the case that it succeeded in identifying real patterns in the world.  So, while astrology might have been a candidate for good science at the time, it should have fairly quickly been discarded on the basis of failing to make accurate predictions.

The business of science is to identify reliable patterns in the way the world changes over time.  _Anything_ that purports to do that counts as science, on my view.  Astrology makes a series of very explicit claims about patterns in how the world changes over time--patterns linking the position of celestial objects to terrestrial events.  However, on examination, the patterns that astrology proposes simply fail to support any useful predictions.  Consulting an astrological chart in no way improves the accuracy of your predictions about what the world (or any subset of it) is going to do from one moment to the next.

That doesn't make it a pseudoscience, though, unless luminiferous aether theory's failure in the face of special relativity or the caloric theory of heat's inability to underwrite accurate predictions about heat transfer makes those pseudosciences as well: in all cases, it seems better to just think of them as failed science.  Astrology is different only in the sense that its proponents don't seem to care that it failed.

Astrology is pathological, that is, in a sense that the caloric theory of heat is not, but only because people still do astrology. On this view, anything that purports to be identifying genuine patterns in how the world changes over time never gets kicked out of the club: the only demand is that everyone play by the same rules, and produce evidence supporting the reality of the patterns they're claiming to identify.  If this demand isn't met, the candidate is simply bad science.  If people continue to use it despite its failures, it's pathological science.

It seems to me that this is a much more useful distinction to make than science vs. pseudoscience, and that distinguishing good science, failed science, and pathological science is far less problematic than distinguishing science from pseudoscience.  In particular, labeling something as pathological science suggests that it has failed to produce the sort of results we expect from science, but that it still "won't go away;" it's tied to pragmatic success, and the judgement is made after rigorous examination, not on the basis of methodological characteristics, the rhetoric used by proponents, or anything else.  

Everybody gets to play, but everybody follows the same rules, and not everybody wins.  Good, failed, pathological, or still unclear, it's science all the way down.___

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2016-03-09 04:11:39 (4 comments; 2 reshares; 13 +1s)Open 

People who want to be critical of science as a whole always seize on examples like this one and try to trumpet them as evidence of the fact that science is no better at getting at the truth than any other "way of knowing" (ugh).  I don't understand that.  It seems to me that this sort of case--in which a long-held theory that's very popular in its subfield and seemed very well-confirmed has its accuracy dramatically called into question--is evidence of science working exactly like it's supposed to.  This sort of thing is a "crisis" only if you take the view that scientific orthodoxies work somewhat like religious orthodoxies do: they're handed down from above, and serve as unquestionable bedrocks on which the whole edifice is built.  That's just not the case, though; all science is always a work in progress, and the whole point of peer review,rep... more »

People who want to be critical of science as a whole always seize on examples like this one and try to trumpet them as evidence of the fact that science is no better at getting at the truth than any other "way of knowing" (ugh).  I don't understand that.  It seems to me that this sort of case--in which a long-held theory that's very popular in its subfield and seemed very well-confirmed has its accuracy dramatically called into question--is evidence of science working exactly like it's supposed to.  This sort of thing is a "crisis" only if you take the view that scientific orthodoxies work somewhat like religious orthodoxies do: they're handed down from above, and serve as unquestionable bedrocks on which the whole edifice is built.  That's just not the case, though; all science is always a work in progress, and the whole point of peer review, reproducibility checks, and ongoing meta-review is to try to weed out mistakes that have been made somewhere along the line.  When a previously accepted theory like this is substantially challenged, we should be excited rather than dismayed: it shows that our methodology is working, not that it's failed.  

As an aside, the nature of this particular case also reveals how deeply ridiculous claims that climate scientists are "covering up" or "suppressing" heterodox discoveries that contradict the consensus position on anthropogenic climate change are.  When someone comes up with a strong experimental result or dataset that contradicts the orthodoxy, he or she becomes an instant celebrity in the science world, and the results are shouted from the rooftops, irrespective of how much damage it might do to existing research programs.  If it turns out that ego depletion isn't a real thing at all (which isn't what this result indicates, at least not yet), then lots of people will have dedicated significant portions of their careers to chasing a ghost.  Even still, no one would want something like this "hushed up" for the sake of keeping his grant money, nor would that even be possible.  That's just not how science works.  Similarly, if there were people out there with genuine, strong evidence that the consensus position on climate change was incorrect, their results would be major scientific news, and hailed as breakthroughs.

Science-with-a-capital-S (that is, the social and cultural milieu of norms and practices like peer review and reproducibility) is designed to be self-correcting.  If someone puts forward a bad theory, or makes a mistake, or accidentally mistakes some noise for a signal, the set of practices that we've established are supposed to catch that eventually, and reveal the error.  

That's precisely what's happened in this case.  It's a success story, and like all stories in science, it's one of incremental progress through collaboration, not transcendent insight into perfect and timeless truth.  Now, it may also be the case that the way this plays out reveals some serious methodological issues with the way certain social scientific studies are carried out.  The most worrying aspect of this story in particular seems to be that there was so little standardization in the experimental design investigating the ego depletion effect, a state of affairs that made this sort of grand mistake possible.  If this is a pervasive problem across some areas of science, that's something that needs to be addressed: social scientists may need to rethink how they do experimental design, how they look for genuine signals, and so on.  I can guarantee, however, that they will rethink those things, and that people will learn from this mistake.  

That doesn't mean that there won't be more mistakes in the future--possibly even more mistakes of almost exactly the same kind--but it does mean that we'll do things a little better than we did before.  Again, this is a shining example of the process working exactly as it should; we're making incremental progress, learning from our mistakes, and trying to correct for newly discovered problems as they arise.  The system is far from perfect, and there are still a lot of serious systemic problems that need to be addressed (the reliable publication of null experimental results is one of the most important things we could do to make things better). It is, however, also by far the best thing we have for figuring out how the world works, warts and all.  We shouldn't expect to get things right on the first try, or even on the 10,000th try.  The world is messy and science is hard.  All we can do is just keep working.  ___

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2016-03-08 07:34:29 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 4 +1s)Open 

This is a bot that does nothing but create glitched corporate logos.

This is a bot that does nothing but create glitched corporate logos.___

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2016-03-08 06:14:11 (1 comments; 6 reshares; 5 +1s)Open 

Oh yeah, that's the stuff right there.

"Nor did scientific progress rob philosophy of its former scientific subject matter, leaving it to concentrate on the broadly moral. In fact, philosophy thrives when enough is known to make progress conceivable, but it remains unachieved because of methodological confusion. Philosophy helps break the impasse by articulating new questions, posing possible solutions and forging new conceptual tools. Sometimes it does so when sciences are born, as with 17th-century physics and 19th-century biology. But it also does so as they mature. As science advances, there is more, not less, for it to do.

Our knowledge of the universe and ourselves expands like a ripple surrounding a pebble dropped in a pool. As we move away from the center of the spreading circle, its area, representing our secure knowledge, grows. But so does its circumference,... more »

Oh yeah, that's the stuff right there.

"Nor did scientific progress rob philosophy of its former scientific subject matter, leaving it to concentrate on the broadly moral. In fact, philosophy thrives when enough is known to make progress conceivable, but it remains unachieved because of methodological confusion. Philosophy helps break the impasse by articulating new questions, posing possible solutions and forging new conceptual tools. Sometimes it does so when sciences are born, as with 17th-century physics and 19th-century biology. But it also does so as they mature. As science advances, there is more, not less, for it to do.

Our knowledge of the universe and ourselves expands like a ripple surrounding a pebble dropped in a pool. As we move away from the center of the spreading circle, its area, representing our secure knowledge, grows. But so does its circumference, representing the border where knowledge blurs into uncertainty and speculation, and methodological confusion returns. Philosophy patrols the border, trying to understand how we got there and to conceptualize our next move. Its job is unending."___

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2016-03-04 06:11:26 (10 comments; 13 reshares; 16 +1s)Open 

I used the latter part of this as my dissertation epigraph, but on seeing the whole passage, I wish I'd included it all.

I used the latter part of this as my dissertation epigraph, but on seeing the whole passage, I wish I'd included it all.___

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2016-03-04 05:27:25 (6 comments; 0 reshares; 6 +1s)Open 

This hard talk is only going to cause his already lengthy pole lead to swell further. It's only the tip of what's to come. Unfortunately, with him on top most of the nation will get the shaft. 

This hard talk is only going to cause his already lengthy pole lead to swell further. It's only the tip of what's to come. Unfortunately, with him on top most of the nation will get the shaft. ___

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2016-03-03 08:46:35 (0 comments; 2 reshares; 3 +1s)Open 

Banged this little ditty out in about an hour and a half as a proposal for http://www.lynnbadia.com/climate-realism.html. 

Abstract-of-the-abstract:

Scientists, philosophers of science, and laypersons all frequently use value-laden aesthetic language to characterize scientific models: we speak of the beauty of a concise mathematical model, or the elegance of a theory that ties together seemingly disparate phenomena in a neat explanatory package. This aesthetic sense of what makes a scientific model or theory appealing influences and colors our judgement of what does or does not count as good science, and of which sciences are “mature,” and thus trustworthy in their predictions: models that are “ugly” or “messy” are seen as less trustworthy, less explanatory, and ultimately less reliable reflections of reality. 

In the case of science, the ideal is frequentlyfundamental p... more »

Banged this little ditty out in about an hour and a half as a proposal for http://www.lynnbadia.com/climate-realism.html. 

Abstract-of-the-abstract:

Scientists, philosophers of science, and laypersons all frequently use value-laden aesthetic language to characterize scientific models: we speak of the beauty of a concise mathematical model, or the elegance of a theory that ties together seemingly disparate phenomena in a neat explanatory package. This aesthetic sense of what makes a scientific model or theory appealing influences and colors our judgement of what does or does not count as good science, and of which sciences are “mature,” and thus trustworthy in their predictions: models that are “ugly” or “messy” are seen as less trustworthy, less explanatory, and ultimately less reliable reflections of reality. 

In the case of science, the ideal is frequently fundamental physics. A particular model, a general theory, or even an entire field of scientific inquiry is evaluated in part by how closely it mirrors the form and function of fundamental physics. This phenomenon of “physics envy” has been widely recognized, and discussed by scholars in areas as disparate as economists, political theorists, historians, philosophers, and even literary theory. 

We might call the set of methodological assumptions underwriting the physics aesthetic “the reductive-analytic program.” The assumptions of the reductive-analytic program go something like this: the best (and indeed the only) way to understand a system is to decompose it into constituent parts, examine the behavior of those parts in isolation from one another, and draw from this examination general principles about their behavior in situ, and thus understand the system in its entirety. The reductive-analytic program has been markedly less successful when dealing with complex systems like the global climate, leading those in the grip of physics envy to discount the reality of climate change in virtue of climate science's failure to mirror the aesthetic character of physics. 

This leaves ordinary citizens, political decision-makers, and even most scientists poorly equipped to think rigorously about the nature and scope of the problem we're facing. If we're going to help people understand the reality of climate change, we'll have to begin by helping them understand some basic features of complexity science, and how the aesthetics of the science of complex systems differs from the aesthetics of fundamental physics and other produce of the reductive-analytic program. Among other things, this means that we must help people become comfortable uncertainty, interdisciplinary collaboration, and the possibility that even the most precise scientific investigation might not yield the sort of neat answers and t-shirt ready systems of equations we’ve come to expect from reductive-analytic sciences. 

We must teach them that in some cases, our best science may not produce a single undisputed model under which all competitors are subsumed, but rather might yield a proliferation of diverse and distinctive models, some of which may appear to contradict one another, and that this model pluralism is something to be welcomed rather than eliminated. We must seek to make people comfortable with the idea that computational models may be as reliable as real-world experiments when it comes to predicting the future of complex systems, and that “science by simulation” is not a second-class citizen in the world of scientific methodology. 

The results of climate science--like those of any complex systems science--might fall short of providing a single uncontroversial answer to the question of what we ought to do, just as they may fall short of providing a neat set of beautiful and elegant equations that explain our world. This does not mean that these sciences can be discounted, however; rather, it means that scientific investigation must be guided and supplemented by well-reasoned, mutually agreed upon values. The world is messy, and science is hard. It’s time to put an end to physics envy and embrace a new aesthetic of complexity.___

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2016-03-03 02:31:38 (3 comments; 4 reshares; 8 +1s)Open 

Markov Trump speeches are almost unbelievably realistic.

"So, I decided to run – I’ve got Social Security without Arabs. Have to do it. I swear to you I will never, ever, ever ride a bicycle race at 72 years old, and then fall at breakfast. She’ll do anything.

Get rid of the nice person. It’s going to be based on competence, because people are incredible airports in this world. A friend of mine called. You know Henry, right? Anybody my daughter likes, right? Call them pundits. You know, because I can do that. I can do that.

Some are great. Some are really incredible. They said "it's a movement." And that's what we ended up getting--the king of teleprompters. And people say, oh he is so quick on his feet. He is reading it. I mean give me a break.

They’re not going to Nevada. I mean you will see; you will be so strong, sopowerful,... more »

Markov Trump speeches are almost unbelievably realistic.

"So, I decided to run – I’ve got Social Security without Arabs. Have to do it. I swear to you I will never, ever, ever ride a bicycle race at 72 years old, and then fall at breakfast. She’ll do anything.

Get rid of the nice person. It’s going to be based on competence, because people are incredible airports in this world. A friend of mine called. You know Henry, right? Anybody my daughter likes, right? Call them pundits. You know, because I can do that. I can do that.

Some are great. Some are really incredible. They said "it's a movement." And that's what we ended up getting--the king of teleprompters. And people say, oh he is so quick on his feet. He is reading it. I mean give me a break.

They’re not going to Nevada. I mean you will see; you will be so strong, so powerful, so loved by people again. Let's have a bi."___

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2016-03-02 22:15:08 (4 comments; 3 reshares; 8 +1s)Open 

I'd  be money that this is the coolest thing you'll see today.

I'd  be money that this is the coolest thing you'll see today.___

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2016-03-02 20:53:11 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 0 +1s)Open 

Man, Trump's new campaign ad is really slick.  Great footage from his Super Tuesday victory rally.

Man, Trump's new campaign ad is really slick.  Great footage from his Super Tuesday victory rally.___

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2016-02-23 19:17:20 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 7 +1s)Open 

My hope for Sanders supporters is not that they come out of this election disillusioned and jaded, or, rather, that they come out of it disillusioned and jaded about the right thing: namely, mainstream national politics.  The best possible outcome here is that all the energetic young progressives who have strongly supported Sanders and his policies--especially his policies that revolve around campaign finance reform and alterations to the political process itself--will start running for (and winning) elected positions at the local and state levels.  As you know, +Daniel Estrada, I strongly agree that the process has been irreversibly captured at the top, and that any attempts on our part to directly retake the top tiers of government have about as much chance of success as a mob of angry peasants storming a well-secured medieval castle.  They have all the weapons, all the resources, and have carefullyde... more »

// For the last few years on social media I've defended a position of active non-voting in the presidential election. I've argued, often obnoxiously but rarely convincingly, that the political system generally and the electoral process in particular are corrupt to a point of degenerative dysfunction that has rendered our participation superfluous. In the past I've also argued for anarchist positions, so my defense of non-voting is often misunderstood as either simple-minded cynicism or extremist ideology. I've tried to avoid these strawmen by explaining that my defense is purely pragmatic and functional, and has nothing to do with anarchism. If the system is functional beyond some minimal threshold (= not idealism!), I assume that participation is morally onligatory; indeed, I've reluctantly participated myself even while entertaining anarchist views. My decision to actively non-vote started because I believe we've crossed below that minimal functional threshold, where the system has become so corrupt and dysfunctional that continued participation may be doing more harm than good.

I've consistently used the analogy of a broken car. There is no cynicism or ideology in abandoning a broken car on foot for a mechanic. On the contrary, only ideology or simple-mindedness could explain the desire to wait behind the wheel of a broken car, continuing to shift its gears and turn the wheel in place as if going through the motions could somehow repair it. Similarly, there is no point in wasting a few billion dollars on a phony election when the process itself is undemocratic and corrupt. Participating in a sham election makes it appear legitimate when in fact it is not. Your participation isn't contributing to the ultimate results, it contributes only to the appearance of genuine democratic action. In a failed democracy, contributing to the mere appearance of democracy is simply inhumane.

For this reason I refuse to participate in this political theater, even to support a third party protest candidate. As zoon politikon I can't help but participate, so I've restricted my activity to that of a protester holding a sign, urging others not to cross the picket line. I don't expect to convince anyone; I expect merely to register my voice in the crowd as a conscientious objector in this election, because it is a voice I don't see spoken loud enough. A few others have voiced sympathies with my position, but most reject it. Most express some reluctant admission that the system has not crossed below that critical threshold for participation, and so they feel their participation is still obliged. I cannot fault anyone for holding this view, but I wonder: where does that threshold lie, and would they join me if it were crossed? Others explicitly reject the very idea of a threshold to participation; they argue that participation would be obligatory even under total and complete dysfunction. These people scare the living shit out of me, since they've become ideologically blind to the possibility that the system has failed. Presumably, such people would also sit happily in a broken car until they starved to death.

As the primary season ramped up over the winter and the conversation was dominated by Trump, I found less need to make the argument that the system was broken since the evidence was so abundant. Trump was receiving disproportionate airtime long before he was a frontrunner, and the utter disconnect between the media discussion and the popular will was completely ignored. During this time I saw most of my friends on social media line up behind Bernie Sanders as the clear progressive favorite. A good chunk of my network was involved in the Obama campaigns, and in Occupy and BLM, and I saw those networks activate again under Sanders. I had moments of self-doubt where I thought that perhaps it was really better to drop my protest and jump behind Sanders too; he's not perfect but he's the best the mainstream can offer right now. Perhaps my criticism of the system really was just cynicism, and maybe that cynicism would disappear once I got involved. I remember the excitement of the Obama campaign. I remember the feeling of having contributed to a historic victory. I'd like to have that feeling again.

But there will be no victories this election. Clinton was the clear favorite going in, and while Sanders has made a good showing he's not put the dent in Clinton's numbers necessary to secure the upset. This seems absolutely clear and obvious to me, but I don't see it reflected anywhere in my networks. Instead, I see two things: Sanders supporters arguing about electability and pointing at the number of popular votes, trying to maintain optimism, and Clinton supporters arguing about electability and various policy weaknesses in Sanders platform, trying to maintain face while baldly supporting the establishment candidate. Frankly, I find it shocking that the conversation among democrats has been so narrow and impotent. Neither Clinton nor Sanders supporters seem to have any perspective on what is happening, what the chances really look like, or what will happen in the future. It is completely frightening that this is what passes for progressive politics in this country. If I had ever wanted to get involved, I would have long since abandoned in despair.

Before I scold each side individually, let's be clear about what's going on. Politics is complicated, but for our purposes there are only two relevant states: the ones where Clinton wins, and the ones where Sanders wins. And for the entire political season going back to the summer, the state where Clinton wins has been overwhelmingly likely. This is seen most clearly not in voter polls but in the prediction markets, where people bet on the outcomes they expect to happen. Prediction markets don't predict the future, but they give you a pretty good guess at what the general public expects that future to be. Below is an image from predictwise.com. You can see that Clinton's expectation to win hasn't fluctuated by more than 15 points over the entire primary season, and has never dipped below 80%. Clinton's campaign hit a relative low point around the beginning of February when Sanders "won" NH, but this hasn't come anywhere close to flipping states and putting Sanders in the lead.

If you look at the average Sanders supporter or media coversage, you'd get the impression that he's nipping at Clinton's heels and has a good shot going forward; that all we'd need is some optimism and turn out in the next few primary states to turn the election to his favor. But this misrepresents the facts so completely as to be maliciously deceptive. The prediction markets make it very clear that Sanders has barely put a dent in Clinton's lead and that dent is all but vanished. To suggest otherwise is delusion. To be clear, the future isn't set in stone and anything can happen. For instance, Clinton could decide to drop out of the race and invest a billion dollars in Kanye West instead. Nothing logically rules this possibility out; indeed, it would take something nearly as extreme to make the nomination results flip into the Sanders state. The general public thinks such events are very unlikely, so Clinton has maintatined her dominating lead.

To Sanders supporters: whence your optimism? Do you actually see a possible path from here to success? Or do you just want such a path so much that you hope one will appear from nowhere? If, in fact, there are no paths from here to success, then we have to ask ourselves why the media is presenting the situation otherwise. And there's only one clear answer: because the closer the race appears, the more invested people will be in it. The media gets their ratings, and the parties get their voter turnout. Your optimism, even when it is invested in a protest candidate, is absolutely essential for the normal operatio of the status quo. I've heard lots of Sanders supporters state clearly that they'll reluctantly support Clinton in the general against any of the Republicans. But I haven't heard any Sanders supporters admit that their activism in the primary election is already a way of supporting Clinton.

And it does so in a way directly contrary to the interests of Sanders supporters. Because look, when (yes, when) Clinton wins the primary, she will have come through a bitter and aggressive campaign AGAINST the left wing of her party. She will have learned important lessons in how to maintain centrist positions against the left wing; she will have learned that her success does not depend on on the support of the left. This is exactly what we don't want from a Clinton presidency. This is the worst of all possible worlds. When the primary is over, Sanders will fall back in support of the party establishment, and he will encourage all his supporters to do the same. In effect, Sanders will have whipped up a bunch of activism and energy among the left wing, who have come out in force largely because they reject Clinton, and it will ultimately be this group that puts Clinton in office. Your work has been used against you. Despite your activism, you have been used to execute the will of the machine.

Please, Sanders supporters. Learn your lesson this time, and refuse to participate in this process going forward. It does not listen to you, it does not work for you, and it will leave you in a ditch to die when it is done with you. Do not give it what it wants. Do not feed the machine. My response to your optimism is pity, the way you pity a teenager in love, because you know of the heartbreak that will come. Please grow jaded soon, Sanders supporters, and caution the next generation not to follow in your steps.

While I feel pity for Sanders supporters, I am simply livid at Clinton supporters. If, in fact, the system is broken beyond repair, then I see absolutely no justification for anyone supporting Clinton, literally the face of establishment politics, a picture of what is broken in politics. How can anyone seriously vote for a continuation of politics as usual? The fact that she has such widespread support is confirmation that people are actually very comfortable with the system as it exists, despite their claims to the contrary. A vote for Clinton is a vote for extending the political dynamics of the last 30 years into the next decade. It is a complete and utter mistake, and anyone supporting Clinton should be ashamed.

Our country is clearly going through a major political transition and realignment. As the Republican party collapses under its circus tent, the divide between Clinton and Sanders is essentially setting the tone for "serious" politics going forward. Clinton represents the new face of conservative centrism in the US; she'll essentially be our Thatcher. To anyone supporting Clinton now, just understand that you're supporting the historical equivalent of Thatcher in the US. I hope this keeps you up at night.

Now, I can understand a progressive voicing the following kind of support for Clinton: look, she's going to win regardless of what we do, so if we're going to support her we might as well do it in ways that push her towards the left. From the media coverage, it appears that the fight over black voters has legitimately had this effect, and Clinton has been making strong claims about racial biases in this country designed to secure these votes. I'm not sure the media coverage actually reflects the popular sentiment among black voters, instead of being designed to induce that sentiment. But either way, I see very few Clinton supporters actually pushing that community towards the left. Instead, I see reactionary responses to Sanders' political momentum: arguments that his policies are wildly impossible or politically unrealistic. These arguments are utterly centrist in character, and strongly resist either the moral principles or the policy conclusions being voiced by the left. The fact that Clinton is building support through resistance to leftist proposals should make anyone who considers themselves progressive concerned. The country has been moving right for generations, and Clinton is clearly poised to accelerate that trend. This seems to have far more important long-term consequences than even a SCOTUS appointment; indeed, it will frame the Overton window on any appointments going forward.

The general public loves a horse race with an underdog, and the narrative of the establishment candidate vs the progressive outsider is entertaining political sports. When Clinton wins, we'll have a popular narrative where the establishment narrowly prevails over a vigorous progressive challenge. This story will convince most people that the the establishment deserved to win; that the will of the people did not want the radical changes Sanders proposed. Most people will therefore not understand that the appearance of a genuine progressive challenge was manufactured precisely to ensure the popular support of the status quo.

Most people will not understand that Sanders was never a genuine challenge to the establishment. In fact, Sanders is one of the mechanisms by which the establishment maintains its control, because his campaign provided the illusion of democratic engagement so that the eventual Clinton victory appears legitimate. If Clinton was effectively running unopposed, the game would appear fixed. In fact, Clinton's victory has nothing to do with democratic engagement, and everything to do with the manufacturing of consent. And the Sanders campaign was a critical cog in that machine.

Any participation in this process perpetuates this machine. Support any candidate, cast any vote, and you contribute to the overwhelming lie that the system is functional, the process is democratic, and the results reflect the general will. Please, do not feed the machine. Please do not feed the lie.

> perpetuation of the existing order of things is perpetuation of the crime. - Galeano https://goo.gl/SdIvjY

> "What we’ve seen is an attempt by mainstream politics and politicians to co-opt movements that galvanize people in order for them to move closer to their own goals and objectives,” she said. “We don’t think that playing a corrupt game is going to bring change and make black lives matter.”
http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/19/black-lives-matter-endorsement-2016-presidential-candidate-election


More info on prediction markets:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prediction_market
http://www.biz.uiowa.edu/faculty/trietz/papers/AEI-Brookings.pdf

http://tippie.uiowa.edu/iem/
http://predictwise.com/politics/2016-president-democratic-nomination___My hope for Sanders supporters is not that they come out of this election disillusioned and jaded, or, rather, that they come out of it disillusioned and jaded about the right thing: namely, mainstream national politics.  The best possible outcome here is that all the energetic young progressives who have strongly supported Sanders and his policies--especially his policies that revolve around campaign finance reform and alterations to the political process itself--will start running for (and winning) elected positions at the local and state levels.  As you know, +Daniel Estrada, I strongly agree that the process has been irreversibly captured at the top, and that any attempts on our part to directly retake the top tiers of government have about as much chance of success as a mob of angry peasants storming a well-secured medieval castle.  They have all the weapons, all the resources, and have carefully designed the terrain to repulse even the most impassioned, committed attempts.  

However, I don't think the same is true of local or even state positions, and successfully capturing those would let us undermine a lot of the most significant barriers to national power from below.  The fact that Sanders has done so well at a national level across so many demographics suggests that there are a lot of people out there who are quite tired of business as usual national government, and who might be responsive to a true grassroots movement to restructure our government.  

The term "grassroots" has sort of been coopted in the last 15 or 20 years, and people now tend to associate it just with volunteer campaigning for national politicians, but that's not what it is at all.  Going door-to-door for Obama is not grassroots activism; getting a bunch of young progressives elected to positions where they are (or are responsible for appointing) superdelegates, where they can implement progressive policies on a small scale as a proof-of-concept, and where they can make sure that everyone in their municipality knows what's at stake and how to best cooperate to storm the castle is grassroots organizing. 

 If the leaders of the Sanders movement are smart, they'll use his defeat--which, considering how thoroughly the game is rigged, is remarkable only in its nearness--as a way of constructing a real sustainable political movement.  What I'd really like to see is the progressive wing of the Democratic party officially split off, form a new political party centered on Sanders-like concerns, and start winning local and state elections as that party.  Let the Democrats and the Republicans keep squabbling over who gets to be King of the Hill for four years, and keep using their positions to ensure that nothing really gets done at the national level.  If a separate party emerged that eschewed national office (at least at first) and focused on fixing problems close to home, they'd gain a lot of momentum very quickly, I think, and might well attract participants from both sides of the aisle.  Those who support Trump for reasons other than outright bigotry are also responding to a deep sense of unease with how national politics is being conducted these days, and a novel political alignment of ordinary people who feel largely disenfranchised and want to wrest control back from the ultra-wealthy, but who might disagree with one another on some "traditionally" polarizing issues would be a force to be reckoned with indeed, and could soon find itself putting a lot of pressure on things from below.

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2016-02-20 08:25:42 (0 comments; 1 reshares; 3 +1s)Open 

Some thoughts:

This is something that I've wanted to see for years now, and I think it's a wonderful idea. There's a steadily growing body of information out there now suggesting that pre-college philosophy instruction confers a number of tangible benefits to students across many backgrounds and trajectories, and (at least in my experience) high school aged students tend to also have a lot of fun exploring the subject. While I was in grad school, I helped launch Columbia University's philosophy outreach program, which paired graduate students in philosophy at Columbia with graduate students in Philosophy & Education at Columbia Teachers College in order to help New York area middle and high schools integrate philosophy into their curriculum. The program was (and still remains) extremely popular and successful, with involvement ranging from the facilitation of informal... more »

Some thoughts:

This is something that I've wanted to see for years now, and I think it's a wonderful idea. There's a steadily growing body of information out there now suggesting that pre-college philosophy instruction confers a number of tangible benefits to students across many backgrounds and trajectories, and (at least in my experience) high school aged students tend to also have a lot of fun exploring the subject. While I was in grad school, I helped launch Columbia University's philosophy outreach program, which paired graduate students in philosophy at Columbia with graduate students in Philosophy & Education at Columbia Teachers College in order to help New York area middle and high schools integrate philosophy into their curriculum. The program was (and still remains) extremely popular and successful, with involvement ranging from the facilitation of informal philosophy clubs, to guest lectures in other courses, to the design and implementation of full year-long accredited philosophy courses. The students, graduate instructors, teachers, and secondary school administrators almost all thought it was beneficial and great fun. I've also taught several high school level intensive philosophy courses during the summer over the last ten years with Johns Hopkins' Center For Talented Youth program. Based on what I saw working with students in those two settings, I'm inclined to think that very many people at that age are naturally drawn to philosophical topics, and capable of surprisingly sophisticated philosophical reasoning, given a little guidance. A national AP course would be quite popular, I think, and would be a wonderful way to prime incoming first year college students to appreciate philosophy.

I can imagine two basic tracks such an AP course might take. One possibility is a class built like the more common "philosophy 101" curriculum, focusing on a historical overview of some of the most important figures, movements, and ideas from the history of philosophy. We might call this the "Great Ideas" philosophy AP. A student taking the Great Ideas type of class would (ideally) come out of it with a general sense of the trajectory of philosophy, some familiarity with major figures from different historical periods and their arguments, and the ability to analyze, compare, and contrast the views of different thinkers effectively. Critical reading and critical exegetical writing would be natural skills on which to focus.

A second possibility might be to focus less on a general historical survey and instead focus on the exploration of some of the problems that are of interest to philosophers today, and the methods used to tackle them. We might call this the "Philosophical Problems" AP philosophy. A student the Philosophical Problems type of class would (ideally) come out of it with a sense of what sorts of things are going on in philosophy today, what makes various problems interesting to philosophers, and how to rigorously approach complicated problems to better understand them. Critical reading and persuasive argumentative writing based on textual analysis would be natural skills to focus on there.

Each of these two approaches would have its associated advantages and disadvantages, and would leave students with skills and knowledge that, though overlapping in many respects, would also be distinct. I can imagine developing distinct assessment tools and curricula for each, with the choice of which course to pursue depending on the interests of the students, background of the instructors, and thematic fit with different secondary schools' core curriculum. In an ideal case, the two classes might be offered in tandem: either in parallel or as part of a AP philosophy sequence: something like what the AP English Language and AP English Literature courses already do. Offering this sort of choice might also somewhat decrease the difficulty of answering questions centered around whether, how, and where a university should "count" the AP credit.

In either case, universities might choose, rather than issuing a waiver for a particular class, to allow the AP work to count as an elective toward a degree--work that yields collage credits toward completion, but doesn't "excuse" a student from any particular class at the university. An approach like that would reward the student without the necessity of ensuring that all courses offered at all institutions are similar enough in content and approach to analogous courses at most major universities. This sort of pluralistic design would give the high school instructor some creative control over how his or her own course might work best given student talents and interests (along with the instructor's interests and knowledge), as well as give college philosophy departments some say in how each course fits best into their own overall curriculum.

With some good curriculum guidelines developed by professional philosophers who also have an interest and background in pre-college philosophy, I think this could work remarkably well. I would hope that, among other things, courses like these in high school would help attract more members of traditionally underrepresented demographics--who frequently find themselves feeling pushed away from the discipline now when their first exposure to it comes in the form of a university seminar--to college philosophy.

I'm very anxious to see where this goes, and would like to help in any way I can. I think it's a great idea, and long overdue for consideration. ___

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2016-02-18 03:20:27 (1 comments; 4 reshares; 9 +1s)Open 

A follow-up to the "libertarian case for Bernie Sanders" piece I posted last week (https://niskanencenter.org/blog/is-there-a-libertarian-case-for-bernie-sanders/). Once again, this strikes me as admirably thoughtful, and as asking the right kinds of questions (even in cases where I disagree with the proposed answers). The discussion of policy interactions and "n-th order effects" in particular mirrors a point I've been making about climate policy analysis and the management of complex systems for quite some time now.

"So, depending on your background beliefs about retributive justice, the legitimacy of sentencing guidelines, the roots of criminal behavior, police and prosecutorial conduct, etc., a candidate’s support for criminal justice reform may count greatly in his or her favor as a matter of liberty, or count not at all in his or her favor, or even counta... more »

A follow-up to the "libertarian case for Bernie Sanders" piece I posted last week (https://niskanencenter.org/blog/is-there-a-libertarian-case-for-bernie-sanders/). Once again, this strikes me as admirably thoughtful, and as asking the right kinds of questions (even in cases where I disagree with the proposed answers). The discussion of policy interactions and "n-th order effects" in particular mirrors a point I've been making about climate policy analysis and the management of complex systems for quite some time now.

"So, depending on your background beliefs about retributive justice, the legitimacy of sentencing guidelines, the roots of criminal behavior, police and prosecutorial conduct, etc., a candidate’s support for criminal justice reform may count greatly in his or her favor as a matter of liberty, or count not at all in his or her favor, or even count against him or her.

[...]

And what if there are systemic interactions between policies? I have a strong but unconfirmed hunch that economic liberty in the U.S. has declined because there’s a rising sense of economic insecurity in much of the population. [...] Conversely, economic liberty has increased in places like Denmark and Canada in part because a strong safety net, including universal healthcare, reduces the sense of material insecurity that creates resistance to liberalizing economic reforms.

Just suppose that’s true. Suppose that if America did have single-payer health care, then it’s overall economic liberty would eventually improve. In that case, how do you grade a single-payer proposal from a presidential candidate? Does it matter why they want single-payer if that’s the likely effect in the long run? Does it matter that they don’t want it to have that effect, even if it will?

[...]

Do you take into account only the first-order effects, or do you account for the n-order effects as well? If it’s the latter, then the freedom score’s going to depend on your background theories of the way the effects of policies ripple through the system and interact over time."___

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2016-02-17 05:01:05 (0 comments; 13 reshares; 8 +1s)Open 

Arguing With Climate Skeptics: Part n of n

I made the mistake of getting involved in a Disqus comment thread on this article last week, and have actually been trying to keep up with it.  I've written so much about this topic already that a lot of participating in this just consists in copying and pasting things I've already said, but the discussion is still a good resource for other people to refer to.  Here's the meat of it, with my words in plaintext and skeptical objections in italics.  Enjoy.
 
The scientific slang which they understand "forcing" is not an actual controlling force, it's used to make the handwaving argument that if it forces, it must be a driver, and must necessarily have the predicted effect. In fact, forcing has effect with predictability only on the model and not on the earth. A physicist of course mightsay... more »

Arguing With Climate Skeptics: Part n of n

I made the mistake of getting involved in a Disqus comment thread on this article last week, and have actually been trying to keep up with it.  I've written so much about this topic already that a lot of participating in this just consists in copying and pasting things I've already said, but the discussion is still a good resource for other people to refer to.  Here's the meat of it, with my words in plaintext and skeptical objections in italics.  Enjoy.
 
The scientific slang which they understand "forcing" is not an actual controlling force, it's used to make the handwaving argument that if it forces, it must be a driver, and must necessarily have the predicted effect. In fact, forcing has effect with predictability only on the model and not on the earth. A physicist of course might say that it MUST have an impact, and the fact that it doesn't "is a travesty."

This is just as silly as the widespread objection that evolution is "just a theory," and so doesn't deserve any special status. In both cases, the problem is a mismatch between how terminology is used in a professional context and how it's used colloquially. 'Forcing' is (most of the time) shorthand for 'radiative forcing,' which is a value representing a quantity of energy per unit area. In most climate science contexts, the attached unit is "watts per square meter" (W/m^2). The fact that the addition of CO2--along with other greenhouse gases (GHG)--increases the radiative forcing on the planet is entirely uncontroversial, and is a consequence of elementary physics. 

Molecules of different gases have different molecular structures, which (among other things) affects their size and chemical properties. As incoming radiation passes through the atmosphere, it strikes a (quite large) number of different molecules. In some cases, the molecule will absorb a few of the photons (quanta of energy for electromagnetic radiation) as the radiation passes through, which can push some of the electrons in the molecule into an “excited” state. This can be thought of as the electron moving into an orbit at a greater distance from the nucleus, though it is more accurate to simply say that the electron is more energetic. This new excited state is unstable, though, which means that the electron will (eventually) “calm down,” returning to its previous ground state. Because energy is conserved throughout this process, the molecule must re-emit the energy it absorbed during the excitation, which it does in the form of more E/M radiation, which might be of different wavelengths than the energy originally absorbed. Effectively, the gas molecule has “stored” some of the radiation’s incoming energy for a time, only to re-radiate it later. 

More technically, the relationship between E/M radiation wavelength and molecular absorption depends on quantum mechanical facts about the structure of the gas molecules populating the atmosphere.  The “excited” and “ground” states correspond to electrons transitioning between discrete energy levels, so the wavelengths that molecules are able to absorb and emit depend on facts about which energy levels are available for electrons to transition between in particular molecules. The relationship between the energy change of a given molecule and an electromagnetic wave with wavelength λ is: 

ΔE = ħ/λ 

where ħ is the reduced Planck constant (h/2π), so larger energy transitions correspond to shorter wavelengths. When ΔE is positive, a photon is absorbed by the molecule; when ΔE is negative, a photon is emitted by the molecule. Possible transitions are limited by open energy levels of the atoms composing a given atom, so in general triatomic molecules (e.g. water, with its two hydrogen and single oxygen atoms) are capable of interesting interactions with a larger spectrum of wavelengths than are diatomic molecules (e.g. carbon monoxide, with its single carbon and single oxygen atoms), since the presence of three atomic nuclei generally means more open energy orbital states. 

Because the incoming solar radiation and the outgoing radiation leaving the Earth are of very different wavelengths, they interact with the gasses in the atmosphere very differently. Most saliently, the atmosphere is nearly transparent with respect to the peak wavelengths of incoming radiation, and nearly opaque (with some exceptions) with respect to the peak wavelengths of outgoing radiation. Specifically, incoming solar radiation is not absorbed efficiently by any molecule, whereas outgoing radiation is efficiently absorbed by a number of molecules, particularly carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, water vapor, and ozone. This is the source of the greenhouse effect. 

This image depicts the absorption spectrum for the constituents of the atmosphere: http://tinypic.com/r/vyqu5h/9

The E/M frequency spectrum is represented on the x-axis, and the absorption efficiency (i.e. the probability that a molecule of the gas will absorb a photon when it encounters an E/M wave of the given wavelength) of various molecules in Earth’s atmosphere is represented on the y-axis. The peak emission range of incoming solar radiation is colored yellow, and the peak emission range of outgoing radiation is colored blue (though of course some emission occurs from both sources outside those ranges). Note the fact that incoming solar radiation is not absorbed efficiently by any molecule, whereas outgoing radiation is efficiently absorbed by a number of molecules, particularly carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, water vapor, and ozone. The absorbed and reradiated photons increase the amount of energy hitting a particular area of the ground--they increase radiative forcing. This is not controversial in any way.

What you're disputing here is the climate sensitivity, not the radiative forcing value. Sensitivity is expressed in °C/(W/m^2), and corresponds to the amount of the expected mean temperature increase resulting from a given increase in radiative forcing. The radiative forcing value most people work with is 3.7 W/m^2, which corresponds (uncontroversially) to a doubling of CO2-equivalent GHG in the atmosphere. It's true that calculating the temperature response to this change in forcing is non-trivial because of the interplay of various feedbacks and other non-linear processes, but the difficulty lies in calculating the sensitivity, not the forcing itself (and we've gotten pretty confident in our estimates of the lower bound on the sensitivity). This might seem pedantic, but understanding the technical language is really important if you're going to meaningfully engage with climate science; just like any mature science, it has a robust set of terminology that doesn't necessarily map well onto colloquial definitions of words, and failing to understand that vocabulary hampers your ability to understand the scientific literature. You end up saying things like:


We know what the effects of GHGs are, and we know that incremental GHG changes have no PREDICTABLE effect.

This is simply false. Incremental changes in CO2-e GHG concentrations have a very straightforward effect on radiative forcing. Their effect on average temperature is less straightforward, but hardly "unpredictable."


Physics says GHGs modulate temperature changes, and it acknowledges that 98% of the GHGs, and 95% of the greenhouse effect, is water vapor. Of the remaining 5%, CO2 is most of it at 3.6%, of which 3.2% is produced by mankind, the plurality of that by cement production and the plurality of that by China. Thus, we produce 0.12% of the CO2 that may have an influence on global climate.

These figures are well outside the generally accepted range of contributions, and I'd love to see a citation. The claim that "98% of the GHGs, and 95% of the greenhouse effect, is water vapor" is simply not well-supported by the literature, no matter how the claim is interpreted. Estimates for the contribution of water vapor to the overall greenhouse effect range between 36% and 72%, depending on the measure used. Water vapor is somewhat different from most other GHGs in that it has an incredibly short residence time in the atmosphere (on the order of days instead of years) because of the water cycle: unlike CO2 and most other GHG, water vapor can precipitate out, and often does. In addition, the water vapor carrying capacity of a quantity of atmosphere depends strongly on the atmosphere's temperature, which is not the case for most other GHG. This makes it somewhat more intuitive to consider water vapor as a part of a feedback loop, rather than as part of the greenhouse effect. Even considered as part of the greenhouse effect, though, the 98% figure is wildly inaccurate. The upper bound of its contribution given current conditions is about 72%. CO2, on the other hand, contributes somewhere between 9% and 26%, and has a residence time measured in decades (i.e. about 60 years). Other greenhouse gases currently contribute less, but many are much stronger than CO2, and so small increases can make a large difference. Methane, for instance, is not only a much more potent GHG than CO2 (in the sense of producing more radiative forcing per molecule), but also promotes the formation of ozone, another GHG. Small increases in methane can lead to significant increases in radiative forcing. This is all drawn from http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/1520-0477%281997%29078<0197%3AEAGMEB>2.0.CO%3B2.


Reducing that by any measurable amount is a formidable task, and because of the logarithmic decrease in the efficacy of CO2 warming (doubling it may cause a 0.5°C increase) it is as unlikely to have any effect as it is impractical to cripple industry to attempt it.

Again, you're talking about climate sensitivity here. 0.5°C/(3.7 W/m^2) is far below the generally accepted lower bound for the value. The Bayesian probabilities for climate sensitivity to a doubling of CO2-e (that is, an increase in radiative forcing of 3.7 W/m^2) range from 1.5°C to 4.5°C, with 90% confidence. It is extremely unlikely that the sensitivity is less than 1°C (less than a 10% probability), and very unlikely greater than 6°C (less than a 25% probability). It's possible to point to model runs in which extreme outlier values like 0.5°C/(3.7 W/m^2) or 10°C/(3.7 W/m^2) have been found, but we tend to pay more attention to the statistical ensemble of model predictions than we do to the outliers in either direction. Even still, there is significantly more of a chance that the sensitivity value is much higher than the ensemble estimate than that it is much lower. 0.5°C/(3.7 W/m^2) is far, far below any believable estimate, and represents the most extreme low outlier to be found in the literature. It is not representative.


In fact, CO2's effect (at present) is to NOT keep water in the vapor phase, since at the tropopause it cools the stratosphere and condenses any vapor into ice crystals. And more cools it more. Dyson thinks the major risk of CO2 increase is to have ice crystals diminish the ozone layer. But, bless his heart, he does think the benefits outweigh the risks.

This is a half-truth. Like much of what you've written here, it suggests to me that you're repeating arguments you've seen without really understanding what you're saying. "The tropopause" just refers to the boundary between the troposphere and the stratosphere, and is defined as the point at which the atmosphere stops getting colder as you go higher and starts (for a time) getting warmer (that is, the point where there is a sign change in the lapse rate of the atmosphere). The tropopause is cold. Very cold. The average temperature at the tropopause is -51°C, in fact. Since there's a sign change in the lapse rate at the tropopause, the temperature from there gradually increases, to an average maximum of -15°C. At the boundary of the stratosphere and the mesosphere, the lapse rate undergoes another sign change and things start to cool off again; the mesopause--the top of the mesosphere--is generally the coldest location that's still considered part of Earth, with a mean temperature of around −145 °C. It should be clear that in all these cases, the atmosphere near and above the tropopause is well below the freezing temperature of water, and in need of no further negative radiative forcings to condense ice crystals. The presence of aerosols and other particulate matter can indeed form crystallization nuclei and promote the formation of solid ice, but this effect is mostly independent of CO2 concentration. 

Freeman Dyson is/was a great physicist, but he's not a climate scientist. He has no formal background in climate science, and evinces very little understanding of the methods or concepts that are part of the science. Expertise in one area of science does not translate into expertise in another. I find it incredibly strange that climate change skeptics are fond of citing Dyson's work as if it represents evidence against anthropogenic climate change, and yet are comfortable dismissing the accumulated scientific work of literally hundreds of people who are just as accomplished as Dyson, but within the relevant field. It seems a lot like cherry picking.

"...models matching the past is a necessary but not sufficient condition for them to match the future." which is what I've said before. My point is that they haven't been able to match the past except for the last 150 years

I don't know where you're getting this information, but (again) this is just wildly false. Contemporary global circulation ensemble models retrodict the paleoclimate incredibly well. The results from the paleoclimate model intercomparison project and future climate models are depicted here: http://tinypic.com/r/jqgs5x/9, with the model predictions shaded and empirical temperature record represented as the black line. Each data set represents a different epoch, from the future under RCP8.5 at the top (2081-2100), back to the early eocene (48-54 million years ago) at the bottom. In all cases, ensemble averages of model projections matches empirical values almost perfectly.


The warming post 1850 preceded any rise in CO2.

This is irrelevant. There are many factors that can contribute to an increase in global average temperature. The fact that temperatures have increased when anthropogenic CO2 emissions haven't shows absolutely nothing relevant here. Arguing that temperature increases without anthropogenic GHG contributions shows that those emissions can't be causing the observed trends now is like arguing that the fact that some houses burn down without arson shows that this house couldn't have been subject to arson, despite evidence to the contrary. 


Human influences on climate and environment are significant. CO2 is only one, and certainly not the most important, so far. Natural factors have been operating for millions of years (billions?) and our pitiful influence is overwhelmed - no evidence to the contrary. It's a big universe out there.

Again, this is completely wrong. We have a broad spectrum of observations and models, virtually all of which agree with one another to an almost perfect degree. All the evidence points to the fact that current trends can't be explained without reference to anthropogenic contributions, and that those contributions are currently among the most significant factors influencing the evolution of the global climate. The global climate is a monstrously complex system, and attributions of single causes are notoriously tricky in cases where there are a lot of interlinking feedbacks operating on multiple different scales. However, we've come up with a lot of clever ways to check our results. The degree of intermodal agreement between observations and different models / model methods strongly suggests we have this right.

Jim Hansen pioneered this back in the mid-90s, but our models have improved a lot since then, so let's stick to more recent stuff. One of the more prominent recent pieces looking at this is "Combinations of natural and anthropogenic forcings in twentieth-century climate" by Gerald Meehl et. al. in the Journal of Climate in 2004 (http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/full/10.1175/1520-0442%282004%29017%3C3721%3ACONAAF%3E2.0.CO%3B2). They used an ensemble of CGCMs to try to hindcast the observed temperature trends of the 20th centuries using four different scenarios. The first three included the various natural forcings only (volcanic aerosols, varying insolation, &c.), while the last included both the natural variations and anthropogenic GHG emissions. They were unable to reproduce the observed trends without accounting for anthropogenic emissions, and including those emissions resulted in ensemble predictions that matched the observed data almost perfectly. Here's the graph: https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-3kEVIjnPryw/VNQ2Kp7eBpI/AAAAAAAAY44/PKAtsfu_wxE/w852-h1762/Screenshot%2B2015-02-05%2Bat%2B6.51.37%2BPM.png

We're able to discern anthropogenic GHG emissions from natural emissions of the same compounds by tracking the relative prevalence of different isotopes of carbon in CO2 molecules in the atmosphere. Because fossil fuels are composed of decomposed organic matter, they have a distinctive ratio of carbon-13 to carbon-12 that's not found in other sources. By tracking changes in the observed ratio in the atmosphere, we can get a fairly good sense of what proportion of CO2 is coming from us and what proportion is coming from other sources, giving the picture that Meehl found in his study.

Climate models also predict that if a large portion of the shifts in temperature ranges at the regional level are due to anthropogenic GHG emissions, we should also see a reduction in the difference between maximum and minimum daily temperatures, a value called the "diurnal temperature range" (DTR). We wouldn't expect to see a significant shift in the DTR if warming trends were the result of natural forcings alone, as natural forcings would alter temperatures more-or-less uniformly or (depending on the forcing) would have a much larger positive effect on the maximum temperature. Multiple data sets have shown that observed DTR in the last 50 years has narrowed significantly, and that there's been a relatively larger increase in minimum temperatures than in maximum temperatures, a fact which again can't be explained without reference to the impact of anthropogenic GHG. This is a good roundup of those studies: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2004GL019998/epdf

One of the most important thing about the DTR as a fingerprint is that variations of DTR are more-or-less independent of variations in global mean temperature, as increases in the global mean could be accounted for by a lot of different combinations of changes in the DTR in different regions (a large increase in daily maximums in an isolated region will artificially inflate the global mean, for instance). However, we see a fairly constant increase in daily minimum temperatures in geographically disparate regions, and a consequent shrinking of the average DTR. This can't be accounted for without including anthropogenic GHGs, and is an important independent confirmation of humanity's impact.

Yet another independent measure is the variation in the observed wavelengths of incoming radiation. Because the physical basis of the greenhouse effect is (as I'm sure you know) quantum mechanical, different molecules absorb and reradiate energy at distinctive frequencies because of differences in their structure. By using a spectrometer, we can figure out how much of the incoming radiative forcing is due to insolation itself and how much is due to the reradiative effect of different GHGs. If anthropogenic emissions were a major factor in planetary warming, we'd expect to see a significant contribution to overall radiative forcing coming from the molecular constituents of anthropogenic GHGs. This is exactly the observed result. In "Measurements of the radiative surface forcing of climate," (2006), Evans and Puckrin observed that anthropogenic GHGs were responsible for a radiative flux increase of 3.52 W/m^2, which is hugely significant (and in line with model predictions). I can't find a copy of the paper that isn't behind a paywall, so I put it up on my Google drive here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B4wR7F7Si7hsaUE3elBlRF94OHM

Those are three independent measures for estimating the human emission impact on observed temperature trends, and all three agree in their attribution. There are other independent measures as well that I can talk about if you want (atmospheric temperature gradient, wavelength flux in upward IR radiation) that also agree, but I think I've said enough here already. In each of these cases, the models not only agree with one another, but agree with observation. The notion that climate models are unreliable is completely mistaken.


So...yes, the world has gotten warmer and yes, the ocean has too. With all the formidable thermal inertia in the oceans, it would be amazing if ocean warming (they estimated at 0.4C per century) had paused at the same time as atmospheric temps. Note also the ZERO INCREASE AT DEPTH, and remember that warming at the surface produces increased evaporation, which removes heat. So it's thermodynamically impossible for heat to hide in the deep ocean, just as it is impossible for a photon of energy to be trapped at the surface (Back-radiated IR is absorbed and either radiated out again, or causes evaporation and loss of heat... so the photon's trip out to space is delayed and bounced around, but not trapped).

All of the discussion about the "warming pause" is complicated. I actually have a post a PlanetExperts reviewing the latest data, and discussing how to interpret it here: http://www.planetexperts.com/warming-hiatus-and-climate-sensitivity-new-data-explained/

Hopefully that will address your concerns.

In closing, let me say a little bit about the temperature and the climate more generally. The global average temperature is only one component of the climate system, and while it's expected to increase rather steadily, this steady increase is likely to significantly alter the behavior of other parts of the climate. Many of the most important processes driving the climate are cyclical in nature, and it's the stability of these cycles that gives rise to the relatively placid and (at least short-term) predictable behavior of the climate we're familiar with. A large magnitude global temperature increase, however, has the potential to degrade the stability of many of these cycles, resulting in more and more eccentric behavior.

You can imagine the climate as being something like a collection of spinning tops, all of different sizes and spinning at different speeds, and all of which are linked together. When everything is operating normally, some of the tops occasionally wobble a little bit, but their spins are usually stabilized by the motion of all the other tops on the table; everything keeps spinning at more-or-less the same rate (at least in the short term), and long-term changes in spin rates happens gradually as a result of all the mutually-supporting spins. However, if a significant amount of wobble is introduced into a few of those tops very quickly and from the outside, the usual stabilization mechanisms aren't strong enough to compensate--at least not immediately. Introduce enough wobble in just a few of the tops, and the instability can cascade throughout the whole system, causing lots of other tops to pick up some wobble too, and possibly even causing some to fall over entirely.

What we've got right now is a little bit of wobble, caused primarily by the infusion of a lot of excess energy due to the greenhouse effect. This wobble is getting bad enough that it's starting to get picked up by some other systems too, and the "freak" weather we're seeing--look at the unprecedented heat wave that happened in the Arctic a few weeks ago--as well as the quick and wild shifts between different extremes--look at Texas in the last few months--is the result of that wobble starting to cascade, destabilizing what are otherwise relatively stable cycles. The longer this goes on, the more wobble we'll get, the stronger it will be, and the more systems will be affected. The consequence of this is that we expect some extremely strange behavior in various climate systems as the magnitude of warming continues and its impacts continue to cascade throughout the climate system.

Take just a single example of what this kind of "wobble cascade" looks like. As the global temperature goes up, some of the sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic melts. In addition to the positive feedback effect because of albedo I mentioned in my other post, this has other effects. As all that ice melts, it dumps a lot of very cold freshwater into the surrounding oceans, changing their temperature and density. This, in turn, changes the behavior of some ocean currents, pushing cold water to places where it wasn't before and pushing warm water to places where it wasn't before. The change in distribution of cold and fresh water has an impact on where (and how much) water evaporates from the oceans, which changes where (and how many) storm systems form. This changes patterns in air circulation, pushing warm air, cold air, wet air, and dry air to places that don't normally get so much of them. Air circulation patterns are also big drivers of ocean currents, so this changes ocean currents even more, causing the whole chain of changes to operate even more strongly, and driving the whole system further and further away from the relatively stable state it was in before this whole thing started. All of this can and will happen as the result of just a few degrees of warming in the Arctic; to a certain extent it's already happening.

The main takeaway here is that the global climate isn't just a non-linear system: it's a non-linear complex system. This means that the dynamics of each of the sub-processes that make up the climate isn't just responsive to changes in odd, non-linear ways--it means that the dynamics of each of those sub-processes is sensitive in that way to changes in almost all the other sub-processes. Most complex systems display non-linear behavior, but not all non-linear systems are complex in this way. Those that are--like the global climate--can be extremely difficult to predict under the right (or, rather, wrong) circumstances because non-linearity combined with a very high density of interdependence between processes can easily give rise to abrupt, severe, and often surprising changes in the behavior of the overall system as a result of just a little bit of tinkering with one or two components.

This is emphatically the best reason to try to minimize global temperature increase. The complexity of the climate is such that we just don't know exactly what to expect as a result of significant changes in temperature. That should be deeply worrying to all of us.___

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2016-02-10 05:35:57 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 4 +1s)Open 

___

2016-02-09 22:39:38 (0 comments; 1 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

Optimizing Environmental Policy by Maximizing Future Choice

I'm mostly finished revising the two big philosophy of science papers I've been working on for the last year or so, and both have found a good home at different journals.  I'm now focusing on a collaborative project with the head of the climate lab here at USC so that we can (hopefully) get a paper out together by the time I leave.  We had a long discussion about what we'd like to do today, and finally settled on an idea that we both like.  He read my system individuation piece accepted to BJPS, and we're going to build on that to talk about integrative assessment models in climate policy.  I've produced the first couple of pages in the last hour.  The abstract is below, and if anyone has any suggestions or comments, I'd love to hear them.

Abstract:

Integrativeasse... more »

Optimizing Environmental Policy by Maximizing Future Choice

I'm mostly finished revising the two big philosophy of science papers I've been working on for the last year or so, and both have found a good home at different journals.  I'm now focusing on a collaborative project with the head of the climate lab here at USC so that we can (hopefully) get a paper out together by the time I leave.  We had a long discussion about what we'd like to do today, and finally settled on an idea that we both like.  He read my system individuation piece accepted to BJPS, and we're going to build on that to talk about integrative assessment models in climate policy.  I've produced the first couple of pages in the last hour.  The abstract is below, and if anyone has any suggestions or comments, I'd love to hear them.

Abstract:

Integrative assessment models (IAMs) treat the global climate and the global economy as two coupled parts of a single hybrid system, and can be used to construct policy portfolios that reflect a wide variety of social and scientific values and priorities.  However, there is a high degree of uncertainty endemic to both climatological and economic models, which is inherited by IAMs.  In addition, the decision of which models to use, how to prioritize future outcomes, and how to delineate relevantly similar states of the hybrid system are deeply value-laden and perspectival choices, complicating the task of constructing policies based on IAMs.  In this paper, we examine the conceptual and technical challenges associated with IAM-based policy and argue that the best way to meet these challenges is to use IAMs to construct policies that maximize the range of future policy options available, rather than to pursue specific outcomes.  By optimizing our policy choice to produce a maximally open range of future choices, we both mitigate the impact of structural model uncertainty and minimize the extent to which individual evaluative choices are irreversibly enshrined in policy decisions.  This approach greatly enhances the utility of IAMs, and has concrete, specific implications for climate policy deliberations.___

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2016-02-03 04:03:55 (2 comments; 1 reshares; 4 +1s)Open 

"Yet apocalyptic fictions of the current wave feed off precisely this fear: the feeling that we are part of something over which we have no control, of which we have no real choice but to keep being part. The bigger it grows, the more we rely on it, the deeper the anxiety becomes. It is the curse of being a self-aware piece of a larger puzzle, of an emergent consciousness in a larger emergent system. It is as hard to fathom as the colony is to the ant.

...

The problems we face will not be fixed at the level of the individual life. We all know this because none of us have changed our own lives anywhere near enough to make a difference. Where would we start? With our commute? With candles? Life is already hard. Solutions will need to be implemented at a higher level of organisation. We fear this. We know it, but we have no idea what those solutions might look like. Hence the... more »

"Yet apocalyptic fictions of the current wave feed off precisely this fear: the feeling that we are part of something over which we have no control, of which we have no real choice but to keep being part. The bigger it grows, the more we rely on it, the deeper the anxiety becomes. It is the curse of being a self-aware piece of a larger puzzle, of an emergent consciousness in a larger emergent system. It is as hard to fathom as the colony is to the ant.

...

The problems we face will not be fixed at the level of the individual life. We all know this because none of us have changed our own lives anywhere near enough to make a difference. Where would we start? With our commute? With candles? Life is already hard. Solutions will need to be implemented at a higher level of organisation. We fear this. We know it, but we have no idea what those solutions might look like. Hence the creeping sense of doom."___

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2016-02-03 03:33:07 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 13 +1s)Open 

#GoldenRacist

#GoldenRacist___

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2016-02-02 21:00:05 (1 comments; 5 reshares; 6 +1s)Open 

Climate Change and the Coldest Day of the Year

Someone asked me a really interesting question today.  Here's what he said:

"I was out jogging in shorts today on what is normally the coldest day of the year, and I was wondering, ignoring stochastic weather patterns and my own confirmation bias, whether anthropogenic climate change is expected to move the coldest day of winter farther away from the solstice."

This is an extremely interesting question, and I don't think that there's a consensus answer to it. I've attached an animated gif showing when the statistically coldest day (based on 1981-2010 data) tends to fall across the United States, and as you can see there's a significant amount of variation already, with the date ranging between the first week of December and the last week of March, depending on where you are in the United... more »

Climate Change and the Coldest Day of the Year

Someone asked me a really interesting question today.  Here's what he said:

"I was out jogging in shorts today on what is normally the coldest day of the year, and I was wondering, ignoring stochastic weather patterns and my own confirmation bias, whether anthropogenic climate change is expected to move the coldest day of winter farther away from the solstice."

This is an extremely interesting question, and I don't think that there's a consensus answer to it. I've attached an animated gif showing when the statistically coldest day (based on 1981-2010 data) tends to fall across the United States, and as you can see there's a significant amount of variation already, with the date ranging between the first week of December and the last week of March, depending on where you are in the United States. The reason for this variation is as complex as any other climatological feature, but snow cover likely plays a significant role. In places that tend to get a lot of snow (the midwest, northeast, and Rockies), the lowest temperature tends to come later in the year, as snow (being white) has a relatively high albedo, and so reflects much of the incoming solar radiation back into the atmosphere, reducing the significance of solar radiation on temperature trends. This suggests that, all things being equal, if the average snowfall in a location goes up, then the average date of the coldest day will drift toward spring. The last time I checked, there's not currently a statistically significant trend in snowfall amounts in North America, but it's possible that that's changed since I last looked into it.

Of course, all other things are almost never equal in the climate, and there are lots of other factors that might make a difference here, including changes to the structure of ocean currents (and thus the jet stream) as a result of sea ice melting and oceanic warming, changes to cloud formation and distribution patterns, and lots of other things. In the United States, at least, we know (http://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/images/indicator_figures/high-low-temps-figure6-2014.png) that climate change is shifting the normal distribution of temperatures pretty significantly upward, and also somewhat flattening the distribution in the direction of warmer temperatures. That is, we're seeing warmer days in general, somewhat more extremely warm days, and somewhat fewer extremely cold days. This could potentially impact the placement of seasonal lows, but it's hard to say exactly how it will do so.

Based on what I know, I'd expect climate change to have an impact on seasonal extremes, but I wouldn't expect that impact to be uniform across the globe (or even across the US). That is, I'd expect the date of warmest and coldest days to change in most places, but I wouldn't expect the shift to be in the same direction across the board. In some places, the coldest day of the year may begin to come earlier, and in other places it may begin to come later in the year, depending on what features dominate the local climate in the winter, and how those features are likely to be impacted by climate change. In general, it's unusual to see climate shifts that are completely uniform at significant spatial scales: precipitation levels are going up in some places but down in others, and even the shift toward higher temperatures is a planetary average, telling us very little about temperature distributions in particular regions. Different parts of the globe have climates that are dominated by many different processes and factors, and those processes themselves are impacted in non-uniform ways by the warming trend. The shape of the climate at any particular location is a result of the interplay between local, global, and mesoscale processes, and in order to effect a uniform change a forcing has to be very strong indeed (e.g. Milankovitch cycles).

I'm going to do a little more digging into GISS and a few other models and see if I can turn up anything more specific here. I'll update the post if I find anything.___

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2016-01-27 04:22:48 (4 comments; 5 reshares; 9 +1s)Open 

I guess I'm out of a job now, but I'm glad that's finally settled at least. 

I guess I'm out of a job now, but I'm glad that's finally settled at least. ___

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2016-01-04 21:22:15 (0 comments; 1 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

"It was good enough for Billy Burroughs
And it's good enough for me"

"It was good enough for Billy Burroughs
And it's good enough for me"___

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2015-12-21 07:28:22 (0 comments; 1 reshares; 17 +1s)Open 

I got a rad new fractal Xmas ornament. 

I got a rad new fractal Xmas ornament. ___

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2015-12-18 05:39:14 (1 comments; 1 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

___

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2015-12-18 05:07:31 (1 comments; 2 reshares; 5 +1s)Open 

"The trouble with our attitude to children is that the less like this idea of a person they are the more valuable children's lives are supposed to be. The younger and more inchoate their minds and the shallower their ability to relate to themselves, others, or the world, the more significant their lives are held to be and, for example, the greater the tragedy if one should die.

[...]

The death of an adult person is a tragedy because a sophisticated unique consciousness has been lost; a life in progress, of memories and plans and ideals and relationships with other persons, has been broken off.

[...]

Death affects the child and the adult differently. The younger the child the less real her presence in the world, including to herself, and the more she resembles the generic outline or idea of a child. By contrast an adult has developed much further her... more »

"The trouble with our attitude to children is that the less like this idea of a person they are the more valuable children's lives are supposed to be. The younger and more inchoate their minds and the shallower their ability to relate to themselves, others, or the world, the more significant their lives are held to be and, for example, the greater the tragedy if one should die.

[...]

The death of an adult person is a tragedy because a sophisticated unique consciousness has been lost; a life in progress, of memories and plans and ideals and relationships with other persons, has been broken off.

[...]

Death affects the child and the adult differently. The younger the child the less real her presence in the world, including to herself, and the more she resembles the generic outline or idea of a child. By contrast an adult has developed much further her life's project of constructing and refining a unique identity of her own and therefore she, and the world, has much more to lose by her death.

[...]

On the principle that a good idea realised is better than a good idea merely, we should acknowledge that oak trees are more valuable than acorns. Adults live fuller, deeper, and more real lives than those who have yet to grow up."___

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