Tu Quoque

by John Quiggin on April 21, 2014

I’ve written many posts and articles making the point that the political right, in most English speaking countries1 has been taken over by a tribalist post-truth politics in which all propositions, including the conclusions of scientific research, are assessed in terms of their consistency or otherwise with tribal prejudices and shibboleths.

Very occasionally, intellectuals affiliated with the political right (conservatives and libertarians) will seek to deny this, arguing that isolated instances are being blown out of proportion, and that the right as a whole is committed to reasoned, fact-based argument and acceptance of “inconvenient truths’ arising from the conclusions of scientific research2, 3.

But, far more often their response takes the form of a tu quoque or, in the language of the schoolyard, “you’re another”. That is, they seek to argue that the left is just as tribalist and anti-science as the right. Favored examples of alleged left tribalism included any rhetoric directed at rightwing billionaires ( Murdoch, the Kochs and so on). The standard examples of alleged left anti-science are GMOs, nuclear power and anti-vaxerism, but it is also sometimes claimed that US Democrats are just as likely as Republicans to be creationists.

I’ll argue over the fold that these examples don’t work. What’s more important, though, is what the tu quoque argument says about those who deploy it, and their view of politics. The implied claim is that politics is inherently a matter of tribalism and emotion, and that there is no point in complaining about this. The only thing to do is to pick a side and stick to it. What passes for political argument is simply a matter of scoring debating points for your side and demolishing those of the others. So, anyone who uses tu quoque as a defence, rather than seeking to dissuade their own side from tribalist and anti-science rhetoric, deserves no more respect than the tribalists and science deniers themselves, who at least have the defence of ignorance.

Now let’s look at the tu quoque in a bit more detail. First, there’s the claim that the left is just as anti-science as the right. Of the three examples, anti-vaxerism can be dismissed most easily. US presentations of this argument (it’s rarely made in Oz) invariably focus on Robert F. Kennedy Jr, who is indeed an anti-science loon. But the most notable thing about RFK jr is that he happens to share his name with his famous father. He’s never held, or even stood for, elective office of any kind. By contrast, prominent Republican politicians included Michelle Bachmann and Dan Burton have pushed anti-vax rhetoric.

At one time, the generally leftish Huffington Post ran a lot of anti-vax stuff. But they came under sustained pressure from the pro-science left, and have now abandoned this almost entirely. The only recent anti-vax piece I could find came from Lawrence Solomon, a right wing Canadian climate denier (more on this later) And survey evidence suggests that anti-vaxerism, like other conspiracy theories, is more prevalent among Republicans. A PPP poll reports that 26 per cent of Republicans believe that vaccines cause autism, compared to 16 per cent of Democrats.

Next, there’s nuclear power. As we’ve discussed, policy choices regarding nuclear power raise a wide range of issues, few of which can be answered by referring to peer-reviewed scientific evidence. The right wing claim (usually implied rather than spelt out) is that the left is opposed to nuclear power because of unjustified fears about health risks and accidents. The standard straw person here, filling the role of RFK Jr in the antivax debate, is Helen Caldicott. The problems with the right wing claim are numerous

  • First, the left as a whole does not take any unified view on this question. Most obviously, the Obama Administration in the US has promoted nuclear power as part of an “all of the above” approach to climate change, and has received little in the way of pushback from the broader US left (compare the intensity of the campaign against Keystone XL with the handful of desultory protests against nuclear plants currently under construction)

  • Second, while some on the left may have opposed nuclear power for reasons that don’t stand up to scrutiny, they at least got closer to the correct answer on the broader question of whether nuclear power is a sensible solution to our energy problems. It is the political right who have proved immune to evidence on this question. No country in the world has, as yet, managed to sustain cheap and safe nuclear power over any lengthy period, and investors everywhere have abandoned the technology. Yet the belief that nuclear power is a solution to our problems, being blocked only by crazy greenies, remains a cornerstone of rightwing tribal identity.

  • Finally, even on the narrow question of accident risks, it’s hard to reach a conclusive answer. Nuclear meltdowns are rare but extreme events. No one can say for sure that the worst accidents we’ve seen so far (TMI,Chernobyl and Fukushima) encompass the worst that can possibly happen. These are complex engineering questions on which science doesn’t have a lot to say. Alleged experts who claimed to know for sure (notably Barry Brook in relation to Fukushima and the pre-TMI Rasmussen report on nuclear safety in the US) ended up with egg on their faces. My own judgement is that accident risks alone aren’t enough to reject nuclear power, but the cost of the safety precautions required to prevent accidents is part of the reason nuclear power is inefficient.

Evolution and creationism provide an even more interesting case. Until relatively recently, beliefs about evolution were largely uncorrelated with political affiliation. But creationism is now a Republican political issue, and beliefs are lining up accordingly, with Republicans supporting biblical literalism and Democrats mostly supporting theistic evolution4

Finally, there is the question of Genetic Modification (GM) technology. This is the strongest point of the rightwing tu quoque. Greenpeace, for example, is guilty as charged of being anti-science on this issue. But Greenpeace and likeminded groups are only a minority among Greens who are, in turn, only a minority of the Left.

There are a variety of reasons for being concerned about the assertion of corporate ownership over genetic resources of which GM is (a relatively small) part, and for allowing consumers to choose whether or not to consume GM foods (regardless of whether there are objective reasons to prefer non-GM to GM, or vice versa). But outright opposition to GM based on spurious claims about health risks is definitely a minority position.

Turning to tribalism, it is silly to point to criticism of figures like Murdoch and Rinehart as tribalist. They are powerful people who use their power (derived from wealth) to advocate bad policies, and do so in an aggressive and dishonest way. The fact that they then whine about being the subject of counter-attacks, is just further evidence of their dishonesty.

Similarly, there is nothing inherently tribalist in advocating policies that would redistribute income, wealth and power away from the rich for the benefit of society as a whole, any more than in advocating free market policies that would harm some groups and benefit others. Such policies should, be advocated on the basis that they will make society as a whole better off, and not on the basis that the winners are the right kinds of people and the losers the wrong kind,

Tribalism involves attacks designed to mobilise one group against another on the basis of perceived identity. It is easy to point to a long list of groups perceived as tribal enemies by the right: environmentalists, public sector workers, unionists, gays, scientists, cultural ‘elitists’, refugees, welfare recipients (except age pensioners), ethnic and indigenous ‘lobbies’ and so on: in fact, just about any group that is seen as supporting the left or centre-left, is attacked in these terms.

By contrast, most of the groups that form the base of the political right (for example: small business, farmers, the military, self-funded retirees, mainstream churches) are treated with solicitous respect by the centre-left parties. The most notable example of a group commonly treated as a tribal enemy is that of fundamentalist Christians, and even here, there have been plenty of attempts at engagement, for example, on the idea of environmental stewardship.

To sum up, even when true, the tu quoque argument is an implicit admission of error. When it isn’t true, as in the case of the claims that the left and right are equally guilty of tribalism and anti-scientific thinking, it amounts to an intellectual coverup.

Note to commenters: This is a repost from my blog, edited to remove some Oz-specific references. Nuclear power gets done to death there, so I’d prefer no discussion of the topic here.


  1. Almost entirely in the US, Canada and Australia. To a slightly lesser extent in UK and NZ. 

  2. By contrast, this is the normal response when instances of racism or corruption are pointed out. The primary defence is that these instances are unrepresentative. A tu quoque if offered, is usually of the form “there are similar instances on the left”, but no one on that side would concede that they are unrepresentative. 

  3. Here’s an attempt, which relies on the ludicrous claim that among Congressional Republicans ” the vast majority do not reject the underlying science of global warming” (There’s also a big load of tu quoque

  4. Some have tried to argue that this position is just as inconsistent with science as is Young Earth Creationism. But in reality, anyone who believes both in God (in the usual senses of this term) and evolution must believe that God guided evolution, just as they must believe that God was responsible for the Big Bang and the evolution of the universe. More generally, they must believe that religion is consistent with the findings of science. Whether or not this is a logically defensible position, it isn’t anti-science. 

{ 281 comments }

1

ambzone 04.21.14 at 8:02 pm

Whether politics is “inherently” a matter of tribalism and emotion is debatable in the abstract. Whether it is factually so, on a pedestrian day-to-day basis, is incontrovertible. And the Right is winning.

But I guess debating matters of “inherently” is more fitting of the academic’s bill.

2

David 04.21.14 at 8:36 pm

I don’t see the Right as winning, not at this moment in time. At least not within the framework of US centrist politics. Their prospects seem to get worse and worse.

I do wish that more on the Left embraced disciplined partisanship, at least in public.

3

Anarcissie 04.21.14 at 8:37 pm

In this regard, I suppose everyone has read Louis Menand’s article of ten years ago on the subject of how people think, or rather don’t think, about politics.
( http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2004/08/30/040830crat_atlarge )

4

Sandwichman 04.21.14 at 8:49 pm

You left out chemtrails and EMR. Mighty suspicious.

5

Gareth Wilson 04.21.14 at 8:49 pm

That all seems reasonable. So let’s turn to some other scientific issues. What does the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale measure? Is it important in determining life outcomes? What’s the heritability of what it measures?

6

Jonathan H. Adler 04.21.14 at 8:54 pm

There are quite a few fair points here. There is no question many on the right let their tribal loyalties determine their views of scientific questions. Climate change is a good example. That said, you need to engage with Kahan’s work on how tribalism and ideology affect reasoning and the evaluation of scientific evidence. His work on climate in particular is quite important.

On the GM issue, many “moderate” positions on GM are infected with scientific irrationality. Most calls for mandatory GM labeling, for example, are based on scientifically unsound premises about the health or other effects of genetic modification. Further, existing US regulatory policy with regard to GM is infected with these premises as well.

Finally, when evaluating political discourse on some of these questions, its important to recognize the audience of various appeals. Insofar as some groups on the left are solicitous of, say, farmers, small business, etc. it may be because of the political power of such groups both as interests and as political symbols. It may not reflect underlying beliefs or tribal affinities (or lack thereof).

7

Josh Jasper 04.21.14 at 9:00 pm

As a leftist, I’m totally fine with GOM foods, and agree that the science behind the anti-GMO movement is poorly made.

8

marcel 04.21.14 at 9:40 pm

The strongest case for labeling GMO foods is based on consumer-sovereignty. We should as much ban the use of kosher/halal labels as a non-GMO label. It’s true that most calls for labeling are for GMO rather than non-GMO, but so long as we exclude the law of the excluded middle, either way works. I suspect that there is a Coasian argument to be made here too about which way is better, but I’m not motivated to work it out.

9

SusanC 04.21.14 at 9:50 pm

Most of these examples seem to be about assessing risk.

Mary Douglas’s Purity and Danger and Eisk and Culture are interesting reading in this area.

The environmental movement’s core political concern is anxiety about some of these risks, so of course you’ld expect it to attract people who are worried about them (whether the anxiety is rationally justified or not); “the left” on the other hand, is not organized around apocalyptic anxiety to the same extent (though Marxian ideas of revolution are kind of apocalyptic in their own way).

I would tentatively add economic collapse to one of the major anxieties of our time. It’s a little unclear how great the risk is. (Some people are already, right now, in serious danger of death as a result of the current economic conditions; the risk to them is real and clear; what is unclear is the extent to which economic collapse in the industrialized west might worsen further to place a much larger proportion of the population at serious risk).

10

roy belmont 04.21.14 at 9:52 pm

As a marker of tribal affinities, evolution’s got some interesting stuff around it.
The “God made everything, so evolution is a divine process” idea has mankind central, with the needs met and desired outcomes pure and simple anthropocentricity.
The “It’s all a giant petri dish filled with individual struggle and value-empty outcomes” idea has mankind central, with the desired outcomes anthropocentric.
Evolution as I understand it begins with the tension between humans and a not-necessarily friendly environment with non-negotiable demands, with human overcoming of those demands giving us all the cool things we like about ourselves.
But it wasn’t anything like under our control, or pervious to our demands.
Until now.
When the public argument, now pretty much over, elided completely the rejection by both sides of anything like a superior not-anthropocentric shaping force.
Even though everyone but the most literal fundamentalists agree that is exactly what worked for us for so long.
Either we’re now in charge of our own evolutionary processes, or God is, by proxy, but either way it’s all about us.
Thus giving permission to some pretty arcane and inhuman practices. Not to mention blind assaults on poorly understood but vital systems.

And Fukushima’s a disaster, but the extent of it is by no means clear. It’s still happening.
Consumer evaluation of things like GMO’s – no immediate harm to the customer, so fine – come right out of that same playbook. Is it good for the “us”?
Screw the future, it’s not our problem.

11

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 04.21.14 at 9:53 pm

It’s the patents.

This lefty will continue to oppose corporate tyranny. And GM foods (at least in the U.S.A.) are a part of that.
~

12

GiT 04.21.14 at 10:00 pm

“The strongest case for labeling GMO foods is based on consumer-sovereignty. We should as much ban the use of kosher/halal labels as a non-GMO label.”

But “banning” labeling is not on the table. The question is whether or not to have state mandated labelling. One ought to be able to just concoct some opt-in private imprimatur as a certifying agency. Works for Kosher and Halal products, though there’s a case for state auditing along “truth in advertising” lines in that arrangement.

13

GiT 04.21.14 at 10:00 pm

“The strongest case for labeling GMO foods is based on consumer-sovereignty. We should as much ban the use of kosher/halal labels as a non-GMO label.”

But “banning” labeling is not on the table. The question is whether or not to have state mandated labelling. One ought to be able to just concoct some opt-in private imprimatur as a certifying agency. Works for Kosher and Halal products, though there’s a case for state auditing along “truth in advertising” lines in that arrangement.

14

SusanC 04.21.14 at 10:01 pm

My personal view on many of these issues is that the fraud risk dominates: either the technical/scientific assessment of the risk is correct (with probability p the risk really has the probability q the scientist says it has), or the scientific assessment of the risk is fraudulent (with probability 1-p) and the actual risk (q’) is higher. For q extremely small, and there being no particular reason to think that 1-p is very small, pq + (1-p).q’ is dominated by (1-p).q’.

15

adam.smith 04.21.14 at 10:23 pm

But “banning” labeling is not on the table.

uhm well, Pennsylvania actually requires a disclaimer such as
” ‘According to the FDA, there is no significant difference between the milk from cows injected with rbST compared to those not injected.’ “
on milk labeled as produced without additional rBGH. The original bill did indeed intend to ban all such labels of milk. Similar bills were/are considered in serveral other states, I know of Kansas and Ohio for sure, so “not on the table” is not quite correct.

16

The Temporary Name 04.21.14 at 10:26 pm

You left out chemtrails and EMR. Mighty suspicious.

It seems to me that these belong to kooks of all flavours. I first heard about chemtrails from right-wing nut Art Bell. I tend to think of EMR as a leftish concern, but there too conspiracists span the political spectrum.

An easier target for right-wingers to aim at is not just vaccine silliness, but alternative health regimes in general. Although it’s odd that anti-regulation right-wingers are bigger enablers on that score than left-wing bureaucrats.

17

Lee A. Arnold 04.21.14 at 10:35 pm

I have become interested in how the so-called Medieval Warm Period might have led to the Little Ice Age.

In North America, the Warm Period created an enormous sand-dune desert in the western half of the U.S., stretching from Mexico up to Saskatchewan, with enormous droughts and wildfires on the West Coast. Sort of like conditions now!

But right now, we are also having what appears to be slightly increased precipitation on the East Coast.

Now, one way to get to a cold period would be increased winter precipitation (i.e. snow) that packs and doesn’t melt for much of the summer: increasing earth’s reflectivity or albedo. What would do that?

Welllllll, it turns out the polar vortex shift is a very nice candidate. The Great Lakes are still frozen this year, and the deep ground outside Toronto may not thaw until late summer.

Is this what initiated the Little Ice Age?

I think we may have to consider that earth’s climate never exited from the Dansgaard-Oeschger cycles. Now there is a frightening topic.

What if 1900-1910 and 1940-1970 may have just been moderate cool phases of the D-O downswing? If this gets worse — if we start having changes of 10 degrees Celsius in ten years, as we know happened long ago, and for thousands of years at a time — we may be suddenly surprised, and suddenly find ourselves unsuccessful in agriculture. There is UNLIKELY to be perfectly predictive modeling of this.

At the very least, all nations should build two or three-year food supplies to cover their own citizens. Will someone please go tell Hillary for a campaign issue? The farmers will love her.

18

Will Boisvert 04.21.14 at 10:35 pm

@ John Quiggin,

“ No country in the world has, as yet, managed to sustain cheap and safe nuclear power over any lengthy period, and investors everywhere have abandoned the technology. Yet the belief that nuclear power is a solution to our problems, being blocked only by crazy greenies, remains a cornerstone of rightwing tribal identity”

1) John, this statement is extravagantly false. France gets 75-80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, with some of the lowest electricity rates in Europe. France built its nuclear fleet decades ago for an average cost of about EU 1600 per kilowatt, about the same price as wind capacity. Sweden and Switzerland and Ontario also get half or more of their electricity from nuclear, at very low prices. South Korea currently gets about 23 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, which is the cheapest power on their grid–cheaper than coal. Their nuclear reactor builds are still going strong and have capital costs three to five times cheaper than wind and solar. China has a huge nuclear buildout going, with capital costs and feed-in tariffs lower than wind and solar. Contrary to your post, many countries all over the world have sustained cheap and safe nuclear power for decades.

2) Investors have not abandoned nuclear power; where on earth did you get that idea? There is massive investment in nuclear reactors, with 75 gigawatts currently under construction, more starting construction this year, and hundreds more planned. Both state and private investors are avidly interested in nukes. Chinese nuclear companies recently made successful public stock offerings. The SCANA utility is financing its VC Summer nuclear build from the bond market. The Finnish Fennovoima industrial consortium has just contracted to buy a nuclear reactor from Russia. Major nuclear corporations like Westinghouse, Areva, and EDF have no problem selling bonds for nuclear projects at low interest rates.

3) You’re right that leftists are split on nuclear power. There are powerful currents of left politics that anathematize nuclear and have succeeded, in Germany for example, in banning nuclear power, with terrible effects on decarbonization efforts and air quality. But other leftists do indeed dispute anti-nuclear ideology. They dispute the “safety critique”—which is actually pervasive: uncritical mention of hysterical claims that 500,000 people died from the Chernobyl spew have even appeared under your byline in the Guardian—because the safety critique is rejected by the scientific consensus that nuclear power is safer than most other energy sources. (The new UNSCEAR report on Fukushima underscores this, finding once again that there will be no measurable public health effects from the radiation.)

But pro-nuclear leftists also dispute the more respectable and seemingly hard-headed “economic critique” of nuclear power that you voice here, because of its gross factual errors and distorted reasoning. Indeed, the economic critique is so weak that it inevitably lapses into a safety critique, as in your post: nuclear power can only be “safe” if we layer on regulations that price it out of the market.

I’m afraid your post does not entirely dispel suspicions that prevalent left-wing attitudes towards nuclear power are motivated more by irrational dogma than by science and economics.

19

TM 04.21.14 at 10:37 pm

“you need to engage with Kahan’s work on how tribalism and ideology affect reasoning and the evaluation of scientific evidence.”

“You need to” explain why you think that “we need to engage” with Kahan’s work. But I will take a stab anyway. Kahan assumes left-right symmetry and when prompted to explain why that symmetry is patently broken, his response is:

“I’ve finally caught my breath after laughing myself into state of hyperventilation as a result of reading Krugman’s latest proof (this is actually a replication of an earlier empirical study on his part) that ideologically motivated reasoning is in fact perfectly symmetric with respect to right-left ideology.”

Well you get the idea (http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2014/4/9/more-on-krugmans-symmetry-proof-its-not-whether-one-gets-the.html). According to Kahan, “it’s not whether one gets the answer right or wrong but how one reasons that counts”. “If in aggregate, in the real world, they [liberals] happen to “get the right” answer, then they aren’t to be commended for the high quality of their reasoning. Rather, they are to be congratulated for being lucky that a position they unreasoningly subscribe to happens to be true.” The rest of us think that it does actually matter whether one gets the answer right. At least, a theory based on symmetry ought to account for observed asymmetry but Kahan only hyperventilates.

Kahan conflates two very different issues:
1) How do people form their respective views – are they formed by careful consideration of the available evidence, by appeal to authority, by superstition?
2) How do people respond when they are confronted with evidence that challenges their dearly held views?

It is neither new nor surprising to observe that most people resist changing their views. After all, we have invested a lot of intellectual and emotional capital in our world view. That is true for left and right. It is also true for Galileo and Einstein as much as anybody else. It does not follow however that all positions are equally “unreasoningly subscribed to”. It doesn’t follow that Galileo and his opponents were all equally ideologically driven, and that Galileo just happened to be right.

20

John Quiggin 04.21.14 at 10:41 pm

Will, you’ve had your say, at length, on my blog. Nothing more on this thread, please.

21

TM 04.21.14 at 10:41 pm

Oh s*t. Only first paragraph should be blockquote.

22

godoggo 04.21.14 at 10:43 pm

For some reason The Temporary Name’s comment reminds me that a while ago I had the opportunity to overhear a conversation among a bunch of the physical therapists and Baldwin Park Kaiser, and the utter contempt as well as the utter cluelessness with which they discussed the patients who some doctors had sent to them for chronic pain was quite shocking to me.

Stay away.

23

Cranky Observer 04.21.14 at 11:12 pm

= = = But “banning” labeling is not on the table. The question is whether or not to have state mandated labelling. = = =

A number of large agricultural states in fact have laws banning labeling of foods with GMO content. Also,

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2014/04/09/genetic-labeling-bill/7519937/

24

Kevin V 04.21.14 at 11:12 pm

John Quiggin, you say: “The most notable example of a group commonly treated as a tribal enemy is that of fundamentalist Christians, and even here, there have been plenty of attempts at engagement, for example, on the idea of environmental stewardship.”

I think this is just is false or, rather, “plenty” is sheer exaggeration. It is plain that plenty of elite left activists, intellectuals and politicians are hostile to orthodox Christian belief and it playing much of any role in politics other than supporting left-wing political views. I think you’d do best to simply admit that the left is at its most tribal in mistreating, marginalizing and mocking people of faith (unless they are African American, in which case they are, outside of an occasional MLK reference, are completely ignored). Otherwise, you have some good arguments.

25

dm 04.21.14 at 11:28 pm

I agree that tGMO’s and labeling would fade as political issues if it weren’t for the IP problem. Evidently, strong IP and high profits are more acceptable in the pharmaceutical industry then in agriculture. Ag biotech is not nearly as profitable, and the research is just as expensive, but the over-reach and greed of the companies involved is more visible I guess. Its hard to feel a lot of sympathy for the industry, but I sort of do, because we are going to need all the help we can get to feed the 9-billion who on their way.

26

Straigtwood 04.21.14 at 11:31 pm

For a short time in the last century it was assumed that the best and the brightest could be trusted to manage a technologically complex society to everyone’s benefit. It turns out that intelligence does not immunize a person against the tribalism Professor Quiggin describes. That is why the academic economics community is sharply divided along political tribal lines. The best and the brightest have turned out to be easily swayed by political considerations and personal interests. This betrayal of the elites is at the heart of our present problems. We have failed to apply moral tests in the allocation of authority, and the negative consequences are increasingly evident.

27

Cranky Observer 04.21.14 at 11:41 pm

= = = But outright opposition to GM based on spurious claims about health risks is definitely a minority position. = = =

Concern about long-term ecological effects of modifying systems (and systems of systems) we don’t really understand is apparently illegitimate as well?

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0022629

Cranky

28

TM 04.21.14 at 11:50 pm

Two obvious points about the GM controversy:
1. Whether or not GM skepticism is widespread among liberals, it is patently not supported among US mainstream liberal politicians or media.
2. GM opponents do not oppose the science – they oppose a technology. That is quite different from climate change deniers. There are a number of scientifically valid reasons (as well as some scientifically invalid reasons) for at least being cautious about GM – notably the spread of resistance among insects and weeds, which has been empirically observed many times. There are also political arguments (patents, corporate power grab and food sovereignty) that are unrelated to science per se. These reasons are certainly worthy of debate. The response by GM-supporters and agribusiness has always been to brand opponents as antiscience/antiprogress. That hasn’t make them go away but it probably has damaged the reputation of science quite a bit (just as with labeling the anti-nuclear movement anti-science). I might add that many of the miracle claims made by GM proponents do not stand up to scientific scrutiny (e. g. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/03/opinion/we-need-gmo-wheat.html – no coincidence this was published in the liberal NYT) but that would be engaging in “To quoque” so I’ll leave it there.

29

Lee A. Arnold 04.22.14 at 12:20 am

#26: “…intelligence does not immunize a person against the tribalism…this is why the academic economics community is sharply divided along political tribal lines. The best and the brightest have turned out to be easily swayed by political considerations and personal interests. This betrayal of the elites is at the heart of our present problems. We have failed to apply moral tests in the allocation of authority…”

I would put it that intellect does not immunize against emotions. Emotions are spacetimeless. When you are in love, you love the world, when you hate it is easily fed too. Emotions looks for facts to feed on.

But I’n not so sure it is the heart of our problems. I think the greatest thing happening now is the fall of one-way mass media, to insurmountable influence of corrections and discussions on the internet. This is in progress, and will even eventually swamp the Koch Bros. for example.

For about 100 years, we were told what to think, in an essential way. Now we are getting so much information and corrections that we may be prey to a new danger, complexity which overwhelms the brain nodes. (Already it’s well overloaded the Koch’s. But I digress.) My fear is that we could be in danger of a more general cranial abdication due to epistemological foundations. I am not so sure that it can be surmounted even by the wisdom of crowds + institutional experts.

In the meantime, perhaps a very short meantime, the academic community could be enacting the final end of the first modern period. Anyway what is undeniable (except for a few, except for our astonishing host, if Zombie Economics is any indication) is that their presumed intellectual training is now revealed in all its sluggishness.

30

Alan White 04.22.14 at 12:26 am

On @1 & @2′s debate: I think the Right is winning, because they figured out that effective politics are local, and all you need in the US is to have at least the House to stall stuff, and the Senate to really get things done. They’re on the verge of that too. The recent SCOTUS decision entrenched their position by allowing big pockets to influence local races all over the country. Just this evening on PBS former justice Stevens questioned whether money-as-speech extends to affecting races in parts of the country in which as a voter elsewhere you should have no legit representation. That was my initial reaction to the SCOTUS decision–why should money be able to talk in venues where they cannot vote? Yeah there are big lib pockets too–though the thought that it comes down to “spending banjos” sickens me, and doesn’t make me sanguine about lib deliverance.

31

James 04.22.14 at 1:45 am

I want to disagree with your assertion:

“Such policies should, be advocated on the basis that they will make society as a whole better off, and not on the basis that the winners are the right kinds of people and the losers the wrong kind.”

One legitimate goal of public policy is the creation of a just society, and part of that means ensuring that virtue is reward and wickedness punished. This is precisely determining that the “winners” and “losers” are the right kind of people. The motivation of picking the right kind of “winner” and “loser” is particularly dominant in torts and criminal law.

Its precisely this search for justice that leads me to support my country’s Left and redistributionist policies.

32

Heliopause 04.22.14 at 2:28 am

The tu quoque response is weird. Consider that which atheists frequently encounter: “your atheism is every bit as much a religious belief as my theism.” Even if stipulated we’re absolutely nowhere in terms of deciding whether belief in a deity is at all justified.

33

Consumatopia 04.22.14 at 2:32 am

I’m not a theist, but theistic evolution gets unfairly maligned. It’s completely different from thinking that Satan put bones in the ground to fool us and filled space with fake starlight. It’s also not the same as Intelligent Design, which goes one step further to claim that theistic evolution is scientifically proven but some kind of Richard Dawkins conspiracy silences that proof. If your intuition is that there is some kind of Divine Something giving the universe’s apparent randomness a nudge here and there, then not only is science unable to rule that out today, but it can’t even rule out the possibility that some day a scary huge computer will crunch all the data and find a divine signal in the noise.

I also think all the complaining I saw today over a poll about how few people are willing are “confident” that “The universe began 13.8 billion years ago with a big bang.” is ridiculous. 13.8 billion? Not 13.7 or 13.9?

34

Lee A. Arnold 04.22.14 at 2:48 am

This is why I am an agnostic: After scientists argue that you cannot justify religious belief, you can ask them what they do about the problems in the foundations of mathematics and in philosophy of science. They usually say something like “So what? Science works.” But isn’t this intellectually tragic? How do we know they aren’t constructing a huge Bode’s Law for everything, to many decimal places? It told you where the planets were, didn’t it?

Religion too works as reported, but only for consciousness of sin, despair, and salvation through faith, as Wittgenstein pointed out explicitly. The religion/science debate wouldn’t exist, if both sides honestly confronted their less-than-eternal foundations: God is really only a synthetic integration in consciousness, and analysis always leaves a noticeable jump in coarse graining/fine graining.

35

Anarcissie 04.22.14 at 3:22 am

I believe the reason many people are nervous about genetic modification is that they understand the human lust for power, wealth, and repute, usually but not always exhibited as capitalism, the dominant social system. They know that if GM becomes a regular, accepted thing, those who engage in it will continue to push the envelope until some kind of disaster occurs. Given the powers of microorganisms, that disaster could be catastrophic. Nuclear power is one model of that type of process, imperial war is another; but neither has the destructive potential of bacteria, the earth’s predominant lifeform.

As for climate change, it is not simply a matter of science. Most depictions of climate change imply that large, expensive changes should be made in everyone’s daily life under a fairly authoritarian regime, even though those who study the question seem unable to determine what is going to happen when with any accuracy. Much of the discourse from ‘climatists’ (?) has, in addition, been hysterical, which is not science and also not very productive politically. In fact it is rather reminiscent of Fundamentalist end-of-the-world discourse. Avoiding or mitigating climate change will not be cost-free, and wrong decisions one way or the other could also be effectively disastrous.

36

Captain Moonlight 04.22.14 at 3:23 am

John Quiggin and most other self-identified left wingers who are active in the Australian blogosphere support the left wing Australian Greens rather than the centre-left Australian Labor Party.

The Australian Greens have an anti-science view on many issues. Here a couple of examples:

- The Australian Greens want to close down the Lucas Heights Nuclear Reactor because they consider it too dangerous, notwithstanding the Reactor’s safety record and numerous reviews finding otherwise. Greens literature says that the medical applications that rely on the Reactor are unnecessary and suggest alternatives.

- Although the leadership of the Australian Greens is currently behind fluoridated water, the Greens membership is constantly in turmoil over whether to support fluoridation of drinking water, a measure that the World Health Organisation and US CDC says is one of the cheapest and most effective public health measures deployed in the 20th century. Not infrequently we Greens in leadership positions, like a NSW Greens Mayor, Simon Richardson, denouncing fluoridation as mass medication experiement, echoing the weird ideology and sentiments of far-right groups like the anti-semitic Australian League of Rights.

- the Australian Greens have adopted a view on GMO food that echoes the extreme blanket ban position of Greenpeace, although some of the literature uses the weasel words like compulsory and permanent moratorium.

And on and on it goes …

37

Pat 04.22.14 at 3:28 am

“…takes the form of a tu quoque or, in the language of the schoolyard, ‘you’re another’. “

Almost, but not quite. In American jargon, at least, the schoolyard equivalent is “so’s your mother.”

(If this was an attempt at Cockney rhyming slang, I hasten to add, it was the lamest attempt ever.)

38

zbs 04.22.14 at 3:38 am

bq. Similarly, there is nothing inherently tribalist in advocating policies that would redistribute income, wealth and power away from the rich for the benefit of society as a whole, any more than in advocating free market policies that would harm some groups and benefit others. Such policies should, be advocated on the basis that they will make society as a whole better off, and not on the basis that the winners are the right kinds of people and the losers the wrong kind,

Obviously, though your adversary might understandably dance around putting such a fine point on it, there is a question in terms of clarity of whether you can be permitted to assume this is the common goal, in the context of the argument. For example one might briefly put aside society’s overall benefit to first account for the ironclad principle that the system ought to make “the right kinds of people … the winners.”

The right kinds — oh do not ask what is it — job creators.

39

zbs 04.22.14 at 3:42 am

I see my straw man was superfluous.

40

zbs 04.22.14 at 3:45 am

(There were numerous “you’re anothers” in American schoolyards in my time, increasing in sophistication, arguably, with the grade years but of which the most effectively grating was surely “iknowyouarebutwhatami.” Though now that I think of it that’s not completely irrelevant to the current discussion.)

41

bad Jim 04.22.14 at 4:53 am

zbs, your 3:45 is absolutely appropriate, because it’s not necessarily right that “even when true, the tu quoque argument is an implicit admission of error”. Too often it turns what ought to be a scientific question into a matter of opinion. Ken Ham says that scientists and creationists look at the same facts and come to different conclusions because their world views differ.

42

zbs 04.22.14 at 5:02 am

I can’t resist adding that, in my experience, if we’re going to be verbatim about it, the formulation was rather exact—regardless of any circumstance, always and forever: YOUR MOM.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.22.14 at 5:06 am

Anarcissie #35: “Avoiding or mitigating climate change will not be cost-free…”

But can the new benefits outweigh the new costs? Then there will be a net benefit. It turns out that this looks likely.

I think the first thing to do is fight this head on. If we do NOT mitigate climate change, we will most certainly have an authoritarian regime. Because there are going to be sudden heat spikes which destroy crops, and we are going to have food riots. Even the Pentagon has warned about these kinds of things.

Secondly, the dire warnings of “expensive changes…made in everyone’s daily life under a fairly authoritarian regime” are, these days, not so much about the old dire warnings, as about conservative needs to maintain the old rhetorical villain.

How do we know that it is so? Because now there are a lots of reasonable people who say instead, look, if we adopt the precautionary principle and start now, there need be no net cost, it will be a net benefit. Indeed the evidence increasingly suggests this. Yet it doesn’t stop the post-truth tribalism. So once again we are back to John Quiggin’s post.

But there is something in addition to post-truth tribalism. Climate contrarians are also brainfrozen into the same market fundamentalism that affects conservatives in general: the belief that the way that markets do it, is both freest and most efficient, and any other way will cost more, so there will be a net cost if government gets involved.

Read their materials and speeches all the way through — you’ll find this is a rampant subtext. You can find the idea explicitly stated by people whose intellectual capacities are as different as Lindzen, Monckton and Wattsup.

Of course it is the same argument as, “government spending is less efficient for dealing with welfare”, which has often been employed functionally by some other sorts of people, as we discussed in some other comment threads.

I think that climate contrarianism is additional evidence that it is important to identify and combat this logical loop as a stand-alone intellectual debility. Ask contrarians to consider whether buying a new washing machine is not cost-free: are there benefits? They will reply, “Not if the government is doing it.” Then ask in return, why is that so? You will hear the circular loop.

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John Quiggin 04.22.14 at 5:06 am

Captain Moonlight @36 tries an impressive piece of tu quoque by association, but pushes his luck a bit far when he talks about fluoridation. Whatever individual members of the Greens think about fluoridation, the official position is clearly supportive.

By contrast, there’s barely any daylight between what CM correctly describes as the “weird ideology and sentiments” of the ALR and the position of the (mainstream conservative) LNP government in Queensland where I live (the two have close historical links). The LNP government introduced a “local option” policy and LNP councils have reversed fluoridation policies imposed by Labor. I was recently engaged in a Twitterfight with LNP MP Jason Woodforth who claims to have a near-majority of the party in his support on this issue. He’s also an anti-vaxer and climate denier. On the latter point at least, drawing majority support from his party, and virtually unanimous support from the intellectual/blogospheric cheer squad of which Captain M is clearly a member.

And for the record, while I mostly prefer the Greens to Labor, I’m not aligned with any political party or responsible for silly policies they may have.

45

bad Jim 04.22.14 at 5:10 am

Consumatopia, with respect to the Big Bang, this Atlantic article offers some background:

Up until 2010, they asked the following question: True or false, the universe began with a huge explosion.

Since 1990, the number of people answering true to that question has bounced between 32 and 38 percent.

In 2012, the National Science Board tried to parse out why Americans were different by adding ‘according to astronomers’ into the Big Bang question for half the survey respondents. Like this:

According to astronomers, the universe began with a big explosion.
60 percent of Americans said this statement was true, versus 39 percent who said so when the “according to astronomers” was not present. This would suggest that 40 percent of people know the science, 40 percent of people don’t, and 20 percent have heard the science, but believe otherwise.

Actually, when I looked at the survey results I was inclined to quibble with the 4.55 billion year age of the earth. It’s more like a measurement of the last time most of the earth’s surface was molten. Certainly it existed as an aggregation of rubble for a long time before that, and its surface may have melted many times.

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Bruce Wilder 04.22.14 at 5:14 am

Such policies should, be advocated on the basis that they will make society as a whole better off . . .

So say you. But, you’re not in a position to require it. Or expect it.

Jonathan H. Adler referenced D.M. Kahan’s work. And, it does seem relevant.

“You’re denying science” seems like a way to avoid confronting what is, at base, a political argument, not a scientific argument. You want your conservative opponents to argue for a public good, but maybe they don’t recognize a public good, or care about a public good. That’s a political problem in a democracy. But, it is not a problem, solely or primarily, of natural science.

Given that political problem, “Tu Quoque” as a debating point indicates a serious problem in politics, which is only tangentially related to the status or acceptance of science, qua science. If we don’t have a common sense of public purpose, the application of scientific knowledge to public purposes cannot be a part of the shared dialogue.

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John Quiggin 04.22.14 at 5:20 am

“So say you. But, you’re not in a position to require it. Or expect it.”

That’s just as true of my opposition to torture, and of virtually every other political position I take. So what?

I am, however, in a position to say who I choose to regard as a legitimate/useful person with whom to engage in political discussion.

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John Quiggin 04.22.14 at 5:26 am

Bad Jim @45 I posted this at the Atlantic site “There’s a math error. It should be 40 per cent know the science, 20 per cent don’t and 40 per cent know it but reject it. That would be consistent with evidence on creationism more generally.”

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Captain Moonlight 04.22.14 at 5:32 am

JQ @36:

” He’s also an anti-vaxer and climate denier. On the latter point at least, drawing majority support from his party, and virtually unanimous support from the intellectual/blogospheric cheer squad of which Captain M is clearly a member.”

I’m pro-ALP actually. I’ve never voted right of centre in my life.

The science denialism on the Right is generally worse than that on the Left but that doesn’t excuse the Left’s own fruit loops, nor does it excuse the type of tribalism that leads critics such as yourself to dismiss in-house critics as part of the right wing cheer squad.

The anti-GM Left is arguably already killing thousands of people: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2014/03/15/golden-rice-opponents-should-be-held-accountable-for-health-problems-linked-to-vitamain-a-deficiency/

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js. 04.22.14 at 5:35 am

Sorry, dumb question: what does “know the science” mean? The way I’m inclined to hear that—they understand the physics—”40% know the science” sounds like, well I suppose you can imagine what it sounds like.

(Sorry, this is way off-topic. I think the post is dead on, for what it’s worth.)

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Bruce Wilder 04.22.14 at 5:46 am

I am, however, in a position to say who I choose to regard as a legitimate/useful person with whom to engage in political discussion.

Who can vote, etc. really isn’t up to you. In a democratic politics, you have to engage in politics, in some manner, with whoever else shows up. Setting standards for the opposition can be a clever tactic, effective when it works, and vanity when it doesn’t.

I echoed Adler’s reference to Kahan, because Kahan makes the point that conservatives are hostile to the climate science, when they see it as a political challenge to their political worldview, which emphasizes a kind of libertarian freedom to act individually or privately. He’s shown that political context matters a lot, and if the climate science is presented in a political context that’s more individualistic and heroic-action-oriented — proposals for climate engineering, say, instead of a blanket carbon tax — conservatives often more receptive to the science. Now, I think “climate engineering” is a dangerous crock, and you may share a similar view, but that’s not the immediate point. The root difference of opinion is a matter of political outlook or worldview, involving questions, not of science, but of political economics — questions like, is there a public good? What is the public good? Can a public good be pursued? applied to the problems of climate change (and peak oil and ecological collapse and overpopulation and resource limits).

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Nine 04.22.14 at 6:16 am

Bruce Wilder@51 – “The root difference of opinion is a matter of political outlook or worldview, involving questions, not of science”

Isn’t that unreasonable to the point of idiotic though ? Let’s assume that either the science is correct or it isn’t. Why then should it require appeals to prejudice, self-interest or idiosyncratic belief to convince ? I dont’t quite understand what Kahan is saying but it seems like an elaborate application of both-sides do-itism.

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zbs 04.22.14 at 6:32 am

Bruce Wilder has made the point I was vaguely gesturing at, but if the argument here is “this particular group of conservatives argue thusly and here is their fallacy,” then I suppose there might not be much left to be said, apart from some specific defense of those writers, for which, it seems to me, this might be an awkward venue. (And though I am just a passer-by, I also feel the queasiness that arises from so many of these ancient lobster arguments, immortal lines about the knowability of science or religion, or the crisis of the political individual.)

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Sebastian H 04.22.14 at 6:35 am

Ack. Human beings are tribal. They tend to discount the crimes and sins of their own tribe and inflate the crimes and sins of those they deem to be ‘outsiders’. That is a general human tendency full stop.

Good human structures recognize this fact and try to work around it. There are lots of workarounds: trying to expand the sense of ‘tribe’ and shrink the sense of ‘outsider’; professionalism; pitting tribes against each other in constructive ways. An alleged adherence to science doesn’t necessarily save you from tribalism, see scientific socialism aka murderous communism, or scientific eugenics both the Nazi and US progressive versions. An adherence to leftism doesn’t save you either, see again historical communism.

At this moment, the right, especially in the US, is absolutely reveling in tribal-based ignorance, and that is really bad for constructive politics. If you point out tribal leftism *in order to deflect attention from the nasty results of current tribal rightism* that is tu quoque worth complaining about.

But if you are talking about GMOs or whatever it is perfectly all right to point to the fact that tribalism seems to keep lefties from slamming anti-science nonsense as hard as they do in other areas.

And those who are suggesting that tribalism is particularly of the right, you’re just deluding yourself. Tribalism is particularly strong on the right *at this moment*. It has been a ridiculously strong feature of leftism at other moments. It is a human feature that has good sides, but can lead to serious error if left unchecked.

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Ze Kraggash 04.22.14 at 6:57 am

Creationism vs evolution is indeed about religion and science, but it hardly affects any policies. The rest is not about science but about trusting the experts and their studies. Obviously, studies do often server an agenda. Some people tend to distrust corporations, others the government, and then other just distrust the establishment all together. In any case, conspiratorial thinking is no more irrational than blind trust; it’s based on real precedents.

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Ze Kraggash 04.22.14 at 7:07 am

“conspiratorial thinking is no more irrational than blind trust”

well, this didn’t come out right. Unquestionable trust is irrational. Conspiratorial, to a reasonable degree, thinking is fine. The point where it becomes unreasonable is a matter of judgement.

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John Quiggin 04.22.14 at 7:13 am

And those who are suggesting that tribalism is particularly of the right, you’re just deluding yourself. Tribalism is particularly strong on the right *at this moment*. It has been a ridiculously strong feature of leftism at other moments.

Agreed. After all, it’s only twenty years since rightwingers saw themselves (with some justification) as being on the pro-science side of the “Science Wars”. I observed the shift about the time I started blogging, and it’s intensified since then.

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John Quiggin 04.22.14 at 7:22 am

He’s shown that political context matters a lot, and if the climate science is presented in a political context that’s more individualistic and heroic-action-oriented — proposals for climate engineering, say, instead of a blanket carbon tax — conservatives often more receptive to the science. Now, I think “climate engineering” is a dangerous crock, and you may share a similar view, but that’s not the immediate point.

But it is the immediate point, and shows you (and Kahan) engaging in exactly the kind of thinking I’m criticising. It would be politically convenient if climate engineering worked, so you propose to ignore the fact that it won’t. And that’s leaving aside the fact that market-based solutions to climate change, like carbon taxes and emissions trading, were originally the centre-right alternative to direct regulation. The left signed on, in part to mobilise more support, and in part because of ample evidence that market-based measures (in combination with some regulation) were more cost-effective than regulation alone.

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Nick 04.22.14 at 7:30 am

I am going to raise the to quoque to the meta-level. Many on the left argue that science cannot be entirely divorced from its political role (I am thinking of cases like Judith Butler on buman biology) and, therefore, strategically arguing against it can be just good politics. We should be highly suspicious of scientific knowledge, even if well evidenced, if it plays a supporting role in existing power structures because power has a way distorting (even creating) knowledge. Many on the US right might agree (if they were even capable of rationalising what they were doing deliberatively like Butler or Bruno Latour). They just have a different set of truths they want to support or demolish.

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roy belmont 04.22.14 at 7:46 am

It’s a function of tribalism that “anti-science” as an accusation belongs to one well-defined group.
There’s a stunning irony in “knowing the science” on climate change meaning accepting the fact of anthropogenic climate disruption. Since the disruption itself is the result of ungoverned balls-to-the-wall technological progress, which has had its apologists in the trenches from the get, all saying that same thing – “We know the science, you don’t.”

Until a few decades ago – I first heard an outline of the present climate scenario in the late 80′s – there were loud and confident voices trumpeting the very technologies that have giving us the prospect of our having broken the weather.
You can still hear them here and there.
Scorn for the superstitious and Luddite, and the childish nature-lover.
It’s amazing that that disdain is still so common, considering.

Whatever the present state of “the science” of nuclear reactor-derived electricity, any safety that’s guaranteed by “the science” will be completely dependent on present levels of societal integration and access to resources to remain safe.
There’s nothing in “the science” to handle sudden social breakdown and consequent lack of maintenance.
Certainly nothing built into the franchise nukes that are actually being constructed. Yet obviously there’s no guarantee our current abilities to keep reactors safe can be sustained come what may.

So really “the ‘science’ of nuclear power” isn’t a complete phrase.
It should be “the ‘science of nuclear power in a society impervious to even the slightest degradation in its ability to adhere to nuclear safety protocols’”.
For as many thousands of years as the material within those reactors remains toxic and dangerous.

The odds of at least a few generations of relative dystopia ahead are increasing steadily. Even taking a chance on leaving a bunch of nuke plants scattered around, when it’s plausible no one with the means or the mandate to decommission them will be available, is diabolical. And we’re already there.
Banking on a tech-utopia from here to forever that just keeps ramping up “the science” and never faltering, never falling back, is idiotic, and flatly ahistoric. Not scientific.

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John Quiggin 04.22.14 at 7:53 am

@Nick IIRC Bruno Latour has repented pretty thoroughly of the assist he inadvertently gave to the US right (can’t find the link), and has backed away from the anti-science interpretations of his work he once encouraged. OTOH, Steven Fuller has taken similar ideas to their logical conclusion and gone over to the Right.

I know almost nothing of Judith Butler, except as a punchline in jokes about bad writing: I certainly wouldn’t regard her as a significant figure on the left.

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bad Jim 04.22.14 at 8:19 am

It would be nice if we could easily distinguish left from right by their tendency to indulge in conspiracy theories, given one side’s well-known paranoid tendency, but it’s likelier just cognitive dissonance: if the consensus is against you, the scientists must be on the take. It’s not necessarily unreasonable; many industries have long participated in disinformation campaigns.

Cui bono is a pretty good tool for dealing with this nonsense. There’s no money behind evolution, vaccination, or climate science; if anything, the money’s on the other side. That’s not to say it’s going to convince anyone else, of course.

A couple of quibbles with our host: I read the poll as 60% know the science, 20% reject it, and 40% are either ignorant or dishonest.

Geoengineering can work, in a certain sense; increasing earth’s albedo by simulating a massive volcano eruption or engaging in nuclear warfare could certainly lower the surface temperature for as long as we were willing and able to maintain the effort. It’s true that some of its effects would be generally considered undesirable; perhaps they would even be worse than doing nothing. That’s not to say it would be entirely ineffective, though.

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Ze Kraggash 04.22.14 at 9:29 am

“It would be nice if we could easily distinguish left from right by their tendency to indulge in conspiracy theories, given one side’s well-known paranoid tendency, [...] many industries have long participated in disinformation campaigns.”

Many governments have too. I wouldn’t call it left and right, but rather pro-business/anti-government vs anti-business/pro-government.

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Consumatopia 04.22.14 at 10:30 am

I was referring to the AP/GFK poll which that Atlantic article starts with, which I still maintain asked a very silly question, not the National Science Board polls.

But even for the latter, this seems relevant: http://xkcd.com/1352/

I don’t think it makes sense to hold up cosmology as a test of whether someone is pro- or anti-science. Cosmology is weird.

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SusanC 04.22.14 at 10:51 am

In the case of cosmology, some people might be just skeptics, rather than in favor of some some religiously-inspired alternative, such as “young earth”. The mathematics is beyond what most people have studied, the experimental data (e.g. microwave background radiation, doppler shift of light from distant stars) is outside of everyday experience. Which leaves you with argument from authority, which makes a cosmologist look like just another “priest” telling an extravagant creation myth — and we now know to be skeptical of them.

(The Nietzschian allusion is intentional).

Contrast for example Plato’s Meno, where the slave is at least told the mathematical proof of the theorem, rather than being given an explanation that amounts to “because science”.

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novakant 04.22.14 at 11:25 am

The anti-GM Left is arguably already killing thousands of people

Thanks, nice bit of astroturfing there, as an anti-GM leftie I really appreciate it.

In the spirit of the OP title:

GMO Proponents Are Baby Killers

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The Tragically Flip 04.22.14 at 12:06 pm

I’m very glad the obvious reality that left and right are not symmetrical is getting some airtime (especially that Krugman weighs in on it).

As to why, there will likely be psychological or brain chemistry explanations on an individual level, but I think we shouldn’t ignore how liberalism as an ideology promotes empiricism and evidence based policy as tenets of the system. Even if it turns out that one for one, individual liberals and conservatives are equally likely to engage in motivated reasoning, liberalism as a social phenomena promotes resistance to this. It should be obvious that this emphasis on empiricism is not true of conservativism (or libertarianism).

We know this is possible after all, it’s what the scientific method exists to do. Individual scientists can become irrationally wedded to pet theories (even Einstein and equivalent geniuses) but science as a whole manages to move on. The same type of systemic checks that work for science can work for liberalism.

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Peter T 04.22.14 at 12:26 pm

A good many people do not feel under any particular compunction to bring all their beliefs into one consistent picture. So they can accept that, scientifically, fossils are the remains of ancient creatures and, scientifically, the world is billions of years old while also holding that, religiously, it was created by god a few thousand years go. Similarly, people are often prejudiced in the abstract while abhorring as uncivil any attempt to apply this general prejudice to individuals. The survey quoted simply highlights this. The rub comes when something or someone forces a choice.

I am fairly sure that JQ can think of a few personal examples, although as a committed rationalist he probably has fewer such conflicts than most.

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reason 04.22.14 at 12:49 pm

“Many governments have too. I wouldn’t call it left and right, but rather pro-business/anti-government vs anti-business/pro-government.”

Since when are government and business opponents? Their relationship is much more complicated than that.

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Consumatopia 04.22.14 at 12:54 pm

@60

There’s a stunning irony in “knowing the science” on climate change meaning accepting the fact of anthropogenic climate disruption. Since the disruption itself is the result of ungoverned balls-to-the-wall technological progress, which has had its apologists in the trenches from the get, all saying that same thing – “We know the science, you don’t.”

Surely the irony points in the other direction–they’re going to keep using the fruits of science while rejecting what science says about the consequences.

Just as we have a lot of people imagining alternative futures (steampunk, etc), so people imagine alternative traditions, in which internal combustion is apparently a sacred rite of Christianity, with which science should never interfere. I guess CT covered this already: http://crookedtimber.org/2014/02/15/the-tooth-fairy-and-the-traditionality-of-modernity/

@51

He’s shown that political context matters a lot, and if the climate science is presented in a political context that’s more individualistic and heroic-action-oriented — proposals for climate engineering, say, instead of a blanket carbon tax — conservatives often more receptive to the science.

You and Kahan are surely right about this, but whatever the real values are that drive them, it’s something stranger than “individualistic”–climate engineering is basically a proposal for government control of the globe’s weather.

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reason 04.22.14 at 1:34 pm

@63 @69

In fact in seems to me that the real “enemy” of business is other business.

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novakant 04.22.14 at 1:46 pm

Greenpeace, for example, is guilty as charged of being anti-science on this issue. But Greenpeace and likeminded groups are only a minority among Greens who are, in turn, only a minority of the Left.

(…) outright opposition to GM based on spurious claims about health risks is definitely a minority position.

This is not an argument, in fact it’s simply slander.

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Ze Kraggash 04.22.14 at 1:49 pm

I was not describing relationships between business and government. I suggested that some people tend to trust businesses (“the market”) more, while some others trust the government, and this is how you get (roughly) two camps of skeptics, conspiracy theorists. Vaccination and water fluoridation skeptics would be in one camp, nuclear power and GM food skeptics in the other.

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Straightwood 04.22.14 at 2:14 pm

The dynamics of the science vs. tribalism problem are not encouraging. As science races ahead to ever more challenging theoretical complexity (n-dimensional physics and ecosystem modeling), the necessity for trust in reliable expertise is crucial. Unless we find a way to de-politicize the technological elite, there is a grave danger of disaster resulting from politically engineered “expert” support for pernicious policies.

In “Stranger In a Strange Land” Heinlein concocted the idea of the Fair Witnesses, a cadre of people trained and selected to be utterly impartial and reliable in the observation and statement of factual evidence. The world desperately needs to implement a similar construct before mankind is doomed by dueling “experts” tainted by political bias.

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Barry 04.22.14 at 2:21 pm

Alan White 04.22.14 at 12:26 am

” On @1 & @2′s debate: I think the Right is winning, because they figured out that effective politics are local, and all you need in the US is to have at least the House to stall stuff, and the Senate to really get things done. They’re on the verge of that too. The recent SCOTUS decision entrenched their position by allowing big pockets to influence local races all over the country.”

I think that too many liberals are assuming a President Clinton, even though it’s a rare thing for a party to get three terms in office. If the GOP wins the presidency in 2016 (along with the expected Senate coat-tails, and the usual couple of Dem Senators going along), and we’d see:

1) SCOTUS staffed back up with a couple of young, *extremely* right-wing justices, who’d embrace the Rehnquist-Roberts philosophy of extreme judicial activists.

2) The rest of the federal bench staffed with the same.

Note – the GOP will respect any constraint on their ability to confirm justices no more than they did in the Bush administration. Except I’d expect that this time, they’d pull the ‘nuclear option’ trigger.

3) A repetition of the Bush-Cheney ‘facts on the ground’ strategy, ignoring any customs which go in their way.

4) A sycophantic MSM, who’d revert to President worship in late January, 2017.

5) A massive extension of the Robertsonian voter suppression effort. The GOP would probably be in near-permanent control of a large number of state governments – the executive, the legislative and judicial branches. I would expect the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to be gutted (and the 1st, the 4th, the 5th).

6) Massive deficit spending, as wasteful as possible, to deliberately cause a crisis in the next Dem administration. By now this a pretty good strategy.

7) A massive sell-off/long-term leasing of as many government assets as possible. In terms of climate change, at that point the pessimistic estimates would be the status quo estimates, if we are very lucky.

8) Wars. Lots and lots of wars.

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Anarcissie 04.22.14 at 2:33 pm

Straightwood 04.22.14 at 2:14 pm @ 74 — But everyone would have to agree that the Fair Witnesses were in fact fair, and this they are unlikely to do, because people have different sets of facts.

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Barry 04.22.14 at 2:33 pm

Oh, and massive ‘deregulation’ of the financial sector (actually, writing them blank legal checks, and shamelessly enacting and enforcing legal corrupt crony capitalism). This will lead to yet another crash – and at this point, I would accept that the leadership of the right *wants* crashes. Wall St and MegaCorps Avenue did well from the last one, and the suckers on Main St will vote Republican, because the Republicans butter them up with empty words.

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Barry 04.22.14 at 2:35 pm

Straightwood: “In “Stranger In a Strange Land” Heinlein concocted the idea of the Fair Witnesses, a cadre of people trained and selected to be utterly impartial and reliable in the observation and statement of factual evidence. The world desperately needs to implement a similar construct before mankind is doomed by dueling “experts” tainted by political bias.”

And while they are doing that, can they get me a Pegasus? I’d love a flying horse.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.22.14 at 2:38 pm

Note that the right rarely maintains the argument that climate change is not happening. They are just pushing your buttons. What they usually argue is: climate always changes, and we will deal with it.

There are different splits that come to the fore: 1. Individualism (business) vs. government. 2. Sloppy technological fixes vs. complex-system statistics and imprecision. 3. Party seeking political power vs. party seeking political power.

1 is about political economy and morals. 2 is about instrumental rationality and scientific epistemology. 3 is about contingent rhetorical strategies and dynamics.

Suppose it were possible to engineer a microbe that inhaled carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — reduced CO2 — and turned itself into gasoline. We could then construct a closed fuel cycle, and maybe a beginning of the end to the greenhouse gas problem. Suppose it were possible: would the left be in favor of it? Technological solutions make them queasy.

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Alex K--- 04.22.14 at 2:39 pm

Nuclear, GMO, climate change, vaccination – why has no one mentioned fracking yet?

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Josh G. 04.22.14 at 2:45 pm

It seems to me that a lot of liberal critiques of nuclear power and GMOs are really critiques of corporate profit-seeking and corporate dominance.

I like the idea of GMOs in general, but I don’t like or trust Monsanto. I like nuclear power, but if we are going to go in that direction, we can’t let nuclear plants be run by profit-seeking bean counters, as was done with Fukushima. (The French model of nuclear power, I think, shows more promise in this regard.)

It’s not about distrusting technology, it’s about distrusting the greedy and short-sighted corporations that are deploying it.

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The Tragically Flip 04.22.14 at 3:03 pm

There has never been anything like the 2012 right wing alternate polling fantasy universe on the left. Yeah, Zogby predicted Kerry would win in 2004 on the Daily Show and there was lots of talk about pollsters missing cell phone only homes, but Kerry himself was not swaggering into 2004 assuming he’d win in a landslide.

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Sebastian H 04.22.14 at 3:04 pm

“As to why, there will likely be psychological or brain chemistry explanations on an individual level, but I think we shouldn’t ignore how liberalism as an ideology promotes empiricism and evidence based policy as tenets of the system. Even if it turns out that one for one, individual liberals and conservatives are equally likely to engage in motivated reasoning, liberalism as a social phenomena promotes resistance to this. It should be obvious that this emphasis on empiricism is not true of conservativism (or libertarianism).”

This is the kind of thinking that leads to foolishness. For a very narrow version of ‘liberalism’ this might apply, but not as to actually existing political parties once they reach power for a term or so. And it absolutely does not apply to the left in general. There is way too much history in communism, ridiculous post modernism, and anti science new age environmentalism for that story to be true. The only reason I can see to entertain that fantasy is to pretend that the left is immune to the bad part of identity/tribal politics so that we can then just go whole hog in using leftist tribalism to counter rightist tribalism.

Stick to the facts, the right is much worse on tribalism at this point than the left, so what do we do to change that? I’m not entirely sure, but I’m absolutely certain that deciding to cheerleader non reflective leftist tribalism as a counter would end in tears (either by destroying the tenuous efforts at anti tribalism made by our civilizations, or by provoking enough tribalism to get to severe civil strife and then either losing or becoming monstrous.)

Promote good norms. Resist abuse of good norms. (This is especially bad in the US Senate.) whatever the defense of filibusters, they clearly are justified only if rare exercises of extreme concern. If common they are just a loggerjam. If you can’t promote the norm that they be used only in extremis, threaten to get rid of them. I think democratic senators have finally figured that out, but it took a decade too long.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.22.14 at 3:06 pm

Barry #77: “I would accept that the leadership of the right *wants* crashes. Wall St and MegaCorps Avenue did well from the last one, and the suckers on Main St will vote Republican, because the Republicans butter them up with empty words.”

I think they would rather do without the crashes, because people start asking too many questions, even some of the people on Main St! But the leadership of the right definitely *wants* the bailouts. Otherwise their funding sources would dry up. My guess is that’s why they are beginning to stick the knives into their own Rand Paul. He wants to audit the Fed.

It is another Republican leadership pickle. Many of their voters hated the bailouts and bonuses. After the next crash, everybody is going to watch this a lot more closely.

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The Tragically Flip 04.22.14 at 3:30 pm

@Sebastian #83:

This is the kind of thinking that leads to foolishness. For a very narrow version of ‘liberalism’ this might apply, but not as to actually existing political parties once they reach power for a term or so. And it absolutely does not apply to the left in general.

I’m not arguing it’s inherent, but a benefit of liberalism as an ideology when practiced, of course various governments can fall away from their ideological foundations, but I’m searching for an explanation for why the left has proven less prone to mass motivated reasoning and bubble realities. Even in power, the liberal response to Obama’s governing errors is more likely to be “yeah, that is broken and should be fixed” (e.g. obamacare website) rather than “damn biased media is failing to report the good news!” If you want to argue that within the admin various bubbles exist, sure, but this is about broad movements.

If scientists decide to abandon the scientific method, we’ll end up with leechcraft and geocentricism too, but so long as they adhere to it, episodes like cold fusion are debunked fairly quickly and do no lasting harm.

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Barry 04.22.14 at 3:34 pm

Lee A. Arnold 04.22.14 at 2:38 pm

” Note that the right rarely maintains the argument that climate change is not happening. They are just pushing your buttons. What they usually argue is: climate always changes, and we will deal with it. “

Bullsh*t.

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Barry 04.22.14 at 3:35 pm

Lee A. Arnold 04.22.14 at 3:06 pm

” It is another Republican leadership pickle. Many of their voters hated the bailouts and bonuses. After the next crash, everybody is going to watch this a lot more closely.”

The right had zero problems with 8 years of Bush/Cheney corruption. They only kicked up a ruckus when they had lost. And in several years, what has the Tea Party and the Congressional GOP even tried to prevent the next crash?

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The Tragically Flip 04.22.14 at 3:36 pm

@Sebastian #83: Adding:

“Promote good norms. Resist abuse of good norms.”

Yes, I would say “we believe in evidence based policy” as an ideological maxim is a “good norm” to promote.

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marcel 04.22.14 at 3:42 pm

GiT wrote:

“The strongest case for labeling GMO foods is based on consumer-sovereignty. We should as much ban the use of kosher/halal labels as a non-GMO label.”

But “banning” labeling is not on the table. The question is whether or not to have state mandated labelling. One ought to be able to just concoct some opt-in private imprimatur as a certifying agency. Works for Kosher and Halal products, though there’s a case for state auditing along “truth in advertising” lines in that arrangement.

Well, that (banning) is arguable: see this, in particular the incidents toward the end of the story (section labeled, “No ‘Hormone Free’ either”)

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marcel 04.22.14 at 3:43 pm

The 2nd paragraph above (But … arrangement) should have also been in italics to indicate that the words belong to GiT.

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CK MacLeod 04.22.14 at 3:51 pm

@52/Nine replying to Bruce Wilder@51 re Kahan

Let’s assume that either the science is correct or it isn’t. Why then should it require appeals to prejudice, self-interest or idiosyncratic belief to convince?

What if there is no other practical way “to convince” than through such appeals, or we do not have the time to argue a preponderant political faction to an acceptance of the policy we deem rational? Then what “should” we do? Would it be more important to us to maintain our allegiance to rationalism, which may not be the same as rationality, or to achieve the particular, rationally determined indispensable good – e.g., rescuing the world from climate catastrophe? Wouldn’t in that instance the allegiance to rationalism be irrational for us?

The “tu quoque” says more than “you’re hypocrites.” Whether the person offering it means to say more or not, it says, “You’re hypocrites, which is bad enough for those who claim to stand against hypocrisy, but, even worse, you’re foolish hypocrites, with the evidence of your hypocrisy being only one element, possibly not the most important element, of your foolishness. It undermines your case, but, politically more devastating, it also exposes you as incompetent – unworthy of allegiance and unlikely to govern effectively or wisely.”

The blogger argues as follows:

What’s more important, though, is what the tu quoque argument says about those who deploy it, and their view of politics. The implied claim is that politics is inherently a matter of tribalism and emotion, and that there is no point in complaining about this. The only thing to do is to pick a side and stick to it.

Why would conceding that “tribalism and emotion” play a critical or even the critical role in politics make it advisable to “pick a side and stick to it”? If one has determined that tribalism and emotion often overwhelm rationality in politics, and the implication is that picking a side will tend to involve one in irrationally chosen and pursued positions, rational responses might include turning away from “politics” so defined to the maximum extent practicable: to seek maximum independence, at least for someone hoping to approach political questions reasonably or as reasonably as possible.

For those involved in politics for other reasons, obviously the calculation would be different, but “picking a side and sticking to it” would still only be advisable under particular circumstances, not as a general rule simply on the basis of an assessment of the importance of tribalism and emotion. One might very reasonably choose to align with the side that best, or most reasonably and realistically, coped with this critical aspect of politics. On the other hand, if you designated a particular issue or objective of paramount importance, you might reasonably hope that the side you favored operated according to a good analysis and proper estimation of tribalism and emotion, and you might advise it to take them into account both offensively and defensively, while remaining aware of own possibly inadequately acknowledged tribalist-emotional motivations.

It may be that the one method least likely to advance the cause of scientific reason in American politics, for example, would be the one that abjured populist, patriotic, moral-religious and other “tribal” and “emotional” appeals, and insisted on a supposedly strictly “rational” mode of argument. It seems reasonable at least to consider the possibility. In regard to climate change catastrophe, we might seek a reasonable estimation of the actually political possible, including a dispassionate or non-prejudiced treatment of, as per Bruce Wilder’s sensible suggestions, different and conflicting notions of the public good.

The Kahan argument reprises the classical critique of democratism in a contemporary language – “social science” – just as Ezra Klein’s presentation of it inched toward the classical conundrum, on creating rationally sound constitutions for irrational or never simply rational human beings. A rational rather than rationalistic response to the not merely familiar but ancient and traditional, possibly eternal, predicament also would include a willingness to examine the degree to which past and often very hard won rational determinations are embedded within seemingly irrational allegiances that this discussion derogates as “tribalism” and “emotion.”

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AcademicLurker 04.22.14 at 3:55 pm

@61: Bruno Latour has repented pretty thoroughly of the assist he inadvertently gave to the US right (can’t find the link), and has backed away from the anti-science interpretations of his work he once encouraged. OTOH, Steven Fuller has taken similar ideas to their logical conclusion and gone over to the Right.

When some of the sillier leftist science warrior stuff from the 90s gets cited in support the “left and right both do it” hypothesis, what always gets omitted is that by far the most effective pushback against that stuff came from the left, e.g. the infamous Sokal hoax and its aftermath.

I’ve never heard of any similar instance of the right putting its own house in order.

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reason 04.22.14 at 4:11 pm

Ze Kraggish @73
Rational people wouldn’t trust either.

O.K. So you are saying people aren’t rational (sounds a like like tribality to me).

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Anarcissie 04.22.14 at 4:28 pm

reason 04.22.14 at 4:11 pm @ 92 –
It seems sort of obvious that people generally aren’t rational. My personal experience has been that rational behavior is generally viewed as eccentric and impractical. (By ‘rational’ I mean not rationalizable, but derived from a process of reasoning. Many people act intuitively in ways that can be rationalized, but ratio is not how they got to them.)

I doubt, though, that irrational passions can easily be faked. Those few who are rational are probably stuck with the curse.

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Linnaeus 04.22.14 at 4:43 pm

When some of the sillier leftist science warrior stuff from the 90s gets cited in support the “left and right both do it” hypothesis, what always gets omitted is that by far the most effective pushback against that stuff came from the left, e.g. the infamous Sokal hoax and its aftermath.

It should also be noted that Sokal’s work in this area sometimes itself gets misinterpreted by those who claim to be his defenders and allies as a repudiation of the notion that science is situated in a social context and thus can be subjected to social, historical, etc. analyses beyond those of a very cursory nature. That’s a position that Sokal himself has never held (and about which he has been very clear).

I should add that I don’t think any of the fine folks here at CT take that view; I’m talking more about the Gross & Levitt types.

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Consumatopia 04.22.14 at 4:46 pm

CK, aren’t you proposing to double-down on rationalism? (Not just the rationality, but the -ism). We know that tribalism and emotion corrupt our judgment, but freeing everyone from them is intractable. Therefore, we try to free ourselves of these temptations, and evaluate the problem of what to do about them in as dispassionate and non-prejudiced way we can. We try to be rational about irrationality. Rationalism for the few, tribalism for the many.

That might all make sense, but it all assumes that the essential premises of rationalism, (thought not democratic rationalism) are correct, that dispassionate, non-prejudiced judgments are better than tribal/emotional ones.

Note that this logic does not work for refuting rationalism by contradiction–all a rationalist needs to assume is that dispassionate, non-prejudiced judgments are no worse than tribal, emotional ones. If all judgments are tribal/emotional, then the assumption is trivially true.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.22.14 at 4:53 pm

Barry #86: “Bullsh*t.”

Not when you get down into the Pew and Gallup polls, and not when I have spoken to the more scientific, rational ones. Whether climate change is caused by people, and whether the catastrophic possibilities are worth worrying about? There, they differ.

Barry #87: ‘The right had zero problems with 8 years of Bush/Cheney corruption. They only kicked up a ruckus when they had lost. And in several years, what has the Tea Party and the Congressional GOP even tried to prevent the next crash?”

Ans.: Zero, and the Democrats, next to zero. But this is not conclusive when the question is, what happens next time? Hatred of the bailouts and bonuses is where left and right met: from Occupy to Tea. A possible populist uprising. The Wash D.C.-Wall St. axis including both Dem to Repub might be at risk.

The Republican leadership doesn’t have any presidential star material, yet they are carefully marginalizing Tean heart-throb Rand Paul (right now, via his foreign policy gaffes). Why? I think it may be because he might not sign on to more bailouts. He may stick with his Tea peeps.

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Shelley 04.22.14 at 4:57 pm

“Tribalist post-truth politics” is pretty hot.

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Ze Kraggash 04.22.14 at 5:11 pm

Reason, it sort of is tribalistic, but I don’t see why this has to be explained by tribal loyalty. Ideological assumptions form a model of the world inside our heads. It’s hard to analyze oneself, but it’s apparent in others. The market tends to sort things out, while the government craves power and control, or: the government is (at least somewhat) accountable to the people, while the business will do anything for profit.

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CK MacLeod 04.22.14 at 5:26 pm

Consumatopia: I don’t think we have a basis for presuming that tribalism and emotion only corrupt our judgment. We can stipulate that they have the capacity to corrupt our judgment – seems obvious – but perhaps they remain indispensable for multiple reasons, and, furthermore, are not, properly understood, ever simply irrational, or are only exceedingly rarely so. Or perhaps, at least regarding the most important and conflictual political and other decisions, what we are calling “tribalism and emotion” will be the supremely rational or only basis for decision, or dissolve the simple opposition between the rational and the irrational – or good and evil.

Prior to such dissolution, at its simplest, to argue (i.e., rationally) against rationality altogether is an absurd or paradoxical position, as though one could consciously set out to frustrate one’s own intentions, or determine to seek what one is determined to avoid, and so on. As far as you and I are concerned, it would be absurd to attempt to argue other than from a position of rationality or possible rationality. We have no choice but to “double down” in that respect. We may be unsure about how best to situate rationality in politics, but I think we ourselves, here, converse under a necessary rational presumption of the necessity of a presumption of rationality, etc.

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mbw 04.22.14 at 6:27 pm

Anarcissie: You write “changes should be made in everyone’s daily life under a fairly authoritarian regime, even though those who study the question seem unable to determine what is going to happen when with any accuracy.” You make it sound as if that’s an irrational response. In fact, since by all accounts the second derivative of net utility with respect to change of mean temperature is negative, uncertainty increases the expected value of taking some action to reduce the changes. If you take into account more complicated uncertainties, in changes in climate patterns, not just mean temperature, the case becomes stringer yet.

102

Anarcissie 04.22.14 at 7:03 pm

mbw 04.22.14 at 6:27 pm @ 101 — The more uncertain the future is, the less reason there is to do anything costly about it, because the probability of doing anything appropriate and effective is correspondingly less. For example, out in car country the folk are going to be very interested in just when they have to stop using gasoline, and just how you plan to run their cars around without it, and at just what price, so they can make plans balancing those costs against that second derivative of yours. Telling them you don’t know, but that something terrible is sure to happen someday, is not going to go over. As I mentioned before, they can get that from the Fundies.

Even the Cold War didn’t propose to take their gasoline away.

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Sebastian H 04.22.14 at 7:41 pm

“but I’m searching for an explanation for why the left has proven less prone to mass motivated reasoning and bubble realities. “

Your premise isn’t true. The left has proven prone to all sorts of mass motivated reasoning in the last hundred years. It is just is doing better than the right at in the past ten to fifteen–and “better than the right” is very faint praise. Why is it *now*? My best guess is that the wounds from the last couple rounds of leftist tribalism (communist infighting, post modernist garbage, etc) are still fresh enough for people to be wary.

You mention the response to Obama, but the results of looking even at that exhibit some tribalism. The secret assassination order thing had a very muted response, and the Snowden revelations had much less effect in terms of volume from the left than I would have expected if they had been bush’s work.

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Barry 04.22.14 at 7:42 pm

Me: Barry #86: “Bullsh*t.”

” Not when you get down into the Pew and Gallup polls, and not when I have spoken to the more scientific, rational ones. Whether climate change is caused by people, and whether the catastrophic possibilities are worth worrying about? There, they differ.”

‘the more scientific, rational ones’ on the right means a teeny little non-representative sample.

Barry #87: ‘The right had zero problems with 8 years of Bush/Cheney corruption. They only kicked up a ruckus when they had lost. And in several years, what has the Tea Party and the Congressional GOP even tried to prevent the next crash?”

Lee A. Arnold “Ans.: Zero, and the Democrats, next to zero. But this is not conclusive when the question is, what happens next time? “

Wrong. And everything that the Democrats have accomplished has been against 100% GOP opposition.

Lee A. Arnold: “Hatred of the bailouts and bonuses is where left and right met: from Occupy to Tea. A possible populist uprising. The Wash D.C.-Wall St. axis including both Dem to Repub might be at risk.”

And the right’s attitude towards the Occupy movement? And the right’s attitude towards any attempts to rein in Wall St, or crony capitalism?

” The Republican leadership doesn’t have any presidential star material, yet they are carefully marginalizing Tean heart-throb Rand Paul (right now, via his foreign policy gaffes). Why? I think it may be because he might not sign on to more bailouts. He may stick with his Tea peeps.”

Or because he might not (and it’s a ‘might’) bend the knee to Mars. Or because sticking with his Tea peeps is probably a good way to blow the election (see the performance of Romney vs. GOP Senate candidates in 2012).

BTW, Rand has spent a lot of time moving to the right, both to get elected and afterwards. For example, he doesn’t push his atheistic philosopher inspiration as much, and has rolled back on his social libertarianism (such as it ever was).

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CK MacLeod 04.22.14 at 8:04 pm

Sebastian H: The Left also is still recovering, and within that same time frame, or possibly failing to recover despite best efforts, from epochal defeat or failure of its central organizing tribal-emotional identity formation “working class”/”proletariat.” An epochal defeat may not necessarily constitute a permanent defeat, and it could be that the defeat has been misunderstood (would be surprising if it wasn’t), but neither conclusion would justify a denial of the problem posed for theory and practice. Ecologism transfers “world revolution” to a different level: As though nature itself or the Earth or “the world itself,” under very-late capitalism, could and therefore must assume the role of historical subject coming to self-consciousness, and so “revolution” comes even nearer to “apocalypse,” socialism to be finally achieved as necessitated by the war-like conditions of ecological collapse.

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Nick 04.22.14 at 8:14 pm

‘@Nick IIRC Bruno Latour has repented pretty thoroughly of the assist he inadvertently gave to the US right (can’t find the link), and has backed away from the anti-science interpretations of his work he once encouraged.’

Yes, I think I saw that link here too a couple of years ago I think. iirc Latour seemed to repent for political reasons, not because all his empirical research of scientists in the lab was suddenly overturned or kts implications challenged. He abandoned his position for strategic reasons, when his scepticism seemed to give more ammunition to his political opponents than to his own side. As well he should do, if belief or disbelief in ‘science’ (or some aspect of it) is already political.

I didnt realise Butler was a joke now. Amongst many of my leftist friends, she is taken quite seriously and she has changed some of my own views.

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AcademicLurker 04.22.14 at 8:21 pm

Per my comment @92, I should stipulate that I don’t consider Latour to be one of the “sillier leftist science warriors”. I’ve generally found his work interesting, even if I don’t agree with all of his conclusions.

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djr 04.22.14 at 8:26 pm

Apologies for the digression, but a post by an Australian touching on GMOs gives me an excuse to ask a question I’ve always wanted to ask an Australian about GMOs…

To me, the most compelling argument against GMOs is the precautionary principle, but that doesn’t seem to be a major factor in most anti-GMO arguments. Does the experience that your part of the world has had with the unexpected consequences of introducing stuff to the ecosystem (rabbits in Australia, possums in New Zealand, etc.) mean this view gets more traction in Australia?

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Linnaeus 04.22.14 at 8:30 pm

Like AcademicLurker at #107, I’ve found some of Latour’s work to be interesting and even useful, though I also don’t agree with all of it.

110

Bruce Wilder 04.22.14 at 8:45 pm

Does the science dictate a political solution? Is the political problem simply getting everyone to take dictation from science? That doesn’t seem quite right, even to my receptive, social liberal ears. The science of climate doesn’t tell us how to organize a political economy that can keep civilization from running off the cliff.

As CK MacLeod hints, maybe there’s some eschaton in climate / peak oil apocalypse capable of reviving an effective radical Left, and providing cover for a public-spirited technocracy. That may be some years in our future, and it will require that there’s another pause in climate change, after the present one, and after the (political-economic as well as climate and resource) catastrophes immediately ahead.

Right now, it seems to me that both Left and Right are living the irony (if that’s the right word) pointed out by roy belmont. Organizations like Exxon-Mobil, the most oriented toward science in our political economy, pay for anti-science political propaganda, not because they “deny” science in their black corporate hearts, but because the political economy is organized around a certain sort of inefficiency, which economists are singularly ill-equipped to describe, analyze or remedy. Contra Quiggin @ 58, I think the Left, more or less signed on to a neoliberal prescription for “market-based solutions to climate change, like carbon taxes and emissions trading”, because the (various) Left(s), particularly the center-left in its terminally corrupt Obama-dominated form, has nada to offer. A significant part of the climate Left is dedicated to ideas of a technological deus-ex-machina of “alternative energy”, which, in its way, is every bit as unscientific as the denialism of the popular Right, which doesn’t want its suburban/ex-urban dream of driving a car to a personal/familial utopia of white picket fences, “good schools”, and big box stores, disrupted.

The mad elite, neoliberal rush to privatize every part of the commonwealth, of the public infrastructure, in order to increase Capital’s claims on a diminishing national or global income, which Piketty, in his mild-mannered way, describes as the new-old normal is creating catastrophe. And, we’re barely able to describe that political-economy problem honestly.

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Bruce Wilder 04.22.14 at 8:47 pm

belief or disbelief in ‘science’ has always been political, I think. How could it be otherwise?

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Bruce Wilder 04.22.14 at 9:17 pm

The anti-vaxxers and the anti-GMO political movements could be characterized as simply stumbling over authority of science, rather than being opposed to science or in denial about science. It seems to me that they have identified genuine problems of political-economy, but they struggle to express themselves in ways that make sense to experts in the science, and, yet, some of the experts in the science are, for political economy reasons, probably not trustworthy narrators or interpreters of the science.

With vaccines, for example, there’s a political-economy trajectory involved, where the increasing proliferation of vaccines, means that the costs and risks are multiplying at the margin, and the benefits diminishing. Standard political economy stuff, one would think. We’ve got vaccines out there, being promoted at great cost (and providing substantial corresponding incomes to business), where the risks and benefits are not being intelligently managed, either to promote a public good or give individuals agency and discretion to manage their participation in these schemes.

Linking autism to mercury-poisoning misses the science, but that miss doesn’t mean there isn’t a serious, serious problem. (In my paranoia, I suspect that it might mean some clever PR guy has stampeded the herd in the wrong direction.)

GMOs seem to involve the same sort of struggle with the authority of science, where anti-GMO activists are being corralled into assertions about science, which can be discredited scientifically, as a political tactic for neutralizing their efforts to push a better political economy, managing the application of this science as technology in the public interest.

GMOs are a narrow case of the same kind of political economy issues involved in global management of climate. Like it or not, we are increasingly managing the biome — there’s no wilderness left; only parks and reserves — and nature’s god is just as dead as the biblical one inherited from the ancients. We are intervening directly in the genetic composition of plants and animals — not just in breeding maize and cattle and dogs, in a pale imitation of evolution by natural selection, but directly and with little understanding of the consequences, and under a political-economic regime designed to externalize those consequences (when global consciousness should make everyone aware that externalization is not possible). Think about how hard it has been for forest rangers to learn how to manage forest fires in the hundred+ years of forest management. Coming up with a regime of organization and management for GMO, let alone climate and global ecology, is a truly daunting task.

And, the first and most obvious step, seemingly dictated by the science of climate at least, is self-restraint. Something humans have not mastered individually or collectively.

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CK MacLeod 04.22.14 at 9:39 pm

Bruce Wilder – @110: In what’s destined to be a widely read and cited article in the current Nation, Chris Hayes makes the ‘proletarian Earth” connection explicit, in part by introducing a term I hadn’t seen before: “climate justice.” The conceit of the article is a comparison of climate change to slavery, and of the “climate justice movement” to “abolitionism.” I don’t have the time to attempt a critique of his approach, or to compare it to Jonathan Chait’s very alternative view published today esp. in re the Keystone Pipeline, but the appearance on my twitter timeline – “@zackbeauchamp: .@chrislhayes’ essay comparing abolitionism to the anti-climate change campaign is just fantastic. Read it now: http://www.thenation.com/article/179461/new-abolitionism?page=0,0 ” – struck me as too serendipitous to go unmentioned.

Incidentally, my own reading on geo-engineering leads me to think that it is less than 100% a crock, and I’m therefore reluctant to dismiss it completely for practical as well as political-emotional-tribal reasons. That it is potentially a dangerous distraction – or an excuse for doing nothing – also needs to be taken into account, of course. I’m also not sure that “[t]he science of climate doesn’t tell us how to organize a political economy that can keep civilization from running off the cliff.” Maybe it does or can in some sense, or maybe it will have to.

114

Lee A. Arnold 04.22.14 at 10:04 pm

@ Barry #104 –

Here is Pew, Oct 2013: “Opinions of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents divide into four roughly equal size groups: 23% say there is solid evidence of global warming and it is mostly caused by human activity; 19% say warming exists but is due to natural patterns; 25% see no solid evidence and say it is just not happening; 20% say there is no solid evidence but not enough is known yet.”

That would be 75% of “Republicans and Republican-leaning independents” who say that global warming is happening. I would bet you that most of other 25% would say, “climate always changes anyway,” but I don’t bet.

We can go into how much top Dems helped to water down Dodd-Frank some other day.

What the right thinks about Occupy, or what the left thinks about the Tea Party? Why would this have any future bearing on voters’ reaction to more bailouts after another financial crash? The outrage went across the board.

I suppose the GOP could hope to marginalize Rand Paul to prevent Tea candidates winning primaries for the midterm elections, if this is what you mean. I am dubious, because this is not an election about his coattails.

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mbw 04.22.14 at 10:07 pm

#102 anarcissie:
If the problem were due to wandering randomly in some multi-dimensional parameter space, yeah, uncertainty can tend to make it pointless to act. Here, although the consequences might show up in some complicated set of climate effects, the driving term is simple. It’s how much GHG we emit. Emit less and you lessen the problems. So the uncertainty about what’s at the bottom of that climate cliff isn’t exactly a good argument for keeping our feet on the gas.

116

TM 04.22.14 at 10:12 pm

Lee, the poll you summarized says that only 42% agree there is warming. The more “sophisticated” deniers have a habit of switching their arguments from it’s not happening to it’s not anthropogenic to we can’t do anything anyway, and back. This is not sign of nuance but just a PR stick. This is old old stuff and if you don’t know it you must not have engaged with that sort much.

117

Martin 04.22.14 at 10:12 pm

Wow, I’d never have expected to see France under Pompidou and Giscard-d’Estaing compared to modern-day China! Did you read “European History for Dummies”, too?

118

Bruce Wilder 04.22.14 at 10:19 pm

@ CK MacLeod

I think we’re going to move very quickly over the rest of this decade in the direction of campaigns to relieve the uber-wealthy and the financial sector of their claims on income. It is too big and too fictitious a pot of gold to be ignored, particularly as more and more mass populations are excluded from access to resources. Excluding mass populations from resources is a way of responding to the looming problems of climate change and resource limits — not a nice way, but a way — I don’t know if a contrary political movement can also be a way of responding to resource limits. But, even if the deprived masses are not successful rebels, the neoliberal program for adding to Capital income will run out of road, as global income slips into decline, and opportunities for disinvestment diminish as a consequence of disinvestment.

The core problem of political economy is one of self-restraint. Somehow, we have to organize technological progress in a way to make Jevons wrong would be one way to put it. Another is the addiction metaphor. We have to cure a collective addiction to fossil fuels and economic growth. People are not good at self-restraint and self-discipline, individually or collectively. At least individually, we can organize social institutions to help us, by requiring ethical behavior as a duty of membership, and using authority to monitor, coordinate and discipline. Authority can be unpleasant for those on the receiving end, and humans have never solved the political problem of disciplining authority itself; power corrupts, as they say.

The failure of liberal institutions to respond to the GFC in 2008 and since probably condemns us to some 21st century adventure with authority gone a bit wacky. Lee A. Arnold’s Fire Next Time, if it doesn’t disappoint entirely, is likely to have a neo-fascist character — taking the political response after WWI, when liberal rationalism had been tried and failed in a corrupt and muddle-headed determination to be run over in the middle-of-the-road, as a pattern.

119

TM 04.22.14 at 10:25 pm

On the topic of tribalism and cultural cognition (Kahan etc.), I would encourage people to actually read the link I gave at 19. It is pretty embarrassing (for Kahan).

I think the concept of tribalism is a pretty obvious observation. Of course we all are influenced in our thinking by the people with whom we are closest. Plus, we all tend to be reluctant to change our views once they are formed and integrated. The more one has invested intellectually and emotionally in an opinion or an ideology, the more dissonance it takes to modify that opinion. That is neither surprising nor new and anybody who hasn’t experienced and recognized that probably hasn’t spent much time with honest introspection.

What doesn’t follow from all this is that all tribes are equally irrational. It should be obvious that tribes differ in how conformist they are, how much they value authority, how much diversity they tolerate, what example their leaders provide. So whatever the research about these matters says, and some of it is certainly relevant and enlightening, cannot by itself settle the question of asymmetry between left and right.

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TM 04.22.14 at 10:26 pm

“the research about these matters ” I mean the research about cultural cognition.

121

dm 04.22.14 at 10:43 pm

djr,
There is a vast difference between introducing whole species and introducing one or several genes into a species. On the spectrum of technologies for altering the genetics of an organism, GMO technology is among the most precise and predictable. Inter-specific hybrids which are used commonly in conventional plant breeding mix thousands of genes into new combinations, and yet we don’t worry too much about it. And while being careful not to worry too much, we can acknowledge that there are risks associated with conventional breeding, new allergens, novel toxins, etc can and do crop up.

122

Bruce Wilder 04.22.14 at 10:52 pm

On the spectrum of technologies for [deliberately] altering the genetics of an organism, GMO technology is among the most precise and predictable.

But, on the spectrum of technologies for inadvertently altering the ecosystem . . .

123

Metatone 04.22.14 at 10:54 pm

Worth noting:

1) There are major problems with Kahan’s work – there are rebuttal papers in the review process at the moment. Of course, as always, the first question ask about these kinds of work are “what’s the relationship between these “lab” conditions used for the experiment and life?”

As an aside, most of the work at the “Cultural Cognition Center” misunderstand what culture is… but that’s a much longer battle… which points up that understanding social and human effects is a long way from “settled science” and Kahan’s arrogance about his experiments (and indeed the blind way people quote him) should remind us all how bad the general public is as understand what can be science and what can’t…

2) Large sections of GMO “science” are also being chipped away as non-Monsanto affiliated scientists take up the baton. Particularly in the area of ecosystem (rather than health) effects.

It’s characteristic both of techno-utopians and rightist misleaders to concentrate on the effects on individuals, when the science action appears to be about something else…

124

Metatone 04.22.14 at 10:56 pm

Wow, typo city there… too late in this time zone…

125

Martin 04.22.14 at 11:03 pm

@ Metatone

This is interesting in that Kahan has pointed out several times that GMO is NOT an issue prone to “cultural cognition” in the US. While it might well be true that people are quoting him blindly, bringing up GMO in this context is a rather sure sign that he has not been read, at all.

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Martin 04.22.14 at 11:13 pm

Eli Rabett, not surprisingly, figured out the caveat with GMOs immediately – related to this very comment here; though I am not sure if he’s aware that this is what Kahan has been saying all along:

http://rabett.blogspot.fr/2014/04/tu-quoque-or-john-quiggin-does-dozens.html

So, whatever people think to have demonstrated by bringing this up, it has nothing whatsoever to do with Kahan’s research.

127

Plume 04.22.14 at 11:31 pm

We need to go way beyond current labeling, even if we extend it to GMO.

Everyone should know, for instance, when the oranges were actually picked from the trees — when sold as oranges or orange juice. Especially in the case of the latter. The Atlantic had a good article recently which pointed out that most of the juice we get at the grocery store is quite old, sometimes a year old, and filled with all kinds of things that don’t have much to do with orange juice at all. Having the label tell us “best when consumed by” doesn’t really give us the information we need to make smart choices. OTOH, telling us how long it’s been sitting around, stewing in its own artificial juices, might just make us turn to local sources instead. This would have the added benefit of, hopefully, reducing the garbage sold in stores.

As far as the OP goes . . . another great example is the one where the right always met (and still meets) criticism of the invasion of Iraq with “The Dems voted for it, too.” As if that made it less despicable, unconscionable or mad.

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dm 04.23.14 at 12:16 am

Yes, of course risks to ecosystems included and relative to other technologies well understood. I.e. glyphosate resistant weeds are starting to emerge. So we may eventually lose a really effective (and relatively innocuous as herbicides go) herbicide, if alternatives aren’t developed. But, glyphosate is not part of the natural environment, so the resistant weeds are only an issue where and if glyphosate is used. Weed control without herbicides takes energy, lots of fuel. In general, the ecological impact of agriculture is large, it has been that way for thousands of years.

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Bruce Wilder 04.23.14 at 12:26 am

In general, the ecological impact of agriculture is large, it has been that way for thousands of years.

Except now we have a few more acres under cultivation and a few more guests as the dinner table . . .

It’s that feedback loop between realizing that something you are doing has inadvertent consequences, and having the time and resources to assess and course correct, that seems to be shortening and the political economy system is resistant to doing what is necessary to back off enough to lengthen the feedback loop enough to avoid inadvertent mass suicide.

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Shatterface 04.23.14 at 12:29 am

‘The Democrats did it too’ isn’t a strong argument for the right unless they think the Democrats are actually left wing rather than slightly to the left of themselves.

”I’m not nuts because some slightly less nutty people agree with part of what I think” isn’t a persuasive argument.

131

Nine 04.23.14 at 12:37 am

CK/ Bruce Wilder – “Does the science dictate a political solution? “

Acknowledging the correctness of the science and agreeing upon a solution – if indeed the science identifies a problem that needs to be solved (evolution vs ID doesn’t need any solution that i can see), then one arrived at by political consensus i suppose – are two very different things. Cultural cognition or not, climate change deniers seems to be reasoning backward from the acceptability of the political compromise solution to the correctness of the science. Accommodating their cultural prejudices seems to be a very cynical and a too clever by half way to achieve consensus.
Here’s a thought experiment – Catholics can presumably be persuaded on evolution or the big bang by appealing to the official teachings of the church on such matters. But what if the afflatus, for its own mysterious reasons, chooses inform the Pope that the universe is 4000 years old ? Karl Rove type tactics tend to work brilliantly well until such time as they stop working.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.23.14 at 1:42 am

TM #116 –”This is not sign of nuance but just a PR stick.”

Not for all of them, by long shot. Pew heard 20% say there is “no solid evidence, but not enough is known yet”. Yes of course there are people in this portion doing it for politics, but you appear to assume that this portion all has your understanding of statistical results for complex systems, and so, they are really equivocating. No, a lot of them just make an in-group identification until more evidence is available. Political “independents” are especially like this. Go have a long conversation with someone on the right. Or, wait until after climate disasters accelerate, and then do it. You may finally understand how they are “reasoning”.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.23.14 at 2:23 am

Bruce Wilder #118: “Lee A. Arnold’s Fire Next Time, if it doesn’t disappoint entirely, is likely to have a neo-fascist character — taking the political response after WWI, when liberal rationalism had been tried and failed in a corrupt and muddle-headed determination to be run over in the middle-of-the-road, as a pattern.”

Actually what I really think is that the plutocracy will fool everybody and finally just fizzle out, without much of a bang. So it may indeed disappoint you entirely! (The blandest version of Schumpeter’s likely scenario.) But I don’t see any usefulness in strategizing about it.

Above, I was only challenging the contention that the GOP leadership wants another financial crash. I just don’t see that at all.

For one thing, the Republican leadership has to keep smoothing the internal split with the Tea’s, and don’t want more anger at bailouts and favoritism towards bankers. They do this by blaming the government for the crash, but there is no guarantee that excuse will work the next time.

For another thing, the GOP leadership hardly needs another crash. Why? Because they don’t need it for the bezzle anyway. Crashes somewhat interrupt the bezzle.

There is no such bridging problem for the Democrats, largely because Occupy has little or no purchase on the Democratic Party. The Teas could be astroturfed into a minor force at the polls (and it looks like the benefits as astroturf are partly backfiring) but Occupy is more diffuse.

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john c. halasz 04.23.14 at 3:11 am

I’ve avoided this thread, since I don’t have the time, (so sorry if I haven’t read all the comments). But re: GMOs… Aside from the fact that it is a generic term and one has to address specific instances, the idea that they are somehow necessary because science, is bogus. (I have no objection to gene-splicing as a research technique, and more than I would have to nuclear reactors, but science is not automatically identical with technology, but rather properly just opens up various fields of technical possibilities, without providing from its own resources any practical guidance). A paper was published in “Science” in 2011 by a team of researchers led by a U. of WA agriculture specialist, which summarized a larger study, arguing that GMOs were entirely unnecessary for meeting global food production needs and that, in fact, more “natural” methods, crop rotation, rotating crops with animals, maintaining genetic diversity in seed stocks and hybridization, soil conservation and enhancement, etc. long-run would result in higher and more durable and sustainable yields. (I’m sure the same journal has published pro-GMO articles sometimes). Aside from the obvious rebound effects of Round-up ready and BT crops, which have already been reported and are already reducing expected yields, it should be obvious that mono-cultures provide the ecological niches for the very infestations of pests to be eradicated. There is no singular unified essence of Science. Instead we have one branch of science informing us of what other branches are causing.

The human health effects of GMOs are the least of the issue, (though we don’t know even the basics since the research isn’t done and is actively suppressed). It’s only an excess of “humanism” that makes that the prime concern politically, as has been the case with so many other environmental issues. The environmental/ecological effects and the agronomic/economic effects are far more important. But I expect the median commenter here to dismiss such considerations because Science.

It too long, but for those with the time:

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/02/10/140210fa_fact_aviv?currentPage=all

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The Temporary Name 04.23.14 at 3:40 am

in fact, more “natural” methods, crop rotation, rotating crops with animals, maintaining genetic diversity in seed stocks and hybridization, soil conservation and enhancement, etc. long-run would result in higher and more durable and sustainable yields.

That would be awful because you’d have to, like, give people jobs doing it and stuff.

136

Captain Moonlight 04.23.14 at 4:53 am

John Halasz:

Amazing how many left-wing armchair experts assume farmers are idiots and that if farmers would only stop planting GMOs and instead implement their half-baked talking points we’d all live in a green tinged cornucopia of permanent abundance.

Sorry folks but the evil Monsanto isn’t putting mind control drugs in the farmers’ water supplies, rather farmers are making their own judgements and acting accordingly.

At least a dozen left wing commenters on this thread have raised objections to GMO that are just as ill-informed and daft as Lord Monckton’s rants about climate change. Pro-GM commenters are clearly in the minority. On Prof Quiggin’s own site, the left wing opponents of GM outnumber the supporters by at least two to one.

Prof Quiggin has himself adopted a Judith Curry style lukewarmer position on GMO, by

-endorsing the need for mandatory labelling of all products with a GMO ingredient
-indicating substantial agreement with the Union of Concerned Scientists alarmist bloviations, and
- denouncing the supposedly inadequate regulation of GMOs in the USA.

Pot. Kettle. Black.

137

The Temporary Name 04.23.14 at 5:56 am

What did Halasz say that was false?

138

roy belmont 04.23.14 at 5:58 am

Setting aside the disgusting bizarre idea that “farmers” are deciding to plant GMO crops without being coerced to in any way by the soul-less and…

Anyway, probably the single most often used “You are that” would be the proffering of maize as cultivated and modified from large-grained wild grass in Meso-America into what the US calls corn.
They did it, we do it, what’s the problem?

A couple of real obvious differences are the cultural conditions around that genetic modification, including a religious view of the world, and the necessity while doing it for a disciplined sacrificing-toward-the-future on the part of the people doing it.

Without delineating everything let’s just say if these guys today were doing that it probably never would have happened.
There weren’t any immediate personal rewards for the process.
And you have to not eat the grains you want to reproduce.

139

John Quiggin 04.23.14 at 6:36 am

Captain M. Since we’re way into tu quoque territory here, I may as well point out to readers that the “Judith Curry style lukewarmer position” you impute to me is identical to the national policy of the Australian Labor Party, which you claim to support, and that some state branches of the ALP line up with the Greens to support outright bans.

http://www.ausfoodnews.com.au/2010/03/12/greens-labor-democrats-unite-on-gm-policy.html

As for the idea that I’m responsible for the views of my commenters, isn’t this contradicted by the fact that you are commenting here . In fact, I suspect you are a sockpuppet for one of my ‘home’ commenters, and should therefore include yourself in the count there.

140

John Quiggin 04.23.14 at 6:45 am

@Bruce Wilder: I guess you count as a data point against the proposition that anti-vaxerism is predominantly a right wing phenomenon. You seem to have ticked all the boxes here: unsupported claims about health risks, Big Pharma conspiracy theory, vaccination as an assault on individual freedom etc., wrapped in enough weasel words to allow you to claim, like Jenny McCarthy, not to be anti-vaccine

With vaccines, for example, there’s a political-economy trajectory involved, where the increasing proliferation of vaccines, means that the costs and risks are multiplying at the margin, and the benefits diminishing. Standard political economy stuff, one would think. We’ve got vaccines out there, being promoted at great cost (and providing substantial corresponding incomes to business), where the risks and benefits are not being intelligently managed, either to promote a public good or give individuals agency and discretion to manage their participation in these schemes.

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reason 04.23.14 at 7:23 am

BW @112 JQ @140

I was going to pick up on Bruce Wilder’s comment there as well, but didn’t get around to it last night.

I just don’t see the anti-vaxer problem like this, I think it is more sinister. You see vaccination is a bit like global warming avoidance, it only really works if everybody does it. (And here measels is a classic case in point, but TB and Diptheria are relevant too.) The problem is that this doesn’t parse into our methodological individualism. An individual might well avoid a miniscule associated with the vaccination itself, with an even smaller increased risk of damage from infection, so long as the heard immunity is mantained. Getting vaccinated or not, should be seen not just as a personal choice, but as a moral issue (ultimately, it is part of a collective effort).

This is where the use (by Charles Koch for instance) of collectivist as a derogatory term does so much harm. There is no way around collective solutions for collective problems. This is why I find the business versus government meme so annoying. We need business AND government. The problem is we have lost sight of what the goal of it all is.

142

reason 04.23.14 at 7:27 am

(P.S. Tetanus is of course a almost unique case of a non-communicable environmentally endemic disease – and so does parse into methodical individualism.)

143

Ze Kraggash 04.23.14 at 7:33 am

Right. There’s certainly a tension between the communitarian value (“public good”) of vaccinations and the individual tendency for free-riding. Since, as a liberal, you don’t like the idea of compulsory vaccinations, and since a mass opt out would destroy any hope to eradicate the disease, a well-meaning public health official has a clear incentive to suppress any reports (false or true) of vaccine injury. In other words, well-meaning public health officials have a bias, and even an incentive to lie – for the common good. Is this not a valid case of rational skepticism?

144

reason 04.23.14 at 7:56 am

Ze Kraggash @143
Incentives are one thing, openness, empiricism and public criticism another. Countervailing methods are remarkably effective (otherwise the world would be nothing but corruption).

145

reason 04.23.14 at 8:02 am

Maybe I should answer that slightly differently, skepticism I regard in general as a good thing, but cynicism is something else entirely.

146

Ze Kraggash 04.23.14 at 8:17 am

This is not cynicism. It’s a rational calculation. It would’ve been cynicism if I said that the public health officials are all corrupt. But that’s not at all what I’m saying. I’m assuming that they care deeply about public health and do their best to improve it. It’s almost the opposite of cynicism.

147

reason 04.23.14 at 8:22 am

Then just make sure you ask to see their evidence.

148

reason 04.23.14 at 8:32 am

Well I do think it is cynicism, because it implies that they are
a. dishonest
b. will not try to improve public health by improving the safety of vaccines.

149

Captain Moonlight 04.23.14 at 8:35 am

Prof Quiggin, you’ve actually boosted my point.

In Australia, the ALP state governments have placed “moratoriums” (in reality permanent bans) on nearly all GM crops. We’ve needed state Liberal-National Governments to lift these anti-science bans. Nonetheless, I still vastly prefer the ALP because its economic and social policies favour the working class and the poor whereas the Liberals favour the rich.

Is it really that hard to understand?

150

Captain Moonlight 04.23.14 at 8:50 am

Those who think vaccines and GM crops are suspect because the producers make profits might like to explain why organic food producers, many of whom make more profit than conventional farmers according to organic orientated websites, aren’t likewise sullied by mammon.

You might also like to think about how GMO etc scares help justify the typical 30% to 80% price premium on organic produce. Vested interests indeed ;)

151

Ze Kraggash 04.23.14 at 9:01 am

They don’t really need to be dishonest, like a trial lawyer doesn’t need to be dishonest. They are biased, and so it’s reasonable to believe that they won’t tell you the whole story, not objectively. It doesn’t imply that they will not try to improve the safety of vaccines. It only implies that in some cases the risk may still be present.

152

John Quiggin 04.23.14 at 9:01 am

Umm, so when you give general support to a party with anti-GM policies because its economic policies are somewhat progressive that’s OK, but when I give general support to an party which has anti-GM policies because its economic policies are substantially more progressive, that’s not OK. Got it.

For readers who aren’t following closely, I support mandatory labelling on the consumer sovereignty grounds discussed above, and regulation to minimise gene transfer from GM crops to non-GM crops and wild species. That’s Australia’s national policy, and the one in force in Queensland where I live.

153

reason 04.23.14 at 9:25 am

Ze Kraggash @151
This is just getting too silly, I’m going to stop. Either we don’t really have a disagreement, or our disagreement isn’t substantial enough to matter.

154

The Temporary Name 04.23.14 at 9:33 am

Those who think vaccines and GM crops are suspect because the producers make profits

Yes yes, whatever. Now what did Halasz say that was false? What is there to take issue with?

155

djr 04.23.14 at 10:06 am

dm @ 121

There is a vast difference between introducing whole species and introducing one or several genes into a species.

That’s certainly true, I agree that it’s an analogy of where taking a more cautious approach to what we set loose in the ecosystem might have worked out better in the long run. Another example that’s relevant to the rest of this thread might be the argument as to whether we should be cautious about taking all of the fossilised carbon we can get our hands on and putting it in the atmosphere.

On the spectrum of technologies for altering the genetics of an organism, GMO technology is among the most precise and predictable. Inter-specific hybrids which are used commonly in conventional plant breeding mix thousands of genes into new combinations, and yet we don’t worry too much about it.

Predictable effects on the genotype, but I don’t think anyone would claim that the relationship between genotype and phenotype is anywhere near understood. And there is a qualitative difference between GMO and conventional breeding, it’s not a case of leaving an orange and a jellyfish in the same room with soft lighting and Marvin Gaye playing, and letting nature take its course.

I’m not saying the precautionary principle should necessarily win out, but I do weight it higher than some.

156

Limericky Dicky 04.23.14 at 11:54 am

Greenpeace is actually ‘anti’ the Dows and Duponts and Monsanti. This smear, ‘anti-science’*, only serves that alliance. Back it up or be called ‘dilettante’.

*’Anti-science’, ‘anti-life’, anti-stopping-beating-wife. ‘Anti-American’, ‘anti-Israel’; the company you’re in is dismal.

157

dm 04.23.14 at 12:17 pm

djr,
Right, predicting phenotype from genotype is difficult. For that reason, ideally one wants to perturb the system by adding/removing one gene at a time. It’s slow and painstaking work, that’s why its expensive research. Most alterations don’t nothing, so we scientists tend to get excited if anything at all happens, good or bad. To be honest, except for a few key traits like herbicide resistance, GMO’s are not that important. Molecular assisted breeding methods that rely on existing genetic variation are revolutionizing plant and animal breeding. On the other hand, I doubt anyone’s thought about trying Marvin Gaye and jelly yet… that is scary.

158

dm 04.23.14 at 2:07 pm

Bruce Wilder,
Sure, slower is better. But, we will have 9-billion guests to feed in a couple of decades, and I at least, don’t know how to un-invite them. Arable land is a fixed resource. Conservation, efficiency and sustainability are paramount. GMO’s can have a small, but significant positive impact. The science/biological issues are manageable, the politics and economics less so. (Of course, that reflects my bias, I understand the science/biology issues far better than politics and economics). The real GMO problem is that companies and shareholders demand unreasonable returns on their investment.

159

JG 04.23.14 at 3:00 pm

The common themes in left anti-vax and kneejerk anti-gmo are, first, conspiracy and, second, that the short-term benefit of individuals is less important than potential long term risks. Anti-vax results, in my middle class community, in parents not providing basic vaccinations for their kids, and in the recurrence of diseases here and elsewhere that we thought were gone. The kneejerk anti-gmo results in golden rice, a really major innovation, banned or limited and people producing less food for their families. Re use of GMOs in health care, my specialty, the US is reasonably sensible — if there are no g engineered remains in the final outcome, it can be OK. In Europe, it’s crazy — even if there are no GMO residues at all, the use of GMO in producing the product means it’s effectively banned.

160

Chatham 04.23.14 at 3:05 pm

GMO’s can have a small, but significant positive impact.

They could. A lot have been grown in order to let people dump more glyphosate on crops, and now glyphosate resistant weeds are a problem. It’s worth noting this statement from Monsanto in 2003: ‘The reality is, and the facts are that, one, resistance to glyphosate is rare and, two, where it has occurred around the world it is very manageable.”

This isn’t to say that GMOs are evil or should never be used. But it’s somewhat telling how often the discussion veers off from how GMO crops are actually used and into the SciFi realm of super crops that will solve world hunger (and telling that many supporters don’t seem interested in hunger solutions beyond the technological kind). I almost never hear the argument that we just weren’t able to dump as much roundup on the crops as before. It’s also interesting that while they’re happy to daydream about best case scenarios, they’ll attack those who daydream about worst case scenarios. There’s an odd symmetry between the techno-utopians and the doomsdayers.

Back in the reality based community, those advocating that we err on the side of caution are influenced by the history of problematic regulatory frameworks and companies that are either dismissive of or outright lying about the dangers posed by their products. It seems doubtful that an overly cautious approach will cause much harm; an overly lax approach, however, could mean yet another expensive and problematic “whoops moment” in a long line of them.

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dm 04.23.14 at 3:32 pm

At present, glyphosate resistance is manageable, and it’s not a matter of dumping more onto crops. I have not heard that proposed that as a solution, but who knows maybe somewhere on the internet… The ideal long-term solution would be to have at least a couple of herbicide/resistance systems that can be used in rotation. May be that will happen, but in the meantime its possible that glyphosate will lose some of its effectiveness over time at least temporarily. That would be unfortunate, because it facilitates other practices that have long-term benefits like minimum tillage and lower fuel consumption.

162

TM 04.23.14 at 4:20 pm

I have commented only briefly on GMO (28) because this debate always descends into name-calling. We have had multiple attacks on the anti-GMO-movement here but precious little in terms of actually debating evidence. The question of pest resistance has been highlighted from the beginning by pretty much every serious scientist not affiliated with the industry. The concern about superweeds is very real (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121002092839.htm). Also real is the question whether the purported benefit offered by GMO is real (the evidence here is conflicting at best, some studies concluding that actually more herbicides are used and that GM varieties are not more productive than the alternatives) and the political-economy issue of who owns the reproduction of humanities food crops (which is also at issue with hybrids but GM patents certainly take it to extremes). These factors may not be enough to justify strong opposition to GM but neither are they negligible evidence in the contest about which side is more rational. It is easy to find claims with flimsy scientific justification on both sides. I linked to an example in 28 and will briefly expand below. The fact that many of the scientific studies supporting GM are not conducted by independent researchers is surely relevant. Once again, it is not science that is at issue here but technology.

My own position is that we need to question the whole industrial approach to agriculture and that the focus of part of the food movement on GMO distracts from the big picture. Industrial monocultural agriculture is neither the only nor the most efficient approach to food production (e.g. http://www.monbiot.com/2008/06/10/small-is-bountiful/). This model, whether with or without GMO, will not solve the specific problems of poor African farmers who simply cannot afford expensive, capital-intensive technology. They need locally adapted, small-scale solutions. It is a real tragedy that virtually no funding exists – worldwide- for any kind of agricultural research that is not geared towards the profit interests of agribusiness, and almost all of that goes toward GM development. And this research has brought little in terms of real progress (although it did bring handsome profits for the industry) – a fact which GM proponents are simply unwilling to acknowledge. As an example, US maize yields have increased since GM varieties were introduced but so have the yields of non-GM varieties. Between 1990 and 2010, maize yield in the US has increased 29%. It increased as much in Germany and even more – 46% – in France. In 2011, maize yield both in Germany and France was better than the US record of 2010. (FAOSTAT). The near absence of GM varieties in Europe provides a useful natural experiment and it doesn’t even remotely support the “we need GM to feed the world”. Not that corn production has much to do with feeding anybody – in both US and Europe, it goes to feeding livestock and, to a catastrophic extent, towards inefficient biofuels.

Now the NYT article linked above claims, with the mantle of scientific authority, that “we need GMO wheat”, arguing that the increase in corn productivity and profitability is due to the magic of GM and that wheat farmers would be doing much better if they had GM varieties for wheat (wheat yields in Europe have in fact increased much more than in the US, without any GM). The argument is of the most spurious sort (conflating correlation and causation, ignoring the effect of ethanol subsidies, and ignoring the data from Europe). But it is what passes for the rational scientific approach to agriculture. It is the kind of science speak that gives science a bad name.

163

TM 04.23.14 at 4:40 pm

I also second Chatham 160, especially the middle paragraph. And a reference:

Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in the US Midwest
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14735903.2013.806408#.U1fpi1e0Tzo

“Reviewing the parameters of yield, pesticide use, germplasm diversity and human resources of the US staple crop agroecosystem demonstrates that lessons provided by past technology-derived disasters, such as the southern corn leaf blight epidemic (National Research Council, Committee on Genetic Vulnerability of Major Crops 1972), still have to be learned. The US (and Canadian) yields are falling behind economically and technologically equivalent agroecosystems matched for latitude, season and crop type; pesticide (both herbicide and insecticide) use is higher in the United States than in comparator W. European countries; the industries of all types that are supplying inputs to the farmer are becoming more concentrated and monopolistic (Fuglie et al. 2012) and these tendencies correlate with stagnation or declines in germplasm diversity (Welsh and Glenna 2006, Howard 2009, Domina and Taylor 2010). Farm number is decreasing and scale is increasing, concentrating and narrowing the farming skills. Annual variations in yield, which not only indicate low resilience of the agroecosytem but also can fuel dramatic price changes in agricultural markets, are more severe in the United States than in W. Europe.”

164

TM 04.23.14 at 4:45 pm

And a Krugman post relevant to the topic:

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/21/there-goes-the-sun/

165

someguy88 04.23.14 at 5:03 pm

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/harvard-study-medicaid-expansion-deaths

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/03/30/1287923/-GOP-s-Obamacare-spite-means-death-toll-for-red-states#

and the man himself in all his glory

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/11/opinion/krugman-health-care-nightmares.html

All linking to this

http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2014/01/30/opting-out-of-medicaid-expansion-the-health-and-financial-impacts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opting-out-of-medicaid-expansion-the-health-and-financial-impacts

The grisly toll of evil Republicans.

Only the first link is the Oregon Experiment.

http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa1212321

It’s conclusion is

“This randomized, controlled study showed that Medicaid coverage generated no significant improvements in measured physical health outcomes in the first 2 years, but it did increase use of health care services, raise rates of diabetes detection and management, lower rates of depression, and reduce financial strain.”

Gold Standard of the group concludes no significant improvements in measured physical health outcomes in the first 2 years.

The second is too this

http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa1202099

at 19.6 deaths per 100,0000 that would result in what maybe 1,500, tops, extra deaths from not expanding Obamacare.

The third link is about private insurance versus no insurance and doesn’t even apply.

http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2008.157685

Both studies that showed a link between mortality and insurances have major flaws.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2014/02/03/will-17104-americans-really-die-in-states-that-dont-expand-medicaid/

http://www.rightsidenews.com/2014042134170/life-and-science/health-and-education/does-failure-to-expand-medicaid-kill-people.html

Leaving those flaws aside, taking the 5 minutes to follow the links, and look at the evidence quickly reveals that 7K to 17K people dying every year due to lack of Medicaid expansion is a complete figment of the imagination. Study 1 = no measured health care differences. Study 2 = at most 1,500 deaths per year. Study 3 does not apply. No advance degree in statistics required. All you need is the ability to read and think.

The best evidence is that the link between insurance and mortality is non-existent.

Number of people who care about this evidence? Very, very, very few on either side. That is why Paul Krugman himself can link to that junk and remain a respectable figure.

Neither side cares about the evidence.

166

Bruce Wilder 04.23.14 at 5:32 pm

John Quiggin @ 140

I find your interpretation of my comment personally offensive.

167

Bruce Wilder 04.23.14 at 5:59 pm

reason @ 141: I just don’t see the anti-vaxer problem like this . . .

The documentary, The Greater Good, can be useful. They point their unblinking eye at the public health officials as well as at the anti-vaxxers.

Vaccination against communicable disease is, as you say, a collective action problem. But, it is also a problem of handling risks associated with high-probability low-frequency events with enormous costs to isolated individuals, and even the scientific problems of assigning causality to the realization of risk in low-frequency events. You can say it’s a collective action problem and no doubt you are right, but it’s individuals, who get these devastating illnesses, whether its the rare case of a common illness with serious consequences, or the rare case of a serious side-effect. The scientific information is costly to acquire, and can be difficult to interpret, and it is not always clear that the authorized judgement exercised in setting up and administering a system is responsible and sufficiently informed and politically responsive.

168

novakant 04.23.14 at 6:09 pm

Thanks a lot TM.

169

Russell Seitz 04.23.14 at 6:28 pm

Chris Mooney’s war on Republican science puts the object of his displeasure to shame.

The left has striven to monopolize the scientific conversation since the days of Haldane and Bernal, and the partisan shenanigans of The Center for American progress are but part of that permanent campaign.

170

Metatone 04.23.14 at 6:33 pm

@Martin – I think you misunderstand my comment.

I put things in the same comment for easy typing. I label them (1) and (2) so that it is clear they are separate points.

I’ve read Kahan, I’ve reviewed his research in depth. It’s largely misleading super-extrapolatory studies that take no account of context. It’s actually pretty embarrassing how seriously people take him. But then, as you note, most people haven’t done a thorough review of his methods – and it would appear you are one of “most people.”

171

Metatone 04.23.14 at 6:37 pm

Just as an extra sampler – in many of Kahan’s experiments, to create a false sense of balance he had to edit the figures for certain events. The one that comes to mind he altered the figures on gun control and deaths to “make liberals wrong.” The trouble is of course that he altered the figures, so if you knew anything about the topic beforehand, the right thing to do was in fact to question the figures…

The very idea that you can take figures in a single study as some kind of gospel would be laughed out of any academic seminar – and yet it’s the basis of Kahan’s whole critique of human reasoning…

172

Metatone 04.23.14 at 6:39 pm

Final thought on Kahan, it’s not an accident that he does research into “culture and cognition” and publishes almost exclusively in journals about “cognition” – where there’s no expertise on culture to give him any pushback…

173

TM 04.23.14 at 7:12 pm

I’m not in detail familiar with Kahan, do you have any useful references?

174

John Quiggin 04.23.14 at 7:56 pm

I hadn’t heard of The Greater Good, but a quick tour of science blogs produces descriptions like “Pure, unadulterated anti-vaccine propaganda masquerading as a “balanced” documentary” and Wikipedia pretty much confirms this. Even more damning is the fact that it is endorsed by the utterly evil anti-vaxer group Australian Vaccination Network (they were recently forced to change that name to abandon the pretense that they were a source of unbiased information, but can’t remember the new one)

https://www.facebook.com/avn.living.wisdom/posts/296636110391141?stream_ref=5

175

dm 04.23.14 at 8:01 pm

TM,
I’m not sure what numbers you are citing, but annual EU corn production averages about 25% of US production, or maybe I mis-understood the point you were trying to make.

It’s unfortunate that maize is so often derided as a symbol of industrialized agriculture. Maize is the world’s most productive crop, even in China where it has passed rice. That’s not all due to industrialization, especially in places like China and Africa. There are lots of reasons, but the fundamental biological basis is that it is a superb crop with enormous underlying genetic diversity. That means that it responds rapidly to conventional breeding. It’s adaptable in ways that other crops are not. In many parts of the world it is used for direct human consumption. I agree that it is a shame that so much is wasted on ethanol. That has nothing fundamentally to do with GMO technology.

176

SusanC 04.23.14 at 9:07 pm

I thought the point about maize was that it’s pre-industrial (selectively bred by Native Americans, in a pre-industrial society), but vastly different from the wild plant from which it was originally derived (teosinte, I think). Thus challenging ideas about “natural”, “traditional” etc. (The counter-arguments being along the lines that the development of maize presumably happened on a time-scale slow enough for any risks to become apparent before disaster struck; that the cross-species, cross-phylum and cross-kingdom hybridization possible with genetic engineering enables more dramatic genetic changes; that the economic risk of your principal food plants being owned by a company such as Monsanto did not apply in the pre-Columbian Americas; and that genetic modifications whose purpose is to enable the use of a pesticide present different risks than the changes found in maize).

177

SusanC 04.23.14 at 9:18 pm

I should say that I don’t believe the vaccine/autism connection.

But I can see why it might be psychologically attractive. It is much more reassuring to think that a risk is due to factors you know, and can control (you can avoid being vaccinated) than to think the risk is due to unknown and uncontrollable factors.

I don’t get the more general anti-vaccine sentiment though — can’t see either the economic or psychological driver for it. [Except, being vaccinated is mildly traumatic, which might be sufficient to trigger a phobia of the cause of the trauma. A paradoxical reaction here --- normally, if something makes you sick, changing your behaviour to avoid the thing that made you sick is the correct thing to do --- except when the behaviour that made you sick was getting vaccinated].

178

TM 04.23.14 at 9:29 pm

dm, I’m referring to yield per ha, not absolute production. The source is FAOSTAT (http://faostat3.fao.org/faostat-gateway/go/to/download/Q/QC/E).
I hope I didn’t come across as deriding maize but overwhelmingly both in the US and Europe it is grown not for human consumption and in ways detrimental to the soil and wasteful of water (an excellent recent ref is http://www.monbiot.com/2014/03/14/the-biogas-disaster/; Monbiot has discovered that the UK government has specifically exempted corn from already weak soil protection regulation). As to diversity, the article ref’d at 163 is worrying.

179

shah8 04.23.14 at 10:33 pm

Backing TM somewhat at 162 and 163 and opposing JG at 159…

Golden Rice is not a product with end-customers in mind. It is solely agit-prop vaporware with which unethical pro-GM corps can sound high minded. There isn’t any purpose for it. Nutritional deficiencies comes from how the cash crop economy forces farmers to not grow nutritious crops for their own consumption, and not because they are preferentially eating milled white rice. In pursuing their campaign, this is the kind of thing Golden Rice backers did: http://www.tuftsdaily.com/news/university-admits-golden-rice-ethics-violation-1.2838537

Pro-GMO practioners are some of the most aggressive and pre-emptive practictioners of Tu Quoque. For instance a few months ago, the New York Time did a feature on GMO citrus here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/28/science/a-race-to-save-the-orange-by-altering-its-dna.html?_r=0 . It was pretty outrageously misleading. No, oranges won’t die off entirely. Yes, the citrus industry is in grave danger of being gone in the US. However, there is a sort of massive excluded middle in the article. Agriculture is an industry, and there are industrial components to propagating plants, growing them, harvesting them, and getting produce to market such that it sells. New breeds of plants often takes *years* to enter industry on a serious basis, and there are very narrow tolerances at all points in the cycle. The point I’m getting to was that you couldn’t just do a few gene mods and then put them out to pasture and pump out citrus. The process of getting the *right* gene mod, and then the process of testing, not just for environmental issues, but for compatibility with the capital processes (like, does this citrus produce enough high quality fruit to make this orchard profitable, does the citrus travel well, does the citrus have any off tastes?). The whole process takes for-freakin’ ever. New apples you see in the stores are usually varieties that at best, are only as young as the 80′s from the ag stations, for example. There is no way any GMO citrus can come along before Florida Farmer Jane is wiped out by citrus greening. Yet the NY Times is going around telling Americans that you have to accept GMO Oranges or go without oranges at all! There are some seriously unethical attitudes among the ag giants when it comes to GMO stuff, and GMO products do merit some observation if not outright suspicion for a wide range of reasons, and not just that it might poison you!

180

John Quiggin 04.23.14 at 11:17 pm

BW @166 Feel free to clarify if I’ve misinterpreted you, but I was clearly not alone as Reason @141 demonstrates.

Saying “I’m not anti-vaccine, but health risks …” is the standard anti-vaxer line from Jenny McCarthy to The Greater Good, exactly analogous to the climate science denier line “Of course the climate changes, but human causation unproved”.

If you are taking a different position from this, spell it out and I’ll be glad to acknowledge

181

someguy 04.24.14 at 12:47 am

Metatone,

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/09/new-study-politics-makes-you-innumerate

Nonsense. He made up some numbers for a skin cream treatment and altered the wording to cities that ban concealed carry had more/less crime for the exact same set of numbers.

If gun control/bans work at all they mostly reduces the suicide rate. In no way shape or form do concealed carry laws increase crime.

I wonder how John reads his own comment threads and keeps his beliefs.

182

John Quiggin 04.24.14 at 1:03 am

“If gun control/bans work at all they mostly reduces the suicide rate”

Say what? Maybe Americans can convince themselves of this, but no sane person outside the US believes it. Australian controls produced big drops in both homicides and suicides

http://guncontrol.org.au/

183

J Thomas 04.24.14 at 1:41 am

#169 “Chris Mooney’s war on Republican science….”

This really ought to be a category error. But I’m afraid it isn’t.

I read that there was once a time when some people claimed that they were not going to use Jewish physics but instead would create Aryan physics which would get different answers. Muslims talk about creating Muslim science that will not have room for atheism.

I feel like science ought to be just science. But what if the scientific establishment gets corrupted, subverted by people who fake their results for political gain? Then we couldn’t trust scientific results.

If that happened, scientists would get disillusioned. Science is after all an ideology of its own, scientists believe strongly in telling the truth, in controlling for extraneous variables, in making sure their results are reproducible. The scientist who fakes his results and tries to make sure they are so uninteresting and useless that nobody ever checks them, inspires pity.

So if scientists were corrupted, it would make sense that others would actually do science and get results. To carry the torch.

I haven’t seen this happening. I don’t see scientists getting all that much disillusioned with what they do. And what I’ve seen of Creation Science has been — unscientific. They have a strong tendency to study Darwin at great length and look for flaws, the way they would look at the primary texts of a competing religion.

It’s even worse for what I’ve seen of Republican science. They don’t do science. They look at science other people do and look for stories that change the meaning. They don’t act like scientists at all. They act like lawyers.

There shouldn’t be a separate Republican science any more than there’s a Republican electronics or a Republican sanitary engineering or Republican music theory. It should be just science and electronics and sanitary engineering and music theory.

We shouldn’t have a separate Republican science any more than the USSR would have Marxist physics.

But we do.

184

Captain Moonlight 04.24.14 at 3:20 am

A good test of whether folk who dismiss GM are serious and know what they are talking about is their attitude to, or even awareness of, mutagenesis. Unsurprisingly, the anti-GM crowd haven’t mentioned the unregulated and inherently more risky process of mutagenesis even once in the thousands of anti-GM words on this thread. As the American National Academy of Sciences says:

“regulating genetically modified crops while giving a pass to products of mutation breeding isn’t scientifically justified.”

Read. Learn something.

As to lies and smears about GM, you’d have to go a long way to find a bigger and sillier lie than Vandana Shiva’s claim that hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers are killing themselves because of GM cotton, a lie that is eagerly amplified on hundreds of anti-GM websites.

Greenpeace of course lies through its teeth, claiming for example that Roundup Ready crops lock farmers into buying Monsanto’s Roundup, when in truth the active ingredient has been off patent for many years.

We are already seeing a steady stream of peer reviewed literature that attempts to calculate the deaths attributable to the great GM scare. Where to next, I wonder …

185

John Quiggin 04.24.14 at 5:44 am

As regards the US and gun control, if I were a US survey respondent presented with research claimed to show that concealed carry laws reduced crime, my immediate thought would be “was it done by Mary Rosh?”

I’m not all that familiar with Kahan, but if he presented people with made-up research on a disputed topic where one side is known to be riddled with fraud, it seems unlikely that he was going to get useful results.

186

Robert 04.24.14 at 10:47 am

I have no idea why one cannot present a contingency table with made-up numbers and ask, “Which of two hypotheses does this data support?” It seems to me that getting different answers based on what areas the labels for the table come from is a result.

This does not address whether or not the right and, say, Democrats currently have an asymmetry in organized promotion of anti-rationalism. I thought Krugman’s response was a non sequitur.

187

J Thomas 04.24.14 at 1:04 pm

“Nonsense. He made up some numbers for a skin cream treatment and altered the wording to cities that ban concealed carry had more/less crime for the exact same set of numbers.

If gun control/bans work at all they mostly reduces the suicide rate. In no way shape or form do concealed carry laws increase crime.”

So we’re reasonably asking what is a reasonable response to new scientific research you’ve never heard of before.

And it isn’t unreasonable for use to use some Bayesian reasoning.

So if I see a single report about a car that uses tapwater as its only fuel, I will tend to disbelieve it. If they have disproved thermodynamics they’ve got something a lot more important than a new car.

From everything I’ve seen in the USA, we have never anywhere had the sort of gun control that would actually affect the murder rate much at all. It’s predictable that studies which purport to show that gun control has increased or decreased the rate of shootings, will be wrong.

Similarly, so far it looks like concealed carry has essentially no effect on the number of people shot. The people who are going to shoot somebody will do it whether they can get a concealed carry license or not.

The important correlations I see go the other way round. When crime rates rise, some places the voters demand gun control and other places the voters demand harsher penalties for convicted criminals. In either case, the effect on crime is minimal.

Here is a correlation which is probably more important — when police departments have gone too long without a budget increase, they start to report more crime. Then after they get a hefty budget increase they report less crime for awhile.

Show me a US scientific report that gets results far different than I expect, and I will want to look very carefully at their methods. It isn’t necessarily faked on purpose but it’s probably wrong. Particularly when it’s repeating things that have been done many times before.

188

J Thomas 04.24.14 at 1:10 pm

“I have no idea why one cannot present a contingency table with made-up numbers and ask, “Which of two hypotheses does this data support?””

You can. And if the question you ask is “which of two hypotheses would this made-up data support” then possibly most people would get the right answer, when it’s obvious. If the data is so noisy that it takes a lot of complicated statistics to decide whether one hypothesis is supported, then a lot of people would get it wrong.

“It seems to me that getting different answers based on what areas the labels for the table come from is a result.”

Make it clear that you’re testing their ability to draw correct conclusions from fake data, and they’ll likely get the conclusions you want.

If they suspect that the result is likely to be a big public announcement that “93% of liberals admitted that the real data proves they are wrong about everything” then likely they won’t go along.

189

Chatham 04.24.14 at 2:01 pm

As the American National Academy of Sciences says:
“regulating genetically modified crops while giving a pass to products of mutation breeding isn’t scientifically justified.”

That quote actually doesn’t seem to come from NAS, but rather a Bloomberg article attempting to paraphrase their report:

The U.S. National Academies of Science warned in 1989 and again in 2004 that regulating genetically modified crops while giving a pass to products of mutation breeding isn’t scientifically justified.

But it seems that distinction got blurred when it was picked up by a pro-GMO site:

The NAS warns against such mutation-inducing chemicals and radiation treatment, the Washington Post reported, and that “regulating genetically modified crops while giving a pass to products of mutation breeding isn’t scientifically justified.”

And is now being presented by you as a direct quote as a direct quote from NAS.

Read. Learn something.

Yes, all sorts of fun stuff happens when we eschew primary sources and only bother reading sites with questionable accuracy that champion our preexisting beliefs.

190

Anarcissie 04.24.14 at 2:33 pm

Captain Moonlight 04.24.14 at 3:20 am @ 184:
‘… We are already seeing a steady stream of peer reviewed literature that attempts to calculate the deaths attributable to the great GM scare. …’

As many as money can buy, I imagine.

This sort of argument, where a certain exact number of deaths or other serious harms is attributed to something the polemicist doesn’t like, not directly, but through an often dubious chain of consequences, seems recent to me. And speaking of tu quoque, hardly confined to the Right.

191

dm 04.24.14 at 3:58 pm

For what its worth, this is what the NAS did say:
“Genetic engineering is one of the newer technologies available to
produce desired traits in plants and animals used for food, but it poses
no health risks that cannot also arise from conventional breeding
and other methods used to create new foods. Any method could
result in unintended changes in the composition of the food. The
report concludes that all altered foods should be assessed on a case-by-
case basis before they are sold to the public to determine whether
unintended changes in the composition of the food could adversely
affect human health.”

http://dels.nas.edu/resources/static-assets/materials-based-on-reports/reports-in-brief/ge_foods_final.pdf

192

shah8 04.24.14 at 4:34 pm

Your seedless banana varieties generally came from treating a tissue culture with mutagens, typically gamma rays. In terms of dangers to personal health, there are only so much predictable exoticism. If humans are hit with survivable amounts of gamma rays, there is way you’d turn one into the Incredible Hulk. Flip side, if you have those little inventive genetic engineers called viruses, you can get changes that results in an allergic reaction by the host, and presumably possible allergic reaction to any cannibal that finds the host tasty or doing funeral rituals.

Mutagenesis is a technique effectively about moving or knocking the genetic machinery around, causing subtle changes that are not so subtle to the breeder. Make more of this protein. Inhibit that pathway less, etc, etc, etc. Insertion of genetic material is about introducing new pathways. They aren’t really the same interventions and risks maps are pretty different. Some of that is pretty obvious. You’d make examinations of tobacco, potatoes, tomatoes, and anything else that could make toxic chems. Not so much bananas…

193

TM 04.24.14 at 5:21 pm

jch 134: could you provide a reference to the Science 2011 paper?

Re Kahan, I thought along the lines of JQ 185 too. I don’t think this type of research is useless or irrelevant but it looks like heavily oversold.

It’s also been misinterpreted. The gun control experiment didn’t show that “the smarter the person is, the dumber politics can make them”, as Ezra Klein famously claimed (see http://www.steamthing.com/2014/04/whos-wonking-who.html). The results are actually quite weird (http://www.steamthing.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/figure-6.png).

194

TM 04.24.14 at 5:32 pm

[Since there is so much interest for the topic:]

Compositional differences in soybeans on the market: Glyphosate accumulates in Roundup Ready GM soybeans
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814613019201

This is not (I assume) an effect of GM per se but of the way Roundup-resistant soybeans are grown. Could be quite a problem for Monsanto.

195

J Thomas 04.24.14 at 6:32 pm

“Genetic engineering is one of the newer technologies available to
produce desired traits in plants and animals used for food, but it poses
no health risks that cannot also arise from conventional breeding
and other methods used to create new foods.”

I expect they’re going beyond the evidence there.

The GM insertion methods tend to leave markers behind, often the same markers. It isn’t proven that there is any danger from this, but I haven’t seen a proof that there will be no dangers.

196

The Temporary Name 04.24.14 at 7:30 pm

I haven’t seen a proof that there will be no dangers.

Could there be? The NAS squib says what it says in the context of asking for assessments (when “warranted”) so it’s not about dismissal of danger. It’s sort of a wisest-thing-to-say-in-public bit.

197

someguy88 04.24.14 at 7:41 pm

John Quiggin ,

I cannot follow the link right now. I am assuming it eventually leads to

http://andrewleigh.org/pdf/GunBuyback_Panel.pdf

if not I am presenting the above link for myself.

I read 2.55 firearm suicides per 100K and .43 firearm homicides per 100K and 74% drop in firearm suicides and 36% drop in firearm homicide. I get a reduction of 1.9 vs .16 or 92% of the reduction was from suicides.

So right now I am going to stick with – If gun control/bans work at all they mostly reduce the suicide rate – minus the s on reduce.

I am not claiming conceal carry law decrease crime. I am claiming that conceal carry laws have no impact on the crime rate.

198

dm 04.24.14 at 8:06 pm

I expect they’re going beyond the evidence there

The counter-argument seems to be that the most widely used marker, kanamycin resistance, is already common in soil, water and gut bacteria and kanamycin is not used much in medicine. There are ways to do it that delete the marker, but my impression is that’s not done often.

199

J Thomas 04.24.14 at 8:41 pm

“I am not claiming conceal carry law decrease crime. I am claiming that conceal carry laws have no impact on the crime rate.”

My interpretation of the data I’ve seen agrees with you.

“If gun control/bans work at all they mostly reduce the suicide rate”

The things I’ve seen about “gun control” all involve extremely wimpy US gun control that has had essentially no effect. I could imagine the situation in Australia or elsewhere might be different, but I haven’t looked at the data.

200

TM 04.24.14 at 8:45 pm

195/196: The NAS statement is clearly overconfident. One can certainly imagine ways in which something could go wrong with GM that couldn’t happen with conventional breeding, and even if they couldn’t imagine such ways, that may be a lack of imagination on their part.

On another note, it reminds me of the fracking controversy (I’m opening up another can of worms): industry says there’s no way that the fracking process itself could contaminate the aquifer. Critics say you can’t be sure of that, but they also say that there are plenty of other ways, besides the fracking itself, to contaminate the groundwater and those contaminations have indeed been amply demonstrated. Compare that to 194.

201

someguy88 04.24.14 at 9:22 pm

J Thomas,

In Australia it looks like it worked to some degree

http://andrewleigh.org/pdf/GunBuyback_Panel.pdf

100% substitution cannot be ruled by the authors and my understanding is that the time series for overall suicides and homicides shows no break indicating the policy worked. The timeline numbers do not align well with substitution as an explanation but do not show a break indicating the policy worked. I am thinking the data set is small and pretty variable and I would guess some decent amount of substitution must have happened. But if the cost was only 500 million even with significant substitution the cost/benefit ratio would be very good.

Not possible and probably would not work in the US.

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john c. halasz 04.24.14 at 9:37 pm

TM @ 193:

No, sorry. I picked it up off science journalism links and I remember posting it to a discussion list last year and then thinking, hey, wait a minute, this isn’t news, but I’ve actually read this before. However, doing a quick search this might have been the article referenced:

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/332/6030/670.summary?sid=30b9cc83-5eef-4f10-823f-d26b4b5f39c4

If so, the first footnote reads:

Toward Sustainable Agricul-
tural Systems in the 21st Century (The National Acad-
emies, Washington, DC, 2010).

203

djr 04.24.14 at 10:02 pm

dm @ 191 quoting the US National Academy of Scinces:

“Genetic engineering … poses no health risks that cannot also arise from conventional breeding and other methods used to create new foods.”

Even at best, that’s only thinking about health risks from eating the genetically modified crop itself, not risks to the ecosystem or due to the fertilisers or weedkillers that might be used on it. (Continuing my favourite analogy, the problem with introducing possums to New Zealand was not that vampire possums started attacking innocent Auckland residents.)

204

dm 04.24.14 at 10:18 pm

TM,
Well, you have me at a loss if I am to defend the NAS on charges of being over-confident and lacking in imagination ;)

205

dm 04.24.14 at 10:26 pm

djr,
I think that’s right, that particular NAS report was focused on food safety. In conventional breeding there is often emphasis on bringing in exotic germplasm, so I think the risks are if anything greater than for GM. In general, the consequences of introducing a single gene are more predictable, more easily tested and more easily controlled. Anyway, I thought the Marvin Gaye entralled jellyfish was a better analogy.

206

shah8 04.24.14 at 11:31 pm

dm:

None of 205 is actually true. Notwithstanding the jellyfish.

207

dm 04.24.14 at 11:52 pm

shah8,
The molecular consequences of interspecific-hybrids is a very active area of research in genomics these days, lots of interesting phenomenology, not at all predictable, lots of context dependence. But, I gather this discussion is not worth continuing.

208

J Thomas 04.25.14 at 12:08 am

“I haven’t seen a proof that there will be no dangers.”

‘Could there be?’

No, as far as I can tell there is no possible way to prove there will be no danger, short of multiple long-term studies on worlds as big as ours.

Insertions tend to involve adding some extra short DNA sequences that are all the same for each particular insertion method, plus some observable markers that do something-or-other.

It’s possible that adding the same sites to a lot of different plant species might create some long-term vulnerability that we don’t know how to predict yet. Similarly for the markers. I see no reason to think that these particular sequences are worse than other sequences that were not chosen. If I had a rationale why something else would be better, I would suggest it and maybe people would agree and choose those instead.

I can’t say how a problem would display itself. But here’s an analogy — imagine that you have put trojans in millions of computers that belong to other people. You have made a variety of trojans with a variety of goals, but because of the way you made them every one of them has the same piece of dead code that’s 300 bytes long. Obviously that’s a bad thing. Someone who notices two of your trojans and finds that signature can wrap up all of them everywhere.

We don’t know much about how genes compete in the genome. We’ve noticed a few obvious strategies and used some of them to do genetic engineering with. But we’re blind to everything that isn’t obvious. Isn’t it plausible that what we don’t know will come back and bite us? Yes, sure. But on the other hand there’s no guarantee it will bite us because of the details of how we create GMO stuff.

All I have is an argument from ignorance. NAS has no basis to say that these techniques are no more risky than mutagenesis. But I have no real basis to say that they are, either.

We’re meddling with a complicated system we don’t understand, one that has evolved over billions of years. We fundamentally do not understand the consequences of our actions. But for all I know it might be perfectly safe.

209

Captain Moonlight 04.25.14 at 12:12 am

jch @134 comes out with the usual motherhood statements based on a single paper:

It is impossible to know whether GMOs will play a big role in meeting future “global food production needs”. No-one can know what breakthroughs may occur (or not occur).

Soil conservation (no till etc.), crop rotation etc are a part of conventional agriculture.

Seed diversity is important and it is a good thing that various seed banks and cottage industries maintain many thousands of old seeds. But many old seeds have fallen out of fashion because they are crap. This includes traditional seeds that some communities have used for hundreds of years, hence farmers in these communities leap at the chance to acquire better but much more expensive commercial seeds or start using better free seeds provided by NGOs.

I have a really radical idea: how about we trust farmers to decide whether they want to use traditional seeds, new hybrid seeds, mutagenic seeds, genetically engineered seeds without undue and ill-informed interference from clueless busy bodies. This would mean allowing Irish potato famers to get their hands on blight resistant GM potatoes that don’t need to be sloshed with up to 25 applications of expensive and toxic fungicides as well as delivering twice the numer of tubers. http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/scientists-this-gm-crop-would-have-survived-irish-potato-famine.1392621721

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shah8 04.25.14 at 12:33 am

dm,

I might be decades out of date, and all that, but I do actually have some background in science, and have personally made GMOs, animals and bacteria. In order to, you know, *study* the resulting biochemical processes.

Moreover, since I am into fruit growing in general, I’m perfectly well aware of how growers and ag folks do things like make hybrids of American persimmon and Asian persimmons, or the division of 60/90 haploid types just within the topic of American persimmons. Or more exotic crosses like Alma figs, which is a cross between ficus carica and palmata. Or how about the biochemical consequences of grafting a lemon onto trifoliate rootstock, and other interspecies(genus, too) grafting possibilities.

….point I’m getting to, is that you’re doing the technobabble. I actually directly know and have worked this stuff. The ideas that generated new phenotypes through something more than just bringing male to female of the same species together just isn’t as poorly understood as you seem to think it is. If it was genuinely like that, that little trick of grafting tomatoes onto potatoes, and things like it, would have had negative consequences–of the sort that people survive and say, “let’s not do that again”. Using a gene gun, or a virus, to insert new genes is far more likely to have consequences that are sorta anticipate-able, but not quite…so on the order of Olestra, or the ill-fated Flavr-Savr tomato. Of course, in a normal ag station process, it’s okay to take your time to carefully note the new bred varietal’s properties (including composition of the product, like brix, or alkaloid content, etc), create test plots, and so forth. A *lot* of what is faulty about GMO in industry today, was seeded from the idea that there was a shortcut around all of this–that you *could* aim, and control for a trait and skip all that tedious and lengthy bull. Doesn’t work that way, hence, part of the overall wrongness of post 205.

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Ogden Wernstrom 04.25.14 at 12:44 am

[Lee A. Arnold]:

Barry #86: “Bullsh*t.”

Not when you get down into the Pew and Gallup polls, and not when I have spoken to the more scientific, rational ones. Whether climate change is caused by people, and whether the catastrophic possibilities are worth worrying about? There, they differ.

Hmmm, it sounds as if some have reached the bargaining stage.

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Ogden Wernstrom 04.25.14 at 12:47 am

My blockquote fail: The quote is through “There, they differ.”

213

J Thomas 04.25.14 at 1:05 am

“I have a really radical idea: how about we trust farmers to decide whether they want to use traditional seeds, new hybrid seeds, mutagenic seeds, genetically engineered seeds without undue and ill-informed interference from clueless busy bodies.”

Captain Moonlight, I don’t really have a sense of who you are, so tell me — do you believe evolution happens?

214

dm 04.25.14 at 1:42 am

shah8,
I followed you up to the “technobabble” part, then I lost your train of thought entirely in the confused ramble that followed. But, I will try one more time.

The kind of thing people seem to be concerned about in this discussion is the possibility of subtle changes that are not obvious at the level of gross phenotype, and that might cause unforeseen ecological dislocations. I’m not talking about creating monsters through grafting or hybridization or whatever, nor do I think the kinds of bad outcomes in question are very probable through either conventional or GM means. Nevertheless, people have these concerns so rather than simply appeal to pompous authority (e.g. NAS reports) I am trying to give some context to their concerns.

For example, plants make a lot of secondary products (something like 20,000 known compounds) and there is a great deal of diversity within and between species. These compounds have a variety of functions including as insect attractants (e.g. pollinators), flavors, aromas, etc, so they potentially have ecological implications. These pathways evolve rapidly probably driven by insect interactions. It turns out that plants generate the diversity through networks of reactions that through a sort of combinatorial chemistry can give rise to families of related products. So, the spectrum of products is very sensitive to the combination of enzymes that form the network. Each enzyme is encoded by a gene. Closely related species typically have different sets of genes (alleles), because recall that these pathways evolve rapidly. Now suppose we cross two species that have diverged in this way. There is a potential for creating new compounds that were not present in either parent. Now, suppose the new compound is a powerful attractant for djr’s vampire possum!!

Has anything like this actually happened? I know of a case in tomato where a colleague identified a novel toxin in progeny of a cross to a wild tomato relative (no transgenics involved). The toxin is not an alkaloid so its not limited to solanacous species. But, this type of thing is probably rare. On the other hand, how would we know? Surveying these kinds compounds is time consuming and expensive.

BTW, your banana’s are probably safe, unless you like to fry them (e.g. acrylamide).

215

shah8 04.25.14 at 2:11 am

/me shakes head…

NO.

At base, you’re confusing the idea that hazards can happen with hazardous process. I have never had a problem with GMOs. What I have a problem is with the free fire under-regulated zone that surrounds GMO, in gray areas of FDA or USDA oversight. Also the attempts at legal leverage.

And dude, 214 makes me think that either you have very little genuine understanding of genetics/biochemistry, or have tremendous contempt for your audience, one way or another. We’ve been doing most of this for ten thousand years, from selective breeding to making cuttings of plant sports. No, genetic mods ain’t that different, but it was never actually about the technology, but the will to use it safely and developing it for things we need, rather than what makes that quick buck no matter the consequences. Abusing BT toxin was just the first of it all. Leave the science-splaining for the people who don’t have degrees in STEM fields, if such people can tolerate it.

216

dm 04.25.14 at 2:52 am

shah8,
Well, it is kind of important to gear the process to the potential for hazards don’t ya think. We seem to agree the hazard is low, given 10,000 years of breeding and all. Otherwise, you claim to have expertise in a relevant field of biology, but so far you have said very little else of substance beyond ranting and name calling that I can respond to, so I think we are done here.

217

Bruce Wilder 04.25.14 at 6:51 am

In the late 1930s, Frank Lloyd Wright designed a new headquarters building for S. C. Johnson & Son (aka Johnson Wax), Racine, Wisconsin. The design of the building was singular and original, a masterpiece of its genius architect: a sealed space lit from above.

The local buildings department did not know how to assess the unusual design, with its many unique features, but settled on raising strenuous objection to the slender dendriform columns, which were to hold up the roof of the “Great Workroom”. The columns, only 9 inches in diameter at the base soar to what Wright termed, a “lily pad”, 18 feet in diameter at the top. To satisfy the building inspectors, apparently unaware of the nearly infinite compressive strength of concrete, Wright was required to demonstrate that a test column could support 12 tons. Wright loaded the test column with 12 tons and continued to add weight until the column finally crashed to the ground under 60 tons, breaking a water main 30 feet underground in the process.

The design really was crap, though; the instincts of the building inspectors were not entirely wrong, just wrongly focused. The dendriform columns weren’t the problem. The philistine building inspectors had focused on the wrong problem. The problem was the roof of skylights and clerestory, made of Pyrex glass tubing, which the columns supported: it leaked like a sieve.

The political dispute — the problems of political economy right and left are arguing over — are problems of system architecture, and most acutely, problems of novel system architecture.

In systems of political economy, the architectural design of the system is a public good. The prevailing neoliberal ideology and the Friedmanite “free market economy” idealizations scarcely even acknowledge that there are institutionalized, administered systems, carefully designed and managed by experts, informed by many years of experience. Systems of traffic control and food processing safety, systems of standards for automobile design, and aircraft design, and toy design. Regulatory systems that govern who drives the trucks, and workplace safety, and what fabrics make up child’s toys.

Like all such systems, at the core is control through feedback. People learn by making mistakes, building theoretical models that allow them to recognize the nature of the mistakes, and then correcting those mistakes by constraining the system. The cost of the mistakes can be considerable, but they cannot be entirely avoided. All information is about difference, and all learning is from error.

In the 1920s, people realized that they could boost the octane of gasoline, used to power the automobiles proliferating across the U.S., with Tetraethyllead (TEL). Probably, if an expert chemist thought about it seriously and critically, he might realize that TEL was a really bad idea. Not many people have the deep technical knowledge to make such judgments. The chemist responsible for TEL, Thomas Midgley, Jr., also gave the world the freon that punched a hole in the ozone layer nearly wiping out life on earth, so you can see good judgement and technical expertise do not correlate perfectly. TEL happened to be uniquely profitable to some very powerful patent holders — thank you, Intellectual Property law. Anyway, as the use of gasoline containing TEL increased, the U.S. gave itself a serious dose of lead poisoning.

From the beginning in the 1920s, there were some very serious public health questions raised. But, most of the “science” was funded by the lead industry. The rest of the story is sadly predictable. The industry lied, fought regulation, slandered responsible scientists, etc. I won’t repeat it in detail.

That science figured it out and pressed for a ban on lead in gasoline and other products, like housepaint, depended on the existence of public investment in scientific research. Private research funding was predictably corrupted. Some heroic individuals figure in the story. And, some of the research was not particularly “directed”. The guy, who discovered just how high lead levels were in the general environment was trying to calculate the age of the earth, based on the principle that uranium deteriorates into lead, and his laboratory measurements of lead were contaminated. Meanwhile, criminologists studying the crime wave that began in the 1960s missed lead, and seriously misconstrued the implications of juvenile delinquency; the U.S. incarceration rate is absurd.

All of this is a long, woolly story endorsing what shah8 has been saying: it’s about the system that’s developed.

The problem of tu quoque and supposed ignorance or denial of science is misdirection. I think what divides right from left on these issues is appreciation of the public good and authority in service of the public good.

The right is ultimately trying to legitimate profiting at the public expense, privatizing profit and socializing losses, and externalizing costs and risks onto the politically powerless.

Part of the ideological fog obscuring their agenda is the nonsense of Friedmanite “free market economics”, which minimizes, when it doesn’t completely ignore, the role of public good regulatory systems in making the economy work.

218

J Thomas 04.25.14 at 7:00 am

How did it happen that dm and shah8 who mostly agree on the issues, wound up with insults?

It’s kind of abstruse. The NAS quote was entirely about the chance that GM or other changed foods would be poisonous. This is not the only danger we should consider.

dm pointed out that you can wind up with poisons from other methods, and he’s right. Like, a plant could have a gene that creates a poison and the gene could be normally suppressed. But standard mutagenesis could knock out the suppression so the gene gets expressed. The same could happen from a cross. One parent has an inactive gene that results in a poison, the other parent has a working activator.

This sort of thing might be more likely from a cross than from a GM attempt to transfer just a few genes.

There’s a big can of worms connected to this. How do you know that any given vegetable has no poisons? It probably does. We have a long list of known poisons, that people have been poisoned by. For example, wheat crops used to regularly be infested with cornflowers whose seeds were harvested with the wheat and which made a poison. In the old days everybody knew the taste of that poison in their bread and they tried to avoid it. When chemistry got good enough they identified at least one of the poisons.

How many poisons have never yet been identified because people haven’t eaten enough of them to get them studied? Some plant poisons are insecticides. If they’re effective at a concentration that mostly doesn’t cause human symptoms, what’s the harm?

How much would it cost to prove that a particular plant is not unhealthy to eat? Pretty much.

And remember those people who talk about organic tomatoes that have so much flavor? They are producing a bunch of new chemicals in response to organic challenges. Are any of them poisonous? Can somebody afford to pay to find out?

There’s a lot of interesting stuff there, and interesting research about unexpected results from crosses. It doesn’t add up to a claim that traditional plant breeding is as dangerous as GMO stuff. It implies a possibility that traditional breeding could possibly give us worse results than GMO stuff occasionally.

I don’t see anything wrong with this. But shah8 got offended. Why? The NAS made a misleading quote by considering only the possibility that GMO organisms might have new poisons. Anything that sounds like a defense of that is probably bad. Also, traditional breeding is unlikely to create a catastrophe by this particular method. If you breed a new vegetable and it poisons people enough to notice, then people will stop eating it. Damage done, catastrophe averted.

I can’t tell for sure whether shah8′s own biological expertise made dm’s reasonable claims seem unlikely. But I’m pretty sure that it sounded to him as if dm was trying to make the NAS claims look somehow legitimate, and that it looked like a defense of sloppy unregulated commercial GMO stuff.

It bothers me. Two people who each have some expertise and who agree about the basic issue, and they can’t get along.

Meanwhile Captain Moonlight says we should just let businessmen sell absolutely anything they want to sell, and each individual customer will decide which products are in his individual self interest to buy, and there’s no need for any caution….

219

Captain Moonlight 04.25.14 at 9:02 am

J THomas says: “Captain Moonlight, I don’t really have a sense of who you are, so tell me — do you believe evolution happens?”

I’m from Oz, JT and I’m a left wing pro-science atheist. I detest science deniers including John Quiggin’s version of lukewarmism. Science isn’t perfect but it sure beats the ignorant and fearful mob, including the one assembled here.

America is the only western country where Creationism etc are taken seriously by all but a fringe. For whatever reason, Americans are 50 years behind the rest of us. Come on mate, it’s time to put away childish things and catch up.

220

reason 04.25.14 at 9:02 am

BW @217
Bruce, I’m not sure exactly what you are trying to say here. I don’t think anyone is saying that the attitute to science is the only difference between the left and right. Or even that the left never have ambivalent attitutes to science. Just that at the moment, the right seem to have completely abandoned any respect for science as a way forward at all.

I agree entirely about the corruption of science by moneyed interests, and IP in particular. That is a totally different discussion, and I don’t think many people on either side appreciate it’s seriousness. Basically, the morality that makes science work (openness and concern mainly for truth) just are not compatible with competitive financial interests (which will inevitably push secretiveness and a concern only for financial value). But this shouldn’t be a partisan discussion, as you point out, because this is a systems issue. “Free market” economics also only works with complete information transparency. Killing open science will kill the golden goose.

221

Captain Moonlight 04.25.14 at 10:16 am

J THomas @ 218 says: “Meanwhile Captain Moonlight says we should just let businessmen sell absolutely anything they want to sell, and each individual customer will decide which products are in his individual self interest to buy, and there’s no need for any caution”.

Nope. I think it is easy to create an irrational climate of fear and the public is very easily spooked. When you also have vested interests, like an American organic food industry with $30 billion in annual sales and growing at 10% per year, there is a huge incentive to demonise the alternatives.

My preference for public policy making re agriculture and food safety would be a form of subsidiarity with techocratic characteristics, with farmers, industry and university and public sector scientists running the show.

222

J Thomas 04.25.14 at 12:42 pm

Thank you, Captain Moonlight. I had gotten a distorted idea of your positions by reading your comments.

“I have a really radical idea: how about we trust farmers to decide whether they want to use traditional seeds, new hybrid seeds, mutagenic seeds, genetically engineered seeds without undue and ill-informed interference from clueless busy bodies.”

See, I wanted to extrapolate from that to trust all customers to decide what products to let businessmen sell them, with no interference from people you think are clueless. This is a position of the US right, the argument is that people are rational and should be allowed to make whatever trades they prefer with no regulation by government since if it wasn’t good for them they wouldn’t do it.

But you are saying something else. Now it sounds like you are saying that the public gets irrational scares, so we should let the big agricultural supply companies and the big agribusinesses they sell to decide what to do, and also consult university and government scientists, and don’t give the public a choice about what they eat.

I think the public should get a choice.

But apart from that, I like your idea except I think it’s impractical while the corporations involved are so large and powerful. Even if officially the government and university scientists were the only ones who decided, still in practice the businesses would have too much influence.

I think your idea would be fine provided we made some changes in the economy to keep things from being too unbalanced. My suggestion is that any time a corporation employs more than 500 people or has a cash-flow of more than $200 million, the company must split into two separate companies within one year. If we kept corporations small and competitive, that would be fairer in a number of ways.

Also, the patent system is bad for food and medicine etc, because it requires that the testing has to happen too fast. If commercialization takes too long the patents become worthless. So we need an alternative way to encourage innovation. I’m open to suggestions how to do that.

223

Captain Moonlight 04.25.14 at 1:52 pm

J Thomas says: “I think the public should get a choice.”

The public can buy organic. Did you miss the bit where I said organic food is a $30 billion industry in the US alone? Unfortunately the public is hopelessly irrational, hence the recent permeate milk scare in Oz, the prevalence of silly ideas about GM food and the prevalence of sky fairy fantasies.

Personally I prefer my food, medicine and transport to be designed by people who know stuff. Marj and Harold from the local Community Network of Concerned Citizens may be lovely folk, but I don’t want them designing the jet I fly when I go on a holiday. I also don’t want Matilda or Beryl from the Parent-Teacher Association designing the science course in my kid’s school. And I certainly don’t want wide-eyed types like Bruce Wilder (see @ 112 above) running the school vaccination program.

I guess you can call me elitist.

224

dm 04.25.14 at 2:07 pm

Bruce Wilder,
I have no problem with your summation. You evidently understand shah8 better than I. To deny that any system including processes that have worked more or less reliably for 10,000 years can produce bad outcomes is a failure of the imagination. We are pushing both the conventional and GM channels pretty hard right now, but we also are evolving much better tools for identifying problems. My expectation is that GM technology is much more likely to fail under its own weight rather than due an ecological catastrophe – so, relatively speaking that makes me an optimist. (Sort of like Frank Lloyd Wright’s column but without puncturing the water main.) The big pharma model isn’t going to work in agriculture – I’m not sure that it’s still working in pharma. That suing farmers on IP reach-through rights is really, really stupid should be obvious to anyone. Which is a shame because the technology can have a positive impact. Maybe it needs to fail under the current model before it can be eventually be resuscitated in a more useful form.

225

J Thomas 04.25.14 at 2:26 pm

J Thomas says: “I think the public should get a choice.”

“The public can buy organic.”

But in the USA for some time the public could not legally buy food that was labelled as non-GMO. Because they are hopelessly irrational and might choose to avoid GMO food if they had the choice?

“And I certainly don’t want wide-eyed types like Bruce Wilder (see @ 112 above) running the school vaccination program.”

He has a point. Our immunization programs have multiplied and the costs have gone up. Wasn’t there a case where millions of people got exposed to the same (maybe harmless) virus because one facility was responsible for too many doses, and their cell culture was contaminated…. If that was less centralized, we would have more accidents but smaller accidents. In biological situations where an organism can exploit on a big scale if it happens to be adapted to exploit one niche which gets repeated over and over…. We do better to have many varying immunizations than just one.Even though the result may not be as good as using only the best, the risk of catastrophe is reduced.

226

The Temporary Name 04.25.14 at 2:50 pm

Science isn’t perfect but it sure beats the ignorant and fearful mob, including the one assembled here.

Thanks!

227

TM 04.25.14 at 3:04 pm

Interesting points BW 217. I would like to get us more to talk about “system architecture” rather than design details.

228

Bloix 04.25.14 at 4:00 pm

#219- “Come on mate, it’s time to put away childish things and catch up.”

March 27, 2014:

“Rich suburbs have low immunisation rates, research shows

Affluent suburbs in Sydney’s north, inner west and east have some of the lowest childhood immunisation rates in Australia, new research shows.

Doctors say they are struggling to fight misinformation from anti-vaccine groups…

”One of the things we are battling is parents who are worried because they’ve been influenced by vaccination sceptics…”

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/national/health/rich-suburbs-have-low-immunisation-rates-research-shows-20140326-35iy3.html#ixzz2zuiOuIhE

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The Temporary Name 04.25.14 at 4:18 pm

230

J Thomas 04.25.14 at 4:59 pm

#217

Like all such systems, at the core is control through feedback. People learn by making mistakes, building theoretical models that allow them to recognize the nature of the mistakes, and then correcting those mistakes by constraining the system. The cost of the mistakes can be considerable, but they cannot be entirely avoided. All information is about difference, and all learning is from error.

So we get coadapted solutions, where each part builds on the particulars of each other part. If you use standard parts to build a standard house, it will probably all work together. If you buy a standard part and it doesn’t behave in standard ways you have reason to demand your money back and maybe sue for damages. If like Wright you use a collection of nonstandard methods, you’ll be lucky if they all work out together.

So we have one giant coadapted system, and any small change is likely to make it run worse. To improve things we’d need a lot of coordinated changes that all work together.

But the people it runs especially well for don’t want any changes except the ones they do want.

I’m not sure where to go from there. If you want something that isn’t standard, how much extra do you have to pay for it because it won’t run as well as the stuff that’s had a while to coadapt? If you want to change the bigger system, how do you get permission to do that? How do you keep other people from changing it in unproductive directions while you make your own changes?

It might be good to have a game kind of like Sims where you make fundamental changes in society and watch the consequences, and play with tweaking them into something that works in simulation. As you get a better sense of the pivots you could learn better and more fundamental ways for the system to respond to your tweaks, things that seem to you more realistic, and program those in. People who want to think about such things could easier develop a common language and sets of assumptions about what they’re doing….

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Anarcissie 04.25.14 at 5:05 pm

Bloix 04.25.14 at 4:00 pm @ 228 — It’s hard to know what to do, given the well-known desire of the medical industry to run up income by overmedicating, the ability of the moneyed to bend science (or ‘science’) to their will, and the tendency of capitalists to increase profits by cutting the cost of product quality, especially when that quality is invisible.

232

J Thomas 04.25.14 at 5:05 pm

#229 You look at government requirements for homeopathic medicine.

I’m not certain what your point is, but notice that in some contexts homeopaths provide a fine control group.

If you look at health results for other MDs, and compare to health results for homeopaths, you can figure that the difference is the actual outcome of conventional medicine. If that difference is not very large then something is very wrong….

233

Bruce Wilder 04.25.14 at 5:57 pm

reason: I’m not sure exactly what you are trying to say here.

I’ve been struggling to express some of these ideas for a while, and I haven’t mastered my own argument, yet. I am arguing for a different set of connections between ideas introduced in the OP and subsequent thread.

First, re: political division by ideological worldview. The whole business about contemporary conservatism entailing “anti-science” views seems like an unnecessary curlicue, that obscures more than it reveals, by bringing in the psychology of tribalism, etc. I think Kahan is an a*hole, but his work suggests that the current, most active conservatism is ideologically conservative libertarian in outlook, which is to say, anti-public-good, and opposed to a “communitarian” left, which is pro-public good. Rather than get distracted into a discussion about who is most realistic about science or scientism, I think it would be better to cut to the chase, and argue the political economy of public good v private good, rather than the finer technical points of a particular body of science. Quiggin’s gambit is to write off conservative libertarians, who are not lying about their selfish or pro-plutocrat views, as illegitimate for not justifying their proposals in terms of a general welfare or public good, and then write them off again, when they lie about the science.

I think American politics is trapped in the straight-jacket of a neoliberal v. conservative libertarian dialectic, which no one sincerely believed-in to begin with, and which is now nothing but an empty ritualized language, but, unfortunately the only framework for our discourse. Behind that dialectic is the living-dead neoclassical economics of the “market economy”, every foundational assumption of which is a lie, beginning with the cliche, “market economy”.

The language of “market economics” makes it hard to have a discussion, which fully recognizes the importance of hierarchy, regulation and authority, particularly the public good hierarchy, regulation and authority that forms the essential architecture of a well-functioning political economy. “Science”, I think, stands for that public good hierarchy, authority and regulation, in this discussion, but the discussion is not (or shouldn’t be) about the technics of science — the discussion should be about the political economy of providing adequately public goods of hierarchy, authority and regulation. Many of the private corporations on the other side, so to speak, in this political struggle are among the most oriented to science organizations in society; the problem is that the private science of Exxon-Mobil or Monsanto (or tetraethyllead in my parable) is necessarily opposed to the public good of science, we need to constrain private interests.

Captain Moonlight, god bless him, has been providing a greek chorus reciting the litany of “market economy”, lest we forget the blind and wilful nature of civilization’s self-destructive tragedy-in-the-making. In his telling, it’s all Friedmanite “Free to Choose” in a Hayekian economy coordinated sufficiently, even optimally, by price. Irish potato farmers know all they need to know, to optimally allow Monsanto to design our agriculture for us. dm gazes over a 10,000 year history of famine and blight, drought, depletion of fertility and soil erosion, and echoes alfred e neuman: Wot — me worry?

I’m saying it doesn’t work that way. It has never worked that way. I’m saying that Piketty’s documented increasing inequality and r > g is our politics permitting private interests to eat the public good infrastructure of the economy alive. We are disinvesting madly, and our dysfunctional systems could, literally, compound overpopulation, global warming, peak oil, etc., and, if not exactly do us in, cause great human suffering. (already happening)

I am saying our political economy requires abundant provision of public goods, including science and education and, yes, regulatory oversight of system architecture, to function effectively. I am saying the economy is not primarily or even importantly organized by markets, and people, who insist on talking that way are liars, who should be called out on their lies. If that means shoveling the whole economics profession into a 21st century grave, I say, start digging. We need to break out of the neoliberal-libertarian dialectic, which keeps us talking past each other about things that don’t matter, and non-solutions. I am saying the economy is organized around technical control hierarchies, coordinated in elaborate systems, which require considerable investment in public good infrastructure and administration.

Saying that conservatives are anti-science or that people trying to raise alarms about GMO, vaccines, climate change or whatever are anti-science misses the point in different ways. The conservative libertarians are anti-public-good, in part because they have bought into an faulty economics, and in part because they represent one end of a spectrum of legitimate ambivalence about authority, public v private good, etc. The hysterics of the left are having a hard time finding a realistic imaginative vision and even language to express their often legitimate concerns, which also often include concerns about, and hostility to authority. (It would really be useful if academic political economics could say something useful about 80% of economic organization, so people had a common language and framework.) In my Wright parable, they are like the building department facing a architectural design they don’t understand, and not identifying the actual fault. The first step is to recognize that the architecture of the system is the problem, not the possibility of science creating frankensteins along the lines of a Hollywood b-movie script. I thought shah8 did a commendable job of making that case, and against getting distracted with pseudo-science techno-babble, as he put it.

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The Temporary Name 04.25.14 at 6:12 pm

#229 You look at government requirements for homeopathic medicine.

I’m not certain what your point is, but notice that in some contexts homeopaths provide a fine control group.

Entirely tu quoque for Captain Midnight’s benefit.

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dm 04.25.14 at 6:23 pm

dm gazes over a 10,000 year history of famine and blight, drought, depletion of fertility and soil erosion, and echoes alfred e neuman: Wot — me worry?

High praise! (I’m actually more of Zaphod Beeblbrox, but better looking)
Sure, you can piously proclaim that agriculture is worst ecological catastrophe since the evolution of oxygen evolving photosynthesis, but what does that gain you but a bit frivolous frisson. That makes you just another narcissistic twit spewing self-satisfied bullshit – your horseshit isn’t going to feed 9-billion, but hey that’s not your problem, you’re just wanking for the applause. Neither you nor shah8 would recognize pseudo-science techno-babble from horseshit. You imagine that you are operating at some higher level conceptual level. (shah8 can’t string two phrases together to make a sentence). The implementation details matter, they have always mattered. If you can’t be bothered with those details, the math, the data and background needed for interpretation, do the rest of us a favor and shut up – or write fantasy fiction.

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dm 04.25.14 at 7:03 pm

Bruce Wilder
One other thing, if you had bothered to read our exchange at all carefully, you might have noticed that it was shah8 that assured us that we need not worry about breeding because its been going on for 10k years – not me. But then that’s a detail that doesn’t fit into your wonderfully self-righteous narrative, so feel free to ignore it (wouldn’t want to spoil it with data).

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roy belmont 04.25.14 at 7:23 pm

Ah, fantasy fiction! Okay! Yes!

BWilder:
“…our politics permitting private interests to eat the public good infrastructure of the economy alive…”

That’s a really nice phrase there.
Moonlight’s brand of scorn and derision were starkly prominent back in the US evolution wars. I learned a lot from that.
I don’t like scorn, contempt, derision, for personal reasons.
If you look through the dust of battle, what both sides in that pseudo-conflict carried with them is the refusal to allow “evolution” to do anything but what it’s told. By humans.
Still the main philosophy, even here.
Evolution is bad unless we’re in control of it. And the goal of that control is fixated entirely on the immediate.
“Think of the lives we’re saving, feeding, making comfortable.” And its inverse.
That’s the moral impetus.
It’s an emotional position, not a rational one. And it is not at all realistic.
The vaccine/GMO/name it disputes operate there.
___

CapnMlight:
“I guess you can call me elitist.”
How about, instead, a continuation of the autism spectrum out past Aspberger’s toward a still-unrecognized high-function-but-missing-parts-other-humans-think-are-central-to-being-human? Probably that would sound better in a foreign language.
You’re a “leftist” only because the right has vaulted wholesale into absurdity, pulling the center with it.

“sky fairy fantasies”
I like this expression very much, because it exposes the nasty arrogant refusal to wonder on the part of the speaker.
Where else but “the sky” could something non-human be, except on the surface of the earth, or under it?
And your arrogant over-confident view precludes anything but the human having any conscious existence, except maybe some theoretical human-analogs on a theoretical earth-analog planet yet to be “discovered”.
So any positing about non-human beings perforce would locate them “above” in “the sky”.
Which is a purely subjective direction, since beyond the context of gravitational reach, say a few dozen miles from sea level, “up” and “down” lose any utility whatsoever.

Fantasy fiction extrapolates:
Given enough time and a clear runway you guys will frack the sun.

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shah8 04.25.14 at 8:06 pm

Alright, let’s see if I can’t pop this little bad faith commentator’s game:

The issue of GMO vs non-GMO intervention as a matter of public perception, public health, and regulation/tradition…is NOT analogous to the issue of pharmaceutical products vs herbal remedies.

This little disingenuous game of talking about toxins is a distraction. Jamaicans have, and will continue to eat akees. We eat new varieties of mangos all the time, despite the fact that a new breed could totally turn into poison ivy. When we find out that soursop juice, if drunk too often, will eventually give you Parkinsons, people find out and adjust their intake. Most of the plants that we use are extremely domesticated and are extremely unlikely to sprout ancient toxins hidden in the genome, not by breeding, not by mutagenesis. Not even by GMOs, which primary risks upon consumption are allergic reactions to potential byproducts. Not to mention people being very sensitive to “off tastes” and bitterness. Agricultural disasters don’t come from new varieties that turn out to be Frankenstein’s Monster in disguise. Agricultural/food disasters comes from bad practices like the abuse of soil in the Great Plains before and during the Dust Bowl. Like high frequency trading, the institutional incentives surrounding gmos push towards the stabilization of bad corporate agricultural practices, like the abuse of glycophosphate in monoculture. Or attempting to become a monopoly across the various faces of agriculture via IP and technical barriers.

The abuse of potatoes, as a technological innovation, is what killed lots of Irish people. Potatoes are highly nutritious, despite the toxins in the spuds. That’s not the issue. Potatoes made agricultural exploitation and export more *viable*. Stuff like Golden Rice today, are just a repetitive farce. We don’t really need GMO rice with a bit of beta-carotene. That’s fucking insane. We need GMO coconuts, citrus, wheat, avocados, you could name a lot of serious crop issues…We need them so that they could be resistant to devastating agricultural diseases, expand their growing possibilities to previously unsuitable land/climate, etc–especially if the genome isn’t deep enough for us to cross back with hardier versions (because, like, we cut down that forest to build another mall for “rich” people). The problem is, that either it won’t make very much money for ag corps, or that the task is exceedingly difficult, and beyond our technical capabilities right now (at a profit). Genetic modification is extremely crude right now, which is why we haven’t seen it supercede other methods of creating serious new crops.

and of course, dm will probably retort with some other inane response involving out-of-context risks and more condescending science-blather, but who’s listening to him…gotta be a him?

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The Temporary Name 04.25.14 at 8:29 pm

I’m not a GMO fan but I don’t see that dm is arguing in bad faith: he’s just speaking more about the product than the process.

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John Quiggin 04.25.14 at 8:31 pm

Captain M, your position now appears totally incoherent. You deplore the permeate “scare”, but this episode didn’t involve any regulation at all, and hardly anything in the way of specific health claims. Milk companies had found a way of making milk with given proportions of fat etc that was a tiny bit cheaper but involved separating the components and recombining them at a later stage. Other milk companies, aided by silly media, found a marketing edge by saying they didn’t do this, and that their product was therefore more natural. This kind of thing is part and parcel of capitalism – every product under the sun is marketed with special ingredients that make no objective difference. So, if consumers care, or can be persuaded to care, about GM-free food, why are you getting all upset about it?

You can eat what you wan, (or at least, I’m not in favor of stopping you by banning GM foods. Nor is the “lukewarm” ALP policy you now claim to deplore, having initially claimed it is only the Greens whose policies are unacceptable.

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J Thomas 04.25.14 at 9:52 pm

Bruce Wilder, I like your #233 a *lot*.

The whole business about contemporary conservatism entailing “anti-science” views seems like an unnecessary curlicue, that obscures more than it reveals, by bringing in the psychology of tribalism, etc.

Because of the psychology of tribalism, it makes sense that liberals who like science would say that conservatives are anti-science. Science is good and conservatives are bad, so conservatives are against science. QED. And of course it follows that conservatives who think they like science would then argue that liberals don’t like science either. It isn’t an argument about tribalism, it’s a result of tribalism. Independent of the degree of truth to it.

I think American politics is trapped in the straight-jacket of a neoliberal v. conservative libertarian dialectic

Yes! And to break out of that, we must break out of it. Start discussing things in some other way, with whoever will discuss it in those terms, and build momentum until the old ways seem quaint. Isn’t that how it works, the only way it works? We can’t shame people into giving up their empty forms. Some old people will prefer their old language until they die, simply because it’s familiar like comfy old houseshoes.

I prefer to think in terms of ecological goals, because maintaining biomes that will support us is part of our minimum requirement. Somehow people interpret that as me wanting the government to control people. They assume that I assume they will try to tear up their own environments out of sheer perversity, and I need the government to make them do what I want instead of what they want. But to me that’s a side issue.

Behind that dialectic is the living-dead neoclassical economics of the “market economy”, every foundational assumption of which is a lie, beginning with the cliche, “market economy”.

Yes! But we can’t expect people to give up their language for us. So we must look for ways to translate into their language. It might be a robust enough language to allow lots of things to be translated into it.

Here is something I want to promote: We don’t want to have businesses that are TBTF, and we want free markets that will be competitive. Government should be a referee in the game of business, and not much of a participant, but the rules that government should enforce should be simple and clear since government may tend to not be a particularly good referee. So I say that one simple, clear, valuable rule is that no one corporation should get too big. When a corporation gets too big — either in number of employees or cash flow — it should have to split into two corporations.

There are many advantages to this. With more businesses we get more competition. We get more market and less command-by-corporate-bureaucracy. A company which has doubled in size because it does something right, probably knows how to grow from half its size to its full size once more. But if it grows from its current size to double its size it is in new territory, doing something new, maybe approaching its Peter-Principle stall.

All that is left is to choose the maximum sizes. This is not simple if we try to decide the right size for every business. But we can do a lot of good by setting global maxima and splitting up the biggest companies first.

Say that the USA first sets the maximum number of employees at 2 million. Walmart splits in two. Then we set the maximum at 1 million. Walmart splits into four. Then we set it at 500,000. Walmart splits into eight. Then we set it at 250,000. Walmart splits into 16, and IBM, McDonalds, Target, Hewlett-Packard, Kroger, UPS, GE, Pepsi, Sears, BOA, Berkshire-Hathaway, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, YUM Brands, Home Depot, JP Morgan, AT&T, and FedEx split once. We can start breaking up the biggest companies that definitely don’t need to be that big. We can decide later when to stop splitting up the biggest companies.

The language of “market economics” makes it hard to have a discussion, which fully recognizes the importance of hierarchy, regulation and authority, particularly the public good hierarchy, regulation and authority that forms the essential architecture of a well-functioning political economy.

Start that discussion, using whatever pastiche of a language you need. Then people who insist on using only the old language cannot join the discussion. They can only say that there is nothing to discuss, that you are evil for wanting hierarchy and regulation, etc.

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Donald Johnson 04.25.14 at 10:14 pm

I can usually tell why people hate each other in any given thread, but this one has me stumped.

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Bruce Wilder 04.25.14 at 10:14 pm

roy belmont @ 237

Evolution is bad unless we’re in control of it. And the goal of that control is fixated entirely on the immediate. . . .“Think of the lives we’re saving, feeding, making comfortable.” And its inverse. . . . That’s the moral impetus. It’s an emotional position, not a rational one. And it is not at all realistic.

There’s a strong preservationist impulse, animating both left and right, which does not want to come to terms with some of the hard, long-term . . . constraints is the only word I can come up with at this moment, for natural and social limits. And, yes, that preservationist ethic is very much connected with short-term, linear thinking, or thinking that ignores the dynamic system. It’s not anti-science, per se, and I wouldn’t say it reflects symmetry between left and right, so much as a common commitment to stupid.

I am convinced that conventional mainstream economics, in its myriad deficiencies, contributes to the syndrome, by making what passes for rational thought such a nullity. Tom Murphy’s famous blog essay, Exponential Economist Meets Finite Physicist was an eye-opener to me.

I don’t know how to reach dm, let along Captain Moonlight.

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Captain Moonlight 04.25.14 at 10:17 pm

Prof Quiggin,

I thought the permeate alarm was a case of shock jock style commercial media alarmism manipulating the public into being worried about permeate and the milk companies being forced to dump it but making the most of a bad situation by advertising their milk as permeate free.

The state ALP branches are very unlikely to invoke the wrath of farmers by re-instituting the bans on GM crops when they are eventually returned to office (currently they only hold one state- SA). The Australian Greens opposition to GM crops goes to the very core of what the party is about and is unalterable.

The federal ALP has been more permissive that its state counterparts. Here is a link to Joe Ludwig speaking last year when the ALP was still in government and he was the Agriculture Minister. http://www.stockjournal.com.au/news/agriculture/cropping/general-news/gms-supported-ludwig/2649508.aspx

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Bruce Wilder 04.25.14 at 10:21 pm

J Thomas:

“Science is good and conservatives are bad, so conservatives are against science. QED. And of course it follows that conservatives who think they like science would then argue that liberals don’t like science either. It isn’t an argument about tribalism, it’s a result of tribalism. Independent of the degree of truth to it.”

Very nice.

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Captain Moonlight 04.25.14 at 10:34 pm

John Quiggin: “So, if consumers care, or can be persuaded to care, about GM-free food, why are you getting all upset about it?”

Because public attitudes and the power of Green groups to raise scares is currently stifling a technology that has the capacity to save lives and ultimately produce better environmental outcomes (something I deeply care about, incidentally).

Interestingly, Peter Singer, a former Australian Green and a person I’ve always admired, has regained his senses on the issue. http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/peter-singer-advocates-a-case-by-case-approach-to-genetically-modified-organisms

As a result, hundreds of Green and organic industry front websites are now denouncing Peter Singer as that crazy infanticidal baby killer. It would be great if you could likewise grow a pair of balls, stop being so tribal and stand up to the anti-humanist Green nutters.

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Bruce Wilder 04.25.14 at 10:44 pm

J Thomas: Here is something I want to promote: We don’t want to have businesses that are TBTF . . .

It’s a start.

Just a handful of thoughts. There’s a lot to be said for government regulations, which are bright, dumb lines. You wouldn’t have to know how big is too big, in banking, for example, if we defined different kinds of financial institutions, and prohibited financial holding companies from owning different kinds — in other words, if we abolished so-called “universal banks”, separating brokerages from insurance companies from investment banks from commercial banks from thrifts from loan sharks. We could limit commercial banks to doing business in only one of several overlapping regions — a partial revival of rules against interstate banking.

It would help I think, if economists knew that banks are hierarchies, which underwrite credit, and when they get the underwriting wrong, that’s dysfunctional. (It can cause a housing bubble!) The present enthusiasm for the magic of efficient markets as a substitute for the routinized professional assessments of human beings with access to the books and familiarity with local economic conditions is a disease of TBTF, but also of the decrepit state of economics.

Anyway, I could rant indefinitely — the only point, really, is that reasonable people can spin out a lot of sensible analysis and assessment and even the beginning of an outline for policy, if they leave aside the nonsense of canonical market failures and free market rah-rah cheerleading. Economics, itself, has lots of useful insights, once you give up the search for insights from toy models and reinforcement of adolescent ideologies, and undertake the sometimes hard work of understanding how the actual system operates, what business processes are, etc.

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John Quiggin 04.25.14 at 11:07 pm

I’m mystifed, Captain M. You quote Ludwig, whose position is identical to mine, and Singer, ditto as far as I can tell, with approval, but repeatedly describe the same views as lukewarmer (ie denialist) when I express them. What gives?

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J Thomas 04.25.14 at 11:23 pm

#233

I am saying our political economy requires abundant provision of public goods, including science and education and, yes, regulatory oversight of system architecture, to function effectively.

Yes. How can we manage that?

I am saying the economy is not primarily or even importantly organized by markets, and people, who insist on talking that way are liars, who should be called out on their lies.

I’m not sure that’s useful. I predict the result is mostly more tribalism. You call them liars, they call you a liar, where does it go from there?

To a large extent they will agree that the economy is not organized by markets *enough*, and they will argue that it should be more market and less hierarchy. If you argue that won’t work, how do we decide who’s right? Science? But science depends on people doing their experiments and observations in good faith, and we don’t expect that from people we call liars.

So here’s a point of view you disagree with, how do you handle it? If your approach is to argue against it until it goes away, maybe you will have fun in a very long rumpus. I don’t think that is a good way to get it to go away.

I suggest instead invite them to the party. Look for ways to arrange lots of stuff like regulatory oversight of the system — with some sort of market structure. Look for ways to create market structures that actually work. Do research on ways to get markets to work. Look at examples of market failures with an attitude of finding alternative market structures that would not fail that way. You aren’t trying to prove it can’t work, you’re trying to find ways to make it work.

Expose faulty reasoning with the intention to create better reasoning. Like, prediction markets are designed to solve one simultaneous equation in two variables. When it doesn’t matter what the predictions are, someone who knows what will happen can make money betting against people who don’t know what will happen, and the prediction will improve. But when people care more about influencing the predictions than about winning the bets, they can falsify the predictions fairly cheaply. Prediction markets tend to give honest predictions as long as nobody particularly cares what they predict, but they get falsified when they matter. The reasoning is faulty. If you argue they are bad then you are the enemy who will be ignored, but if you look for ways to fix them, maybe you can get some leverage.

Markets are fundamentally anti-hierarchy, in principle if not in practice. Anybody who can persuade people he has a better product can get the sales. If we have technical elites who make decisions that might be wrong and there’s no appeal, that’s bad.

But how can we set up a free market in truth? People usually aren’t in the market for truth. I have a sad story of a MD in a university hospital who was sure his experiment proved his pet hypothesis. But the statistician disagreed. So he went down the hall to other statisticians, looking for a second opinion, and a third opinion, and a fourth opinion…. Finally he hired his own statistician. And when his own hireling told him the truth he fired her…. A free market in scientific results would take something special. I don’t know how to do it just now. But it would be valuable if we could make it work.

The conservative libertarians are anti-public-good, in part because they have bought into an faulty economics, and in part because they represent one end of a spectrum of legitimate ambivalence about authority, public v private good, etc. The hysterics of the left are having a hard time finding a realistic imaginative vision and even language to express their often legitimate concerns, which also often include concerns about, and hostility to authority.

Yes! We need a way for authorities to be judged by results. “By their fruits you shall know them.” It would need to be transparent and fair. I don’t know how to do it. But people are hostile to authority partly because they don’t trust its legitimacy. Better to have clear rules about that, which most people agree to.

The first step is to recognize that the architecture of the system is the problem, not the possibility of science creating frankensteins along the lines of a Hollywood b-movie script. I thought shah8 did a commendable job of making that case, and against getting distracted with pseudo-science techno-babble, as he put it.

I see! Looking back, dm continually focussed on poisons, and the probably small but unknown possibility of getting new poisons by traditional methods versus the probably small but unknown possibility of getting new poisons by GM. I thought he was technically correct in what he said, but he ignored the rest of the picture.

I think shah8 was only barely adequate at making his case. Each time dm ignored shah8′s points and came back with more poison talk, shah8 spent the major part of his time arguing dm’s points. He talked some about the bigger picture of badly regulated GM, which dm each time ignored. Probably the better approach by the second or third time around is to concentrate on the important part and ignore the distraction completely. Don’t even criticize it as technobabble, just ignore it. Spectators can decide which part of the discussion is more important.

When shah8 argued against dm’s technical points in ways I thought were not correct, I paid attention to that even though I didn’t see why dm cared so much about those points. It’s an interesting side issue, and it can make the NAS position look like it isn’t completely unreasonable, but so what? If shah8 had stuck to what he thought was important and not made flawed arguments about a side issue, I would have paid more attention to his main point and to dm’s ignoring it. I’m not saying I did the right thing, or that I was justified, only that it’s better to encourage third parties to do the right thing than to help distract them.

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roy belmont 04.25.14 at 11:34 pm

Donald Johnson:

It’s about the abuse of potatoes.

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Cranky Observer 04.25.14 at 11:37 pm

= = = J Thomas 04.25.14 at 11:23 pm : I suggest instead invite them to the party. Look for ways to arrange lots of stuff like regulatory oversight of the system — with some sort of market structure. Look for ways to create market structures that actually work. Do research on ways to get markets to work. Look at examples of market failures with an attitude of finding alternative market structures that would not fail that way. You aren’t trying to prove it can’t work, you’re trying to find ways to make it work.= = =

That is exactly the process that was proposed for the US [1] provision-of-electricity industry in the late 1980s, and implemented with various “market reform” acts beginning in 1994. The results have been very poor for everyone – except those who have worked themselves to the top ranks of ‘unregulated’ entities. However it is now not only impossible to reverse any of the changes that haven’t worked but intervenors are literally forbidden from making ‘non-market’ arguments in front of the FERC and its associated bodies. Evidence describing fundamental market failures is discarded; suggestions that regulation be reinstated in specific areas are disallowed. Insistence on pointing out market failures is met with calls to create more (and more complex) ‘markets’ to address the failures.

So… I see the one-way lobster trap and the concentrated benefits for specific entities and persons. I don’t see the rational process of evaluating outcomes that the system you describe requires, nor how such an evaluation process could be created given the incentives.

Hoping I’m wrong.

Cranky

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roy belmont 04.25.14 at 11:54 pm

Just curious, as a non-academic non-scientist, as to where on the timeline of the last century the burning of fossil fuels were subject to a “process of evaluated outcome”.
What that looked like when/if it happened.
And if it didn’t, considering the real-world outcome and its unfolding consequences, how much confidence are we, non-scientists/academics et al, expected to have in a “process of evaluated outcome.”

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shah8 04.26.14 at 12:07 am

J Thomas, you can always pipe up yourself, and put some focus on the “important” parts that were being neglected. More than that I’d at least like to know where I’m incorrect.

I’ve never allowed myself the idea that I was ever a nimble and precise thinker. Scattershot is what I do, unless write and rewrite, etc.

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J Thomas 04.26.14 at 12:10 am

You wouldn’t have to know how big is too big, in banking, for example, if we defined different kinds of financial institutions, and prohibited financial holding companies from owning different kinds — in other words, if we abolished so-called “universal banks”, separating brokerages from insurance companies from investment banks from commercial banks from thrifts from loan sharks. We could limit commercial banks to doing business in only one of several overlapping regions — a partial revival of rules against interstate banking.

The US banking system is entwined in the economy to the point that I doubt anybody understands how it works, or is competent to change it to something that would be sure to work as well or better. They can pretty much hold the world hostage. They themselves don’t understand how the system works, and nobody else knows as much about it as they do because so much of what they do is secret.

Almost all the money in circulation was at one point loaned to somebody. Almost every dollar in your bank account was created by a bank when it loaned money to somebody, and it will disappear when the loan is paid off but by that time a new loan will have been made which creates replacement virtual money. That seems scary when I think about it. Say the lending bank makes 2%/year on each loan, that’s basicly 2% of the money supply handed to banks, yearly, for their fine work creating money that we can exchange. Why should they get to do that? Historical reasons, and also it works as well as it works and there’s no guarantee that any replacement would work as well.

Credit card companies are even worse. They average more than 2% income for each transaction (from vendors), and they delay payment which gives them a nice float. Debit cards charge a little less. Not that much of our payments are cash any more. Is plastic money worth close to 2% of GDP?

This is pretty much established technology, smart cards excepted. Why not have the government give a free government checking account to every voter, along with a debit card? The government wouldn’t have to charge businesses 2% per transaction, they could pay for the debit cards out of regular taxes. It would be good for business.

And if banks found that any time they give somebody a loan he’s likely to immediately transfer the money to his free government account, and any time somebody spends money it’s likely to be deposited in a government account and not a bank account, that would go a long way toward banking reform.

If the private banks then crashed the economy we could blame them for it, and dissolve them, and quick look for alternatives….

… the only point, really, is that reasonable people can spin out a lot of sensible analysis and assessment and even the beginning of an outline for policy, if they leave aside the nonsense of canonical market failures and free market rah-rah cheerleading.

The problem I see is getting from here to there. We can’t know how the system currently works — that’s mostly secret. So if we think out something sensible, we can’t know what booby-traps have been set for us. Walk into a minefield and get pinned down there, and the public might not blame the guys who laid the minefield, they’re likely to blame you.

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Collin Street 04.26.14 at 12:10 am

> I suggest instead invite them to the party.

Are they excluded?

How are they excluded? Why are they excluded?

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The Temporary Name 04.26.14 at 12:11 am

Given that the post at the top is about anti-scientism it’s natural for people to assume that they’re going to argue about whether the scary GMO product will kill you vs. whether the process itself is kinda crazy, which dm acknowledges in 224, and shah8 argues for in louder style while neither seems to really have a problem with the idea that a lab can Do Good Stuff. I don’t really get the disagreements either.

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J Thomas 04.26.14 at 12:32 am

#251

That is exactly the process that was proposed for the US [1] provision-of-electricity industry in the late 1980s, and implemented with various “market reform” acts beginning in 1994. The results have been very poor for everyone – except those who have worked themselves to the top ranks of ‘unregulated’ entities.

[sigh] Yes, you’re right. Other things equal, liars can manipulate people who believe them.

To the extent that it’s people who really believe in markets, attempts to create workable markets could support them and get their support. It would take a long time to convince them, and there would be unpleasant side effects to disenfranchising them.

But to the extent it’s ruthless liars who care about nothing except getting more power for themselves, what do you do? The obvious solution is to fight them as hard as you can. They will spend whatever it takes to get the legal right to steal more, while you can spend what people will contribute for truth and justice. They will tell whatever lies they think will get them ahead, and you will probably tell the truth. It looks like a hard situation.

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shah8 04.26.14 at 12:58 am

So, there’s something about my noise…

Allow me to quote a bit from the book bending science How Special Interests corrupt public health research, chapter (9), The Are of Manipulating Public Perceptions about Credible Science :

Conclusion

Advocates have a strong incentive to frame the issues that arise in health and environmental disputes as scientific issues rather than as economic or policy questions, even when such disputes have little to do with science and everything to do with economics or ideology. Sophisticated public relations advisors know very well that the public is far more receptive to claims that an agency action is not based on “sound science” than to claims that government action to protect health and the environment costs too much. Regulatory agencies and courts also know that a controversial decision is much easier to justify if is framed as the outcome required by science, rather than merely the policy choice of an unelected judge or bureaucrat, however well grounded the decision might be in the underlying statute. As a result, many important policy disputes to which science is relevant are framed by virtually all the participants as disputes for which science is determinative.

Second, framing policy as science elevates the power of those claiming scientific expertise over other equally legitimate participants in the in the decision-making process. Science can be relevant to many critical health and environmental issues, and scientists must therefore play a role in resolving such disputes. Many of these disputes, however, are trans-scientific in nature: the critical questions can be posed of science (and therefore asked of scientists) but cannot be answered by science.
–end quote

When dm refuses to engage with the other participants in this thread away from his preferred sentiment that the best way to judge the value of gmo is through the comparable beneficence of the technology compared to established methods…When he emphasizes the nonexistence precision of genetic modification compared to alternatives (Genetics and development is about waaaaaaaaaay more than just inserting/deleting/changing a gene, not to mention the haphazard process of using gene guns, rna, or virus with payloads)…When he couldn’t be cussedly responsive at all to any of the gemaine points, like his comments at 175 vs TM at 163 and 162 preferring to argue a fact or two…

That’s when I start thinking about the quote above, and that’s how I get to thinking flavors of not.quite.appropriate.

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Captain Moonlight 04.26.14 at 1:00 am

Prof Quiggin says: “You quote Ludwig, whose position is identical to mine, and Singer, ditto as far as I can tell, with approval, but repeatedly describe the same views as lukewarmer (ie denialist) when I express them. What gives?”

Actually you are all over the shop on GM and there is a massive difference in your treatment of climate change deniers and GM scaremongers. You’ve harshly disparaged the former while largely mollycoddling the latter.

You have also said “I don’t see too much wrong with the UCS position ..” in reply to a link to this page: http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/

The UCS doesn’t call for an outright ban on GM but it is extremely negative, arguing that GM has been a badly applied and largely a failure; calling for “rigorous and conservative” regulation; playing up the safety risks; and arguing that alternatives which it calls “crop breeding” and “agroecological farm management” are superior and should be publicly funded.

A post in which you unequivocally state what you actually believe, free of weasel words that appease the tribe, would hopefully clear things up.

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J Thomas 04.26.14 at 1:17 am

“J Thomas, you can always pipe up yourself, and put some focus on the “important” parts that were being neglected. More than that I’d at least like to know where I’m incorrect.”

First, here’s the side issue that mostly wasn’t worth arguing about. dm argued that particular types of poison were more likely from things like regular interspecies hybridization than from GM. I think he’s right. You argued that they are not likely enough to worry about. That’s true, but still his limited point was right. It would probably not be worth arguing about even if he was wrong, but I think he’s right. It doesn’t affect your main point.

This little disingenuous game of talking about toxins is a distraction. Jamaicans have, and will continue to eat akees. We eat new varieties of mangos all the time, despite the fact that a new breed could totally turn into poison ivy. When we find out that soursop juice, if drunk too often, will eventually give you Parkinsons, people find out and adjust their intake. Most of the plants that we use are extremely domesticated and are extremely unlikely to sprout ancient toxins hidden in the genome, not by breeding, not by mutagenesis. Not even by GMOs, which primary risks upon consumption are allergic reactions to potential byproducts. Not to mention people being very sensitive to “off tastes” and bitterness. Agricultural disasters don’t come from new varieties that turn out to be Frankenstein’s Monster in disguise.

This is a response to the distraction. It’s mostly useless.

Agricultural/food disasters comes from bad practices like the abuse of soil in the Great Plains before and during the Dust Bowl. Like high frequency trading, the institutional incentives surrounding gmos push towards the stabilization of bad corporate agricultural practices, like the abuse of glycophosphate in monoculture. Or attempting to become a monopoly across the various faces of agriculture via IP and technical barriers.

The abuse of potatoes, as a technological innovation, is what killed lots of Irish people. Potatoes are highly nutritious, despite the toxins in the spuds. That’s not the issue. Potatoes made agricultural exploitation and export more *viable*. Stuff like Golden Rice today, are just a repetitive farce. We don’t really need GMO rice with a bit of beta-carotene. That’s fucking insane. We need GMO coconuts, citrus, wheat, avocados, you could name a lot of serious crop issues…We need them so that they could be resistant to devastating agricultural diseases, expand their growing possibilities to previously unsuitable land/climate, etc–especially if the genome isn’t deep enough for us to cross back with hardier versions (because, like, we cut down that forest to build another mall for “rich” people). The problem is, that either it won’t make very much money for ag corps, or that the task is exceedingly difficult, and beyond our technical capabilities right now (at a profit). Genetic modification is extremely crude right now, which is why we haven’t seen it supercede other methods of creating serious new crops.

This is powerful. You said what’s important. For myself, the details of GM methods could be important too — we don’t know that they won’t give us some sort of biological disaster, something that nobody has thought of but that afterward some of us will think we should have thought of.

But what you’re talking about is directly important. Basicly, bad social practices.

I don’t follow your criticism of golden rice. You have no argument that it’s harmful. They give it away to poor farmers, and if it works as advertised then great, if it’s somehow ineffective then mostly no harm done. It doesn’t look to me like a tremendous value, but it was an early technical achievement and it could possibly do some good. I’m concerned about the unknown risks, but you don’t mention that. It’s probably harmless. Your point is that it’s limited value, and we aren’t making things that would be great value, at least not yet.

the institutional incentives surrounding gmos push towards the stabilization of bad corporate agricultural practices, like the abuse of glycophosphate in monoculture. Or attempting to become a monopoly across the various faces of agriculture via IP and technical barriers.

This is the key part. If you want to go into detail, this is what to give details about. Stabilization of bad practices and attempts at monopoly. Those are clear problems that can be documented. Not speculation about poisons.

And if GM is needed but we don’t yet have the technical or organizational abilities to do what we need, those are problems that can potentially be fixed.

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John Quiggin 04.26.14 at 1:53 am

@CM You may have heard of Google. “Quiggin +GM +Foods” produces this as first hit

http://johnquiggin.com/2007/11/28/gm-canola/

That’s been my line consistently. You’ve continually made baseless accusations on this. If you want to apologize, now’s your chance. Otherwise, consider yourself banned, here and at my blog, under this name and other sockpuppets.

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John Quiggin 04.26.14 at 2:01 am

“Just curious, as a non-academic non-scientist, as to where on the timeline of the last century the burning of fossil fuels were subject to a “process of evaluated outcome”.
What that looked like when/if it happened.’

Scientists (and economists, for that matter) have been banging on about this throughout my lifetime, which covers a fair bit of last century. You could go all the way back to Arrhenius and Jevons if you like. But the first attempt at a comprehensive assessment of the climate change aspects of fossil fuels was probably the 1975 NAS report on “Understanding Climate Change”. Then, there’s a steadily increasing flow of studies summarised in the five IPCC Assessment Reports

If, as you say, you’ve missed all this, it might be a good idea to catch up before commenting any further from a position of (easily remediable) ignorance. The IPCC Summary for Policymakers is a good place to start.

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roy belmont 04.26.14 at 4:09 am

John Quiggin:

1. I’m sympathetic to your position as moderator here.
2. I’m not taking an anti-science position
3. I’m deeply sympathetic (I’m a sensitive guy) to the front-line combatants in the battle to bring reality into public awareness and policy concerning anthropogenic climate forcing.
4. What you replied to was a rhetorical question mostly.
5. There are rhetorical questions at the end of this piece, not directed at you

The best the NSA had in 1975 was the cooling trend. The science wasn’t there. It’s there now, and a lot of the most knowledgeable climate scientists are scared shitless.
That’s all I need to make my point.
We’re continuing to mess with really intricate fundamental systems, motivated almost exclusively by personal greed, and now fear.
Greed and fear are not the highest forms of human aspiration.
We can’t see enough of the variables, we can’t get to an accurate process of evaluation. Not at the levels of complexity we’re operating in.
But the arrogance of the lesser lights of the rationalist clad, polarized by the gibberish of the truly ignorant on the other side, keeps insisting we can, we have to.
We can’t.
Climate change proves that.
What do sensible people do in a spot like that?
They change their attitudes, and do something else.
You can cite documents, I can cite poetic testimony from the first appearance of the internal combustion automobile.
From before, way before, William Blake was warning us about those dark, Satanic mills.
The people who were not on board, who were skeptical of that gas-spewing contraption, were derided and marginalized to the degree their concern’s now non-existent. As if it was never there.
They were people then like the ones your buddy Moonlight’s showering contempt on now. They were right. The automobile was a mistake.

Human beings survived thousands of generation’s worth of all kinds of bad shit, not en masse and not comfortably, but they made it.
Our ancestors.
We were all taught to despise them and to look down on contemporary versions of them.
We, who’ve literally broken the weather.
What’s wrong with that picture?

Maybe some humility would be in order.

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roy belmont 04.26.14 at 4:22 am

That would be the “NAS”.
I’ve got NSA on the brain for some reason.

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Captain Moonlight 04.26.14 at 6:52 am

Prof Quiggin,

Alright then,I’m sorry if you think I’ve been unfair. Having re-read my comments, I can see how that is a reasonable interpretation on your part.

Actually GM is about the only issue I which I disagree with you and I have a copy of Zombie Economics under the bed.

If it was up to me, you’d be cloned ten thousand times over- a vast army Quiggins would be, on balance, a worthy recipient of the Iron Throne.

Hugs and kisses.

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John Quiggin 04.26.14 at 7:05 am

@CM Thanks! Don’t let the BedZombies bite.

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J Thomas 04.26.14 at 12:50 pm

The best the NSA had in 1975 was the cooling trend. The science wasn’t there. It’s there now, and a lot of the most knowledgeable climate scientists are scared shitless.
That’s all I need to make my point.

Your point is very simple?

We’re continuing to mess with really intricate fundamental systems, motivated almost exclusively by personal greed, and now fear.
Greed and fear are not the highest forms of human aspiration.

There’s also curiousity. I like curiousity. One time I was driving down a country road with a 10-year-old boy, and he looked at the glove compartment and found a push-button. “What does this do?” I was distracted avoiding potholes and told him “I don’t know, do you want to push it and find out?” He pushed it and the trunk flew open and blocked my rearview mirror. I had to stop and close the trunk, but we found out what the button did. It was pretty safe, they aren’t going to put a button in easy reach that does something dangerous. Too bad evolution didn’t design things to be safe from us.

We can’t see enough of the variables, we can’t get to an accurate process of evaluation. Not at the levels of complexity we’re operating in.
But the arrogance of the lesser lights of the rationalist clad, polarized by the gibberish of the truly ignorant on the other side, keeps insisting we can, we have to.
We can’t.

Yes, but we have to. That gives us a good excuse to have fun trying. What else should we do, give up?

You can cite documents, I can cite poetic testimony from the first appearance of the internal combustion automobile.
From before, way before, William Blake was warning us about those dark, Satanic mills.
The people who were not on board, who were skeptical of that gas-spewing contraption, were derided and marginalized to the degree their concern’s now non-existent. As if it was never there.

It gave clear obvious short-term benefits. And the world wasn’t that organized, if they didn’t do it somebody else would, and that somebody else would get the short-term benefits. Including warfare benefits.

If a new idea works in the short run, it’s much easier to do it yourself than it is to stop everybody else from doing it. But if it doesn’t work in the short run then it’s hard to get it started no matter how well it will do later.

You told stories, here’s one — The Inuit used to live in land that nobody else wanted. Small groups of them could survive in places nobody else could, because they knew how, and a few hundred of them went as far as the north pole. They had the custom that you should give other people anything they asked for, whenever they asked. But of course they should also give you anything you ask. “Whips make dogs, and gifts make slaves.” Their population went up in good times and down in bad times. When they expected the migratory caribou to pass through their area and the caribou did not come, that was a serious problem.

Someone in the Canadian government reasoned that the only difference between caribou and raindeer is that raindeer are domesticated. If the Inuit could domesticate their caribou and herd them, their lives would be better. They got an inuit to try it. He had his herd of domesticated caribou and he told everybody not to hunt them. “These are MY caribou. I’ll kill them when I’m ready to.” They humored him some. “Please, Mr. great hunter, may I have one of your caribou?” But he refused to give them away. Everybody agreed that he was a bad man and quite unreasonable. He was not really an Inuit at all but a white man living inside an Inuit’s skin.

The automobile was a mistake.

To be really sure we’d need to try it both ways. Perhaps trolleys would have been better for urban people? But back then we had a lot of rural folk too. Steam engines? The CW says that automobiles let us have bigger cities than we could arrange with just railroads. Suppose they’re right, would we have been better off with more smaller cities and more sprawl?

I guess the central problem is that we get innovations which give us the chance to build a great big population and then likely they’ll stop working and we’ll have a population crash. Has this happened before? Likely. Our genetics implies we had a population bottleneck maybe 80-100,000 years ago. We went over a million years without much innovation in fist-axes, though maybe things changed a lot in ways that don’t show. Then we started changing things faster and faster. If we could just slow down our changes to the point that the population went up and down with the weather, because we had a technology that worked well for the long run with a particular population size, maybe we’d be better off. But how would we enforce it? Somehow we probably enforced that on ourselves for a very long time, but then we lost the knack….

Maybe some humility would be in order.

What does it get us? Will humility at this point help us survive? How would we find out? I know that “I’ll be humble once I decide for myself that it serves my best interest to be humble” is not a humble position to take, but what attitude is better for finding out whether humility serves my best interest?

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dm 04.26.14 at 5:20 pm

shah8,
I have tried to limit my comments to the areas where I actually do know what I’m talking about which is the underlying science. That doesn’t cover everything, obviously. I have considerable sympathy with your concerns and frustration about IP issues, as I think I’ve made clear. On the other hand, I don’t appreciate being dismissed as speaking technobabble and pseudo-science.

Bruce Wilder on the other hand has exposed himself as intellectually lazy poser. In my corner of academia, at least, that is an unrecoverable error. Vast areas of science that he clearly knows nothing about are dismissed as unimportant distractions and people who actually do know what they are talking about in these areas are dismissed as liars and shills, or at best myopic and incapable seeing the larger picture. His political insights are profound and interesting in the same universe where Ayn Rand’s hero built a railroad, i.e. not this one. He is the intellectual hero of his story. The rampant narcissism on display on both ends of the political spectrum is striking. That’s may be to be expected because magical thinking enables narcissim.

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dm 04.26.14 at 6:23 pm

shah8,
One more thing, the reason I have focused on toxins is that is an example where I can outline a realistic mechanism and where there is evidence that such things can happen. Allergens are another important example, about which I learned just about everything I know from a seminar just last week.

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CK MacLeod 04.26.14 at 9:14 pm

@Bruce Wilder http://crookedtimber.org/2014/04/21/tu-quoque/#comment-524005

I think you may describe an axis of opposition in contemporary political discourse, but I don’t think that “conservative libertarian v neoliberal” describes the state of American politics in a larger sense. Republicans have lately drifted more in the libertarian direction via the Tea Party and Paulite opposition, but the party remains overall a “national greatness” party more than a true “small government” party.

I gather you have a background in economics, but it’s not clear to me exactly how you’re using the term “neoliberal,” since it originally was applied to Reagan and Thatcher, and still functions within a fairly coherent critique of bipartisan American policy – i.e., referring to an era of “financialized neoliberalism” whose finale was thought to be announced in ’08 events, but which, rather than being ushered offstage, seems to be hanging around for an extended encore at least. I think that to the extent that the center-left speaks “neoliberalese,” it mainly does so defensively: Social liberalism is still describes the general theory and fundamental framework of the discussion, as well as policy concretely, but for now produces little in the way of new positive content.

In short, the the policy-making apparatus is paralyzed, but still able to speak, just not meaningfully: Words and even the glimmers of ideas pass back and forth, but not very much of anything can be accomplished beyond continued servicing of international trading network and maintenance of domestic tranquility. It does not seem within the power of the political-administrative state either to expand or to contract dramatically without major external (or de-externalized) impetus: It can’t make war or even intervene, but that also means that it can’t make policies you’d like. It is capable at most of technical adjustments to existing structures – from drone warfare to Obamacare – and at crisis management. For how long we can continue to drift in the mode of “stationary state” is impossible to say, but it should also be considered that the American liberal-democratic state in particular and liberal democracy in general resists efficiency even at great cost.

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CK MacLeod 04.26.14 at 9:17 pm

(aargh typos)

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roy belmont 04.26.14 at 9:26 pm

“That gives us a good excuse to have fun trying.”

The Hatter opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he SAID was, ‘Why is a raven like a writing-desk?’
‘Come, we shall have some fun now!’ thought Alice. ‘I’m glad they’ve begun asking riddles.—I believe I can guess that,’ she added aloud.
‘Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?’ said the March Hare.
‘Exactly so,’ said Alice.
‘Then you should say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on.
‘I do,’ Alice hastily replied; ‘at least—at least I mean what I say—that’s the same thing, you know.’
‘Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter. ‘You might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!’
‘You might just as well say,’ added the March Hare, ‘that “I like what I get” is the same thing as “I get what I like”!’
‘You might just as well say,’ added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, ‘that “I breathe when I sleep” is the same thing as “I sleep when I breathe”!’
‘It IS the same thing with you,’ said the Hatter, and here the conversation dropped, and the party sat silent for a minute, while Alice thought over all she could remember about ravens and writing-desks, which wasn’t much.

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john c. halasz 04.26.14 at 10:48 pm

@270:

The term “neo-liberal” was invented by the Mont Pelerin Society in that late 1940′s. It’s not exactly new and, though it might not be your specialty, you might want to work on your economic priors. That neo-liberal policy regimes have emerged triumphant from the very midst of their utter failure is one of those puzzles that invite inquiry into.

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Cranky Observer 04.26.14 at 11:20 pm

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/1983/8305_Neoliberalism.pdf

If in the United States ‘libertarian’ has come to mean ‘Republicans who want to keep the option of dating liberal women’ [1], then neoliberals are former Democrats who want to adopt hard right Republican policies, leave a little bit of a safety net for their middle class friends whose lives are destroyed by those policies (but not for the undeserving poor), and still collect the historic Democratic voter base.

Cranky

[1] US definition of liberal, not classsical

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Cranky Observer 04.26.14 at 11:24 pm

Ezra Klein’s followup with Peters, 25 years later, is far more revealing that Peters understands:

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2007/0705.klein.html

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CK MacLeod 04.27.14 at 12:01 am

jch @ 273

Instead of saying “originally applied,” I should have said that during its third or so revival it was applied to Reagan and Thatcher. According to Wikipedia, the Mont Pelerin society comes in second place, since the term came into use in the 1930s.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoliberalism#Early_history

As the entry goes on to indicate, there is still difficulty using the term with any certain expectation that it will be understood the same way by different people:

The meaning of neoliberalism has changed over time and come to mean different things to different groups. As a result, it is very hard to define. This is seen by the fact that authoritative sources on neoliberalism, such as Friedrich Hayek,[69] Milton Friedman, David Harvey[70] and Noam Chomsky[71] do not agree about the meaning of neoliberalism. This lack of agreement creates major problems in creating an unbiased and unambiguous definition of neoliberalism. This section aims to define neoliberalism more accurately and to show how its evolution has influenced the different uses of the word.

Which was my initial point: I wasn’t and am still not sure how Mr. Wilder intended it to be understood.

The argument for using it to apply to Reagan and to bipartisan policy since Reagan is that from his administration forward neo-liberalism was praxis rather than theory from the “center” outward. Referring to the system as “financialized neo-liberalism” is more specific, as well as helpfully descriptive, since another dominant characteristic of the period, not anticipated previously (and appalling to hard money classicalists), has been the massive expansion of private and public use of financial instruments of various types. It is possible that we are witnessing and experiencing a gradual transition to a new organizational scheme, so not a pure “triumph.”

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J Thomas 04.27.14 at 10:19 am

#274

If in the United States ‘libertarian’ has come to mean ‘Republicans who want to keep the option of dating liberal women’

I may be out of date here, but my impression is that it takes at least as much fast talking for a declared libertarian to date liberal women as he would if he called himself Tea Party.

He’d do marginally better to call himself an anarchist.

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alexf 04.27.14 at 10:21 pm

> Almost entirely in the US, Canada and Australia. To a slightly lesser extent in UK and NZ.

To a _slightly_ less extent in NZ? Compared to the U.S.? You are close enough to assess, do you really think that’s at all fair? Do you have an example in mind (I’m going to guess it’s not climate change) concerning the mainstream NZ right (National party and such) of which it’s reasonable to ” in which all propositions, including the conclusions of scientific research, are assessed in terms of their consistency or otherwise with tribal prejudices and shibboleths.” Or even “slightly less” than this?
I assume you can point out huge departures from your preferred economic orthodoxy (though even hearing one example of such would be interesting)
but is there anything outside economics?

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John Quiggin 04.27.14 at 11:34 pm

@AlexF I’ll admit that, despite relatively close proximity, I don’t keep a close eye on NZ politics, and I probably pay more attention to ACT (as the descendant of the Douglas-Prebble reformers) than I should. But they are clearly denialist, as is/was the Business Roundtable, NZ Centre for Political Research etc.

The Nationals seem better, but this story is not too encouraging

http://hot-topic.co.nz/climate-crisis-what-crisis-nz-right-ignore-ipcc-call-for-action/

Still, it would have been more accurate to say that the UK Right is slightly better and the NZ right significantly better

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Tommy Deelite 04.28.14 at 9:56 am

shah8@192: “Mutagenesis is a technique effectively about moving or knocking the genetic machinery around, causing subtle changes that are not so subtle to the breeder. Make more of this protein. Inhibit that pathway less, etc, etc, etc. Insertion of genetic material is about introducing new pathways. They aren’t really the same interventions and risks maps are pretty different.”

Transposon-mediated mutagenesis is not ‘about introducing new pathways’ as you claim. It can be. It more often is to upregulate, downregulate, or silence existing pathways. Inserting a homologous gene sequence from another organism is often a means to amplify an existing trait.

J Thomas@195:”The GM insertion methods tend to leave markers behind, often the same markers. It isn’t proven that there is any danger from this, but I haven’t seen a proof that there will be no dangers.”

If GM skeptics need proof of a negative for something as benign as markers, I find it hard to believe the movement is much more than ‘perfect state of nature’ fetishism. It appears an immunity to science is a naturally occurring polymorphism, so that should be a comfort.

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J Thomas 04.28.14 at 6:50 pm

“If GM skeptics need proof of a negative for something as benign as markers, I find it hard to believe the movement is much more than ‘perfect state of nature’ fetishism.”

No, think about it. There was a standing claim that GM methods have the same risks as any other plant breeding.

But when they introduce new genes, and the new genes tend to be the SAME new genes across a variety of species, this is something new. There could be risks there which are not shared by other genetic methods. The sort of thing that after it happens we think “Why didn’t I think of that?” but beforehand we don’t in fact think of it.

I don’t say that’s likely. I have no idea what the risks are, and it’s plausible they might be very small. But it’s something new.

We get whatever risks come from the other methods, plus whatever is new and special from this. Very likely the risk from GM as we currently practice it, is higher than the risk without it. The standing claim that there is no new risk at all, is likely false.

It’s an unknown risk and likely a small one. We’d want to balance that against the known benefits. They’re probably wrong to say it’s no new risk whatsoever.

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