At Quillette:
Motivated Reasoning Is Disfiguring Social Science

A good criticism of the state of social science, a field closely engaged in tarnishing the meaning of the word “science.”

I will make 3 points. First, an excerpt:

The second is the culture of institutions. From my experience and perspective, these tend to function on a corporate structure… they do not appear to foster an appropriate level of critical thinking, skepticism, caution, or solicitation of opposing views… This is a recipe for conformity and groupthink. (… APA policy appears to forbid scholarly special interest groups under its fold from taking public positions that differ from its own central stated positions…consistent with a business but not an academic or scholarly model.)

The classic model of a capitalist business actually forces critical, creative thinking, or the business dies. The academic model has baked in incentives and protections for the groupthink we observe. “The University,” could only survive as a respectable institutional concept so long as diversity of thought was critically valued. It isn’t anymore. In fact, the opposite is true.

Groupthink came before the abandonment of “critical thinking, skepticism, caution, or solicitation of opposing views,” and was necessary for that abandonment.

I think the parallel here is better described by the words “corporatist” and “bureaucratic” than by “business.” Academia displays, on average, less “critical thinking, skepticism, caution, or solicitation of opposing views,” than “business.”

Now, you may accurately point to Google’s treatment of James Damore as a business exemplifying advanced hardening of the categories, but this is also only possible where diversity of thought is suppressed – and where amoral business practices are hidden from customers. That may be business, but it will not be good business in the long run.

IAC, I’ll posit that even Google fosters a higher level of freedom of conscience than your average sociology department.

As to “ignoring entire fields of research,” and “task force[s] appear[ing] … stacked with people who had taken prior … views,” we can see this rot in the social sciences penetrating the hard sciences. The IPCC folks serve as a clear example.

Not so much

From Nature: How much can forests fight climate change?

Jason Funk, quoted below, is talking about planting trees to reduce Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming. First, he assumes CAGW (emphasis on catastrophic and anthropogenic) as a clear and present danger. The data on that may be debatable, but everybody knows more trees will help reduce global warming. It’s embedded in the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Accord; resulting in a global industrial complex based on selling carbon credits for planting trees. Planting trees is a lifeline we must seize or the planet will fry. Many governments’ common sense regulations and carbon taxes incorporate this certainty. It must be correct.

Well, no, not exactly.

“Scientists who champion forests say that although more research is always good, existing results are mature enough to support the use of forests to fight climate change, especially given the urgency of the problem. “We can’t necessarily afford to hold off on those things; we have to begin taking some action,” says Jason Funk, an environmental scientist in Chicago, Illinois, who served as an adviser and observer to the Paris agreement.

Researchers are now turning to sophisticated computer models and using larger and more-comprehensive data sets to nail down exactly what forests in different places do to the climate. [Why, if we already know we have to plant more?] In some cases, the results have been sobering. [What?] Last October, a team led by ecologist Sebastiaan Luyssaert at the Free University of Amsterdam modelled a variety of European forest-management scenarios. The researchers concluded that none of the scenarios would yield a significant global climate impact, because the effects of surface darkening and cloud-cover changes from any added forests would roughly eliminate their carbon-storage benefits.

Those models will definitely have to be tweaked. Or maybe ‘disappeared,’ as we’ll note below.

I found the implied separation of scientists from researchers amusing. If you substitute the same word to begin each paragraph, you might realize it says climate scientists think it’s a good idea to fund more research by climate scientists.

Implying there are two groups may just be writing to avoid repetition, but it definitely minimizes the self interest aspect. Scientists want researchers to have more funding is different from scientists want scientists to have more funding.

A short version of this article is that while trees absorb carbon dioxide, the incredible complexity of photosynthetic biology also results in emission of many chemicals. Among those; a lot of nitrous oxide, methane and isoprene, i.e., ‘greenhouse gasses.’ Trees also reduce Earth’s albedo (reflectivity), and thereby directly contribute to higher temperatures. Scientifically, it is not clear that the net effect of planting trees is what envirostatists tell us it is.

The most upsetting, if not unexpected, thing from this article is the following quote:
I have heard scientists say that if we found forest loss cooled the planet, we wouldn’t publish it.

“Never mind,” says Mr. Funk, “we have to DO SOMETHING!” Yes! Get the government to create a crony market* to solve a problem that may not exist, using a method that isn’t supported by science. Nice job of virtue signaling, and that’s “something.” Of course, the treasure we spend now won’t be there if we need it for a valid purpose later.

The article doesn’t mention it, so I don’t know if it occurred to any the modellers, but more CO2 makes trees grow (sequester carbon) faster.  What, if any, effect does that represent?


*With the additional effect of wealth transfer to poorer countries: Paying second and third world countries for space to plant trees by taxing corporations who need carbon indulgences because of first world regulation and carbon taxes. After all, poorer countries have more votes at the UN, and if we’re going to excuse India and China from much of the Kyoto and Paris agreements, everybody else should get something, too.

Public/Private Partnership carried to its logical conclusion

Anyone with the least ethical sensitivity would steer well clear of the nearly invisible line between “public/private partnership” and “corporatist whoredom.”

That line proved too faint for Barack Obama and Jeffrey Immelt. Immelt will continue to serve as CEO of General Electric while simultaneously shaping the competitive environment for his competitors the nation. The President’s appointment of Mr. Immelt to head the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness can be distinguished from similar actions in Mussolini’s Italy primarily because of the good intentions of the participants. I’m not sure which set of participants.

The CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs) will run on time. Important, since GE recently closed the last US factory making incandescent light bulbs – because of a Congressional mandate to ban incandescent light bulbs for which GE lobbied. (CFLs are made almost entirely overseas, mostly in China. GE’s CFLs come mostly from Asian factories.)

There is more on Immelt’s appointment to be found at these links:
He melt for Obama
What’s Good for Jeffrey Immelt Is Good for America
Obama Teams Up With G.E.

When Democrats said President Obama was “pro-business,” we didn’t know they meant one business in particular…

It is unclear how the administration plans to deal with the ethics challenges created by having a CEO whose income is determined by stock performance leading a panel designed to recommend government policies. G.E. (2009 revenue: $157 billion) is a huge government contractor and is always in the market for new subsidies and incentives.

Putting such decisions in the hands of bureaucrats is a sure recipe for corruption. They can practice it openly, and even be praised for it. It’s to create jobs; It’s for the environment; It’s for national security; It’s for the children.

That’s actually the most evil part, far worse than the actual dollars being wasted. It habituates taxpayers to… well Tocqueville said it best:

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

Administrative despotism – EPA, HHS, TSA, FCC, FRS, FDA, FERC and most certainly Immelt’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness – is a greater threat to liberty than merely seizing our treasure and wasting it. Administrative despotism blames its failures on the supposed greed, parsimony and lack of compassion of capitalism and the free market, providing a ready list of red herrings and straw men for our Presidents, Governors, Senators, et. al..

It is often argued that with the right, and upright, people in charge these hazards can be avoided. Even if we accept that, and I do not, those “upright people” are complicit in preserving a legacy of corruption and misuse of power. That legacy is not as old as you might think it is, as this Heritage paper points out.

Other TOC commentary on corporatism can be found been here.

Update: 4:45PM
He Certainly Knows How to Cut Jobs…

GE finished 2009 with 18,000 fewer US workers than it had at the end of 2008, and US headcount is down 31,000 since Immelt’s first full year in 2002. During his [Immelt’s] tenure, GE workers based in the US as a percentage of total employees has fallen to 44% from 52%.