Obama’s War On Terror

His half-hearted one:

Barack Obama’s heart was never in the war on terror, and he burst onto the national scene with an anti-Iraq War riff. He called it a “dumb war,” a phrase that echoes still in his foreign-policy slogan of “don’t do stupid stuff.” The latest declaration, “No boots on the ground,” is cut from the same cloth. As faculty-lounge wordsmiths go, he’s top shelf.

Voters were with him big time in 2008, and a majority stayed with him in 2012 as he promised to get out of Afghanistan, too. He had OK’d the assassination of Osama bin Laden, a fact he waved like a bloody scalp, and it shielded him from direct hits after the Benghazi terror attack.

His mistake, or his latest mistake, was that he began to take his Houdini-like escapes for granted, and thus was gob-smacked when the “war-weary nation” suddenly wanted a tougher president after the Islamic State beheaded two Americans. In a flash, the usually nimble president was way out of step with the country.

Yet Obama again proved himself a cynical politician worthy of a fickle public. After some flub-a-dubs, he announced a strategy that is true to his core. It is ­neither-nor.

It is neither a strategy for victory, nor a strategy for doing nothing. Like a man taking a shower while wearing a raincoat, he put America back into the fight without a commitment to win.

As Glenn notes, this is nothing except an effort to get through the next six weeks. After the election, he’ll (as he told Vladimir) have “more flexibility.”

Space Tourism

Is it being overhyped?

I fearlessly predict that, as with any other experience, some will be underwhelmed, and others will have their expectations exceeded.

In related news, tired of waiting, and fearing that they won’t get to the (arbitrary) von Karman line, some Virgin Galactic customers are demanding refunds.

[Update a few minutes later]

Richard Branson’s credibility is collapsing in the media.

“Marching Against Climate Change”

The most futile march ever:

It was the usual post-communist leftie march. That is, it was a petit-bourgeois re-enactment of meaningless ritual that passes for serious politics among those too inexperienced, too emotionally excited or too poorly read and too unpracticed at self-reflection or political analysis to know or perhaps care how futile and tired the conventional march has become. Crazed grouplets of anti-capitalist movements trying to fan the embers of Marxism back to life, gender and transgender groups with their own spin on climate, earnest eco-warriors, publicity-seeking hucksters, adrenalin junkies, college kids wanting a taste of the venerable tradition of public protest, and, as always, a great many people who don’t think that burning marijuana adds to the world’s CO2 load, marched down Manhattan’s streets. The chants echoed through the skyscraper canyons, the drums rolled, participants were caught up in a sense of unity and togetherness that some of them had never known. It was almost like politics, almost like the epochal marches that have toppled governments and changed history ever since the Paris mob stormed the Bastille.

Almost. Except street marches today are to real politics what street mime is to Shakespeare. This was an ersatz event: no laws will change, no political balance will tip, no UN delegate will have a change of heart. The world will roll on as if this march had never happened. And the marchers would have emitted less carbon and done more good for the world if they had all stayed home and studied books on economics, politics, science, religion and law. Marches like this create an illusion of politics and an illusion of meaningful activity to fill the void of postmodern life; the tribal ritual matters more than the political result.

What Is Science?

A useful essay:

…for all our bleating about “science” we live in an astonishingly unscientific and anti-scientific society. We have plenty of anti-science people, but most of our “pro-science” people are really pro-magic (and therefore anti-science).

This bizarre misunderstanding of science yields the paradox that even as we expect the impossible from science (“Please, Mr Economist, peer into your crystal ball and tell us what will happen if Obama raises/cuts taxes”), we also have a very anti-scientific mindset in many areas.

For example, our approach to education is positively obscurantist. Nobody uses rigorous experimentation to determine better methods of education, and someone who would dare to do so would be laughed out of the room. The first and most momentous scientist of education, Maria Montessori, produced an experimentally based, scientific education method that has been largely ignored by our supposedly science-enamored society. We have departments of education at very prestigious universities, and absolutely no science happens at any of them.

Our approach to public policy is also astonishingly pre-scientific. There have been almost no large-scale truly scientific experiments on public policy since the welfare randomized field trials of the 1990s, and nobody seems to realize how barbaric this is. We have people at Brookings who can run spreadsheets, and Ezra Klein can write about it and say it proves things, we have all the science we need, thank you very much. But that is not science.

Modern science is one of the most important inventions of human civilization. But the reason it took us so long to invent it and the reason we still haven’t quite understood what it is 500 years later is it is very hard to be scientific. Not because science is “expensive” but because it requires a fundamental epistemic humility, and humility is the hardest thing to wring out of the bombastic animals we are.

A useful thought as well see tens of thousands of anti-science, anti-market marching morons in New York today.

The Climate Science

…is not settled:

…the crucial, unsettled scientific question for policy is, “How will the climate change over the next century under both natural and human influences?” Answers to that question at the global and regional levels, as well as to equally complex questions of how ecosystems and human activities will be affected, should inform our choices about energy and infrastructure.

But—here’s the catch—those questions are the hardest ones to answer. They challenge, in a fundamental way, what science can tell us about future climates.

Yup. The 97% “nonsensus” is multiple strawmen, because all it ever meant, to the degree that it wasn’t just BS, was that scientists agree that there is a greenhouse effect and that therefore human-generated carbon emissions can affect climate. Beyond that, there is no consensus.

Taylor Dinerman’s Take On Commercial Crew

Over at National Review. I obviously take issue with this:

Boeing has walked away with the biggest share ($4.2 billion) of the money, as its design was further along than that of the SpaceX proposal and, in the opinion of NASA’s leadership, has the best chance of meeting the schedule.

I’ve sent them a response. If they don’t run it, I’ll do it myself at Ricochet.

[Update a while later]

OK, my response is up at The Corner.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson

…and the science of smug condescension:

Here we see, in action, the signature scientific style of the Neil deGrasse Tyson era. Present a scientific theory in crudely oversimplified form, omitting any uncertainties or counter-arguments. Pass off complex claims as if they are obvious “basic physics.” Then dismiss any skepticism as the resentment of the primitive, ignorant, unscienced masses against their enlightened betters.

Or, you know, file law suits against critics.

It’s not a very good way to get valid scientific results—nor, for that matter, to promote the scientific method. But it’s what we get when we substitute, in place of respect for the actual methodology of science, an attitude of superior posing and smug condescension.

I’d like to say that I was disappointed with the Cosmos reboot, but honestly, I wasn’t that big a fan of the original. But I’d love to buy Tyson for what I think he’s worth, and sell him for what he does.

[Afternoon update]

Some more thoughts:

It seems to me that Neal deGrasse Tyson is a scientist. Heck, I don’t actually know, because I don’t read technical astronomy papers, but I assume he’s published something somewhere, actually done some science in his life. But that doesn’t appear to be his current day job. His current job, near as I can tell, is carnival barker. He’s a salesman, or an advertiser. That’s not science. Inspiring others to want to learn more may be laudable, but it’s not science. Making crap up isn’t science, either, but I’ll let the serial stalkers at the Federalist worry about that.

But here’s a misconception that I’ve discussed before:

Thing is, I’m no scientist. So while I would like to call myself a Science-ist – that is, one who believes in the nature of science and the good results it can produce – I certainly can’t pretend I am a scientist, which is one who does science. Stuff like collecting data, analyzing it, proposing hypotheses, testing hypotheses. You know, stuff that scientists do. Not just looking at cool pictures of galaxies and pretending that makes me smart. (Um, NSFW language at that link)

No. Science isn’t a profession, it’s a way of thinking about the world, and learning about it. Everyone does it, to some degree or another, every day. Check a door knob to see if it’s unlocked? You just did an experiment.

People who believe in “science” as some kind of special realm that “scientists” live in, and that “science” reveals “truth” (as many global warm mongers do, even though they don’t understand the science or, often, even basic math) are members of a religion, that is in fact properly called scienceism. I believe in science as the best means to learn about the natural world, and as the basis for engineering and creating technology, but I don’t worship scientists, and I don’t delude myself that scientific results are “truth.”

Anyway, finally, note this comment:

you make an ass out of neal tyson when it’s pointed out that he has not, in fact, published A SINGLE PIECE of academic work since having talked some committee into accepting the dissertation it took him 11 years (and an expulsion!) to co-author.

no, seriously. if you don’t believe me, you can put his name into the search bar at arxiv.org, where practicing physicists post our preprints:

“Search gave no matches

No matches were found for your search: all:(neal AND tyson)

Please try again.”

In the next comment, he notes that there is in fact one post-doc paper, but it appears that he’s just participating because the actual authors wanted a bigger name on it.

The Inspector General’s Report On ISS

I’m reading it now. It starts out with a nice brief history of space stations in general and of the ISS itself. Apparently it says that commercial crew will cost more than Soyuz. I want to see the basis of that statement.

[Update a while later]

“Although the risks involved in space exploration are apparent and subject to mitigation,
NASA cannot fully eliminate them.”

Someone should write a book about that. Oh, wait.