Category Archives: Science And Society

Trump’s Speaking Style

He didn’t always speak like a grade schooler:

There are numerous contrasting examples from decades ago, including this — with sophisticated grammar and syntax, and a coherent paragraph-length chain of thought — from a 1992 Charlie Rose interview: “Ross Perot, he made some monumental mistakes. Had he not dropped out of the election, had he not made the gaffes about the watch dogs and the guard dogs, if he didn’t have three or four bad days — and they were real bad days — he could have convincingly won this crazy election.”

The change in linguistic facility could be strategic; maybe Trump thinks his supporters like to hear him speak simply and with more passion than proper syntax. “He may be using it as a strategy to appeal to certain types of people,” said Michaelis. But linguistic decline is also obvious in two interviews with David Letterman, in 1988 and 2013, presumably with much the same kind of audience. In the first, Trump threw around words such as “aesthetically” and “precarious,” and used long, complex sentences. In the second, he used simpler speech patterns, few polysyllabic words, and noticeably more fillers such as “uh” and “I mean.”

The reason linguistic and cognitive decline often go hand in hand, studies show, is that fluency reflects the performance of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, the seat of higher-order cognitive functions such as working memory, judgment, understanding, and planning, as well as the temporal lobe, which searches for and retrieves the right words from memory. Neurologists therefore use tests of verbal fluency, and especially how it has changed over time, to assess cognitive status.

Maybe he even used to know what the nuclear triad was, or how many articles the Constitution has.

[Update a few minutes later]

Related, I think: What a conservative sees from inside Trump’s Washington:

for connected conservatives in DC, the media isn’t the only source of information about this administration. I’d venture to say that most of them have by now heard at least one or two amazing stories attesting to the emerging conventional wisdom: that the president either can’t, or refuses to, follow any kind of policy discussion for more than a few minutes; that the president will not be told no, or corrected about anything, forcing his staff to take their concerns to the media if they want to get his attention; that the infighting within the West Wing is unprecedentedly vicious, and that those sort of failures always stem from the top; and that his own hand-picked staffers “have no respect for him, indeed they seem to palpitate with contempt for him.” They hear these things from conservatives, including people who were Trump supporters or at least, Trump-neutral. They know these folks. They know, to their sorrow, that these people are telling the truth.

They can also compare what they’re hearing to what they heard, both on and off the record, during the last Republican administration. Even in Bush’s final days, when the financial crisis was in full swing and his approval ratings hovered around 25 percent, there was nothing like this level of dysfunction inside the White House, this frenzy of backbiting leakage.

So even though they agree with conservative outsiders that the media skews very liberal, and take all its pronouncements about Republicans with a heavy sprinkling of salt, they know that the reports of this administration’s dysfunction aren’t all media hype. They have seen the media report on their own work, and that of their friends; they know what sort of things that bias distorts, and what it doesn’t. Washington conservatives know that reporters are not making up these incredible quotes, or relying only on Democratic holdovers, or getting bits of gossip from the janitor. They know that the Trump administration is in fact leaking like a rusty sieve — from the top on down — and that this is a sign of a president who has, in just four short months, completely lost control over his own hand-picked staff. Which is why the entire city, left to right, is watching the unfolding drama with mouth agape and heads shaking.

This is why people are seriously talking about the 25th Amendment.

[Afternoon update]

Donald Trump’s self-inflicted wounds.

Yes, that’s mostly what they are. Even more than Nixon, he hands his enemies ammunition against him:

Trump does not even resort to reason. He is famous for following instinct instead. It is one thing for a leader to follow his judgment rather than his reason if that judgment is tethered to prudence, and that prudence to experience. It may even be better to follow a prudence so anchored than to pursue un-rooted reason. But there comes a point when instinct and will are difficult to distinguish. And students of Bertrand de Jouvenel recognize will as an instrument of that which conservatism seeks, politically, to channel and contain: power.

Trump’s apologists, too, are jettisoning the conservatism in whose name they have boarded his train. The relentless litany of excuses — “But Hillary Clinton’s e-mail”; “But Barack Obama and the IRS”; “But the liberal media”; “But the leaks” — ill become their disposition. The only “but” that matters is the one preceding the statement that Donald J. Trump, not Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or the liberal media, is the 45th president of the United States and currently occupies that office. The same theory of law, order, and personal responsibility without excuses that his attorney general has decided is good for petty drug offenses ought to be good for the conduct of the Oval Office, too.

The other “buts” — “But the Court,” “But the legislative agenda,” and so forth — disregard another element of conservatism, which is its disposition to take the long view. The wreckage of constitutional norms is more important than policy disputes or even a court seat, all of which are correctable with time. The practice of presidential tweeting is almost certainly now permanent. The precedent of presidential outrageousness being not only excusable but encouraged, precisely because it shatters norms, is hard to restore once broken. Trump has inaugurated the age of Kardashians in the White House, and it will be far harder to roll that back than to undo Obamacare. There is a particular perversity in obtaining a handful of Supreme Court justices at the cost of undermining the norms of the Constitution that it will be their job to defend.

We’re in for a wild ride.

The Uncertainty Monster

Thoughts from Judith Curry on the current state of knowledge in climate. The warm mongers never consider the possibility that their proposed cures may in fact be worse than the disease. I personally think it’s nuts to consider climate a greater threat to humanity than poverty, and particularly energy poverty. But then, many of them don’t really care about humanity, or consider humanity a problem in and of itself.

[Update a few minutes later]

A new paper on the epistemological status of general circulation models.

Climate Exaggerators

Cliff Mass on the academic wages of debunking them:

Every time I correct misinformation in the media like this, I get savaged by some “environmentalists” and media. I am accused of being a denier, a skeptic, an instrument of the oil companies, and stuff I could not repeat in this family friendly blog. Sometimes it is really hurtful. Charles Mudede of the Stranger is one of worst of the crowd, calling me “dangerous” and out of my mind (see example below).

A postdoc at the UW testified at the Environment Committee of the Washington State House saying that I was a contrarian voice. I spoke to her in person a few days later and asked where my science was wrong–she could not name one thing. But she told me that my truth telling was “aiding” the deniers. We agreed to disagree.

My efforts do not go unnoticed at the UW, with my department chairman and leadership in the UW Climate Impacts Group telling me of “concerns” with my complaints about hyped stories on oyster deaths and snowpack. One UW professor told me that although what I was saying was true, I needed to keep quiet because I was helping “the skeptics.” Probably not good for my UW career.

I believe scientists must provide society with the straight truth, without hype or exaggeration, and that we must correct false or misleading information in the media. It is not our role to provide inaccurate information so that society will “do the right thing.” History is full of tragic examples of deceiving the public to promote the “right thing”–such as weapons of mass destruction claims and the Iraq War.

Global warming forced by increasing greenhouse gases is an extraordinarily serious challenge to our species that will require both mitigation (reducing emissions) and adaptation (preparing ourselves to deal with the inevitable changes). Society can only make the proper decisions if they have scientists’ best projections of what will happen in the future, including the uncertainties.

What a concept.

China And Asteroids

This sounds sort of hinky to me (as is usually the case with Chinese space announcements). They’re going to bring an asteroid into cislunar space within a decade, but don’t think they’ll have the technology to process it until four decades from now? And how does getting artificial gravity from a spinning asteroid work, exactly? Also, pretty sure there will be some intense discussions about what kind of liability China will assume under the Liability Convention if they attempt this.