Category Archives: Social Commentary

Mindless Eating

and mindless research:

Problems with p-hacking are by no means exclusive to Wansink. Many scientists receive only cursory training in statistics, and even that training is sometimes dubious. This is disconcerting, because statistics provide the backbone of pretty much any research looking at humans, as well as a lot of research that doesn’t. If a researcher is trying to tell whether changing something (like the story someone reads in a psychology experiment, or the drug someone takes in a pharmaceutical trial) causes different outcomes, they need statistics. If they want to detect a difference between groups, they need statistics. And if they want to tease out whether one thing could cause another, they need statistics.

The replication crisis in psychology has been drawing attention to this and other problems in the field. But problems with statistics extends far beyond just psychology, and the conversation about open science hasn’t reached everyone yet. Nicholas Brown, one of the researchers scrutinizing Wansink’s research output, told Ars that “people who work in fields that are kind of on the periphery of social psychology, like sports psychology, business studies, consumer psychology… have told me that most of their colleagues aren’t even aware there’s a problem yet.”

I think the hockey stick episode shows that this is a problem with climate research as well.

The point of peer review has always been for fellow scientists to judge whether a paper is of reasonable quality; reviewers aren’t expected to perform an independent analysis of the data.

“Historically, we have not asked peer reviewers to check the statistics,” Brown says. “Perhaps if they were [expected to], they’d be asking for the data set more often.” In fact, without open data—something that’s historically been hit-or-miss—it would be impossible for peer reviewers to validate any numbers.

Peer review is often taken to be a seal of approval on research, but it’s actually more like a small or large quality boost, depending on the reviewers and scientific journal in question. “In general, it still has a good influence on the quality of the literature,” van der Zee said to Ars. But “it’s a wildly human process, and it is extremely capricious,” Heathers points out.

There’s also the question of what’s actually feasible for people. Peer review is unpaid work, Kirschner emphasizes, usually done by researchers on top of their existing heavy workloads, often outside of work hours. That often makes devoting the time and effort needed to catch dodgy statistics impossible. But Heathers and van der Zee both point to a possible generational difference: with better tools and a new wave of scientists who aren’t being asked to change long-held habits, better peer reviews could conceivably start to emerge. Although if change is going to happen, it’s going to be slow; as Heathers points out, “academia can be glacial.”

“Peer review” is worse than useless at this point, I think. And it’s often wielded as a cudgel against dissidents of the climate religion.

Rick Perry’s Memo

and Bill Nye’s optimism:

I see “science fans” applauding and promoting Bill Nye’s call for 100% renewable generation by 2050. One might think if one endorsed Mr. Nye’s plan it would also be prudent to encourage studies such as the one advocated by the Secretary of Energy. Certainly Mr. Nye is not a power systems expert, nor have I seen him reference any when he is explain how such a transition can be accomplished. We should all be at least somewhat skeptical about the potential consequences of such a significant endeavor.

What I may be missing is the role of “optimism” which Mr. Nye assures us is a necessary ingredient for this transition. I’d seen hints of this before and perhaps what is happening is that far too many people obstinately reject any criticism regarding renewables because they believe that optimism is crucial if the planet is to be saved. Consequently no one should utter a disparaging word about any of the potential “preferred” renewable solutions. The view seems to be that we must get started now and we will work out the distracting details as we go along.

Perhaps this explains why those who view climate with extreme alarm often show no tolerance for criticism of renewable energy? Otherwise, why are grid experts not trusted? Grid experts have academic credentials, share a common body of knowledge, and continually build and alter their understandings based upon empirical evidence. Individually and collectively they work to be innovative and develop new approaches and challenge older perspectives. Grid experts have a proven track record of success. As I’ve argued before grid experts do not for the most part have a strong vested personal interest in the status quo. An ambitious, aggressive transfer to greater renewables would increase the demand and likely compensation for most all existing grid experts.

It’s almost as though it’s religious, not scientific.

Science As Religion

Nice to see things like this at Slate. Everyone who “marched” yesterday should read it. Didn’t like the “science deniers” reference in last graf, though.

[Tuesday-morning update]

The “March For Science” failed, as demonstrated by its own signs:

Time to brush up on your social science, Science Guy. You too, Astrophysicist Dr. DeGrasse Tyson. You too, all ye faithful March for Science marchers, all ye believers in Truth, Science, and the Objective Way. Beware your own version of science denial. The idea has not developed “somehow”, “along the way”, that belief is informed by more than just what science says. Modern humans have always interpreted the facts based on deep values and meanings, affective filters imbuing the facts with an emotional valence that plays a huge part in determining what ultimately arises as our view of THE TRUTH.

Tyson and others are profoundly (and willfully) ignorant of philosophy. Belief in an objective reality is a critical element of the scientific method, but it’s just a belief, not the “truth.”

The “March For Science”

Derek Lowe explains why he won’t be marching. I agree.

[Update a while later]

Arthur Lambert isn’t attending either:

…there’s no denying this march is political. It is a mistake to position the scientific method against the Trump administration or any other one, for that matter. That would serve only to undermine a central premise of the march: that scientific knowledge is apolitical. Organizers argue that the march is “nonpartisan.” While this may be the official line, I’m skeptical of whether anything approaching it can actually be achieved, especially on the heels of a divisive election. For example, I recently spoke with a colleague who was organizing a poster-making session for the march. She proudly described her design as an “I’m With Her” arrow pointing toward planet Earth.

I was also “with her” last November, but that should be beside the point. I fear that, contrary to its mission of inclusion, the march may actually alienate many of those it seeks to convince. Scientists are highly educated, the academic version of the 1 percent Wall Street class. They are also overwhelming Democratic. I can assure you that this has little to no impact on their science or for the potential public impact of their findings. But it would not be unreasonable for a rural blue-collar worker, watching the marches from afar, to perceive them as yet another attack from the condescending elite. We cannot drum up the broad support for science that the march seeks by aggravating a deep divide already present in this country.

Want more Trump? This is how you get more Trump.

[Update a while later]

Bill Nye is the perfect talking head for a march against science:

March organizers have paid lip service to critical thinking and “diverse perspectives” in science. However, Nye is a good example of someone who promotes science as a close-minded ideology, not an open search for truth.

He attacks those who disagree with him on climate change or evolution as science “deniers.” He wouldn’t even rule out criminal prosecution as a tool. Asked last year whether he supported efforts to jail climate skeptics as war criminals, he replied: “Well, we’ll see what happens. Was it appropriate to jail the guys from ENRON?”

Real science encourages debate. It doesn’t insist that scientists march in lockstep. Or that they speak with one voice. In fact, scientists disagree on far more issues than the March organizers admit.

Bill Nye the lock-up-the-heretics guy.

[Update mid morning]

Bob Zimmerman says that the march against science is a Democrat Party operation.

[Update a while later]

“I love Neil de Grasse Tyson, but he’s wrong on climate.”

I don’t find him all that lovable, myself.

[Sunday evening update]

Judith Curry has a lot of links to “untangle the March for Science.”


[Monday-morning update]

Bill Nye the Constitutional-Ignorance Guy.

[Update a while later]

Nye freaks out when schooled by an actual scientist on CNN. Just like his meltdown with Tucker Carlson.

Chelsea Clinton

This is just beautiful. I wish I’d written it.

[Sunday-afternoon update]

Kevin Williamson refuses to be outdone by T. A. Frank:

…as the poet said, there ain’t no cure for love, and Democrats just can’t quit the Big Creep.

So they’ve turned to the Little Creep.

Chelsea Clinton, most recently lionized on the cover of Vanity Fair, is a 37-year-old multi-millionaire who has never uttered an interesting word about any subject at any time during the course of her life. Judging from the evidence of her public statements, she has never had an original thought — it isn’t clear that she has had a thought at all. In tribute to her parents, she was given a series of lucrative sinecures, producing a smattering of sophomoric videos for NBC at a salary of $600,000 a year. She later went more formally into the family business, leaving her fake job at NBC for a fake job in her parents’ fake charity. She gave interviews about how she just couldn’t get interested in money and bought a $10 million Manhattan apartment that stretches for the better part of a city block. And, since her mother’s most recent foray into ignominious defeat, she has been inescapable: magazine covers, fawning interviews, talk of running her in New York’s 17th congressional district.

The Democrats are doing their best to make Chelsea happen. And, who knows, it might work. It would be tempting to write her off as a know-nothing rich kid who has made a living off her family connections while operating one of the world’s most truly asinine Twitter accounts, but . . . well, you know.

But, for Pete’s sake, stop it. Have a little self-respect, Democrats. Build Bill Clinton a statue or . . . whatever. Send him your daughters like a bunch of bone-in-the-nose primitives paying tribute to the tribal chieftain. But stop trying to inflict this empty-headed, grasping, sanctimonious, risible, simpering, saccharine little twerp on American public life.

They won’t stop. They can’t help themselves.

Annie Hall

A review.

This caught my eye because we watched it Sunday night, just by scrolling through Starz, and I’d forgotten how good it was. I remember seeing it in a drive-in on a first (and last) date in Tucson when it came out. (The date went fine, but she was about to graduate from U of A with a EE degree and move to Mountain View). Like The Producers, I don’t think it could be made today.

The Rot, Even At Claremont College

Jay Nordlinger paid a visit, and made an ill-received speech:

There are simply people who want to be political, 24/7, all the year round. I’ve met plenty of them. There’s nothing you can do to stop them. Politics, for them, is like oxygen. I’ve also met plenty of people under dictatorship who are forced to be political. They would dearly like to lead a normal life — to tend their garden, so to speak. But oppressors have forced them into dissidence.

Also, I’ve discovered this: Many people are attached to what they regard as their identity — an identity of a political, even a tribal, nature. I touched on this phenomenon in a recent essay (here). I realize this is not a news flash: People are tribal. Duh. It’s just that America is less exempt than I once thought it was.

Why is America swimming in identity politics? Because so many people want it. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have it. The older I get, the more I realize that the liberal spirit is relatively rare. A universalist spirit is relatively rare. I find this on left and right. People cling to their tribes, their skin colors, their ethnicities, what have you. Go team go. E pluribus unum may be our motto, but a great many people in America reject it, I can tell you.

I never believed it before. I have come to believe it.

You could write a book — or at least a long and interesting scholarly essay — called “Balkanization by Choice.” That’s a lousy choice, in my book.

But who’s asked me? I must say, I leave the Athenaeum in a spirit of defeat. Seldom have I found an experience with students so demoralizing.

Very depressing. The left may not be currently winning at the ballot box, but they’ve taken over our educational system and the culture.

[Update a few minutes later]

Heather MacDonald responds to the totalitarian students and faculty of Claremont:

“We, few of the Black students” only pretend to be postmodern relativists. They are fully confident that they possess the truth about me and about their oppressed plight at the Claremont schools. An alternative construction of their reality—one, say, that pointed out that as members of fantastically rich, tolerant, and welcoming American colleges, they are among the most privileged human beings in history—would be immediately rejected as contrary to the truth and not worth debating. “We, few” would also reject the alternative truth that far from devaluing Black students, the administrations of the Claremont colleges have undoubtedly admitted many with levels of academic preparation far below that of their white and Asian peers, simply to fulfill the administrators’ own self-righteous desire for “diversity.”

Typical of all such censors and petty tyrants, “We, few of the Black students” now want to crush dissent. They ask the Claremont University Consortium to take action, both disciplinary and legal, against the editors of the conservative student paper, the Claremont Independent, for the open-ended sins of “continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds.” These are the demands not of relativists but of absolutists determined to solidify their power.

As for “We, few’s” gross misreading of my work, it shows that reading skills are in as short supply at the Claremont colleges as writing skills. My entire argument about the necessity of lawful, proactive policing is based on the value of black lives. I have decried the loss of black life to drive-by shootings and other forms of street violence. I have argued that the fact that blacks die of homicide at six times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined is a civil rights abomination. And I have tried to give voice to the thousands of law-abiding residents of high-crime areas who are desperate for more police protection so that they can enjoy the same freedom from fear that people in more wealthy areas take for granted.

As Nordlinger points out, these children have no idea what true oppression is.

[Update a couple minutes later]

Berkeley is rotten, too. Thoughts from Greg Lukianoff:

The Berkeley administration is incentivizing anyone who doesn’t want a particular speaker to be heard to threaten (or even engage in) acts of violence. This all but guarantees that speakers who are controversial on a particular campus will be silenced, and teaches a generation of students that resorting to violence will be rewarded. Students are learning deeply illiberal lessons. I can think of few things that are more corrosive to higher education or a pluralistic democracy.

Anyone who responds to speech with violence should be prosecuted. So far, to our knowledge, nobody has been charged at Middlebury College, and possibly only one person has been charged in the Berkeley riots.

When students physically block access to speeches or shout down speakers to prevent them from being heard, they should likewise be punished. Failing to address these disruptions grants an ongoing heckler’s veto to would-be censors. This is inimical to both freedom of speech and academic freedom on campus.

There is a reason nobody says, “If you want to stop a bully, give him everything he wants.” Failure to address violent responses to speech only encourages more violence, while turning great institutions like the University of California, Berkeley, into environments where what can be said — and therefore, what can be taught — is dictated by a minority of violent students and other protesters.

To put it in stark terms, not taking a stand against violent protesters is eventually going to get someone killed.

And it will be Trump’s fault.