Sunday, September 04, 2016
Whom to believe?
Some interesting excerpts below from a long article that spends a lot of time looking at old philosophical questions. The author does make the point that decisions on some matters of alleged truth are easier to arrive at than others. And I think global warming is an example of that. Philosophical enquiries about "what is truth?" are largely irrelevant to assessing it. Why? Because it is a prophecy, not a fact. There is no proof available about the future of the climate. All we know is that sometimes it gets hotter and sometimes it gets colder. No other facts are available. So, from a philosophical viewpoint, it should not be seen as any kind of fact. It is outside the purview of science
There are some areas of science that CAN produce accurate prophecies. The orbits of the inner planets can, for instance, be predicted with great accuracy. But they can be predicted because they show great regularity. The fact involved in the prediction is that great regularity. There are facts involved there. But there is nothing like that regularity in global climate processes and, largely for that reason, all attempted predictions have so far been well out of synchrony with reality.
In a March 2015 article in National Geographic, Joel Achenbach lamented the supposed rise of science skepticism in American culture. “Empowered by their own sources of information and their own interpretations of research,” he writes somewhat dramatically, “doubters have declared war on the consensus of experts.”
A few months later, Lee McIntyre of Boston University offered a similar analysis in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Explaining what he sees as a growing disrespect for truth in American culture, McIntyre points to the Internet as a likely culprit. After all, he argues, “outright lies can survive on the Internet. Worse, those who embrace willful ignorance are now much more likely to find an electronic home where their marginal views are embraced.”
Complaints of this kind are not without merit. Consider a recent survey from the Pew Research Center’s Initiative on Science and Society showing a significant gap between the views of laypeople and those of scientists (a sample from the American Association for the Advancement of Science) on a wide range of scientific issues. To take one notable example, 88 percent of the polled AAAS scientists believe genetically modified foods to be safe, compared to only 37 percent of the respondents from the general public.
But as worthwhile as such research may be, it has little to say about a closely related question: What ought we to believe? How should non-experts go about seeking reliable knowledge about complex matters? Absent a granular understanding of the theories underpinning a given area of knowledge, how should laypeople weigh rival claims, choose between conflicting interpretations, and sort the dependable expert positions from the dubious or controversial ones? This is not a new question, of course, but it has become more urgent thanks to our glut of instant information, not to mention the proliferation of expert opinion.
The closest thing to an answer one hears is simply to trust the experts. And, indeed, when it comes to the charge of the electron or the oral-health benefits of fluoride, this response is hard to quarrel with. The wisdom of trusting experts is also a primary assumption behind the work of scholars like Kahan. But once we dispense with the easy cases, a reflexive trust in specialist judgment doesn’t get us very far.
On all manner of consequential questions an average citizen faces — including whether to support a hike in the minimum wage or a new health regulation — expert opinion is often conflicting, speculative, and difficult to decipher. What then? In so many cases, laypeople are left to choose for themselves which views to accept — precisely the kind of haphazard process that the critics of “willful ignorance” condemn and that leaves us subject to our own whims. The concern is that, if we doubt the experts, many people will draw on cherry-picked facts and self-serving anecdotes to furnish their own versions of reality.
This is certainly the case. But, in fixating on this danger, we neglect an important truth: it is simply not feasible to outsource to experts all of our epistemological work — nor would it be desirable. We frequently have no alternative but to choose for ourselves which beliefs to accept. The failure to come to grips with this fact has left us without the kinds of strategies and tools that would enable non-experts to make more effective use of the increasingly opaque theories that explain our world. We need, in other words, something more to appeal to once disagreements reach the “my-source-versus-your-source” phase.
Developing approaches that fit this description will require an examination of our everyday assumptions about knowledge — that is, about which beliefs are worth adopting and why. Not surprisingly, those assumptions have been significantly shaped by our era’s information and communication technologies, and not always for the better.
One consequence of this view of knowledge is that it has become largely unnecessary to consider how a given piece of information was discovered when determining its trustworthiness. The research, experiments, mathematical models, or — in the case of Google — algorithms that went into establishing a given fact are invisible. Ask scientists why their enterprise produces reliable knowledge and you will likely be told “the scientific method.” And this is correct — more or less. But it is rare that one gets anything but a crude schematic of what this process entails. How is it, a reasonable person might ask, that a single method involving hypothesis, prediction, experimentation, and revision is applied to fields as disparate as theoretical physics, geology, and evolutionary biology — or, for that matter, social-scientific disciplines such as economics and sociology?
Even among practitioners this question is rarely asked in earnest. Science writer and former Nature editorial staffer Philip Ball has condemned “the simplistic view of the fictitious ‘scientific method’ that many scientists hold, in which they simply test their theories to destruction against the unrelenting candor of experiment. Needless to say, that’s rarely how it really works.”
Like the algorithms behind Google’s proposed “truth” rankings, the processes that go into establishing a given empirical finding are often out of view. All the lay reader gets is conclusions such as “the universe is fundamentally composed of vibrating strings of energy,” or “eye color is an inherited trait.” By failing to explain — or sometimes even to acknowledge — how, exactly, “the scientific method” generates reliable knowledge about the world in various domains, scientists and science communicators are asking laypeople to accept the supremacy of science on authority.
Far from bolstering the status of experts who engage in rigorous scientific inquiry, this way of thinking actually gives them short shrift. Science, broadly construed, is not a fact-generating machine. It is an activity carried out by people and requiring the very human capacities of reason, intuition, and creativity. Scientific explanations are not the inevitable result of a purely mechanical process called “the scientific method” but the product of imaginative attempts to make empirical data more intelligible and coherent, and to make accurate predictions. Put another way, science doesn’t tell us anything; scientists do.
Failure to recognize the processes involved in adding to our stores of knowledge creates a problem for those of us genuinely interested in getting our beliefs right, as it denies us relevant information for understanding why a given finding deserves our acceptance. If the results of a single, unreplicated neuroscience study are to be considered just as much an instance of good science as the rigorously tested Standard Model of particle physics, then we laypeople have little choice but to give them equal weight. But, as any scientist will tell you, not all findings deserve the same credibility; determining which ones merit attention requires at least a basic grasp of methodology.
To understand the potential costs of failing to engage at the level of method, consider the Innocence Project’s recent investigation of 268 criminal trials in which evidence from hair analysis had been used to convict defendants. In 257 of those cases, the organization found forensic testimony by FBI scientists to be flawed — a conclusion the FBI does not dispute. What is more, each inaccurate analysis overstated the strength of hair evidence in favor of the prosecution. Thirty-two defendants in those cases were eventually sentenced to death, of whom fourteen have either died in prison or have been executed. This is an extreme example of how straightforwardly deferring to expert opinion — without considering how those opinions were arrived at — is not only an inadequate truth-seeking strategy, but a potentially harmful one.
Reacting to the discoveries of forensic malpractice at the FBI, the co-chairman of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, biologist Eric S. Lander, suggested a single rule that would make such lapses far less common. As he wrote in the New York Times, “No expert should be permitted to testify without showing three things: a public database of patterns from many representative samples; precise and objective criteria for declaring matches; and peer-reviewed published studies that validate the methods.”
Lander’s suggestion amounts to the demand that forensic experts “show their work,” so to speak, instead of handing down their conclusions from on high. And it is an institutional arrangement that could, with a few adjustments, be applied to other instances where expert analyses carry significant weight. It might be too optimistic to assume that such information will be widely used by the average person on the street. But, at least in theory, efforts to make the method by which certain facts are established more available and better understood will leave each of us more able to decide which claims to believe. And these sorts of procedural norms would help create the expectation that, when choosing what to believe, we laypeople have responsibilities extending beyond just trusting the most credentialed person in the room.
Research from psychologist Philip Tetlock and colleagues lends support to this idea. Tetlock is co-creator of The Good Judgment Project, an initiative that won a multi-year forecasting tournament conducted by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, a U.S. government research agency. Beginning in 2011, participants in the competition were asked a range of specific questions regarding future geopolitical events, such as, “Will the United Nations General Assembly recognize a Palestinian state by Sept. 30, 2011?,” or “Before March 1, 2014, will North Korea conduct another successful nuclear detonation?” Tetlock’s forecasters, mind you, were not career analysts, but volunteers from various backgrounds. In fact, a pharmacist and a retired irrigation specialist were among the top performers — so-called “superforecasters.”
In analyzing the results of the tournament, researchers at the Good Judgment Project found a number of characteristics common to the best forecasters. For instance, these individuals “had more open-minded cognitive styles” and “spent more time deliberating and updating their forecasts.” In a January 2015 article in the Washington Post, two of the researchers further explained that the best forecasters showed “the tendency to look for information that goes against one’s favored views,” and they “viewed forecasting not as an innate ability, but rather as a skill that required deliberate practice, sustained effort and constant monitoring of current affairs.”
New paper finds IPCC models “have large deficiencies in ENSO amplitude, spatial structure and temporal variability.”
No Access Stochastic parameterisation and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation
H. M. Christensen et al.
The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is the dominant mode of interannual variability in the tropical Pacific. However, the models in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) 5 ensemble have large deficiencies in ENSO amplitude, spatial structure and temporal variability. We consider the use of stochastic parameterisations as a technique to address these pervasive errors. We include the multiplicative Stochastically Perturbed Parameterisation Tendencies scheme (SPPT) in coupled integrations of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Community Atmosphere Model, version 4 (CAM4). SPPT results in a significant improvement to the representation of ENSO in CAM4, improving the power spectrum, and reducing the magnitude of ENSO towards that observed. To understand the observed impact, we consider additive and multiplicative noise in a simple Delayed Oscillator (DO) model of ENSO. Additive noise results in an increase in ENSO amplitude, but multiplicative noise can reduce the magnitude of ENSO, as was observed for SPPT in CAM4. In the light of these results, two complementary mechanisms are proposed by which the improvement occurs in CAM. Comparison of the coupled runs with a set of atmosphere only runs indicates that SPPT first improves the variability in the zonal winds through perturbing the convective heating tendencies, which improves the variability of ENSO. In addition, SPPT improves the distribution of westerly wind bursts (WWB) important for initiation of El Niño events, by increasing the stochastic component of WWB and reducing the overly strong dependency on SST compared to the control integration.
People enhanced the environment, not degraded it, over past 13,000 years
Human occupation is usually associated with deteriorated landscapes, but new research shows that 13,000 years of repeated occupation by British Columbia's coastal First Nations has had the opposite effect, enhancing temperate rainforest productivity.
Andrew Trant, a professor in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo, led the study in partnership with the University of Victoria and the Hakai Institute. The research combined remote-sensed, ecological and archaeological data from coastal sites where First Nations' have lived for millennia. It shows trees growing at former habitation sites are taller, wider and healthier than those in the surrounding forest. This finding is, in large part, due to shell middens and fire.
"It's incredible that in a time when so much research is showing us the negative legacies people leave behind, here is the opposite story," said Trant, a professor in Waterloo's School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability. "These forests are thriving from the relationship with coastal First Nations. For more than 13,000 years —500 generations—people have been transforming this landscape. So this area that at first glance seems pristine and wild is actually highly modified and enhanced as a result of human behaviour."
Fishing of intertidal shellfish intensified in the area over the past 6,000 years, resulting in the accumulation of deep shell middens, in some cases more than five metres deep and covering thousands of square metres of forest area. The long-term practice of harvesting shellfish and depositing remnants inland has contributed significant marine-derived nutrients to the soil as shells break down slowly, releasing calcium over time.
The study examined 15 former habitation sites in the Hakai Lúxvbálís Conservancy on Calvert and Hecate Islands using remote-sensed, ecological and archaeological methods to compare forest productivity with a focus on western red cedar.
The work found that this disposal and stockpiling of shells, as well as the people's use of fire, altered the forest through increased soil pH and important nutrients, and also improved soil drainage.
This research is the first to find long-term use of intertidal resources enhancing forest productivity. Trant says it is likely similar findings will occur at archaeological sites along many global coastlines.
"These results alter the way we think about time and environmental impact," he said. "Future research will involve studying more of these human-modified landscapes to understand the extent of these unexpected changes."
‘Floods are not increasing’: Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. slams ‘global warming’ link to floods & extreme weather – How does media ‘get away with this?’
Dr. Roger Pielke Jr., a Professor in the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Colorado and a Fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), slammed the linkage of global warming to the recent Louisiana floods and other types of extreme weather.
Pielke authored the 2014 book “The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change.”
“Flood disasters are sharply down. U.S. floods not increasing either,” Pielke Jr. declared on August 23. Pielke rebuked New York Times columnist Paul Krugman for linking floods to climate change. Krugman blamed “climate change” for ‘a proliferation of disasters like the one in Louisiana.’
“How does Krugman get away with this?” Pielke asked while showcasing this scientific graph.
“Floods suck when they occur. The good news is U.S. flood damage is sharply down over 70 years,” Pielke explained.
In a message aimed at climate activists and many in the media, Pielke cautioned: “Remember, disasters can happen any time and they suck. But it is also good to understand long-term trends based on data, not hype.”
“In my career I’ve seen the arguments go from: 1- ‘Drought increasing globally’ — To — 2- ‘OK, not globally, but look at THIS one drought.’ I’ll stick with the UN IPCC and the USGCRP (U.S. Global Change Research Program) consensus rather than selected studies. Both of those agree there is no global or U.S. trend though literature is diverse,” Pielke wrote.
Extreme weather is NOT getting worse
Pielke also pointed to the hard scientific data that shows other types of extreme weather are not getting worse and may in fact be improving.
“Is U.S. drought getting worse? No,” Pielke wrote and revealed this EPA graph:
Popey calls global warning a 'sin' and issues advice to Christians on how to fix the environment
The Holy Father seems unableto distinguish between genuine environmental protection and the Leftist fantasy of global warming. He has been deceived by the Warmist "scientists"
Pope Francis today proposed that caring for the environment be added to the traditional seven works of mercy that Christians are called to perform.
The Pope took his green agenda to a new level by supplementing Jesus' call to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick with his own call for recycling, carpooling and conserving electricity.
He said the faithful should ask forgiveness for the 'sins' against the environment that have been committed by the 'irresponsible, selfish' and profit-motivated economic and political system.
He called for all of humanity to take concrete steps to change course, starting with repaying what he called the 'ecological debt' that wealthy countries owe the poor.
'Repaying (the debt) would require treating the environments of poorer nations with care and providing the financial resources and technical assistance needed to help them deal with climate change and promote sustainable development,' he wrote.
On a smaller, individual scale, recycling, turning off the lights and carpooling can also help, he said.
Finally, he proposed that caring for the environment be added as a 'complement' to the seven spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
He made the ambitious proposal in a message to mark the church's World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, which he instituted last year in a bid to highlight his ecological concerns.
This year, the day of prayer for the planet falls during the Pope's Holy Year of Mercy, a year-long focus on the church's merciful side.
Throughout the year, the faithful have been urged to practice the seven corporal and seven spiritual works of mercy, which were first outlined in the Gospel and have been articulated over centuries by philosophers and theologians.
In addition to the corporal acts of mercy, the spiritual ones include counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant and praying to God for the living and dead.
Terrence Ward, author of the book 'The Guardian of Mercy' and a panelist at the Vatican launch of the new document, said the works of mercy the Pope is asking people to perform are 'not about changing the world tomorrow.'
Rather, they're about changing mindsets and performing even small actions - such as turning off the lights. Doing so, he said, shows reverence for the miracle of life and creation and actually allows for all the other works of mercy to follow.
'To give polluted water to someone who is thirsty doesn't make sense,' he said. 'Clean the water up first.'
Obama Dicusses Conservation in Religious Terms: Angels, Heavens, Souls, Sacred Space
Amusing to see a Democrast President agreeing with the Pope of Rome
Sen. Ted Cruz is among those who have described climate change as a religion, not a science. And on Wednesday in Nevada, President Obama used religious terms in a speech linking conservation with climate change.
The president also said "the most important changes" are the ones made by humans. "We've got power. Diminishing carbon pollution proves we can do something about it."
Obama told an appreciative audience it was "special" to stand on the shores of Lake Tahoe, a place he'd never visited before:
"It's been written that the air here is so fine, it must be the same air that the angels breathe. So it's no wonder that for thousands of years, this place has been a spiritual one. For the Washoe people (Native Americans), it is the center of their world.
"And just as this space is sacred to Native Americans, it should be sacred to all Americans. And that's why we're here, to protect this special pristine place, to keep these waters crystal clear, to keep the air as pure as the heavens, to keep alive Tahoe's spirit and to keep faith with this truth, that the challenges of conservation and combating climate change are connected. They're linked."
Obama said the nation must embrace conservation becaue "healthy and diverse lands and waters help us build resilience to climate change."
"We do it (embrace conservation) because places like this nurture and restore the soul, and we want to make sure that's there for our kids too."
Quoting a Washoe tribal leader, Obama said the health of the land and the health of the people are tied together. Then the president listed all the ways he's been working on climate change -- renewable energy, clean power, fuel economy. He also announced new conservation efforts for Lake Tahoe and other western lands and waters.
At the end of his speech, Obama returned to the tribal elder:
"Just go back to that quote by the Washoe elder -- 'What happens to the land also happens to the people.' I've made it my priority in my presidency to protect the natural resource we inherited because we shouldn't be the last to enjoy them. Just as the health of the land and the people are tied together, just as climate and conservation are tied together, we share a sacred connection with those who are going to follow us.
"I think about my two daughters...the future generations who deserve clear water and clean air that will sustain their bodies and sustain their souls -- jewels like Lake Tahoe. And it's not going to happen without hard work. It sure is not going to happen if we pretend a snowball in winter means nothing's wrong. It's not going to happen if we boast about how we're going to scrap international treaties.
"We're -- have elected officials who are alone in the world in denying climate change or put our energy and environmental policies in the hands of the big polluters. (He was talking about Donald Trump.) "It's not going to happen if we just pay lip service to conservation but then refuse to do what's needed.
"When scientists first told us that our planet was changing because of human activity, it was received as a bombshell, but in a way we shouldn't have been surprised.
"The most important changes are always the changes made by us. And the fact that we've been able to grow our clean energy economy proves that we have agency, we've got power. Diminishing carbon pollution proves we can do something about it. Our healing of Lake Tahoe proves it's within our power to pass on the incredible bounty of this country to a next generation."
For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.
Preserving the graphics: Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere. But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases. After that they no longer come up. From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site. See here or here
Posted by JR at 12:35 AM