Friday, September 17, 2010

What Should Count As Nutty?

Two of my recent posts dealt with the question of whether Christine O'Donnell, currently the republican nominee for senate in Delaware, is a nut. That raises a more general question of some interest: What counts as nutty?

Pretty clearly, it isn't enough to merely hold mistaken beliefs; we don't regard Ptolemy as a nut, although he famously believed that the earth was at the center of the universe, embedded in a nested collection of crystaline spheres. Those of us who are atheists do not conclude that all the religious believers are nuts although, seen from our perspective, the beliefs of many of them do indeed look pretty weird. So what does it take?

In the first of my two posts, I mentioned that O'Donnell, in arguing that masturbation was sinful, was correctly (so far as I could tell) reporting a position expressed in the New Testament (not about masturbation directly but about lust), and that although I disagreed I did not take that as evidence that she was a nut. Several people commenting wanted to know why, or else clearly disagreed.

In that particular case, I think there are two answers. The first is that I don't have any solid basis for my own moral beliefs, any way of proving to a reasonable and open minded skeptic that they are correct. That puts me in a poor position to condemn as obvious nonsense someone else's moral beliefs.

I could have gone on to point out that a number of moral beliefs strongly held by many people in our current society would be seen as distinctly nutty by most people, including most intelligent, educated, and reasonable people, in a fair number of past societies. Consider, as one example, our rejection of slavery, contrasted with the view of the subject held by Aristotle and his contemporaries. For another, consider our view of the minimum age for sexual intercourse, reflected in age of consent and statutory rape laws, contrasted with the views of most past societies. There is good reason to believe that we know more about science than people did in the past, but I have not yet seen any evidence that we know more about moral philosophy. And I know of at least one twentieth century case where a legal change replacing traditional with modern views of the subject—in Jewish law by rabbis in Palestine—was defended by the factual claim that bearing children young was more dangerous now than it had been two thousand years ago, a "scientific" claim that strikes me as distinctly nutty.

But the special problems of moral beliefs don't answer the more general question. There are lots of people who disagree with me on factual questions whom I don't consider nutty either. So where do I, where should I, draw the line.

Consider a second and more troubling piece of evidence against O'Donnell. In a TV interview a few years back, she said:

"American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains."

The story I got the quote from suggested that she was "misremembering this 2005 report on scientists who successfully grew human brain cells within mice."

Misremembering the details of a news story doesn't qualify as nutty—people do that all the time. Getting facts wrong, even badly wrong, doesn't qualify either. As I pointed out in a piece some time back, David Frum, a prominent conservative commentator, got the facts about the beginning of the Great Depression backwards, thought Hoover cut spending when in fact he sharply increased it; that doesn't make him a nut. Biden, in his debate with Palin, described FDR as responding to the stockmarket crash by going on television to reassure the nation. That doesn't make him a nut either.

What is disturbing about the O'Donnell quote is not that she got the facts wrong but that she got them so very wrong, believed something that, on the face of it, no reasonable person would believe. That strikes me as a good first cut at a definition of nutty.

But the application is not as simple as it might seem, even in that case, because it depends on what one can expect a reasonable person to already know. Biden's comment contains two claims that, to anyone moderately familiar with American history, should have been obviously false—that FDR was president in 1929 and that television was widely available at the time. But most Americans are not even moderately familiar with American history, and that probably includes quite a lot of prominent American politicians.

Similarly with the O'Donnell quote. The idea that one could get a fully functional human brain into a mouse's skull is, on the face of it, absurd—to someone with any feel for either the current state of biotech or the relevant biology. But I think there is quite a lot of evidence—most obviously the circulation figures of the wilder tabloids—that a sizable fraction of the American population doesn't have any feel for that sort of thing. Do they all count as nuts?

Let me go back to the question of the Bible, not as a source of moral authority but as a source of truth. My first instinct is to write off anyone who believes that as obviously crazy. And I am at least tempted to broaden that to anyone who believes the central claims of any of the major religions, anyone who, in Orwell's phrase, believes in Heaven the way he believes in Australia.

The reason I don't write them off that way is that I know of too many people, present and past, who quite obviously were intelligent, thoughtful, and reasonable, yet believed in the Bible, some of them in a pretty literal sense, others at least to the extent of believing in its central claims.

In trying to make sense of all this, I fall back on the observation that most of what most of us, perhaps all of us, believe, is based not on evidence directly available to us but on what the people around us tell us. Not only is it so based, it has to be. Nobody has the time and energy to check enough of the facts for himself—to be sure that Australia, and New Zealand, and Antarctica, and Orford, N.H., actually exist by going and looking at them, rather than by believing what he is told or reads.

One reason I am confident it can't be done is that I know someone who tries, a fellow poster to Usenet with whom I have interacted over a period of many years. He is an intelligent and energetic fellow, and he appears to follow a policy of regarding with skepticism anything he can't check for himself. Thus, for example, he takes it for granted that none of the official figures on inflation can be trusted, and tries to make his own estimate from prices he has himself observed. His conclusions, in that case and many others, sharply diverge from what the rest of us believe. One result is that he comes across, to many people and not entirely without reason, as a nut.

Once you accept the practical necessity of relying heavily on second hand information, you have to modify your view of what a reasonable person would believe to take account of what those around him believed. If you have no training in science and your only information on biotech comes from the popular press, it may not be obvious that a story on mice with human brains cannot be right. If you have devoted your time, energy, and intelligence to living your own life, doing your job, dealing with those around you, it isn't all that unreasonable to accept as truth what those around you believe about wider issues less directly observed, such as the existence of God or the weakness of the case for evolution.

That applies not only to people in the past who couldn't have known the evidence for evolution but to people in the present who could have but in all probability don't. I long ago concluded that most people who say they do believe in evolution, like most who say they don't, are going mostly on faith. As I pointed out in a post some years back, many of those who say they believe in evolution, most notably people left of center, have no difficulty rejecting even its most obvious implications when those clash with their ideology.

So what does qualify one as a nut? I think the best answer I can come up with is holding beliefs that no reasonable person with your intellectual background could hold. In practice, since one rarely knows enough about some else's background to apply that criterion, it comes down to observing how someone holds and defends his beliefs. Someone who argues for creationism and against evolution in a coherent, consistent, intelligent fashion isn't a nut, even if there are lots of facts he doesn't know that contradict his argument, even if he bases his attack on a mistaken (but widely believed) account of the contents of the theory he is attacking.

It is at the point when the argument depends on ignoring facts he does know, on defending inconsistent positions, demonstrates that he is committed to the conclusion whatever the evidence and the arguments might be, that the balance begins to tip. The clue is not what he argues for but how he argues for it.

At least, I think that's the closest I can come to answering the question that started this post.

86 Comments:

At 1:45 PM, September 17, 2010, Blogger Neolibertarian said...

There is no scientific definition of a "nut", and I expect the DSM is equally silent on the diagnosis. There is certainly a distinction between believing in specific nutty things (walking on water, transmogrifying red liquids, talking topiary, etc...) and being a nut.

There's also the issue of normalcy versus nuttery. If 99% of people believe that some invisible man is the passing judgment on all their actions, then that's a normal belief. It's also a nutty one. It's quite possible to be a "high functioning nut" especially in a world inhabited by nuts.

I really don't feel like I'm out on a limb classifying young earth creationists as nuts. And O'Donnell is a young earth creationist.

 
At 1:57 PM, September 17, 2010, Blogger Daveon said...

She does seem to have a problem with facts, whether that is nutty or not I leave to others - between the masturbation and other comments I'm erring on nuttier than a bag of squirrels.

In an interview before the primary she was asked about a speech she gave where she claimed to have beaten Joe Biden in some counties. She back peddled and said she'd meant to say "tied".

Trouble is. She didn't tie. She lost every single county.

So, she *might* not be nutty, but between her desire to say practically anything to get elected and her other issues with money and campaign finance I don't think I'm out on too long a limb when I say she's unsuitable for public office.

It will be interesting to see the result in November and whether the Republicans would rather govern with a bunch of these characters in the party or lose.

 
At 1:59 PM, September 17, 2010, Blogger Jonathan said...

I think everyone is a bit crazy in some way or other. Haven't we all been called crazy by someone close to us from time to time?

I do regard religious belief as a form of insanity; but there are many other forms of insanity, some of which surely affect me.

We're all mad; we live in a world of lunatics. You can see it on the news every day.

Let he who is completely sane cast the first stone?

 
At 2:18 PM, September 17, 2010, Anonymous Bill said...

This is a really interesting post, but the conclusion is a bit of a mess:

So what does qualify one as a nut? I think the best answer I can come up with is holding beliefs that no reasonable person with your intellectual background could hold.

Assuming by "your" you mean the analyst and not the putative nut (and your next para does provide some evidence that this is not what you mean), this is a fine summary of the (excellent) discussion ante.

A "nut" is a stupid, talkative person whose "intellectual background" is different from mine. I would say a stupid, talkative person not of my tribe, but fine. I think your whole post basically built to this conclusion, but then you shy away from it:

In practice, since one rarely knows enough about some else's background to apply that criterion, it comes down to observing how someone holds and defends his beliefs. Someone who argues for creationism and against evolution in a coherent, consistent, intelligent fashion isn't a nut, even if there are lots of facts he doesn't know that contradict his argument, even if he bases his attack on a mistaken (but widely believed) account of the contents of the theory he is attacking.

Here you are dwelling on stupid and talkative. Biden and O'Donnell are both stupid and talkative. Neither can make decent arguments. You need something to distinguish them. The something is that Biden thinks of himself as, allies himself with, aspires to be a part of the US "cultural elite." He desperately wants to be like you (and me), except with more power.

"Nut" is a status marker.

 
At 3:04 PM, September 17, 2010, Anonymous Bruce said...

Most of us have some erroneous (or at least odd) beliefs, but most are relatively isolated from more central core beliefs. But I think a "nut" tends to aggregate these erroneous beliefs into a broader "nutty" worldview.

Let's assume that Biden did not bug O'Donnell's phone.

If O'Donnell erroneously thinks Biden bugged her phone because she once heard an odd clicking noise, that would simply be an erroneous conclusion.

But if O'Donnell thinks Biden bugged her phone because Biden wanted to make sure that O'Donnell didn't tell anyone the truth about Biden and Queen Elizabeth being the leaders of an international drug smuggling ring, and the guy in the black car following her two days ago was part of the mafia who is trying to get back at Biden, and . . . .

I think "nuts" have a nutty worldview, not just a few isolated nutty beliefs.

 
At 3:41 PM, September 17, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I'm not crazy. Poor people are crazy. I'm eccentric."

 
At 3:44 PM, September 17, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it is a mistake to think of this as binary. One is not a nut or not a nut, one has a certain degree of nutiness.

Your degree of nutiness is the measure of how far you deviate from commonly held beliefs, practices and habits.

You would call me a "nut" if I exceeded your personally defined threshold of nutiness. For society to call me a nut, I must exceed the mean threshold of nutiness as defined by the population making the assessment.

(I think it is a common mistake to take a metric and turn it into a binary. Is President Obama a socialist? One is not a socialist or not a socialist, one holds a socialist belief to some degree. He certainly has more socialist beliefs than Ayn Rand, or David Friedman, for example.)

 
At 4:00 PM, September 17, 2010, Blogger Max said...

The quote about the mice with human brains could include a certain amount of poor grammar.

If the part of the story that O'Donnell misremembered, for instance, was whether the human brain cells were functioning in the mice, then the statement "mice with functioning human brain cells" is in fact legitimate. Clearly there is a difference between a small clump of functioning brain cells and a fully-fledged functioning brain. On the other hand, trying to make that distinction in English is very hard, especially when speaking off the cuff.

 
At 4:32 PM, September 17, 2010, Blogger David Friedman said...

"And O'Donnell is a young earth creationist."

Certainly possible, but the only quotes from her I've seen that are relevant fall short of taking that position, although they at least hint at it.

"Evolution is only a theory, and the evidence isn't very strong" (not a real quote) is a statement likely to be made by a creationist, although not necessarily a young earth creationist. But it could also be made by someone who thinks the question is still open.

 
At 4:37 PM, September 17, 2010, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Your degree of nutiness is the measure of how far you deviate from commonly held beliefs, practices and habits.

You would call me a "nut" if if I exceeded your personally defined threshold of nutiness."

As I think I have just demonstrated, I don't use the word to describe deviation from commonly held beliefs etc. After all, there are some commonly held beliefs that I think are wrong. Nor do I use it to describe deviation from my beliefs.

 
At 5:01 PM, September 17, 2010, Blogger Neolibertarian said...

Certainly possible, but the only quotes from her I've seen that are relevant fall short of taking that position, although they at least hint at it.

I can't vouch for what quotes you've seen, or how much you've looked into her religious beliefs, but that's not really the issue. To the extent that one can label people as nuts, young earth creationists certainly qualify.

Believing that the earth is less than 10,000 years demonstrates a degree of willful ignorance that is dangerous, especially in a person who would make laws governing your behavior. If you don't feel comfortable labeling young earth creationists as nuts, that's fine. Call 'em whatever you like.

O'Donnell is clearly someone who wants to curtail your personal freedoms. That fact is certainly much more important than the specific label you might attach to her, her particular notions regarding mouse brains, or how she feels about any persecution Newt Gingrich might have faced.

(And yes, she is a young earth creationist.)

 
At 8:13 PM, September 17, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post. It *is* important to distinguish between nuttiness and other forms of being wrong. Perhaps we could add another reason people say wildly wrong things: they care so little about telling the truth that they talk without thinking about it. Bill Clinton had a problem like that. Such a person does not really have nutty belief; he says nutty things but he does not act on them, and he doesn't even lie carefully. I wouldn't be surprised if O'Donnell's positions are extreme but also don't affect her conduct much.

 
At 9:05 PM, September 17, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

> As I think I have just demonstrated, I don't use the word to describe deviation from commonly held beliefs etc.

Sorry, I don't see where you demonstrated that.

> After all, there are some commonly held beliefs that I think are wrong.

It isn't about being right or wrong it is about being different. In fact oftentimes it isn't about beliefs at all.

For example, the old lady who has twenty five cats -- she is pretty nutty. Or the crazy guy who walks through the street talking to himself. He's nuts too.

Consider this: twenty years ago if you told someone you spend a considerable amount of time interacting in a pretend realm of wizards, heroes and quests, and that you chat with your wife there -- you'd definitely be nuts.

Nutiness isn't about being right or wrong, it is about being different.

In fact there are good evolutionary reasons for this. Compliance: being part of the group, and so forth is necessary in a species that relies on brains and group work to survive. Being too far out of the box is a survival risk, and is consequently a danger to the tribe.

 
At 8:44 AM, September 18, 2010, Anonymous RKN said...

So what does qualify one as a nut? I think the best answer I can come up with is holding beliefs that no reasonable person with your intellectual background could hold.

This definition would classify Michael Behe, a PhD biochemist with considerable background in molecular biology, as a nut, seeing as he is an advocate of Intelligent Design. I'm sure many people would therefore agree he's a good example of a nut.

For a couple reasons I'm not comfortable with that, neither of which is related to a committed belief to I.D., which I don't possess.

 
At 10:55 AM, September 18, 2010, Blogger Karl said...

Tom Digby once wrote of a case where a doctor walked past a woman in the yard at a mental hospital. Since it was starting to rain, he asked her if she wanted to come inside out of the rain.

She replied, "That's okay, I'm waterproof," which he attributed to her delusional state.

Digby noted that while the doctor noted it as evidence of the woman's disconnect from reality, he didn't behave as if she were, in any real way, not waterproof -- dragging her in from the rain, throwing a tarp over her, etc.

I think a lot of "nuttiness" may be confirmation bias. You decide a person is nutty, and then apply filters to the person's output to justify this conviction.

 
At 1:05 PM, September 18, 2010, Blogger Neolibertarian said...

Belief in Intelligent Design is not nutty. Belief that Intelligent Design is science is nutty.

 
At 1:59 PM, September 18, 2010, Blogger bgates said...

O'Donnell is clearly someone who wants to curtail your personal freedoms.

That statement is not only as incorrect as anything O'Donnell has ever said, it's more dangerous. (There's a very good reason to think she doesn't want to curtail my personal freedoms: she's not a Democrat.) If somebody in the Senate thinks a mouse could have a full-sized human brain, which is even more bizarre than thinking a mouse could have a full-sized human ear, what difference does that make to me? On the other hand, if Delewareans believe your false statement, they may be more inclined to elect Harry Reid's pet. That would be bad for the country.

Believing that the earth is less than 10,000 years demonstrates a degree of willful ignorance that is dangerous, especially in a person who would make laws governing your behavior.

What does believing the US and France kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon demonstrate in a person who holds the office of Vice President? What evidence is there that O'Donnell has any interest in making laws to restrict your behavior, as opposed to repealing laws already in place?

 
At 5:59 PM, September 18, 2010, Blogger GM said...

One possible way to define a "nut" is a person who insists on a particular belief despite all the facts and evidence to the contrary - for example, the folks who deny that global warming exists and is merely a conspiracy to impose a socialist one-world government upon us.

 
At 5:31 AM, September 19, 2010, Anonymous J said...

David:

With due respect but the country elected a president who attended White's oddball congregation for 20 years referring to white people as pigs etc. and other absurdities. He's received a Nobel prize.

Now if the country can elect a person like him, I find it difficult to believe the Delaware woman can't be elected.

If she's a nut what does it make Obama?

 
At 7:23 AM, September 19, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

GM, it's interesting that people who trust in experts are never labeled nuts. But of course always trusting experts is a mistake, just as never trusting experts is. It's field specific. In some fields, you should believe the experts without hesitation. In others, you should withhold judgement or even disdain expert opinion.

 
At 9:06 AM, September 19, 2010, Blogger GM said...

Granted, blindly trusting experts is a bad idea - but so is automatically dismissing them because they are experts. I see far too much of that from warming "skeptics", particularly those of libertarian bent. A lot assume that because some scientist works at some government agency (NOAA, NASA, etc.) any research that they do is magically discredited because of that. That's just silly.

 
At 9:33 AM, September 19, 2010, OpenID andyhallman said...

The reason I don't write them off that way is that I know of too many people, present and past, who quite obviously were intelligent, thoughtful, and reasonable, yet believed in the Bible, some of them in a pretty literal sense, others at least to the extent of believing in its central claims.

I agree that however nutty it is to believe the Bible now, it was less nutty in the past. Early humans had no idea how the universe came to be. They didn't understand why there were so many animals and how they all got there. So I can sympathize with early humans who thought of (what now appear as) crazy explanations for those phenomena.

But my sympathy only runs so far, and in the case of modern-day Biblical literalists, it has run out. The explanation that the Bible is a work of man fits perfectly with the rest of our understanding of anthropology, in the same way that the theory of evolution by natural selection fits with our understanding of biology.

In the past, Biblical literalists took consolation in the dearth of alternative explanations for what they supposedly explained. But in the year 2010, it strains credulity that an educated person can read the Bible as a history book.

 
At 11:24 AM, September 19, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If some math experts tell you something (about pure math), you should believe them. That's not because math experts are good people, but because the subject is inherently one of high confidence.

At the other extreme, economic forcasts are worthless. Experts do worse than naive extrapolation. This is not because they are bad people, but because they are trying to do something difficult or impossible.

It's not about picking what experts to trust, it's about knowing what fields of knowledge have experts. (Of course it's not black and white, there are degrees).

 
At 1:32 PM, September 19, 2010, Blogger sconzey said...

Friedman,

There are few people today who I'd describe as "wise," but this post puts you well into that category.

I fear that, whilst you intentionally tone down your definition of a "nut" so as not to include people who have in good faith made a reasonable attempt to think through their views, the vast majority of the American elite and intelligensia does regard the majority of the "Amerikaners" as nuts.

-sconzey

 
At 3:25 PM, September 19, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do think there's something to the notion that nutty is partly about distance from tribal beliefs.

It is also a claim made that indicates that the "accuser" considers the nut's opinions, advice, etc. to be untrustworthy.

The reason, I think, that the anti-masturbation stuff strikes many, myself included, as nutty is that I don't recall another politician making a big deal over it, it comes off as self-defeating (I mentioned her in conversation to a friend who also follows politics closely, and his response was to the effect of, "which one? Oh, the hairy palmer in Delaware."), the conventional wisdom that basically everyone masturbates and isn't that big of a deal, and it at least appears to be a topic to which she has devoted considerable energy. She comes across as having highly skewed priorities. It is also more than a little funny to display such passion about spreading the word about the horrors of masturbation.

Ditto the mouse-brain thing: it is funny, and very easily mocked. This is something that politicians avoid, for obvious reasons. Making less dramatic false claims about bioscience is more forgivable, but a moment's reflection demonstrates that just about any non-scientist should be capable of identifying the obvious flaws with the claim - differences in size, the fact that human-intelligence-lever mice would be rather big news that everyone would have heard of, etc.

Using the name "Vince Foster" in the same sentence as the word "murder" places people in a very specific political context. It communicates much more than a simple expression about the relative magnitude of charges against Clinton and Gingrich. It is the same function as operates with the birthers or the truthers - entertaining the possibility that 9/11 was perpetrated by Bush, or that Obama is the secret lovechild of Malcom X, communicates a great deal more than simple open-mindedness on the topic, and tends to mark one as unreliable on political topics. Making an epistemological claim to attempt to rehabilitate the assertion is difficult. (Indeed, I think there is a tribal affiliation thing going on with making those claims, much like other conspiracy theories - people who are certain that the Bilderburgers secretly run the world economy or whatever seem to naturally seek each other out and believe they share knowledge and insight that the rest of us rubes lack.)

O'Donnell's claims thus far establish a pattern whereby most people watching along expect to hear more outlandish things from her. For instance, if you were taking bets on either Harry Reed or O'Donnell being the first to claim to be an alien abductee who received anal probes and had a chip implanted in her head, the odds of it being Reed would be rather lower. If you were guessing if O'Donnell or Rove would come out strongly against the national security risks of vicious attack sharks (with laser beams!), you'd guess O'Donnell.

I think it almost goes without saying, but to many, these are not attractive features in national politicians seeking great power, however amusing they may be.

 
At 3:25 PM, September 19, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do think there's something to the notion that nutty is partly about distance from tribal beliefs.

It is also a claim made that indicates that the "accuser" considers the nut's opinions, advice, etc. to be untrustworthy.

The reason, I think, that the anti-masturbation stuff strikes many, myself included, as nutty is that I don't recall another politician making a big deal over it, it comes off as self-defeating (I mentioned her in conversation to a friend who also follows politics closely, and his response was to the effect of, "which one? Oh, the hairy palmer in Delaware."), the conventional wisdom that basically everyone masturbates and isn't that big of a deal, and it at least appears to be a topic to which she has devoted considerable energy. She comes across as having highly skewed priorities. It is also more than a little funny to display such passion about spreading the word about the horrors of masturbation.

Ditto the mouse-brain thing: it is funny, and very easily mocked. This is something that politicians avoid, for obvious reasons. Making less dramatic false claims about bioscience is more forgivable, but a moment's reflection demonstrates that just about any non-scientist should be capable of identifying the obvious flaws with the claim - differences in size, the fact that human-intelligence-lever mice would be rather big news that everyone would have heard of, etc.

Using the name "Vince Foster" in the same sentence as the word "murder" places people in a very specific political context. It communicates much more than a simple expression about the relative magnitude of charges against Clinton and Gingrich. It is the same function as operates with the birthers or the truthers - entertaining the possibility that 9/11 was perpetrated by Bush, or that Obama is the secret lovechild of Malcom X, communicates a great deal more than simple open-mindedness on the topic, and tends to mark one as unreliable on political topics. Making an epistemological claim to attempt to rehabilitate the assertion is difficult. (Indeed, I think there is a tribal affiliation thing going on with making those claims, much like other conspiracy theories - people who are certain that the Bilderburgers secretly run the world economy or whatever seem to naturally seek each other out and believe they share knowledge and insight that the rest of us rubes lack.)

O'Donnell's claims thus far establish a pattern whereby most people watching along expect to hear more outlandish things from her. For instance, if you were taking bets on either Harry Reed or O'Donnell being the first to claim to be an alien abductee who received anal probes and had a chip implanted in her head, the odds of it being Reed would be rather lower. If you were guessing if O'Donnell or Rove would come out strongly against the national security risks of vicious attack sharks (with laser beams!), you'd guess O'Donnell.

I think it almost goes without saying, but to many, these are not attractive features in national politicians seeking great power, however amusing they may be.

 
At 5:29 PM, September 19, 2010, Blogger David Friedman said...

"The reason, I think, that the anti-masturbation stuff strikes many, myself included, as nutty is that I don't recall another politician making a big deal over it,"

As best I can tell, O'Donnell didn't make a big deal over it. She mentioned her view that maturbation was sinful once, in the course of a TV program some fourteen years ago where she was one of the discussants.

The big deal was made by her critics.

 
At 7:07 PM, September 19, 2010, Blogger Neolibertarian said...

@David,

Maybe it would help if instead of casting doubt and uncertainty about what her actual views are, you just addressed the particular views directly (regardless of what O'Donnell actually believes).

Your post is titled "What Should Count As Nutty?", so why not answer that question?

Do you think being anti-masturbation is nuttery? Does believing such a thing make one a nut?

Do you think young earth creationism is nutter? Does being a young earth creationist make one a nut?

 
At 4:19 AM, September 20, 2010, Blogger Weekend Yachtsman said...

"It is at the point when...he demonstrates that he is committed to the conclusion whatever the evidence and the arguments might be, that the balance begins to tip. The clue is not what he argues for but how he argues for it."

Hmm.

That's the Global Warming fanatics dished then.

Couldn't agree more.

 
At 7:04 AM, September 20, 2010, Blogger Matt said...

You don't need to know biology to know that the "mice with human brains" thing can't possibly be right.

Three questions to ask someone who claims such a thing.

1. Have you ever seen a mouse's head?
2. Have you ever seen a human head?
3. Have you ever imagined what would happen if you tried to pour a gallon of milk into a shot glass, or stuff a socialite's entire wardrobe (including shoes) into a small overnight bag?

I'd say a functional definition of "nut", at least for public figures, is a person who doesn't give a proposition even a cursory amount of thought and review before repeating it in public.

If biology isn't your life's ambition, I suppose it's not totally crazy to hear something like the mice-with-human-brains story and casually pass it by as yet another wacky science development. But before you repeat it to others, it behooves you to at least run it past the sniff test.

 
At 7:55 AM, September 20, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Weekend Yachtsman" has it exactly backwards - it's the so-called skeptics who constantly deny reality (little things like the basic laws of physics) in their ardor to avoid some sort of policy prescription to deal with climate disruption.

 
At 8:39 AM, September 20, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wasn't there a congressman a while back who thought Guam would tip over? That's nutty. How could anyone live 50+ years and believe that islands are floating on the backs of whales (or whatever explanation he gave). I demand the immediate repeal of all laws made while this man was in office, on the grounds of his nuttiness. Think of how much better off the world will be.

Nutty ideas: race, sex, and gender are socially constructed. Socialism describes economics, history, politics accurately. Women don't lie about rape. A bearded Marxist could running as Democrat. Ooops. That last one's true. Still nutty, though.

That masturbation is bad? I hear this from feminists and academics: pornography gives men a poor understanding of women and sex. And what is pornography used for? Masturbation. Conclusion: masturbation is bad, unless you do it alone in dark with no fantasies of sexy women. That's at least as nutty as O'Donnell's views.

That the people of Delaware would choose instead of O'Donnell a self-described follower of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Che, Castro, Chavez is appalling.

"You don't need to know biology to know that the 'mice with human brains' thing can't possibly be right."

To the contrary, you're making the bizarre assumption that she believes a human brain could be removed from an adult human and place into an adult mouse. Although I haven't been in a bio lab in 40 years, I believe I can grow a human brain in a mouse skull: the cells will grow until they reach the size of the container, then stop.

 
At 10:38 AM, September 20, 2010, Blogger Neolibertarian said...

Nutty ideas: race, sex, and gender are socially constructed.

If you've ever called Obama black, you've used race as a social construct. If you've ever considered yourself a virgin, you've used sex as a social construct. If you've ever avoided buying pink clothes as a man, you've used gender as a social construct.

Yes, race, sex and gender are not socially constructed. But the social constructs of race, sex and gender are a product of society. Race, and the social construct of race are two distinct things.

 
At 11:16 AM, September 20, 2010, Anonymous RKN said...

She replied, "That's okay, I'm waterproof," which he attributed to her delusional state.

Digby noted that while the doctor noted it as evidence of the woman's disconnect from reality, he didn't behave as if she were, in any real way, not waterproof -- dragging her in from the rain, throwing a tarp over her, etc.


I don't know that I would have concluded she was delusional. Human beings are waterproof, because our skin is waterproof. If it wasn't we would drown.

 
At 5:08 PM, September 20, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A collection of nutty statements:

“There are dramatic environmental changes happening the Arctic region – whether one believes they are man-made or natural.” – John McCain, Arizona

“While I think the earth is warming, I don’t think that man-made causes are the primary factor.” – Ken Buck, Colorado

“The climate is always changing. The climate is never static. The question is whether it’s caused by man-made activity and whether it justifies economically destructive government regulation.” -Marco Rubio, Florida

“[Scientists] are making up their facts to fit their conclusions. They’ve already caught them doing this.” – Rand Paul, Kentucky

“There isn’t any real science to say we are altering the climate path of the Earth.” -Roy Blunt, Missouri

“I don’t buy into the whole man-caused global warming, man-caused climate change mantra of the left. I believe that there’s not sound science to back that up.” -Sharron Angle, Nevada

“There is much debate in the scientific community as to the precise sources of global warming.” -Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania

“It’s going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries ‘uncle’.” -Jim DeMint, South Carolina

“If you have one volcano in the world, that one volcano puts out more carbon dioxide than everything man puts out.” -John Raese, West Virginia

“I absolutely do not believe that the science of man-caused climate change is proven. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I think it’s far more likely that it’s just sunspot activity, or something just in the geologic eons of time where we have changes in the climate.” -Ron Johnson, Wisconsin

 
At 5:32 PM, September 20, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always enjoy your posts. You are charitable and honest. And you seem to be genuinely interested in learning. Those are very rare qualities.

 
At 10:54 PM, September 20, 2010, Blogger David Friedman said...

J. asks about Obama.

One might be able to argue that the evidence that White is nutty is at least as strong as the evidence that O'Donnell is. But it doesn't follow that all the members of his congregation were.

Obama, in particular, may have had good political reasons to be a member of that congregation, whether or not he believed in White's views.

 
At 11:01 PM, September 20, 2010, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Do you think being anti-masturbation is nuttery? Does believing such a thing make one a nut?

Do you think young earth creationism is nutter? Does being a young earth creationist make one a nut?"

As I tried to make clear in the post, I don't think the question put in that form can be answered, because it depends on the intellectual background of the believer.

In the case of masturbation, I don't think that believing it is sinful makes you a nut--I don't know of any objective way of determining what is or isn't sinful.

In the case of young earth creationism it depends what the believer knows. It would be hard for a well informed person to maintain that belief without being a nut, but most people aren't well informed about the relevant evidence.

It's at least arguable that anyone in 1890 who thought the earth was more than 500 million years old could be classified as a nut, since not only Lord Kelvin but a variety of other able scientists had offered convincing calculations yielding upper bounds lower than that.

 
At 11:15 PM, September 20, 2010, Blogger David Friedman said...

"it's the so-called skeptics who constantly deny reality (little things like the basic laws of physics) in their ardor to avoid some sort of policy prescription to deal with climate disruption."

I think there is a reasonable amount of nuttyness on both sides of the global warming debate--with the obvious example on the pro AGW catastrophic team being the people who get the magnitude of the likely sea level rise high by a couple of orders of magnitude.

But I'm curious as to why one has to ignore the basic laws of physics in order not to believe in AGW, or even GW. Or is your point not that one has to but only that some people explicitly do?

 
At 5:40 AM, September 21, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But I'm curious as to why one has to ignore the basic laws of physics in order not to believe in AGW, or even GW."

Science isn't a buffet that allows you to pick and choose which parts to believe. It's all reasonably well tied together. Just as it's nutty to hold up a sign that says "Keep the government's hands off my Medicare", it's nutty to believe that increasing CO2 doesn't cause increasing warming while accepting the rest of science.

 
At 5:55 AM, September 21, 2010, Anonymous J said...

Thanks for responding David:

One might be able to argue that the evidence that White is nutty is at least as strong as the evidence that O'Donnell is. But it doesn't follow that all the members of his congregation were.

Obama, in particular, may have had good political reasons to be a member of that congregation, whether or not he believed in White's views.


I'm sorry I can't buy that. he was hanging around that preacher and that "house of prayer' for 20 years.

If he was there for political reasons he was hanging around for an awfully long time without finding another church.

Similarly would anyone here buy that argument of some white pol suggesting he was a member of a racist organization that hated blacks (for instance) for political reasons?

 
At 9:12 AM, September 21, 2010, Blogger David Friedman said...

"it's nutty to believe that increasing CO2 doesn't cause increasing warming while accepting the rest of science."

Do you think, with the amount of science you know, that you can calculate the size of the effect, whether it's a degree a decade or a millionth of a degree a decade? If not, arguing that observed global warming isn't due to CO2 does not require ignorance of science.

How about calculating other effects of human activity? If the greenhouse effect causes an increase of .1 degrees/decade, and increased albedo due to effects of human activity on cloud cover causes a decrease of .2 degrees/decade, then the net human effect is negative. Do you think, with what you know of the laws of physics, that you can eliminate that possibility?

I'm tempted to say that believing that knowledge of the basic laws of physics is enough to tell us whether AGW is real is evidence of being a nut. But that's probably unfair to you, since you presumably got that idea from faith in the beliefs of those around you plus inadequate scientific training, and given those conditions you don't have to be a nut to believe it.

 
At 9:19 AM, September 21, 2010, Blogger David Friedman said...

"If he was there for political reasons he was hanging around for an awfully long time without finding another church."

It was a large and active black church in the area where he had political ambitions. Being a member may well have been politically useful to him up to the point where he was making a serious try for the presidency.

Quote from the Wikipedia article on him:

"Obama explained how, through working with black churches as a community organizer while in his twenties, he came to understand "the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change""

 
At 9:27 AM, September 21, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Science isn't a buffet that allows you to pick and choose which parts to believe."

Some things can be known with near certainty. Some things can known fuzzily or with low certainty. And some things can't be known. And science includes all of the above.

You'd better know what category the science is in before you decide to "accept" it.

 
At 10:21 AM, September 21, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the snarky comment, David.

Rest assured that my science training is quite adequate; my point is that if one dismisses the concept that increasing CO2 causes increasing warming, then one must, if one is rational and not a nut, be willing to dismiss all the other as well-known and proven concepts in science.

I suspect the real resistance to AGW coming from libertarians and anarchocapitalists has nothing to do with the science, but rather their recoiling at an issue that lays bare the inadequacies of their ideologies.

Neither are well-prepared or well-founded enough to handle a problem that transcends property lines, is transgenerational and global, so libertarians and anarchocapitalists dismiss the problem as nonexistent, or, merely the fantasy of statists and socialists.

AGW exposes one of the weakest points in anarchist/libertarian dogma, and that rankles some folks.

 
At 10:44 AM, September 21, 2010, Blogger David Friedman said...

To Anonymous:

You never answered my question as to whether your claim was that some people who opposed AGW ignore basic laws of physics (surely true--also of some who support it) or that ignoring basic laws of physics was necessary to deny it. I took it from the form of your reply that your claim was the latter. As I think I showed, the latter version of the claim is false. The former version is true but uninteresting.

Your more recent "my point is that if one dismisses the concept that increasing CO2 causes increasing warming" doesn't clarify much. Do you mean "if one dismisses the idea that an increase in CO2 would have some tendency to increase global warming—possibly large, possibly trivial—all other effects held constant?" Doing that isn't necessary to deny AGW.

On the more general question of AGW and libertarianism, you can find a discussion of the relevant issues in the final chapter of my _Future Imperfect_. The webbed version of the chapter is at:

http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Future_Imperfect/Chapter22.html

 
At 11:14 AM, September 21, 2010, Blogger Neolibertarian said...

As I tried to make clear in the post, I don't think the question put in that form can be answered, because it depends on the intellectual background of the believer.

Allow me to suggest that yours is a nutty position. If you review the comments, as well as look at external definitions, nutty is more about the context in which a belief is viewed, not the intellectual origin of the belief.

The idea that you can only diagnose nutty is by understanding why a person holds certain beliefs is, in a word ...

nutty

 
At 11:25 AM, September 21, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me put it another way - there are a fair number of skeptics who deny that AGW is even happening (for various reasons ranging from ludicrous to truly bizarre), and their views aren't held as nutty by enough people. Unfortunately, they are overrepresented in certain elites and powerful positions. For those folks, a horrific ignorance of the underlying science is required for them to hold their views.

I skimmed your commentary from FI, and I'm not much impressed by holding out hope for techno-fixes and a misunderstanding of the impacts of AGW. Would you tell someone middle-aged who's been smoking for 20+ years that they really don't need to quit, because medical technology is advancing so rapidly that Real Soon we will be able to grow them new lungs and so cancer will be a moot point? That's a rather daring argument to make.

Likewise, assuming that AGW means little more than some warmer temperatures and a few cm of sea level rise ignores all the other impacts - wider temperature extremes, ocean acidification, ecosystem damage, and so on. One thing about the "CO2 is plant food, so more is good" that's disingenuous. It's very rarely the case that CO2 concentration is the limiting factor in plant growth - and that because some of the plants we like will grow somewhat better doesn't mean that the plants we don't like (i.e., weeds) won't grow better too. It's a net loss if while grains grow 1.5X better, their rate of fungal infection is 2X worse and weeds grow 3X more.

We know what causes global climate change, and we know ways to mitigate those causes. Why wait?

 
At 5:22 PM, September 21, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You seem to be making a leap from "CO2 is a greenhouse gas, etc" to "therefore we know how to predict climate change". Climate prediction is highly speculative. That means that global warming could be a non-issue, or it could be far worse than anyone currently thinks. The interesting question is how to weigh the costs and benefits of action under this condition of uncertainty. There is no clear answer.

 
At 7:31 PM, September 21, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Predicting the climate is far less speculative than what economists do on a regular basis (I hesitate to call it "prediction" because asking two economists gets you six answers) but titans of industry and commerce don't have a problem with such fuzzy speculations.

I wonder why some folks insist on near-perfect knowledge of future climate before we act yet simultaneously make huge economic decisions on little more than tea leaves.

I recently read an article in "The Economist" about how some economists are using agent-based models, in which events such as bubbles and busts are emergent, rather than their old models, in which all actors are rational and drive the system to equilibrium. Seems to me the climate modelers could teach the economic modelers more than a thing or two.

 
At 10:59 PM, September 21, 2010, Anonymous J said...

Seems to me the climate modelers could teach the economic modelers more than a thing or two.

Hiding the decline perhaps?

 
At 5:25 AM, September 22, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jones' comment about "hide the decline" doesn't have anything to do with climate modeling.

 
At 12:01 PM, September 22, 2010, Blogger David Friedman said...

"I skimmed your commentary from FI,"

And so entirely missed the point relevant to the post of yours I was responding to, which is my explanation of why the market approach doesn't deal with the class of problems of which global warming is the best known example.


That, after all, is the point you think libertarians are refusing to face.

"Likewise, assuming that AGW means little more than some warmer temperatures and a few cm of sea level rise"

Note that you are now inventing a claim to attribute to me--"a few cm of sea level rises." IPCC estimates suggest something like a foot or two.


"ignores all the other impacts - wider temperature extremes, ocean acidification, ecosystem damage, and so on. "

While you ignore all of the potentially positive effects. And your "ecosystem damage" implicitly takes the extreme conservative position that change is bad. Even quite slow change.

 
At 6:14 PM, September 22, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, given that human civilization had existed during a period of quite stable climate, and we are pushing it very hard outside that realm, while some of the impacts may be positive (in the short-term) most will likely be quite negative. The sad irony is that those who suffer most will be least responsible, and those who suffer least will be most responsible.

I've noticed that you haven't looked into PIOMAS or commented on my "cancer will be fixed by medicine so no need to quit smoking" analogy.

 
At 8:42 PM, September 22, 2010, Blogger David Friedman said...

"David, given that human civilization had existed during a period of quite stable climate"

The temperature change in Europe from the peak of the medieval warm period to the trough of the little ice age is close to a degree centigrade. That's probably more than the change from the peak of the medieval warm period to the present.

And I'm not sure why "civilization" is the relevant criterion. We are better able to survive temperature changes than we were twenty thousand years ago, not less. And our species has survived temperature variations of ten degrees centigrade or so--repeatedly.

"or commented on my "cancer will be fixed by medicine so no need to quit smoking" analogy"

As you may know, one common medical response to the slower and more common version of prostate cancer is to do nothing, on the theory that the patient is likely to die of something else before the cancer kills him.

In this particular case, there is some reason to believe that, if current trends continue, there will be sizable--I think not catastrophic--negative consequences in about a century. It is very unlikely that current trends will continue that long--consider how different things are now from what they were like a century ago. Hence any extrapolation that far into the future is very unreliable. Not only do we not know the magnitude of the effect, we don't know with much confidence the sign. Nor do we know, if the problem does continue to develop, what tools we will have to deal with it fifty years from now.

Given that, taking very expensive precautions to avoid a projected problem that far ahead seems to me foolish. Almost nutty.

As I think I comment somewhere in the book you didn't read, the only catastrophe that far ahead I can think of that deserves serious attention now is an asteroid strike--because we really can project orbits with accuracy that far and farther, and they don't much depend on what we are doing in the meanwhile.

 
At 9:59 PM, September 22, 2010, Blogger Neolibertarian said...

Given that, taking very expensive precautions to avoid a projected problem that far ahead seems to me foolish. Almost nutty.

So you're prepared to call scientific research and conclusions "almost nutty", but somehow you can't speak to young earth creationism.

Nutty indeed.

 
At 9:59 PM, September 22, 2010, Blogger Neolibertarian said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 10:35 PM, September 22, 2010, Blogger Troy Camplin said...

I think David makes a good distinction in regards to "nutty" beliefs and being a nut. The example he gives of being a young earth creationist is right on track in this regard.

Everyone I knew growing up was a young earth creationist. Many of them still are. The pastor of the church I went to growing up is, and so is my father. My father is a coal miner with an 8th grade eudcation living in rural Kentucky; his pastor has two Masters Degrees (admittedly, in Biblical Languages and in Christian Therapy). Is either a nut? Well, neither have seriously contemplated the evidence for evolution. More than that, neither is going to, as they believe that evolution is un-Biblical and, therefore, wrong. The believe that belief in evolution leads to atheism (I think people being raised to believe that evolution contradicts Christianity, then learning that evolution is in fact true, meaning they think they have to choose between the two, and choosing the obvious truth over the unobvious one, is the reason people who understand evolution tend to become atheists). They see people who beleive in evolution becoming atheists, and conclude, therefore, that evolution is anti-Christian. That's not a nutty belief. It's a pretty logical one, based on the evidence they see.

As for myself, I was raised a young earth creationist, and I remained a young earth creationist until I was about halfway through my B.A. in recombinant gene technology. Was I a nut, who ceased to be a nut? Some of the commenters here may think so. My father and former pastor, on the other hand, think I've become a nut. (Though in all fairness, my father thinks I've become a nut for a lot more than just my beliefs about the origins of the universe and life -- my general libertarian world view, especially on social issues, for example.) Like David, I try to take everyone's beliefs seriously in the sense of giving them the benefit of the doubt. Keynesianism, for example, isn't nutty economics -- it is folk economics given respectability thorugh the use of mathematics. That makes it wrong, not nutty.

 
At 11:08 PM, September 22, 2010, Blogger David Friedman said...

"So you're prepared to call scientific research and conclusions "almost nutty"

If "scientific conclusions" means "conclusions that claim to be based on science," of course they can be nutty.

The conclusion that the IPCC projections reflect what will actually happen a century hence isn't a "scientific conclusion" in any serious sense of the term, since it depends on unscientific guesses about what humans will be doing from now until then. If, for instance, one simply extrapolates the current cost curve for solar power, one implication is a drastic drop in use of fossil fuels in the not very distant future.

The conclusion "therefor we should sharply reduce CO2 output now" is even less of a scientific conclusion, since it isn't based on any serious attempt to compare the costs and benefits of doing so. As best I can tell, nobody knows to within an order of magnitud how large the costs would be if the IPCC projections turn out to be correct. It's almost all hand waving.

 
At 11:09 PM, September 22, 2010, Blogger David Friedman said...

Troy mentions the belief that accepting evolution leads to atheism.

It isn't an unreasonable belief. Darwinian evolution eliminated one of the stronger arguments for the existence of God--the watchmaker argument. That doesn't, of course, compel atheism, but it does make it more likely.

 
At 7:23 AM, September 23, 2010, Blogger Neolibertarian said...

If "scientific conclusions" means "conclusions that claim to be based on science," of course they can be nutty.

Certainly. And yet, you are still silent on the nuttiness of young earth creationism.

Bravo.

 
At 9:23 AM, September 23, 2010, Blogger David Friedman said...

"And yet, you are still silent on the nuttiness of young earth creationism."

As I have tried to explain in the post and my comments, classifying someone as a nut requires not merely that his views are nutty in the context of what I know but that they are nutty in the context of what he knows.

In the context of what I know, young earth creationism is clearly nutty, and your views on global warming—that it is obvious to any reasonable person, in particular anyone who knows basic physics, that global warming is happening, that humans are the cause, and that the consequences are so bad that we should take strong measures now to prevent it--are at least mildly nutty.

(What I describe as "your views" are the views I think implicit in your posts--not a quote of something you have said)

But in the context of what some believers in young earth creationism know, the belief is not necessarily nutty and they are not necessarily nuts. Similarly, given what I suspect are the limits of your knowledge of both science and economics, and in the context of your trust in other people who share your views, your belief is not nutty and you are probably not a nut, merely a bit of a true believer.

 
At 11:12 AM, September 23, 2010, Blogger Neolibertarian said...

As I have tried to explain in the post and my comments, classifying someone as a nut requires not merely that his views are nutty in the context of what I know but that they are nutty in the context of what he knows.

You go to great lengths to give the benefit of the doubt to young earth creationists, but you don't extend the same favour to global warming scientists, calling their conclusions "almost nutty".

Again, I applaud you.

What I describe as "your views" are the views I think implicit in your posts--not a quote of something you have said

My view is that however you define nutty, scientific conclusions will always be less nutty than those of young earth creationists. Your ability to stand up and knock down views I haven't stated (or even implied) is impressive.

But in the context of what some believers in young earth creationism know, the belief is not necessarily nutty and they are not necessarily nuts.

I see. So context matters for young earth creationism, but doesn't for science. Well played.

Similarly, given what I suspect are the limits of your knowledge of both science and economics, and in the context of your trust in other people who share your views, your belief is not nutty and you are probably not a nut, merely a bit of a true believer.

Me thinks thou doest project too much.

 
At 11:32 AM, September 23, 2010, Blogger Troy Camplin said...

Neolibertarian,

Talk about taking things out of context. I do believe David said that he considers young earth creationists nutty from his perspective, but understands that they are not due to what they know and understand. He said the same thing about global warmingist.

The point that can and should be made about supporters of global warming is that they make claims that they inherently cannot know to be true. If someone made specific predictions about future biological evolution, I would consider them a nut. Not because they don't know a lot about biology, which they may, but because they don't understand the nature of complex processes, which are inherently unpredictable. One cannot even understand the future states of a particular given cell, since they are complex adaptive systems. The climate is also a complex system, meaning it has features which make predicting what will happen literally impossible. There is a reason why meteorologists don't predict the weather beyond 7 days -- and then, the last two days of that prediction may be way off. More, meteorologists can get today's prediction wrong -- how many times has it not rained when they predicted it would? Any day's weather is a small section within a much larger process. The further one gets away from any given day's weather, on into the climate, the less accurate one's predictions can be. More, one can look at any number of scenarios -- each equally probable -- of what will happen due to higher CO2: higher long-term temperatures (and, thus, an expansion of cropland into the far north), lower long-term temperatures (caused by disruption of the ocean's conveyor belt, increased precipitation in the poles during winter, etc.), or readjustment back to average temperatures. Of course, all of this ignores the fact that the climate is and has never been at some stable equilibrium. The very idea is ridiculous.zatavu

What can we thus conclude from such observations? Well, this means that either those who argue that we can know what will happen to the climate in the future due to human activities are ignorant of the nature of complex systems and so don't know what they are talking about, or they arrogantly believe they can know what is inherently unknowable, or they know the climate is inherently unpredictable, and have some other agenda. Anyone who makes positive claims about the future state of the climate are therefore either ignorant, arrogant, or insidious.

 
At 11:49 AM, September 23, 2010, Blogger David Friedman said...

You wrote:

"I see. So context matters for young earth creationism, but doesn't for science. Well played."

In response to a post where I wrote:

"Similarly, given what I suspect are the limits of your knowledge of both science and economics, and in the context of your trust in other people who share your views, your belief is not nutty and you are probably not a nut, ..."

You seem to have problems reading plain English, at least when it doesn't say what you want it to.

 
At 1:16 PM, September 23, 2010, Blogger Neolibertarian said...

"You seem to have problems reading plain English, at least when it doesn't say what you want it to."

No, I have no such problems David. On the other hand, it seems that your inability to comprehend plain English may have been in play here.

You wrote: "Similarly, given what I suspect are the limits of your knowledge of both science and economics, and in the context of your trust in other people who share your views, your belief is not nutty and you are probably not a nut, merely a bit of a true believer."

I guess you're saying that when you wrote "your belief" above, you really meant "the global warming belief that David made up for Neolibertarian based on nothing Neolibertarian wrote, but instead what David is pretending he believes".

If that's the case, then I admit that I did not in fact make that leap when I read it.

 
At 1:18 PM, September 23, 2010, Blogger Neolibertarian said...

@Troy

I have no idea what you're going on about here. I was discussing young earth creationism, just one of O'Donnell's many kooky views.

 
At 1:26 PM, September 23, 2010, Blogger Troy Camplin said...

Neolibertarian,

You:

"You go to great lengths to give the benefit of the doubt to young earth creationists, but you don't extend the same favour to global warming scientists, calling their conclusions "almost nutty"."

I point out that 1) their conclusions are in fact "almost nutty," and 2) that David does in fact extend the same benefit of the doubt.

David gets your support of the global warming narrative from this statement:

"So you're prepared to call scientific research and conclusions "almost nutty", but somehow you can't speak to young earth creationism."

Which, again, is disingenuous considering what he in fact said about young earth creationism.

 
At 1:45 PM, September 23, 2010, Blogger Neolibertarian said...

I point out that 1) their conclusions are in fact "almost nutty,"

You're not using David's definition of nutty here. Remember, David redefined nutty to be contextually dependent on the individual's knowledge.

and 2) that David does in fact extend the same benefit of the doubt.

What David did was to give contextual comfort to young earth creationism at every mention of the term. When it came to extending his redefinition of nutty to global warming science, apparently the only opportunity he found to do so was while insulting me because of some beliefs that David made up for me.

David gets your support of the global warming narrative from this statement:

"So you're prepared to call scientific research and conclusions "almost nutty", but somehow you can't speak to young earth creationism."


If that's the case then I suspect that both you and David need to work on your "problems with reading plain English".

 
At 9:22 PM, September 23, 2010, Blogger Troy Camplin said...

Yes, David did say the definition was contextually dependend, but he also said that something can be "almost nutty" from your perspective, but not nutty at all from theirs. It is thus both contextual and perspectival.

Now, as the "ability to read plain Engilsh," 1) perhaps you should learn something about the people with whom you are in a discusion before you make such ridiculous claims, and 2) you are conveniently decontextualizing yourself. For example, when you say, "scientific research and conclusions", what is the context? Well, the only "scientific research and conclusions" that have been discussed in this thread have related to global warming. Thus, you are referring to global warming. Your chastisement that David is "prepared to call scientific research and conclusions "almost nutty"" would make him logically conclude that you believe the results of the "scientific research and conclusions" in question. Please note that I didn't say that David was correct to ascribe those beliefs to you -- I only pointed out why he might ascribe them to you. He may have read too much into what you wrote, but what you wrote was sufficiently ambiguous that one could read that into it.

In other words, I can read plain English -- and bad English too.

 
At 1:10 PM, September 25, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see Tony is confused about the difference between weather and climate.

Can we say, with any confidence, that it will be colder in Boston in January 2011 than it will be in July 2011?

According to Tony, we cannot. That's where his error lies.

 
At 1:15 PM, September 25, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In terms of figuring out the costs of the Friedmanian/Lomborgian "wait and see" non-policy versus aggressively transitioning away from carbon-based energy, David is correct to note that economists don't have the knowledge, skills, or models to make those sorts of analyses.

Seems to me that the dismal science has a lot of work cut out for itself. Perhaps they can learn something from the climate modelers.

 
At 1:15 PM, September 25, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder...

Does this essay

http://www.themorningnews.org/archives/opinions/planet_zoo.php

count as "nutty"?

 
At 9:15 PM, September 25, 2010, Blogger Troy Camplin said...

I'm not the one who doesn't know the difference between weather and climate. Temperature differences between summer and winter are climatic differences. One, such differences only exist outside the tropics, where such climate differences don't occur. Also, weather is an example of climate at a microscale and during a short period of time; if one cannot even predict the weather, one most certainly cannot predict the climate. Let's try not to project our ignorance on others, shall we?

 
At 10:50 PM, September 25, 2010, Anonymous Andrew said...

Thank you, Prof. Friedman! We of the stupid persuasion are frequently left without anyone to defend us. We are glad to have you on our team.

 
At 6:48 AM, September 26, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony says, "[...]if one cannot even predict the weather, one most certainly cannot predict the climate."

Since the reality is that we *can* predict climate (as I showed), his statement is false - despite his attempts to cover his error with excess irrelevancy.

 
At 9:53 PM, September 26, 2010, Blogger Troy Camplin said...

I find it hard to take two kinds of people seriously. The first being those who cannot even get a simple name correct. The second being those who think complex systems are predictable. The first kind are careless; the second kind are either ignorant of the nature of complex systems, or hope that others are ignorant of them so they won't know that their predictions are nonsense. So you have not proven what you claim, as it is literally impossible to prove it. Thus, you are either peddling lies or nonsense. Which is it?

 
At 5:26 AM, September 27, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, Troy - but the point still stands. If climate is as unpredictable as you claim, then we cannot say if it will be colder in Boston in January 2011 than it will be in July 2011.

Why do you disagree?

 
At 12:48 PM, September 27, 2010, Blogger Troy Camplin said...

You are conveniently using a temporal ambiguity in the term "climate" (which suggests to me you are being disingenuous, which means you don't care about truth, but about whatever ideology you're using climate change as an excuse to promote). Over the short term -- that is, over several months -- there is a certain cyclic predictability. But if you say that you know for certain that 2050 will be warmer than 2011, then you are either lying, or you don't know what you are talking about. Of course, we have just established you are disingenuous . . .

 
At 5:46 PM, September 27, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Troy, you should relax.

Since we can predict climate (summer 2050 will be warmer than winter 2050), your point that we cannot predict climate because we cannot predict weather is false.

 
At 5:55 PM, September 27, 2010, Blogger Troy Camplin said...

You are a waste of time to talk to, as this has nothing to do with global warming, and you know it. You are disingenuous and refuse to engage in rational conversation, and are therefore a waste of time.

 
At 6:45 PM, September 27, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Feel as you wish, Troy, but your basic ignorance of the relationship between weather and climate, no matter your irritation, cannot be hidden.

 
At 7:51 AM, September 28, 2010, Blogger Troy Camplin said...

More disingenuousness from someone who is too cowardly to give his name. It's easy to spread lies and misinformation if you don't have to stand by your words.

(BTW, in Equatorial Guinea, there will be no temperature difference in winter and summer. More, as you well know, when talking about climate change, we are talking about global climate -- so either you are a liar, or you don't have the foggiest idea of what you are talking about, in which case, you are a waste of time. So why keep on arguing? I hate for people to spread lies. I fight cowardly liars like you. Can't help it.)

 
At 4:50 PM, September 29, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Getting into a morally-superior lather over something as simple as noting that in the mid-latitudes, winter is colder than summer, isn't very becoming.

It's clear that you've got D-K in spades.

Ponder this - weather is an initial value problem, climate is a boundary condition problem. Can you explain?

 
At 8:34 AM, October 06, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow ... I didnt realize how bored I am here at work that I actually started reading blogs ... pfft who reads blogs unless they are bored .... or really bored to actually make a comment on a blog ... WOW I must be really bored ouch!!

 
At 5:25 PM, October 13, 2010, Anonymous Caledonian said...

One point I will agree with: 'Nuttiness' isn't a matter of the belief per se, but a matter of the methodology used to reach and justify that belief.

By that standard, the vast majority of human beings are nuts, which I suspect many of us have secretly believed all along.

It was once possible to reasonably believe in a flat Earth; that time has now passed, at least for anyone with even a rudimentary education. Someone who believes, now, that the Earth is flat, is a nut.

Please note that this is not compatible with the general usage of the word, in which a nut is a person who believes something that the speaker rejects as being potentially respectable.

 

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