Around the blogs

There’s a rich harvest of blog posts tonight.

Lissa asks everyone in or near Longwood, Florida, to please avoid Bill Ray Nissan like the plague. She has a tale of nastiness, dishonesty and downright in-your-face lies that made my blood boil, even at a safe distance! If you live nearby (or if you have anything at all to do with Nissan) please go read it. After doing so, you might like to contact Nissan USA to ask them what they’re going to do about it. I already have.

Via a link provided by DaddyBear, we learn of an Australian ‘motorist’ charged with being drunk behind the ‘wheel’ of a motorized beer cooler! This remarkable automotive feat was made even more interesting when his lawyers ‘won an adjournment from magistrate John Parker as they sought to establish “whether a motorized esky [cooler box] was in fact a motor vehicle”.’

The interestingly-named ‘Titflasher‘ has an equally interesting story about how her cat persuaded a visiting missionary that it was demonically possessed. Go read it for a good laugh!

Warren Meyer over at Coyote Blog illustrates how computer models can be used to ‘launder certainty’ and ‘prove’ arguments that are diametrically opposed to the evidence. Here’s an excerpt.

We take shaky assumptions and guesstimates of certain constants and natural variables and plug them into computer models that produce projections with triple-decimal precision. We then treat the output with a reverence that does not match the quality of the inputs.

I have had trouble explaining this sort of knowledge laundering and finding precisely the right words to explain it. But this week I have been presented with an excellent example from climate science, courtesy of Roger Pielke, Sr. This is an excerpt from a recent study trying to figure out if a high climate sensitivity to CO2 can be reconciled with the lack of ocean warming over the last 10 years (bold added).

. . .

Pielke goes on to deconstruct the study, but just compare the two bolded statements. First, that there is not sufficiently extensive and accurate observational data to test a hypothesis. BUT, then we will create a model, and this model is validated against this same observational data. Then the model is used to draw all kinds of conclusions about the problem being studied.

This is the clearest, simplest example of certainty laundering I have ever seen. If there is not sufficient data to draw conclusions about how a system operates, then how can there be enough data to validate a computer model which, in code, just embodies a series of hypotheses about how a system operates?

There’s more at the link. Bold print is my emphasis. The article makes you ponder how many alleged ‘scientists’ are using precisely such statistical manipulations to persuade the rest of us to accept and/or adopt their theories.

David McElroy, who ‘plans to become benevolent dictator of the world just as soon as he recruits enough devoted minions to make it happen’, describes how a businessman was so disgusted by the politicization of his proposal to open a new mine that he walked away from the entire project, taking 125-odd jobs and $50-$60 million a year in operating expenditure with him. Way to shoot yourselves in both of your own economic feet, Alabamans!

Finally, Blunt Object provides a link to an excellent article on TechDirt titled ‘When Innovation Meets the Old Guard‘. Here’s an excerpt.

People get so caught up in “the way things are done” that they can’t possibly comprehend any other way of doing things. Therefore, when you show them a child learning faster than his or her peers, the focus is not on how fantastic it is, but on how we’ll be able to keep that child in the same class as other kids their age. Why is it necessary to group kids by age? Because it’s just what we do. When a child is bumped up a grade, why do we do it for all subjects at once, instead of each subject separately? Because it’s just what we do. The educational system was created to teach children; now it exists to perpetuate the current educational system.

It’s hard not to equate this same thinking with the current dreadful state of copyright. You can show how an artist is making more money than they ever had before by encouraging sharing rather than sending in the lawyers, and your average maximalist will say, “It’s great that they are making more money, but how do we keep control of the content?” In doing so, they put maintaining the status quo ahead of attaining the result that the system was designed to encourage. The copyright system was created to promote the progress of the arts; now it exists to perpetuate the copyright system.

Even our justice system is not immune to this kind of thinking. Laws against child pornography were created to prevent the victimization of children, now we use them to try to ruin the lives of children. We threaten vegetable growers, arrest DIY roofers, and send SWAT teams after orchid importers and raw milk sellers. Our system of law was created to promote justice; now it exists to make criminals.

. . .

If we ever want our institutions to serve us rather than serve themselves, it’s time to focus on what we had hoped to gain from them in the first place, and to question every assumption that underlies them.

Again, more at the link. It’s a thought-provoking piece.

Thanks to all the bloggers mentioned for some very interesting reading.



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