The Guardian Smears Libertarians for Wanting Freedom

libertariansThe Guardian is claiming that the ‘libertarian right’ plans to profit from the pandemic. Is this another left wing smear of libertarians?

When coronavirus crept across the world in early February, talk of how different nations were dealing with the virus came to resemble the Olympics for state capacity. Which country had the authority, the supplies and the expertise to “crush the curve”? A balance sheet of national progress marked out a bleak race to the horizon, enumerated in case numbers and death figures.

The mainstream media will use any crisis, real or manufactured, to generate click bait so that they can monetize it.

Although the focus over recent months has remained on leaders in crisis mode and the central agencies delivering forecasts and quarantine measures, local authorities have also played a prominent role during the pandemic. Chinese mayors, US governors and Indian chief ministers have coordinated local responses, taking responsibility for populations and even locking horns with national politicians.

Local ‘authorities’ are closest to the people, and should play a prominent role. In the case of British Columbia, our provincial chief medical officer has done an excellent job.

Most people would read the pandemic as a sign that populations and nation states should band together, and for the people “at the head of the rope” to pull even harder, to use the metaphor favoured by the French president, Emmanuel Macron. But there are others who see matters quite differently. They spy opportunity in the crisis, and wager that we might be able to ride the wave of the pandemic into a new tomorrow, where the virus shatters the global map – and undermines the power of democratic nation states.

This sounds like unhinged conspiracy theory. Evidence, please.

The US is ground zero for this type of thinking. Across the country, regions have broken up into “compacts”, with states competing against each other for life-saving ventilators and PPE. The atmosphere is one of competitive federalism, where states are reconfigured as economic units bidding in a marketplace. Washington’s state governor, Jay Inslee, accused Trumpof “fomenting domestic rebellion” for his calls to “liberate” individual states; governor Gavin Newsom termed California a “nation-state.” One Maryland governor confessed to keeping Covid-19 tests in an undisclosed location under armed guard, in part to prevent their seizure by central state authorities.

Trump is playing politics with the pandemic. All the more reason for the regions to look out for their own interests. During a crisis, it’s unsurprising that states circle the wagons to protect their own. That is their job.

Although North America’s economy is gradually reopening, the virus is still rampaging through its population. What will economic recovery look like in the midst of a pandemic? The president’s economic advisers have some ideas. In an analysis released at the end of April, Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore, two of Trump’s closest economic confidants and authors of the book on “Trumponomics”, predicted that “blue” Democratic states would be slower than “red” states to recover, because of what they saw as their pre-existing excess of regulations and taxes.

OK. Are they correct? Either way, so what?

Their analysis divided the US map into “laggard anti-growth” states and “momentum pro-growth” states. The former have minimum wages, pro-union laws and state income tax; the latter are free of such regulations.In the established mode of disaster capitalism, Laffer and Moore’s analysis appears to see the pandemic as a way to compel “anti-growth” states to adopt ever lower tax rates in order to attract mobile capital and labour. It suggests those who resist will not be bailed out by redistribution from the central government, but left to languish in a deserved economic depression. The effect is reminiscent of social Darwinism, applied as a philosophy of government.

The central government should not be “bailing out” the states in a way that’s unfair. The criteria should be based on number of cases of COVID-19. The national government should not be playing politics with relief funds. People should should use their votes to punish this.

The most articulate cheerleader for this kind of post-pandemic libertarianism is Balaji Srinivasan, the electrical engineer and former general partner at Silicon Valley venture capital fund Andreesen Horowitz. Since the pandemic began, Srinivasan has foretold a redivision of the world map into “green zones” that have controlled and contained the virus and “red zones”, which have not.

Central government intervention is about as far from libertarianism as you can get. Understanding that states that have done a good job at controlling the COVID-19 epidemic have an economic advantage is logical.

“We are entering this fractal environment,” Srinivasan recently told a virtual summit organised by the Startup Societies Foundation, “in which the virus breaks centralised states”. The virus does not stop at the border, so nor will this process of fragmentation. As regions seal themselves off to prevent contagion, “you can drill down to the state, or even the town or county level”, Srinivasan observed, noting that any state without the virus under control will “face defection” in an intensified contest for talent and capital. After the pandemic has passed, “nations are going to turn into effectively vendors and entrepreneurs and relatively mobile people will be applicants”, he predicted.

There is some truth to this. For example, Elon Musk has threatened to move Tesla’s manufacturing facilities from California, where county officials were preventing him from reopening, to Texas. Having COVID-19 under control makes your state more attractive to business.

It’s easy to imagine how a particular breed of investor could see this pandemic as an opportunity that will accelerate existing trends. The loose attachments that investors feel towards this or that nation will grow even looser as capital becomes more mobile, and a sorting process will separate the productive few nations from the malingering many. States that don’t fall in line with the demands of this investor class will be starved by the voluntary expatriation of the wealthy, with their assets and abilities in tow.

If you overtax people, some will eventually leave for greener pastures. If you are unfriendly to business, businesses will do the same.

If you assume this is merely a pessimistic vision, you’d be wrong. In fact it accords with a long-cultivated ideology that Srinivasan shares with a group of like-minded venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, who subscribe to variations of the radical libertarian philosophy known as “anarcho-capitalism”. The idea at its root is that a wealthy class of investors and entrepreneurs should be free to exit nation states and form new communities whose members can choose which rules (and tax laws) they’re governed by – as if those rules were products on a store shelf.

There is a word for this idea: freedom.

For like-minded libertarians, the colour-coded zones used in public health to control the virus are the blueprint for a new political economy. Since Srinivasan began discussing the framework, colour-coded zones have been rolled out to control the virus in Malaysia, Indonesia, Northern Italy and France; the strategy was also considered as a model for biocontainment in the White House in early April. As of early May, India has divided its 1.3 billion people into a patchwork of green, yellow and red zones, with different freedoms and restrictions based on each.

To manage the pandemic, it is essential to know where it is under control and where outbreaks are occurring. That businesses and entrepreneurs take advantage of this knowledge is unsurprising.

The red-green zone schema has already informed the strategies of global investors. In April, Henley & Partners, the global citizenship broker, released its annual ranking of national passports for mobile investors, and predicted that coronavirus would spark a dramatic shift in global mobility. Its chief source forecast that “as the curtain lifts, people will seek to move from poorly governed and ill-prepared ‘red zones’ to ‘green zones’, or places with better medical care.” In early May, it reported a 42% increase in applications for new nationalities, compared with the previous year.

Again, unsurprising. If your country performed poorly in handling COVID-19 and you are able to move somewhere that did better, why wouldn’t you consider doing so?

Nobody can tell what the world will look like after the pandemic. But what we can be sure of is that some investors appear to be already placing their bets on a vision of the future where the wealthy are freed from tax constraints. As nations are divided into different zones according to their respective stages of viral and economic recovery, the well-off could follow Elon Musk’s recent threat to relocate from California to Texas, voting with their feet for locations that elude redistributive taxation. In our post-pandemic future, the flight to safety, away from contagious “red zones”, could be a flight from the nation state as we know it.

Painting freedom and libertarianism as bad things is reprehensible. I live in British Columbia because, as a whole, I like it here. Alberta, like Texas, has lower taxes and a lower cost of living, but it also has cold winters, doesn’t have the natural beauty of the oceans and the mountains, and has an economy tightly coupled to the boom and bust oil industry. Yet I know a lot of people who, like me, have the ability to work from anywhere who have, despite its downsides, made the move. If you want to retain people, treat them well. Every time one jurisdiction increases taxes or other costs, more people will be pushed over the tipping point and move to a place that does not increase them.

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Bending COVID-19 to the Green Agenda

cv-greenAccording to CBC contributor Lori Lee Oates, a “well-known voice on gender and women in politics” who is seeking a Liberal Party nomination, COVID-19 is hastening the green economy, and we are far behind. I agree with some of her ideas, but not her emphasis on more government spending.

This week [Newfoundland] Premier Dwight Ball, Minister of Natural Resources Siobhan Coady, new Memorial University president Vianne Timmons and two industry associations held a news conference. They called on the federal government to provide subsidies for oil companies in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore. Their message demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of what has to happen to meet Paris Accord emission reduction targets for 2030.

Are they misunderstanding the Paris Accord, or do they see bailing out the oil companies as more important? I guess the latter. Politicians, as a rule, do what will keep them in power.

It also ignored the research on where the global economy is going, as other nations prepare green economic stimulus packages.

The fact that other nations are pouring tax dollars into the “green economy” doesn’t mean that that is where the economy will go. Government funding is great at wasting money, but in the long term, companies will go where the money is. Green technologies that are inferior will fail, no matter how many tax dollars are poured down the drain.

In May 2018, the International Labour Organization released a report which estimated that 24-million new jobs would be created in the move to a green economy, by 2030.

Labour organizations are even less credible than economists.

It also predicted a loss of six million jobs in the oil sector. However, that represents a net gain of 18-million jobs that will be created by this fundamental shift. Green energy is simply more job intensive than the fossil fuel energy sector and a far better bet for the economic future of this province.

What will cause this contraction in the oil sector? Electrification? Not with the current high prices and limited range of electric vehicles. Since roughly two thirds of oil consumption is for transportation, reducing it anywhere else (e.g. for heating houses) would require massive reductions to make a significant difference. Assuming electrification does gain wide spread adoption, which I think is likely in time, will it benefit Newfoundland’s economy, or will the benefits go to the locales where electric cars and infrastructure are manufactured?

What this means for Newfoundland and Labrador is that we need to take steps immediately to ensure we take full advantage of the green economic recovery. We also need to increase training opportunities.

What steps? Will training bring green jobs?

Like any revolution, those who get there first will seize the high ground and become the new centres of excellence. Green energy services are a product that we will be able to export globally, and they will be in high demand for decades to come. This is an opportunity for us to fully enter the global service economy for the first time in our history.

Presumably “green energy services” include generation and distribution of electricity, and excess electricity generated in Labrador would continue to be exported to neighboring Quebec. How much can this grow the economy? How does it provide entry into the global service economy? Will Newfoundland become a leader in distribution for electrified vehicles, and export it’s technology to the world? This seems ambitious.

For some years now, financial analysts such as former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have warned of the dangers of ignoring climate change in financial planning.

Of course one should not ignore the impact of climate change, but one should also not overestimate it.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hastened the move to a green economy. This is likely the best opportunity we will ever have, as a planet, to get on track to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, as outlined by the 2015 Paris Accord.

How has COVID-19 accelerated the move to electrification? I would argue it has done the opposite. If the move to telecommuting is semi-permanent, one could argue that it has helped reduce emissions, but that is not a move toward ‘green’ energy.

Even before the pandemic, the IMF was warning against subsidizing the oil industry. A 2019 paper maintained that we must factor in the cost of external factors like natural disasters and health care to calculate the true cost of fossil fuel subsidies. Furthermore, the IMF found that there was a net economic gain to ending oil subsidies.

I agree 100% that taxpayers should not be subsidizing the oil industry.

Experts have been pressing for jurisdictions that are heavily dependent on oil to diversify. That includes scholars and analysts in this province.

Again, this is wise. Living in a one-horse town is always risky.

In the absence of an economic update from the provincial government so far this year, best estimates are that Newfoundland and Labrador will run a deficit of $2-3 billion.


In Newfoundland and Labrador, we immediately need both jobs and training for workers who want to transition out of oil. We must insist that the federal and provincial governments prioritize workers over oil companies and their major global contractors.

Again, I agree.

Prof. Jeff Colgan of the Watson Institute at Brown University has argued that high-priced oil jurisdictions such as Canada will be wiped out of the global industry as part of the post-coronavirus oil shock. Colgan, who is Canadian, also predicted a high level of bankruptcies and mergers in the sector.

This may be a short term problem. It remains to be seen how much commuting will return to ‘normal’.

While the oil industry has long depended on subsidies, some experts are now urging nations to invest in green energy, rather than recover jobs that will have to be replaced in a few years to meet 2030 climate goals.

I would rather the government simply end subsidies to the oil industry. The government is not competent to invest in green energy. It would be better to use the savings from cancelled subsidies to pay off debt or reduce taxes to stimulate innovation in the private sector.

Oil subsidies largely do not go to supply and service companies that are home-grown and based in Newfoundland and Labrador. These are also companies that could easily transition into supplying lower carbon energy sectors, with fairly minimal supports.

Tax money shouldn’t go to any oil company, but I agree that the fact that small operators don’t benefit make these subsidies even more egregious.

The fact that the oil sector is in such desperate need of subsidies to survive demonstrates that it is not nearly as lucrative as it claims it to be. The data that proponents present on the economic benefits of oil never factors in the total costs of oil subsidies.

The oil industry didn’t anticipate the COVID-19 pandemic. Who did? That is the dominant factor in their calls for more subsidies.

Oxford Dictionaries chose “climate emergency” as its word of the year for 2019. We can expect massive shifts in energy sectors globally during the coming decade.

We will see how electrification progresses. If the prices of electric vehicles become competitive with gasoline powered vehicles and the infrastructure to charge them becomes ubiquitous, I would agree that we could see a rapid shift.

In 2019, 11,000 scientists across the globe signed off on an article in Bioscience, based on climate data from the last 40 years. They recommended … Replacing fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables and cleaner sources of energy. For them this meant that existing fossil fuels should be left in the ground.

See my post World Scientists Warn Humanity, then Undermine Themselves.

It has become increasingly clear since the Paris Accord was negotiated in 2015 that keeping an increase in global warming to 2 C is not enough. We also now know that we must keep global warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels in order to prevent irreparable damage to the natural environment. Last year ended with a global average temperature of 1.1 C above pre-industrial levels.

See my post Global Warming: Crisis? What Crisis? for a summary of Moody’s Analytics analysis that shows global warming will actually benefit Canada and decrease use of heating oil, and that the larger the temperature increase, the better it is for Canada.

Canada, notably, is a signatory to the Paris Accord and has ratified it at home.

The Paris Accord, by giving China and India a free pass on curbing emissions, is a poor compromise that we should never have agreed to.

Increasingly, there have been calls for green energy stimulus spending since the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.

If stimulus spending on the oil industry is a waste of money, doing the same for ‘green energy’ is sending good money after bad.

The Oxford Review of Economic Policy has accepted a study which surveyed 231 financial experts across central banks, finance ministries, and economics experts throughout the G20. These experts identified five areas of economic stimulus which could displace the fossil fuel intensive economy, rather than entrench it.

Many of these so-called ‘experts’ likely couldn’t find their asses with both hands. Let’s look at their recommendations.

Building efficiency retrofits

Spending tax money retrofitting old buildings is a waste because it makes little difference. Building owners already have financial incentive to do the obvious, like switch to low power LED lighting. I’m OK with building regulations that ensure poor practices aren’t being followed in new building, as long as they aren’t onerous.

Investment in education and training

I’d be OK with some amount of taxpayer funding for new trades programs. For example, we will need mechanics able to service electric vehicles and electricians who can install charging infrastructure.

 Natural capital investment

Governments don’t do “natural capital investment”. We should not be spending tax money to subsidize investments in ‘green energy’.

 Clean research and development (this is NOT oil R&D)

Having worked in many companies that took advantage of R&D tax credits, I can say that these are effectively a subsidy, and that the bureaucratic complexity of these government programs means they primarily benefit large companies.

Notably, our government is cutting post-secondary education, in both the university and college systems, at a time when we need to be re-training people for the green economy.

Most government funding to universities is not targeted at specific programs like engineering. Much of the tax money used to fund these institutions is wasted on ideological social sciences. Unless this changes, I’m against throwing more tax money at them.

The study also found that without a green recovery, it will be nearly impossible to meet the goals of the Paris Accord. However, if the world comes together on green stimulus, this will be nearly sufficient to mitigate the most disastrous impacts of climate change that are predicted within the next 10 years.

If China and India don’t do their part, no amount of tax money will let us meet the goals of the Paris Accord. It is a flawed accord.

The European Union is now poised to announce the world’s greenest economic recovery package.

Let’s look at their proposals.

 Up to 80-billion euros to boost electric vehicle (EV) sales

Subsidizing the wealthy to by non-cost competitive products. I understand trying to bootstrap an industry, but I think these programs are ineffective.

Doubling investment in charging networks

This is something I do think deserves some investment by tax-payers. Like transit, public charging infrastructure may be needed, at least for buses, police vehicles, fire and ambulance, and city maintenance trucks.

an option to exempt EVs from value-added taxes

Again, I like this idea.

91-billion euros a year to seal up drafty buildings

Will the return on this investment be worth it?

Plans to offer homebuyers green mortgages (for energy efficient homes)

The government will subsidize banks to make buying energy efficient homes cheaper? Since, in the long term, and energy efficient home is cheaper, I don’t see why such a subsidy is needed.

An annual 10-billion euros to support renewal energy and hydro infrastructure.

I’m OK with the government funding and operating large power generation infrastructure, as long as tax money is being spent wisely.

Governments and oil companies should have been retraining and transitioning oil employees for some years now.

The government doesn’t train people. They can fund technical training for the trades. Haven’t they been doing this? Why would the oil companies train their people to leave them? That makes no sense.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, we immediately need both jobs and training for workers who want to transition out of oil. We must insist that the federal and provincial governments prioritize workers over oil companies and their major global contractors.

Governments don’t create jobs. If you don’t have jobs, you don’t need training. Reducing taxes, not spending more, is the best way to stimulate entrepreneurs to create jobs.

In their stimulus response, they must also prioritize the green economy over the oil economy, as many nations are already doing. If we do this right, we can become a green energy centre of excellence in the global environment.

Canada is lucky to have massive resources. There are things that can be done in the oil industry to help reduce emissions. For example, Ontario buys oil from Saudi Arabia (with all the extra emissions required to ship it half way across the world) because the pipeline from Alberta was blocked by environmentalists. It will take time to move from oil to electricity in the transport sector, and it will take even longer before home heating without oil or gas is cost effective. Until then, we need both oil and electricity.

However, for that to happen, we must act on building the green economy right now.

Then stop wasting money and reduce taxes. The government has a roll in creating policies that help direct industry, but tax dollars should not be funding it.

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Ivory Tower Academic Shames Climate Science “Non-Experts”

ivory-towerI’m going to respond to the CBC opinion piece How the COVID-19 crisis exposes widespread climate change hypocrisy. In it, cognitive scientist Gordon Pennycook tells plebs like me who aren’t climate scientists to shut the fuck up. If you check his bio, you will find papers deriding “climate deniers” and Trump supporters, so I will take his scientific objectivity with a huge grain of salt.

The only long-term solution to the COVID-19 crisis is a vaccine and there is little doubt that medical experts will develop one. We take the importance of expertise of this sort for granted.

Actually, the only long term solution to COVID-19 is herd immunity to the SARS2 corona virus. A vaccine is one way to achieve that. Due to the likelihood of the virus continuing to mutate, this is likely still not a long term solution. COVID-19 is likely here to stay.

We rely on other people for expertise near every day. This is perfectly sensible.

Agreed, but only a fool blindly trusts one expert. Those of us who are intelligent look for multiple sources, especially on complex issues that don’t have simple yes or no answers.

Would you encourage a child to cross a bridge if you knew it wasn’t built by a civil engineer? Would you get in a plane that didn’t have a pilot? If you contracted COVID-19 and difficulties arose, would you go to the doctor?

We should turn to people who know more than we do — particularly for topics that are complex and important. If I knew a bridge that wasn’t built by a civil engineer was safe, I would encourage a child to cross it. If I knew a bridge that was built by a civil engineer was dangerous, like the Florida International University pedestrian bridge, I would not encourage a child to cross it. In an emergency, I might fly with someone who didn’t have a pilot’s licence but knew how to fly. I wouldn’t fly with a licensed pilot if I knew they were drunk. If I had severe COVID-19 symptoms, I would go to a doctor. If I had mild symptoms, I would stay home and take care of myself.

If you accept this logic, there’s no way you should reject the idea that humans are causing climate change.

While I don’t accept your black and white logic, or your false equivalence, I  do accept the idea that humans a causing climate change. There is good evidence that we are accelerating climate change that was already naturally occurring. See my post Why Sceptics Doubt Climate Change.

It is indisputable that the most established experts on global climate – those whose job it is to understand our climate and who actively publish primary research on it – are effectively unanimous in their agreement that climate change is happening and that humans are the cause. Seriously. Around 97 per cent of climate scientists agree.

This is false. This claim has been thoroughly debunked by one of the UN IPCC’s own lead authors, Dr. Richard Tol. In his blog post on the subject (read it for the full excoriation), he points out:

  • Consensus has no place in science
  • The claim was that 97% of articles, not scientists, were pro human climate change
  • The claim was that humans had some impact on climate, not that it was dominant
  • The claim was not reproducible

If you see an interview or article or lecture from someone who is skeptical about climate change, you should check and see if the author has actually published scientific research on the topic. They almost certainly have not.

Einstein (held up as a paragon of science in this article) held a mere teaching diploma when, while working in the Swiss patent office, he created the theory of relativity. Darwin (also cited) was a mere bachelor of the arts when he journeyed on the HMS Beagle. Research published in peer reviewed journals can be junk, and research published on a random blog can be brilliant.

Those of us who are not experts on climate change (myself included – I am a cognitive scientist, not a climate scientist) have no justifiable reason to reject the expertise of those who are.

The scientific establishment’s orthodoxy must often be rejected by newcomers to a field who bring paradigm breaking ideas. For example, Einstein famously decried quantum mechanics, because he refused to believe that God would play dice with the universe, yet a great many of the crazy predictions of  the theory have since been proven experimentally.

We all accept the value of expertise in our everyday lives. Those who reject the scientific consensus on climate change are, to put it bluntly, hypocrites.

Accepting the value of expertise is not the same as blindly trusting it. Here’s a personal example. I once had a disagreement with a senior developer who worked for me on how to solve a problem. We went to the CTO of our company. He agreed with the developer, and based on this, even though I was quite sure the expert was wrong in this case, we did it his way. The result was that the ‘solution’ failed and was thrown out by a more senior developer when he joined the team.

So why do people who normally trust expertise reject it for climate change? The answer has more to do with politics than climate science.

Climate science is politicized. If you argue that it isn’t, you will never convince a climate skeptic. If you believe Al Gore is unbiased, I have a bridge to sell you.

People with vested interests have been spending millions of dollars a year for three decades to trick us into believing either that there is not a scientific consensus on climate change (there is – see above) or that climate scientists are not credible experts (they are – see below).

As IPCC climate scientist Richard Tol says, consensus is not science. Not all climate scientists are credible experts. Many in the scientific community are political animals. To claim otherwise makes you seem dishonest or a useful idiot.

There is no global conspiracy among scientists to cause a global panic about climate change in order to get rich. If anything, it would be far more lucrative for climate scientists to deny climate change.

I agree there is no conspiracy. Most research scientists do, however, have to appeal to political bodies for grant money. Going against the orthodox consensus (which again, is not science) can mean you go without. Denying climate change would mean less government grant money, not more.

For example, Craig Idso – a prominent climate change denier who has nonetheless not published on the topic since 2003 – was reportedly paid $11,600 per month in 2012 by the Heartland Institute, a conservative think-tank funded by the oil industry. Trust me, being employed as a scientist at a university is not nearly as lucrative.

But as you said, he is not a scientist. The number of scientists being funded by the oil industry is a tiny fraction of those funded by the world’s governments.

Another planted argument is that climate scientists are pushing the global warming narrative in pursuit of grants and prestige. This is not really how prestige works in academia.

Promoting the orthodox view is what grants and their gatekeepers do. This makes sense since many non-orthodox ideas (e.g. cold fusion) are fly-by-night wastes of money, Academic prestige comes from being able to attract a lot of grant money, and therefore hire a lot of graduate students, and therefore publish a lot of research. Arguably, in academia, being able to write a good grant proposal will get you further than doing good science.

Think about the most well-known scientists of the past, such as Newton, Darwin, or Einstein. What they have in common is they gained notoriety and prestige by bucking the status quo, not upholding it. In short, they provided evidence that their colleagues are wrong.

As stated above, Einstein was an outsider who worked for the patent office. Darwin had a bachelor’s degree in a program his father had enrolled him in in order that he become an Anglican country parson. Similarly, Newton was working towards a bachelor of the arts when he came up with calculus, and he refined the theory privately. For every great scientist who bucks the status quo, there are thousands who hold comfortable tenured positions in government funded universities and happily work around the edges of known science. I am a computer scientist, and I’ve come up with some interesting ideas, some of which I’ve published. I’m humble enough to know that, though I have expertise in my area, there are brilliant people (like my colleagues Simon and Paul) who don’t have degrees in computer science, but are able to come up with truly amazing stuff.

For the same reason, there is a huge incentive for individual scientists to undermine the consensus on human-caused climate change – particularly given the strength of the consensus and importance of the issue. Successfully doing so would likely make them one of the most famous living scientists.

Most scientists I know care more about being right (and being acknowledged for it) that being famous.

The fact that no one has done this indicates that the evidence probably just isn’t there.

There are a few scientists who have presented such evidence. For example, Dr. Roy Spencer, a climatologist and former NASA scientist, who’s blog Global Warming has a wealth of information, is a skeptic. Research costs money. People who are able to get established scientists to approve their papers get published, which one must do to get most of that money. The fact that no one published papers on the dangers of tobacco smoking until the 1940’s, but the habit had become popular decades before, doesn’t mean there wasn’t evidence that tobacco was dangerous prior to 1940.

The unfortunate reality is that it is extremely easy to feel like an expert on a topic without actually being one. In fact, a lack of expertise makes it difficult to know whether you have sufficient expertise. If you don’t know the basic underlying science (it’s probably way more complicated than you think), then you can’t know that you don’t know it. This is referred to as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Because I’m not an expert, I don’t talk about the details of climate models. I don’t have to be an expert to point out that these are models, and are predictive. You don’t have to read all the papers on climate science to gain a basic understanding. The IPCC reports give a clear summary. I have read them, which is probably more than most can say. Using the Dunning-Kruger effect as a weapon to bludgeon people into silence is reprehensible.

The conclusion from all of this is quite simple. You should believe that humans are causing climate change precisely because you don’t understand it. At the very least, those of us who are not climate scientists should recognize that and remain agnostic. It’s okay to say that you don’t know.

To paraphrase: you are too stupid to disagree with me. I agree that one should (almost always) remain agnostic. Even Richard Dawkins admitted that he would never be 100% atheist. But that doesn’t mean that one can’t have an opinion, especially on the political implications of the science. Telling people they are too dumb to understand science insures that scientific illiteracy will continue.

This is not a call to stop trying to understand climate science. Do it. But whatever understanding you achieve, don’t forget to maintain some intellectual humility.

I agree 100%. If you don’t want people to stop trying to understand climate science, then don’t tell them “you should believe all humans are causing climate change”. Tell them that scientific orthodoxy (in this case, that humans are causing global warming) must be confronted with facts. When Einstein claimed that nothing could exceed the speed of light, no matter how long it was accelerated, scientists didn’t just believe him. His theory was battle tested with experiments. Every experiment that confirmed it made it stronger.

The same scientific process that gave you the technology you’re using to read this article has produced the consensus around human-caused climate change.

I worked on the technology that you’re using to read this article. The scientific process produced very little of it. The original Darpa research that built the internet was experimental in nature. No one modeled the internet, then came up with the software to build it. It was developed bit by bit. Large chunks of it were built by talented amateurs like Linus Torvalds. The best science is open to all, not reserved for the elites.

If you trust experts to build bridges, improve the battery life on your iPhone and build lifesaving vaccines, you should trust them on climate change.

This is a false equivalence. Building bridges and improving battery life are both largely engineering, not science. The science of materials and stress is mostly well understood. I don’t trust scientists to build lifesaving vaccines that are 100% safe. Before I take a new vaccine, I personally analyze the risk. Do I get expert advice? Yes. Do I listen to unscientific antivax conspiracy theories? No. Will you blindly take the first SARS2 coronavirus vaccine that’s produced, or will you watch what happens when those at high risk of COVID-19 fare before you do?

I largely agree with Pennycook that we should listen to what the experts are saying. I entirely disagree with his implication that anyone who is not an expert should shut up. His arguments epitomize the view from the ivory tower of academia. In the real world, science is based on evidence, not consensus. In the open source community, there is a saying: “show me the code”. If you make claims, be prepared to back them up, as Roy Spencer does with his UAH Satellite based global atmospheric temperature data.

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Dracula in Modern English: Chapter XVII

I just published yet another chapter of my modern English adaptation of Dracula. See Why Adapt Dracula? for the reason I decided to do this. Hope you all enjoy it.

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Dracula in Modern English: Chapter XI

I just published another chapter of my modern English adaptation of Dracula. See Why Adapt Dracula? for the reason I decided to do this. Hope you all enjoy it.

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DIY: Fixing a Cut Power Cord

I managed to cut the cord on my skill saw. As I’ll need it for my deck project, I had to fix it. Here’s how. You need a knife (wire strippers or even cutters are better), soldering iron, solder, electrical tape, and duct tape. Here’s the starting point:


After cutting it, carefully remove about an inch of the outer sheath, being careful not to cut into the wires inside.


Next, carefully strip about 3/4 of the insulation of each of the wires.cord88

Splice the matching pairs together with a lineman splice. Twist the wires about 1/4 of the way out from the insulation, then wrap each about the other, twisting them in opposite directions:cord89

Solder the splices to make a solid connection:cord91

Wrap each splice in electrical tape, being sure to cover the insulation on both sides.cord94

Finally, wrap the splice in duct tape, making sure to wrap the outer sheath, so that if the cord is pulled on, the duct tape will take the force of the pull:


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DIY: Replacing a Plywood Deck

It seems like about every ten years or so, my back deck, which is unroofed, needs to be replaced. The deck is roughly 11’x9′, made out of 3/4″ plywood. The outside 8’x8′ corner is pretty easy to replace, since it’s just two 4’x8′ sheets. This time, due to the heavy damage done before I replace the gutter on the laundry room roof, I’m going to replace a 1′ strip along the side of the house and a 2′ strip under the eave of the laundry room roof.

Tools needed are a skill saw, a drill with a Robertson screw driver bit, a hammer, and brushes and rollers to apply the surface to the deck. This time, I’m using a new 4 part deck coat product: joint compound, sealant, rubber coat, and color coat (grey). Hopefully, this will be more durable than the one coat rubber product I used last time. Other assorted bits: tin snips for cutting the flashing; a Dremel with a cutting wheel to cut the old flashing.

Apart from the deck coat, I’ll need 3 sheets of plywood (pressure treated), 2 12′ lengths of L-flashing to replace the flashing on the outer edge, roofing nails to attach it, and construction screws (2 1/2″ Robertson) to attach the deck. I will also add 2’x4′ supports between the joists for the new edge along the side of the house so the joint doesn’t split due to flexing.

This time, you can see the deck is in sorry shape. At the bottom of this first picture, you can see a hole were the old decking (which I’ve never replaced) has rotted through. The seams between the sheets are also clearly visible, and have been leaking down onto Robin’s patio under the deck.


In this picture, you can see the railing, which will have to be unscrewed along the bottom to let me replace  the deck and flashing.


More to come.

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