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Knowledge, Ignorance and Climate Change Interesting Op Ed from NY Times

#1 User is offline   sharon j 

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Posted 2018-November-27, 09:40

Found this to be an interesting read:
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#2 User is offline   Winstonm 

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Posted 2018-November-27, 11:02

I like the idea of using probabilities rather than knowledge and ignorance. At the same time, I don't find some of the comparisons valid. For example, there is mathematical proof that winning the lottery is virtually impossible; there is less concrete evidence in climate science. To think that one person has some special gift of luck that would make him more likely to win the lottery is based on superstition, or faith of a belief. If you start with that same faith in an idea, what the science or math says does not matter.

Merchants of Doubt describes how a few scientists allowed their political biases superiority over their scientific rigor, and those biases were associated with right-wing politics.
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#3 User is offline   awm 

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Posted 2018-November-27, 13:30

I'm not even convinced that the people who deny climate change really disbelieve it. They've just decided that they don't want to do anything about climate change, because doing something about it will cost them time or money or votes. They're looking for an excuse that makes them seem less selfish, not declaring a lack of certainty.
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#4 User is offline   barmar 

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Posted 2018-November-27, 14:05

What I don't understand is why businessmen are still stuck in this conundrum. Yes, if you run an oil or coal company, you want to keep making money. But there's nothing that prevents these companies from transitioning to renewable energy production, there's lots of growth opportunity there.

It kind of reminds me of "Moneyball". Baseball team owners needed to be convinced that a more analytical approach was needed in hiring players. But a couple of winning seasons by the team that adopted it quickly turned them.

Why can't businessmen and policymakers see the light like this?

#5 User is offline   kenberg 

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Posted 2018-November-27, 14:07

What I liked about the reference was that it was not, as I saw it, really addressing climate change but rather the broader question of how we know things. Not surprisingly, it was written be a philosopher and cites Socrates et al. It's a timely question and, in the spirit of the article, I am not so sure that I know the answer.

An example that I have mentioned before: My psychology class in high school (in 1956) required a term paper, and being seventeen I figured I would look at paranormal psychology, in particular the experiments that had been done at Duke by J. B. Rhine. 1956 was the same year that The Search for Bridey Murphy came out. The Bridey idea of re-incarnation seemed to me to be ridiculous on the face of it, but extra-sensory perception seemed at least possible, and even I knew that Duje was a maor university. . Ok, it's true that Rhine was a professor, but that in itself is not a sure proof that he was nuts. I am pleased to report that my term paper took a highly skeptical view of his results. Or so I like to recall!
Skepticism is healthy, paralysis isn't. Getting the balance right? Ah, there's the rub.

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#6 User is offline   nige1 

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Posted 2018-November-27, 14:17

View Postkenberg, on 2018-November-27, 14:07, said:

I figured I would look at paranormal psychology, in particular the experiments that had been done at Duke by J. B. Rhine.

After reading J B Rhine's "Reach of the Mind", as a kid, dice-experiments on my siblings initially convinced me about PK (psychokinesis) :) but when older, I couldn't repeat the results :(

Richard Feynman said:

Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.

We can be certain of almost nothing. Perhaps, however we should trust more in logic and peer-reviewed experimental results than in mere volume of opinion, even expert opinion. People tend to rationalize belief in main-stream theories, especially those in their self-interest. This is especially true in fields like climate-change, where sophisticated scientific arguments are beyond some of us. Nevertheless, even if we feel that climate-change warnings are exaggerated, perhaps we should still take the safety-play of acting as if they are true. After all, many base their lives on religious, ethical, and moral beliefs (such as human-rights), without rational justification.
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#7 User is offline   kenberg 

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Posted 2018-November-27, 16:15

View Postnige1, on 2018-November-27, 14:17, said:

After reading J B Rhine's "Reach of the Mind", as a kid, dice-experiments on my siblings initially convinced me about PK (psychokinesis) :) but when older, I couldn't repeat the results :(

We can be certain of almost nothing. Perhaps, however we should trust more in logic and peer-reviewed experimental results than in mere volume of opinion, even expert opinion. People tend to rationalize belief in main-stream theories, especially those in their self-interest. This is especially true in fields like climate-change, where sophisticated scientific arguments are beyond some of us. Nevertheless, even if we feel that climate-change warnings are exaggerated, perhaps we should still take the safety-play of acting as if they are true. After all, many base their lives on religious, ethical, and moral beliefs (such as human-rights), without rational justification.


Right on both counts. One of the things I did when looking at ESP and such was to interview a psychology professor at a local university. He talked to me about reproducibility of results and it made an impression on me. Yes, I was already aware of this, but he focused right in on it and that got my attention..

As to being able to read the scientific studies intelligently, what I perhaps could do and what I plan to do are different things. And then there is the economy. Maybe I could, with enough time and effort, understand the high level research but I have no plans to do so. I am a retired mathematician with a lot of math books in a bookshelf, some of which I have read, many of which I have not. So what's my view on the Wiles-Taylor proof of Fermat's last Theorem? I believe it to be correct. But I haven't read it, I don't plan to read it, and I would need a couple of years of preparation before I could even try. So I trust, or largely trust, the general scientific community. Math of course is different from climatology. A mathematical proof is either correct or it is not. In science we often go by best evidence rather than indisputable truth. But either way, we depend on the scientific culture to be responsible. This doesn't mean that they get god-like status of infallibility, but it is a serious business done by serious people.

The bottom line is that serious problems must be addressed and the lack of total indisputable truth should not stop us from doing our best to address them, always staying alert for new evidence.

Anyway, I think the broad question of how do we decide to accept something as true is very timely.

Ken
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#8 User is offline   Winstonm 

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Posted 2018-November-27, 18:44

View Postkenberg, on 2018-November-27, 16:15, said:

Right on both counts. One of the things I did when looking at ESP and such was to interview a psychology professor at a local university. He talked to me about reproducibility of results and it made an impression on me. Yes, I was already aware of this, but he focused right in on it and that got my attention..

As to being able to read the scientific studies intelligently, what I perhaps could do and what I plan to do are different things. And then there is the economy. Maybe I could, with enough time and effort, understand the high level research but I have no plans to do so. I am a retired mathematician with a lot of math books in a bookshelf, some of which I have read, many of which I have not. So what's my view on the Wiles-Taylor proof of Fermat's last Theorem? I believe it to be correct. But I haven't read it, I don't plan to read it, and I would need a couple of years of preparation before I could even try. So I trust, or largely trust, the general scientific community. Math of course is different from climatology. A mathematical proof is either correct or it is not. In science we often go by best evidence rather than indisputable truth. But either way, we depend on the scientific culture to be responsible. This doesn't mean that they get god-like status of infallibility, but it is a serious business done by serious people.

The bottom line is that serious problems must be addressed and the lack of total indisputable truth should not stop us from doing our best to address them, always staying alert for new evidence.

Anyway, I think the broad question of how do we decide to accept something as true is very timely.


Are you talking about the known knowns, known unknowns or the unknown unknowns? ;)
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#9 User is offline   kenberg 

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Posted 2018-November-28, 08:42

I have been thinking about the article. An excerpt:

Quote

In my own work, I have speculated that an extreme version of this phenomenon is operative in obsessive compulsive disorder, a condition that affects millions of Americans. In many cases of O.C.D., patients are paralyzed with doubt about some fact — against all evidence. For example, a patient might doubt whether she turned off her stove despite having just checked multiple times. As with skeptical pressure cases, the focus on the possibility that one might be wrong plays a central role in the phenomenon.

The doubt from O.C.D is the complete opposite of the problems I am thinking of. Doubt abut turning off the stove is doubt about your own memory of your own actions. With global warming, its causes and its effects, the doubt is more related to whom you trust and a general overview of the world. At the time of Katrina, one explanation was that God was punishing New Orleans for homosexuality. I trust that this was not a widely held view, but that's not my point. My point is that this is very different from not being sure if you have turned off the stove. Moreover, if you reject that explanation of Katrina, it's still a long way from then concluding that there is a connection to heavy use of carbon based energy. Very few people would be able to hold their own in a debate with those who have deeply studied the matter. For example, here is my own two part approach: 1. It seems highly likely that we cannot just burn all this stuff and throw the waste into the atmosphere without it having some consequences sooner or later and 2. the scientific community, by and large, strongly supports the view that these things are linked even if there is disagreement and uncertainty about the details. Compare this with the effects of cigarettes. I started smoking when I was 14. I knew it was bad for me. I did it anyway. How did I know it was bad? Again it seemed unlikely that inhaling the smoke of burning weeds was a good idea, and even in the 1950s there was some evidence that indeed it wasn't a good idea. So there was plenty of reason for not doing it. I was 14, that's the explanation for why I did it.

What I did not do, with either global warming or with cigarettes, is to do extensive reading of the scientific literature. Most people don't do extensive reading of scientific literature, or, even if they do, they do it on one topic but not on others. So how do we decide something is true, decide this with enough confidence to act on it? A good question.I don't think that the comparison with O.C.D. is the way to go, but I like the question.
Ken
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#10 User is offline   Al_U_Card 

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Posted 2018-November-28, 10:47

A classic example of a paradigm shift (and not a collective mass hysteria or epidemic mental psychosis ...) is continental drift theory. As and when proposed, the consensus decried this "discovery" as anathema to the science of geology and geomorphism in general. The idea of continents floating around the surface of the earth....preposterous! It would have to uproot all that was known and believed by the vast majority of the cogniscenti. Well, we know where that went.

Science is the application of logic and reason to the observation of experimental results, as construed within the context of theoretical hypothesis testing. No need or even room for belief nor concensus as those are forces that stifle new information and new conclusions.
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#11 User is offline   barmar 

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Posted 2018-November-29, 14:03

View Postnige1, on 2018-November-27, 14:17, said:

Nevertheless, even if we feel that climate-change warnings are exaggerated, perhaps we should still take the safety-play of acting as if they are true. After all, many base their lives on religious, ethical, and moral beliefs (such as human-rights), without rational justification.

Indeed, that's one of the common arguments made in favor of religion. "You should believe in God and an afterlife because it's safer -- if you're an atheist and you're wrong, you'll go to Hell, but if you believe and you're wrong nothing bad will happen when you die." Of course, that ignores all the inconveniences that come from having to obey the religious dictates during your lifetime. Their argument: it's a small price to pay.

Of course, proselytizers rarely see the parallels when you try to apply their logic to other spheres.

#12 User is offline   kenberg 

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Posted 2018-November-29, 14:52

View Postbarmar, on 2018-November-29, 14:03, said:

Indeed, that's one of the common arguments made in favor of religion. "You should believe in God and an afterlife because it's safer -- if you're an atheist and you're wrong, you'll go to Hell, but if you believe and you're wrong nothing bad will happen when you die." Of course, that ignores all the inconveniences that come from having to obey the religious dictates during your lifetime. Their argument: it's a small price to pay.

Of course, proselytizers rarely see the parallels when you try to apply their logic to other spheres.



The counter to the "better safe than sorry" argument for religion is "Ok, got that, but which god?" "For the Lord whose name is Jealous is a jealous God". ( I looked this up, but I believe I learned it as "The Lord thy God is a jealous God, thou shalt have no other gods before me. ". Bottom line, you cannot dodge the problem by simply affirming the existence of some vague God.

Still, religion definitely provides material for thinking about how we know. In college I took a course in the origins of Christianity. It was supposed to be a course in Roman Humanities but John Berryman was the prof and he pretty much did what he wanted in a course. His view on miracles: "I don't believe in miracles because I have never seen one but if I had to choose I have more regard for the person who is sure that miracles do happen than for the person who is absolutely certain that they cannot."
Berryman was a bit bizarre. One day he distributed copies of one of the Cantos from The Inferno (written by that well-known Roman Dante :)), in the original Italian, because he felt that John Ciardi's translation was inadequate. I raised my hand to confess that I did not know Italian. Berryman explained that this was a great failing on my part but the library could help me with this, presumably before the next class meeting. So a bit nuts, but an absolutely memorable class. I have strange tastes, what else is new?
Ken
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#13 User is offline   Al_U_Card 

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Posted 2018-November-29, 14:58

The precautionary principle approach can only apply when the cure is not as bad as the illness. Efficacy of action is the ultimate arbiter in such a decision-making process.
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#14 User is offline   y66 

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Posted 2018-November-29, 20:05

View Postbarmar, on 2018-November-29, 14:03, said:

Indeed, that's one of the common arguments made in favor of religion. "You should believe in God and an afterlife because it's safer -- if you're an atheist and you're wrong, you'll go to Hell, but if you believe and you're wrong nothing bad will happen when you die." Of course, that ignores all the inconveniences that come from having to obey the religious dictates during your lifetime. Their argument: it's a small price to pay.

Of course, proselytizers rarely see the parallels when you try to apply their logic to other spheres.

Believing something and saying you believe something are two different things as was pointed out on the Trump thread.
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Posted 2018-December-01, 07:30

View PostAl_U_Card, on 2018-November-28, 10:47, said:

A classic example of a paradigm shift (and not a collective mass hysteria or epidemic mental psychosis ...) is continental drift theory. As and when proposed, the consensus decried this "discovery" as anathema to the science of geology and geomorphism in general. The idea of continents floating around the surface of the earth....preposterous! It would have to uproot all that was known and believed by the vast majority of the cogniscenti. Well, we know where that went.

Science is the application of logic and reason to the observation of experimental results, as construed within the context of theoretical hypothesis testing. No need or even room for belief nor concensus as those are forces that stifle new information and new conclusions.

Conventional pre-columbian archeology said Clovis-first. No room for other interpretations. As with any science, resistance (to change) is futile... this one is a "topper" ;)

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