How can you people not appreciate my genius?

Quick! Get Bertrand Russell, Linus Pauling and this guy and put them in a room together so they can solve the world’s problems.

There are reasons why people like this fellow are not running the country. “Everyone else is stupid” is not one of those reasons.

The interview is a good illustration of a life principle: most people, even very smart people, have limited competence in areas outside of their primary area of expertise (typically, what they do for a living). Usually, the farther afield they go, the less they know. Wiser people understand this. Some extremely smart, accomplished people do not. There is a lot of wisdom in William F. Buckley’s famous quip about how he would rather be governed by random people selected from the Boston telephone directory than by Harvard faculty members.

31 thoughts on “How can you people not appreciate my genius?”

  1. 1. This guy is no different from any self-appointed pundit, i.e. me, you and everyone else who blogs here. The rule is caveat lector. Take the opinions and analysis for what they seem to be worth. Steven den Beste, for example, is not a generalm but was a general purpose war-blogger at one time. But his analysis of the war was better than Tommy Franks’ was.

    2. You are making an uncharacteristic, for you, “argument from authority” (“listen to people who are credentialled experts”), then taking it back (citing Buckly on phone book > Harvard). I agree with the latter of these. There are among the great unwashed mobs many smart and astute and well-read people. That seems to be the lesson of blogging.

    3. You are being incoherent, which is unusual, because you don’t like the substance of this guy’s message.

    4. I agree with the substance of this guy’s comments, and many of the details.

  2. He makes some points about atomic bombs that seem reasonable. His arguments about Arabs and the capabilities of Iraqi society are weak and speculative. He dismisses the threat of Islamism without acknowledging other models than his own for what’s going on. His understanding of economics (“peak oil”) is weak. The closer he gets to topics that I know something about the less reasonable he sounds. That’s a red flag. He takes positions on all topics without ever saying, “I don’t know.” He doesn’t mention making mistakes. He says that people who disagree with him are uninformed or stupid. Those are red flags.

    I’m not making an argument from authority. I agree that there are many smart and well-read bloggers who are better at their game than are some supposed experts, but I don’t think this guy is it. He is too overconfident about what he knows and he is so rude that he discourages reasonable critics from responding to him. If I want to read someone I disagree with there are plenty of reasonable anti-war people who make arguments without engaging in this guy’s adolescent sturm und drang.

  3. I just scanned it quickly, but was struck by the following:

    “I remember her (back in 2000) suggesting that Iran was backing the Taliban, which was just ridiculous — they’d come within an inch of war back in 1998″…doesn’t strike me as a very sound argument; hostile states can quickly discover realpolitik reasons to form alliances…as with Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany.

  4. Lex,
    Mr.Cochran just made an argument regarding smart segment of Arab countries’ population by saying, basically, these people are stupid since he can’t find correlation in “high intelligence” visa distribution.

    That passes as a sound argument with you?

  5. “I mean, there is no Caliphate, there’s not a square mile controlled by something resembling the caliphate, there’s no strong underground movement working for it, and it sure looks as if the Arabs are the most fissiparous pinheads who ever walked the Earth. ”

    I suppose Cochran’s right about that but it sure looks like a movement toward increased Islamic society in western Europe, Africa, and the far east; given his accurate assessment of what he calls “Arabs” isn’t this a general movement toward a caliphate?

    And, he places too much weight on the IQs of individuals in political movements. In the last century alone one needs both hands to count the successful ignorant, rudimentary, and gross movements that have done quite well. The Islamist’s IQs or rationality are no stumbling block to their success.

  6. Actually Greg Cochran is smarter than 99.9+% of the human populace and also extremely well read and rational. Therefore he’s right a much higher percentage of the time than the average commentator.

    You might resent the notion that your opinions are not worth as much as his. But sometimes the truth is not comforting.

  7. This guy’s statements about medicine are pure junk science. That’s a huge red flag. This guy might have a prodigious memory, but the creative model-making part of his brain is broken. It’s why he’s nowhere near the top of his field.

    Lot’s of people predicted problems with post-invastion administration. One of them was Machiavelli.

  8. Randall Parker,

    I agree that he is extremely smart, well read and rational. However, it seems to me that on some subjects he is wrong, and he seems to be too overconfident to realize that he is capable of error. And he is a prick. IMO he illustrates perfectly Thomas Sowell’s (and Shannon’s) arguments about the limits of articulated rationality in decision making.

    He would probably be a good person to employ as an advisor. If he worked for me I would give him a budget and tell him: here are some topics we are interested in, tell us what additional resources you need, then follow your own inclinations, do some research and give us written reports. Maybe that is what he is doing in his role as Internet guru. The problem for the reader is to discriminate the issues about which he actually knows something from those where he doesn’t.

  9. Randall Parker

    Actually Greg Cochran is smarter than 99.9+% of the human populace and also extremely well read and rational.

    And ultimately, that counts for very, very little. History demonstrates that high intelligence and a good education in the shared delusions of the day count for very little. Events always catch everybody by surprise. Nobody, and I mean, nobody has ever reliably predicted the outcome of the major event of their day. Any particular individual might get one prediction right and therefor seem, in isolation, to have a keener insight into the real-world than others but when one examines the entire course of their lives, one sees that they made as many blunders as anyone else.

    The real world is so complex that even the most “intelligent” human (who is today either a magazine columnist or a bar bouncer) can only hope to understand a tiny fraction of all the information needed to make good decisions in every possible circumstance. For example, would you trust Gregory Cochran to do your taxes, manage your investments or run your business?

    Worse, in most cases, humanity in its entirety lacks the information to make the optimum decisions. The most intelligent humans of circa 1800 understood very little about communicable disease. They lacked tools to observe and measure the world to the extent needed to understand that specific microbes caused specific diseases. Indeed, they had trouble telling one disease from another. A Gregory Cochran of that era would have made the same dumb decisions about public health and medical care as everyone else did back then.

    If you would a more recent and relevant example, look back at the Vietnam war. A large number of very bright people on both sides of the debate on the war made colossal blunders. Specifically, every major contention of the pro-communist victory side about the origin, nature and outcome of the conflict proved to be wrong. A lot of major polymaths like Cochran signed on to such delusions as “Ho Chi Min is not a communist”,”There are no North Vietnamese soldiers in Cambodia” or “The Soviet Union doesn’t play a major role in the conflict.” In hindsight, we know all these claims to be false.

  10. It has not been my experience that someone who takes the tone Cochran does is thoughtful, or even, frankly, very interesting; being pleasant isn’t a sign of being smart, but it is often a sign of humility. Enjoying him rip into people or ideas we don’t like may give some of us a vicarious pleasure but it is hardly brilliant. Camille Paglia’s energetic analyses has some of that assertiveness, but is more entertaining. And the breathless introduction seems based on relatively weak examples – the “eeriness” of his predictions seem pretty main stream. This interview has a good deal fewer ideas than denunciations. This is often true on blogs & bull sessions – less often on this one. But I do expect more in a “wise man” interview.

  11. Guys,

    Whatever Gregory Cochran has said is testable. He started talking about Iraq, Islam, etc in 2001 and 2002 in emails and posts in places like Jerry Pournelle’s website and Razib’s Gene Expression website. I remember reading much of what he had to say and his predicted outcomes. Everything he predicted has turned out spot on. This is the acid test. Everything else is bravo-sierra.

  12. Kurt9,

    I think the guy is congratulating himself for defeating shadows of his own imagination.


    Judging from Wolfowitz’s Congressional testimony about Iraq being secular, highly educated, and free of holy cities, he knew nothing.

    Wolfowitz never said that. If you read him he says repeatedly that Iraq is “relatively” the best in terms of being secular, having a higher degree of education and having the least major religious sites.

    For example, when the Feds started telling us that Iraq was a nuclear menace…Not much to pay for an army, secret police, palaces out the wazoo, and an invisible, undetectable Manhattan project.

    Well duh! Nobody ever argued that Saddam presented a short term nuclear threat (unless he got his hands on pre-fabricated nuclear material which is true of everyone) Instead they argued that (1) Saddam showed no signs of abandoning his quest for nuclear weapons and (2) that he represented a source of chemical and biological weapons for terrorist. Cochran fatuously congratulates himself for coming to the same conclusion as everyone else on the planet, including the intelligence agencies and Bush administration, in regards to nuclear weapons but then ignores the very serious threat of biological and (even more so) chemical weapons.

    I don’t see any indication that Cochran understood or even studied the case for the liberation in any detail. He seems to rely wholly on the views of biased 3rd parties?

  13. “The interview is a good illustration of a life principle: most people, even very smart people, have limited competence in areas outside of their primary area of expertise (typically, what they do for a living). Usually, the farther afield they go, the less they know. Wiser people understand this. Some extremely smart, accomplished people do not.”

    This is very true. However, it does not apply to the issue at hand (Gregory Cochran’s interview).

    In his interview, Gregory talked about how our esteemed political leaders did not understand the difference between a Shia and a Sunni. Gregory does, which suggests that in this particular case, Gregory is indeed more qualified to “run the country” than our esteemed political leaders.

    Does anyone disagreing with this honestly believe that anyone who does not know the difference between shias and sunnis has any business making middle-eastern foreign policy.

    I mean, come on guys. There are only two sources of knowledge and ability in reality. One is intelligence. The other is experience. Gregory Cochran is an example of a well-read intellect. Ralph Peters is an example of international experience (he has lived most of his adult life outside the U.S. and has the language skills to back it up). The problem with the turkeys in Washington D.C. is that they lack both intelligence and experience.

    I have an idea. Lets get Gregory Cochran and Ralph Peters together in an interview. Now that would be something.

  14. Kurt9,

    In his interview, Gregory talked about how our esteemed political leaders did not understand the difference between a Shia and a Sunni. Gregory does, which suggests that in this particular case, Gregory is indeed more qualified to “run the country” than our esteemed political leaders.

    Actually, Gregory talked about two out of 535 members of the Congress and not anyone else. However, I don’t have problem believing that most political leaders have as detailed knowledge of subject A even if subject A is very prominent at the time. Political leadership isn’t about detailed knowledge. The government deals with far to many subjects to expect every politicians to know everything about them. Politicians have different knowledge bases just like everyone else. True political leadership lays in finding the best people to give the best answers possible.

    Besides, the Iraq war gets a lot of attention but in the grand sweep of history it’s likely fairly trivial (in fact if anti-libration advocates are correct, its utterly trivial) I would think that Sarbanes-Oxley will have a much greater impact long term than the war. How much does Gregory know about that off the top of his head. How many basic questions about corporate accounting can Gregory answer off the top of his head?

    History suggest that being well read doesn’t help much in real world political decision making because the scholars that write books don’t understand what questions to ask. Like generals, they tend to refight the last war leaving their readers perpetually surprised by real events.

    Gregory thinks the people who support the liberation are idiots because he appears to have only a highly slanted cartoon version of their arguments. For example, if Wolfowitz had ever actual said that Iraq was a secular society then Gregory would be right on target. Be he didn’t, so Gregory isn’t.

    I’ll grant that Gregory is a genius in his own little world but out in the realm where object collide, explode and people die, he’s clueless.

  15. He probably makes a more positive extemporaneous impression on listeners than the interview’s transcript makes on the reader.

    This transcript seemed far less than the work of a genius but he was probably thinking and talking quickly (if my impression of him is true) and he might appear to be more thoughtful when writing for publication. I suspect I’d be impressed with the guy in person. Of course, this quality is also a prime trait of a confidence huckster….

  16. U.S. Department of Defense
    Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
    News Transcript

    On the Web:
    Media contact: +1 (703) 697-5131/697-5132 Public contact:
    or +1 (703) 428-0711 +1


    Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz February 19, 2003

    “In Iraq, first of all the Iraqi population is completely different from the Saudi population. The Iraqis are among the most educated people in the Arab world. They are by and large quite secular. They are overwhelmingly Shia which is different from the Wahabis of the peninsula, and they don’t bring the sensitivity of having the holy cities of Islam being on their territory. They are totally different situations. But the most fundamental difference is that, let me put it this way. We’re seeing today how much the people of Poland and Central and Eastern Europe appreciate what the United States did to help liberate them from the tyranny of the Soviet Union. I think you’re going to see even more of that sentiment in Iraq.

    There’s not going to be the hostility that you described Saturday. There simply won’t be. “

  17. Shannon,

    Check out the link to Jerry Pournelle’s website archives from fall of 2002. This is what we are referring to about his predictions. He was spot on.

    I do agree with your comment that the world is so large and complex enough that it is not possible for one man or even a single group of men to know it all. This is, of course, an argument in favor of libertarianism.

    Libertarians recognize that no single entity (person or group of persons) can “understand it all” and believe, therefor, that no such centralized entity should have power over human individuals, especially those who want nothing to do with it.

  18. Tc,

    The only thing I see that he “predicted” was that Iraq did not have a large, ongoing nuclear program. My only response to this “prediction” is:

    Well duuuuuuuuhhhhhh!

    Cochran seeming inability to understand that WMD!=Just-Nukes is extremely common and tedious among anti-liberation types. Again, he doesn’t actually understand the arguments for liberation and instead argues against caricatures that he himself created. He pats himself on the back for seeing through a argument that no one of any note actually ever made.

  19. I find it quite amusing people calling Cochran arrogant. Everything he said in his interview was obvious to anyone who was capable of dispassionate thinking in 2002. Cochran is certainloy cocky, but I don’t consider him to be arrogant. The reason being is that he, in no way, suggests that he should be in charge of making other people’s decisions for them. In this regard, he could actually be libertarian.

    In actuality, I find most of his critics to be arrogant. All of his critics come across as being either liberal-left or conservative. People who subscribe to these ideologies are arrogant because they presume that they have some kind of mandate to make other peoples’ decisions for them. The liberal-left assumes that people are incompetant economically, so we must have a system that regulates economic opportunity. The conservatives assume that people are incompetant in their social lives, so we must have a system that regulate people’s social lives.

    You people need to bear in mind that ideologies based on paternalism are highly offensive and insulting to intelligent competent individuals. For people who believe in such stuff to call Cochran arrogant is like the kettle calling the pot black.

  20. Kurt9,

    Everything he said in his interview was obvious to anyone who was capable of dispassionate thinking in 2002.

    Yes, virtually everything he said was obvious which was why virtually all other knowledgeable people, excluding the individuals and groups he criticized, said nearly the exact thing he did.

    Cochran is arrogant because he coped an attitude of superiority about something he actually knew next to nothing about i.e. the actual arguments of those who advocated the war.

  21. “Cochran is arrogant because he coped an attitude of superiority about something he actually knew next to nothing about i.e. the actual arguments of those who advocated the war.”

    Perhaps, but the actual arguments of those who advocated the war were so obviously delusional that it is difficult not to cop a superior attitude towards them.

  22. Shannon, Jonathan,

    Do you prefer commentators who are humble and wrong more often to a commentator who is not humble and wrong less often?

    I prefer the latter. I want to know what is true most of all. I think we should stop listening to people (e.g. George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz) who have track records of being wrong on a massive scale for a sustained period of many years. I think we should spent a lot more time trying to figure out who made accurate predictions and spend more time listening to them.

    Cochran’s arrogance ought to be irrelevant to whether you listen to his predictions and advice.

  23. Sorry, folks, but on the biggest analytical question of the decade, you were wrong and Cochran was right. I guess that makes him a bad person.

    Here’s an email from Cochran posted that Jerry Pournelle posted on his website on October 14, 2002:

    Jerry: Greg Cochran on the coming war, specifically commenting on DeLay’s analysis as I presented it last week.

    Greg: Come on, you take that seriously? By that argument China is harboring anti-American terrorists right now. This is all horsehit. As far as I can tell, exactly nothing new has happened in Iraq concerning nukes. Most likely they are getting steadily farther away from having a nuclear weapon.. Look, back in 1990, they surprised people with their calutrons. No normal country would have made such an effort, because calutrons – mass spectrometers – are an incredibly inefficient way of making a nuclear weapon. We know just how inefficient they are, because E. O Lawrence conned the government into blowing about a quarter of the Manhattan Project budget on a similar effort. Concentrating enough U-235 for one small fission bomb cost hundreds of millions of 1944 dollars. Probably the Japanese could have constructed new cities for less money than this approach took to blow them up. By far the cheaper way is to enrich the uranium just enough to run a reactor and then breed plutonium. The Iraqis wanted U-235, probably because it is much easier to make a device with U-235 than with plutonium. You don’t have to use implosion and you don’t even have to test a gun-type bomb – we didn’t test the Hiroshima bomb. . I would guess that they realized their limitations – they’re not exactly overflowing with good physicists and engineers – and chose an approach that they could actually have made work. Implosion is not so easy to make work. India only got their implosion bomb to work on the seventh try, back in 1974, and they have a _hell_ of a lot more technical talent than Iraq.

    Anyhow, Iraq doesn’t have the money to do it anymore (1). The total money going into his government is what, a fifth of what it used to be? ( Jeez, quite a bit less than that, when you look carefully) Big non-private organizations tend to gradually slide towards zero output when the money merely stays the same: cut and they fire the worker bees and keep a few Powerpoint specialists. There is no reason to think that Arabs are immune to that kind of logic of bureaucracy. On the contrary. Not only are they not making any nuclear progress, they’re probably making regress.

    At best, if we hadn’t interrupted them back in the Gulf War, they would have eventually had a couple. I doubt if it they even would have been an effective deterrent. It’s hard to make classic deterence work when you have one or two bombs and the other guy has thousands, when he can hit you and you can’t hit him.

    He would cause himself practical trouble by harboring anti-US terrorists. If they ever made a significant hit on the US, he’d be in deep shit. What would he get out of it? And I am supposed to think that he fears terrorist groups more than he fears a Trident boat?? He should appease _them_, rather than us? Look, if we really got mad, we could turn him and his entire nation into something that was no longer human. Kill them too, of course, but that’s too easy.

    This particular argument is nonsense,, even if he had a little deterrent. as are all the ones that I have seen floated by the Administration or by their hangers on and flacks. It’s not as crazy as the idea that we’re going to democratize Iraq, or Iraq and then the entire Arab world – that’s about as crazy as a human can get – but it makes no sense. Anyone with a brain knows, for example, that the last thing Israel wants is democratic Arab states, because they”d be _more_ hostile than the existing governments, and possibly stronger. . People like Mubarak understand that they can’t beat the IDF, and also understand who makes the deposits in their Swiss accounts: a new popular government might not. And a popular government might have some enthusiasm to draw on – Iran did, at first, after the fall of the Shah – whereas in places like Syria or Iraq > 70% of the population hates the government.

    I know why Wolfowitz wants this, and why Bill Kristol wants this. I know that most Americans have decided that Iraq was somehow responsible for 9-11, because what else would explain the Administration’s desire to attack? And so they support an attack, which would make every kind of sense if Iraq _had_ been behind 9-11 Except that everyone knows that they didn’t have anything to do with it. The problem is, I don’t understand, even slightly, why Bush and Cheney want this.

    Gregory Cochran

    Almost all the oil sales ( other than truck smuggling) go through the UN. ^8% of that revenue is available for buying _approved_ imports. Mainly food and other hings that we approve of. The Us has a veto on such purchases. The total amount available for those approved purchases was something like 7 billion last year. Saddam is getting under-the-table payments of something like 20 cents a barrel from some or for all I know all of the buyers: but how much cash is that? we’re talking something like 1 or 2 %” no more than 100 million a year. Sheesh. Probably the truck smuggling accounts for more. Hmm.. That might be as much as a billion. Not much cash to run a government. . It’s a little hard to for me to see how he manages to keep the show on the road at all.

  24. Steve Sailer – The passage you posted makes me think that the estimates of Cochran’s IQ are too high. Take another look at it with an open mind and you should be able to spot some of the problems yourself.

    For instance: “I know that most Americans have decided that Iraq was somehow responsible for 9-11, . . .”

    The rest I will leave as exercises for other readers. (And not difficult exercises, about 10-20 on Donald Knuth’s scale.)

  25. Randall Parker, Steve Sailer:

    Again, Greg Cochran correctly predicted that Iraq did not have giant hidden Manhattan project. In this he was in agreement with every other expert on the planet. He gets no points for having the exact understanding as everyone else on the planet who looked at the problem for more than five minutes.

    If you personally thought that Bush et al justified the liberation on the basis that we faced the imminent peril of nuclear attack from Iraq, then you have relied to much on biased secondary sources.

    Cochran seems prescient only because he criticizes phantoms. It’s like you want to give him credit for a great grasp of aeronautics for correctly predicting that no one could fly by flapping their arms and jumping of a building. Well, since no one else asserted that anyone could fly that way, why should he get extra credit.

    As a better test, go ask the wunderkind this: Given all that we know now, how long would it have taken Saddam to manufacture, say, 10 liters of Sarin nerve gas for use in a mass casualty terrorist attack?

    If he can’t give a quick answer to that question then he never understood the stakes in the first place.

  26. “how long would it have taken Saddam to manufacture, say, 10 liters of Sarin nerve gas for use in a mass casualty terrorist attack?”

    This is a red herring. It is relatively easy to build a chemical plant to make sarin gas. Aum shinrikyo built one in Nagano-ken to make the sarin for the Tokyo gas attack. Anyone with modest resources can do this. The question is, why specifically Saddam Hussain? If his government was in the process of doing this and was preparing for an attack on the U.S., the Bush administration would most certainly have used this as evidence to support their war. The fact that they did not suggests that there was so such evidence to justify the war.

    The reality is (and I’m saying this, not Gregory Cochran) that Saddam Hussain was a secular Arab leader. He was of the same generation and ideology as Quaddafi, Arafat, and especially Nasser. His Baathist political party was an Arab nationalist party. The 9/11 attackers, on the other hand, were islamic jihadists. Not only do the two ideologies not mix and support each other, the secular Arab nationalists are considered infidels by the islamic jihadists.

    Now it is true that terrorists groups of different and even comflicting ideologies sometimes collaborate with each other (the IRA was especially known for this). However, there was no evidence of such collusion between Hussain’s government and Al Quaida. Again, if there was evidence of such collusion, the Bush administration would have most certainly trotted it out to justify the Iraq war in 2002.

    The fact that evidence of neither of these possibilities was trotted out by the Bush administration in 2002 very strongly suggests that neither of these possibilities existed.

    The reality is that there never was any rational argument for this war. That is why the Bush administration obfuscated so much in making its case for this war.

  27. Shannon Love gets this half right:

    Again, Greg Cochran correctly predicted that Iraq did not have giant hidden Manhattan project. In this he was in agreement with every other expert on the planet.

    It depends on how you define expert. Former UN weapons inspectors such as David Kay were taking Saddam’s supposed weapons program very seriously before the war. He was the former UNSCOM chief nuclear weapons inspector. Former UNSCOM bioweapons inspector Richard Spertzel similarly took Saddam’s weapons program seriously before the US invasion. You are forgetting the Congressional testimony of people like Kay before the war.

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