Defiance

Last week, I considered where we are to go, from here – what with an acting president down to his last mental quarter-marble, a VP afflicted with a notable lack of any professional skills save for those employed by ambitious tarts willing to bed their way up the career ladder, a corrupted FBI, and a national press corps remarkable for boot-licking sycophancy. This week, I consider defiance as a reaction; measured defiance, ridicule, strategic protest, declining to do business with companies who have gone offensively ‘woke’, declining to watch television shows or movies which have ostentatiously done the same or even just a sullen reluctance to join the baying throng.

We’re Americans – unruly, disobedient, irreverent – so ridicule ought to be the first resort. “The devil…the prowde spirite…cannot endure to be mocked.”

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“Follow the Science”: the Winning Political Slogan of 2020

Voting in the 2020 American presidential election raised the question posed by Johnny Carson’s game show “Who Do You Trust” (1957-1963). Candidate Biden was chosen based on trust in his half century track record as a political centrist opposed to his Party’s left wing agenda to promote racial, economic and environmental justice. “Follow the Science” on the pandemic became a campaign theme to bolster trust because scientists – unlike lifetime politicians – are perceived as purveyors of truth. The campaign worked, then centrism was abandoned.

COVID 19 brought to the fore the differences between advocates of science-driven management – the premise of not just pandemic management but the entire Biden Administration agenda – and competitive markets. How can producers and consumers stumble onto greater truths than scientists? Economist Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” explained how – almost a century before the naturalist, geologist and biologist Charles Darwin’s “origin”. Scientific investigations were historically the domain of idle rich like Smith and Darwin, because in addition to the need for peer review independent from political influence, they were expensive, time consuming and only infrequently produced interesting results.

Today almost-universal government funding either directly or indirectly has inevitably and irredeemable introduced bias (and sometimes worse)  into science, particularly the social sciences. Political narratives feed back into the data, producing more noise .

To Tell The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

Panelists grilled witnesses on “To Tell the Truth” (1956-1968) to identify the real from fictitious characters. Economist Raj Chetty notes:

“As is the case with epidemiologists, the fundamental challenge faced by economists — and a root cause of many disagreements in the field — is our limited ability to run experiments. If we could randomize policy decisions and then observe what happens to the economy and people’s lives, we would be able to get a precise understanding of how the economy works and how to improve policy. But the practical and ethical costs of such experiments preclude this sort of approach.”

Hence economists, like virologists, rely on limited models to make generalizations. Virologists study the cellular makeup of a virus to explain pandemics. Economists study discrimination to reach a generalized truth about systemic racism, or financial panics to understand contagion. Physicists search for sub-atomic Higgs Boson particles to explain the origins and workings of the universe(s).

Witnesses in American court rooms on Perry Mason (1957-1966) swore to tell “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” under penalty of law. Scientific truth is a building block. Economists can then apply their tools, e.g., cost benefit, present value, probability, value of life, etc. to various alternatives to determine the whole truth and develop policies that are in the “public interest.”

But economists and politicians don’t take that oath. 95% of social scientists and historians identified as liberal/democratic, a bias toward progressive political action. The word “policy” derives from the Greek word for politics which is generally not aligned with the public interest.

Historians are even more liberal than economists, but most object to the 1619 Project. It’s not the income inequality caused by market capitalism, but government favoritism that’s unjust. Environmentalists use limited anti-capitalist models  to produce seriously sub-optimal policy recommendations. This science isn’t “the whole truth and nothing but.”

Scientific certainties spanning decades or even centuries are often proven wrong with better methods and larger samples or metadata. The federal government has for a half century warned against animal fats in favor of margarine even though metadata disproved the theory in 2018. Just as virology models assume contagion due to irrational public behavior, economic models of “financial panic” assume uninformed individuals irrationally run on solvent banks; in actual fact depositors acted perfectly rational, queuing only at insolvent banks that were paying out at face value on a first come, first served basis. Large scale economic models that suffer from the bias of small scale models tend to over-estimate the benefits of political intervention and under-estimate the unseen “unintended” but predictable indirect costs.

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“I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

I’m a scientist now working in IT. I’ve been blogging at idontknowbut since 2002, when it was the fashion to pick an unusual “nym.” I decided to be different and use part of my name (not all, to cut down on spam), but the day came when I found other “james”s with the same idea and so I tweaked the name. I’ve worked in Berkeley of the Midwest for years, but I’ve never met Dan.

I’ve some expertise in physics, and interests in history, Africa, autism, and various “squirrels” that distract me.


“If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.”

What Twain actually published was: “Often, the surest way to convey misinformation is to tell the strict truth.”

If you prefer a more recent source: “It’s better to be uninformed than misinformed. I even doubt some of the pictures I see in the papers.” (Orville Hubbard)

A commenter here on HVAC and the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect wrote that he tries to interpret news stories using a simple procedure: determine the bias, and then assume the opposite of what the story claims. As a rule of thumb it has the obvious problem that every now and then a liar tells the truth–as with Twain’s liar.

 

One of the things they tried to drill into us early on was that you had to measure the measurable, but your measurement wasn’t complete without an estimate of the error on that measurement. And if you screwed up, say so. These disciplines aren’t common, but they’re valuable.

 

How do we figure out what’s real?

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HVAC and the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect

Today I read this choice article on Fox with the lengthy title of “Air conditioning shortage ahead of hot summer causes nationwide price spike” and was reminded of the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect. To remind everyone, the definition is:

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.
In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

As someone who has been in the field of HVAC distribution for 32 years I know a thing or two, as they say. Lets take a look at this article (yes, a good old fashioned fisking) and see if it reports what we are seeing on the ground here, or if reality has been distorted somewhat, and we perhaps have an example of the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect as I peruse the rest of the news for today.

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Once Burned, Twice Wary

When I was in college, taking upper division at Cal State University Northridge (a place of no particular fame or note, other than being one of those public unis which used to provide a fair education at relatively low cost) I had a lot of time between some of my classes, and spent many hours in the stacks of the Oviatt Library. On discovering the microfiche newspaper archives, squirreled away in the basement, I undertook a project to read, or at least skim one of them – every daily issue from 1935 to 1945, on reels that covered two weeks at a time. I had already skimmed many of the bound periodicals of the weekly news magazines available – Time, Life, Newsweek and the like – because I had an interest in the period, they were available and what better way to agreeably pass the time between classes? (Both carried the comic strip Terry and the Pirates, which I found fascinating.) I wound up with the Chicago Tribune, after a trial of the Los Angeles Times, because the pages of the Times were scanned from side to side on the reels of microfiche, which made me slightly motion-sick to skim at speed, whereas the Tribune pages were scanned from top to bottom.

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