A concerned citizen is largely helpless

Saturday, November 30th, 2019

In Loserthink Scott Adams cites a celebrity’s global warming climate change tweet as an example of a bright person talking about something without training in economics or business:

Now let’s say you had experience in economics and business, as I do. In those domains, anyone telling you they can predict the future in ten years with their complicated multivariate models is automatically considered a fraud.

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You might be debating me in your mind right now and thinking that, unlike the field of finance, the scientific process drives out bias over time. Studies are peer reviewed, and experiments that can’t be reproduced are discarded.

Is that what is happening?

Here I draw upon my sixteen years working in corporate America. If my job involved reviewing a complicated paper from a peer, how much checking of the data and the math would I do when I am already overworked? Would I travel to the original measuring instruments all over the world and check their calibrations? Would I compare the raw data to the “adjusted” data that is used in the paper? Would I do a deep dive on the math and reasoning, or would I skim it for obvious mistakes? Unless scientists are a different kind of human being than the rest of us, they would intelligently cut corners whenever they think they could get away with it, just like everyone else. Assuming scientists are human, you would expect lots of peer-reviewed studies to be flawed. And that turns out to be the situation. As the New York Times reported in 2018, the peer review process is defective to the point of being laughable.

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My point is that a concerned citizen is largely helpless in trying to understand how settled the science of climate change really is. But that doesn’t stop us from having firm opinions on the topic.

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Whenever you have a lot of money in play, combined with the ability to hide misbehavior behind complexity, you should expect widespread fraud to happen. Take, for example, the 2019 Duke University settlement in which the university agreed to pay $112.5 million for repeatedly submitting research grant requests with falsified data. Duke had a lot of grant money at stake, and lots of complexity in which to hide bad behavior. Fraud was nearly guaranteed.

If you have been on this planet for a long time, as I have, and you pay attention to science, you know that the consensus of scientists on the topic of nutrition was wrong for decades.

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Over time, it became painfully obvious to me that nutrition science wasn’t science at all. It was some unholy marriage of industry influence, junk science, and government. Any one of those things is bad, but when you put those three forces together, people die. That isn’t hyperbole. Bad nutrition science has probably killed a lot of people in the past few decades.

Comments

  1. In my experience, this is exactly what reviewing a peer’s work entails. You check all the data, the calculations, the calibrations on the equipment, and verify the references say that it is implied they say.

    Unfortunately, I get the impression that my experience is not universal….

  2. Kirk says:

    Scott Adams is one of those annoying people who couples profound insights with sheer nightmare-level WTF reasoning. I can go through his stuff and find myself nodding along, thinking “This guy gets it…”, and then I find other stuff that leaves me going “How is someone this nuts this successful…? Or… Is he really nuts?”.

    There’s enough ambivalence there to drive ya nuts trying to figure out what’s up with his ideas.

  3. Felix says:

    Now that scientific papers are on line and electronic, it might be interesting to include meta-information about whether a paper’s findings have been replicated, and by who.

  4. Lucklucky says:

    “Climate science” has religious protection – Politics being the only religion that people believe in Western Civilization – so they can get away with anything.

    Western Civilization has no mechanism to cut the political intensity. When a big war ends the budget goes down but when we need less politics the politics do not go down since they are a proportional to those that vote not to the whole voting age population. In US a President with 20M, 40M, or 60M votes has precisely the same political power. Same for Governor or Mayor.

    That is why i say that abstention and blank and null votes should be represented as open seats in parliaments, reducing the quorum of those that are occupied.

    If 50% of people don’t vote then there is no urgency. The system as it is favors the fanatics.

  5. Harry Jones says:

    The political class do not exist for our benefit. They exist for their own benefit. This is why the state does not wither away.

    They see themselves as ranchers, and we are the livestock. We see them as either parents or parasites. They don’t care whether we need them or not.

  6. John Dougan says:

    Kirk, I think some of the solution to Scott Adams is by looking to the work of Leo Strauss, particularly his esoteric/exoteric theory of philosophical writing. It comes across stronger in interviews that Scott may not entirely have all the positions he claims for himself.

  7. Voatboy says:

    Peer reviewed papers are a ritual for deans and profs and graduate slaves. Peer review seldom works. A lot of mistakes and frauds slide past peer review. Now if you will excuse me, I have to go review another low quality piece of resume fluff.

  8. Kirk says:

    Voatboy,

    I can’t remember where I read it, but there was someone who said that “peer reviewed” was the wrong term to use; more properly, it ought to be something like “peer glanced at and then stuck in the out-box, with the understanding that there would be reciprocal like attention placed on anything we published.”

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