The Experts

It seems to me that not all people called experts actually are.  In fact, there are whole fields in which none of the experts are experts. But let’s try to define terms.

You might say that an expert is someone who knows more about a subject than some random dude off the street.  That could mean that the man in street typically had false ideas [worse than a coin toss] about the subject, while the expert admits that he knows nothing, but let’s aim higher.  We’ll define expertise as something that not everyone has, that gives you at least some predictive value (possibly a lot), and sometimes the ability to control outcomes.  Such real expertise can be proven experimentally.  Generally, that kind of expertise can be acquired (the wisdom of the Occident), but it may be that not every one is talented enough to be very good at it.

Then again, by a different but occasionally useful definition, an ‘expert’ is someone that society considers an expert, whether he actually has any predictive power or not.  We denote that social position by quotes.

Sometime no-one has any any predictive ability: some stuff, nobody understands.  There’s a good chance that we will still have some some socially-approved ‘experts’ on that subject.

You can have a situation in which expertise exists in some field exists  – there is a knowledge set that can confer predictive value, and at least some people have that knowledge – while the people generally considered experts by society (‘experts’)  are useless, or worse than useless.  You can even have situations in which virtually everyone – except for the ‘experts’ – has expertise on a subject.  You can have negative time trends: things go from a situation in which virtually everyone knows certain facts to  one in which the overwhelming majority of people – including the ‘experts’ know things that just aren’t so.

There are plenty of examples.  At the high point of Freudian psychoanalysis in the US,  I figure that a puppy had a significantly positive effect on your mental health, while the typical psychiatrist of the time did not.  We (the US) listened to psychologists telling us how to deal with combat fatigue: the Nazis and Soviets didn’t, and had far less trouble with it than we did.

Fidel Castro, a jerk,  was better at preventive epidemiology (with AIDS) than the people running the CDC.

In the 1840s, highly educated doctors knew that diseases were not spread by contagion, but old ladies in the Faeroe Islands (along with many other people) knew that some were.

In 2003, the ‘experts’ ( politicians, journalists, pundits, spies) knew that Saddam had a nuclear program, but the small number of people that actually knew anything about nuclear weapons development and something about Iraq (at the World Almanac level, say) knew that wasn’t so.

The educationists know that heredity isn’t a factor in student achievement, and they dominate policy – but they’re wrong.  Some behavioral geneticists and psychometricians know better.

In many universities, people were and are taught that really are no cognitive or behavioral differences between the sexes – in part because of ‘experts’ like John Money. .  Anyone with children tends to learn better.

Along these lines, I’ve read Tetlock’s book, Expert Political Judgment. A funny, funny, book. I will have more to say on that later.

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170 Responses to The Experts

  1. melendwyr says:

    OT: On another site I read a post complaining that the poster had expected society’s delusional ideas about HBD topics would end twenty years ago, and it’s still going strong. Is Freudian psychology a case example we can use to get a sense of how long we can expect the secular belief system to stick around?

    • pauljaminet says:

      Remember the Planck principle: you have to wait for the people with the wrong beliefs to die. So it takes one human lifetime, 50 years at least.

      This suggests a reason why immortality is a bad idea in evolutionary terms. If people did not die naturally, the same idiots would stay dominant forever, and sooner or later their Achilles heel would be exposed and humanity would go extinct. Periodically mixing up the idiocy provides more resilience.

    • Julian says:

      What site was that?

    • John Hostetler says:

      Arguably the two most important ideas in history to date are the theory of gravity and the theory of evolution by natural selection.

      Anglosphere scientists tended strongly to accept the latter within a generation, but there was more resistance elsewhere, especially where a strong Rationalist tradition throve at the expense of Empiricism, and most especially among people of undeniably high intellect whose intellectual traditions were largely turned inward, and used to build plausible but false, legalistic castles of air.

      As the Victorian world that produced Darwin and his Anglosphere followers became more and more morally suspect in the eyes of the world, with three consecutive mortal blows in a mere 30 years in the form of the World Wars and the Depression, the purveyers of airy castles gained the upper hand.

      The result is this – a century and a half after ‘Origin’, we still have a long way to go until even scientists admit the implications of Darwinism. Even Pinker and Dawkins figure its lessons about human nature are basically just ‘something we must vigilantly guard against.’ Heartiste has a better understanding of practical Darwinism than they and all their acolytes put together.

      It takes a long time indeed for this stuff to sink in to culture, and for castles like Freudianism, to recede.

  2. ironrailsironweights says:

    President Garfield’s assassination in 1881 was a stark example of how the “experts” knew less than ordinary people. It was pretty much common knowledge by then that keeping wounds clean was essential to proper healing. Unfortunately, the handful of doctors in charge of Garfield’s treatment were holdouts who did not accept that knowledge, and repeatedly probed his bullet wound with their unwashed fingers. What should have been a completely survivable wound became infected, and then gangrenous, and the hapless president died a hideous death.

    The main defense that the assassin Charles Guiteau used at his trial was that the doctors, not him, were responsible for Garfield’s death. It didn’t save him from the gallows, however.


    • Washington also died from his expert medical care. He was feeling poorly one day – maybe he had the flu. His doctor of course bled him but he didn’t recover, so they called in other doctors and all five of them bled him on what was to be his final day. A less eminent patient might have only had to endure only expert but the beloved Washington got the best.

      • ironrailsironweights says:

        While the bloodletting didn’t help, Washington probably died from an infected epiglottis. That may sound trivial, but in the days before antibiotics it could be fatal as the resultant swelling could block the airway.
        Washington’s breathing was so obstructed that one physician wanted to perform an emergency tracheostomy, which at the time was an extremely risky, last-ditch procedure. A senior doctor overruled him and Washington died shortly thereafter.


  3. ursiform says:

    I agree to aiming higher than “the expert admits that he knows nothing”. On the other hand, true experts understand that there are things they don’t know.

  4. JayMan says:

    All true. However, a key problem that I’ve noticed, as I’ve said elsewhere:

    “I (not too long ago) used to think that better marketing (with a cavalier degree of dissimulation) would be helpful to spread the ideas of HBD to a wider audience of sweet, naive right-thinking people. But now (partly based on experience), I’m doubting this view:

    When it comes to getting out the truth, it’s not how you say it so much as who:

    Only when someone (or, even better a good part of the establishment) with real clout is saying these things will they get some play. By speaking ‘their language’ so to speak – which inevitably means a degree of lying – you may get temporary play, but it all dissipates the closer and closer they get to the ‘awful’ truth”

    The problem is that most people are too stupid/lazy/incurious/weak-willed to think for themselves, so they rely on what trusted “authorities” – “experts” – tell them. What’s worse about this is that you can have someone who actually knows what they’re talking about tell many of these people the truth, but they won’t believe this person. Often to people being an “expert” trumps being an actual expert… :\

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “Only when someone (or, even better a good part of the establishment) with real clout is saying these things will they get some play.”

      I think the way it works is the moral authority of an existing priesthood needs to be destroyed before people will listen to an alternative or (more commonly) the existing priesthood destroys their own moral authority by creating a disaster of some kind from their policies e.g. an economic collapse or a plague.

      The latter more common example tends to be a tad late though.

    • Sisyphean says:

      Most people don’t bother thinking for themselves because it takes 1) cognitive effort and 2) the willingness to be wrong and more importantly to be pilloried by others for being wrong. So the people who read your blog Jayman, who read here, who investigate things throughout the HBD-o-sphere and beyond are those who think without being told to do so and aren’t particularly cowed by the idea of being ostracized, either because they’re used to it (like me) or because they don’t inherently value social cache’ as much as most normal humans do. In my experience, this is a very small subset of the population.

    • Magus Janus says:

      Jayman is right. The disappointing part is not that the masses follow the opinion of experts, but that the experts who know better are so cowardly. It is incumbent on THEM to speak out the inconvenient truths . But alas too few have the integrity and backbone to do so.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      We all bitch and moan about all the phony experts and all the “stupid/lazy/incurious,weak willed” people out there, and we should. But we can’t change the arrangement that is in place. It is what it has always been and always will be, salesmen being rewarded for telling fools what they want to hear while real expertise is appreciated by very few. Many of us are exasperated with the world we live in, so much what seems obvious to us is oblivious not just to the normal folk but to our appointed experts and leaders. But really seeing clearly all the foolishness that the overwhelming majority do not just means we are damned lucky to be born bright. That wont make us any less frustrated but we should be grateful for what we have been given. If a man with bad vision is never handed glasses does he know he is looking at the world with blurred vision? I don’t think so and by the same token neither do the dumb eat their terrible tasting humble pie and realize just how much they are missing in the complex world that surrounds them.

  5. dave chamberlin says:

    I see the Tetlock bock is free and in PDF form here.

    I barely skim read it but what I read left me confused, but that might be because I’m a long term turbulant dilletante (that is on page 50)

  6. east hunter says:

    i figure any six year old with chicken pox knows about as much about quarantine as the top experts in the world. If you don’t want to catch chicken pox, stay away from kids that have it. pretty much that simple. great example of how an education can teach us to know less than just common sense observation.

  7. I have said half-seriously that an expert is a person (plumber, teacher, salesman) who knows when you can force something versus when forcing something is the worst thing one can do.

    I am also reminded of the Threarah’s comment in Watership Down, that the rabbits who claimed a gift of prophecy usually became even more revered when their predictions went wrong.

    People believe what gets them mates, and food, and chums. Experts are those who say those things really well..

  8. pyrrhus99 says:

    “The educationists know that heredity isn’t a factor in student achievement, and they dominate policy – but they’re wrong. Some behavioral geneticists and psychometricians know better.”

    Actually, virtually everyone knew better, especially classroom teachers and parents. But the “educators” managed to suppress dissent.

  9. Douglas Knight says:

    What’s that about battle fatigue? Could you be more specific or suggest a place to learn about it?

  10. peppermint says:

    If we fearmonger about Ebola, it will provide the experts with political cover to do something effective about it, but if we hatemonger about enough, they will be prohibited from doing anything effective. It is the nature of democracy to replace expertise with political propaganda.

  11. MawBTS says:

    Sometime no-one has any any predictive ability: some stuff, nobody understands. There’s a good chance that we will still have some some socially-approved ‘experts’ on that subject.

    Who still have their place. Just because we don’t understand something now doesn’t mean we never will, and it might conceivably be the air quotes experts who make the discovery. Out of pride and desire to retain their status, if nothing else.

    Modern heliocentrism emerging from Ptolemaic geocentrism would be an example.

  12. Anonymous says:

    The main reason for having experts is that we cannot read everything, (and some people will not read anything), so people assume the expert is saving them time. A tiny bit of investigation (about an hour of reading and thinking) reveals some cracks in the expert edifice, but reading for an hour just to check something is a minority hobby. Experts survive because most people are intellectually lazy, and would like a quick answer. I certainly do, on what I consider to be marginal subjects.
    During a hotel fire in Scandinavia the guests closed their doors and windows, following expert advice that one should not create a draft that fed the flames. Some learned, quickly, that they needed to break the windows so as to avoid toxic fumes, and also worked out that if they put wet towels at the bottom of the door, and cooled the burning doors with water they stood a change of breathing fresh air while waving for attention and being rescued by firefighters on extended ladders. Changing a plan in the light of obvious evidence is what saves us from over-application of expert advice.
    As regards most people working things out that experts deny, here is short observation:

    When the leaders talk of peace, the common folk know that war is coming.
    Brecht: German War Primer

  13. Sorry, the anonymous person quoting Brecht is me. But, being experts, you had already worked that out..

  14. Sean says:

    Expert = SOB from out of town. So, as with the CIA estimates of the Soviet Union that did not suit the neocons, you call in “team B” and get the answer your community needs.

    • Neocons…Soviet Union…I don’t see a decade matching up for those.

      • Sean says:

        Leo Strauss is well known but another dean of the neocons was Albert Wohlstetter “an influential and controversial nuclear strategist during the Cold War […] From 1964 to 1980, he taught in the political science department of the University of Chicago, and chaired the dissertation committees of Paul Wolfowitz and Zalmay Khalilzad. He is often credited with influencing a number of prominent members of the neoconservative movement,[11] including Richard Perle (who, as a teenager, dated Wohlstetter’s daughter Joan).[12]”

        In Iraq team B was called Office of Special Plans ” … a Pentagon unit created by Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, and headed by Feith, as charged by then-United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to supply senior George W. Bush administration officials with raw intelligence (unvetted by intelligence analysts, see Stovepiping) pertaining to Iraq.[1] A similar unit, called the Iranian Directorate, was created several years later, in 2006, to deal with intelligence on Iran.[2] […] Seymour Hersh writes that, according to an unnamed Pentagon adviser, “[OSP] was created in order to find evidence of what Wolfowitz and his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, wanted to be true—that Saddam Hussein had close ties to Al Qaeda, and that Iraq had an enormous arsenal of chemical, biological, and possibly even nuclear weapons (WMD) that threatened the region and, potentially, the United States. […] ”

        Iran is next.

        • Toddy Cat says:

          It’s fair to note that the CIA estimates of the Soviet economy were off to the point of being hilarious, as were a lot of their other estimates. You couldn’t blame policymakers for at least asking for a second opinion. Whether they asked in the right place is another question.

          • gcochran9 says:

            The CIA relied on more-or-less standard economics views, people like Paul Samuelson, who were entirely wrong. Speaking of ‘experts’. The Team B types were wrong in a different direction.


          • Jim says:

            I wonder – Did the guys in the Politburo know what was the truth about the Soviet economy?

          • Anonymous says:

            It was always hard to understand how the SU was about to pass us economically when people had to wait months to get a refrigerator and years to get a car. On the other hand, many believed that their level of military spending required a large economy to support it. The reality was that they were spending about a quarter of their GDP on their military, and letting people go without things like refrigerators, cars, and hams.

            Certainly underlings lied to the Politburo about the state of the economy. (On the books they had productive factories that had never even been built.) But the Politburo probably also new that things weren’t as rosy as they were claiming and as the CIA and others were reporting.

          • Sean says:

            Wohlstetter invented the the missile gap that made JFK pres.

            Team B was later, but along the same lines .
            “Richard Edgar Pipes (born July 11, 1923) is a Polish-American academic who specializes in Russian history, particularly with respect to the Soviet Union, who espoused a strong anti-communist point of view throughout his career. In 1976 he headed Team B, a team of analysts organized by the Central Intelligence Agency who analyzed the strategic capacities and goals of the Soviet military and political leadership.
            Pipes is the father of American historian and expert on American foreign policy and the Middle East, Daniel Pipes. ([Daniel] Pipes currently advocates that U.S. President Barack Obama “give orders for the U.S. military to destroy Iran’s nuclear-weapon capacity … The time to act is now.”[60] He claims that “circumstances are propitious” for the U.S. to initiate a bombing of Iran, and that “no one other than the Iranian rulers and their agents denies that the regime is rushing headlong to build a large nuclear arsenal.” He further states that a unilateral U.S. bombing of Iran “would require few ‘boots on the ground’ and entail relatively few casualties, making an attack more politically palatable.”[60])”

          • melendwyr says:

            Heinlein claimed that the information acquired during the tour of the Soviet Union taken in 1960 by his wife and himself clearly indicated that the SU was in terrible shape and wasn’t even managing to breed at replacement levels. He also asserted that an admiral he knew (no name given) treated claim as demonstrated long before – but only off the record.

            I suspect that all of the people “in the know” knew perfectly well. But it didn’t serve the interests of the Soviet elites to admit it, and even less the American elites.

            • gcochran9 says:

              Heinlein was often perspicacious, but that was not one of his good insights. He thought that Moscow was a factor of 7 smaller than the Soviet claim, 750,000 instead of 5 million – he was completely wrong. As for the Russian birth rate, it was low in the cities then, but not yet low out in the countryside, and a lot of Russians were still living on the farm in 1960.

              Heinlein’s most important prediction was that the US would go crazy in the 1960s, which of course happened to him as well.

              As for people ‘in the know’ having all this special and counterintuitive knowledge, get real. There’s a reason you’re reading this blog.

              • melendwyr says:

                You’re a person I judge to be ‘in the know’ because of your arguments and positions. You’re hardly a counterargument.

                Given that Heinlein was perceptive, where was the flaw in his reasoning? As a pure hypothetical, I suppose the Soviets could have lied about their population levels. How could I have determined that Heinlein wasn’t correct?

              • gcochran9 says:

                I always thought that the idiom “in the know’ implied that you were a member of some inner circle, presumably with N > 1. I sure am not.

                Heinlein was sometimes extremely perceptive, sometimes a complete loon. I think that the difference was that residential Moscow in those days was almost entirely multistory apartment buildings, while most American cities had extensive areas of much lower density. And probably the sheer amount of stuff being shipped into Moscow was much less, due to a lower, car-less standard of living.

              • melendwyr says:

                Re. idiom: Yeah, but the circle is defined by secret knowledge, though whether it’s due to knowing or creating the truth varies. You’d seem to fall under the first type.

                I think the issue may be that you (correctly) consider yourself an outsider and you view the idiom as requiring insider status.

          • Sean says:

            By the early sixties the Soviet Union had enough nukes that the USA, which though never quite possessing a spendid first strike had got close, had to abandon its massive retaliation to an invasion. Khrushchev feared east Germany would collapse from the outflow of people to the West Germany a nd the rest of the west refused to recognise Est germany or the new borders of Poland. Khrushchev feared the growing rearmament of West Germany in view of their refusing to recognise the borders. Eisenhower, and then more seriously Kennedy, floated the idea of the joint European controll of nuclear weapons, including west Germany. Khrushchev actually thought that a rerun of the german attack on the Soviet Union was on the cards, and offered unification of Germany in return for it beirng neutral and recognising Polands borders, with no sucess. The Cuba crisis was Khrushchev’s a response to his failure to make headway over Germany, and he gave local commanders authorisation to use tactical nuke if attacked.

          • Sean says:

            “As for people ‘in the know’ having all this special and counterintuitive knowledge, get real.” Disproving folk wisdom is the essence of expertise.

            According to this team B simply proceeded from the assumption that ‘the ruble-dollar exchange rate had been underestimated in calculations of the Soviet defence budget’.

  15. Greying Wanderer says:

    You realize you’re evidence it’s a mind-altering virus or bug of some kind?

  16. Greying Wanderer says:

    “In the 1840s, highly educated doctors knew that diseases were not spread by contagion, but old ladies in the Faeroe Islands (along with many other people) knew that some were.”

    A bit of a tangent but considering that pattern is likely to have been repeated multiple times in history i.e. aged nurse/midwife equivalents knowing what works and what doesn’t, that would provide a motive for the “experts” of the time to get rid of the competition.

    Were any of the people who stirred up witch burning doctors?

  17. brendan says:

    You can also have compartmental expertise.

    Economists know asset markets are mostly efficient so they index-fund their own money.

    Economists know asset markets are mostly inefficient, so they write lots of papers about that (such benevolence to not merely trade on their insights) and encourage nimble federal bureaus to hire economists to spot and prick bubbles.

    Economists know all people respond to incentives, which is why econ explains it all.

    Except when people don’t respond to incentives, like when the 90 IQ students pass up the ‘free lunch’ of a college education, or employers pass over underpriced female labor, or famously inefficient firms like Wal-Mart miss the easy gains of transforming their employees into super competent worker bees (justifying $20/hour wages) via the magic of investing in your employees.

    • anon says:

      “or employers pass over underpriced female labor, or famously inefficient firms like Wal-Mart miss the easy gains of transforming their employees into super competent worker bees (justifying $20/hour wages) via the magic of investing in your employees.”

      Are you aware your political ideology is clouding your judgment?

  18. Fake Herzog says:

    I see Greg continues to insist on rewriting history:

    “In 2003, the ‘experts’ ( politicians, journalists, pundits, spies) knew that Saddam had a nuclear program”

    Perhaps there were indeed some experts who thought Saddam had a program. But that’s not how the Bush Administration sold the war. The concern was always that we continued to try and re-constitute his program:

    “Whereas Iraq, in direct and flagrant violation of the cease-fire,
    attempted to thwart the efforts of weapons inspectors to identify
    and destroy Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction stockpiles and
    development capabilities, which finally resulted in the withdrawal
    of inspectors from Iraq on October 31, 1998;

    Whereas in Public Law 105-235 (August 14, 1998), Congress concluded that
    Iraq’s continuing weapons of mass destruction programs threatened
    vital United States interests and international peace and security,
    declared Iraq to be in material and unacceptable breach of its
    international obligations'' and urged the President
    to take
    appropriate action, in accordance with the Constitution and relevant
    laws of the United States, to bring Iraq into compliance with its
    international obligations”;

    Whereas Iraq both poses a continuing threat to the national security of
    the United States and international peace and security in the
    Persian Gulf region and remains in material and unacceptable breach
    of its international obligations by, among other things, continuing
    to possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons
    capability, actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability, and
    supporting and harboring terrorist organizations;”

    Public Law 243 says it very clearly — we thought he was “actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability”. Now, maybe we should have turned to Greg back in 2003 and said, ‘Greg, how likely is it with sanctions in place and no-fly zones that Saddam ever is able to put together “nuclear weapon capability”?’ And Greg would have said to Donald Rumsfeld, it is not likely at all — don’t go to war.

    And we might have gone to war anyway for any one of the numerous other reasons listed in Public Law 243. Or we might have listened to Greg and avoided the debacle of Iraq only to face a worse threat in a couple of years…

    • Jim says:

      Our intervention in Iraq ( and in Libya s well ) has made everythng a lot worst. Enogh of your idiocy.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Of course it is how Bush sold the war. Selling the war involving statements to the press, leaks, etc, not a Congressional resolution, which is the product of that selling job. Leaks to that lying slut at the New York Times, Judith Miller, for example.

      Actively seeking a nuclear weapons capacity would have meant making fissionables, or building facilities to make fissionables. That hadn’t happened, and it was impossible for Iraq to have done so, given that any such effort had to be undetectable (because we hadn’t detected it with our ‘national technical means’, spy satellites and such) and given their limited resources in men, money, and materiel. Iraq had done nothing along these lines. Absolutely nothing.

      I don’t try to rewrite history. That would be lying – which is what you do. Although from now on, you’re going to have to do it elsewhere.

  19. Maciano says:

    Other well-known examples:

    • Middle East experts always assure us Islam is peaceful. Elites tend to agree, but normal people who live among muslims know better.
    • Financial experts who keep telling us debt-to-equity ratios don’t matter – ever. Or those who kept saying housing prices will always go up.
    • The Millennium bug which would kill all chips worldwide according to IT journalists. Most people didn’t believe this.
    • The idea that criminals will change for reason A, B, C,…. They won’t. Or that harsh long sentences don’t work. They do (for us).
    • Media outlets (entertainment & journalism) that kept telling everyone the internet wouldn’t matter to their product
    • A says:

      I found a lot of lay people parroting Millenium doomsday scenarios because they didn’t understand the technology. The IT journalists are experts at journalism, primarily, which is a big problem for a lot of fields vis a vis journalism.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “The idea that criminals will change for reason A, B, C,…. They won’t.”

      One reason that is true is a lot change when their testosterone levels dip after they move out of the 16-24 (ish) age group.

      The only other reason I know of that works sometimes is teaching the non-stupid but illiterate ones how to read.

      Otherwise agree.

      • Sisyphean says:

        Ha! Maybe we should start a campaign for ‘compassionate prisons’ where we feed them a vegan soy diet. That ought to give the old T a nice kick in the Jimmy.

        • JayMan says:

          I hope you don’t buy that vegan testosterone/sperm count nonsense…

        • Greying Wanderer says:

          I don’t know about that. I think three strikes and you’re out applied to those under 24 (ish) is a massive waste of resources as you’re housing huge numbers of people who would have grown out of criminality. Up to 24 (ish) it’s a good idea imo and post 24 (ish) also but doing it across the testosterone dip is dumb.

          And literacy – a no parole till literate policy would be great (and keep the grade so next time they need to improve on that grade to get out).

  20. It’s good that you are interested in ‘experts’ because there is almost certainly an underlying genetic component to this phenomenon.

    Most of the ‘experts’ whom you list, in earlier times would have been recognized as priests of some cult. I had read Eysenck of course when I married a girl I met in a psychology class. Mistake. We didn’t fight about money of infidelity or any of the normal subjects. We fought about Freud. By then it was well established that Freudian therapy didn’t cure anything – but that argument had no effect on my wife. I began to recognize that I was dealing with some kind of religious or quasi-religious belief system. In Catholic school I had been warned against ‘mixed marriage’ which was how they referred to marrying a Protestant. No one warned me about marrying a Freudian.

    Currently I’m trying to understand the reverence in which Jared Diamond is held. The popular press is now calling him a polymath. I had read all his big pop science books and now I’m reading his first book ‘The Third Chimpanzee’ which sold well enough but did not have the impact of his later books. This was his ‘pre-guru’ book. He had not yet hit on his quasi-religious formula that made him world famous – and made him a recognized ‘expert’.

    Basically the ‘Third Chimpanzee’ is a Gee Whiz science book. It tells anecdotes about recent scientific discoveries rather like a Nova episode or something on the Science Channel. In this case the main story is understanding that we are more closely related to chimps than chimps are to gorillas. But it is nowadays quiet dated. There are no bonobos, Denisovians, or Florensis peoples. He confidently states that there was almost certainly no Human-Neanderthal interbreeding. Science has run past the content of this book. But no one much cares. It’s an old book.

    Diamond in ‘The Third Chimpanzee’ mentions racist white supremacy as terrible idea but drops it after a paragraph or two. His next book ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ focused the whole large book on proving that black-brown people are equal to white people. Bingo. He had hit the mother vein. He had found an area where people held their opinions religiously not just rationally. It no longer mattered if what he wrote about was literally true. Whatever he said or wrote was to be understood as contributing to an anti-racist viewpoint. Mere rationality was irrelevant. It was a matter of faith.

    I don’t understand all this, but recognize it. Clearly at some point on some subjects proof, evidence, and logic are not decisive. At some point we enter the areas of quasi-religion. Diamond demonstrates that he can pronounce ‘shibboleth’ and then whatever he says is accepted. He is an expert.

    • STALIN says:

      quite adv.
      quiet n. or adj.
      otherwise, very good post.

    • Harold says:

      “No one warned me about marrying a Freudian.”
      Is this what your autobigraphy is going to be called?

    • John Hostetler says:

      “I don’t understand all this, but recognize it.”

      In another comment in this thread, I referred to ‘people of high intellect given to creating plausible nonsense.’ I described this as legalistic, but religious would also do. To understand better, you may wish to consider Diamond’s (and Freud’s) background, the religious nature of the doctrines of anti-racism, and the people of high intellect I might have in mind.

  21. Sam says:

    “At the high point of Freudian psychoanalysis in the US, I figure that a puppy had a significantly positive effect on your mental health, while the typical psychiatrist of the time did not. We (the US) listened to psychologists telling us how to deal with combat fatigue: the Nazis and Soviets didn’t, and had far less trouble with it than we did.”

    Can anybody enlighten me on this episode?

    • gcochran9 says:

      Actually, I don’t know how Freudian those Army psychologists were in 1944: they may have been useless in some other way. The gist is that in the European theater, for example in the Normandy campaign, the US had a much higher rate of psychological casualties than the Germans. “Both British and American psychiatrists were struck by the ‘apparently few cases of psychoneurosis’ among German prisoners of war. ” They were lower in the Red Army, as well.

      In the Pacific theater, combat fatigue was even worse for US soldiers, but rare among the Japanese.

      • Sam says:

        I’m a bit thick here but what were Germans and Soviet doing differently? Or is it that Americans/British psychologists were preparing the soldiers poorly or that they were misdiagnosing?

      • Greg Pandatshang says:

        What an odd example. Surely, many things were different about the lives of German soldiers and American soldiers. Beevor mentions without criticism the speculation that this was the result of years of totalitarian indoctrination.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Well, Beevor doesn’t have space to criticize every idiot ever born. We’re lucky that those psychologists didn’t blame our higher combat fatigue rate on differences in toilet training.

          The infantry took most of the casualties – it was a very dangerous, unpleasant job. People didn’t like being in the infantry. In the American Army, and to a lesser extent, the British Army, getting into medical evacuation channels was a way to avoid getting killed. Not so much in the German Army: suspected malingerers were shot. In the American Army, they weren’t. That’s the most importance difference between the Germans and Americans affecting the ‘combat fatigue’ rate – the Germans didn’t put up with it. They did have some procedures, but they all ended up putting the guy back in combat fairly rapidly.

          Even for desertion, only ONE American soldier was executed. In the Germany Army, 20,000. It makes a difference. We ran a soft war: since we ended up with whole divisions out of the fight, we probably would have done better (won faster, lost fewer guys) if we had been harsher on malingerers and deserters.

          • j says:

            Only in the Stalingrad battle, the Red Army executed more than 20,000 of its own soldiers. It worked.

          • gothamette says:

            “I heard 13,500, but your point stands.”

            What point? That battle fatigue didn’t happen? Whether they shot 20K or 13.5K, it happened.

            You sound as if you admire these bastards. And you call Fidel “a jerk”? Why? Because he killed a few people? He saved many more.

            Shooting guys who crack up under the pressure of modern mechanized warfare is sheer barbarism, as is engaging in mass rape sprees (also a Red Army specialty).

            • gcochran9 says:

              Assuming that we’re going to fight WWII, it’s better to do it in a more effective way, one that wins more quickly with fewer total casualties. You take more casualties if you lose several divisions worth of soldiers to combat fatigue and desertion – which the US did.

              If the Soviets had not used draconian policies after the German invasion, they would probably have lost. Of course, they were weaker for all the destructive tyranny the Communists had inflicted on Russia before the war, with planned famines, the Gulag, mass executions, even shooting half the higher officers in the Red Army – but sometimes, during the war itself, it paid off.

              Losing to Hitler would have had worse consequences.

            • gcochran9 says:

              Fidel was right about AIDS, wrong about other stuff.

          • Sam says:

            “That’s the most importance difference between the Germans and Americans affecting the ‘combat fatigue’ rate – the Germans didn’t put up with it”
            If I understood you correctly you are saying that the American soldiers were faking it and that when soldiers didn’t have a chance to opt out by claiming combat fatigue they could indeed continue without problem(e.g. Germany)?

          • Richard Sharpe says:

            If I understood you correctly you are saying that the American soldiers were faking it and that when soldiers didn’t have a chance to opt out by claiming combat fatigue they could indeed continue without problem(e.g. Germany)?

            When your system provides incentives for a certain type of behavior, you will get more of that behavior. Conversely, when your system provides disincentives for certain types of behavior, you will get less of that behavior.

          • Zippy says:

            If you execute one of your own soldiers for malingering, he’s just as much out of action as if they enemy killed him, or if you psychologically evacuated him. If he’s evacuated, at least he is alive and can presumably be used for non-combat duties. Shooting the 20,000 malingerers has real costs; it’s worth doing if the increase in combat effectiveness is worth 20,000 lives.

            Imagine three categories:

            1) People who are legitimately nuts as the result of combat. They’re catatonic, or delusion, or crazy in some manifest way. Punishment, even the death penalty, won’t affect their actions.

            2) People who are freaked out and suffering real psychological difficulties, but who can pull it together with the incentive to do so. They’ll fight if the alternative is being shot, but they may not be effective, may freeze up in action, etc.

            3) People who are just scared, and who are faking real distress to (rationally) avoid the risk of being killed or injured.

            If you could reliably tell them apart, one way of going about things would be to shoot those in category 2 and 3, while treating those in 1 humanely. One way of separating the real psychological casualties form the malingerers might be to impose social sanctions, George Patton style.

          • Greg Pandatshang says:

            I can’t say I’m well versed in military history, so I don’t have much of an opinion about how well the war effort was run. I said it was an odd example because you originally brought this up in connection with Freudian psychologists, and this doesn’t seem very relevant to that.

      • gothamette says:

        All very good points, Dr.C, but the military is a political organization and politics is the art of the possible. You can’t shoot American soldiers, at least, not when they are fighting on foreign soil. People forget how we practically had to cajole Americans to fight. Yeah, there was a draft (a form of cajoling?) but there was always an element of bribery involved in getting Americans to fight WWII.

        I still say that if Americans had to fight a hated enemy on their own soil, they’d do quite well, after the cowards and traitors were dealt with. I don’t want to find out in real life whether I’m right.

        Anyway, let’s all rejoice, because Ebola has come to NYC! Yes, after passing through the airport protocols, a doctor got through with the virus, went bowling, took subways and a taxi. I’m not panicked – but I am intensely POd.

    • gothamette says:

      I wonder how prevalent combat fatigue would be amongst US soldiers if we fought a war on our own territory, against a hated enemy – who was closing in on us. Not very, I think.

    • Sean says:

      Summary executions and penal battalions that amounted to same, especially the Soviets I have read (Szaz) that there were surprisingly few prisoners who developed mental illness in Nazi concentation camps.

      Navy surgeon Henri Laborit saw gunners who had been in non stop combat for hours on end jump go beserk and overboard, He used an antihistaminic drug after noticing it made mentally disturbed individuals quietly euphoric. The begining of tranquilisers.

      • Toddy Cat says:

        Given that the U.S. Army between 1917 and 1973 probably executed fewer people for desertion than any other conscript army in history, it’s genuinely remarkable that it performed in combat as well as it did. Even the Brits executed a lot more than we did.

  22. GoneWithTheWind says:

    “In 2003, the ‘experts’ ( politicians, journalists, pundits, spies) knew that Saddam had a nuclear program, but the small number of people that actually knew anything about nuclear weapons development and something about Iraq (at the World Almanac level, say) knew that wasn’t so.”

    ANd yet he had 550 tons of yellowcake. Hmmmmm! No nuclear program and he had a massive underground nuclear lab and uranium refining facility. Perhaps what you meant to say is Saddam’s nuclear program was in it’s infancy and was destroyed by the U.S. in 2003 before he was able to build a nuclear weapon…

    • gcochran9 says:

      Where do you morons breed? He did not have a massive underground nuclear lab, and he had no uranium refining facility. None. We spent over a billion dollars searching and we found nothing.

      You don’t even know what yellow cake is. It is true that Saddam had had a nuclear program before the Gulf War, although it had not come too close to a weapon – but that program had been destroyed, and could not be rebuilt A. in a way invisible to our spy satellites and B with no money, because of sanctions.

      The 550 tons of uranium oxide- unenriched uranium oxide – was a leftover from the earlier program. Under UN seal, and those seals had not been broken. Without enrichment, and without a means of enrichment, it was useless.

      What’s the point of pushing this nonsense? somebody paying you?

      The President was a moron, the Government of the United States proved itself a pack of fools,as did the New York Times, the Washington Post, Congress, virtually all of the pundits, etc. etc. And undoubtedly you were a fool as well: you might as well deal with it, because the truth is not going to go away.

      • Richard Sharpe says:

        A simple comparison of Iran’s efforts to enrich Uranium with the infrastructure Iraq never built should convince anyone that Iraq had made no effort to create nuclear anything.

      • GoneWithTheWind says:

        “The president was a moron”. I think you exposed your agenda. Everyone, all the Democrats, all the leaders of countries in the free world, all of the spy agencies, everyone agreed Saddam had WMD’s. Just before Desert Storm began Saddam spent about a year with 18 wheelers going non-stop day and night ferrying WMD’s and the means to make WMD’s to the Bekaa Valley in Syria. During this period the UN prevented the invasion so that evidence that would have shown Germany, France, Holland and Russia provided the equipment that Saddam used to make WMDs could be removed. Russia sent in flight after flight of their largest transport aircraft to spirit out their bio-WMD manufacturing equipment and the WMD’s that Saddam had created with it. Russia sent in their Spetsnaz troops to do this job and were in fact caught red handed by American troops which could have devolved into a gunfight. Luckily the commanders were smart enough to let each group continue on their way. Why then was this enormous effort necessary to remove the WMD’s you and other history rewriters say wasn’t there? I do understand your GW Bush derangement syndrome but why do you continue to embarrass yourself in this way?

        • gcochran9 says:

          None of that stuff even happened. Enough already.

          • GoneWithTheWind says:

            None of it happened!!! Have you been living under a rock? You don’t remember the videos shown on TV of the trucks, truck after truck after truck headed to Syria. And now you claim none of this happened. Bwahahaha

            • gcochran9 says:

              There was nothing there. We looked hard, spent over a billion dollars looking: no sign that of the projects you talk about existed. Saddam would have had to make all the people who ever worked on the program disappear, their relatives and friends too, not just the hypothetical plant. Never happened. We would have offered cash and green cards to anyhow who had a valid story that showed we weren’t complete idiots – a story that checked out. But none did. Considering that well over half the population hated Saddam, and even more would have been thrilled to get out of that hellhole, it’s obvious enough there was nothing there. Just what you’d expect from a broke, backward regime under close watch.

              I was talking to an old friend who worked in technical intelligence for a long time and knows this story very well. Back just before we invaded, he couldn’t figure it: he had high clearances, but none of the solid intelligence he knew supported the Administration picture. He figured that Prez must know something that he didn’t. Turned out otherwise: POTUS was a doofus, like all his merry men.

              Later my friend told me some of the less embarrassing reasons for our errors. we saw highly guarded sites, figured something vital was there, but nothing was found by UN or US inspectors. The Iraqis explained that you had to guard these sites because otherwise the locals would steal everything from PCs to flush toilet, which of course they did en masse when we smashed the Baath regime. And I suppose it kept some soldiers busy.

              Of course, Bush may have realized that most of his supporters would simply make up reasons to think their side was right, even though all the facts were against them. That certainly happened, not without some help from the Internet.

              This isn’t the first provably false bullshit you’ve posted. I remember your claim that few (5%) of southerners owned slaves – but the 1860 census says that 34% of families did. Usually it was the paterfamilias. In those days, with families probably averaging six people, only one, the dad, was likely to own a farm or slaves. The numbers are saying the same thing – but you’re trying to use it to give a false impression, which is very, very wrong. Go read Inferno.

      • John Hostetler says:

        I think you should consider the possibility, not that our leaders have a lot of hidden knowledge we lack, but that there is some motivation they have, right in front of our noses but perhaps difficult to see or name.

        Then, it may be that the behavior of these people is not so moronic after all.

        For example, what if the motive is to render the polities of all Islamic peoples in the Middle East so chaotic that none can muster the organized engineering effort that is the real nuclear threshold, at ANY foreseeable time?

        Perhaps they are moronic as foxes.

  23. Richard Sharpe says:

    Peter Jahrling is reported as saying:

    When scientists have done studies, playing with influenza strains to make them more virulent, when they increase the aerosol potential of a flu strain, they also reduce its virulence. So when you start messing with viruses, you usually make them less virulent.

    Is this one of the things Experts know that is not true? Or is it a case of Evolution has more patience than researchers and can try things in parallel and very quickly?

    A cursory search did not bring up anything.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “when they increase the aerosol potential of a flu strain, they also reduce its virulence. So when you start messing with viruses, you usually make them less virulent.”

      Wouldn’t making Ebola less virulent (if that’s the right word) make it worse i.e. isn’t the “good” thing about Ebola that it kills too quickly for it to spread?

    • DK says:

      If you knew what you are talking about, you’d realize that breaking something is infinitely easier than making something workable anew. But of course, unlike Peter Jahrling, you don’t.

  24. thinkingabout it says:

    I see a lot of animus against doctors on this blog lately. It’s very common to see high-IQ patients resent their doctors, because the ubiquity of medical information on the internet makes them think they have as much, if not more knowledge than their physician.
    As someone in a residency program, however, I have come to realize that a lot of medicine is a skill that has to be learnt by observation and practice, not a science that can be studied. Surgery, even more so. A 65-year old physician of middling intellect is almost always better at diagnosis and treatment than a 25-year old 160 IQ medical school honors student. This is almost never the case in fields like physics or mathematics.
    Unfortunately, since everyone has a body, they all think they are entitled to have an opinion on its functioning.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Do you have an example where the animus on this blog is wrong?

      No one is talking about diagnosis, except of historical accounts cholera vs plague.

    • gcochran9 says:

      You’re imagining things. I don’t have any particular animus towards doctors. The only reason that I say that Western medicine was an ineffective pseudoscience for 95% of its history is because it was. And it is hardly my fault that the people at the CDC are crazy on some subjects.

      As for your idea that doctors improve with age, I doubt it. So do some other people: for example, in this article in Annals of Internal Medicine (Systematic review: the relationship between clinical experience and quality of health care), they say “Overall, 32 of the 62 (52%) evaluations reported decreasing performance with increasing years in practice for all outcomes assessed; 13 (21%) reported decreasing performance with increasing experience for some outcomes but no association for others; 2 (3%) reported that performance initially increased with increasing experience, peaked, and then decreased (concave relationship); 13 (21%) reported no association; 1 (2%) reported increasing performance with increasing years in practice for some outcomes but no association for others; and 1 (2%) reported increasing performance with increasing years in practice for all outcomes. Results did not change substantially when the analysis was restricted to studies that used the most objective outcome measures.

      I don’t how well that 25-year old doctor with an IQ of 160 would do, never having met anyone like that. I do know a mathematician who has an IQ around 160 and was married to a doctor, but she* dumped him after he put her through med school and came down with lymphoma.

      And that libertarian friend I mentioned, who said that although quarantine would have worked against AIDS, better that we didn’t, despite the extra hundreds of thousands of deaths that resulted – why, he’s a doctor.

      *all the other fifth-years in her program also dumped their spouses. Catching?

      • IC says:

        Agree. Training and experience only work for certain MDs. Some bright residents can achieve expertise even better than their attending physician which often are willing to consult their bright residents for opinions. As resident, you should notice some senior residents were no better than even first year resident in term of expertise. The learning curve is very different for every one.
        The same thing applies to graduate schol. Some bright graduate students even become the advicers for their proffessors since they demonstrated high level of problem sloving ability.
        When you finished your training and get into the real world of practice, you would notice that age is not mark of expertise for many specialties.

        Females often dumped their spouse after they achieve earning above their male partners. This not just apply to doctors. Dixie Chicks, Jennifer lopez, ect are all examples. Only secure way to have your ladies with you is out-earning them.

    • MawBTS says:

      Low IQ patients resent doctors too: they think they’re incestuous Ivy’d up snobs who charge too much and cover up each others’ mistakes.

      I think doctors would only get better with age if there’s there’s an element of responsibility, and real consequences to fucking up. Medically we seem to be in an age of “pass the buck”, with patients being moved from specialist to specialist like a hot potato.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “I see a lot of animus against doctors on this blog lately.”

      Only pre 1900s (ish) ones and modern PC ones.

    • Sean says:

      Wouldn’t want to be admitted to hospital at the weekend

    • melendwyr says:

      The field of medicine has improved considerably. The people working in that field, however, are as arrogant and as foolish as they have ever been. They are also as noble and as wise as ever – but when have there ever been more wise than fools?

    • John Hostetler says:

      You may be right about surgery, but what’s the point of high skill in the pursuit of non-science?

      A strong case can be made that even today, a large amount of non-cosmetic elective surgery is useless.

      Placebo-controlled trials of surgery involving sham operation are obviously fraught with difficulties to get underway, but so far 19 have been done, and the score is 19 to nothing against efficacy.

      One of these trials was knee arthroscopy – results were in NEJM. I was not surprised. A strong memory I have from my last year of medical school was from my six-week orthopedic rotation. I remember how technically cool arthroscopy was – seeing the living anatomy of the knee perpetually washed free of blood, with the implements delicately maneuvered into place.

      After watching a few though, my thinking began to include: ‘and exactly how does it help a patient to nibble away a bit of meniscus that millions of years of evolution has designed to solve the difficult problem of slightly rotating a hinge joint?’

      • Jim says:

        I had a fall once after which I had difficulty walking. I had an MRI which came back with a whole laundry list of stuff wrong but my orthopedic surgeon told me that everything would heal on its own except for a slght bit of cartilage which was out of place. He recommended an orthoscopy procedure as you describe it. So I had it and as far as I could tell the procedure was completely effective. I find it hard to believe that the great difference I felt in walking before and after the procedure was all in my imagination.

  25. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    To what extent do those who purvey these crazy notions about education, as well as the elites, actually behave as if they really believe them?

    For example, the President does not send his kids to public schools, but does Sidwell Friends apply these modern crazy notions or does it craft instruction as if it believes that Heredity matters?

    • gcochran9 says:

      I’ve had three kids graduate from the local mostly-minority public school, and I’ll bet money that all three had higher test scores than Obama’s kids. Clearly, Sidwell Friends is doing something wrong.

      • Zippy says:

        Even if you say that heredity matters a lot, Obama’s mom was a genius. Sure, nutcase, but genius nutcase. His dad was an alcoholic, but one of the smartest guys in Kenya. Michelle probably isn’t as smart as Barack — her undergraduate thesis was barely literate, and she often complains about her test scores. But there is a lower limit at Harvard and Princeton, even for affirmative action admits.

        So the Obama kids might be naturally of above average intelligence. They probably have a lot of learned stupidity, but we have no reason to think they’re dumb. They might have higher IQs than the Bush girls, though I suspect they’re dumber than Chelsae.

        • Richard Sharpe says:

          I am probably way out of touch with current beliefs, but, what, exactly, is the evidence that Obama’s mother was a genius?

          Sure, getting pregnant before getting married was a sign of rebellion, but surely not a sign of genius.

          • Toddy Cat says:

            ” one of the smartest guys in Kenya. ”

            “They might have higher IQs than the Bush girls”

            The soft bigotry of low expectations…

          • Zippy says:

            You’re right; the evidence is fairly thin. So I’ll take that back.

            She did get into the University of Chicago at 15, though. They used to let in some high school students before graduation, and they tended toward the high intellects. Don’t know how smart she had to be to get a PhD in anthropology, but it’s possible that she had a high IQ.

          • melendwyr says:

            But how high? 130? 140? 150?

  26. It’s frustrating, because the experts are intelligent, well-spoken individuals in general, yet either intuition or gut-knowledge or just Occam’s Razor tells me they’re often wrong. Most people though seem to be easily fooled or not have a bullshit detector, so the experts get by quite well.

  27. Richard Sharpe says:

    This is not so much about “experts” or experts, but about mistaken notions.

    For a long while I guess I thought, like many others, that mutations were caused by alpha particles (or the like) zipping through our gonads and making little changes.

    However, it now seems more likely that they are transcription errors that change a base pair here or there or weird crossovers that maybe split up genes.

    Which is the more realistic view?

  28. Bob says:

    “Watch What Happens When 2 Guys Disguise McNuggets As Gourmet Snacks And Serve Them To Food Experts”

    [W]hen food experts were unknowingly served McNuggets and Big Macs at a catering conference in The Netherlands, their reactions were surprisingly positive.

    Two guys behind the YouTube channel lifehunterstv sliced McDonald’s McNuggets and burgers into bite-size pieces and served them with toothpicks on a white platter. They told the conference attendees that the food was a sampling from their “high-end” restaurant’s menu.

    One attendee called the food “nice and firm” and said it had “a good bite.”

    Another said it “rolls around the tongue nicely,” and “if it were wine, I’d say it’s fine.”

    The food was also described as “delicious” and “rich.”

    • gothamette says:

      I played a trick once at an office party. I didn’t have time to bake anything so I bought MacDonald’s oatmeal raisin cookies ($1 for 3), put them in a fancy box and served them to a bunch of snobs. They loved them. They ARE yummy!

  29. simontmn says:

    “Climate science” is another area of expertise that seems to be free of predictive value.

    • MawBTS says:

      Is this true? My impression was that things are going basically as the models predicted up to now.

      • Richard Sharpe says:

        You mean like the prediction that the Arctic would be ice free during summer by 2013 or 2014?

      • simontmn says:

        The models didn’t predict a pause in global warming after 1998. I’m not sure they can actually ‘predict’ eg the 1940-1975 global cooling period, either, even retroactively. They only seem to fit the 1975-1998 period when atmospheric C02 and global temperature increased in tandem.

    • gcochran9 says:

      I think that predicting climate is difficult, considering the complex feedback loops, but I know that almost every right-wing thing said about it that I have checked out turned out to be false.

      • M. M. says:

        I would welcome a post about that.

      • Jasper says:

        Long-term climate modeling conclusions are rendered virtually useless by the huge uncertainty around key inputs in those models. Crude guesswork is the best we can do, so maybe it is better than nothing, but our patent inability to simulate systems as complex as the earth’s climate doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Figure 4 in the link is the relevant visual.

        So if a right winger says maybe we should hold off before upending society on such flimsy evidence, he isn’t being crazy.

        “It is well-known among climatologists that large swaths of the physics in GCMs are not well understood.31 Where the uncertainty is significant GCMs have “parameters,” which are best judgments for how certain climate processes work. General Circulation Models have dozens of parameters and possibly a million variables,32 and all of them have some sort of error or uncertainty.

        A proper assessment of their physical reliability would include propagating all the parameter uncertainties through the GCMs, and then reporting the total uncertainty.33 I have looked in vain for such a study. No one seems to ever have directly assessed the total physical reliability of a GCM by propagating the parameter uncertainties through it. In the usual physical sciences, an analysis like this is required practice. But not in GCM science, apparently, and so the same people who express alarm about future warming disregard their own profound ignorance.

        So the bottom line is this: When it comes to future climate, no one knows what they’re talking about. No one. Not the IPCC nor its scientists, not the US National Academy of Sciences, not the NRDC or National Geographic, not the US Congressional House leadership, not me, not you, and certainly not Mr. Albert Gore. Earth’s climate is warming and no one knows exactly why. But there is no falsifiable scientific basis whatever to assert this warming is caused by human-produced greenhouse gasses because current physical theory is too grossly inadequate to establish any cause at all.”

        • gcochran9 says:

          You don’t know enough to have an opinion. Yet you do anyhow. Bye-bye.

        • Ursiform says:

          The inability to model a system exactly does not imply you cannot model it approximately, and certainly doesn’t imply you can’t identify trends.

          The greenhouse effect is a known physical effect. There is an historical correlation between concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and average temperature. The inability to model the exact increase in temperature caused by human-produced greenhouse gasses does not make it reasonable to conclude that human-produced greenhouse gasses do not lead to an increase in temperature, although some people assert that conclusion.

          • simontmn says:

            I think it’s more a question of how much of an increase in temperature. If human activity adds 3% to global C02 output, and that adds 3% to atmospheric C02 (which seems to fit with some isotope evidence I saw, but I could be wrong/could be more or less) then that will have a warming effect, ca 0.03 degrees or so. If human activity doubles atmospheric C02 (and atmospheric C02 levels seem to have increased a lot, for whatever reason) that will have a bigger warming effect, 1 degree or so, or arbitrarily more if the positive-feedback-loop theories are correct.

          • Richard Sharpe says:

            It has been estimated that each doubling of CO2 leads to 4.7W/m^2 being retained in the atmosphere. (How quickly is that then transported via convection to high enough where it can be radiated I don’t know.)

            So, five doublings would lead to around an extra 25W/m^2 being retained in the atmosphere.

            Why five doublings? Well, currently we are at around 400ppm, and five doublings takes us to 12800ppm, at which point mammals would have started dying. (There are ample studies, it seems to me that demonstrate that more than 1% CO2 is a big problem.)

            The peak difference in insolation across the year is around 99W/m^2, so it would seem that the ‘system’ can handle another 25W/m2, however, we cannot handle the extra CO2.

            However, well before we hit five doublings, plants will explode and be sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere like crazy.

            What I cant figure out, however, is what effect that retained energy will have on the temperature of the oceans and thus the question of whether or not the oceans will be able to dissolve less CO2 (but surely the higher thermal inertia of the oceans means that they are the dog not the tail.)

            Anyway, maybe I have ignored too many important effects, but at least I have tried to think about them.

      • simontmn says:

        Almost every ‘left-wing thing’ said about it that I have checked out turned out to be false. Arguing with ‘right wing’ anti-AGW activists I see a lot of wrongheaded things said, but I get the same from ‘left wing’ pro-AGW activists too.

  30. Richard Sharpe says:

    Another question I have relates to Influenza etc.

    Back in 1918 we had the big one and it killed a lot of people. Not so many since then.

    Is that because it has evolved to become less virulent or because the one in 1918 (and a few subsequent smaller ones) took out all those lineages that were susceptible and the rest of us, with a bit of care, can survive that virus these days?

    • Fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

      Well, you could think of Influenza as selecting for people who are resistant to it.

      It seems that it kills around 500,000 non-resistant humans every year.

      • Richard Sharpe says:

        Hmmm, that is around 0.01% of humans.

        That seems to suggest that we have got Influenza’s measure now.

        I wonder if it could still change/evolve to be more lethal?

      • Fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

        In reading this blog posting on the Release of Influenza Viral RNA into cells:

        It seems like the approach of blocking the M2 ion channel is something that some humans have already evolved, given that it seems like Influenza kills a very small number of humans these days.

        However, maybe they just produce more mucus in their airways. There seems like lots of different ways Influenza can be derailed.

      • Fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

        Hmmm, this site:


        The answer to this dilemma is more statistics – methods that use the CDC data to estimate the number of deaths caused by influenza. In the paper cited below, the authors calculated an average of 41,400 deaths each year , for the years 1979 – 2001, in the US due to influenza. Remember that this is an average, and the actual numbers may vary substantially each year.

        That is also about 0.01% the US population. Certainly looks like Influenza is not that much of a killer.

        • melendwyr says:

          Influenza also mostly kills the elderly – who, frankly, are going to be killed by something relatively soon. If every flu virus vanished from the face of the Earth, there wouldn’t be much of an increase in life expectation for that cohort, just a slight one. If that. It’s entirely possible a different disease would fill the niche and take up the slack.

          At the end of the day, everyone is going to die. I say it’s more important to ensure that the time people have is healthy and rewarding than to extend the total time slightly.

  31. little spoon says:

    Islam is another one. The academics in religious studies, history and near eastern studies all seem to be blind to the savagery of this ideology while so many ordinary people see islam for what it is.

  32. Fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    Well, I also have questions.

    Here it says:

    EBOV VP24 and MARV VP40 are considered important virulence factors and play a crucial role in host adaptation. Both proteins block IFN signaling, however, they target different cellular proteins and use different mechanisms to antagonize the IFN response [32–35].

    This, and other reading I have done suggests that defenses against viruses is very different that defenses against bacteria.

    How would a virus evolve to be less virulent?

    • Fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:


      EBOV genomes encode an additional protein, the nonstructural soluble form of the glycoprotein, sGP. As GP, sGP is encoded by the fourth gene, but is translated from non-edited mRNA species, while the membrane-bound GP is the result of mRNA editing during transcription [38,39]. sGP is not incorporated into viral particles, but is secreted from infected cells. Although the function of the protein is not fully understood, there is evidence that it acts as an anti-inflammatory factor by protecting the endothelial cell barrier function during infection [40].

      All-in-all, not a very nice virus.

  33. Harold says:

    If there is fame or fortune to be had in saying it, an ‘expert’ will be found to say it.

    There is the priestly expert who tells people—particularly those in the media—the lies they want to hear.

    There is the doomsaying expert who warn of certain doom if we don’t change our ways—always a good story for the media.

    There is the sycophantic expert who provides justification for what the powerful want to do.

  34. Greying Wanderer says:

    a random off-topic thought to take my mind off the eventual plague that will come out of the tropics one day (assuming our glorious leaders don’t create one out of Ebola by giving it lots more infected hosts to evolve in)…

    if you look at the muscle mass of a shaved chimp (c.36 seconds in)

    it makes me wonder

    1) Did neanderthals have muscle mass like that i.e. could they rip a modern human in half?
    2) What causes that kind of muscle mass?
    3) Does the same thing also effect skull shape?
    4) Were cromagnon a diluted neanderthal hybrid with a diluted version of the same muscle mass thing?
    5) Was Hercules a cromagnon remnant and did he kill a lion with his bare hands for real?
    6) Is there any connection between this and certain australian aboriginals doing well in australian football and/or the soccer world cup almost always being won by teams descended from people with a lot of Atlantic ancestry?

    • MawBTS says:

      It’s oversimplified to say that chimps are far more muscular than humans. In upper body musculature, that’s definitely the case. But humans have a much more developed posterior chain. A chimp would outlift us in a bench press, but we’d beat them in a squat (assuming they can do one).

      Why don’t we have their upper body strength? I think it must be because we walk upright, and the extra upper body mass is a penalty. Even at the best of times, a pound of muscle burns about 8-10 calories a day just by existing. It’s not hard to believe that evolution pared unneeded muscle away.

  35. L says:

    “The educationists know that heredity isn’t a factor in student achievement, and they dominate policy – but they’re wrong. Some behavioral geneticists and psychometricians know better.”

    Well, when your job depends upon you not knowing..

  36. melendwyr says:

    OT: Well, the New York doctor who went out to restaurants and bowling after returning from a charity mission to Guinea is now confirmed to have the Ebola virus.

    Any comments, Dr. Cochran? Besides “I told you so” and derisive laughter aimed at our political leaders, that is.

    • gothamette says:

      The Mayor, the Gubnor, and a bunch of bigwigs had a presser last night. They said they had the situation under control. That’s enough for me, I tell you.

      Now look, I’ve been reading about Ebola. I do not think I’m going to get it. Even if I rode in the taxi this guy just vacated. Or the subway car he rode in. It’s not that communicable.

      I just think the whole thing is stupid, unnecessary and a waste of our resources.

      And unlike Dr. Cochran, I think that a few dozen cases like this really could push us to the brink, psychically. (And it could bankrupt some localities. The Feds would have to pay. That’s you and me.)

      Trust in government institutions is nearly shot to hell. A few Ebola outbreaks – completely avoidable – will send trust straight to hell.

    • Toddy Cat says:

      Funny how all the press organs that fell all over themselves defending the USSR back in the 1980’s are now blaming them for everything, ever since Putin made Obama look like a fool over Ukraine and Syria. Time is a funny thing, isn’t it?

  37. Glengarry says:

    The modern expert is best defined as someone who should know better.

  38. Pingback: Fear of fear | International Pundit

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