You are currently browsing the daily archive for 1 January 2011.

When any new scientific discovery is made, it should immediately be leaped upon by doubters and dissenters all doing their best to prove that it’s wrong. If the discoverer is a genuine scientist, he or she will include with the announcement anything and everything the naysayers might need to disprove the discovery. If it really is a discovery, if it really is a new and correct exposition of some feature of Universe, it can stand anything thrown at it; if it is not, if it is incorrect or deficient in some way, the sooner that is found out the better for all concerned. At the root of every scientific paper, never stated because it’s redundant, is a schoolyard taunt: Nyaa nyaaa na nyaa nah, can’t touch this ’cause it’s right.

But that hurts people’s feelings. Having your work savagely attacked by naysayers and dissenters is hard on the ego; few have the guts to stand up to the slings and arrows of savage detractors, and that’s made even more difficult by the fact that Universe is large and various, and it’s almost a certainty that anything said about it — scientific or otherwise — will be inaccurate in some way.

Enter “peer review”. The new work is submitted to what amounts to a committee of people who are (at least presumed to be) eminent in the field, and they decide whether it’s acceptable or should be revised. This is much easier on the submitter’s ego — the reviewers can be relied upon to be collegial, by which is meant giving the author the benefit of the doubt as a fellow “scientist”. Members of the Club get gentle treatment because they’re “one of us”.

The trouble with that is that the reviewers, being eminent in the field, are by definition wedded to whatever the conventional wisdom may be on that subject. Anything new or startling, especially if it contradicts the current “consensus”, is virtually certain to be rejected. This at least partially fulfills the requirement for adversarialism, but it is a pale and ineffective shadow of the full-throated attacks that should come from the rest of the scientific community. Scientists abdicate their responsibility to examine and attempt to disprove discoveries in favor of turning new material over to gatekeepers who ensure that nobody rocks the boat. It’s particularly pernicious when funding is involved. A bureaucrat charged with deciding who gets the money for experiments is unlikely to be deeply knowledgeable about the field, and must therefore play it safe by going with what the reviewers say is reasonable. It means, ultimately, that the pace of scientific discovery is slowed to a crawl, requiring at minimum that all the “i”s be dotted and all the “t”s crossed in any given field before anything truly new can emerge.

So it is, today, with “climate science”. There does exist a consensus — that the Earth is warming, that the result of the warming will be disastrous, and that human activities are responsible for it — and contrary views or assertions are savagely attacked as “denialist“. In a way, this is simply a particularly rabid version of the standard adversarial process, and if the debate were confined to the scientific community it would be just that. Unfortunately it has escaped into the realm of Politics and The Media, and contrary data is being rejected on the ground of failure to agree with the consensus rather than on scientific merit, while “researchers” who echo the Conventional Wisdom are allowed to conceal or even destroy data that might contradict their thesis. Yes, my friends, there is data that would appear to contradict some or all of the Three Pillars of AGW; yes, there are theories requiring investigation that posit effects other than the ones cited by the Eminent Scientists. Whether or not the data and/or theories are correct or valid is beside the point. The problem is that they aren’t being followed up on political grounds, not scientific ones.

Mediaite joins the minor chorus of people on Christie’s case for going to Florida during the blizzard, quoting “GOP strategist” Ed Rollins, who chastised the governor for being “whiny” about the criticism after not “being there.”

Rubbish.

The first and most important attribute of anybody who is or wants to be in charge is delegation. President, Governor, Mayor, or Chairman of the Flower Committee, a leader’s primary duty is selecting competent subordinates who can and will take charge in Der Führer’s absence. Micromanagement and a need to be seen “at the helm” during difficult times are the marks of insecurity and incompetence. There’s an aphorism of Confucianism: When the Superior Man has done his work, the People say, “We did it all ourselves.” Or again, The more the King does, the less gets done.

In the ideal hierarchical organization the person at the top should be seen as idle, even indolent, most of the time, while the organization gets the work done based on decisions made by trusted (and trustworthy) subordinates. The Chief Executive’s desk should be clean — because if a problem really is important enough to land there, it shouldn’t be obscured by masses of stuff that should have been handled at a lower level. A Boss who’s busy all the time betrays inability, not responsibility.

Governor Christie has a goodly number of black marks in my book, but in the spirit of a previous post, he definitely tends to aim at people I don’t like, at least sometimes. It would appear that, by and large (and in stark contrast to Bloomberg’s fief) the snow in New Jersey got cleared away in a competent and workmanlike fashion. That says louder than words that Christie’s subordinates are both competent and trustworthy, and that in turn says a lot, all of it good, about his competence as a leader.

Neptunus Lex snarks about Colman McCarthy’s arguments against ROTC on Ivy campuses:

If only the peace movement was populated by realists: In a fallen world, those who beat their swords into plowshares will be forced to plow for those that did not.

Lex asks too much. I would be satisfied if the “peace movement” were populated by pacifists.

I mildly object to some language at Verum Serum.

In my mind, “tacit acceptance” is what “tolerance” is all about. There are lots of folks around who believe things I disagree with, sometimes very strongly, but who also agree with me on enough things of sufficient importance to bring to mind the LBJ aphorism about urination. GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans very definitely fit in that category.

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden Series contains a principle, attributed to an ancient politician, that’s apropos here:

In an ally, considerations of [other allegiance] are insignificant beside two prime questions, which are:
1) Can he shoot?
2) Will he aim at your enemy?

It’s important to realize that your potential ally feels (or should feel) the same way. Mr. Barron has demonstrated that he possesses significant firepower and is willing to keep it downrange. That being the case, other conservatives, most especially including social cons, should offer him the same consideration.

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