Monday, November 23, 2009

A Climategate Email

One document from the pro-AGW (anthropogenic global warming) University of East Anglia CRU (pictured) caught my notice. It purports to be an email about a published article expressing a non-AGW point of view.* It is said to be part of a "long series" of messages in which AGW proponents discuss how to prevent such views from being published.

Here is the message:

“This was the danger of always criticising the skeptics for not publishing in the “peer-reviewed literature”. Obviously, they found a solution to that–take over a journal! So what do we do about this? I think we have to stop considering “Climate Research” as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal. We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board…What do others think?

“I will be emailing the journal to tell them I’m having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor.”“It results from this journal having a number of editors. The responsible one for this is a well-known skeptic in NZ. He has let a few papers through by Michaels and Gray in the past. I’ve had words with Hans von Storch about this, but got nowhere. Another thing to discuss in Nice !”

Note first the comment about "not publishing in the 'peer-reviewed literature'." As any academic with unorthodox views can tell you, it can be very difficult getting those views published. A few years ago I wrote (with then grad student Todd Huges) an article on gun control that takes a strongly pro-gun stance. It is now reprinted in a couple of widely-used textbooks. At the time it was written, though, I did not bother to send it to (for lack of a better word) mainstream journals like Ethics, where my friend Hugh LaFollette published a strongly pro-gun article at about the same time. Ethics is a fine journal, but I was too familiar with the views of its editorial board, as well as the boards of most front-line journals, to want to waste my valuable time waiting to be rejected by them. Instead, I sent it to a journal that, I believe, was founded by Nicholas Rescher with the purpose of allowing non-leftists a place where their views would not be forbidden. It was published there and I later served on their editorial board. I believe that it provides a forum for genuinely diverse views: left, right, center, and off the map. This is not the case with most philosophy journals that deal with policy matters.

I am sure that the situation in the philosophy-and-contemporary-issues field prevails in the world of climate change studies -- and that it is much worse over there. Climatologists, unlike philosophers, have real world power, so with them a lot is at stake.

Evidently, to judge by what the author of this email says, there was one editor (of several) at this journal who had started to let articles with forbidden views through. This is what these guys are referring to as their opponents "taking over a journal"! Clearly, these are people who are very used to having things their own way, and think it is their right never to have to face competent defenses of contrary ideas.

Note also the method by which the writer plans to combat the forbidden view. Is he going to analyze the methodology of the article, or present data that support a contrary case? Of course not. The plan is to organize a boycott of the journal, in which people refuse to submit work to it or even to cite articles in the journal (regardless, apparently, of the scientific value of the individual article).

If these messages are indeed genuine, what we have here is a stunning breach of professional ethics. If there is a single principle that is fundamental to the scientific community, it is that scientific ideas are to combated by scientific means only, and never by strategically inflicting any costs on a scientist other than those of being proved wrong.

... After writing the above, I found this interview with a climatologist regarding the CRU emails. It confirms some of what I wrote and adds a lot of details. Hat-tip to Watts Up With That blog.

* It was allegedly written by Michael E. Mann, who at the time was apparently teaching at the University of Virginia. Here is a handy compendium of issues raised by these documents, with links to the actual texts.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

November 22

This is one of my favorite pictures of him. It is the frontispiece of the 1962 volume of The Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy. Yes, I do own the complete set.

I really don't know why I find this man so fascinating. I was not a fan of his policies and they have not by any means improved with age. This is, I think, an interesting question, because I am far from being alone in giving him more attention than, objectively, he seems to deserve. Why is he such a powerful mythos?

His only lasting accomplishments in office, other than the Peace Corps, were the beginning of the Vietnam war and a tax cut that seemed to be (perhaps was) irresponsible at the time (and years later gave the Republicans one of their worst ideas). To these I suppose we must add a series of beautiful images and memorable speeches.

Yes, the fact that he and his wife and his children were physically beautiful is part of the the solution to the mystery of the Kennedy myth. If, as Jay Leno said, politics is show business for ugly people, he had a great (and of course unfair) advantage over the rest of the field.

Being tragically cut down was another advantage, in a way. He became one of those magic people, like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, who never grew old. They created a few images of glowing beauty while their flaws and shortcomings, which in all human beings are obvious enough, never developed and ripened into something really repulsive.

James K. Polk came into office, announced four goals he meant to accomplish, achieved all of them, and retired after four years. Unlike Polk, Kennedy was not a superlatively skilled politician and did not do much with the three years that fate allotted him. But he did manage to withdraw from the scene before, like Johnson, he had managed to do anything that was clearly awful. So only those images remain -- which is an accomplishment of sorts in itself.

Many die too late, and some die too early. Yet strange sounds the doctrine: "Die at the right time!" Die at the right time: so teaches Zarathustra.


A huge batch of computer files from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU) in Norwich, UK, have mysteriously appeared on the blogs of various climate skeptics. The most recent reports indicate that hackers are responsible.

What the files seem to show, in the words of Australian columnist Andrew Bolt, is:
Conspiracy, collusion in exaggerating warming data, possibly illegal destruction of embarrassing information, organised resistance to disclosure, manipulation of data, private admissions of flaws in their public claims and much more.
Here is a brief account of some of the disturbing details. Here is an account of how the scandal seems to have broken out (at the end of this one are links that enable you to access the entire archive). For a these-things-will-happen sort of account, go here.

From what I have seen of them, they are a rather shocking picture of how academics act when they have lots of money and power, and a political agenda in which the end justifies the means.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Military Tribunals or Civilian Trials?

Pres. Obama's decision (announced through the Attorney General) to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused terrorists to Manhattan, to stand trial in a civilian court rather than a military tribunal, has provoked a storm of angry protests.

Some people I respect a lot (including Andrew Napolitano and Glenn Greenwald) have vigorously defended this decision, but I am not so sure.

Civilian courts and military tribunals are quite different. Civilian courts are adversarial, while tribunals are inquisitorial. The former requires a unanimous vote for conviction and sentencing, while the other requires only a two thirds vote. The rules of evidence in a tribunal are much more favorable to the prosecution and, unlike a civilian court, these proceedings can be held in secret.

It is easy to make military commissions sound really bad. Within the memory of people now living, military tribunals have been the instruments of injustice right here on American soil. But whether they are bad or good depends on the appropriate comparison class.

Trials have something in common with the decisions made during battle. Both are processes by with agents of the state decide whether to inflict damage on someone in the state's name. War is an extremely rough and dirt way of doing this. The agent in question presses a button and some part of the world, with all its inhabitants, is reduced to a smoking crater. If we are aiming at the enemy and happen to kill their family members and neighbors, we regard that as "collateral damage." We may even deliberately target the innocent (as we did in many bombing raids in WW II) in order to get the guilty to stop fighting.

As a decision-making procedure, a trial lies at the opposite extreme from warfare. It is the most accurate mechanism that a society has for deciding whether to inflict suffering on our fellow human beings. Here in the West, these procedures take pains to avoid hurting the innocent that are literally unprecedented.

For centuries, a captured enemy combatant who was thought to have been fighting unlawfully (eg., spying or committing sabotage behind the lines) was simply executed on the spot. To subject such people to a system of tribunals with rules and regulations is a considerable step, toward civilization and decency, beyond this rough and ready justice. How far should this process go? The answer is not obvious.

If I were charged with a crime, the state would not be allowed to use any evidence against me that was collected illegally. They would not punish the person who collected the evidence illegally and then use the evidence against me -- they would simply throw the evidence out. The is a right I have. It is not a natural right that all human beings have, it is a legal right that (for various reasons) our system confers on me.

Is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed entitled to this right, and the other extraordinary rights that the American legal system grants to its subjects? Well, if the "war on terrorism" is a legitimate war, and if he is an ememy combatant captured in the field, and if he is believed to have violated the rules of war, then the answer might well be "no, he is not."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Terrorist or Madman?

The right and the left have been involved in a tussle over whether the Fort Hood shooter is a terrorist/jihadist or a madman/criminal.

Isn't there quite a bit of evidence he is both?

I realize this is a rather naive question. The tussle is not really about what Major Hasan is, it is about various other things, with Hasan serving as a proxy for the real issues. In both cases, the arguments have a sub-text that is the real message. And I have serious doubts about both of these messages.

I think the subtext on the left is something like: Please, let's not emphasize this person's religion or any Islamist motives behind what he did. It might hurt the feelings of the overwhelming majority of law-abiding Muslim Americans and provoke the general public to turn against them. Surely this is an insult, both the Muslim Americans and the general public. For the past eight years the American public has made it very clear that it can distinguish between a Muslim and a jihadist. They didn't take their anger over 9/11 out on their Muslim neighbors and colleagues: why would they start now? And the Muslims I know don't get all trembly when the subject of Muslim terrorism comes up. Give people some credit for their rationality and decency. Behind the don't-say-terrorist position I think detect a real contempt for the average human being.

I suspect that the subtext of the argument from the right is something like this: Now do you see why we are in Aghanistan and Iraq? This is what the war on terror is all about! We should be doing more, maybe much more! No, this is not what the war on terror -- if this includes the invasions of those two countries -- is about. This atrocity is "blowback" -- part of the unintended consequences -- of those efforts. If we had never invaded Afghanistan or Iraq, those thirteen people would be alive today. I am not saying this is a good reason for not invading those countries. I am only saying it is no sort of reason for the other side.

Is he a madman or a terrorist? People don't have arguments about questions that have such obvious answers. They are really arguing about something else. And I say a pox on both their houses.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Nazism or Communism: Which is More Evil?

People have been commenting on a curiously neglected anniversary. No, I don't mean H. L. Mencken's celebrated bathtub hoax of 1917. I mean the collapse of the Soviet Empire. Its twentieth anniversary is now upon us, and, considering that, it is surprising that it is so seldom mentioned.

Tomorrow is the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. They are celebrating it in Germany, but Obama declined Una Merkel's invitation to participate.

Why, when there are still so many books and movies about the Nazis is this other and much more recent murderous regime relatively little noticed?

One reason that is often given: a lot of the people who control what is mentioned and noticed in our world think the Nazis were much more evil than the Communists, who were really just leftist do-gooders gone wrong. So its implosion was not all that wonderful an event.

Is this true?

In one way, I think the Nazis were more horrifyingly evil than the Soviets. The Holocaust had from the beginning a markedly different character from the Soviet Gulag. (See Wikipedia picture below, from the notebooks of inmate Eufrosinia Kersnovskaya. The caption reads: "The hungry child cried but did not ask for food. He understood.") In the Gulag you were put to work in conditions that, if your sentence was long enough, meant being worked to death. A twenty year sentence was a death sentence. The Nazi camps had the same function, but they also had another, which was lacking in the Gulag: they were there to execute people outright, in large numbers. As I understand it, the more sophisticated sort of Holocaust deniers admit the existence of the German camps -- that is well established -- but deny that they had this function. In other words, the claim that (in this respect) the German camps were no worse than the Soviet ones is a form of Holocaust denial. This speaks rather strongly in favor of the superior evil of the Nazis.

On the other hand, there is the well known fact that the Communists murdered far, far more people than the Nazis did. For the Germans, the familiar figure is six million. For the Communists, the estimates vary widely, but the publishers of The Black Book of Communism summarize its conclusions in part as "as many as 25 million in the former Soviet Union, 65 million in China, 1.7 million in Cambodia."

So far, comparing Nazism and Communism is like comparing evil apples and depraved oranges. In terms of the amount of (non-military) damage done, the Communists were much worse. But you could argue that in terms of sheer contempt for human life and rights, the Nazis were worse. Which matters more: numbers of dead or attitude? Utilitarians say numbers, virtue ethicists say attitude.

On a deeper level, though, they represent the same thing. Both had visions of how the whole of society ought to be, a detailed plan for humanity, and they were determined to bring about this holistic plan via the crushing power of the state.

Whatever your holistic plan is, there are some people who will never fit in. This includes those who do not share your vision of a better world and never will. They will have to be neutralized somehow. If you are a true believer in your vision and you see no moral constraints on your behavior (you, after all, have the one true vision) then you will kill them. Anything less is just wimping out.

This, I think, is the root of the evil of Nazism and Communism. It is the same in both.

... After I wrote most of the above, I found this interesting essay by the neo-Marxist philosopher, Slavoj Zizek. After a thoughtful and probing comparison of Communism and Fascism (including Nazism) in which Fascism appears in important ways the less evil of the two, he suddenly lurches into the following bizarre non-sequitur:
It is here that one has to make a choice. The ‘pure’ liberal attitude towards Leftist and Rightist ‘totalitarianism’ – that they are both bad, based on the intolerance of political and other differences, the rejection of democratic and humanist values etc – is a priori false. It is necessary to take sides and proclaim Fascism fundamentally ‘worse’ than Communism. The alternative, the notion that it is even possible to compare rationally the two totalitarianisms, tends to produce the conclusion – explicit or implicit – that Fascism was the lesser evil, an understandable reaction to the Communist threat. When, in September 2003, Silvio Berlusconi provoked a violent outcry with his observation that Mussolini, unlike Hitler, Stalin or Saddam Hussein, never killed anyone ... his statement was part of an ongoing project to change the terms of a postwar European identity hitherto based on anti-Fascist unity. That is the proper context in which to understand the European conservatives’ call for the prohibition of Communist symbols.
In other words, if we compared them rationally, Fascism would actually be less evil than Communism. Therefore, don't compare them rationally: just declare it to be the greater evil, for political reasons.

I think this tells us something about the motivation behind the current relative silence about the collapse of Communism. It's political.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Fort Hood

The backstory of the monstrous shooting of 50 people in a confined space at Fort Hood by one army psychiatrist, Major Nidal Hasan, is very curious. Raised a Muslim, the man accused of the crimes joined the army in 1997, little dreaming that the next evil empire the US military would attempt to crush would be radical Islam. His cousin told Fox News that his attitude toward the service changed completely after 9/11. He tried to buy his way out of the army, which had taken on huge expenses in paying for his entire medical education. His aunt told a similar story. Of course it did not work. In the following years he became increasingly pious and increasingly bitter about the war in the Middle East. He got into nasty arguments with other service personnel by expressing sympathy for suicide bombers and suggesting that Muslims had the right to "rise up" and kill Americans. He had argued against the war in therapy sessions with his patients.

Then, when he learned recently that he was going to be deployed to Iraq (other versions say Afghanistan), he became increasingly distraught. Finally, he snapped.

It seems an obvious and serious mistake on the army's part to deploy this man to the Middle East. It sounds like he provided plenty of evidence over the years that if he ever went over there his sympathies would be with the enemy. Why on Earth did they think this was a good idea?

I realize that the military cannot let you out of being deployed just because you don't want to go. I'm sure most of those who go don't want to. But this seems to be well beyond not wanting to go.

One of the many reasons I have always been against the draft is that in the field you certainly want your own people to be completely on your own side. An army of slaves is not going to be reliably on your side. Obviously, neither was Major Hasan.