Monday, February 28, 2005

A typical academic
Bernard Gui is a character in Eco's "The Name of the Rose", but he was also a real person who lived in France in the 14th century. I recently came across
this description of his life, which makes it clear that he was an intellectual
whose career path was similar to that of many modern day academics:

Due to Bernard Gui's health, intellect, and communication skills he was chosen to first study logic in his earlier years, then philosophy where he read commentaries about Aristotle. ... Bernard Gui went on to study theology, became a history writer, helped to build the first library in the province of Toulouse and finally was made inquisitor of Toulouse.
What modern academic would turn down such a choice position?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Proof that Kyoto is a fraud
The justifications for the Kyoto Protocol are essentially fraudulent. If you and I both were both atmospheric scientists and economists, then perhaps I could prove this to you by discussing the chemistry of carbon dioxide and by providing numerous charts and tables. But I'm not and (probably) you're not, and even if I were, it would be wrong for me to try to convince you by using material that you are not qualified to understand. Furthermore, my point is not that the justifications are false -- I don't know if they are or not -- but that they are almost always fraudulent. I will show they are fraudulent by referring to the statements and claims made by the proponents of the protocols; these statements make it absolutely clear that all the proponents I've ever encountered -- if not ignorant and delusional -- are extraordinarily dishonest.

I will first show that Kyoto was a fraud when the conference first occurred in 1997. Then I will show that it continues to be a fraud to this day.

Proof that Kyoto was a fraud

In 1995 the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) issued its Second Assessment Report on climate change. This report was often cited as a one of the main justifications for the Kyoto protocol, for example by Greenpeace. This justification is less than compelling since the IPCC is generally acknowledged to be a left-leaning organization. What makes the justification disingenuous, however, is that the IPCC report contained a summary that itself contained a summary about the scientific consensus at the time:

Our ability to quantify the human influence on global climate is currently limited because the expected signal is still emerging from the noise of natural variability, and because there are uncertainties in key factors. These include the magnitude and patterns of long­term natural variability and the time­evolving pattern of forcing by, and response to, changes in concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols, and land surface changes. Nevertheless, the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate.
I've put the five main waffle words in bold face. Notice that the statement doesn't even mention global warming, since presumably the consensus for that would have been even weaker. This summary makes it absolutely clear that the scientific consensus did not in any way whatsoever justify taking any action at all on climate change, let alone enormously expensive action.

Now if anyone had justified Kyoto by saying that the justification was in spite of the IPCC report -- as far as I know, nobody did -- and then went on to argue that the report was right-biased (in fact many of its authors argued that the conclusions were left-biased) or out-dated, then this justification might have been respectable. (As far as I know) no one argued this way.

Proof that Kyoto is a fraud

In 2001 the IPCC released it's third report on climate change. Unlike the earlier report, this one had a conclusion blaming human activity for causing a large amount of global warming. (Let us ignore the fact that these conclusions have been contested by some of the authors of the report.) Perhaps now, Kyoto really is justified. But I have not heard one single person say, "Yes, Kyoto was a fraud that was not justified by the scientific consensus at the time, but, as it turns out, it is now justified by the scientific consensus of the current time." Rather, most supporters pretend that the consensus has always been there, and has merely gotten stronger. I believe that most of them are lying to us. Furthermore, they usually try to ignore the costs altogether, and only refer to them at all when forced to. And most incredibly, they hardly ever talk about the benefits, and when they do, they usually admit that the benefits are insignificant.

Why do it then? The reasons ultimately become rather mystical: it is about "respecting the planet", about "taking the first step", etc. "Ecotheology" anyone? And of course all skeptics are dismissed as being Oil Company Shills or fundamentalists or people-guilty-of-politicizing-science.

The real scientists are the most despicable here. A serious expert who believes that human activity is causing disastrous global warming, and who has studied the economic costs of Kyoto and considers them worthwhile payment in exchange for the benefits, would say something like the following:

Kyoto was a fraud, but now we should do it. I have nothing but disgust for the dishonest, theological, politicizing by the Left that makes it so embarrassing for any serious person to support Kyoto. I respect the arguments of Bjorn Lomborg that the money could best be spent on things other than Kyoto, but I disagree, for reasons that require more space than I have available here. I also respect scientists such as Lindzen and Singer who disagree with me on the science part, but the subject has been so badly politicized that I have no idea which of us better represents the consensus. Al Gore is jerk.
Speaking of Gore, I think his support for the movie "The Day After Tomorrow" was a turning point. Most Kyoto people now have so little confidence in their own predictions of global warming that they are preparing an explanation for any eventual global cooling: "It was caused by global warming". And if the weather doesn't seem to be changing much, it will be because the warming and the warming-caused cooling are balancing each other out ... for now. This story points out that the term "global warming" is gradually being replaced by the term "global climate change", and that the nature of the "climate change" in question is endlessly shifting.

Lastly, I refer the reader to Dan's excellent post (one of his best ever) on the subject.

Update: Dan has asked me to be more specific when accusing people of fraud. In reality, there are too many individuals to mention, and they are nasty, scary people. But I will name some organizations: the seventeen national science academies that issued a joint statement supporting Kyoto in the journal Science in May, 2001. The full text of that statement is not available for free online; it is described here, and the complete version is every bit as awful as one might imagine.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

An Administrative note: We'll be trying out the new Blogger "comments" feature, to see if it's an improvement on the comments system we previously used. From now on (or until we ask you to do otherwise), please enter comments on a posting using the second link under the posting (the "X Comments" link), rather than the first link (the "X Old Comments" link). Comments using the old system can still be retrieved using the "Old Comments" link. If the new system works, then we'll eventually phase out the old system.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Yet more on tenure and free speech
Responding to Dan's recent comments about freedom of speech on campuses:

1) I will defend Tenure to my dying day. Or at least until I retire.

2) The fact that tenure is spectacularly unsuccessful at protecting free speech on campus does not mean that it is completely unsuccessful. For example, it stopped me from getting fired for my speech; I merely received a warning that I'd better not do it again.

3) I agree with Dan that a professor should be judged by his professional output -- teaching and research -- according to the professional standards of that field. And not according to his offline (which may be online) pontificating. This is what I mean by "free speech" in this context.

4) I agree with Dan that many fields (such as ethnic studies and women's studies) have no real content and standards and they should not exist. (I disagree that these people are merely dressing up job preservation as serious work. Rather, I think that in many cases they are profoundly evil.) But how should these fields be eliminated? What is needed is "the cold light of pragmatic scrutiny", but where is it going to come from? One reason it is important to have free speech on campus is so faculty can speak up, and criticize and mock these fields. Where the Left doesn't have an interest, this can happen; an example is at Florida State University where faculty successfully stopped the creation of a chiropractic program .

5) I do not for a minute believe Dan's claim that there is free speech in departments of science, medicine and engineering. (A writer to Jonah Goldberg similarly claims that there is plenty of free speech in his science department. Of course, to avoid reprisals, he chooses to remain anonymous.) There is virtually no free speech in science or engineering in my university. Consider MIT, for another example. Given the speech codes there (that prohibit, for instance, any conduct that creates an "offensive" environment), and given the lack of outrage at the Birgeneau/Hopkins report discussed here, and given some other things that I know about the place, it seems as if there is very little freedom of speech there. In fact, if there is any department in any prominent American or Canadian university where -- for example -- people feel they are (roughly) as free to make anti-feminist speech as they are to make feminist speech, I'd like to know about it. In fact, an argument can be made that Women's Studies departments have more freedom of speech than other departments, for the simple reason that their members and students have already been selected (or self-selected) for the purity and correctness of their thought.

6) Eugene Volokh is one of my internet heroes because of his intelligent advocacy of freedom of speech and because of his dispassionate discussion of legal issues (although I wish he could separate the two a bit better). Dan mocks him for writing about his son and his hobbies, but it is important to point out that the vast majority of his blogging is firmly related to his areas of expertise.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The entire blogosphere seems to be talking about Ward Churchill: the left, the right, libertarians, traditionalists--even this very blog. Churchill, in case you live in the Web equivalent of a cave, is a professor at the University of Colorado who wrote an article justifying in rather callous terms the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. Similarly outrageous statements have been, as my co-blogger notes, fairly common in academia for quite a while. But Churchill had the misfortune of shooting off his mouth at a moment when the political tilt of universities has become something of a hot issue. For example, campus conservatives have gathered considerable momentum behind a movement to defend, in the name of "free speech", the expression of conservative views in academia. At the same time, plenty of conservatives have happily called for Churchill's firing, "free speech" notwithstanding. Meanwhile, as my co-blogger has also noted, leftists who are now rising to the defense of Churchill's rights were not nearly so quick to protect Harvard president Lawrence Summers when he made a few seemingly innocuous remarks about gender disparities in science. In short, there's plenty of hypocrisy to go around on this matter.

Of course, as I have pointed out before, the whole business of "free speech" on campus is (pace my co-blogger) pernicious nonsense. A university isn't a democracy, it has no powers to imprison, and it has not only a right but a positive duty, under all sorts of circumstances, to punish speech that is not even offensive or outrageous, but merely factually incorrect or of insufficient academic quality. One can, after all--I would hope--be denied tenure, refused a faculty position, expelled from a graduate or academic position, or denied admission in the first place, merely for saying things that are mistaken, poorly expressed or badly reasoned (in the judgment of the current faculty) in examination or assignment papers, class presentations or job interviews. In such an environment, talk of "free speech" is simply ludicrous.

Why, then, is it so common? It's certainly not protecting unpopular speech on campus. As my co-blogger has pointed out, a combination of powerful social and professional pressures more than suffices to make universities among the most mind-numbingly conformist institutions in North America. And on both sides of the political aisle, as I mentioned above, free speech rhetoric is routinely understood to apply "for me, but not for thee"--that is, it is deployed exclusively in the defense of ideas with which one agrees, and dismissed as inapplicable, for one reason or another, in the case of ideas with which one disagrees.

No, the real reason for all the "free speech" rhetoric is that it's the last-ditch defense of choice for those ensconced in an academia that (as I never tire of pointing out) suffers from a complete lack of societal consensus or internal understanding regarding its proper goals and purposes. Some parts of it, to be sure--medical schools for instance, or engineering faculties--are in fact quite clear on their mission. (Unsurprisingly, these are also the parts of the university least plagued by controversies over "free speech".) Liberal arts institutions and departments, however, are almost entirely bereft of purpose. They face little external pressure to teach job skills (as in the professional schools), nor to inculcate a particular mandated set of beliefs in their students (as in traditional religious colleges), nor to make practical contributions to the nation's well-being through their research (as in scientific and technical departments). They are simply left entirely to themselves to decide what they consider worth doing and teaching--knowing that whatever they decide will matter not one whit to anyone, most likely including themselves.

And so, not unlike modern poets, many modern academics simply pick an agenda--perhaps political activism of one sort or another, perhaps social climbing, perhaps mere job preservation--and dress it up as serious work. When challenged, they hide behind mutually contradictory justifications: their important role as guardians of the standards of their field's great masters; their right and duty to break with those same past masters, and invent their own standards; the impossibility, in the end, of defending any standards. And when all of these sophistries are played out, they fall back on the very last refuge of the useless sinecure-holder: "free speech".

Consider arch-free speech defender Eugene Volokh, defending academic freedom: "Who benefits from academic freedom? Well, if you like this blog....then you do". In other words, without academic freedom, Eugene Volokh might conceivably not be able to indulge quite so freely in his hobby of ranting at his readers over the Internet, while the government of California continues to pay his comfortable salary regardless of what he says. And why shouldn't they treat him the way any other (say, private) employer would? Because, he says,
university professors are supposed to do a good job by saying what they think is right, even when that's offensive or alienating to people. Such an ability to express highly controversial views, even views that many people find deeply offensive, is critical for the effective functioning of universities as institutions.
Now, that's simply false. By "saying what they think is right", university professors may be doing a good job, or a bad job, or an indifferent one--but the criterion is certainly not whether they are being frank. A convinced creationist can be a brilliant evolutionary biologist, publishing groundbreaking ideas which he or she deeply believes to be sorely misguided. Indeed, for all we know, Eugene Volokh himself believes that the US Constitution, properly read, demands a Marxist egalitarian "dictatorship of the proletariat" for America. And that's fine, as long as he teaches his classes a more conventional interpretation of the same document. A professor, in short, does not do a good job by saying what he or she thinks is right, but by saying what the experts in his or her field consider to be right--that is, to be correct and creditable by the standards of the field.

Of course, Eugene Volokh knows this full well, and I have no doubt that when he's not having fun blogging about his son and his gun hobby, he's working hard at UCLA, adhering rigorously to the standards of his chosen field, the law. But what if there are no standards in one's field? When we read about a Ward Churchill, or a Joseph Massad, the topic inevitably turns to "free speech", or some variation thereon: the right of the professor to say what he pleases, the right of other professors with opposing views to say what they please, the right of the professor's students to say what they please. That's because in their respective fields--"Ethnic Studies", "Middle Eastern Studies"--there are no standards under which any of the participants can be criticized for saying whatever they please. There are only political opinions, personal and group loyalties, and positions of power to defend. And because it's embarrassing to admit that they're merely protecting their sinecures, salaries and soapboxes, they instead set themselves up as martyrs to the cause of "free speech".

Here's a modest proposal: instead of fretting endlessly about the "free speech" of politicized professors or their opponents, why not require--as, say, Lawrence Summers did of Cornel West--that professors in all fields demonstrate their value through scholarship and teaching of genuine academic discipline and substance. Moreover, we could demand that entire fields themselves demonstrate their value to society, in terms of concrete contributions to its well-being. Those that cannot convince their university administrations that they are worthwhile could then be safely eliminated from academic faculties, and their professors pensioned off.

If, as a result, fewer Professor Volokhs feel safe blogging their opinions--well, you know what they say about opinions. (And there are plenty of hungry young bloggers ready to fill Volokh's shoes, and willing to endure less glamorous jobs, or accept professional circumspection in their postings, or, if necessary, post anonymously, to lure his readers away.) On the other hand, the cold light of pragmatic scrutiny would surely spell the end of many, perhaps most, of academia's Ward Churchills and Joseph Massads. All it would take is consensus agreement that their supposed right to propagandize on some university's dime need not be preserved at all costs, in the name of "free speech".

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Ward Churchill and free speech
Many writers (on the internet) are shocked, shocked to find that gambling support for mass murder is going on in our universities. Although many of those who despise Ward Churchill's remarks think he should be fired, there are others who not only believe that Universities should have freedom of speech, but actually seem to understand what this means. In particular, there are some excellent remarks here, here, here, here, and here.

I refuse to discuss the issue of Churchill's racial purity -- or lack thereof -- except to state that anyone concerned about someone's racial purity deserves to be lied to about it. However, I'd like to add:

1) Eugene Volokh should be commended for having the patience to explain once again why our notion of free speech must be very extreme. I find it very sad that such obvious things have to be said over and over again to intelligent people -- sad that we have to treat these people like children. It's not that it's impossible to make a reasonable argument for a mild notion of freedom of speech, it's just that no one who wishes to do so seems to be aware of the most basic issues. I'm happy that Volokh spices up the lecture by distinguishing between different types of "slippery slope" arguments.

2) Usually "slippery slope" arguments are hypothetical. In this case, the bottom of the slippery slope was reached a couple of decades ago. For a long time, in most respectable North American universities, it has been very risky to say anything antagonistic to the extreme left. Last I checked, Larry Summers was still apologizing, undergoing re-education, and buying indulgences for his incorrect remarks. In my university, incorrect speech is rarely spoken. The last time I spoke incorrectly, numerous administrators threatened to fire me, and they are still trying. The only thing stopping them is my Tenure.

3) This raises the question: given that we have tenure, why aren't tenured professors not-of-the-extreme-left (NEL) more outspoken? Of course, the extreme-left has seen to it that NELs are under-represented, but there are still many of us around. Why don't tenured NELs speak more? I'm not sure, but some of the reasons are: fear of reprisals in spite of tenure, and fear of being different. Tenure has certainly not had the effects its supporters would like it to have, but I still think the situation would be very much worse without it.

4) My reference to "Casablanca" above was intended to poke fun at NELs who either pretend to believe or actually believe that Churchill said something unusual. His "Eichmann" language is more colorful, but it is not basically very different from the "root causes" rhetoric that has taken over our campuses. Similarly, the people who shout "death to Jews" are not really different from the intellectuals who advocate a "one state solution" and the "right of return" and who openly support groups whose members routinely shout "death to Jews". In fact, I much prefer that extremists say what they mean in plain language rather than speaking in code phrases. By being overly harsh with Churchill we are merely encouraging people like that to go back to their coded language. Rather than fire him because he is worse than Chomsky et. al., we should leave him alone because he isn't. If Churchill does get fired, it will be because the extremists are more than happy to sacrifice him: this not only warns others to use proper codes, but it is a small price to pay in return for getting NELs to abandon the principle of freedom of speech on campuses.

5) Some people think that free speech should not apply to nontenured professors. They think that free speech is a perk we give to those with tenure, but this is backwards. Rather, tenure is something we give to help ensure free speech. Then why don't we give tenure to every professor? This wouldn't be feasible, since tenure represents a huge economic commitment. So we compromise, and only give tenure to those who we believe have demonstrated sufficient excellence to at least somewhat justify that commitment. But free speech costs nothing, and should be for everyone. Of course, this tenure system is not necessarily the best one, and I can see all sorts of arguments for modifying or eliminating tenure.

6) Eugene Volokh argues that free speech tends not to be especially desirable in private enterprise. I don't think it should be forced on private companies, but I think a reasonable amount of it is very desirable. Volokh mentions that one of the benefits of free speech is that we get to hear his opinions. Wouldn't I also want to hear his opinions if he worked for a private company, even if producing such opinions was not a mandate of the company? Wouldn't he want to express his opinions, even if he worked for a private company? So the right of employees to express opinions without reprisals is, by and large, desirable for the public good.

If I work as a software engineer, shouldn't we hope that my employer allows me to express my opinions on my own time? What if my co-workers want me fired because of my politics, even if the politics don't interfere with my work? What if the customers I deal with state that they want me fired because of the abhorrent ideas I've just written, even though we've gotten along fine before? What if, instead, these people have no objection to my politics, but can't accept my race or religion? These aren't easy questions, but I think my employer should try to convince my co-workers and customers to be reasonable and professional in their dealings with me.

There is one class of employee that I think should be given relatively little freedom of speech by his employer. I am referring, of course, to journalists. After all, the freedom of speech of the employer is central to the enterprise, and he must be allowed to choose journalists who will not, on their own time or in their work time, speak in a way that is too inconsistent with the goals of the newspaper. If I hire journalists to be "objective", I don't want them to express insane opinions and beliefs even on their own time, for then my readers wouldn't trust them. If I want my newspaper to be a warm x-ist cocoon, I wouldn't trust my journalists if they went around speaking ideas of their own, and it would disturb my readers as well.