Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘Unsettled

Deliberate lies, threats to freedom of speech, etc. based on “Unsettled” / Follow-up: Various.

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A while back, I wrote ([1]):

Indeed, these constant cries of wolf have strongly contributed to my changed take on man-made global warming, from “definitely real” to “I do not know”—my previous belief was based on claims made by journalists and politicians, experience shows that I cannot trust their claims, and I have (to date) never done the leg work to actually form an independent opinion on the matter.

I am currently trying to get some of that leg work done by reading Koonin’s “Unsettled”, but find the most interesting observations with regard to my own thoughts not in the area of the climate, but in the discussions of knowledge and free speech that are present in e.g. [1], [2], [3], and [4], as well as some of my many COVID discussions.

This both with regard to the contents of the book and the reactions against it.

I lack the time for a deeper analysis, but the problems discussed include topics like:

  1. Misleading reporting of science (notably through poor choices of what data to include in graphs and how to present that data), often with each layer of reporting distorting the actual finding further.
  2. Scientists being loathe to speak up for fear of repercussions.
  3. The possibility that some journalists and politicians take it upon themselves to deliberately exaggerate or distort so that the broad masses will be convinced of the “right” opinion, while being robbed of the right to form their own opinions.

(Of course, very similar issues can be found in e.g. I.Q. research, research into biological differences between men and women, and any other academic area which comes into contact with the Left and/or the PC crowd. Ditto COVID-related topics. )

Particularly telling is his repeated references to e.g. Einstein and Feynman with regard to a duty to truth, intellectual honesty, and similar in science. Consider e.g. Einstein’s

The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.

I note e.g. my own suggestions for a new press-ethics in [3], where the very first item is:

To always report the facts in a manner that allows the readers to form their own opinions—even if they happen to deviate from the journalist’s. This includes not selectively filtering facts that that are unpleasant or incongruent with the journalist’s world view, and not presuming to be an arbiter of what is relevant and what not.

In a bigger picture, I have long been concerned that systematic lying and distortion in line with this quote is taking place—an adult version of the “snus” example from [2]. Indeed, much of the discussion in [2] is highly relevant. This tendency has been very, very clear during the COVID-era, where any claim deviating even slightly from the official line is to be stomped out as inexcusable heresy and misinformation—even when the speaker is a legitimate scientist, even when the science is not yet settled, and even when the facts might support the claim.

Finally, I have previously argued that being right or wrong is not the only thing that matters, e.g. in [4]. Based on my experience and readings since [4], including the massive suppressions and distortions relating to COVID, I would suggest at least the following three questions to consider:

  1. Is a certain opinion correct?
  2. Is a certain opinion, its correctness or incorrectness aside, held for a good reason? (cf. [4], especially.)
  3. Has a certain opinion been freely formed by its holder? (As opposed to instilled in him by another party through means like indoctrination, selective reporting of facts, emotional manipulation, or other intellectually dishonest means.)

Of these, I consider the last the most important—and one likely to be answered with a resounding “NO” for most people and most opinions in today’s world. This failure is a far worse threat to civilization than COVID and climate change put together. It could kill science, democracy, and societal progress. It could ensure that more and more opinions are and remain incorrect as there is no competition between ideas, and as ideas will go untested once deemed the “official truth”. Etc. This is the realm of Soviet-style dictatorships and “Nineteen Eighty-Four”.

Casting a slightly bigger net, we might add a “Is the opinion professed the true opinion of the speaker?” (as opposed to a claim made for fear of repercussions, in order to seem enlightened, or similar).

Excursion on the climate and “Unsettled”:
Roughly half-way through the book, my impression of climate change and climate science is mostly unchanged, i.e. (a) there is likely something too it, but (b) there is a lot of exaggeration and panic-mongering going on, (c) what e.g. journalists claim does not automatically match what scientists say (in this and countless other fields), and (d) I still have not done enough leg work for a firm own opinion.

Something very interesting, however, is that “Unsettled”, in my reading, largely comes down with a “global warming is real” (etc.) take,* while others seem to read the opposite, e.g. (paraphrased) that “Finally, someone proves us skeptics right!” or “This is just a pseudo-scientific attempt to discredit the very real threat of climate change!”. This discrepancy between contents and reactions are not only another example of how dangerous the political climate is in the U.S. (in general) and on the Left (globally), but also plays in well with some of my recent thoughts around “The Bell-Curve”. Contrary to being e.g. “racist” or “White supremacist”, that book could be argued as anti-racist: If we look at what individuals from the broad masses with e.g. an anti-Black attitude say, it often amounts to “Blacks have some natural propensity towards crime [or whatnot], which makes them unsuitable for this-and-that.”. In contrast, “The Bell-Curve” has a take of roughly “those with low I.Q.** tend to end up in jail more often, and race is very secondary to I.Q.”, etc. If the Leftist hate-mongers had not been so keen on shouting the book down as racist, this could have been a very strong anti-racist argument, led to a far greater degree of tolerance, and led to policies much more likely to benefit all races over the long term.

*That the science and science reporting is criticized does not imply that the overall picture is rejected. Here, again, I suspect a strict policy of “either you are 100% with us, including by supporting any of our misinformation, or you are against us”.

**The authors usually deliberately do not speak in terms of I.Q., but the end result is the same and my last reading is too far back for me to remember the exact term used.

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Written by michaeleriksson

May 25, 2021 at 11:11 pm