Friday, April 21, 2017

Cruising the Web

Steve Koonin, the director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at NYT and the former undersecretary of energy for President Obama, has a worthwhile proposal on climate science. He proposes
the sort of Red Team exercise that the national security team uses to "test assumptions and analyses, identify risks, and reduce—or at least understand—uncertainties."
The process is now considered a best practice in high-consequence situations such as intelligence assessments, spacecraft design and major industrial operations. It is very different and more rigorous than traditional peer review, which is usually confidential and always adjudicated, rather than public and moderated.
He has observed that there are intense and fundamental debates within the science community. Since so much public policy depends on our understanding of climate science, it would be very worthwhile to follow his proposal to explore those divisions instead of trying to pretend that there are no uncertainties within the scientific community. As he writes, how can policy-makers make sound decisions if the scientific community papers over such debates?
Given the importance of climate projections to policy, it is remarkable that they have not been subject to a Red Team exercise. Here’s how it might work: The focus would be a published scientific report meant to inform policy such as the U.N.’s Summary for Policymakers or the U.S. Government’s National Climate Assessment. A Red Team of scientists would write a critique of that document and a Blue Team would rebut that critique. Further exchanges of documents would ensue to the point of diminishing returns. A commission would coordinate and moderate the process and then hold hearings to highlight points of agreement and disagreement, as well as steps that might resolve the latter. The process would unfold in full public view: the initial report, the exchanged documents and the hearings.

A Red/Blue exercise would have many benefits. It would produce a traceable public record that would allow the public and decision makers a better understanding of certainties and uncertainties. It would more firmly establish points of agreement and identify urgent research needs. Most important, it would put science front and center in policy discussions, while publicly demonstrating scientific reasoning and argument. The inherent tension of a professional adversarial process would enhance public interest, offering many opportunities to show laymen how science actually works. (In 2014 I conducted a workshop along these lines for the American Physical Society.)

Congress or the executive branch should convene a climate science Red/Blue exercise as a step toward resolving, or at least illuminating, differing perceptions of climate science. While the Red and Blue Teams should be knowledgeable and avowedly opinionated scientists, the commission should have a balanced membership of prominent individuals with technical credentials, led by co-chairmen who are forceful, knowledgeable and independent of the climate-science community. The Rogers Commission for the Challenger disaster in 1986, the Energy Department’s Huizenga/Ramsey Review of Cold Fusion in 1989, and the National Bioethics Advisory Commission of the late 1990s are models for the kind of fact-based rigor and transparency needed.

The outcome of a Red/Blue exercise for climate science is not preordained, which makes such a process all the more valuable. It could reveal the current consensus as weaker than claimed. Alternatively, the consensus could emerge strengthened if Red Team criticisms were countered effectively. But whatever the outcome, we scientists would have better fulfilled our responsibilities to society, and climate policy discussions would be better informed. For those reasons, all who march to advocate policy making based upon transparent apolitical science should support a climate science Red Team exercise.
I love this idea. Such an exercise would get beyond the claims that those who disagree are either perpetrating a hoax or denying a proven fact. That the proposal comes from someone with credentials from Obama's administration is a further plus. I hope that someone in Congress is paying attention and will make this a reality.

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But perhaps progressives would prefer to just pretend that they have a monopoly on appreciating science. In talking about the March for Science, Mona Charen notes that the left seems to think they have a monopoly on science, but they just like to cherry-pick the science they allow themselves to believe in.
Admittedly, this president has been reckless and heedless of the truth or falsity of his comments on a range of subjects. His endorsements of conspiracy theories about vaccines’ causing autism and climate change being a Chinese ruse to harm American companies were preposterous and worrying. But he hasn’t said those things lately, and the march doesn’t seem to have been provoked by them.

Note to the Left: The above paragraph is what sincere people who are “fact-based” and willing to be critical of their own side write. Now, where is the acknowledgment that there is plenty of hostility to science among progressives? Who objects to nuclear power (despite its potential to combat global warming)? Who rejects evidence of male/female brain differences? Who stands in the way of genetically modified organisms — but also argues that children should be hormonally and surgically modified if they say that they are of a different “gender” from the sex listed on their birth certificate?

When progressives are ready to admit that they sometimes cherry-pick the science they like and disregard the science that confounds their worldview, they will have taken a key first step toward the scientific method.

Damon Linker makes the argument that the real division we've been seeing in politics is not elites vs. populists, but cities vs. the countryside. He builds on a Will Wilkinson argument that notes how many times Donald Trump demonizes cities. Linker argues that this wasn't only a factor in Trump's victories but in other political contests this past year.
And so it has been in other places as well. In the Brexit vote, London strongly voted to stay in the EU, while less densely populated industrial centers and more rural areas voted to leave. Most recently, Recep Tayyip Erdogan's anti-democratic referendum in Turkey narrowly passed despite strong opposition in Istanbul and Ankara, because it was strongly supported in outlying areas. The same is likely to happen in France's upcoming presidential election, in which Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front will do well outside of Paris while losing the capital in a landslide.

Since the time of Aristotle, political philosophers have noted that those who live in cities have a different sensibility than those who live in the countryside. The American constitutional framers were certainly aware of and concerned about the difference. Thomas Jefferson famously declared that republican government needed to be founded on the virtues practiced and fostered by yeomen farmers — and fretted that commerce encourages vices that could be incompatible with it. Alexander Hamilton, meanwhile, placed his hopes for the future of the country in capitalistic dynamism and technological modernity — both of which were most highly developed in urban centers.

Today we face problems generated less by the triumph of one alternative over the other than by the persistence of each, and the increasingly rancorous clash between them.

Cities tend to be wealthier than less densely populated areas, but also more stratified, while more rural areas are poorer but more egalitarian. Urban populations also tend to be better educated (and highly skilled) overall, more ethnically diverse (with more immigrants), and less religious, while the countryside is less skilled, more homogeneous (in American terms: white), and more religious (though church attendance even in rural areas appears to be falling).
Read the rest; it's an interesting thesis.

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James Freeman notices
that Bernie Sanders is leading the Democrats' "Come Together, Fight Back" tour as the Democrats are embracing his message of socialism just as we're seeing the result of adopting socialist policies in Venezuela. The contrast is stark.
Venezuelans have by now learned all about leaving their zone of comfort. On Monday the Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady noted that the Maduro government “is running out of money to buy imports, and since it has crippled domestic production, privation is growing more profound.”

Reuters reports today that “Carlos Moreno, 18, a student, was on his way to play soccer in Caracas and did not plan to take part in the demonstration when government supporters approached an opposition gathering and fired shots, according to witnesses and a family member. Moreno was shot in the head, they said.”

In Venezuela, resisting the socialist government takes a bit more courage than simply knitting a hat. Ms. O’Grady wrote on Monday:
So far this month pro-government militias or the police have allegedly killed three protesters in and around Barquisimeto, the capital city of Lara state. A demonstrator was fatally shot in Valencia—the third largest city in the country—and the governor of Carabobo state has admitted that the police were responsible. Another young protester was killed in a satellite city of Caracas, and an 87-year-old Caracas woman died when tear gas inundated her home.

Ms. O’Grady added that roving “bands of government-sponsored militias terrorize civil society.”

But protesters seem increasingly unwilling to be intimidated. “It’s time to stop being poor and hungry. I’m going to stay in the streets until we get rid of this government,” 21-year-old graphic designer Rolisber Aguirre told the Associated Press last week.

The news from down south gives American voters an opportunity to consider just how revolutionary they want their leaders to be.

Mollie Hemingway is struck by the leak we heard last week that the FBI used information from the secret dossier compiled on Trump and his associates that was leaked to Buzzfeed in order to get a FISA warrant to spy on Trump associate Carter Page. Hemingway wonders why there has been so little media curiosity about why the FBI thought the dossier was a worthy source for applying for a FISA warrant to surveil Page especially given what Obama administration figures had been saying during the campaign and after.
But if information about Page from the dossier was confirmed by the FBI before seeking the surveillance, it contradicts what former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said publicly and on the record when its existence came to light in January: “The [Intelligence Community] has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions.”

Confirmation of the dossier’s allegations against Page would also contradict Clapper’s repeated claims that “we had no evidence of such collusion” between Trump and Russia. In an interview on “Meet the Press,” Chuck Todd asked him if the intelligence agencies’ report on Russia had gotten “to the bottom of this,” and Clapper responded, “It did — well, it got to the bottom of the evidence to the extent of the evidence we had at the time,” Clapper said. While Clapper has a history of not telling the truth, even under oath, he’d have little incentive to downplay evidence of Russia colluding with the Trump campaign.

Former acting CIA director and Hillary Clinton campaign surrogate Michael Morrell said, “On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all. … There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark. And there’s a lot of people looking for it.” He went on to note that Steele used intermediaries to gather information from Russian sources, and that he paid people for information.

“Then I asked myself, why did these guys provide this information, what was their motivation? And I subsequently learned that he paid them. That the intermediaries paid the sources and the intermediaries got the money from Chris. And that kind of worries me a little bit because if you’re paying somebody, particularly former [Russian Federal Security Service] officers, they are going to tell you truth and innuendo and rumor, and they’re going to call you up and say, ‘Hey, let’s have another meeting, I have more information for you,’ because they want to get paid some more,” Morrell said.
She then goes on to detail some of the problems with the information in the dossier from factual mistakes and assertions that were just plain false. Given the problems with the dossier, the government's use of the dossier to seek a warrant to impose surveillance on an American citizen should be worrisome.
According to The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, federal agents need to demonstrate probable cause to believe that the “target of the surveillance is a foreign power or agent of a foreign power.” Carter Page is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, businessman, and academic who will tell anyone who will listen his views that NATO enlargement was a mistaken foreign policy, and that hostility to Russia is a bad strategy for the United States.

These things are not illegal or evidence of being an agent of the Russians. In fact, going to Moscow after being named in major media as a foreign policy advisor to the president to loudly proclaim a pro-Russian line critical of existing policy at a prominent university is not exactly top spycraft. Yes, it could be double-super-secret-spycraft, and perhaps the U.S. government, which has now been revealed to have spied on a U.S. citizen, has evidence to support such surveillance. Did the FBI go to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) after corroborating the claims of the dossier? Or did the agency go to the court and characterize the information as credible based on the fact its paid opposition researcher had been an MI6 spy?

Defenders of the FBI say that the FISC judge wouldn’t have issued warrant without strong corroborating evidence and that the courts reviewing applications are very strict. However, securing warrants from a judge does not appear to be as difficult as some claim. Some 38,365 applications for FISA surveillance were made through 2015. Courts denied only 12 requests since 1979. That’s a rejection rate of .03 percent.

Until evidence is provided, journalists who care about privacy and abuse of power should be asking tough questions of everyone involved.

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This is how ridiculous the no-fun brigade of political correctness run amok has gotten.
An American University fraternity’s fundraiser for veterans has been canceled over concerns that the name — “Bad(minton) and Boujee” — might be “cultural appropriation.”

The fraternity, Sigma Alpha Mu, told Campus Reform that it had planned a badminton fundraiser for Armor Down, and named it “Bad(minton) and Boujee” — after the popular Migos song “Bad and Boujee” — to make the event sound more appealing to students, and ultimately earn more money to help veterans who are having difficulty reintegrating into society after their service.

Rocco Cimino, the fraternity’s president, told Campus Reform that the group decided on the theme because sports-related fundraisers generally received the most support on campus, and most sports had already been “taken” by other groups. The only thing the group could think of that was left was badminton — which a lot of people think is kind of boring — so Sigma Alpha Mu figured it would try to “generate buzz” by using a fun name.

What these kids must have forgotten, though, is that this is 2017, and “fun” is pretty much not allowed anymore. In response to their plan, Sigma Alpha Mu received an e-mail from Assistant Director for Fraternity and Sorority Life Colin Gerker informing the students that their fundraiser could not be approved with such a problematic name.

“I suspect that this event name will be criticized for the use of ‘boujee,’” Gerker wrote in the e-mail, according to Campus Reform. “I know it’s a colloquial term and is popular via Migos, but we have had groups get reamed for appropriating culture before related to situations like this.”

Cimino attempted to protest, explaining that the members of Sigma Alpha Mu did “not see how a single word which loosely translates to ‘high class’ should disqualify [the] entire event.”

“We also do not understand how there is a ‘culture’ associated with boujee and how, even if there is, the event is completely unrelated to the name,” Cimino continued.
Apparently, Gerker has gotten a few complaints and decided to cave.
Gerker, however, countered that he had already received complaints over the event name, telling Cimino that “As I suspected, and was hopeful we would not run into this, but I ended up receiving multiple complaints over about the title of the event in the last week, and University Center is indicating that they would request you all to change the title.”

Gerker declined to provide any examples of those complaints to Cimino upon request, and chose not to provide the frat with any follow-ups regarding the event after April 11, when Cimino sent an email to Gerker reiterating the frat’s arguments.

Ultimately, Sigma Alpha Mu officially cancelled the event because it did not “have enough time to promote/raise money for the event” without capitulating to Gerker and the University Center on the title.
So because a few people got their panties in a wad over some problematic complaint over cultural appropriation over a term that isn't the particular possession of anyone, a charity fundraiser to help veterans had to be cancelled. About a university official just telling those complaining to get a life.