Science and Scientism, Revisited

Steve wrote an important essay here a couple of weeks ago, titled Science Versus Scientism. Ken Haapala, President of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, leads off this week’s The Week That Was with an appreciation of Steve’s post:

Science and Scientism: One of the chosen ones for the political witch hunt, Steven Hayward wrote a short essay differentiating between the practice of science, which can be described as objectively examining empirical evidence to test a hypothesis, and scientism, which can have many of the trappings of science, but put to other ends. Hayward begins by discussing a 1952 book by Austrian economist Friedrich August von Hayek. According to Hayward, Hayek “concludes that science of all kinds has a tendency to become what he calls ‘scientism,’ in which the claims of scientific superiority amount to yet another destructive and dogmatic authoritarian ideology.”

Hayward discusses how certain politicians and some scientists use scientism to further their own ends. This use of scientism is becoming particularly obvious in the run-up for the great conference of parties (COP) sponsored by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris from November 30 to December 11, 2015. We can expect more “scientism” from Western governments and once distinguished scientific organizations that are now part of the Climate Establishment.

Indeed. Leftists like to describe those who disagree with them as “anti-science.” Science is a method, not a body of dogma, and I don’t know of anyone alive today who is anti-science; not in America, anyway. Anti-scientism? That’s another matter.

John Nash, RIP

Sad news this morning of the car accident death, at age 86, of Nobel Prize winning economist and mathematician John Nash, made more publicly famous (if not entirely accurately) in A Beautiful Mind.

A psychiatrist friend posted the following note on Facebook about the news:

Let me try, surely in vain, to set the record straight as there are so many subtle but horrifying myths that the Left has created about Nash to suit their purposes. (1) His name has entered science largely through his theory of balance in conflict—the Nash Equilibrium. The first movie to get this wrong had him as a reclusive professor whose computer, Joshua, arrived at the conclusion, “Don’t Play” to avert nuclear armageddon. In fact a stable Nash Equilibrium that averts a nuclear holocaust is attained via Mutually Assured Destruction—peace through strength. This idea was previously lampooned by the Hollywood Left’s caricature of Nash’s mentor, John von Neumann, the mad man with the autonomous glove in “…How I Learned to Love the Bomb”. (2) The bar scene in “A Beautiful Mind” likewise gets it 180 degrees wrong—going for the non-beautiful girl is NOT a Nash equilibrium. The setup cannot produce a Nash equilibrium at all. (3) Nash almost certainly did NOT have “paranoid schizophrenia” as he remained productive until the end. He almost certainly had bipolar disorder, a condition that may yield transient psychotic episodes. I know many brilliant scientists with this condition. He may have been diagnosed with schizophrenia upon his initial admission to Maclean Hospital, but that would have been before Harrison and Pope, at Maclean, in 1984, later reviewed all the previous records and discovered that 50% of such “schizophrenia” diagnoses were in error and were actually manic-depression (bipolar). (3) During his manic/psychotic episodes, Nash would become paranoid (this happens in mania) and would then begin spouting crazed LEFTWING fantasies. When he was normal, he was politically conservative. The movie “A Beautiful Mind” deliberately reversed this because of its obvious implications. (4) To this day, Paul Krugman admires and looks up to Nash—because Nash was in fact von Neumann’s heir. Krugman does not allow this to be much known.

Behind Science Fraud

We reported here the other day about the latest fraudulent article in Science magazine, but don’t miss the op-ed about the broader problem of science fraud in today’s New York Times by Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky (who is one of the founders of RetractionWatch).

Here’s the most relevant excerpt:

Science fetishizes the published paper as the ultimate marker of individual productivity. And it doubles down on that bias with a concept called “impact factor” — how likely the studies in a given journal are to be referenced by subsequent articles. The more “downstream” citations, the theory goes, the more impactful the original article.

Except for this: Journals with higher impact factors retract papers more often than those with lower impact factors. It’s not clear why. It could be that these prominent periodicals have more, and more careful, readers, who notice mistakes. But there’s another explanation: Scientists view high-profile journals as the pinnacle of success — and they’ll cut corners, or worse, for a shot at glory.

And while those top journals like to say that their peer reviewers are the most authoritative experts around, they seem to keep missing critical flaws that readers pick up days or even hours after publication — perhaps because journals rush peer reviewers so that authors will want to publish their supposedly groundbreaking work with them. . .

Economists like to say there are no bad people, just bad incentives. The incentives to publish today are corrupting the scientific literature and the media that covers it. Until those incentives change, we’ll all get fooled again.

Not dark yet, part 2

WUMB’s Saturday morning radio show Highway 61 Revisited devoted its four hours yesterday to a celebration of Mr. Bob’s birthday today. Host Albert O played songs written by Dylan nonstop. Given the limits imposed by applicable law, he filled out the show with cover versions. It was an illuminating exercise. The variety of artists to have covered Dylan is wide. The Band, Solomon Burke, the Byrds, Johnny Cash, Rosanne Cash, Glen Campbell, Cher, the Clancy Brothers, Eric Clapton, Judy Collins, Shawn Colvin, Elvis Costello, The Country Gentlemen, King Curtis — well, you can see what I mean even before we hit names beginning with the letter D.

Perhaps the most important of the artists to have covered Dylan in this alphabetical range is Joan Baez, who drew attention to him and insisted on his importance when she was all the rage and he was trying to make a name for himself. After Dylan had made it, Baez took a timeout to record a double album of his songs. Baez recorded Bob Dylan’s “Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word” for Any Day Now, her 1968 double album of Dylan covers. It’s the highlight of the album. Baez owns that song. Dylan himself has never released a recording of it and I’m not aware of anyone other than Baez who has taken a stab at it.

In the D.A. Pennebaker documentary Don’t Look Back, Baez can be heard singing the song to Dylan in a hotel room during his tour of England in the spring of 1965. Dylan says he’s never finished the song; Baez says he’s finished it “about eight different ways,” and promises to record it if he finishes it. On the evidence of Baez’s memoir And a Voice To Sing With, Dylan wrote the song at Baez’s house in Carmel Valley in the summer of 1964. Baez writes that “Dylan was turning out songs like ticker tape, and I was stealing them as fast as he wrote them.”

In the song the singer resists the statement that “love is just a four-letter word.” He initially overhears the woman — “the friend of a friend of mine” — say it to “the father of her kid.” He thinks the statement is absurd. Over time, however, he seems to have come to believe it himself.

In the closing verse that Dylan leaves off the published lyrics, he meets up again with the woman many years later “with tables turned.” He says he can say nothing to her but that “love is just a four-letter word.” He doesn’t quite go so far as to say he believes it himself, although he’s had experiences that make him understand what she meant. The song seems to belie the statement, the singer saying in his own way that he loves the woman.

In the video above, the great Earl Scruggs — he who defined the use of the banjo in bluegrass music — visits Baez at home and asks her to play the song for his 1972 special Earl Scruggs: His Family & Friends. Scruggs takes a solo, as does Earl’s son Randy. It is a memorable performance of a hidden gem in the Dylan catalogue. (I have updated this post to add the first two paragraphs but adapted the rest from a 2007 post.)

An uncertain kazoo, cont’d

On May 20 President Obama traveled to New London to deliver the commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy. The White House transcript of the speech is posted here; the White House video is posted below. The White House blog posted photos featuring excerpts of the speech and the president in heroic poses here.

In the Middle East, we see Iran asserting its power from Iraq and Yemen to Syria and Lebanon. We see ISIS on the march. We see al Qaeda and its affiliates expanding their forces. Elsewhere in the world, we see China and Russia presenting threats to our friends in the area of each. All these developments pose serious national security threats to the United States, threats whose seriousness continues to increase.

In his remarks, President Obama briefly mentioned the threat of terrorism, though that wasn’t what he came to talk about. The “challenge” he came to focus on at commencement was global warming climate change. Really.

Having touched on the threat of terrorism, Obama turned to a cause in which he really believes. “And this brings me to the challenge I want to focus on today,” he said, “one where our Coast Guardsmen are already on the front lines, and that, perhaps more than any other, will shape your entire careers — and that’s the urgent need to combat and adapt to climate change.”

President Obama sounded his kazoo at great length to call the graduates to the cause. “As America’s Maritime Guardian,” he said, “you’ve pledged to remain always ready — Semper Paratus — ready for all threats. And climate change is one of those most severe threats.” He called on the cadets, the White House blog noted, to face the challenge of climate change head on, and reminded them that the threat that climate change posed to the world cuts to the very core of their mission and service as Coast Guardsmen.

“Climate change,” however, is in no meaningful sense a national security threat. It is a pretext for the government’s continued encroachment on the freedom and wealth of the American people. For President Obama and his commitment to “fundamental transformation,” it is therefore a legacy issue.

In a rightly ordered universe, comedy writers at Saturday Night Live would put Obama’s Coast Guard Academy commencement speech to its highest and best use. Short of that, speaking of “challenges,” we can observe the challenge that Obama’s call to battle presents to satire.

Not dark yet

Today is the birthday of Minnesota native son Bob Dylan; he turns 74. He is a remarkable artist, self-invented, deep in the American grain.

A few years back I visited Dylan’s old home at 2425 7th Avenue East in Hibbing. The house is a small two-story residence with a one-car attached garage on the side. The house is exactly two blocks from Hibbing High School, Dylan’s alma mater. A Dylan fan must be somewhere in the chain of title. The garage door has the cover of Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks album painted on it.

Howard Sounes’s Dylan biography Down The Highway does the best job of capturing the Hibbing period of Dylan’s life. Sounes’s research is impeccable, including his discussion of Dylan’s teen-age friendships with Larry Kegan and Howard Rutman in the Twin Cities.

How could Dylan have absorbed all the strains of American popular music in a town as remote as Hibbing? The radio was apparently Dylan’s indispensable source, but the development of his gifts seems incredibly unlikely. How could he have formed the ambition to become “Bob Dylan” from his roots in Hibbing? The town must have provided some encouragement, even if it also provided the impetus for him to move on and not look back. The people he left behind there remain incredibly nice.

In his outstanding City Journal essay on Pete Seeger — “America’s most successful Communist” — Howard Husock placed Dylan in the line of folk agitprop in which Seeger took pride of place. Husock’s essay is an important and entertaining piece. Dylan is only a small part of the story Husock has to tell, however, and Husock therefore does not pause long enough over Dylan to observe how quickly Dylan burst the shackles of agitprop, found his voice, and tapped into his own vein of the Cosmic American Music. Looking back on his long career, one can discern his respect for the tradition as well as his ambition to stand at its head.

On 1964′s The Times They Are A-Changin’ album, Dylan foreshadowed his break from the folk movement in “Restless Farewell,” the album’s closing song. Later that year he turned in a more personal direction with Another Side of Bob Dylan, his last folk album. Ben Macintyre notes:

Dylan set words to music in a way that no one had done before. He refused to be pigeon-holed by the folkies, the protesters or the rockers. He borrowed and synthesised from the literary, artistic and actual worlds like a musical magpie, and he skilfully evolved his own mystique. And he kept going, even when his listeners booed or complained or, like the enraged Pete Seeger in 1965, threatened to chop off his sound cable with a hatchet at a folk festival in Newport because he had defected to electric sound. At a British concert, we see a furious folkie leaping to his feet and shouting “Judas!” Dylan is defiant: “You’re a liar…Play it ****ing loud,” he instructs the band.

That last moment comes from Dylan’s legendary concert of May 1966 documented on Volume 4 of Columbia’s Dylan Bootleg Series (and can now be viewed on YouTube). The concert was misattributed to the Royal Albert Hall when it surfaced on bootleg albums in 1970, though it has now been identified as having taken place in Manchester’s Free Trade Hall — in the interest of history, of course.

Macintyre briefly sums up Dylan’s self-education:

In 1960 Robert Zimmerman, a gawky Jewish boy from Minnesota, hitch-hiked to New York City. He came to join the burgeoning folk music circuit, but he also came to read, hunkered down on the sofas of his bookish new friends in Greenwich Village. “I read all of Lord Byron’s Don Juan and concentrated fully from start to finish,” he wrote later [in Chronicles, Volume One]. “Also Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan.’ I began cramming my brain with all kinds of deep poems. It seemed like I’d been pulling an empty wagon for a long time and now I was beginning to fill it up and would have to pull harder. I felt like I was coming out of the back pasture.”

Gogol, Balzac, Hugo, Dickens, Thucydides (“a narrative which would give you chills”), Tennessee Williams, Bertolt Brecht, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells: all were piled into the wagon, alongside the music of Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams, and the films of Marlon Brando and James Dean. He spent nights studying the American Civil War at New York public library and consuming newspapers: “What was swinging, topical, up to date for me was stuff like the Titanic sinking, the Galveston flood, John Henry driving steel…this was the news that I considered, followed and kept tabs on.”

By the time of Highway 61 Revisited in 1965, Dylan was singing: “I need a dump truck to unload my head.” (First posted in 2007.)

Happy Memorial Day To Me!

Memorial Day is a holiday set aside to honor those who have died in America’s wars. Every year, many millions of Americans celebrate the day appropriately. At the same time, Memorial Day is also commonly seen as the beginning of summer. For lots of Americans, the day has no higher meaning than to fire up the grill and put on some burgers or brats.

There isn’t much wrong with that, necessarily, but we should expect more from our commander in chief.

The White House’s photo feed has long been criticized as narcissistic. No matter the occasion, it is always all about Barack. But this is an extreme case. Today, the Democratic Party tweeted “Happy Memorial Day weekend, everyone!” What image accompanied the Democrats’ holiday greetings? Here it is:

Barack Obama eating ice cream before an audience of adoring paparazzi. Jake Tapper–a Democrat, I believe–gently suggested that his party was missing the point:

You might think that singling out one tweet is unfair, or that the Democrats surely must have gotten their act together after the inappropriateness of that Memorial Day tweet was pointed out to them. But you would be wrong. Here are the Democratic Party’s Memorial Day tweets that followed the one of Obama eating ice cream:

Democrats are hopeless. They just don’t get it, and they never will.