Thursday, June 07, 2018

An Example of Skepticism of Science

I'm skeptical by nature. Many often call me cynical. Sometimes I come across an article, a study or something that, while supposedly a proper example of science, sends off all sorts of red flags for me. I recently came across an article in the Guardian that highlights a recent Yale University study that sought to find the biases that may lead young black students to be suspended/expelled at higher rates than whites. (And I use that phrase intentionally: "sought to find". But we'll get to that momentarily.) The article's content concerned me enough that I decided to look at this study a little more and found some interesting things.

First and foremost, I don't like the "science" of starting with a preconceived conclusion and then crafting a study to find evidence to support that conclusion. While this can be ok in hard sciences which focus so exclusively on physical processes and quantitative outcomes, in social sciences, where qualitative or behavioral actions are what is being analyzed, it can be extremely dangerous. This is almost explicitly research confirmation bias and makes the study start off highly questionable in my view - this kind of bias can affect everything from design to interpretation. But let's move on.

From the article:
The teachers were told the following: ... Your job is to press the enter key on the external keypad every time you see a behavior that could become a potential challenge.
Since I didn't capitalize and put flashing gifs around those words, let me emphasize, they were specifically told to signal on anything that "could become" a "potential" challenge. So the instructions are essentially telling teachers to be hypersensitive for any behavior whatsoever that might possibly become a potential challenge. Not telling them to indicate when a behavioral challenge occurs. Not to indicate the moment they believe a behavioral challenge is starting. But to point out anything whatsoever that could somehow, at some point in the future, turn toward into a potential challenge.

How vague and open-ended is this?

Child picks up scissors - "could possibly become a potential challenge"
Child starts to speak loudly - "could possibly become a potential challenge"
Child starts swinging pencil around -  "could possibly become a potential challenge"
Child vehemently disagrees with fellow student - "could possibly become a potential challenge"
Child stands up -  "could possibly become a potential challenge"
Child disagrees with conclusion of a Yale study - "could possibly become a potential challenge" (and is possibly racist)

You get the idea. Obviously the question relies on an incredibly subjective measure. I've seen certain kids (#notall) where rocking in a chair is a "tell" - a precursor - to a wild moment of explosive energy - where the kids suddenly has a compulsion to get out of their chair and vent some of their energy - sometimes (though rarely) with damaging or harmful results to themselves and others.

Let's also keep in mind that it's probably fair to assume that most teachers are going to wish to err on the side of caution when it comes to such instructions. Better to appear overly cautious than to appear to disregard or miss the signs leading up to a problem.

Then after quoting what teachers were instructed to do, the Guardian moves the goalposts in the very following line:
While the teachers were asked to detect “challenging behavior”, no such behavior existed in any of the videos.
Wait, wait, wait. They were NOT told to detect challenging behavior. They were asked to indicate any "behavior that could become a potential challenging behavior." So a teacher that has seen and dealt with the rocking-in-their-chair situations in the past, and is then told to look for "potential challenging behavior" may signal on a rocking child that, in this case, never leads to challenging behavior.

To me, if you want to understand why black students are being suspended, THEN LOOK AT THE SUSPENSION CASES!!  I think going to the source of the information would be relevant here. Are the suspensions dubious? Are they credible? Isn't that pertinent here?

Look at that data and determine if the cases justified suspension or not. If they did NOT, then you can certainly make the case that perhaps there was discrimination at play. But to give people prompts which are overly vague and then deduce from their hypersensitivity that they must be racist is not impartial science.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Looking at Oregon in a different skin - Race has nothing to do with it

I'm not going to go into the details of the situation in Oregon. Anyone reading this is likely already familiar with it. For those that may not, here are a couple sources on the subject.

My general stance on the situation is that I sympathize and support the Hammond family where I feel it's a pretty clear case of govt abuse of power. However, I am on the fence regarding the protesters/militia. I like that they are supporting the Hammonds and agree with their general animosity of govt overreach. It also feels like the militia protest was largely a publicity stunt to raise awareness of the treatment of the Hammond family. If so, then I'd call it a success (notwithstanding the horrendous misreporting of the situation). However, due to the weapons involved and almost invitation for direct physical conflict, it goes beyond the standard peaceful "sit-in" type of awareness protest or even civil disobedience. I guess my views will become more clarified as we see what they do, what govt does, and how each reacts to the other.

In a broader scope, however, I've seen many who appear antagonistic to this group of protesters and the Hammonds largely due to their race and politics. I've heard people decrying how the reaction and the types of support would be completely different if it was black people or Muslims who had taken over this glorified campgrounds.

So I started thinking ...

Say there was a [Muslim] family - the [Mohammeds]. They have been harassed by govt for years. They get pulled over constantly. The city continues to try to force them to sell their house. They have their taxes audited every year. Prohibited from buying guns. They are placed on and off of the no-fly list. All without any evidence of any real wrongdoing. Then, say the patriarch gets distracted and hits a mailbox with his car. A few years later, his son swerves and runs over a post-office box. They are arrested, charged with "terrorism" (destruction of govt property) and found guilty. Suddenly a large group of [Muslims] comes and sets up in a public parking lot next to the family's home and occupy a pay-for-parking booth. This group is armed and is protesting for the release of the [Mohammed] men and to raise awareness of the govt abuse and harassment of this family. They claim they will resist any attempts to remove them.

While I know this is not an exact parallel to the situation in Oregon, it's fairly close. In such a situation, I, as a libertarian, would feel pretty much exactly the same way about this hypothetical as I do the actual situation. I would sympathize and support the family. I would be on the fence with regard to the protesters.

Now, replace [Muslim] with [black] and [Mohammeds] with [Jacksons] - and I'd again have the same view.

This, at least for me, has absolutely nothing to do with race. I don't care whether the family and the protesters involved are white, brown, black, or any other race. The issue is the abuse of govt power and bringing the attention to govt harassment.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Racism from Missouri Student VP?

Many people have posted about the Missouri Student VP who stated that she is "tired of hearing that first amendment rights protect students when they are creating a hostile and unsafe learning environment." See video below.

Now while most people are rightly pointing out the dangerous concept of villainizing first amendment freedoms, there was actually another quote of hers that stood out to me.

Too often we go time and time again without having professors, mental health staff, different staff members who look like us sitting on our campus. (emphasis mine)
So my question is, how is that not racist?

In a situation in which the entire conflict arose from supposed lack of racial sensitivity on the part of university administrators, is this kind of statement not incredibly hypocritical? This indicates that these students are not comfortable with faculty and staff of other races, but instead want ones that match their own race. I cannot think of another term for that mentality besides racism.

For contrast, imagine George Wallace on the schoolhouse steps in 1963 saying something like:

"We need our children to be able to go to school and have faculty, staff and administrators that look like them."

Such a statement would have, rightly, been condemned as one of the most racist sentiments by a public official since Reconstruction. Yet from a young woman representing an entire population of, supposedly, very racially sensitive young people, such a statement is (I guess) considered perfectly acceptable.

I recognize that people may be more comfortable relating or interacting with people that have similar backgrounds and cultures. But I thought the whole point of diversity was to break such enclavism and promote greater racial understanding by encouraging inter-racial interactions. As such, her concept seems to fly in the face of the diversity movement itself.

Now I'll admit I'm not fully knowledgeable on the ins-and-outs of racial matters. So I'm open to any explanations of how her sentiment is NOT basically racist and anti-diversity.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Christian's Argument for Separation of Church and State

When I was younger, I criticized the concept of the separation of church and state. I recited the same arguments most of you have heard - that it was about the establishment of religion, not simply the practice thereof in public; that how it's being used now isn't at all how it was intended when it was stated, etc.

However, over the last several years I have watched the behavior in our country and I have now become and advocate for separation of church and state - as a Christian. It's created tension with family members when I have mentioned my changing views on the separation of church and state. I hope this article will help explain why I believe that we all, even faithful Christians, should urge that there be a complete separation between religion and the use of the state.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Climate Change Checklist

Climate change, or more specifically catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW), seems to continue to pop its head up from time to time. Labels of "alarmists" and "deniers" are thrown around. Now I am a hardcore advocate of liberty and freedom. I will start any conversation that advocates the necessity of massive govt intervention with skepticism. This is not an anti-science position, this is a pro-freedom position. Now, I may be able to be convinced, but to do so there are a series of things that must be demonstrated as fact to my satisfaction in order for me to even consider supporting the types of "solutions" currently being proposed.

Process Improvements

First, some changes need to be made regarding some process/method issues:

  1. Full audit of surface temperature stations and remediation
    1. Inspections of over 80% of surface stations in the US show that over 70% have a likelihood of over 2ºC of error. That's in the US - how does the rest of the world look?
    2. The adjustment process that supposedly "cleans" this data is not sufficient.
    3. We spend billions of dollars a year on climate research. We can spend a couple million to refactor the vast majority of these stations.
  2. Both raw and adjusted temperature data (with adjustment process) must be available, transparent, and open.
    1. It invites skepticism when the advocates of global warming take raw numbers, adjust them in various ways, release only the end adjustments and leave it at that. 
  3. Scientific studies, papers, models, etc that are published must be reproducible and methods must be made available to the public. 
    1. If we are to have faith in the scientific process on a topic that many advocate for significant changes to our economic system, data, methods, algorithms, etc cannot continue to remain secret and proprietary.
I'm not saying these affect every study or all data but they are prevalent enough to invite skepticism.

Facts Needed

Now, some actual facts that I need demonstrated to me clearly:
  1. The Earth is continually getting warmer
    1. There is currently some question of this due to a plateau over the last 15-17 years.
  2. This warming is NOT simply the continuation of warming that has been happening for the last 400+ years.
  3. The primary driver of the new warming is CO2
    1. Since all the proposed solutions are focused on CO2, then that HAS to be the predominant driver.
  4. The primary driver of the new warming is HUMAN ADDED CO2
    1. Since all the proposed solutions are focused on reducing HUMAN added CO2, then it must be shown that HUMAN caused CO2 is the predominant factor and driver of heat gain.
    2. Don't get me wrong. I'm not claiming that man has NO impact on the climate. Clearly we do. The critical question is whether the anthropogenic CO2 is the PRIMARY driver of climate change.
  5. The result of continued warming will be significantly net negative
    1. Since most proposed solutions advocate significant economic costs, we must be positive that the result from warming will be not just somewhat inconvenient, but significantly bad. 
    2. While a lot of research has gone into the negative consequences of continued warming, I've not seen much of any research into what positives may take place. I am extremely hesitant to believe that there would not be new farming land or expanded migratory patterns in a slightly warmer climate - yet the amount of research into such positives and how they balance out against negatives seems limited.
    3. In addition, a lot of the "negatives" seem ... a little strained. For every story of rising sea levels, there are others that simply allude to the greater proclivity of athlete's foot, jock itch and poison ivy. 
  6. The planet and people cannot adapt to the changes 
    1. I'm hesitant to support massive global economic intervention if it turns out that the changes will take place gradually over hundreds of years. Consider where we were 100 years ago with limited air conditioning, refrigeration, health care, construction practices, access to travel and communication, etc. Now if we are not going to see more than a 1-2ºC increase or most of the significant warming consequences for 100-200 years, then I'm not convinced that we cannot adapt to these changes as they come. 
  7. A free market approach is not viable (i.e. Only potentially viable option is massive govt intervention)
    1. Before we start pushing for coercive govt intervention, I need to be convinced that the free market cannot satisfactorily adjust and mitigate the causes and problems from this process. As the potential consequences become apparent, the money to be made from mitigating them becomes significant.
    2. And I don't accept the explanation that says "We need govt because ... externalities [or tragedy of the commons]." and simply stop. The concept and definition of externalities is insufficient to dismiss the viability of a non-coercive approach to mitigation.
    3. What if someone finds a way to extract CO2 from the atmosphere? What if someone genetically develops a tree that extracts/stores 20 times the standard amount of CO2? 
  8. Massive govt intervention will stop warming
    1. It also needs to be demonstrated that the proposed solutions would actually work. Most of the studies I've seen on the various proposals show virtually no difference in temperature increase over the next 100 years. That's not acceptable.
This last point is key. If the scientific community fixes the process issues I described above and the first 7 facts on this list are demonstrated to me, then I would be convinced that consequences will be dire unless govt intervenes. But if govt is going to intervene, then it better do whatever is necessary to actually effect change. I do not want a significant new tax or a complicated emission trading scheme that places a significant burden on the economy, yet only reduces the rate of warming by 3%. I don't want to advocate for the implementation of a system that will undoubtedly encourage corruption and manipulation if the end result in 100 years is warming only 0.1ºC less severe than had we done nothing. If we believe the consequences are going to be dire if we fail to act, then we need to act in a way that will effect significant change. If the only option is that we all go back to an agrarian society or most of the population will die, then I don't want that reality sugar coated. I don't want to be advocating for some approach that may significantly curb economic growth and prosperity for 100 years but won't actually mitigate the consequences of the warming.

Why skepticism?

Some people ask why we can be skeptical in the face of overwhelming evidence. Well firstly, as I said, I am a hardcore advocate for liberty, so I am going to be hesitant of any call for govt coercion to be expanded. So whereas those that believe that we need to limit growth or think consumerism is bad or that corporations just plain make too much money, who may already advocate for govt intervention for other causes, may need little convincing to get on board with an approach that even may only possibly avoid some calamitous outcome. I and those like me will likely need much, much more convincing because you are asking us to support a policy that directly contradicts our principles.

I'm not going to go into the science debate between the standard CAGW theory and the contrarian views. It would create a huge back and forth dialogue that already exists out there. I will only point out two things: Firstly, there are scientists who perform research that either disproves, questions, or challenges the standard CAGW theory. Some of their research is significant, some of it less so. But the dismissal and "paid by the oil companies" type demonization discredits the opposition to these contrarians. And secondly, the predictive models on CAGW are consistently revealing themselves to be inaccurate - sometimes minorly, sometimes wildly. But the point that skeptics make is not that we know everything about the climate and have proven global warming wrong, but that humanity doesn't know as much about the climate as it thinks it does and the inaccurate models demonstrate that. So before we start putting draconian economic restrictions in place, perhaps we should take off the alarmist hat and gather more data.

In addition, part of the reason that many people are skeptical of CAGW is that it seems very politically driven. Scientists and advocates have been calling on govt to massively intervene in the economy for 60 years for various reasons. Hole in the ozone, rainforests, global cooling, energy crisis, etc. Plus, there is a significant overlap between those that advocate economic intervention for the purpose of social justice or anti-capitalism/anti-consumerism and those that advocate economic intervention in the name of dealing with global warming. It often looks more like a power grab for those in power and a desire to restrain capitalism by others than it does an honest attempt to mitigate a potential problem. 

Also, massive amounts of money are being offered, and as such an entire market has been created, to study the negative consequences of global warming. So we are neither surprised nor convinced that virtually every study finds some bad thing that can be connected, however tangentially, to potentially higher temperatures. Plus, when scientists that question or challenge even some of the most extreme of the global warming claims are shunned, fired or forced to resign from their positions, it creates the impression not of an open arena of debate, but of a closed, self-reinforcing echo chamber. 

Lastly, the advocacy to deal with CAGW often invites skepticism itself. It seems contradictory at times: We have extremely hot/dry summer - it's global warming. We have extremely cold/snowy winters - that's just episodic/localized weather.  A study shows that global warming causes avalanches to increase in one place, but another study shows them to decrease in another. Renaming "global warming" to "climate change" seems strained so that it includes even events that don't have anything to do with warmer temperatures. Plus, some of it is ... well, "alarmist". Countdowns, timers, and counters like the one on the right all come across as over-the-top. I remember reading about how the Green Bay Packers football team, who has a notoriously cold/snowy field through the winter, were going to lose their home-field advantage if global warming continued, and so we must push Congress to act. When advocates stretch to find some connection (or even just some potential connection) to global warming, it starts to seem desperate and lacking credulity. 

Summary and Final Question

So when you put it altogether, you have many advocates of liberty whose default position is skepticism toward calls to support policies that directly contradicts their views. Then, when making the case, there are some scientific processes that have some issues and facts that aren't sufficiently demonstrated. There are also contrarian scientists that challenge or flat-out reject the standard CAGW and issues with models that have struggled with accuracy. Plus you have what seems like a lot of politically driven advocacy and money that may influence scientific work. In addition, you have what appears to be a closed-shop mentality that discourages dissent. And finally, you have a lot of advocacy that seems contradictory or overblown and based on extremely tenuous connections to changes in the weather. No single element may be sufficient to create the skepticism that many feel, but altogether these types of issues cause a lot of the science and advocacy to actually create more skepticism than they allay.

Finally, taking the opposing position, let me also ask you: What is the falsifiability of CAGW? If we see 20 years with continually escalating CO2 levels but no appreciable warming increases, would that, if not prove CAGW wrong, demonstrate that there's something wrong in the models, feedback weights, variables, calculations and in general our understanding of how climate works?

That's really where I feel most skeptics are: Something's not right here and I can't get behind draconian economic measures until it is.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Taxation in Spoonerville

[Scene: Man and Woman walking down the street together when they are met by a group of Thugs]

Thug #1: Excuse me sir, but it appears that you haven't paid your taxes.

Man: I'm sorry, you're mistaken. I actually have paid my taxes.

Thug #1: [nodding to Thug #2] Our Treasurer here has no record of you having paid.

Thug #2: [taking out a notebook and flipping through it] What's your name?

Man: [cautiously laughing] Mark.

Thug #2: [Before Mark has finished saying his name] Nope, no record.[quickly closes notebook]

Thug #1: So you see, you need to pay your taxes. Cash only I'm afraid.

Mark: [irritated] Ok, that's enough. [moves to escort wife around men]

[Thug #3, a large man, steps in front of the couple, blocking their way]

Thug #1: I'm sorry, we cannot let you leave until you have paid your taxes. That money is needed. Stan here [gestures at Thug #4] was recently laid off and so needs his unemployment insurance. And Joe's [gestures at Thug #5] kid needs some medicine for his ... acne. Plus, with the recession and everything, we must provide the local economy with much needed stimulus [gestures toward a pub/bar behind them].

Woman: This is ridiculous! This isn't a tax, it's stealing!!

Thug #1: Not at all ma'am. We represent the government of Spoonerville.

Mark: What? This is Chicago.

Thug #1: Well, I'll admit that our jurisdiction is a tiny little spit, but it's as legitimately elected as any other.

Man: Hmpf. Hardly. I've never even heard of it, let alone voted for it.

Thug #1: Because you chose not to vote doesn't mean you're not subject to the laws of its government.

But because we never wish to appear unfair, I move that we hold a special election. All in favor?

All Thugs: Aye!

Thug #1: Opposed?

[Shot of couple standing there confused]

Thug #1: The motion carries, a special election shall commence at once.

Man: Now wait a minuite...

Thug #1: [ignoring man] Now, those in favor of continuing the charter of Spoonerville and the authority of its current government, say Aye.

All Thugs: Aye!

Thug #1: Those opposed?

Mark: [quickly catching on] Nay!

Woman: No, not at all!!

Thug #1: [smiling] The aye's have it. The government of Spoonerville is once again received it's authority through the consent of the people.

Woman: But that's not fair! This is immoral!

Thug #1: [getting angry] Don't you dare question the sanctity of democracy in our fair hamlet. In fairness to you, we held a special election - in which you participated voluntarily I might add - and in which you lost fair and square, 5 to 2. You can't turn around and complain about fairness and morality just because you don't want to pay your fair share.

Man: [trying to calm things and find a way out] Ok, ok. Calm down. How much is the tax?

Thug #1: Well, we here in Spoonerville operate under a flat tax system. It'll be one hundred dollars.

Woman: One hundred dollars!

Thug #1: [Smiling] Each.

Man: And if we refuse.

Thug #3: [Pulls out a gun] We have to deal with those that break the law.

Woman: [starting to cry] Please ... Just let us go.

Thug #1: I'm sorry ma'am. We cannot simply ignore the law. There'd be anarchy.

Besides, if you don't like the laws of Spoonerville, you can always just leave .... once you have paid your taxes and we say you may leave.

Man: I don't have two hundred dollars though.

Thug #1: Well, don't let it be said that we aren't flexible and willing to adjust to the needs of taxpayers. To cover the difference, we will graciously accept your watch and the jewelry that the young lady has on. It's the least we can do.

[With thug #4 holding the gun, the couple start to hand over their jewelry]

Thug #1: We appreciate you voluntarily paying your taxes.

Woman: Voluntarily!?

Thug #1: Yes, voluntarily. Nobody has laid a hand on you physically or even touched you. And we so appreciate your voluntary participation. It avoids things becoming ... unfortunate.

Man: Can we go now?

Thug #1: Absolutely. After all, this is a free country and you are free to travel as you wish. We hope you have enjoyed your visit to Spoonerville. Please come again.

[Couple walks past the thugs and down the street swiftly]