Commenter Archive

Comments by CK MacLeod

On “Adventures in Epistemic Opening – Manzi vs Levin and the Fate of Everything

@ Sully:
I believe I addressed the question of Manzi's tone - which I think probably should have been calibrated more carefully - something Manzi admits when he apologizes in his follow-up post. Otherwise, I think you're being a little oversensitive on Levin's behalf.

Anyway, intellectual respect is different from politeness. Sometimes they come into conflict. Taking an imbecile's ideas seriously may lead to embarrassing said imbecile.

On “CHART OF THE DAY – Heavens to Murgatroyd…

@ narciso:
Great Googly Moogly! A chart that indeed is. Trust the Army.

Love the quote in the title to that article, too - gonna put it in RecBrow.

On “Adventures in Epistemic Opening – Manzi vs Levin and the Fate of Everything

J.E. Dyer wrote:

How often do you get to see Sean Connery nancing around in a foofy get-up like that?

That's private.


@ strangelet:
Based on that rather pathetic but all too human college sex confessional thing - that I just looked up for the first time? I think you may be reading a tad bit much into it with the broken glass granny bit.

On “The obligatory “problem with the problem with the Palin problem” post

@ Fourstring Casady:
Did someone miss his two-minute hate this morning and get assigned homework?

El Sr. Gore has made a damned mess of things, and more and more people on his aisle of the side are glomming onto the incontinent troof of the matter.

On “CHART OF THE DAY – Heavens to Murgatroyd…

@ Zoltan Newberry:
You are a miserable zombie.

The real chairman of the RNC is Barack Horatio Obama.

On “Adventures in Epistemic Opening – Manzi vs Levin and the Fate of Everything

Odd that anyone would detest Douthat. I've actually grown to appreciate him more lately.

The "what was Manzi up to question" has led me to think a little bit more about the moment - the transition from populism-led conservative resurgence to the next conservative coalition, which may take longer than some would prefer, or might be accelerated by events. I may put together a post about it later.

I don't know how conscious Manzi was of specific intentions, and I'm not sure what difference it would make anyway, though it might tell you interesting things about Manzi. Conscious or not, it's a moment of potentially productive stress between elements of the conservative coalition, loosening the control of the likes of Levin and other substitute intellectuals on public speech and thought within the movement - a more mature and possibly less internecine version of the Frum/NRO split.


@ Rex Caruthers:
He had the potential to have been a terrific blogger - see 18th Brumaire... Fifth rate's a little harsh. Maybe we can agree he occasionally showed some symptoms of epistemic closure.


@ Rex Caruthers:
Additionally, as I'm sure you're well aware and as I expect Margo will also recall, once upon a time it was quite common, virtually the obligatory response among "thinking people," to say that the Depression was "proof" of the validity of Marxist economics - to say nothing of other more parochial and less widely disseminated "proofs." I think you've noted elsewhere that neo-Marxists can hardly restrain their glee and their sense of long-delayed validation in viewing the world's current economic difficulties.


And Colin, Manzi’s “‘most important’ argument” is meretricius, relying as it does on a wholly manufactured ambiguity in the meaning of a single word.

I disagree, but, if you're right, Levin had a golden opportunity to turn Manzi's self-designated "most important argument" (on that point) against Manzi. Instead, Levin completely ignored it. He was too busy coming up with derisive jibes, apparently - just as you're very busy making, again, at length, arguments about AGW that are beyond the scope of Manzi's complaints against Levin. If Levin had made your arguments about AGW, in the way that you make them, then Manzi would have had a different post on Levin to put up, if any.


@ strangelet:
Manzi apologized, in a manner that looked to me to be quite sincere, for giving "offense," though he didn't specifically repent on the w-word - which was directed at Levin's work, not quite the same as being directed at Levin himself. In other words a non-wingnut might conceivably produce a work with elements of wingnuttery from time to time (even though the Bible does say that ye shall know them by their nuts).

I think it's plain what Manzi was attempting to do. Shake things up, following Douthat's "call." I think Manzi, as in the self-deprecating remark about going on in "excruciating detail" on the Krugman III post, is also conscious of the fact that he may sometimes go over people's heads, or fail to supply the drama that, say, a typical fan of Mark Levin feeds on, and that, as a result, his efforts to fight a drift into radicalism and closed-mindedness are sometimes ignored.

So the temptation is to put a little extra "oomph" in the ping just to make sure you get a reading back on the sonar. It was a bit daring - not storming a pillbox at Iwo Jima, but intellectually brave all the same - to take on "the Great One" at NRO, and in such terms. Precisely calibrating one's attack in such a situation - violent enough to make an impression, careful enough not to subvert itself - can be quite difficult, and sooner or later a writer may just say "to hell with it, here's my shot."


@ Joe NS:
Why would Manzi, in a critique narrowly focused on the mode of argumentation employed in a chapter of Levin's book, at a point more narrowly focused on a single argument deployed in that chapter, be obligated to assess the history of the IPCC reports and their endorsers?

Your comment is at 1290 words longer than Manzi's 1204-word post on Levin's book - yet manages only briefly to address the question under discussion here. You asked for an example of what I meant by Levin's failing to address Manzi's or other people's arguments at their strongest. I provided an example of Levin completely ignoring Manzi's "most important" argument, and instead focusing deceptively on his lesser argument. Levin's approach is disrespectful to Manzi, disrespectful to the reader, disrespectful to the subject, and disrespectful to himself. Protagoras can go fish.

For all I know, Levin was taking perverse pleasure in refusing to treat Manzi's argument on the terms in which Manzi advanced it. A partisan of Levin's might see some justification, since Manzi bushwhacked Levin. Unfortunately, as Manzi demonstrated, Levin doesn't need to be attacked "out of nowhere" to be found resorting to dishonest, deceptive, and diversionary tactics.

You use the discussion of the narrow example as an excuse to launch off into another disquisition on the meaning and history of AGW, AGW propaganda, and related/thinly related subjects. Maybe you should write a book.


Margo wrote:

Colin, I have to agree with Joe’s main point about “judging the science”–if the prediction fails, the theory fails.

The "prediction" - actually a set of predictions - was a political event, not a scientific event. The warmists were warned by fellow scientists - mainly non-denialist "skeptics" - that the multiple inputs on and complexity of global temperatures made prediction especially over short and medium time frames a crap shoot at best, even granting all AGW assumptions. The conservative AGW prediction can only ever be a relative increase in temperature over the course of time - temperatures will be n degrees higher than they would have been otherwise. If other factors happen to be causing relative cooling - a distinct possibility - then it would be canceled out.

An additional layer of complication, and of danger, is that the atmosphere and the ocean would react differently in the theoretical framework of the greenhouse effect. The acidification of the oceans, an effect of CO2 independent of temperature effects, would be occurring at the same time. No one knows exactly the effects of a warmer, more acidic ocean. Could be catastrophic. Could be wonderful. Could be a non-event. We may be about to find out. It's not alarmist to consider the possibilities, ask for further work and review, and set up a process for coping with whatever results.

Since there is so much uncertainty about the temperature prediction, it is, indeed, a rather weak reed on which to rest a worldwide multi-zillion dollar freedom and economy encumbering program, even if - additional layer of uncertainty - the harms predicted by some warmists would indeed come to pass under warmer-than-historical temperatures. Another reason why you don't have to pre-emptively decapitate the worldwide scientific establishment - a rather un-conservative project - in order to argue against alarmism.

One does not have to disprove every paragraph in Das Kapital to reject the tory; it’s enough to show that the immiseration of the proletariat hasn’t happened.

An argument about Marxism? Perish the thought! But you have provided a good example of a one-sided argument that makes zero impression on someone actually versed in the subject. You don't have to be Marxist or to be sympathetic to Marxists to acknowledge that numerous very intelligent and sophisticated people have been busy at Marxism and Marxian projects for generations, and to suspect - indeed, safely assume - that somewhere or another one or two of them might have run across the same thought that you came up with.

There is a vast worldwide "proletariat" whose immiseration has been truly impressive. Marxists began to shift their attention to the global economy generations ago.

Working from a conservative point of view that pays attention to incentives, I would say that getting Mark Levin to modify his tone will have little effect, even if it were possible.

Who said anything about getting Mark Levin to do anything? Good luck in that effort! The discussion was about a mode of argument and thought that's intellectually and politically dysfunctional and counterproductive vs. another that's constructive and "epistemically open."


to the extent that Manzi has a substantive criticsm of Levin is to the extent that Levin actually does or fails to do what Manzi claims unambiguously (“wingnuttery”) that Levin does and fails to do, namely, he attacks the weakest AGW argument, not the strongest.

Neither Levin nor Manzi is in a position to judge the science. They are in a position only to communicate to the reader the state of the discussion as they understand it: Almost any argument either makes will in the end come down to a more or less persuasive presentation of authorities.

Instead of glossing Manzi's and Levin's posts, I'll refer to one point of contention: The AGW petition that Manzi accuses Levin of mischaracterizing - both its endorsements and its content. Manzi argues that the endorsers aren't impressive, and are in some known cases quite suspect, and that the number given is inflated. He then argues that, anyway, the petition text doesn't say what Levin implies it says:

And most important by far, the text of the petition is not close to Levin’s claim of rejecting the notion of man-made global warming. In the key sentence it says that signatories do not believe that there is compelling scientific evidence that human release of greenhouse gases will cause catastrophic heating and disruption of the earth’s climate. Depending on the definition of “catastrophic,” I could agree to that. Yet I don’t reject the notion of man-made global warming.

(emphasis added)

Of the two arguments - endorsers, content - the first is obviously weaker, because it's impossible to prove that there were no qualified signatories. Manzi's arguments might stand as suggestive of Levin's bias, but, without proof of systematic fraud and of Levin withholding knowledge of same, would be unlikely to make the case. On the other hand, the second argument destroys the whole point of Levin's having introduced the petition in the first place, since, rather than adopting a hard anti-AGW position, the signatories are instead merely adopting a position that a believer in AGW could also adopt.

In replying, Levin focuses entirely on the first argument, and ignores the second one, even though Manzi has (properly) declared it "most important by far." After some more derisive comments and attempts to associate Manzi with the GW alarmists whom Manzi has explicitly separated himself from, Levin slides on to the next topic. This mischaracterization of Manzi as alarmist parallels the mischaracterization of the petition. It bypasses the opponent's strength by again refusing to distinguish between radicals and moderates. IN the first case, the petition signers, Levin wanted them all on his side, so he equates all moderates with denialists. In the second case, he wants to argue against Enviro-Statis kooks, so he associates the non-denialist skeptic Manzi with alarmists.

Aside from having nothing to do with a search for truth, Levin's approach is totally unpersuasive. All of his conclusions could be correct - about the GW discussion or about Manzi or both - but he adopts methods unlikely to persuade anyone who isn't either already persuaded or prejudiced in Levin's favor. He gives the distinct impression of someone determined to arrive at a specific conclusion - GW wrong, Manzi wrong - and ready to ignore, minimize, or mischaracterize anything that might cause someone else to doubt that conclusion. And that exemplifies what we have been calling "epistemic closure."


@ narciso:
If anyone makes a comment that you find offensive or otherwise "bad for the blog," you're welcome to contact me directly or to say as much. A ca. 500-word comment devoted entirely to attacking another commenter here - rather than a public personality - is rather unprecedented.

I'm not sure if you read the sentences that I deleted. Can we at least agree that vulgar sexual insults should simply be unacceptable?

The role of personal invective in closing down discussion may be on-topic after all.


I just read your long attack on strangelet, Joe. I've faulted her for poor manners and questioned her ideas, but that crude bit at the end was offensive, and I've exercised my prerogative/accepted my responsibility to delete it.

Since you mainly stick to substantive - if largely off-topic - discussion, since you seem to have put some work into the comment, and since, as noted, strangelet is often quite antagonistic, I'm reluctant to delete the entire comment merely out of my own discomfort with it and the example it sets. I'd still like to request that all participants refrain from making personal attacks on anyone who comments here, "asked for" or not.


@ Joe NS:
I'm familiar with your positions, Joe. You know much more about physics than I do. However, I don't really consider you an authority on GW and related fields, and there wouldn't be much point in your trying to persuade me of your position, since, upon my next intellectual encounter with someone whose credentials I consider at least as good as yours, I would be compelled, if I'm simply going by authority, to adopt that person's opinon, until the next encounter, and so on. One other alternative - the one that human nature often leads us to adopt - is to believe the authority whose conclusions best fit our prejudices. Another alternative is to concentrate on the authority whose conclusions most discomfort us, in the interest of testing ourselves against the challenge to our pre-conceived notions.

As Manzi points out in one of his posts, we do have processes set up for approximating the best authoritative opinion on scientific questions of political relevance. If there is something wrong with that process, then that might be one place where the energy of a scientifically unqualified observer might best be applied, and where scientists and non-scientists can meet on equal terms.


After Seven wrote:

1. The Pew poll you cite is Pre-Climategate & Pre-Health Care. I would suggest that those numbers are completely irrelevent today, if anything…liberal/conservative numbers might be polar opposites. Frankly, there has been an ideological tectonic shift in the last year.

Could be. Could be wishful thinking. Might take more like a major astronomical collision rather than a mere tectonic shift to change those numbers radically.

2. Manzi’s proposal for responding to alleged Global crises assumes that Conservatives don’t follow his grand strategy already. I would suggest that the essence of Climategate is that the left has been the purveyors of the closed-feedback loop, intransigent and immobile. There is no need to debate the issue here and now, my point is that when discussing climate, it is the right that approaches it with an open mind and the left that has retreated to the ivory tower. See, or as good examples of conservative thinkers, scientists and statisticians trying to get to the truth.

You 100% sure that the authors at those fine web sites (well the 2 out of 3 I'm familiar with and have in the past discussed or linked) are political conservatives at all, much less American political conservatives? Could be some are. If they are - and to be clear I see no reason why they couldn't be conservative - they represent one sophisticated wing of the movement. I support their work. I suspect Manzi does as well. I also know of at least one important and influential non-denialist scientist who features McIntyre's work prominently in the sections of his book that deal with GW (Richard Muller, see above). I'm all in favor of good scientific work, or good work checking up on scientists.

3. Speaking of the next Hurricane cycle…and this is CRUCIAL, ***Last week Dr. Judith Curry of Georgia Tech, again an IPCC lead Hurricane AGW author finally crossed the Rubicon, In fact she appears to blame the left of exactly the kind of closed-mindedness you attribute to the right.
[...] nevertheless it is clear that over the last 4 months she has reached the conclusion that The right is intellectually open…the left is inflexible & closed.

As for Dr Curry, her statement at your link begins with the following sentence: "First, I’m not sure why we are talking about 'sides' (that tribalism thing); we should be talking about science and how to improve the integrity of science."

And yet somehow you turn that around into a support for one "side" over the other.

4. So is the Right really closed minded?

Where did Manzi or I describe "the right" as "closed-minded"?

One form of closed-mindedness - or ideological defensiveness - is to turn specific criticisms into generalizations on no apparent basis. It suggests a kind of paranoia. It's also typical of the Levin counter-attack on Manzi, incidentally, in which he continually associates Manzi with the worst of the warmists, and argues as though anyone who isn't a radical denialist is a sellout and accomplice of the etc. etc. etc.

Manzi (CATO Institute, NRO contributor) and I both are "of the right," so it would make no sense for us, and others who think like either or both of us, to attribute monolothic ideological discipline to "the right." It would be equally absurd to make the left into such a monolith - though I see the practice constantly, and see it in your comment as well.

Jim Manzi criticized Mark Levin and described how a certain approach to a certain topic in his view exemplified a kind of "epistemic closure." That's it. He thinks it's bad. So do I. I pointed out that, in addition, the e.c. attack seemed to strike a nerve, and that, rightly or wrongly, scientists and intellectuals seem generally to feel more comfortable on the left - by large margins. That may change by itself - or the process may be worth helping along as much as we can.

I don't really see what the point of the whole GW skeptic section is in relation to this particular discussion, though it's a useful set of reference points. Some on the right, perhaps including Manzi, might associate themselves with that kind of skepticism. Others are less skeptical - they might be closer to the view of a scientist like Richard Muller, whose views on GW I attempted to summarize in a comment above. Others go much further, however - and even seem to feel the need to denounce or ridicule those who dare to suggest that there may some serious issues worth looking at in relation to GW/greenhouse effect/CO2, even if the warmist program and the manner in which it was developed are deeply flawed.

5. Lastly, If we take Manzi’s proposition at face value…that Conservatives live in an echo chamber-devoid of reason and closed off from dialogue, debate and reality

Where did Manzi say that? Again, see above.

My point here is that perhaps the idealism of Manzi, may not always be the best approach.

I'd prefer not to generalize about Rush, Hannity, et al, and am myself from time to time one of "the guys at HotAir," though if you mean Ed and AP, I don't see them as the "same" as Levin, or the same as Drudge.

I also wonder if it's accurate to describe Manzi as the "idealist" in this discussion. Perhaps in some regards - if it's "idealism" to hold out any hope for our political system, if it's "idealism" to believe in the existence of relatively uncorrupted scientists worth listening to. If that's idealism, then it seems odd to me to use it as a pejorative - connoting a woeful lack of realism - as you seem to, when you yourself take conspicuous pride in the example of scientists who you believe have come over to your "side." Otherwise, if you don't hold out any hope for the political system - then go find a bomb vest.

I didn't spend much time in the top post discussing either Manzi or Levin's posts in detail, so I'll say here, because it seems relevant, that I think what spoke to me most directly about Manzi's was his description of examining the work of a popularizer/polemicist like Levin writing about something that he, Manzi, had studied, and having the experience, I paraphrase, of thinking "if this guy can be so bad on this subject, how can I trust him on any subject?" I've had that same experience many times with other figures - Glenn Beck comes to mind, Jonah Goldberg unfortunately, though less often - and I imagine that part, not all, of the explanation for those Pew and Murray numbers might be versions of that same experience multiplied many times over, over and over again, helped along by the kind of blanket assault on the integrity and interests of scientists and intellectuals that one encounters constantly in the trenches on the right.

Speaking in favor of reaching out to scientists and intellectuals and persuadable centrists and leftists, of trying to understand them and their motivations and how they see themselves, of constructing a program that makes sense to more of them, etc., is treated as some kind of foul betrayal by some on the right - amidst statements of proud ignorance and anger at anyone willing to point out that the anti-consensus consensus is as false as the consensus ever was. Just check out the thread at HotAir under my post - or virtually any thread under one of my posts at HotAir lately - or the discussion under the Karl post on this subject. It's bad enough wherever it's encountered, and if unopposed, it tends to take over whatever forum it appears in - and it makes the right look bad, harms the conservative project politically, and makes it more difficult for conservatives to develop better ideas and more effective arguments.

It doesn't matter whether the left is worse or not - no one is in a position to make an objective determination anyway, but what if you could? It still doesn't help conservatives, to be ideologically and emotionally closed-minded, however many or few the description applies to.


@ After Seven:
Thanks for your substantial and thoughtful reply, and sorry it was caught in the pending queue for a couple of hours. I've got to run, be back later - Gaia willing.

On “Limbaugh over the line

Ritchie Emmons wrote:

I find rather puzzling that I, with not a drop of Jewish blood in me, seems more interested in the well being of that tiny state than much of the Jewish diaspora.

You might find the following article illuminating. Several people here commented on it favorably:

On “Adventures in Epistemic Opening – Manzi vs Levin and the Fate of Everything

strangelet wrote:

Highlander….idc what your base thinks.
Its not my responsiblility to educate them….its yours.

My base? I don't pretend to represent anyone but whichever clique of neural subsystems happen to have won control of my verbal apparatus.

And I apologize for dropping the genocide/eugenics bomblet on you, but I was trying to make a point. As for Palin, for whomever the references were intended, you inserted them here. As I think I made clear way up above somewhere, I do think her and her following can be quite relevant to this discussion, but probably to no good purpose at daggers drawn.

On “Limbaugh over the line

@ JEM:
In a debate among people arguing presumably in good faith, the first person to accuse the other of "drinking the Kool-Aid" discloses that he has been imbibing, and inevitably puts in question everything else he says.

On “Adventures in Epistemic Opening – Manzi vs Levin and the Fate of Everything

strangelet wrote:

i have never advocated genocide, even for the intransigently stupid.
linkage please?

ensoulment of diploid oocytes

Since you cop to eugenicism, I'll focus on your skeptical use of the above phrase, which implies a negation of the "right to life" of human beings extended to conception. The moral position that you deny, or refuse to respect (violently I anticipate), is extended by those who hold this moral position to encompass all human beings, at all stages of development, with the understanding that putting oneself in the position to deny the the humanity (here equated with the possession of a soul) of one category of human being makes it possible to deny by parallel logic the humanity of other categories of human being.

We don't need to divert into some interminable discussion of right-to-choose/right-to-life - though it happens to be on this subject that I best recall Unger's presentation of apparently irreconcilable worldviews, mentioned above. My point was that when you attach a baggage train of issues to an already adequately controversial subject, you needlessly impair further dialogue, seeming to confirm the suspicions of those whom you are presumably trying to reach that it's all a scam, a bait and switch, and that compromise on this issue will send them, per your fiendish designs, pell-mell down the slippery slope to Brave New World, at best.

Not sure why this isn't obvious to you. Same-same on bringing la Palin into this confrontationally - another invitation to go round and round on familiar ground with no known or yet-demonstrated exit.


Barbara wrote:

The so-called “scientific process” has been corrupted and coopted by what we may call the grantmaker-academic complex.

To the extent that your description is accurate, then the critique should be framed as pro-science and pro-scientific process, and the situation you describe would have to be understood as an elemental threat to science and to scientists. As I suggested somewhere above, an appeal to the self-interest of scientists eventually coincides with an appeal to their ethics - since the Chicken Little/Cried Wolf feedback on events like Climategate can eventually imperil the scientific project. Even if bad luck led to the apparent validation of Chicken Little-ism, that would be even worse for scientists, since it would reinforce the position of a non-skeptical, anti-scientific, politicized/bureaucratized elite against the ethical and practical interests of true scientists, while also making them even more vulnerable to some future catastrophic event.

The GW argumentation advanced by alarmists can be applied to the scientific project itself: If there is an ecological crisis, it equally or perhaps to a greater extent may infect the scientific project, as any understanding of ecology should lead one to expect from the outset. The alarmists have been, in short, pursuing a non-ecological response to a putatively ecological problem. Luckily for conservatives, it doesn't appear necessary to explain this abstract concept to the general public - though the g.p. may have intuited it anyway - because the contradiction appears materially in the disconnect between threats-described and measures-proposed (Kyoto etc.), and responsibility-demanded and responsibility-shown (Climategate).


Additionally - skepticism of scientists and of the scientific process is integral to scientists and the scientific process - which is why there's nothing inherently unscientific about conservatism, and why science and intellectual labor generally, properly understood, are or ought to be at least as conservative as they are liberal, and also why, up until recently from the historical point of view, the conservative bias of science and scholarship tended to be much more prominent in any characterization of the relevant establishments and institutions.