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95 percent confidence: in HEP vs IPCC

When I saw some reports about the IPCC's 95 percent "certainty" that the global warming is mostly man-made, I couldn't avoid thinking about the huge difference between hard sciences (such as particle physics) and soft sciences (such as the contemporary climatology).

Reuters saw documents saying something like that:

Drafts seen by Reuters of the study by the U.N. panel of experts, due to be published next month, say it is at least 95 percent likely that human activities - chiefly the burning of fossil fuels - are the main cause of warming since the 1950s.

That is up from at least 90 percent in the last report in 2007, 66 percent in 2001, and just over 50 in 1995, steadily squeezing out the arguments by a small minority of scientists that natural variations in the climate might be to blame.
This figure was discussed by Watts Up With That and The Hockey Schtick (via Climate Depot).

I am stunned how underwhelming such statements are and my being stunned has several levels.

What do I mean?
  • First of all, the figure 95% isn't really calculated in any way. It's literally pulled out of the air. The gullible audience of the IPCC is supposed to believe that the IPCC members are shamans with supernatural skills and if they vote about and approve a figure they randomly invent, it's a deep and accurate truth one should worship. But there are no shamans in the real world and most of the IPCC members not only fail to be shamans but they also fail to be competent scientists.

  • Even if the figure 95% were credible, it's just painfully low. I will discuss some analogies in high-energy physics below.

  • Even if the figure 95% were credible, calculated, and replaced by a much higher figure, the statement we have "learned" is completely unspectacular, pretty much inconsequential, and unworthy of spending another dollar. Yet, some people seem to think that this unspectacular statement directly implies that we should throw hundreds of billions of dollars out of the window.
Let me say a few more words about these three points.

First, the figure 95% isn't being calculated from anything.

In particle physics, statements or findings that are "95% certain" are usually referred to as "2-sigma deviations" from the null hypothesis. The numbers 95% and 2 may be translated to each other using the precise maths of the normal distribution (or a more accurate distribution, whenever it is relevant).

The number of standard deviations, 2, is calculated from the experimental data in a straightforward fashion. There's a clearly defined calculation that may be done by a computer. You insert the theoretical predictions from the null hypothesis, the measured data, and the program may calculated how much the observed values deviates from the predicted value and how likely it is for such a large or larger deviation to occur by chance.

The climate scientists and green activists in the IPCC act like shamans who vote about a figure. You could offer an excuse. The climate is a complex system and the conclusions are being based not on one well-defined measurement but on numerous branches of the empirical data. Each branch gives you some "feeling" and you sort of accumulate these feelings and guess the final answers and the numerical value of the confidence level, too. A more precise accumulation of the "feeling" is obtained if many people smoke together – this is called the "consensus science".

However, you should understand that this is no real excuse. Instead, it is a confirmation that the final figure simply cannot be taken seriously. If you don't have any single experiment or a single collection of measurements that is strong enough to nontrivially support your hypothesis, then it's too bad.

Of course that you may try to combine several not quite convincing datasets in order to increase the confidence level above the confidence level of each individual dataset. But when you do so, you are at risk that the datasets aren't really quite independent (the signs of a higher temperature in regions and across the globe surely fail to be independent as well) so the increased confidence level calculated from the assumption of their independence may be a heavy overestimate. Moreover, you can be reasonably accused of cherry-picking the datasets that agree with your predetermined conclusions – and from the censorship of the datasets that don't support your "cause". Of course that I think that both accusations are true descriptions of the IPCC's work.

Also, the shamans boast that their guessed "certainty" has grown from 1.8 sigma to 2.0 sigma from 2007 when the previous IPCC report was released. Just six years and they were able to increase their guessed signal from 1.8 sigma to 2.0 sigma. It's so impressive! ;-)

So the numerical value isn't a result of science. It's a result of shamanism. But even if the IPCC were able to calculate the figure 95% using a legitimate scientific procedure, there's the second problem:

The confidence level 95% is just incredibly low.

As I said, the 95% confidence level is known as the 2-sigma confidence in hard sciences such as particle physics. Particle physics experiments have brought us hundreds of 2-sigma excesses – and lots of much larger (more confident) excesses – and a vast majority of them turned out to be flukes. When more data were accumulated, these excesses just went away. Such things inevitably occur all the time.

Because people keep on looking for new effects, they inevitably encounter flukes that look like a new effect but the effect actually doesn't exist. A priori, a new effect is always a pretty unlikely thing so if you look at the history of particle physics, most of the 2-sigma deviations were really flukes – results of coincidences that shouldn't have been paid any attention to.

Particle physicists start to seriously look at deviations when they reach something like the 3-sigma level or 99.7%. The conventional threshold of discovery is 5 sigmas which means approximately 99.9999% certainty.

But imagine that in the 6th IPCC report, the shamans replace their guesswork by a calculation of the confidence level based on some empirical data; and that the confidence level will increase to 99.9999% so that it becomes convincing. There will still be one problem:

The claim that we 95% believe to be right is completely innocent, unspectacular, and mostly inconsequential.

To see what I mean, look at the proposition that is known with the not-really-calculated 95% not-really-certainty:
Human activities - chiefly the burning of fossil fuels - are the main cause of warming since the 1950s.
What does it exactly mean? Since the 1950s, i.e. in the last 60 years, the 5-year-averaged temperatures jumped by something like 0.5 °C. The "holy" proposition above doesn't even say that the human activities are responsible for more than one-half of this figure i.e. for more than 0.25 °C – which is a completely negligible and practically undetectable temperature change, anyway.

Instead, the vague proposition above only says that the human activities are the "main cause" which probably means that the magnitude of the contribution from human activities is the largest ones, exceeding every other single contribution (it's being implicitly assumed in the proposition above that the contributions may be "naturally" and "objectively" separated to piles, which is also nonsense, but let's assume that they can).

But if this is the right interpretation, the human contributions could have been just 0.1 °C (perhaps with the minus sign) and its absolute value was just larger than the absolute value of the ten subleading sub-0.1 °C contributions from natural processes. All of them happened to add up to 0.5 °C.

So the proposition that we "know" with the 95% certainty (where the figure 95% was guessed by shamans) is compatible with the assumption that the human activities changed the temperature by a practically undetectable amount in the last 60 years – in fact, this interpretation is still likely if we assume the basic quoted proposition to be right.

Just try to combine all the vices in your mind: the confidence level is a guesswork, it is extremely low, and the "known" proposition doesn't really imply anything you could possibly care about.

How could a rational person spend a single dollar on a campaign that is primarily motivated by the proposition, one that suffers from the three basic lethal diseases? The answer is, of course, that no rational person is paying any real attention to this campaign.

Let me offer you a particle physics counterpart of the situation.

In one of the LHC searches for the microscopic black holes, someone finds a small bump that may be interpreted as the production of several small black holes by the LHC. He can't really calculate that it is a 2-sigma excess because no well-defined channel produces such an excess. But he combines his and his colleagues' feeling about many graphs and they say that in some combination penetrating all of their research, they see an excess that is comparable to a 2-sigma excess so that they are 95% certain that the LHC has produced a small black hole.

However, the hypothesis that the black hole of this mass is produced doesn't really agree with all the other data – which seem to falsify it. So they invent that the black holes produced by the LHC may be non-standard. In fact, they don't Hawking-evaporate. And because they don't evaporate, they may be produced in the rest frame and devour the Earth.

Fine, so these scientists and their friends urge the Earth to stop the LHC, X-ray machines, and every other device in the world where particles are accelerated to higher energies because there's a risk that the destructive black hole they have discovered with 95% certainty will destroy life on Earth along with the planet itself. This scenario doesn't really follow from the proposition they have "not quite proven" to be 95% certain but a danger doesn't follow from the proposition in the IPCC case, either. Hundreds of billions of dollars have to be paid every year to fight against the danger pointed out by the brave 2-sigma particle physicists.

Do you see how crazy it is? It sounds as a joke, a really stupid one. This would not be remotely possible in particle physics. A psychiatrist would be immediately ordered for the particle physics experimenters who would offer this story. However, the IPCC is doing the exactly isomorphic thing. No one has isolated them in an asylum yet and there even exist people who take this stuff seriously.

We don't live in a scientific world.

Off-topic: ghettos in the U.S.

Below is a picture of Greater Boston; see the background map to compare (switch).

CTRL/click above to open a zoomed in image in a new tab.

Boston and Cambridge are so multi-culti and they're embedded in the would-be uniform American melting pot. Still, they are composed of ghettos. One pixel is one person from the 2010 census. Can you find the Chinatown? Yup, it's the red place in the vertical center. Can you guess where the blacks and hispanics (green and yellow) live relatively to the Chinatown? Yes, it's in the South Boston.

Get to this zoomable map that can show you the whole U.S. and every town and region in it. Via Pig.

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snail feedback (46) :

reader Kimmo Rouvari said...

I agree with you but would you play Russian roulette with your (and future generations) future is there is a big chance (>0.5) that your actions fire the bullet? There might be a bullet anyway ;)

reader Shannon said...

Antartica did melt 20000 years ago. Could man-made global warming be retroactive ? :-)

reader kashyap vasavada said...

Dear Lubos: I agree with most of your analysis.The only reason we should pay attention to the IPCC analysis is that in case they are right, the consequences would be terrible. If the detection of a particle is false positive and they give Nobel prize to someone, the Nobel committee and lot of scientists would look red faced and foolish when it is found out that there was no such particle. No global disaster like major cities under water etc would take place. World would go on the same way as it was on the previous day. My take on this is like taking a fire insurance for my house. I believe the chance for my house to burn out by fire is less than 5 sigma. Yet I do take fire insurance just in case. Is the comparison ok? What do you think?

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Kashyap, in your first sentence you agree with "most" of my analysis. However, the rest of your comment proves that you have misunderstood every single point among the three points I raised.

Have you read my text? Please do it, think, and then apologize for your breathtakingly idiotic comment.

reader Luboš Motl said...

I know who caused Antarctica heat up 4,000 years ago:

They haven't yet discovered this rapid melting but they will! ;-)

reader Luboš Motl said...

Again, you can't possibly agree with me because your comment shows that you have misunderstood each of the 3 parts of the argument.

The 95% chance isn't a result of a calculation; even if it were a result of a calculation, it doesn't mean that this is the actual chance as 2-sigma fake bumps across science testify and 2 sigma is just amazingly low; the proposition doesn't mean that there will be anything dangerous happening with the climate at all.

Of course that I would play the roulette in this analogy because the evidence is overwhelming that there's no bullet in it. If you misunderstand why, you are a brainwashed sheep or an independent mental cripple.

reader lucretius said...

The last paragraph reminds me of the way Japanese yakuza talk ;-)

reader kashyap vasavada said...

Ok. Sorry. Your arguments are analytically sound.I agree that human origin of global warming is on shaky ground compared with conclusions drawn in hard science. But according to what I remember, the threat of blackholes produced by LHC eating up the earth was never believed to be serious by any scientists. Here at least there are some scientists who believe in these conclusions. While I cannot say I believe in them, my argument was based on "just in case" and "when in doubt do'nt " kind of advise by old people!! I believe insurance argument also has some merit. But if you do not believe in any of these, it is perfectly OK. No problem. I still would think that your blog is the best blog for analytical physics.

reader Bob Felts said...

To the "OMG we must do something on the chance that global warming is true" crowd:

Doing the right thing (e.g. not fouling our nest) for the wrong reasons is certainly a form of insanity.

reader Eugene S said...

Do you speak Japanese? You're lucky :) Wish I could, too. Then I could have enjoyed "Outrage Beyond", directed by the Immortal Takeshi Kitano (and starring "Beat" Kitano; he goes by a different name as an actor) even more, but it was a fun Yakuza movie even with subtitles.

reader papertiger0 said...

No there are not. There are no scientists who believe in the global warming crap.

There are a few apparatchiks, who are paid by crony capitalists to pretend like this is something real, so they can continue to suck millions of dollars in corporate welfare from the tax payer, using the skim to elect democrats.

How can you tell the difference, you might ask?

Easy. AGW advocates will write op/eds at places like the Huffington Post, where they are gauranteed never to have their beliefs, methods, or motives, questioned.
In industry rags they use "peer review" the same as the Huffington Post, banning blocking questions of beliefs method or motive.

And that's all you ever need to know about global warming.

reader lucretius said...

I have actually never watched any of Kitano's films. I saw him a few times on television where he hosted a show and behaved like a yakuza himself. But my favourite Japanese satirical film director was Juzo Itami ( I don't know if one can get his films on DVD outside Japan, but they superbly recreate the atmosphere of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The yakuza did not like they were portrayed in his (hilarious) "Minbono Onna" so Itami landed in a hospital.

reader Kimmo Rouvari said...

IPCC works exactly same as every other institution. They are trying to get as much as possible money and power. Apparently they are doing great job! I don't buy what they are saying. My Russian roulette allegory demonstrates just how easy it is to scare people.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Sorry if I haven't isolated your irony, it's hard to tell if many other people say exactly the same things but seriously.

Institutions want to collect money and power but many of them work in such an environment that doing useful service - and, in the case of a scientific or information-collecting/producing institution, giving the most accurate information - is really the best way to maximize the money and power. It's so because of feedbacks; when institutions or companies are selling bad products or services, some people notice.

Unfortunately, there's won't be any feedback or evaluation of the predictions of the climate in 2100 before the same year 2100 which is the main reason why the quality, credibility, and accuracy improvements don't belong among the main strategies for the IPCC to improve its power and money.

reader lukelea said...

Dear Lubos, a further assumption of the alarmists which you don't even mention is that global warming is necessarily, or even probably, a bad thing on balance.

reader papertiger0 said...

Characterizing enhanced growth for Redwood forests, and all other forms of greenery, as "fouling our nest" is beyond insane. It's criminally insane.

reader Shannon said...

Ghettos in the US map is very interesting. I wish they had the same in France but since ethnic statistics are banned we won't know. We should get similar maps of religious communities too in the whole of Europe's main towns.

reader lucretius said...

You did not make up this "LHC will destroy the Earth" scenario for the purpose of this thread I assume, right? I am asking because, of course, I read quite a few of this sort of silly stories a while back, but somehow everyone seems to have lost interest in them. The AGW panic will unfortunately last longer...

reader Gordon said...

Hmm, yes, the IPCC members are not shamans. They are, it seems, composed of failed railway engineers who write soft-porn bodice-ripper books with themselves as the irresistible hero, who have insinuated themselves onto multiple "green" business directorships to generate a little comfy profitable empire.

reader Gordon said...

If we all lived by "just in case"
(the precautionary principle), we would all never leave the house. An example are the "bubble kids"---parents who keep their children "safe" by following them around, removing all equipment from playgrounds of schools, etc, spying on them, tracking cell phones etc...
Obviously if something is an imminent risk, one takes measures to avoid it. Measures can be taken to decrease pollution and to rationally trap CO2 by, for example, increasing grazing for cattle instead of using corn and feedlots. (Best American Science Writing 2010 ed. Freeman Dyson)

reader Eugene S said...

Dear Gordon, exactly. If you buy insurance against every risk, you will have spent your income many times over, with not a single cent left over for rent, utilities, food, entertainment. (Want to buy meteor insurance from me, kashyap? For only $300.00 a year, I will be pleased to insure you against a catastrophic meteor impact!)

And yet the rational argument fails, even with supposedly intelligent people. You can talk and talk but in the end all that will happen is what John Allen Paulos describes in his book Innumeracy:

Confronted with these large numbers and with the correspondingly small
probabilities associated with them, the innumerate will inevitably respond with the non sequitur "Yes, but what if you’re that one," and then nod knowingly, as if they’ve demolished your argument with their
penetrating insight.
Researchers in behavioral economics and evolutionary psychology have studied the causes. Insurance giants like Munich Re cleverly exploit these irrational biases and contribute heavily to "climate science". In the coming Lubocracy benevolent rule by Victor von Doom, They Will Be Punished.

reader Eugene S said...

Yes, it's in the South Boston

Dear Luboš, I've had a word with Whitey and he agrees that there are extenuating circumstances in your case (you being a foreigner) so you should not be bumped off... this time. (I had to go through an associate as Whitey is currently not in a position to receive visitors.) But, please, for the future: South Boston (or "Southie") is the epitome of Boston Irishness! Roxbury (heavily black neighborhood) is south of South Boston! It does not have to make sense geographically. Remember, Boston is the place where the crooked streets follow old cow paths, and you might as well hold a street plan upside down for all the good it'll do you. Oh, and Roxbury is not a ghetto: there are no ghettos in Boston.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Eugene, I of course know that it should be Roxbury that is black. It's where Milan Kohout, an ex-dissident in communism who became a dissident in capitalism, moved it. It's this funny guy:

He's not only from Pilsen but he has attended the same elementary school as I did in the 3rd and 4th grade. ;-)

The map just showed the black and hispanic population to be much more widespread in those regions than what I considered to be "Roxbury".

reader Eugene S said...

I must say, your little town of Pilsen does produce more than its share of colorful people!

Regarding "ghetto", yes it has to do with political correctness. It's like with the "n word", a black person can say it but if you're white you may irritate or anger people. Instead it is preferred to say something like "urban neighborhood" or "inner city". I guess the word "ghetto" carries connotations of discrimination and segregation, something that touches a raw nerve especially in Boston with its memory of racial violence over school desegregation.

Nice story about finding the $20 bill on the sidewalk. I don't think I went to Roxbury after dark more than once. At the time it felt too risky. I was a skinny white kid with eyeglasses and had no "street sense" that would have enabled me to tell the difference between someone genuinely menacing and someone good-natured getting a scare out of me just for the fun of it.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Sorry, Eugene, Pilsen isn't really a little town. It is a large Czech city.

Good that you confirmed that the convention you wanted to impose upon me was just due to some demagogic PC nonsense and that Roxbury clearly is a ghetto.

I won't try to learn the Orwellian speechcodes. The primary reason is that I really sort of despise the people who adopt a distorted vocabulary and don't call spade a spade just in order to improve their social status.

Second, I would have no chance to learn this PC nonsense, anyway. The PC ideologues usually like to pretend that the discrimination exists at places where it hasn't existed for something like 150 years - that's why the feminist sluts or whatever is the most kosher label for these ladies talk about the discrimination against female physicists and similar things that just don't exist in the real 21st century world.

So they are using a language that pretends that some discrimination exists when it doesn't exist and it's politically incorrect according to them to say that no discrimination exists and the asymmetries are due to natural reasons.

On the other hand, when it comes to ghettos, the politically correct terminology is one that *denies* that the segregation exists? As the map clearly shows, the segregation of communities clearly *does* exist and pretty much the whole United States of America are divided to racially uniform neighborhood. Segregation exists, discrimination doesn't - and the PC way of talking about these matters is to pretend the opposite answers to both questions? What's the logic?

Is the political correctness a tool to lie about every single question, is the choice of conventions in all these cases just some coincidence, or is there some logic I am not seeing?

I am asking just for the interest. Just to be sure, I won't adopt another iota of this distorted vocabulary.

Also, I still think that "a nigger" is the right standard English translation of the Czech word "černoch" and if some pejorative connotations have become to be connected with that word, there have been sensible reasons for such a development.

reader lucretius said...

By the way, the pejorative word for a Pole in the US is exactly the same (at least has the same pronunciation) as the Polish word for a Pole (Polish: Polak , American: Polack). The word, in fact, already appears (more than once) in Hamlet.

Concerning the infamous n-word there is a nice anecdote in the biography of the mathematician Mark Kac on the wikipedia (at the end of the Reminiscences section)

reader papertiger0 said...

Tell me about it brother.
During this Zimmerman trial when the Negro in Cheif called out the Demo mobs for a little street lynching,
Twitchy banned me outright because I responded in kind to one of the more egregious agent provocateurs.

I try to factor in my inate combativeness to see their side of it, but I can't reconcile their reaction to my post as anything but bending the knee to PC speech codes.

Fuck. How are we ever to climb out of this hole when we are forbidden by our ostensible "allies" from defending ourselves against blood libels?

reader Eugene S said...

Ha ha, that anecdote is a good one :)

reader Eugene S said...

Thank you for the lesson on the cityhood of Pilsen. I was alluding to the title of one ofJohn le Carre's novels in order to put your hometown (pop. 170,000) in the same category with cold war-era Bonn (pop. 300,000) -- towns that punch above their weight, to use one of Pres. Obama's favorite phrases -- but I admit I could have been less cryptic.

reader Gene Day said...

The word “segregation” , at least in common usage in the US, implies some degree of discrimination, Lubos; it does not mean simple separation.
My first ten years were spent in the “segregated” south, which was rife with racial discrimination. Blacks (and Hispanics) were forced to live own neighborhoods and suffered many other types of discrimination. Today, the phrase “segregated south” refers quite specifically to the US deep south prior to the civil rights movement.
The racial separations in the Boston area largely reflect housing costs just as in all US, of course.
Chinese citizens of the US traditionally have been found largely in “chinatowns” but with prosperity this has greatly changed. I happen to live in an upscale area of Santa Rosa among many Chinese neighbors, most of whom drive new Mercedes Benz automobiles.
Incidentally, Santa Rosa has the same population as Pilsen (170,000) but is considered to be a small town by most Californians.

reader Gene Day said...

I have never heard the word “ghetto” used in ordinary conversation. One thinks mainly of the Jewish Ghetto of Warsaw, which gives the word a heavy negative connotation.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Gene, I apologize but your comment sounds incredibly stupid.

If you haven't heard the word "ghetto" in an ordinary conversation, it proves that you have only participated in conversations with people who don't have a clue about the cultural history of (especially) Europe and its present status.

There have been hundreds or thousands of ghettos in Europe and some of them still exist.

The neighborhood Josefov in Prague was not only a Jewish ghetto but the term "Jewish ghetto" was actually the primary original name of the neighborhood. Be sure that I can list many other Czech ghettos. Bílence, Lovosice, Terezín, Mikulov, Jemnice, ... A significant fraction of towns and villages had a Jewish ghettos.

In Venice, Italy, there are five synagogues in a region that is called Ghetto Nuovo (in Italian). Why don't you look at a list of actual Jewish ghettos in Europe

so that you have some understanding why I find it idiotic to suggest that a Jewish ghetto only existed in Warsaw?

reader Luboš Motl said...

Of course that segregation involves "some" degree of discrimination: people from other groups just don't want to please the group from the ghetto by their own presence because they think that the co-existence with them sucks.

Whites are almost absent in Roxbury because they think that they would have to sacrifice a clean, silent, comfortable, safe life. They don't study individual neighbors in a house because they can change and the neighbors in the next house could still be a source of problems, anyway.

These whites who of course don't want to have anything to do in their personal life and avoid them as much as they can arrive to universities and Internet forums and chastise people like me - who have much smaller problems to co-exist with these groups and who have co-existed with them at many eras of their life - claiming that we are racist.

It takes more than numbers to make a city.

Right. That's why Pilsen is a more major city than a Santa Rosa.

reader Luboš Motl said...

LOL, a good anecdote.

An ex-classmate of mine in the Rutgers PhD program, E.V., was Bulgarian. I remember he once learned from a major dictionary that the word "Bulgarian" ultimately shares the roots with the word "bugger". I remember he was completely devastated and wanted to ban the Oxford Dictionary of English.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Exactly, AGW has already lasted longer and it will. The journalists would surely be interested in writing LHC-will-kill-us stories every other day. The main difference here is that they don't find any substantial group of researchers who would give them "expert confirmation" of the worries. On the other hand, "experts" who are eager to confirm bullshit propositions about the life on Earth being threatened by climate change are numerous. That's the main reason why LHC-will-kill-us isn't being written about while climate-change-will-kill-us is written about - although both of these stories are comparably indefensible at the level of science.

reader Eugene S said...

Thanks to you, I now know who are, I'd never heard of them before. A "twitter curation website"? Sounds weird, but it's interesting to look at and if it was started by the lovely Michelle Malkin it can't be half bad. Listen, they should let you back in (and without an apology!) Probably just an over-zealous moderator who was having a bad day. Have you tried sending them a mail?

reader papertiger0 said...

Not my intention. I was kind of angling for the "Twitchy = bad" sort of thing.

But you're right. Malkin's never sweated my difference of opinion before, and she's run into it probably a dozen times.
I hit the one guy. The one special snowflake having a bad day.

reader lucretius said...

Nowadays you can always try to edit the corresponding Wikipedia page, in this case:

reader Gail Combs said...

When I saw the 95% Confidence, the first thing I thought of was how the Climate Model Ensemble is now 2 standard deviations higher than the actual temperature so that means there is now 95% confidence that the models are a crock of bupkis.

reader Eugene S said...

After thinking about it some more, I've concluded that in the case of "racially loaded language", I agree with political correctness, or rather that political correctness coincidentally agrees with me. Where I went wrong was in suggesting to Luboš what sort of language he should or should not use, I beg his pardon for that. He is a European, why should he feel obliged to pay attention to "speech codes" that are second nature to Americans, even if they find it difficult to rationalize them.

Of course one can argue that Americans, too, should break language taboos wherever they find them, but I find it unproductive to do so. Particularly so in the case of the word "ghetto" with its historical baggage, as explained by Gene Day. It is difficult enough to challenge encrusted thinking around issues of race in the U.S. without using known inflammatory words. If you're going to denounce a "race pimp" like Al Sharpton (a necessary and useful exercise, in my opinion) you want to make sure to focus on him and others like him. If instead you find yourself enraging people you did not mean to enrage, you are doing something wrong (again, in my humble opinion).

Probably this addendum violates my own rule, as I fear it will only enrage Luboš more, which is not my intention... but due to my innate clumsiness I find myself at a loss for words that would steer a safe path between the Scylla of our host's anger and the Charybdis of self-denial :/

reader papertiger0 said...

You make a well thought out point. Sometimes I step on toes without meaning to.
Other times, particularly when the recipient is sticking his big clown sized feet into the aisle to try and trip me, I will oblige and mash those tootsies hard as I can.

After all that's what the internet is for.

reader Craig King said...

Off topic, but why did you Czechs split up with the Slovaks, it seems you had a good thing going there?( The three points you make re IPCC are bang on point. They are such charlatans that they can't even aspire to shamanism ).

reader lucretius said...

To continue with off topic: today is the 45th anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, which ended the so called Prague Spring. Lubos was not born yet but two month after the invasion I found myself in Prague that had been occupied by the Soviets. When we crossed Czechoslovakia's border with Austria the last thing we say was a Soviet tank.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Craig, almost all Czechs wanted to preserve the common state at least until mid 1992 while Slovaks had mixed feelings.

With some hindsight, I would agree that even though Czechoslovakia was formally - and mostly even informally - a union of two nations with the same rights (after all, the last 20 years of communist were under a Slovak president, for example) - the relationship was still a bit "paternalistic" or "older brother [Czechs]" and many Slovaks just didn't like to be appendices of this sort, and I sort of understand this sentiment,too.

At any rate, it was almost predominantly a Slovak impulse that opened the possibility of the divorce at all. While Havel and other mainstream Czech politicians would often paint the dissolution as the ultimate catastrophe, some pioneering Czechs - like Petr Vopenka, a good mathematician and an ex-minister of education in Czechia - began to understand and raise their own pro-dissolution arguments.

Klaus and Meciar split the country because they won the elections in CZ and SK with parties with a very different ideology. They knew that they could do it well, they did it well and as friends, and they became the prime ministers of the new countries which was partly their motivation.

It was done well and one may say that the relationships between Slovakia and Czechia have been almost totally flawless ever since. Of course that some things that were split in 1993 could have been remerged again, at least the TV singing contests. ;-) There are negotiations about the unification of things including army command units etc. But it's not really needed. The countries sort of live independent lives. Internal Slovak politics isn't described in detail in the Czech media and Czech politics is just slightly more exposed in the Slovak media - because it's still a bit more important.

It works, all of us enjoy to know a foreign language we at least passively understand ;-), and in many contexts, like sports, we're fans of each other. It's not bad. The unification of very similar entities is natural from many viewpoints but it isn't really essential for most things to go well...

reader Luboš Motl said...

You're right, Lucretius, quite an anniversary!

Back from a 75-km trip around South Bohemian ponds.

Previous articles about the 1968 occupation, e.g.

reader lucretius said...

Your 2008 article was pretty good although the relation between Russian historical tradition and Soviet communism was a little more complex than your description. Tsarist Russia intervened in Hungary in 1848, and crushed 3 Polish rebellions (in 1794, 1830 and 1863). Also, of course, the Soviets also intervened in Hungary in 1956 (and nearly in Poland). Of course to be "anti-Russian" for such reasons is idiotic.