Monday, November 15, 2004

Academic bill of rights

The goal of this article is to explain you why I support David Horowitz's Academic bill of rights, a proposed policy intended to increase intellectual diversity at the U.S. universities.

See

http://studentsforacademicfreedom.org/abor.html
http://frontpagemag.com/articles/ ... ID=12119
http://studentsforacademicfreedom.org/

Those of us who have lived in the totalitarian systems are sensitive about the possible use of the educational system as a tool of political indoctrination. You know, the communists made a lot of effort to control the society in all conceivable ways. They applied all available tools to eliminate the "anti-socialist" people from the universities or even from the high schools. They have modified the history textbooks so that the children would learn "the right stuff". As far as Czechoslovakia goes, the communists were executing the people in the 1950s, but they were using much more "peaceful" strategies to achieve their goals in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Communist Party was dreaming about the "perfect" universities - and other schools - where all scholars support the Party; oppose the United States of America and its president, especially if he's a Republican, as well as the American and international corporations; where everyone appreciates free healthcare and education, as well as special rights of the working class; where everybody criticizes private companies, privatization, as well as religion; where everyone believes that almost everything should be redistributed and/or taxation should be sufficiently high for all the social programs; where the people are ready to fight against the evil called the capitalism or imperialism.

A picture to moderate your political excitement: a new kind of seahorse:



They were simply dreaming about scholars that are useful to support their power and to help the Party realize its utopia. Even though they tried to fire all of their enemies, the communists never quite succeeded, and at least 50 percent of the people at the universities were criticizing the Communist Party and admiring the West, although most of them were doing so in the privacy of their homes only.

It may sound surprising or amazing, but the communists' dream has almost become true 15 years later. Surprisingly not in Czechoslovakia but rather in America itself. ;-) Indeed, try to read the previous paragraph, and you will have to probably agree that
  • roughly 90 percent of the scholars (professors, postdocs, students) at the well-known U.S. universities agree with most of the opinions listed in that paragraph
Well, I actually think that the numbers are a bit different and more subtle:

  • approximately 95 percent of political opinions heard from these universities are left-wing opinions
  • my estimate is that 85 percent of the people at these universities could be classified as left-wing people. This figure is smaller than the previous figure because the non-left-wing people are often being threatened, humiliated, and in some cases even "converted" into "liberals"
  • the percentage of the left-wing people is extremely high in various social sciences and humanities in particular (especially various cargo cult sciences); it is lower in economy, at law schools, and in "hard" sciences
Even though Harvard was known as the Kremlin on the Charles, I don't think that things are particularly bad here. Don't get me wrong: virtually all of my colleagues are left-wing, but I've never encountered any serious problems with them which would be caused by my belief that the left-wing ideology is not really a valuable material. Of course, I've had a couple of arguments, but at the end, they mostly understood that they lost, and sometimes they even understood the logic behind my opinions. The situation at Harvard is pretty good because of many factors like the following:
  • Harvard's current president, Lawrence Summers, is a very wise guy who always prefers rational thinking and hard science over biased political activism and ideologies based on a priori prejudices about the good and the evil. His membership in the Democratic Party certainly does not lead to anything wrong.
  • I think that we have other very smart and balanced "leaders" at various levels, like our department chair, but I won't discuss details.
  • Finally, the undergraduate students at Harvard today are more conservative than you might imagine, even though it is often more about their conservative behavior than about their philosophy...
Nevertheless, the number of stories about discrimination and humiliation of conservative students and scholars at various universities is just too large to be neglected. For example, a senior member of a body that hires a certain type of people for a rather attractive job at one of the Ivy League universities told me that "had [they] known that [a guy] had these political opinions [e.g. he supported the current US administration], [they] would certainly not have accepted him".

Conservative students at Columbia university were selling bakery with discounts for members of various minorities. And the reason why they got almost killed was that they included the college Republicans among the minorities. Of course that they seem to be the maximally discriminated minority at that university. Moreover, I feel that their left-wing colleagues realize that.

Finally, let me comment on some particular points extracted from the bill of rights
  • All faculty shall be hired, fired, promoted and granted tenure on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in the field of their expertise and, in the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts, with a view toward fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives. No faculty shall be hired or fired or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs.

Of course, it's important that there is no political key for "hard sciences". On the other hand, I find it obvious that the students - who are rarely left-wing radicals - have the right to get the right education for their money. They can't get the whole picture if they only hear one half of it. (I did not invent this slogan.) It's obvious that many departments of social sciences have overly left-wing faculties. In these politically flavored fields, it is often impossible to "prove experimentally" which viewpoint and which scientific work is correct and which viewpoint is wrong. It's a matter of political consensus. Therefore the left-wing as well as the right-wing people should be able to influence the process of hiring the right people. Obviously, if it is done so, the percentage of hired conservatives will grow.

  • No faculty member will be excluded from tenure, search and hiring committees on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.

Well, I know examples where this rule was violated, and I think it is very wrong. On the other hand, there are - and there have been - many renowned non-left-wing professors at the well-known universities, e.g. the late Robert Nozick.

  • Students will be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study, not on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.

I think that this is an obvious criterion that should already be followed today, although I doubt that it always is.

  • Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences should reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas by providing students with dissenting sources and viewpoints where appropriate. While teachers are and should be free to pursue their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views, they should consider and make their students aware of other viewpoints. Academic disciplines should welcome a diversity of approaches to unsettled questions.

This seems as an obviously legitimate point, too, and I have already commented on the "consensual character" of knowledge in many of these disciplines.

  • Exposing students to the spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints on the subjects examined in their courses is a major responsibility of faculty. Faculty will not use their courses for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination.

Sure. Incidentally, some students are really shocked when they first learn that there exist influential right-wing and libertarian think tanks, for example. Well, a student of political science may pay tens of thousands of dollars, but if he does not know, after the several years of study, who Ann Coulter or the Cato Institute is and what are their points, he will remain a naive simpleton who does not understand politics. I certainly believe that a fair representation of different political opinions at the campuses is more important for their intellectual life than a proportional representation of nationalities or genders.

  • Selection of speakers, allocation of funds for speakers programs and other student activities will observe the principles of academic freedom and promote intellectual pluralism.

There have been many surprising events in which the money of all students were used to pay e.g. Michael Moore's speech. This guy is not really thin and that's not the only reason why he demands tens of thousands of dollars for one of his shows. Of course, the conservatives would not be paid, and the right-wing students must obviously feel suppressed.

  • An environment conducive to the civil exchange of ideas being an essential component of a free university, the obstruction of invited campus speakers, destruction of campus literature or other effort to obstruct this exchange will not be tolerated.

Obviously, that should be one of the features at the universities, but I don't know particular examples of destruction of literature etc. ;-)

  • ... Academic institutions and professional societies formed to advance knowledge within an area of research, maintain the integrity of the research process, and organize the professional lives of related researchers serve as indispensable venues within which scholars circulate research findings and debate their interpretation. To perform these functions adequately, academic institutions and professional societies should maintain a posture of organizational neutrality with respect to the substantive disagreements that divide researchers on questions within, or outside, their fields of inquiry.

I am not quite sure about the realization of this point, and there may be various detailed rules how to enforce the bill of rights that I would not endorse. Nevertheless, the whole proposal looks like a clear piece of progress to me.


32 comments:

  1. Everyone favors Academic Freedom. It's something we jealously cherish. But that's not what Horowitz (and his ideological fellow travellers) are after.

    What they want is *Affirmative Action*. For proponents of "supply-side economics", for Intelligent Design theorists, for global warming "skeptics", for an assortment of other hacks who otherwise could not cut it in their respective academic fields.

    This may all sound OK to you, when it comes to "softer" fields in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Perhaps you feel there aren't any standards in those fields anyway.

    But do you really think our Biology Department needs its quota of scholars working on Intelligent Design? Do you really think that Biology students who think that, before the Flood, men lived alongside the dinosaurs should be "graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study, not on the basis of their political or religious beliefs"?

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  2. Hi!

    Well, if you want to call it "affirmative action", be my guest. But I really think that there is *negative* discrimination in these fields.

    You're right, I believe that many fields in humanities don't follow scientific standards. But I have enough evidence that this is the case even in other politicized fields such as the global climate science.

    Sometimes the people say it themselves. For example, many people consider Stephen Schneider to be a leading expert on global climate. In my opinion, he is a guy who has no respect whatsoever to scientific standards. For example, he openly declared the following:

    "To capture the public imagination, we have to offer up some scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements and little mention of any doubts one might have. Each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective, and being honest." (Dr. Stephen Schneider, NCAR, in interview for "Discover" magazine, Oct 1989)

    You know, that's the end of the story for me. He's not a scientist, and it is outrageous that such people are the main ones who decide about these scientific fields.

    Well, you may argue that these people are the "real" experts because they say so about each other and approve their papers for each other, while they don't say any compliments about the global warming skeptics. You know, the only impression that such an "argument" makes on me is that the funding of these Schneiders should stop as quickly as possible.

    I am not gonna advocate Big Flood or Creation, as you know very well ;-), but these are still well-established fields of natural science. The theory of catastrophic human-induced global warming is certainly not a well-established science, and bias favoring one type of answer is just wrong. There are no solid numbers, no solid successful predictions of the global warming theory, and it is just a couple of years since just the opposite theory was believed to be the case. It's not a field that has settled down.

    Concerning quotas, I've studied the subject enough to know that the papers that disagree with the popular global warming theories are very serious and potentially important papers that make a lot of correct points, to say the least, and that are often written by very intelligent authors, and *all* scientists in the field should try to follow them and study them seriously. It's not just that I want quotas for the people who study global warming skepticism. I think that absolutely ALL people who are paid as scientists in this field should treat the conjectures of global warming skeptics as serious possibilities, because this is the very meaning of science.

    I don't think that the global warming controversy is the most important thing that David Horowitz has in mind, but it is definitely a natural "less political" example why his proposals are important and justified.

    Best
    Lubos

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  3. One more comment about creationism and global warming.

    You know, various departments of biology study evolutionary biology because

    1. people are curious, most smart people believe that Darwin's idea is most likely correct and should be followed, and they just follow their curiosity

    2. they're being funded by the society because evolutionary biology has been accepted, by a consensus, as a good field, independent of older theories of creationism, that should be supported by the society to increase our knowledge as well as practical applications of these things.

    On the other hand, "the theory of human-induced CO2-driven catastrophic global warming" has certainly not been accepted as an independent field that is supposed to avoid all obvious alternatives. If someone studies global climate with a pre-determined opinion that the global warming is necessarily real and catastrophic and human-generated, then her or his work is useless and it should definitely NOT be funded.

    The only thing that can be funded is serious scientific research that tries to answer the questions "whether" and "how much" and "why really" by answers that are yet to be found - not research that only tries to confirm some pre-determined dogmas and collect one type of insights only. Such a "scientific" research is worse than just useless: it is crippling science and such, and the people who are doing this kind of stuff should be spanked.

    Best
    Lubos

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  4. "I am not gonna advocate Big Flood or Creation, as you know very well ;-), but these are still well-established fields of natural science."

    Sorry, but you just *did*.

    That (and "supply side economics" and other bits of academic hackery) is what this "Bill-of-Rights" is *about*.

    You may *think* you are still battling the Communists of pre-1989 Czechoslovakia. Wake up and smell the coffee! The Communists fell; you're in America now. And the ideological battles you're choosing sides in are about entirely different matters, with entirely different stakes.

    As to global warming, there are, of course, serious scientific debates. But the "papers" you think are such devastating critiques are dismissed as nothing but quackery by your colleagues over in Earth and Planetary Sciences.

    Amazing that you believe in the value of scientific expertise when it comes to physics, but are so credulous as to believe that you, a total non-expert, know better than all your Planetary Sciences colleagues, who actually study these matters.

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  5. By the way, I am sort of surprised by your comment about supply-side economics. I think that this is more or less one of the standard approaches in macroeconomics. And I also think that there are many supply-side economists around. Why do you exactly think that supply-side economics is analogous to creationism? Because Paul Krugman does not like it?

    Supply-side economics has been used as a part of policies of Reagan's administration, for example, and it certainly meant some kind of success - for example these were the critical years for the USA to win the cold war - and of course that this was possible especially because of the economic strength of the West.

    I am really puzzled by these comments of yours. Of course that if someone has a revolutionary plan to eliminate supply-side economics from the economics departments and replace its advocates by keynesianists or something like that, then Horowitz's proposal makes even more sense.

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  6. The communists obviously did not fall completely. If someone is gonna argue that Reagan's years were disastrous, and if he's gonna repeat *everything* that the communists were telling us, then communism is not quite dead.

    Why do you exactly think that the US Academic Left is so different from the communists who were ruling the Soviet bloc? What is exactly the difference? The battles are almost exactly about the same matters, and I've described some of these matters in my articles. Of course that the main questions are about the power of the government, the level of taxation and regulation, about the role of the individualism and competition, about the role of family and various moral values, and so forth.

    These were the same questions that were isolating the communists from the west, and they are the same questions that are being discussed in the USA. Your fantasy that the statements of the American Left are very different from the communists in the Soviet bloc is really just a fantasy. Be sure that I know much more about these matters, similarities and differences than all of you combined.

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  7. The very basic, general approach of supply-side economics is that lower taxes usually increase the economic growth. It's more or less an experimentally proved fact. Reagan was trying to apply this logic, but he also increased spending (military etc.) and therefore it was not *just* supply-side economics that he did, but rather something that also led to big deficits etc.

    These different approaches are hard to separate from one another if you only study a small number of administrations. Nevertheless the statement that lower taxes and redistribution is better for economic growth is more or less a fact, and the comparison of the West and the Soviet bloc is a legitimate argument supporting the same fact.

    Many left-wing people often like to think about their utopias and new rules controlling the society, but assuming that they will have the same resources that are generated by capitalism. But that's an inconsistent approach. If someone thinks about all the same social welfare and other programs that the communists were building, he should be counting with the resources of Russia, not the resources of the USA, because the purely left-wing ideas in economics generically lead to stagnation and general poverty.

    It's great for the economists to discuss more technical points about the interest rates, budget gaps, tax rates and their mutual dynamics, but all of this is done in the framework that the system essentially remains a trade economy because it's only trade economy that is able to generate the growth that has been seen in the West in the last 100+ years.

    The people who would like to create "theories" based on questioning the very basic pillars of capitalism are analogous to creationists.

    This necessary pre-conditions include sufficiently small taxes; freedom to do business, hire and fire people; protection of economic rights of individuals, and so forth. These things are not quite YES/NO questions. They can be adjusted and so forth, but if someone wants to eliminate them almost completely, he undermines the very principle - the motor - that allows the society to grow economically.

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  8. Dear Lubos:

    It is highly interesting to me to read your views. I am a conservative high energy theorist and I prefer to remain anonymous. -- It's not that I don't have the guts to stand up for my opinion, but I feel the price I would have to pay is just too high at this point of my career. What I care about most is physics and I am not going to allow politics to interfere with it.

    You are clearly one of the most outspoken physicists around and that's great. The danger of you not getting tenure for reasons of your opinions can possibly be offset by the fact that you and your accomplishments will be well-known. I sincerely hope so for you, but I can't hide that there remains a shade of doubt and worry.

    It is clear to me that your opinion is shaped by your experiences as an immigrant, and so is mine. I can understand that this kind of background is invaluable and allows one to appreciate and perceive things some Americans are oblivious to. How would someone who has lived in a nice suburb of Boston all of their life learn to appreciate what the absence of socialism means? There are several ways, but personal experience isn't one of them. And it is this kind of experience that shapes conviction. It makes me sad to see the amount of intellectual laziness otherwise brilliant people show outside their realm of expertise. On the other hand, it is all the more encouraging to have someone like you around. I intend to speak up myself as soon as I feel that I have a chance to be heard without getting fired the next day.

    All the best!
    (a concerned scientist, not associated with any union)

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  9. Who among your colleagues in the Economics Department call themselves supply-siders?

    That bit of economic quackery is confined to a few "right-wing" think tanks and a handful of 5th-rate departments at far lesser institutions.

    And who among your colleagues in Earth and Planetary Sciences thinks that McKitrick and McIntyre is anything but a load of crap?

    (I will not deprive you of the pleasure of tracking down for yourself one of several thorough debunkings of that paper available on the web.)

    And, finally, you haven't explained why you agree with Horowitz and his fellow travellers that the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology should hire Intelligent Design theorists, while handing out A's to students who think that men and dinosaurs coexisted.

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  10. I agree with the idea that one's political/personal beliefs should not be a reason for hiring or tenure.

    "The very basic, general approach of supply-side economics is that lower taxes usually increase the economic growth."

    No, the supply siders claim was that the taxes in US were/are so high that if they were lowered, the economy would grow so much that it would actually increase tax revenues. That never happened and neither did it deliver the productivity miracle. Greg Mankiw, current CEA chief called supply siders "cranks and charlatans".

    Sorry, but supply side economics is *NOT* scientific. Just because they have rich and powerful backers (like late Robert Bartley of Wall Street Journal) does not make it so. And there is a good reason they are dismissed by serious economists.

    There are many conservative economists, like Milton Friedman or your colleagues Bob Barro or Greg Mankiw, who have done very good work that have helped illuminate aspects of macroeconomics even when wrong (like monetarism or real business cycle theory). They are all definitely not supply siders.

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  11. This whose post was hilarious, but let me concentrate on one thing: You actually seriously write this stuff after
    defending
    Princeton firing Bohm on the basis of his political beliefs, and claiming he should be "preventively arrested"
    ?

    If this is not a joke I will take a cue from a certain Lubos Motl about distinguishing spin from reality.
    Calling the group "Students for Academic Freedom" does not make them, and you, less of a totalitarian.

    Their mission might sound pretty, but what they are trying to cleanse academy of people who don't think like them.
    The proof? They are doing it. And have been doing it openly for a while, through away from their polished
    website.

    Which is more than the evil socialist left-wing professors have done, since, beyond the rumors David Horowitz likes to peddle, there has been no case proven in court of a professor not hired due to their political views. And since it is illegal for universities to do that (unlike think-tanks. And please tell me how many socialist scholars
    does Students for Academic freedom or the Cato institute employ, or why this "balance" requirement should not extend
    to more influential jobs, like company CEOs or military) a court of law is the proper way to address these issues.

    Lubos, sorry to say this but you and the David Horowitz brigade are exactly as totalitarian and the Czech communists. The fact that you call your
    totalitarianism "freedom" does not change anything
    .

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  12. This is from a libertarian - pro-market, anti-state, anti-war - web-site. The point is that the problem is not in the universities, it lies elsewhere.

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig4/engel8.html
    A Review of Bill Blum's Freeing The World to Death

    Finally, Blum's book leaves one with a queasy feeling not only about the government created, ostensibly, "of the people, by the people and for the people," but...the people. Either "we" are extraordinarily ignorant and naïve, believing what "our" government tells us no matter what facts, opinions, or international outcry appears on the scene to nudge us awake, or we are not a very kind people at all. True, if one looks at Blum's citations one would see that virtually all of them are from nationally famous, "main stream" newspapers, television news shows, and magazines, but not all of us have the skill of a historian for weeding out public information from Public Relations.

    Blum points out that "in the absence of European and Arab governments showing a lot more courage to stand up to the empire, it's the American people we have to turn to, for no one has the potential leverage over the monster than the monster's own children have. And that's the problem, for the American people are...well...how can one put this delicately?...like one in every 50 adult Americans claims a UFO abduction experience; a National Science Board survey found that 27 percent of adults believe the sun revolves around the earth; according to a Gallup poll 68 percent believe in the devil (12 percent are unsure); and most Americans believe that God created evolution...There are all kinds of intelligence in this world: musical, scientific, mathematical, artistic, academic, literary, and so on. Then there's political intelligence, which might be defined as the ability to see through the bulls**t which every society, past, present and future, feeds its citizens from birth on to assure the continuance of prevailing ideology." ("Winning Hearts and Mindless" pg 265–267)

    Is Blum saying that a citizenry 42% of whom believed (according to June, 2003 polls) that Iraq had a direct involvement with 9/11, most being certain that Iraqis were among the 19 hijackers and 55% of whom believed that Saddam Hussein had close ties to Al Quaeda, (pg 265) aren't up to the task of being responsible citizens of a working democracy?" One can only wonder what, besides a crowbar, it would take to pry such people away from their total support of what The Empire does to the world," writes Blum (pg 266).

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  13. Hello Ladies and Gentlemen, thanks for your interesting contributions. It's pleasing to read comments from non-left-wing colleagues, even you who decided to remain anonymous. Right, our conviction is also shaped by the experience, and the experience should probably be diverse enough to have broader ideas about the workings of the Universe.

    Concerning supply-side economics. I don't know what it means to be "confined to a couple of think tanks". Think tanks are pretty important and they form the future policies, to some extent. I don't think that the individual professor of economics can really compete with the CATO institute, for example. If someone thinks that he is a better economist only because he is a professor unlike others who are affiliated with the commercial sector or with the think tanks, then this professor is naive.

    Supply-side economics is not just about lowering taxes. It's about the statement that the most nontrivial assumption for the society's wealth is to have/encourage production. Well, of course, the new production/supply is encouraged by demand at the end ;-), but the philosophy of supply-side economics is that even if demand is missing, it will eventually be created by the supply. The nontrivial task is to guarantee that the subjects have enough reasons and motivations to produce, to create supply, and this should be encouraged by lower taxes, and so on.

    It is by no means obvious that this viewpoint is incorrect, and the attempts to marginalize this viewpoint may be used as examples of unhealthy developments reducing intellectual diversity at the universities. Not all conservative economists are supply-side economists, but supply side economics is undoubtedly an important approach to macroeconomics.

    I know that the fellow economists around don't have any serious disagreement with me about that, but I also don't consider their opinion to be the primary influence on my viewpoint.

    Another question was:

    "And who among your colleagues in Earth and Planetary Sciences thinks that
    McKitrick and McIntyre is anything but a load of crap?"

    I am not aware of any colleagues in Earth and Planetary Sciences, so I can't answer. The people I know who study global warming at Harvard are Sallie Baliunas but especially Willie Soon. He has a different approach and very many very good points (that usually don't confirm the alarmist theories), but I would not guess that he would describe M&M as a load of crap.

    Sorry if I question your religion, but your belief that M&M must be a load of crap seems to be a religion only, analogous to islam or other religions.

    In fact, I don't need to know the opinions of the colleagues at Earth sciences because I've studied M&M enough to know that it is NOT just a load of crap. Well, they may have done some errors, but they still raised excellent points, they understand statistics very well, and they did some calculations more completely than some of their colleagues that are assumed to be paid for this specialized work. My impression is absolutely clearly that they are much more honest scientists than various Schneiders.

    I've discussed these global warming issues with many biochemists, and it's clear that it is not reasonable to imagine that they mastered the things related to greenhouse effect and its dynamics much better than the well-informed laymen like me, and most of their beliefs are just beliefs, too. It's just easy to figure out how it works if you share an apartment with a biochemist for three years.

    I don't think that anyone should hire creationists, and if David Horowitz believes this stuff, then I'm in an obvious disagreement with him, but that's it. Unlike global warming, I think that even the consensus in the whole society would agree that evolution is correct and creation is wrong. You could not win elections with *creationism* only here. On the other hand, most people - e.g. the whole US Congress (or Senate?) - opposed things analogous to the Kyoto protocols (95:0), so I suppose that there is a bipartisan agreement that these CO2 issues are not so clear-cut. Note that even Kerry and Edwards opposed it.

    Ideal level of taxes. Yes, I also think that by reducing taxes, you could still increase the total revenue. There are very positive experiences with lower and/or flat taxes in Estonia - and essentially also Russia. I don't know Greg Mankiw, and let me hope that it's OK if I won't learn who he is. Is it relevant for something?

    Right, I also prefer Milton Friedman and others, they're my heroes in economics. But they're not the whole economics.

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  14. Concerning David Bohm.

    Today it's just a totally different situation, and there is no more realistic threat of communism taking over the USA. The situation was very different in the 1950s, and I would never propose similar policies (like those in the 1950s, USA) in the current situation.

    I don't think that today the left-wing radicals should have any problems - if I believed it, 90% of the universities would have to be in trouble. ;-) But in the 1950s, Stalin was killing millions and was realistically planning to bring his system to other countries - in some cases successfully. It would be irresponsible to ignore this threat. Of course that some solutions to fight against the threat were misguided, but the very idea that the situation required special treatment was real.

    Concerning the empty confusions about totalitarianism and freedom. You may be confused which is which, but I am definitely not confused. You may exchange these two words, but it will only change your subjective labels, not my conviction which things are right and which things are wrong. Feel free to call freedom "totalitarianism", but I will still love freedom and fight for it.

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  15. Yea its insane to lump supply side economists, and global warming skeptics with creationists. The two former are far more intellectually reasonable, the latter is a joke.

    I don't know who has the impression supply siders are a minority in academia, thats certainly not the case. In fact, there was what, 18 nobel prize winners in economics who backed Reagan in the early 80s?

    Actually supply side vs Keysianism is an old argument that is more or less long dead. Elements of Game theory has generalized both viewpoints, they are indeed both only approximations valid in various idealized regimes. Of course, its hard to solve or calculate much in a complicated world, especially in game theory, so its hard to pinpoint where we are (so I suppose the debate is still valid, in a sense).

    As far as global warming.. Let me just say that I have read some of the papers by the so called experts in the field. Its quite clear they aren't as sophisticated mathematically as some of the hard sciences, and the amount of politically driven nonsense is quite large. I don't trust anyone who claims we have a strong understanding of what is going on in that field. Given the monumental amount of uncontrolled uncertanties, even at a theoretical level.

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  16. "I don't know Greg Mankiw, and let me hope that it's OK if I won't learn who he is. Is it relevant for something?"

    He's the chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisors. In other words, the highest-ranking economist in the Administration. And he's a colleague of yours at Harvard.

    "Right, I also prefer Milton Friedman and others, they're my heroes in economics. But they're not the whole economics."

    If you know *anything* about Economics, you'd know that Milton Friedman is the father of Monetarism, the exact antithesis of "supply-side" Economics.

    "I am not aware of any colleagues in Earth and Planetary Sciences, so I can't answer. The people I know who study global warming at Harvard are Sallie Baliunas but especially Willie Soon. He has a different approach and very many very good points (that usually don't confirm the alarmist theories), but I would not guess that he would describe M&M as a load of crap."

    Maybe you should ask around. I think you'd be surprised. M&M are regarded as hacks by anyone who knows *anything* about the field.

    "I've discussed these global warming issues with many biochemists,..."

    And I've discussed string theory with many geologists. So what?

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  17. "Monetarism is the exact antithesis of supply-side economics."

    While it's true that there are important differences, the statement above is exaggerated. It would still be more fair to say that both of them are antitheses to keynesianism, I think. You know that Milton Friedman himself (in 2003) said that his assumption that the demand for money probably can't be predicted at the end, which would undermine one of his basic monetaristic starting points.

    I don't want to go to details, but the idea that the monetarism is the only choice and supply-side economics is completely out of the game is just a naive idea, even for us, the fans of Milton Friedman. ;-)

    OK, finally, I still have not met Greg Mankiw. But obviously a VIP. ;-)

    Another sentence:

    "Maybe you should ask around. I think you'd be surprised. M&M are regarded
    as hacks by anyone who knows *anything* about the field."

    You know, this is precisely the type of thinking that I attacked in my article. You know, unfortunately, I certainly know at least *something* about that field, and I know that M&M are not "hacks". I don't care too much about those who just copy their opinions from each other and call others "hacks" only because many people around are doing so and because it is easier for them to get grants and jobs for it. It seems pretty clear that you yourself know next to nothing about the subject, and your relying on the "experts" is just another indication that your opinion about the issue does not mean terribly much.

    You know, the real experts don't need to rely on whatever the majority tells them. They are able to create their independent conclusions.

    I said that I've discussed the global warming conjectures with biochemists because I wanted to say that these discussions made me know how much they really know what they're talking about, and how much they just trust one another and all these statements that the emperor has beautiful new clothes.

    Thanks to the other participant! who gave us some numbers showing that supply-side economics is not a dead branch after all (and perhaps, it even does not need any affirmative action for its support). ;-) That's about what I thought, but the counting of Nobel prizes etc. was totally unavailable to me... Concerning global warming, Andy Strominger for example points out that they/we can't predict the weather for tomorrow (with the allowed errors of ten degrees), yet the people claim to be able to predict the climate for hundreds of years with much smaller errors. That's just an unreasonable self-confidence.

    These subjects are still work in progress.

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  18. " Andy Strominger for example points out that they/we can't predict the weather for tomorrow (with the allowed errors of ten degrees), yet the people claim to be able to predict the climate for hundreds of years with much smaller errors."

    We cannot predict solar flares, but the lifecycle of the sun is pretty much understood, billions of years into the future. Likewise, weather and climate are very different things. So I don't buy the Strominger argument. More precisely, while it may be true that one cannot predict the climate for hundreds of years ahead; but Strominger's argument does not demonstrate that truth.

    -Arun

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  19. "It would still be more fair to say that both of them are antitheses to keynesianism, I think."

    No, "supply-side economics" is a sort of hyper-Keynesianism. Not only do supply-siders believe in the stimulatory effects of tax cuts (standard Keynesianism), they believe that those stimulatory effects are so large as to actually produce an *increase* in revenues (pure fantasy).

    "I said that I've discussed the global warming conjectures with biochemists because I wanted to say that these discussions made me know how much they really know what they're talking about, and how much they just trust one another..."

    In *any* science, no one person can do every calculation, replicate every experiment or analyze every dataset. As a scientist, you *have* to trust your colleagues. Knowing *whom* to trust (and when) is part of what makes a good scientist.

    As a physicist, you probably have a good idea whom to trust in your field. But you obviously haven't much of an idea whom to trust in other, unrelated fields. Which is probably why you were taken in by M&M.

    Arun said:

    "We cannot predict solar flares, but the lifecycle of the sun is pretty much understood, billions of years into the future. Likewise, weather and climate are very different things."

    Even more to the point, it is impossible to predict the result of a single coin toss. But if you ask about the average value of 1000 coin tosses, you can predict that with a very small percentage uncertainty.

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  20. I surrender in my claims about the Keynes/supply-side relations. Yes, it seems more reasonable now to say that supply-side economics is hyperkeynesianism. Well, still, supply-side economics originated as a reaction to perceived failings of keynesianism, see the first sentence about history at

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supply-side_economics

    Yes, one must sometimes learn whom to trust, but a scientist must have a rational justification for any belief. My experience with all this stuff shows that the belief in the global warming "experts" is not justified. Moreover, I am still closer to Feynman's slogan "never trust the experts". Sure that I am trying to verify all *important* results in my field! If someone is not doing it in climate science, he's making an error.

    Arun, concerning the Sun. That's very entertaining that you talk about predicting the lifecycles of the Sun! Why is it entertaining? Because this is exactly one of the main alternatives to the global warming theory. Ask Willie Soon at Harvard and he will explain you that the solar activity is probably more important for the global climate than the production of CO2. If his thesis were proved, that would mean a total destruction of the global warming theory (by which I mean the assumption that the changes of the climate are dominated by the human-produced carbon dioxide). You seem to ignore all "details" of the global warming debate, and therefore it's so easy for you to present an argument that supports just the opposite than what you want to advocate.

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  21. By the way, the quote of Feynman that I was referring to can be found in a compactified form:

    http://en.thinkexist.com/quotation/Science_is_the_belief_in_the_ignorance_of_the/181210.html

    "Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts"

    If some people claiming to be climate scientists directly contradict this rule, don't be surprised if I don't consider them my colleague scientists.

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  22. "Yes, one must sometimes learn whom to trust, but a scientist must have a rational justification for any belief. My experience with all this stuff shows that the belief in the global warming "experts" is not justified."

    In any science, the need to trust your colleagues is counterbalanced by the incentive structure of science.

    The reward for confirming your colleague's calculation or experiment is small. The reward for finding a flaw in his result (or finding a way to significantly improve his result) is much larger. So scientists have an incentive to scrutinize most carefully those results where they have the best chance of finding a flaw or making a big improvement.

    The same incentive structures operate over in Environmental and Planetary Sciences as they do in Physics. And they have the same effect: faulty science, and sloppy work are brought to light and corrected.

    But, just as you would not put much stock in the likelihood of some interested chemist uncovering a fatal mathematical flaw in string theory, I don't put much stock in your finding the fatal flaw in current global climatological models (for instance).

    But don't let me discourage you from trying :-).

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  23. I equate climate scientists, to the gravity people about 50 years ago. Read, a science that doesn't have much experimental support, where a huge variety of models and interpretations thereof are possible. Lots of crazy ideas, and lots of perfectly plausible scenarios giving completely different end results.

    The fallacy is claiming a consensus in a situation like that is worth a consensus in something like QED. B/c lets face it, science isnt a democracy, it is fundamentally set by experiment.

    In some sense, we all know and agree the fundamental structure is more or less correct. GR was correct for gravity, thermodynamics is correct for climate science. The problem is solving the equations for a complex situation is frequently hard to do.

    The consensus in cosmology for various topics, has repeatedly changed over the years. Experts, one after the other, shown to be wrong. I mean not so long ago, we still felt that the universe was made of "islands of matter". That was the 'logical' choice at the time.

    Of course, the correct answer was usually there at some level, but not necessarily accepted. Just recently has it finally made it into the experimentally ironclad regime. Climate science, by contrast, is so far from that, (and indeed might always be), that I daresay I wouldn't put much more faith in what one expert says, than I would in the local bum giving me the correct prediction of the weather for the year 2500.

    Regardless, at the experimental level, we have a situation with a lot of contradictory or inconclusive data. The consensus seems to come from computer models. And sorry, i've had enough experience with computers outputing junk (even if the equations look solid to begin with) in my lifetime, to know that simply taking them on faith is fundamentally taking some *humans* word for how things are. Where I get irate, is when scientists then feel the need to push policy based on that admittedly shaky understanding.

    Thats just insane, and no better than religion.

    (It doesn't help that physicists can, even as climatolgy layman, read some of their papers and find them riddled with mathematical faults and bad statistics).

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  24. Thanks for the last two comments, they were insightful. Not surprisingly, I agree especially with the last one. But the previous one on the probability of finding flaw is also OK, except that the person estimates the particular probabilities in climate science completely incorrectly.

    Not only the probability to find errors in the papers supporting the global warming theory was large; also, a plenty of such errors have already been found. The authors (Mann et al., in this case) were forced to publish a rather extensive errata, but that did not stop others from finding new, even more fatal flaws, e.g. now by von Storch in the September 30th.

    And it's just getting started. If you look at analogous "expert" papers 29 years ago, you will see that they were talking about global cooling - see e.g. this article in Newsweek 1975:

    http://www.globalclimate.org/Newsweek.htm

    All of these "expert" papers are now believed to be junk, but the same thing can very easily happen to the current ones because it is simply not a reliable quantitative science yet and your comparisons to string theory are absolutely ludicrous. String theory is research motivated by physics, but what establishes its particular results are tough laws of mathematics that can be checked and rechecked in many different ways and only one result is correct. In the global climate science, virtually every conjecture may turn out to be partly correct.

    I would agree that the probability to find a fatal error in a *true* expert's paper is much smaller than in a generic paper. But you are completely wrong if you think that an alarmist is the same thing as an expert; many of them, especially those who scream most, are junk scientists and crackpots.

    On the other hand, I would encourage you to think about the observation that *your* probability to find errors in the well known skeptics' works is rather small. In this sense, I would recommend *you* to trust experts like me instead of the crackpots, if you already have to trust someone.

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  25. Lubos,

    As has been previously said to you, we'll be better off if you reply to what I wrote, rather than to what you think I wrote. I took no position on global warming. I merely said that Strominger's argument is not a well-structured, well-founded argument. The conclusions may be true, but the argument is bogus.

    Yes, it could be true that changes in solar activity are far more important to climate change than human-activity-produced CO2 and methane.

    Apparently, records of glaciers have been kept since 1850; and the glaciers are in retreat almost everywhere, and in accelerated retreat recently. So either precipitation on the glaciers is decreasing or the melt rate is up. I think the measurements are that the melt rate is up. This much is fact. We then get into the theorification of whether this is a secular or a cyclic change, of whether it is a signal of an increase in average global temperature or not, and if the global average temperature is increasing because of human-produced gases or not (or whether, as you say, it is the sun). Yes, these are legitimate areas of scientific disagreement.

    From a policy perspective, we need to know what the impacts will be (e.g., most rivers of China and northern India derive from Himalayan glaciers), and how fast these impacts will come, and what to do to mitigate those impacts. It is exactly like thinking about what to do if a significant asteroid is found to be likely to collide with the Earth. At a minimum we should be tracking this closer and closer.

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  26. Regarding supply-side economics, monetarism etc please pick up ANY book on macroeconomics (like standard text Advanced Macroeconomics by David Romer). Please see if you can find any serious discussion of how "supply-side economics" is regarded as serious alternative to Keynesian economics. Supply-side economics came out of discussion over dinner at a fancy NY restaurant(as described by one of the originators), monetarism and real-business cycle theory grew out of intensely debated seminars in universities like U of Chicago and several published papers. I think it is clear which one is more likely to be more meaningful. Supply-siders are not conservatives, they are "radicals".

    The two main competitors to Keynes-- monetarism and real business cycle theory-- were advanced by "conservative economists" out of Chicago, some of them Nobelists like Milton Firiedman, Robert Lucas. The latter had the attarctive feature of having microeconomic foundations. But ultimately they were proved to be untrue in the real world (as Milton even admitted in 2003). The reasons they were wrong were subtle, the work of the New Keynesians.

    You will see that basically Keynesian economics is correct, even though it has many unattractive features, such as too many parameters, not really unique so it is not easily falsifiable. But the basic Keyenisan idea that ---increasing money supply (either via Fed, or tax cuts, or government spending) has real effects in the short term like stimulating economy in recession--- has been verified umpteen times the world over: it is not just "ivory tower theory", out of touch with the real world.

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  27. Hi Arun! I am not sure whether you think that you have an argument. In either case, your reasoning seems to be wrong.

    If the long term climate is primarily affected by solar activity and similar "astronomical" or "astrophysical" influences, those that are more predictable, then the global warming theory (that talks about the greenhouse gases as the reason) is wrong, and the statement that they don't know what they're doing is right.

    If the long term climate is primarily caused by terrestrial influences - such as production of greenhouse gases - then the climate questions cannot be separated from the weather questions because it is really the sum of the immediate influences that determines the weather both in the short term and the long term, and predicting the climate in the long term is nothing else than predicting the weather 6 orders of magnitude beyond what we're able to do, and Andy's argument is a very important and correct one.

    I am not impressed by various individual observations. If there were a warm year in Arctic, it does not mean that the conjecture about global warming is supported by nontrivial evidence. You can always find a place on the Earth where the weather is warmer, and a place where it's cooler (like Massachusetts). Emphasizing one of them only is pure bias, and if someone wants to call it science, it's just junk science, and don't expect me to say anything good about it. The weather and the climate is a pretty complex topic in which you must take all conceivable aspects into account as much as you can, otherwise your conclusions are useless, which is the case of most of the conclusions that are being described in the media.

    Comparisons of the global warming theory to a collision with the asteroid is a mere stupidity comparable to the movie "The Day After Tomorrow", and I hope that you don't expect me to reply to this stupidity. Please find someone else if you want to discuss *such* stupidities.

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  28. For the last contributor about economics. You say that supply-side economics was invented in a fancy NY restaurant. Is there anything wrong with it?

    The second most important physics discovery of the 20th century was made by a bureaucrat in a patent office.

    I just don't understand whether you want to sell your anecdotes as arguments, or why you exactly write these things. If you mean these things as arguments, then I would like to tell you that you underestimate the IQ of the participants of these discussions by 50 or so, and if you're not willing or not able to improve the quality of your arguments appropriately, then please be aware that your comments are not welcome.

    The statement that Keynesianism is the final word is a biased subjective point of view, and it's exactly the arrogance of these not-quite-supported beliefs and the totalitarian behavior of their advocates that I wanted to point out in my article. In this sense it's good that you appeared here - because you are exactly the type of the person who would eliminate everyone who disagrees with Keynesianism as soon as you would have any power to do so.

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  29. Incidentally, I think that the last Nobel prize for supply-side economics so far was one for Robert Mundell of Columbia University in 1999.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Mundell

    He is a founder of supply-side economics, co-author of the Laffer curve and so on. You know, the Laffer curve is the obvious observation that if the taxation is 100% or close, your revenue will be zero because no one will have any interest to work. ;-) If the taxation is 0% or close, it will also be zero. Shockingly, this means that there must be some maximum of revenue in between, and it may well be below the current usual tax rates.

    Mundell not only founded these theoretical directions, but he has made actual predictions - like the prediction of the 1970s inflation.

    The Laffer curve is very popular among many people, for example David Gross or someone else like that used it during his talk on the recent conference in Santa Barbara (Future of Physics) to estimate the optimal length of a talk ;-), or what was it exactly.

    Until the person who pictures supply-side economics as irrelevant trash gets a Nobel prize, too, I think it is not too useful to listen to this person's opinions.

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  30. Since you seem to have made up your mind about all the issues, this is going to be my last post to your blog to correct some points.

    "Incidentally, I think that the last Nobel prize for supply-side economics so far was one for Robert Mundell of Columbia University in 1999.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Mundell"

    No, it was for "for his analysis of monetary and fiscal policy under different exchange rate regimes and his analysis of optimum currency areas".

    http://nobelprize.org/economics/laureates/1999/

    Einstein rejected QM and worked on classical "unified field theories" for most of his life; that does not mean he was right about everything in physics.

    "this means that there must be some maximum of revenue in between, and it may well be below the current usual tax rates."

    No one disputes that. But what is the precise number is the question. From real data, it seems to be over 60%, not the current US tax rates.

    Keynesian view is mostly correct in the same sense that SR and QM are basically correct(Would you hire someone who thinks SR and QM are junk for "balance"?). That does not mean it is the last word by any means; just that it is hard to come up with a consistent theory (that works in the real world) that incorporates all the successes of Keynesian macroeconomics.

    Look, you can read economics texts and point out where they are wrong in rejecting supply-side economics: economics has several subtleties and what seems "obvious" to laymen is often not correct in economics. If you find journal papers/texts that establish the validity of supply-side economics in the real world, I would be glad to hear about it. I have not seen any.

    "Until the person who pictures supply-side economics as irrelevant trash gets a Nobel prize, too, I think it is not too useful to listen to this person's opinions."

    Be my guest.

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  31. It does not really matter what exactly Mundell got the prize for. What's more important is that he is a great economist, and he is a supply-side economist and a convinced believer in tax cuts.

    The point that I was advocating is that it is totally unacceptable to imagine that such people would be discriminated against at the US universities, and my intent is to fight with all those who want to promote such a discrimination.

    I am not endorsing Einstein's attempts to find a unified field theory; they were misled. I am not supporting Einstein's opinions about quantum mechanics either. But even these things were very important, and even if Einstein did not do anything else, his salary would have been a great investment. String theory is morally following Einstein's program to find the unified theory, even though the details are a bit more sophisticated than he thought. And also, Einstein's opinions about quantum mechanics were important because they led to the understanding of quantum entanglement etc. that we today know is a fascinating evidence for QM itself, and the source of many of the shocking features of quantum mechanics.

    I am just saying a trivial and completely un-controversial thing that the people who want to discriminate against the people like Einstein and Mundell at the universities - because they happen to disagree with their opinions - are assholes. These guys have made it, and the fact that you don't like Mundell's approach to macroeconomics - which is supply-side economics - is your problem, and it should remain your problem. If there are thousands of people like you, it's still just thousands of intollerant assholes. Being one of thousands does not make you a great economist.

    Claiming that 60% is the ideal tax rate to maximize the revenue is outrageous. I hope that you don't want to propose something like that in reality. In that case, I would definitely have to soften my negative attitude to assasinations. ;-)

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  32. Here is a comment apropos economy pertaining theories about nations, and about the global 'community'.

    A largely unaccounted for co-driver of "free" economies (and of course also of economies that are 'fettered' as an effect of a society being feudal, fascistic, or communistic) is greed.

    That is, "greed" in the sense of dis- (and more or less mis-) connected (within brains) need.

    Normally, dwelling deeply into this analytical direction is effectively 'philosophizing (and theorizing) terminating'.

    Partly for this reason (and partly because of being as driven and relentlessly rationalizing as I am) I have resorted to describing human affairs with a terminology that allusively refers to relevant kinds of lifetime adversity and Darwinian selection pressures.

    For example:
    By "SHITS" [acronymic approximation of "specific/selective/synaptic hibernation imploring/inducing type situation(s)"] I refer to any case of an individual's psychobiological integration being threatened by a physically inescapable (and of course not directly lethal) negation of one or more of the individual's innate needs. (Whether it be in the form of suddenly or gradually impacting such situations.)

    The contrived and cryptic sem_antics that "SHITS" is approximately short for reflects my septic/sardonic humor, and that I therefore prefer a 'turdgid', to a merely turgid, explanation any day. ;-)

    I shall quickly come clean about (clear up) what I mean by the words that SHITS loosely stands for:

    By "specific hibernation imploring type situations" I mean situations that implore "specific hibernation" in the sense of a Long Term Depression (LTD) of postsynaptic activity] AND (simultaneously) a Long Term Potentiation (LTP) of excitatory presynaptic activity.

    Any thus specifically "conditioned-in" and combined (LTD+LTP) state - a SHITS-specific unconscious remembrance caused by "being (or having been) in a SHITS" - that effects significant symptoms, deserves to be given the correspondingly acronymic name "CURSES" [or, alternatively, "CCKHHURSES" - for a term that is more explicitly derived and scarily spelled but identically 'tongued').

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