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Oct 22, 2004 6:30 am

Of Republicans and Civil Rights ...

Rick Perlstein's"The End of Democracy" in the Village Voice is not to be missed. My colleague, Tim Burke, shares related grievances in"Class Warfare: The Republican Party's New Favorite Sport," for which he is gently chided in"The Dude Has His Crassitude" by John Holbo and Ambrose Bierce. Being both a Republican and an Evangelical, I had thought to post my own reply,"Why is Tim Burke Normal?", but I thought better of it.

Speaking of my Republicanism, this letter by former United States Senator Marlow W. Cook of Kentucky brought back memories. At 16, I was a Republican activist, already a precinct captain and 1st Vice President of the Young Republican Club of Louisville and Jefferson County. Alas, I was also very naive and didn't protect my flanks, so I was defeated in a bid for re-election by an ambitious young attorney, Marlow Cook. Subsequently, he became the chief executive of Jefferson County and served in the United States Senate from 1968 to 1975. We were both raised in the moderate Republican tradition of former Kentucky Senators John Sherman Cooper and Thruston Morton, so Marlow's letter comes as no great surprise to me."I am not enamored with John Kerry," he says,"but I am frightened to death of George Bush." It is a very powerful conservative argument against the Bush administration. Read the whole thing. Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.

For a good laugh, don't miss Ted Barlow's"To Blog a Mockingbird" at Crooked Timber. If Mickey Kaus had a reputation, it won't soon recover.

But, of course, race relations in the South are more tragic than comic. I mentioned earlier that both Liberty & Power's David Beito and I have been working with the FBI's inquiry into what more can be known about the 1954 murder of Emmett Till. Sunday evening, CBS's"Sixty Minutes" will focus on the renewed inquiry. At Liberty & Power, Beito, whose research turned up a key surviving witness to the 50 year old murder, has more on the story.

Finally, regarding our discussion of the Wikkipedia, Tim Lambert has an amusing post up about it. Apparently, Mary Rosh (remember him?) has apparently repeated tried to" correct" its record about John Lott (remember her?)."Jonathan" asks the relevant question at Deltoid: What does one have to do to get fired at the American Enterprise Institute?

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Richard Henry Morgan - 10/24/2004

I stand corrected -- at least until I get my hands on a copy of his Genesis Strategy (my local library, which had a copy, in a fit of PC, edited it out of their collection -- I guess even intimations short of prediction of an ice age by Schneider were too embarrasing for them).

So let's be clear. You admit, I take it, that Schneider at one time asserted that carbon dioxide was a negligible source of global warming. Now if Lomborg's lack of experience is relevant, it seems to me that Schneider's laughable claim is equally relevant to his criticism of Lomborg. I've asked you this now three times, and the prior two without answer. I'll take that silence as an affirmation that Schneider's laughable claim is legitimate criticism of his claims against Lomborg. So to with Ehrlich.

I'm at a loss to understand the relevance of the first sentence of your second paragraph. I never made any such claim. In fact, I did say one could put a detailed critique in the discussion section, even if rejected as an entry. I just haven't seen that detailed critique. I persist in my belief that background is irrelevant.

You also persist in your silence on the question whether Harvey correctly characterized Lomborg's thesis, and whether he correctly characterized it as science, and correctly referred it to the Danish Committee. I'll take my answer, again, from your silence.

I also take solace that the Annalen der Physik did not indulge your taste for shortcuts in evaluating writings -- imagine the short treatment they would otherwise have given to the three papers in 1905 from a Berne patent clerk who had had his doctoral dissertation rejected, and couldn't secure an academic appointment. Maybe the desire for shortcuts will reach such a peak of development that one will one day be able to evaluate a book at a distance, just as some claim to be able to bend spoons witheir minds.

But thanks again for setting me straight on Schneider. He merely said that absent increased nuclear power plants the trend was towards the possibility of an ice age -- can we agree that's a fair paraphrase?

Tim Lambert - 10/24/2004

Schneider's actual words: "An increase by a factor of 4 in the equilibrium dust concentration in the global atmosphere, which cannot be ruled out as a possibility within the next century, could decrease the mean surface temperature by as much as 3.5 deg. K."
and "Such a large decrease in the average temperature of Earth, sustained over a period of few years, is believed to be sufficient to trigger an ice age. However, by that time, nuclear power may have largely replaced fossil fuels as a means of energy production."

Contrary to your claim, he did give a reason why X might not occur. I am just baffled how anyone could take a statement that X was not impossible and read it as a prediction that X was going to happen.

Harvey did not propose that the Wikipedia entry contain nothing but the information about Lomberg's scientific background. There is no reason wht it couldn't contain both Lomberg's background and a detailed evaluation of his book.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/23/2004

You have an amazing ability to repeat what I've conceded twice, and ignore what I've asked twice. I won't ask again.

BTW, I think a better model of Schneider's comments (when you've read them all) is:
W is trending toward X, and there is no reason to believe it will not reach X, and if X then Y

It seems to me that if you don't read a book, you can't evaluate it. You can take a reasonable shortcut to deciding whether to read it or believe it (we all have limited resources of time and money), but there's no royal road to evaluation that doesn't pass through reading, and reading carefully -- those shortcuts we use shouldn't be confused with evaluation.

I grant that deficiencies in a book may be explicable by lack of background -- I say may, because I'm not sure how you separate deficiencies that result from background, and every-day garden-variety deficiencies that might have resulted from someone without a deficient background. My objection is when referencing the background becomes a substitute (a shortcut?) for detailing the deficiencies of the book. First establish the deficiencies, then explain them. Harvey, and everyone else, would be better served by a serious, detailed, publicly available critique of Lomborg's work, rather than repeating charges as a substitute, or referring the matter to a government committee of incompetent pinheads who really have no jurisdiction in the matter.

Tim Lambert - 10/23/2004

Schneider did not predict an ice age. A statement "If X then Y" is not a prediction that Y will occur. Your claim that he predicted an ice age is just false.

Just because it is possible to evaluate a book without considering the background of the author doesn't mean that we should do so. First of all, not everyone has the time to carefully evaluate the entire book, so it is useful to have a shortcut. Second, even when you are carefully evaluating the book, the author's background helps explain the deficiencies you find.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/23/2004

Actually, Harvey said it was "highly relevant", moving it somewhat up the list.

Now we must ask what you and Harvey haven't answered -- relevant to what? I would concede that if one were making bets, prospectively, the background of the author would be relevant to the question of a rational bet on the truthfulness and accuracy of a book. Once the text is produced, the conditions of its genesis are supremely irrelevant to judging its meaningfulness, or its truth or falsity. The author could be a schizophrenic on acid using a Ouija board to generate his text, but none of that matters to the question of evaluating the text.

As for Schneider predicting an ice age, if you are taking refuge behind the term 'predicting', then you may have a case. If you read Schneider's 1971 paper with Rasool, you'll find the following:

Increased aerosols "could decrease the mean surface temperature by as much as 3.5K degrees. If sustained over a period of several years, such a temperature decrease could be sufficient to trigger an ice age."

You will find similar statements in his 1976 book The Genesis Strategy.

Given that he provides no reason to believe that aerosols would not increase, it lends a little more weight -- though I admit it falls short of predicting. It does, however, show his willingness to extrapolate from few data to catastrophic consequences.

I assume that 'experience' subsumes poorly done work by Schneider and Ehrlich (they count as their experience). So I again ask, is it relevant to bring up their poor work in criticizing their criticisms of Lomborg? Or would that be, as I maintain, highly irrelevant to an evaluation of their criticisms?

Tim Lambert - 10/23/2004

Sorry, but an ad hominem is an *irrelevant* personal detail. Lomberg's lack of experience is relevant.

And Schneider never predicted a coming ice age, so, in fact, you are kidding me.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/22/2004

Harvey made two complaints. One is that the Lomborg entry contained (yes, past tense -- the entry no longer contains the material he objected to) ad hominem material. Since it no longer (currently) contains that material, I didn't address that complaint (strangely, I thought it redundant -- silly me). The second complaint was that Harvey didn't think Wikipedia would allow to be added what he thought most relevant -- that Lomborg had zero peer-reviewed publications in the field. That complaint I did address.

Strangely, Harvey doesn't offer to add to the Lomborg entry that neither did the committee that judged Lomborg have peer-reviewed publications in the fields.

You're right on the exclusion point. Harvey never said that.

Read the quote from Harvey in the Lomborg entry at Wikipedia. I admit it is somewhat opaque, but a fair reading is that Harvey thinks that what Lomborg produced was bad science (an alternative reading is that Lomborg can't distinguish between bad science and good). The complaint by Harvey to the committee (a committee charged with detecting dishonesty within science) should settle the matter -- their jurisdiction is science, not commentary on science. But if you read the committee's report you'll find a strange admission -- they can't agree that Lomborg's book is science, but they'll treat it as science anyway, and judge him accordingly.

Imagine, for instance, you have a donkey (represented as such) entered in the Royal Sydney Easter Show donkey competition. You show up and discover that the judges have decided that, despite the fact that they can't agree it's a horse, they have decided to treat it as a horse for the purposes of judging the horse competition, and they have further decided that you are guilty of having dishonestly masqueraded a donkey as a horse.

Now most people would recognize there is something amiss there. Most people would similarly recognize that Harvey's complaint about Lomborg's lack of publications in the field is either ad hominem or an instance of the genetic fallacy. Consider this. Two of Lomborg's critics are Paul Ehrlich and Stephen Schneider. Rather than addressing their criticisms, would it be kosher of me to point out that Ehrlich predicted a famine in the 70's that never happened, and that he spectacularly lost a bet to a business economist on the future of resource prices? Would it be kosher of me to mention that Schneider had predicted a coming ice age (I kid you not) and famously authored a paper claiming that CO2 had a negligible effect on global temperature (again, I kid you not)? You would be on solid ground were you to ask what relevance these facts had to their criticisms of Lomborg. They in fact have no relevance whatsoever (nor does the fact that Lomborg has no peer-reviewed publications in the areas).

Tim Lambert - 10/22/2004

Richard, you are misrepresenting Harvey's comment. He's complaining that the Wikipedia article contained an ad hominem attack on Lomberg's critics. And he did not say that the Wikipedia article on Lomberg should only contain stuff he agreed with.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/22/2004

Tim, if I remember correctly, Harvey complained that he "didn't think" he was permitted to add to the entry for Lomborg the fact that Lomborg had zero peer review articles in the field.

I don't know if what Harvey "thinks" is correct or not. What I do know is that I fully understand the position of Wikipedia (if indeed it is a position) that such genetic fallacy arguments will not be countenanced in the main entry. As far as I know, Harvey and anyone else is free to pursue illegitimate arguments in the discussion section of each entry (I could be wrong -- maybe Wikipedia rides herd there too).

I'm touched to the core by Harvey's complaint that apparently Wikipedia won't let him say what he wants, to the exclusion of others, in an entry. This is most touching inasmuch as Harvey filed a complaint with the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty in order to shut Lomborg down and discredit him -- rather than relying on the free exchange of ideas. Intimations of Lyzenkoism abound.

I can't blame Harvey for the incompetent hackwork and hatchetjob that the committee did on behalf of his complaint. The fact that they did no substantial investigation, and that they were sitting in judgment on Lomborg when they couldn't even meet Harvey's criteria (not a member of the committee was published in environmental science), can't be laid at Harvey's feet. The fact that they cut and pasted from a Scientific American collection (tendentiously titled The Scientists Speak", or somesuch, as though they represented all of scientific opinion), itself just as rehash of stuff put out by the UCS, similarly cannot be laid at his feet. In any event, the Danish committee report was repudiated and the committee chastized. At one point, quite incredibly, the committee repeated verbatim praise from another environmentalist praising a researcher for the courage to come up with a high estimate for extinction rates when there was no empirical evidence on the matter -- and this in a report chastizing Lomborg for selective use of evidence. In other words, if you invent a figure that is favored by environmentalists, that is forgiveable, but if you select from non-invented data, that is unforgiveable. Unbelieveable.

What can be laid at his feet is the illegitimate use of a committee designed to root out fraud in scientific research, to silence and discredit someone who never claimed to have done scientific research, but was simply giving his take on the literature and its relation to what is claimed by the environmental lobby. Even if Harvey doesn't know what science is (nor the committee, apparently), Cambridge University Press seems to have mastered the distinction -- Lomborg's book wasn't published by their science division.

BTW, take a minute and compare Harvey's account of Lomborg's thesis or conclusion (that everything is fine), and then actually read Lomborg. Then come back and tell me that Harvey has accurately and honestly portrayed Lomborg's thesis.

Charles V. Mutschler - 10/22/2004

Now here's an interesting question that Mr. Morgan raises. Is Bjorn Lomborg unqualified to write on environmental topics? Is he unqualified to criticize the environmental movement? If so, how would these criticisms of his lack of experience and publications in the natural sciences be any different from that in the case of most people who claim to be environmental historians? Richard White, Patricia Nelson Limerick, Donald Worcester and others claiming the mantle of environmental history have probably got no better qualifications to write on matters relating to the natural sciences than Bjorn Lomborg.

Very interesting.


Tim Lambert - 10/22/2004

I'm scratching my head at your comment, Richard. Harvey's complaint was that Wikipedia was not allowing him to criticize Lomberg. How you get from there to accusing him of wanting to shut down critics is beyond me.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/22/2004

The solution for dealing with those who airbrush history (I think this is possible) in Wikipedia, is simply write an alternative entry in the discussion section, complete with citation of sources. The discussions, as I understand it, aren't edited out of existence by subsequent authors.

Which brings me to the Lambert section you linked. Therein you find a piece by Jeff Harvey, a biologist who (if I remember right) filed a complaint about Bjorn Lomborg with the a Danish government committee charged with investigating scientific dishonesty. Lomborg was found guilty of "unintentional dishonesty" -- yeah, I know, a bit of an oxymoron there.

He appealed, and was cleared, and the committee chastized. Interestingly, Lomborg has never done, nor claimed to have done, any environmental research (in the sense of original research reporting findings -- the purview of the committee). In the piece Harvey has Lomborg saying that everything is fine, or everything is getting better -- a position Lomborg explicitly rejects. Harvey also characterizes him as an anti-environmental writer.

The danger of the current Wikipedia is that it attracts people like Harvey (who posted at Lambert's site) -- people not at all discomfited by using government or any other means, illegitimately, to shut down critics, in Lysenkoist fashion.

Maarja Krusten - 10/22/2004

Sorry, there is a bad transition above. The evangelical mentioned above in the direct quote should not be confused with Viguerie.

Maarja Krusten - 10/22/2004

Thanks for the link to the Perlstein article, which I found very interesting. I haven't had much success in getting people to respond to questions I pose on HNN (asking Republicans how Ann Coulter calling liberals traitors can be reconciled with promoting public policies of freedom and democracy; asking Vietnam vets whether those of us who supported LBJ's and Nixon's policies to the bitter end served our servicemen well or ill). But, undaunted, I'll try again here.

(1) Perlstein mentions Richard Vieguerie's reaction to "Nixonian" campaign tactics, such as handing out flyers with a "banned" label across an image of the Bible. He writes,

"In college, the first time he spent extended periods outside evangelical circles, he says, "I realized the main thing that separated us evangelicals from them was that they believed in dialogue and compromise. And we believed in taking no prisoners. . . . Democracy can't function in an environment where one party will not sit down and play by the rules."

He uses a saying of the apostle Paul, beloved of evangelicals, to drive home the point: "Be all things to all people." A missionary, he says, might interpret that to mean that it's OK to swear on a visa application that she's not a missionary"

I am a traditional Lutheran who has not studied other faiths and denominations very much. Does Perlstein's article represent accurately a side of evangelism with which I am not familiar? If so, how do evangelist or born again Republicans reconcile this with their disdain for "moral relativism?"

(2) Perlstein blasts the news media for not digging more deeply into some of the issues he describes. When I started reading HNN this summer, I was startled to see how often people reject one or another newspaper, broadcast or cable channel, etc. On the Army thread last week, I had to spend a lot of time showing Bill Hueisler that a poll I quoted was not paid for by CNN, a news source he disdained. Who in the media do you think would represent an authoritative, credible source these days? The days of public opinion being influenced by Walter Cronkite questioning the handling of the Vietnam War--a move that some then saw as a tipping point--are long behind us.

Jonathan Dresner - 10/22/2004

.... is signs of life in the Republican Party. Moderates like you and Cook are what I'm clinging to right now.

So, after our first real experiment with undivided government in a quarter-century, we're ready to go back to divided powers, now?

Jonathan Dresner - 10/22/2004

"George Bush is not a fascist. He really isn't. And thank goodness for small favors." Maybe. How many fascists got elected first?

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