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‘Science,’ the left, and hypocrisy



Leonardo da Vinci, master of science and art

The left loves to use science as a by-word for enlightened policy—but always applies a double standard to that word and concept.

What does science mean?

Leonardo da Vinci, master of science and art

Leonardo da Vinci. Portrait: self, in red chalk

Science literally means “knowledge.” Specifically, it means finding out about how the world, and living things, and human beings, work. It also means what we know about these things, from our efforts to find them out.

Many philosophers, and those who do science for a living, insist that science is “value-free.” That is, what you find out about the world works, and how you look at it, shouldn’t depend on your “values.” The usual values that they mean are ethical, cultural, and political values.

The problem is: nothing is ever value-free. Science itself talks about values all the time. These are usually the values of measurements—like a temperature, a pressure, or the ratio of a radioactive element to whatever other element it changes into. Science should also depend on an over-arching value: truth. It should rely on a principle that even a famous atheist, Ayn Rand, upheld:

Reality is what it is, [and] we are what we are, independent of anyone’s beliefs, feelings, judgments or opinions. Existence exists. A is A.

How hypocrites distort science

Instead, science seems to depend on results. This does not limit itself to “the results that a scientist happens to get.” These are desired results—the results that, if valid, can make a political point.

Nathaniel Branden, author of the essay cited above, had the number of such “results-oriented scientists” (and politicians, too):

How low in their priorities is the issue of truth for most people when issues are involved about which they have strong feelings.

In other words, many scientists, and politicians, value their own programs, and whims, higher than the truth. So while pretending to value truth, they willfully distort it—both in scientific work and when they invoke “science” to score a point against a political opponent. Such behavior defines hypocrisy.

The prize example

David Harsanyi today talked about the prize example of such behavior. Last week, an obsessed-and-compelled woman and her nine-year-old son played political team tag with Governor Rick Perry (R-TX). During that rhetorical wrestling match, the woman urged her son,

Ask him why he doesn’t believe in science.

Yet at that same meeting, someone else asked Perry about “global warming.” In answer, he said that the science is not settled, and so spending billions of dollars as if the science were settled would create a bigger problem than it was supposed to solve.

Harsanyi’s point: the same political strategists behind both talking points (evolution and global warming) were trying to have it both ways. In short, if Perry had a faith-based position on a scientific controversy, then so do they. And more:

The progressives’ faith-based devotion to government is far more consequential than Perry’s faith-based position on evolution.

And why? Simple. Creation scientists never ask for government funding for their laboratories. They don’t even make policy recommendations. But global-warming alarmists would have the country “pour billions of dollars” into a policy that would probably not solve the problem—if the problem is real.

A broader problem

All this illustrates a much broader problem with science, one possibly as old as the discipline. Anyone who practices any discipline always follows the values of his patrons. And even a self-financing scientist will serve his own values.

And sometimes even scientists value their own political wishes and desires more than the truth. Those wishes include rebellion against God, control over their fellow-men’s lives, or both. And here is the point that even Harsanyi missed: evolution advocates have faith-based values, too. (Or maybe “anti-faith-based values” would be a more apt phrase.) They have faith that life somehow sprang up by accident, though the odds against that demand that they recognize that it was no accident. (In statistics, the command is: reject the null hypothesis when the odds against it are too long.) But they also have faith that this earth, which they think has maintained itself for four and a half billion years, will turn into a universal desert if they allow their fellow men to run loose.

As usual, the left tries to have it both ways. Real science would decide between one and the other. That will happen only when science breaks away from politics completely. That means no government laboratories, no government schools, and no government research grants.


Rick Perry evolution question

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Editor-in-chief at | + posts

Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

CATEGORY:Creation Corner


  1. Carmen D. Fry

    August 24, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    So, when you say “That means no government laboratories, no government schools, and no government research grants”, are you actually advocating the removal of these institutions and facilities? Or just for the privatization of them?

    It is true that many scientists will try to publish work and produce results that will help them receive funding (usually from the government). But even if the government does in fact fund projects that support its own agenda, not all of these agendas are malicious.

    For example, the U.S. Department of Energy funds many laboratories and research projects, most of them NOT related to global warming or evolution. Many projects, mostly physics and engineering related, can contribute greatly to the strength of this nation as a technological and economic power.

    I don’t think many people (except for conspiracy theorists) would deny that the Apollo missions were one of the greatest achievements of human ingenuity. The Apollo program was government-funded. Much of this nation’s defense research and energy research is government funded. A lot of this research takes place in government-funded laboratories and universities. Would you seriously advocate that the government end its involvement with these projects?

    I simply don’t see how this nation can advance technologically, economically or militarily if the government cuts itself off from scientific research completely.

    So, how would you have it? Would the government cease all involvement with science? Or just any science that didn’t relate to the environment or biology?

    • Terry A. Hurlbut

      August 24, 2011 at 9:30 pm

      I do indeed advocate the complete privatization of science. What matters here is not whether all, some, or none of the scientific projects that the government has funded are malicious, or (as is more common) misdirected and wasteful. What matters is the potential for waste, fraud, abuse, or a threat to liberty. Add this to it: nothing in the Constitution grants Congress the power “to promote progress in science in the useful arts by providing for and maintaining laboratories.” Rather, the Congress has the power “to promote the progress of science and the useful arts by granting to authors and inventors, for a limited time, the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” Do you see the distinction?

      The creation-evolution controversy is the prize example of a scientific controversy in which the government takes one side against the other. No matter where you stand on the question, you cannot, in all intellectual honesty, support a government that puts its thumb on the scale. Which is what the government does with its grant, scholarship, employment, and similar policies.

      Even laying that aside: the very notion of government grants for the sciences is an example of the mind-body dichotomy in action—the notion being that some sort of “pure” knowledge exists, having no practical application on this earth, that is nevertheless worth pursuing, and that no private industrialist would take the slightest interest in it. This, by the way, provoked many, during Project Apollo, to complain bitterly about the NASA budget, and about the tearing-up of the daily TV schedule, because “It doesn’t affect the Earth we’re living on!” Apollo XI was a grand and glorious show. But then it got to be repetitive, and boring. (Except for Apollo XIII, when it got downright panic-striking.) But even laying that aside: Granting the “technological spinoff” from Project Apollo, why couldn’t a consortium of industrialists have funded and run the project just as well? (And probably without forcing the Back Room Boys to find a way to fit a square peg into a round hole during Apollo XIII!) I’ll tell you why: because taxes were crushing. The taxes that funded Project Apollo, had to come from somebody’s pockets. And if any benefit was derivable from even a pure exhibition, then it was for private industry to lay that exhibition on, not the government.

      And it could have been a lot worse. You see, there is no such thing as “non-practical knowledge.” So what you risk, when the government runs the laboratory, is that the knowledge gained from it is put primarily into weapons. And those weapons, known only to the government, can become instruments of tyranny.

      Now because you “don’t see how this nation can advance technologically, economically or militarily if the government cuts itself off from scientific research completely,” I shall try to illustrate. Wrap your mind around this, if you can: a physicist operates his own laboratory, at his own expense, and does breakthrough-quality work. He then sells, not exclusive rights, but first rights to this cutting-edge research to industrialists and would-be inventors ready to turn his knowledge into practical devices for everyday use. And they pay him handsomely, in order to stay on top. And what works for physics, can work just as well for chemistry, biology, and geoscience.

      Not wanting to risk an indictment for plagiarism, I will tell you where that concept, and some of the other insights, came from. Ayn Rand mentioned them. Her signature work, Atlas Shrugged, mentions a character who does breakthrough work and supports himself by giving lectures, just as I described. It also mentions another scientist who found, to his dismay, that the government took his breakthrough-quality work and turned it into a weapon of mass destruction, aimed at the people.

  2. Joshua Zelinsky

    August 24, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    There’s a lot wrong with this.

    First, the comparison about “faith-based” is simply wrong. Global warming has a scientific consensus behind it as does evolution. The lady in question was being stupid (using children in politics is obnoxious and manipulative) but the basic question issue is clear, Perry has neither the expertise nor the intelligence to decide what is or is not settled science. And failing to pay attention to the actual scientific consensus when there’s a severe danger of bad things happening if one doesn’t respond is at best suboptimal behavior.

    The idea of defunding all government science is flawed. There seem to be two distinct arguments being made. One is the argument that it would be better if science was not funded by the government. The other is that such funding is unconstitutional.

    The claim that science funding is unconstitutional is interesting, and wrong. Lewis and Clark are a prominent example of early science funded by the government. At that time, most of the founders were still alive. They didn’t try to argue that such activity was unconstitutional. As a matter of longstanding precedent, and as a matter of the actions of the founders themselves, science funding is constitutional. If one wants specific wording that justifies this, look to general welfare or to the commerce clause.

    The next issue is whether science funding should come from the government or elsewhere. You suggest the classic libertarian model in which single scientists or small groups of scientists work together and then sell their results. However, the fact is that a large amount of science today are very large projects that simply cannot be done by a single scientists. Physics is in fact a great example of this as one looks at projects like the Large Hadron Collider or the IceCube neutrino detector, or the ITER fusion reaction. Moreover, many of the results of science are public goods. Everyone benefits from the results of new drugs and new medicinces. Everyone benefits from the increased standard of living that comes from GPS systems. Thus, like an army, or a police force, the only way they will get substantial funding is if people have to contribute.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut

      August 25, 2011 at 8:09 am

      I challenge the “scientific consensus” on global warming, and on evolution. The unsubstantiated word of those “consensus keepers” concerning the subjects on which they prattle—yes, prattle—is valueless. Especially given that both “scientific consensuses” have their grounding in fraud. What part of “I just used Mike’s Nature trick of grafting the real-time temperature series onto the proxy data to hide the decline” do you not get the implications of? And how about Piltdown and Peking Men?

      Your criticism of Perry has an even wider implication that just flew right over your head as you typed it. You say, “Perry has neither the expertise nor the intelligence to decide what is or is not settled science.” And you have? And why not Perry—because he’s a Texas Aggie? (I did two years of high school in Texas. I heard all the Aggie jokes. Then I came back to Texas to study medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. I was the odd-man-out, having an Ivy League degree, when everyone else was either a Texas Longhorn, a Texas Aggie, a Rice Thresher, or a Baylor Bear. So don’t speak slightingly of Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University.

      The wider implication is even more dire. If he wasn’t that qualified, then that woman should have known it. So what drove her to ask that question? And why doesn’t she ask Big Cheese Harvard Law Review Editor Barack Hussein Obama that question? You know why: because he would answer, “Evolution is real, global warming is real, and if re-elected, I promise you caps and trades.”

      The alternative is that every candidate needs a science adviser. Well, I wouldn’t give you two cents for Obama’s science adviser, John Holdren. Here’s a guy who wanted to poison the water to make people stop having children! And you and Carmen think I’m “out there” for bringing up Ayn Rand’s dreaded “Project X” in Atlas Shrugged?

      Now then: First, just because Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark on their expedition doesn’t mean that he should have. Second, that wasn’t a scientific expedition. That was just the sort of survey you would expect the government to conduct, after it bought a piece of land that nobody knew what was in, that doubled US territory at the time. That was a perfectly legitimate Army mission, and Jefferson, as Commander in Chief of the Army, was within his authority to order it.

      And as for “the very large projects”: you sell your fellow-man pretty short if you think that “only the government can manage a project of such-a-size.” Think outside the box, friend. That is, think outside the box that you put yourself in, depending as you would on the government to do The Big Stuff. What is a government, anyway, but an institution having a monopoly on force? An institution that reserves to itself the power to exact retribution against wrongdoers? What do big scientific projects have to do with that mission?

      And by the way: You know that your reliant-on-government policy has left two fine Americans stranded in space, don’t you? With their Russian supply ship lost? What kind of iron rations do you think they’ll have to go on, until another supply mission can scramble to assist them?

      • Joshua Zelinsky

        August 25, 2011 at 10:45 am

        You don’t seem to understand the point about consensus. When there’s an overwhelming consensus (in this case well over 90% of all climate scientists accepting climate change, and much higher fraction of biologists and evolution), simply pointing out minor problems doesn’t alter the consensus.

        But, let’s say it did. Let’s look at your claimed problems. “Hide the decline” and the like doesn’t mean what you seem to think it means. Among other problems, scientists and mathematicians use the phrase “trick” to mean a clever trick not a deceptive one all the time. For example, mathematicians sometimes refer to swapping orders of summation in clever ways as a trick. And this isn’t the only example of this sort of language, sometimes even stronger language is used. In topology there’s something known as the “Eilenberg-Mazur Swindle” for example, which if you don’t know what it is sounds like some sort of clever conjob.

        Your next example, Piltdown was a forgery made not by a scientist, and yes, not surprisingly, it did disrupt things. However, it was uncovered as a fraud precisely because it seemed to not fit the growing picture that scientists had developed about human evolution, from the many other, perfectly legitimate fossils. Moreover, scientists accepted the evolution of humans well before the discovery of Piltdown man.

        Peking Man is a perfect legitimate homo erectus fossil, so I have no idea what your issue is there. Are you referring to the fact that the fossil went missing during World War II? If so, I fail to see the relevance. Is the suggestion that an object disappearing while being shipped across continents during a planetary war is somehow indication of fraud?

        Moving on, Perry’s lack of qualification has nothing to do with him being an Aggie. That’s just silly. The issue is more fundamental than that (and I thought was clear from what I was saying. I apologize for the lack of clarity). Perry is not a scientist. He has none of the relevant expertise. He is not a geologist or a climatologist or a biologist. Questioning evolution or climatology is thus something he isn’t in a position to be able to do without spending a massive amount of time studying what he obviously hasn’t (being governor of Texas is a pretty time consuming job). He could have been a Harvard man or a Yalie and that wouldn’t change at all. So, the distinction between Perry and Obama in this context should be clear: Obama isn’t making statements against the consensus in areas well outside his expertise. Perry is.

        Your comment about Holdren is irrelevant at multiple levels. First, Holdren’s personal moral code isn’t terribly relevant to whether or not he is good at his job of giving advice on science issues. Second, Holdren didn’t advocate poisoning the water supply, he discussed it as one possible solution of many.

        Regarding Lewis and Clark, your first point is irrelevant. Whether Jefferson should have done so is not what matters. What matters is that not one founder piped up and said that there was something wrong with that expedition. As to your claim that Lewis and Clark didn’t do science, actually investigation of the natural world around them was one of their chief priorities. They discovered over forty species, as well as engaging in careful geological work and astronomical observations. And Jefferson’s ability to commission the mission didn’t extend solely from his duties as Commander and Chief, as you can see by the fact that he got Congressional permission for the expedition. There’s nothing particularly unique about L&C’s mission, it is but one example of many of how funding for science has been considered Constitutional from the very early founding of the nation. It is true that prior to World War II, the government funded a tiny fraction of the research that went on, but it was funding research.

        And no, there’s no issue here of thinking outside the box. Libertarian notions of government aside, the basic fact is that no non-government institution has the resources available for some of these large projects. The total cost of ITER for example will be in the range of tens of billions. But the results will benefit everyone in the long-term. Similar remarks apply to the LHC. If you are thinking outside the box, how do you intend for such projects to be funded?

        There’s also a big difference between being in generally reliant on the government and thinking that it makes sense for the government to help fund research. The claim about the astronauts is misguided. The zeroth problem with this is that the lack of a US space system to get them is due to a removal of government funding. But, let’s ignore that for now, and look at the other issues. First, people die or are hurt during expeditions and exploration all the time. It might be instructive to look at how many people died on the voyages of exploration during the 16th century. It is only very recently that we’ve become so concerned about death. Note for example, that Shannon Lucid and other aging astronauts have actually proposed the idea of sending them on a one-way trip to Mars which would be a lot cheaper and allow them to do a lot of research and help set up a base for future two-way missions. Second, there’s a more fundamental, factual issue. The astronauts aren’t stranded. There are two, perfectly functional Soyuz craft currently attached to the station. If necessary, they can evacuate and return to Earth. The idea that they are stranded there is simply not true.

        • Terry A. Hurlbut

          August 25, 2011 at 11:07 am

          I don’t rely on consensus. Truth is not something you put to a vote—unless you’re trying a case by jury. And you need a vote then because you deal here with credibility of witnesses, which no instrument can reliably measure. And in this case the jury is not reliable, because too many of them have a stake in the outcome of the debate. For most, the issue is crassly financial—getting more government gravy.

          “Hide the decline” is a direct admission of a deliberate attempt to deceive. I remind you that the man who said that, lost his job over it. I ought to know: I am the man who published the 62-megabyte archive to the world, on my semi-professional column, that I ran on before I started this site.

          Do you even remember the context for “hide the decline”? It was the Hockey Stick graph. Within three days of my alerting the world that someone had leaked 62 megabytes of “correspondence, code and documents” to the world, I examined the data sets that was part of that archive, and prepared my own graph of temperature anomalies. And I found that the Hockey Stick had no basis in fact, or at least not in that data set, it didn’t. My conclusion: the Hockey Stick was never valid, and Michael Mann knew it was invalid. His was a deliberate attempt to deceive, for the purpose of supporting a narrative requiring global land-use planning, jamming people into cities, or even—as John Holdren proposed—introducing “sterilants” into the food or water supply.

          Concerning Governor Perry: the Mainstream Media (or the Fishwrap Axis, as I have always called them) seized upon his boast that George W. Bush went to Yale, and he (Perry) went to A&M, and started in with the “Thereyasees.” Their thesis: Perry is a yokel, because he got his degree at Swamp Water U.—here known as Texas A&M. So save your snidery. That didn’t start with me.

          The question about Lewis and Clark is this: did they have a legitimate mission, or did they not? The fact remains that they did, and that mission was: survey, and, where feasible, contact and trade. If they did any “naturalism” along the way, more power to them. But that wasn’t why they went. They went to look for a “Northwest Passage.” They found a trail. And they had every good reason to be there, because the USA had just bought that land, and had a legitimate reason to know what lay on it, and how the land lay.

          That’s why Jefferson had the authority. And that’s why Congress also had the authority. (The Senate needed to approve the initial purchase.)

          I do not lay libertarian notions aside. The country cannot afford to do that—because the country can no longer afford to print funny money for projects of this kind. From now on, someone is going to have to demonstrate exactly how those projects will benefit people on this earth. And somebody else will have to pony up the money—voluntarily.

          Last of all: if your assurances about the astronauts and their crew-return capability are correct (and they had better be), I’m sure that their families down on this earth will be happy about it. But the loss of that cargo carrier didn’t settle any nerves. Quite opposite, in fact.

          • Joshua Zelinsky

            August 25, 2011 at 4:30 pm

            Your statement about not putting truth to a vote misses the point. The issue isn’t putting truth to a vote. The issue is that experts know more about their area of expertise. That’s why they are experts. There’s nothing special about climatology or biology here. This general heuristic holds quite strongly in almost any field of study: the experts no more than the non-experts. If all the experts agree on something, unless the layperson has studied a tremendous amount (so that they are effectively an expert) then they are probably wrong.

            I forgot you were the individual involved in that. But that really doesn’t matter. Hiding the decline referred to a specific issue that was known to be a problem with certain data sets. This wasn’t a hidden issue at all. There were multiple, easily accessible papers discussing just this issue and how to reconcile the data. Phil Jones, the individual who made the comment, was temporarily removed from his duties. After the investigation determined that there was no wrong doing, he was put back, where he now works. Similarly, Michael Mann has had multiple investigations over this all of which have cleared him (in fact the NSF just finished yet another investigation which also clears him).

            Frankly, in regards to Perry, it may be that I’m oblivious to the inter-school Texas rivalries. They aren’t relevant, and most people who aren’t from Texas are probably oblivious to them also. So blaming evil “Mainstream Media” for somehow having a negative attitude towards Perry from his A&M affiliation just doesn’t make sense.

            You don’t seem to be paying any attention to the issues regarding Lewis and Clark. You seem to be confusing the issue of whether there was a legitimate purpose with whether or not it is Constitutional. These are not the same thing. Let me ask a question in this context: What part of the US Constitution do you think authorizes survey work by the federal government?

            You misunderstand the point about libertarian ideology. Reality doesn’t conform to ideologies. This applies regardless of the political ideology. The same holds for example to those on the left who try to maintain that intelligence has no genetic component. Simply wanting something for ideological reasons doesn’t make it true. And the underlying facts are that these projects are much too large to be done by lone private individuals or even groups of universities, and that these projects provides benefits for humanity as a whole. There’s been a long history of such projects benefiting people. Classic and prominent examples are things like GPS and communication satellites, or the now common use of radioactive materials in various medical contexts, which arose from government funded studies of nuclear behavior.

            As to your last paragraph-by many metrics the Soyuz has a better safety record than the shuttle. The shuttle had fatalities on 2 out of about a 130 missions. In contrast the Soyuz has had fatalities on only one mission (way back in 1971) and there have been about 120 manned Soyuz missions. This is the sort of thing (like the presence of the ready Soyuzes on the ISS) which would be apparent if one spent minimal time paying attention to the ISS program. And no, obviously that doesn’t make the astronauts’ families very comfortable. Space travel is dangerous. As Ronald Reagan noted after the Challenger, it is easy for us to get used to the idea of space and to forget that it is still a frontier that we are just beginning to explore. Even when there was a shuttle, astronauts going up into space or staying on one of the space stations were risking their lives. To think that somehow things were all safe and without risk when the shuttle was around is an insult to the brave men and women who have risked their lives so that humanity may one day reach the stars. It doesn’t change things much whether they are using Soyuz or shuttles. The risks are there. Let’s not forget that and let’s appreciate what they do.

          • Terry A. Hurlbut

            August 25, 2011 at 5:42 pm

            You say that it isn’t a matter of putting truth to a vote. I say it is. “Consensus” is a vote. And “consensus” can be wrong, that is, vote for falsehood.

            And about those “experts”: Oh—you mean the same kind of “experts” that told us that mortgage-backed securities, issued by certain government-sponsored enterprises, were rock-solid and non-default-able? You will say that that’s different. But in principle it is the same. It is a question of “experts” getting it wrong.

            And experts can and do get it wrong. The history of science is replete with example after example of experts getting it wrong. The classic example: according to the “experts” in aerodynamics, bees can’t fly.

            So now you know that I broke the story. “Hide the decline” got the man who uttered that phrase, fired. That he was re-hired only tells me that the fix is in.

            Concerning Lewis and Clark: because that mission served a purpuse that derived directly from the inherent duty of any government to know the territory it governs, any exploration of that territory would be Constitution. How’re you supposed to “provide for the common defense” of territory if you don’t know how much you have, or where it ends, or what resources might lie in it? That and that alone is what gave Jefferson, and the Congress, the authority to send Lewis and Clark on their expedition. And the Northwest Passage? They would later find out that that didn’t exist. But it was incumbent on the government, again for “common defense” reasons, to know whether a Northwest Passage existed or not.

            Now about ideologies: So “reality doesn’t conform to ideologies.” But what makes your ideology any more compatible with reality than mine? I would say, from the tone of your remarks, that the opposite is the case.

            Last of all: when I was completing my training in pathology and laboratory medicine, radioactive tracers were on their way to a complete phase-out. Enzymatic methods had become available, and by then it had at last become clear that radioactive decay was a thing not to be messed around with.

            Aside from that: your position that “some projects are too large for the private sector” remains asserted but not proved. You will never prove that. The only reason that the private sector has never been big enough to take on a project like that, is that it is overtaxed, over-regulated, or maybe just flat-out forbidden.

            Maybe the next thing you need to see is another Atlas Shrugged parallelism article—about “Project X.”

      • Rubble

        August 25, 2011 at 12:53 pm

        John Holdren NEVER “wanted to poison the water to make people stop having children.” This is a lie spread by the likes of Glenn Beck:

        • Terry A. Hurlbut

          August 25, 2011 at 1:29 pm

          PolitiFact is good enough to quote the book Ecoscience, of which Holdren was a co-author. Their excerpting was accurate enough, and includes the full context.

          But I reject their evaluation. The tone of the book was, “Gee, it’s just too bad that we can’t do such-and-such.”

          If you put Holdren’s grudging acknowledgment that some of these proposed measures would violate the Constitution, together with Obama’s statements that the Constitution is a flawed document because it is a statement of “negative liberties” only, you now have to ask yourself whether Holdren is looking forward to a regime in which the law does allow these measures. I put it to you that John Holdren’s tone of wistful regret at the tying of his hands by the Constitution and the law, pervades even the excerpts that PolitiFact included in that piece. Put it together with the whole book, and what you get is a wish list for the ultimate in government population planning.

  3. Dan Holmes

    August 25, 2011 at 2:53 am

    Wow, the irony of complaining about government involvement in science on the internet.

    How obtuse can you get?

    • Terry A. Hurlbut

      August 25, 2011 at 7:52 am

      Just because the Internet happened to begin as a government science project, does not mean that it would never have begun but for a government science project. If “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” (after it, therefore on account of it) is a logical fallacy, then “propter hoc, ergo sine hoc non” (on account of it, therefore without it no) is an even bigger logical fallacy.

  4. Tom

    August 25, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Enjoyed the article. Couple of quick observations:

    – A logical fallacy was committed when you wrote, “Science itself talks about values”.

    This is the fallacy of reification. Science doesn’t “talk”. However, scienTISTS talk. This is not a trivial problem unless it’s an obvious figure of speech. It’s also a common tactic used to question someone’s intellectual capabilities, as you indicated.

    – “Science should also depend on an over-arching value: truth”. Science is NOT the search for truth, or as I think is implied, right v. wrong, good v. bad. Science, in the broadest definition, is the current accumulated knowledge based on the empirical investigation of a presumably orderly creation. It’s an effort to discover the best explanation for a natural phenomenon.

    People – being concerned with morality – “search” for truth using methods like philosophy and religion. And it’s people – in this case, scientists – that should be expected to be truthful not “science”. For instance, climatologists lie, not climatology. If that body of study interested in determining how the climate operates is replete with error or fraud then it’s because of the errors and fraud of climatologists.

  5. Joshua Zelinsky

    August 25, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    Unfortunately your comment system doesn’t allow more than a certain comment depth so rather than reply directly it looks like I’m going to need to put in a new comment here.

    This will, in any event, likely be my last comment about these issues. Many more of these comments likely had diminishing marginal returns.

    I agree that experts can be wrong. Sometimes the expert consensus is wrong. But that doesn’t happen that frequently. And yes, there is a different between the mortgage and securities evaluations and global warming and evolution. In particular, the natural sciences are much more objective. So it is harder (not impossible but much harder) for consensus to be wrong.

    As to Jones, to say that you can count someone being fired as evidence for claim A and to also count them being rehired as evidence for claim A, is about as close as one can get to stating that any result will further convince you. That’s both illogical, epistemologically flawed, and not in general helpful if one is trying to actually figure out the truth.

    I’m curious, if you think that “common defense” is enough to justify such exploration what else falls under that? Does monitoring of fault lines and volcanoes fall under that? Does the development of new medicine which will protect the population from disease? If not, how are they different?

    As to what makes my ideology more compatible- I’m generally not a fan of ideologies. I try to minimize the number of ideologies I subscribe to unless I have evidence that they actually help matters. There are certainly issues where I could reasonably seem myself running into problems where ideologies would conflict with evidence. For example, if someone tried to present evidence that the First Amendment has made the US worse off overall, I’d probably have difficulty accepting that evidence and probably have a lot of trouble looking at the evidence rationally. This would be precisely because I consider the First Amendment to be a good thing. But, this failure on my part would be a *bad thing*. And I’d like to hope that if something like that occurred, I would set aside my ideological framework and try to look at the evidence as impartially as I can. However, to reject climate change and evolution for ideological grounds is to do exactly this bad thing. Reality must control ideology, not the other way around. To do otherwise leads to things like Lysenkoism and such. Ultimately, reality doesn’t care what we want it to be, and we ignore reality at our own peril.

    I don’t know what sort of medical work you were doing, but radioactive seeds are used still in all sorts of medical contexts. For example, some cancers are treated by the careful implantation of radioactive seeds. Many forms of radioactive tracers are also still in use. PET scans would be an obvious example.

    Of course I can’t prove that very large projects won’t be doable by corporations. Proof is for math and alcohol. However, I can give evidence. And the fact that the largest such programs have budgets that approximately rival the sizes of the largest companies certainly seems to me to be suggestive evidence. That someone can write a fictional novel where private interests can do such things is in no way evidence for their possibility.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut

      August 25, 2011 at 7:54 pm

      Bear in mind, as to the fiction, that the self-financing physicist, who eked out a living by lecturing on his finds, was serving a very small community, no bigger than a conventional village. That’s the equivalent of a Limited Liability Partnership (or Company) about the size of an Ernst and Young, with staff and budget to match, running cutting-edge physics laboratories and offering the most high-powered consultancies you can imagine, all over the country or even over the world.

      Also: when you do your back-of-the-envelope calculations, see if you can factor in a tremendously diminished tax burden.

      Beyond that, the Constitution sets certain limits. I am convinced that the present government has exceeded those limits for a long time. And that includes scientific research.

  6. Joshua Zelinsky

    August 25, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    Again, the fictional setting simply isn’t relevant. I can write a fictional world where communism works. That won’t change the fact that it doesn’t.

    As to the back of the envelope calculations, it depends on how you are cutting them. If for example you made a trillion dollars in tax cuts to the personal income tax then the vast majority of that would go to the top .1% or around 300,000 people. If it were spread out evenly among all those people, that would be around 3 million dollars to each. That’s not nearly enough for any of them to do any large projects. Now, this isn’t a great model because some of those people would be a lot richer than others. So let’s change things by a factor of 10 and distribute all that money to the top .01%. Then each gets 30 million dollars. That’s enough for a lot of decent size projects. But things like the LHC, ITER, are way out of their league. Things like GPS that provide general benefits to everyone with quick returns? Still out of their league. (As a sanity check, note that the millionaires in the US control around 10 trillion dollars, so these numbers are in the right ballpark.)

    The situation is slightly better if we look at large corporations. The very largest corporations do have enough money to fund things like ITER or the LHC. But they run into other problems: stockholders want quick returns on their investments. They aren’t going to want something like the LHC which will take massive amounts of time. And they certainly don’t want research into technologies like GPS which benefits pretty much everyone but is almost impossible to make a direct profit of.

    Part of what is going on here is that even as the budgets for large science projects are a teensy tiny bit of the federal budget, they are still orders of magnitude more than almost anything that any private individual or corporation has access to.

    Science is a public good and it reflects a lot of the classical behavior of public goods.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut

      August 25, 2011 at 10:30 pm

      And here we have to disagree. I do not recognize any such thing as a public good. And I recognize one, and only one, public service: meeting force with force, to protect the society against criminals and armed invaders. The corollary to that is the judicial function.

      • Joshua Zelinsky

        August 25, 2011 at 10:39 pm

        That’s an interesting claim. I could argue that the essential features of a public good in this context are descriptive rather than normative, but that seems to be potentially unhelpful semantics. Are you then not in favor of local fire departments?

        I’m also curious how this interacts with your views on the Constitution. Would you agree that the founders had a broader notion of the duties of government than you do?

        • Terry A. Hurlbut

          August 25, 2011 at 10:50 pm

          Not for the most part. The Founders did make a few key mistakes, however. They gave the Congress the power “to establish post offices and post roads.” They never once thought to limit government to that essential duty: to drop the hammer on anyone who initiated force against an inoffensive person.

          And yet they did limit government a lot more than most people appreciate. The problem is that the “liberal construction” of the Constitution has caused this government to exceed the authority of the original words, by any reasonable standard whatsoever.

          I would recommend a Constitutional amendment to strike the post-offices-and-post-roads power, and privatize both. And another one to say that the United States shall never again make anything other than a tangible commodity legal tender. It can be gold, silver, copper, or oil. I’ve spoken to someone who recommends oil.

          I further put it to you that if the Founders knew what we had made of their enumeration of Congressional powers, and especially of the government’s inability to deliver the mail, they would agree with me.

          • Joshua Zelinsky

            August 28, 2011 at 10:56 am

            Hmm, interesting. So what is the difference between threats to society that arise from force and threats to society that arise from nature?

          • Terry A. Hurlbut

            August 28, 2011 at 11:38 am

            Nature does not threaten society as such. It threatens individual members of it, who ought to prepare to protect themselves.

            Man-made force interferes with how men and women interact. That is why, so long as men and women live together, no one may initiate the use of force against another. Force is appropriate only in retaliation and only against one who has initiated its use.

            Government is an institution of force. Furthermore, it has a monopoly, or a franchise, on force. (Two governments trying to provide protective services by “subscription” to residents of the same territory could wind up going to war, especially if a subscriber to Government A commits a crime against a subscriber to Government B. Consider Israel and Al-Fatah in Judea and Samaria, for example.)

            But of necessity, government must limit itself to “forceful” functions. In the executive branch, that means the police, the military, and the cadre of public prosecutors (and public defenders, if desired).

  7. aveskde

    August 26, 2011 at 6:22 am

    >>The problem is: nothing is ever value-free. Science >>itself talks about values all the time. These are usually >>the values of measurements

    This is a fallacy of equivocation between values (morals) and values (measurements).

    >>Science should also depend on an over-arching value: truth

    Science determines what is conditionally TRUE. it has nothing to do with TRUTH insofar as the concept of being eternally and unconditionally true. Only math can accomplish this.

    >>Instead, science seems to depend on results. This does >>not limit itself to “the results that a scientist happens >>to get.” These are desired results—the results that, if >>valid, can make a political point.

    Of course it depends on results. You cannot determine the validity of something without testing the results of what it predicts or hypothesizes.

    You also confuse scientists for political activists, lobbyists, politicians, journalists, etc. Scientists operate in their own sphere, and others politicize their research.

    >>So while pretending to value truth, they willfully >>distort it—both in scientific work and when they invoke >>“science” to score a point against a political opponent. >>Such behavior defines hypocrisy.

    Of course, even when we take account of scientists with personal bias, we remember that there is a process of peer review which safeguards against politics and bias entering theory. Your assertion of conspiracy and corruption in the process is therefore without basis. Scientific methodology does not operate like your religion and ideology. It checks its facts and propositions for accuracy and coherency.

    >>Yet at that same meeting, someone else asked Perry about >>“global warming.” In answer, he said that the science is >>not settled, and so spending billions of dollars as if >>the science were settled would create a bigger problem >>than it was supposed to solve.

    Perfect case example. The scientists have spent decades researching anthropomorphic climate change and climate change theory, and the bulk of them agree that we are affecting the climate with our emissions. What does a politician like Perry do? He twists the science to suit himself.

    >>Harsanyi’s point: the same political strategists behind >>both talking points (evolution and global warming) were >>trying to have it both ways. In short, if Perry had a >>faith-based position on a scientific controversy, then so >>do they. And more:

    Evolution and global warming are not faith-based positions. That assertion is wrong categorically and by definition. Try a newer canard, like “it’s only a theory” or “evolution is a theory in crisis.”

    >>And why? Simple. Creation scientists never ask for >>government funding for their laboratories. They don’t >>even make policy recommendations.

    Creationism seeks to use public funds for the spread of its ideology. That is why it uses Intelligent Design and related campaigns to sneak creationism into schools. It can only survive through childhood indoctrination, and public schools are the greatest threat to its mythology.

    As for laboratories, creationists have none. The last thing you want to do when your assertions are wrong is test them to prove that they are in front of everybody.

    >>And sometimes even scientists value their own political >>wishes and desires more than the truth. Those wishes >>include rebellion against God, control over their >>fellow-men’s lives, or both. And here is the point that >>even Harsanyi missed: evolution advocates have >>faith-based values, too. (Or maybe “anti-faith-based >>values” would be a more apt phrase.) They have faith that >>life somehow sprang up by accident, though the odds >>against that demand that they recognize that it was no >>accident. (In statistics, the command is: reject the null >>hypothesis when the odds against it are too long.) But >>they also have faith that this earth, which they think >>has maintained itself for four and a half billion years, >>will turn into a universal desert if they allow their >>fellow men to run loose.

    You forgot to include the canards that Satan made the fossils, atheists really believe in god but deny him, liberalism is a form of atheism, atheists are a form of Muslim, atheists killed millions last century, evolution wants eugenics, etc.

    I mean, if you are just going to repeat creationist talking points regardless of fact, you may as well list ALL of them.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut

      August 26, 2011 at 8:27 am

      You admit that you cannot test the validity of any theory without testing its predicted results. And yet you accept theories that do not so test—or when it pretends to test, it fudges.

      You also forget that scientists are human, too. The sphere of scientists includes the latest research grant (which seems to be a government grant more often today than before), and their own ways of looking at the world. Peer review founders on the rock of commonly accepted worldviews.

      Operational science (literally, how the world works) might be free of bias, or self-correcting of that bias. Origins science has failed miserably by that standard. And so has climate science. In this case, the scientists involved want more than the latest government grant. They want positions of authority over those who don’t wear the white smock. Their arrogance knows no bounds. And I think some of it has rubbed off on you.

      “Creation [scientists] have no laboratories.” Oh, no? Tell that to the members of the Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth project.

      The rest of what you list, about “Satan making the fossils,” is silly. Satan can’t make anything, remember? “Get your own dirt,” said God when Satan boasted that he could create something.

      Now the rest of those statements have more kernels of truth than you want to admit:

      “Atheists really believe in God but deny Him.” Of course. Scratch any atheist and you’ll find a deep-seated resentment against God as they perceive Him. Find me a happy atheist. If you can. Madalyn Murray O’Hair was bitter to the end.

      “Liberalism is a form of atheism.” No, I won’t say that either liberalism or atheism are subsets of the other. But they do overlap. Ask yourself why.

      “Atheists are a form of Muslims.” Definitely not. I think atheists have a dangerous blind spot about Muslims, though. All that Islam is, is pan-Arab nationalism in religious dress.

      “Atheists killed millions in the last century.” The sorry records of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the People’s Republic of China, form the basis of that statement.

      “Evolution wants eugenics.” Ask the unwilling participants in the Lebensraum program. Read carefully, and critically, the writings of Margaret Sanger.

  8. Pingback: Global warming models obsolete - Conservative News and Views

  9. TJM

    August 27, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    I do have to point out that there is a fine public institution in this country known as the University of Virginia. As you probably already know, its founder was Thomas Jefferson himself, a figure whom it seems most conservatives look up to and respect (in no small part due to his status as a Founding Father).

    What most conservatives seem to ignore, or perhaps are just unaware of, is that Jefferson was always an advocate for public education. He was also strongly against placing religion into the public sphere (this is why he did not allow a theology or divinity department in the University). Of course the university today does have a reputable Religious Studies department and chapel, but these were notably absent from Jefferson’s original plans.

    I find it intriguing that many in the conservative movement go so far as to say that “separation of church and state” was never an idea that began with the Founders. And I find it absolutely astonishing that some would even go so far as to say that no public service or public good except for the ‘national defense’ (except of course for any scientific projects associated with the national defense) are permitted by the Constitution.

    Now I think that the author of the above article should fully admit that his ideology is NOT associated with any sort of “conservative” philosophy associated with the original intent of the Founding Fathers, but is rather more of a “radical libertarian” view apart from the mainstream conservative movement. (I apologize if the author has already done this).

    • Terry A. Hurlbut

      August 27, 2011 at 10:59 pm

      That might have been the one single mistake that Thomas Jefferson made—to set a precedent for government sponsorship of education, at any level. If he could but see what Horace Mann and his spiritual descendants have done with it, it might repent him that he ever established the University of Virginia without a private endowment.

  10. Joshua Zelinsky

    August 28, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    Replying to reply about force (again the commenting system here seems to be slightly suboptimal): It seems like the primary difference you are talking about is one of scale. So let me ask the following then: If a large asteroid was coming to destroy the Earth, would you be ok with the government taking steps to deflect it?

    • Terry A. Hurlbut

      August 29, 2011 at 8:02 am

      You assume that only the government would detect and respond to such a threat. In my version of society, the same astronomers who earn their living on a lecture circuit, would sound an alarm and make clear to the biggest businessmen that it would do them no good to lose their customers, their supply chain, and everything else by allowing the asteroid to fall. And then you would get an asteroid deflector that did not need to get any of its parts from inferior-quality contractors, just because said contractors lived in the “right” States or congressional districts.

      • Joshua Zelinsky

        August 29, 2011 at 9:02 am

        Terry, are you familiar with the Prisoner’s Dilemma or variations thereof?

        • Terry A. Hurlbut

          August 29, 2011 at 9:17 am

          From Wikipedia:

          Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated the prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies for the prosecution against the other (defects) and the other remains silent (cooperates), the defector goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full one-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only one month in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a three-month sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?

          In your scenario, the asteroid is the cop, and the individual, minding-their-own-business humans, with no “United Nations Aeronautics and Space Administration” to “protect” them, are the prisoners.

          I think what you are really after is the Freeloader Problem: if one person has the good sense to act against a threat, and his act protects others who take no action, then the other non-actors are freeloaders. Yet, if no one acts, the hazard descends upon all.

          First of all, the same evidence would be available to all. So, unlike the classical PD, anyone has the opportunity to see for himself, and the cops can’t play games.

          Next, “the other guy will never know” won’t cut it. Of course everybody will know.

          Next: these “prisoners” won’t be separated.

          Last: on the scale you mentioned, deliberate “defection” is not an option.

          So you will indeed get cooperation, and full cooperation.

          Now let me throw this right back at you: I maintain that a government that sticks its nose into business that does not belong to it, is the cop—and a bad cop. And we are all prisoners. The classic PD also assumes that the charge is just. I maintain that the charge is unjust. Now how should the prisoners act?

          • Geno

            August 29, 2011 at 9:37 am

            I submit that in the asteroid example cited above, there can be no doubt the government, by dealing with the asteroid, would be acting under the “common welfare” clause. It should be obvious to even the most ardent libertarian that it is certainly acting in the “common welfare” to keep the population from being wiped out.

          • Terry A. Hurlbut

            August 29, 2011 at 9:39 am

            True, as far as it goes. But that assumes that the government is a good-faith actor and really has the welfare of the world’s residents at heart. And do you know what else you have just done? You have just plumped for a one-world federation, and on specious grounds.

          • Joshua Zelinsky

            August 29, 2011 at 10:25 am

            Yes, the freeloader problem is more or less an n-player version of Prisoners. (There’s a bit of game theory here I’m brushing under the rug). But yes, this is essentially a free-loader problem.

            And yes, this argument does to a limited extent suggest that in some circumstances a single government will have advantages. For other purposes a single government is not so helpful. This is one reason we have multiple levels of government and treaties and the like.

            Also, your comment about PD assuming that the “charge is just” misses the point- PD is simply the standard interpretation of that particular game. It has nothing to do with whether they are actual prisoners and whether or not they are guilty. In this particular context, an asteroid doesn’t care very much about justice.

          • Terry A. Hurlbut

            August 29, 2011 at 10:38 am

            Actually, your argument assumes something else that I find ironic in the extreme: that the asteroid is real, and that this same asteroid never existed before and did not go splat on the earth a long time ago.

            Now I could stop this right now by saying that your doomsday scenario would violate every rule of uniformitarianism in astronomy. But I won’t say that. Astronomers play fast and loose with that rule whenever it suits them. Like when they assume that a “giant impactor” materially affected the history of every planet in the solar system, and even at least one dwarf planet, i.e., Pluto. Why, to hear them tell it, giant impactors are all over the place and just waiting to wipe the earth out completely.

            But let me tell you what is really going on: We are, all of use, the prisoners. The cops are the United Nations, and those who apologize for them. The asteroid is the “charge.” And the cops’ failure to co-operate with pre-trial discovery for the prisoners’ lawyers is the equivalent of the UN (or whoever) saying that an asteroid might strike the earth, and providing no proof.

            We prisoners have every incentive to cooperate against the UN “cops,” gather our own evidence, and decide for ourselves how we’re going to handle the situation, if the situation is as dire as the cops claim. You see, the cops have every incentive to exaggerate the threat. The threat justifies the cops’ existence, and their power to tax. (Think Form UN-1040, United Nations Individual Income Tax Return. Or a worldwide value-added tax.) So I would never advise my fellow “prisoners” to take anything that these “cops” say at face value.

            The asteroid might not care about justice. But we jolly well had better care whether the asteroid is real, or a fraud. And if it is real, we shouldn’t need a government to do something about it, or tell us what to do about it.

          • Geno

            August 29, 2011 at 11:00 am

            Terry claims:
            You have just plumped for a one-world federation, and on specious grounds

            Geno answers:
            Not by a long shot…. the legitimate constitutional objective would be to protect the citizens of the United States. Protection of others is incidental to that.

            Unless, of course,you can describe for us how we would protect ourselves without also protecting others.

          • Terry A. Hurlbut

            August 29, 2011 at 11:26 am

            Where to begin:

            The legitimate protection of self from certain kinds of threats, protects others down the line if the protection neutralizes the threat.

            Note well what I said: legitimate.

            The specious ground for the one-world federation would be: “must have this in place for the hypothetical asteroid strike.”

            Here is how that scenario would work out: Private astronomers would spot an object and track it. Enough aerospace contractors would realize that they ought to act, to protect not only themselves, but their future livelihoods—customers, suppliers, and the like. And if anyone concluded that a consortium of militaries needed to act, then the President would be on the phone with his counterparts who have comparable militaries, and the Senate could come back for emergency session and ratify a treaty. (The Irwin Allen motion picture Meteor describes just such a temporary treaty.)

            But you don’t need a one-world federation to deal with a threat like that.

            You also sell short the basic principle of “good neighbors.” Part of the problem with our society is that we depend so much on government, that we fail to build the kinds of relationships with our neighbors that could serve just as well. Take this recent hurricane, for example. In the old days, the local neighborhood watch would form a “posse” with axes and saws to cut up all the fallen branches and trees, and would have those roads open faster than you could say, “Jack Robinson.” Nowadays, it’s “Let the government worry about it.” Not smart.

            Nor is it smart to accept as established, a threat that might or might not be real or even make itself real. That way lies enslavement.

          • Geno

            August 29, 2011 at 11:23 am

            Terry claims:
            to hear them tell it, giant impactors are all over the place and just waiting to wipe the earth out completely.

            Geno answers:
            Right. It’s not like we see impact craters on every body in the solar system (except the gas giants, of course). It’s also not like we haven’t directly observed such an impact. Comet Shoemaker-Levy’s impact with Jupiter comes to mind.

            Oh yeah…. it doesn’t take a “gaint” bolide to cause a major extinction event.

          • Terry A. Hurlbut

            August 29, 2011 at 11:29 am

            The kind of “giant impactor” that I had heard tell about, was an object the size of the planet Mars, not an object the size of Comet Shoemaker-Levy.

            Most of those impactors have already fallen. And they didn’t fall over the whole “billions of years.” They fell all at once, about 4400 years ago. And none of them was big enough to split the moon off the earth, stop or reverse the rotation of Venus, or do any of the other things that astronomers have invoked “giant impactors” to explain.

          • Geno

            August 29, 2011 at 12:18 pm

            An impactor the size of Mars would melt the surface of the Earth. I’m thinking more on the lines of 10-15 miles diameter.

            According to the impact calculator at:

            A 10 mile bolide, made of a mixture of ice and porous rock (1250kg/m3), impacting at 45 degrees with a velocity of 50 km/sec in 1500 m of water (say the middle of the Atlantic Ocean) would cause the following at a distance of 1500 mi (say the East Coast of the US).

            Energy released 815 million megatons.

            Air blast: 394 mph. Multistory wall-bearing buildings will collapse. Wood frame buildings will almost completely collapse. Glass windows will shatter.
            Up to 90 percent of trees blown down; remainder stripped of branches and leaves.

            Tsunami: between 180 and 360 feet. (This should easily wipe out every major city on the East Coast and completely wash over the state of Florida.

            Anyone who wishes can go to the link and “play around” with the parameters to see the devestation even a 10 mile bolide can cause.

  11. Joshua Zelinsky

    August 29, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Terry, you don’t need a Mars size object to make things very bad for humans. Much smaller objects work just fine. (a few kilometers across can do a lot of damage)

    But the basic point you seem to agree with: There are circumstances where you are willing to have large-scale government intervention which is not due to a threat of force. If that’s the case, how do you decide which are and are not valid?

    • Terry A. Hurlbut

      August 29, 2011 at 2:10 pm

      How else? Anything that no private businessman, or consortium of them, could handle. And that’s a tall order. The only reason I even mentioned it was to avoid a permanent one-world federation, for which you plumped. And I was being very generous, then–probably too generous.

      The only reason that any challenges might remain that a consortium of private operators cannot handle, is that the taX, regulatory, and other burdens have been deliberately set too high. Someone has made a judgment that private individuals, and companies of private partners, shareholders, etc., are inherently not to be trusted. And so we’ve got a set of laws of which Tarquin the Proud might have been–well, proud. Like lopping off the poppies that grow too tall.

      All weapons that the government uses, came from a private contractor. The government cannot create wealth of any kind. It can only take it.

      So in the interest of liberty, I would like to see a society that allows its most productive members able to take on just such a project as this, so that the government doesn’t have to. And so the rest of us can tell the government to stay out of it. And so we don’t have to trust the government with that kind of power. For a government that can deflect an asteroid, can steer one. Chew on that for the next comment cycle.

      • Joshua Zelinsky

        August 30, 2011 at 11:42 pm

        Terry, it seems that you have a fundamental belief that government is never more efficient. This is an ideological claim which isn’t necessary a reflection of reality. A potentially more helpful approach is to actually look at each specific thing and ask “does the government do this better or does private enterprise?”

        You have essentially made the decision that it is better to put the government in charge of force, essentially deciding that having groups voluntarily pool together to pay for mercenaries is less effective.

        But the fact is that if one looks at the historical data a lot of things are really done more efficiently by the government. Aside from research, one has some really prominent examples like fire fighting. For much of history fire fighting was a combination of volunteer organizations as well as private companies. We switch over to using government fire departments for the large cities because it was more efficient and safer.

        There’s an easy way to convince the rest of the world that a strongly libertarian system would work: get a country to do it and see what happens. Even better, found a country and see if you can get it to work. The Seastedding group is trying to do just that, founding libertarian ocean going colonies. They’ve got some pretty prominent backers including Peter Thiel. The idea has a few practical problems. But if you are correct in your claim that a libertarian system would increase the level of prosperity by orders of magnitude then they should be easily overcome by hard work and capitalism. And if something like that succeeds then the rest of us will look at and consider the evidence. So if you really want to convince the world, don’t just make ideological claims, get experimental data.

        • Terry A. Hurlbut

          August 31, 2011 at 7:46 am

          I have more than a fundamental belief. I have what you demand: experimental data. My data are the number of mailpieces that the United States Post Office has lost, the number of rental or utility or other statements I didn’t get on time, the number of nasty-grams I got back from people who didn’t get paid because I sent the check and the post office didn’t get the check there on time or didn’t get it there at all, et cetera ad nauseam.

          If you like the United States Postal Service, you are gonna love socialized medicine!

          The interesting part is that you now have to reach all the way to some gray area like firefighting to find anything, other than the police, that government has any business doing. And that you even have to accuse me of wanting to disband the police! Don’t laugh too hard, however. Some of my sources have heard so many horror stories of “police brutality” (excessive use of force, holding a person-of-interest without charge longer than the law allows, trumped-up charges, throw-down weapons, etc.) that they are all ready to put the safety of the community strictly in the hands of the local militia and a minimalist Committee of Safety.

          The biggest flaw in the presentation by a number of Democratic Party politicians is that they suggest that, just because someone wants some trim-around-the-edges reform of entitlements, they really want to disband the fire departments! In plain fact, they want to say that anything the government now does, it should keep on doing. That kind of lobster-trap thinking is typical of Muslims when they think of all the lands that they took by force. I have no respect for either.

          Maybe I’ll watch that seasteading group. And maybe you should tell all of your allied politicians—the Chuck Schumers, the Charlie Rangels, the John Kerrys, the Maxine Waterses, and all the rest of that rogues’ gallery—that if they’re not careful, they might drive all the minds of the country into the sea, by that route.

          In closing, I will leave you with these immortal words from Ayn Rand:

          Oh, they need me, do they? What if I went on strike? What if all the creative minds of the world went on strike? That would make a good novel, wouldn’t it?

          • Joshua Zelinsky

            August 31, 2011 at 9:37 am

            You misunderstand both my intent and my point at multiple levels. I’m perfectly ok with looking at something like the Post Office and saying “hey, this isn’t working and non-government entities are doing it better”. And I haven’t said anything about health care.

            And yes, I’m bringing up fire departments because it is precisely the sort of thing where you might see the point of having it run by the government. In this context, you’ve explicitly said that you are in favor of the removal of everything like fire departments (that some of Democrats have leveled accusations about that sort of thing to people who don’t want to do that is utterly irrelevant). You’ve explicitly said that other than issues of direct force you don’t want any government intervention. So, if I can convince you that it makes more sense to look at each thing individually and look at whether or not there’s an overall benefit to having the government run it, then that’s progress.

          • Terry A. Hurlbut

            August 31, 2011 at 9:58 am

            Well, well, well. If true, then the state of the debate encourages me even more. If someone other than me will at last say that maybe we ought to treat the delivery of mail as we treat any other service, and have the market take care of it, that makes me feel a bit better.

            The reason that firefighting is “gray” is that even libertarian ethics (like, for example, Objectivist ethics) makes a qualified exception to the “no-unearned favors” rule. The word for that circumstance is: emergency. Which means: any condition that immediately threatens life. The larger the scale of that threat, the larger the response required.

            I heard about a town that disbanded its fire department for financial reasons. The company that took it over, once let a house burn because the owner hadn’t paid up. That’s not the way you handle it. What you do instead is: put the fire out, and call the collection agent later if you have to.

            There are ways to plan effectively how a society would handle an emergency like that. Those ways don’t have to include letting the government run it completely. Sometimes its setting up a body of law that allows for competition, and gives the fire company some redress after the fact against any “freeloading.”

            But that’s as far as I’m willing to go. I don’t want any more of the century of government mission creep that has brought us to this disgraceful and tyrannical pass.

  12. Geno

    August 29, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Terry claims:
    Most of those impactors have already fallen. And they didn’t fall over the whole “billions of years.” They fell all at once, about 4400 years ago

    Geno points out:
    Yes, most of them have already fallen…. much longer ago than just 4400 years. In fact, if most of them had fallen just 4400 years ago the planet would have been sterilized.

    From the opening comments of “A Rain of Fire and Brimstone” in which I have analyzed that particular aspect of Dr. Walt Brown’s “Hydroplate” model:

    Brown’s Hydroplate Flood Model includes sending all of the asteroids and comets to space as the result of a huge rip in Earth’s crust and the release of pressure from boiling super hot water that is stored 10 miles below
    the surface. This will also send up a lot of material that doesn’t reach orbit. As this material falls back to Earth, it will reach an average velocity of over 12,000 mph. The heat from friction with the air during reentry will boil every drop of water on the planet…. ten times over.

    Even if Brown’s launch mechanism has an extremely high 95+% efficiency, there is still enough heat from friction to boil every drop of water on the planet.

    Of course, all life will cease to exist long before the heat has boiled away all the Earth’s water. What will be observed isn’t some kind of cooling rain, it will be a rain of fire and brimstone.

    A little more technical detail:
    First, the orbits of the asteroids are all wrong to have the Earth as their starting point. If Earth were the source of the asteroids, their orbits would cross Earth’s orbit. Few asteroids have “earth crossing” orbits. Nearly all are in orbit around the sun between Jupiter and Mars.

    Brown’s model sends over 3 million trillion tons of material to space. Brown says his launch mechanism is “inefficient”. If we give him 50% efficiency
    (which is pretty good), then for every pound of material that escapes the planet, another pound will be launched but will not have the speed to escape Earth’s gravity and will fall back to the surface. By splitting the difference between escape velocity (over 25,000 mph) and zero, the average velocity of the returning material will be 12,500 mph. It will be a little less than this
    when it reaches the top of the atmosphere, but it will still be traveling at well over 12,000 mph.

    At least 75% of the returning material will be rock. Much of it will be small particles the size of a grain of sand or a pebble, but some will be the size of a golf ball, some will be the size of an SUV, some will be the size of a locomotive, some will be the size of an aircraft carrier, and some will be the size of Manhattan. When this material falls back to the top of the atmosphere at over 12,000 mph, it will have a lot of energy that will
    ultimately be absorbed by the atmosphere as (friction) heat … or make a big smoking hole in the ground on impact.

    Because most of the falling material will be rock and it will have enough energy to boil the oceans many times. What would be seen is a rain of fire and brimstone.

    Terry and Dr. Brown claim my analysis is based on a “straw-man” and/or circular reasoning. Dr. Brown and I have been unable to come to terms for a debate. For months, I have asked Terry to do a “back of the envelope” calculation and show any error in my analysis. (After all, Terry does claim an engineering degree.) Recently, I have invited Terry to stop with the generalities and deal with the specifics of my claims. To date, he has not accepted that invitation.

  13. TJM

    August 31, 2011 at 11:06 pm


    We can consider the government itself to be a huge corporation, albeit one that creates laws. Let’s assume your entire premise is correct that the government funds whatever ‘science’ furthers its own goals, regardless of how scientific or based on fact these are.

    I’m still not quite sure why private corporations wouldn’t do the very same thing. You would probably need some system in place to keep massive conglomerates from forming, I would think. Which would also mean that large-scale “superprojects” would be difficult to manage and maintain.

    At the very least, in THEORY the government should be held accountable to the people. Massive corporations do not need to be held accountable to the people, but rather only to the interests of their shareholders. So let’s pretend for a moment that a perfectly efficient hypothetical government was in place, that operated according to the will of the people and the people alone. (I know, crazy right?) If research into the climate was really shown to be something the majority of citizens thought was necessary, why would it be wrong for the government to fund this research?

    On the other hand, private companies would promote scientific discovery only if it increased their own monetary gain. There’s not a huge amount of profit in the pure sciences such as mathematics (unless it relates to economics), astronomy, cosmology, etc., so we could expect these fields to remain stagnant for years. Why would a company invest $millions+ in a space telescope, for example?

    But maybe the kind of system you’re advocating is some form of extreme individualism. No big government, no massive corporations, no large entity that could ever hope to gain any sort of power over the masses. How would it even be possible to construct and maintain such a system? That seems almost as difficult as constructing a perfectly democratic government.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut

      September 1, 2011 at 7:58 am

      Like the Democratic Party, The Man Now Holding Office As President, the whiny-voiced Democratic Floor Leader in the Senate, and a rogues’ gallery too numerous to name (including several “journalists” not worthy of the name), you show no conception of what a company (be it a joint-stock corporation, a limited-liability partnership, or whatever) is, who starts it up, where the money comes from, etc. For that reason only could you possibly conflate private companies and government, as regards stakeholders, financing, etc.

      A government gets all its money through taxation. And because taxation is currently mandatory, let us give it a brutally simple name: loot. Those who get looted the most are usually the ones who have the most goods, or medium-of-exchange, for the government to seize.

      A company doesn’t work that way. A joint-stock corporation does have shareholders—millions more than you suppose. (You must think that every corporation, no matter how big its annual budget, has only a handful of shareholders. Subchapter S corporations have 75 shareholders or fewer. The corporations you’re talking about are Subchapter C corporations. You yourself might be a shareholder, if any account listed in your name has a mutual fund or funds in it.) Limited-liability companies and partnerships are, by definition, closely held. But most companies that produce the goods and services that you buy are in fact corporations—or groups, which are several corporations rolled into one.

      Now then: no corporation, no matter how large, can ever take money by force. Corporations, like their shareholders, employees (and executives are employees, too), and directors, earn money by selling a good or service they need to others who are willing and able to buy it.

      The only way that corporations can get any loot is by making dirty deals with the government. And whose fault is that? The fault lies with the politicians who make the government big enough, and extend it into enough areas, to do such dirty deals. Reduce the size and scope of government, and you reduce the opportunities for corporate executives (the “management”) to receive the stolen property of others, either for themselves personally or in the name of their shareholders.

      Now let us consider the matter of scientific research:
      Governments never, and I mean never, make money. They can only take it.
      No such thing as “non-practical knowledge” exists. So forget about calling something “pure” science. Science is knowledge, and knowledge always has value to someone, for some purpose.
      Purposes can be commercial or non-commercial. But commerce is trade, and trade is how human beings make their lives better. Non-commercial activity is about getting something for nothing.
      So what happens when a company does research? It makes something that someone might want. And it is up to the buyer to judge the quality of that something. Remember also that sales are by voluntary consent—unless the government has muscled in, with regulations on what the citizens or lawful residents may or may not (or even must) buy. Consequently, you can get good things, things that make your life better on this earth.

      When the government does research, what does it really use it for, in the end? Weapons!

      Now at least in a free society, the weapons would serve a defensive purpose. But in a society that is not free, or pretends to be free, the government wants to strike terror into the people’s hearts, to keep them in line.

      How’s that non-commercial thing workin’ out for ya now?

      You speak of “monetary gain” as though it were an inherently bad thing. We’re back to “money is the root of all evil.” (That’s a misquote, by the way: Jesus said that the lust for money was the root of all kinds of evil.) But what does money represent, except honorable and truthful trade?

      Why assume that what you call the “pure” sciences have minimal, or no, commercial value? Because that is your definition of “pure science”: science with no useful purpose on earth. But as I said, “non-practical knowledge” does not exist.

      The one area I haven’t covered yet is simply this: “I’m curious.” Well, “I’m curious” is no excuse for saying, “Put up your hands; this is a stickup; I need your money to satisfy my curiosity.” Which is what tax-funded science boils down to. If you’re that curious, then fund it yourself! Or go out and gather together all those who are as curious as you are, and form a foundation for the satisfaction of curiosity. Let it write the grants. In fact, it would have commercial value after all, for entertainment is a type of commerce. Beyond that, exploration is a commercial activity: exploration for new sources of minerals, or a place to live—if it’s worth moving off the one place in the universe that already has “all the comforts.”

      You may take this to the bank: any field of endeavor you care to name, can benefit just as well from private research—research that would not be subject to political pressure and need not depend on loot taken by force.

  14. Carmen D. Fry

    September 4, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    Ok, in this ongoing debate about private/public sector research and education, we’ve all forgotten one glaringly obvious question.

    What POSSIBLE reason would the government have for supporting the Theory of Evolution, if it were truly false? Let me guess: To institute atheism as the official “religion” in order to oppress all other ideologies except state-worship, so that “Godless Communism” can finally be instituted. Ah, the first steps for building the One World Government.

    I would imagine the above scenario sounds far more reasonable to you than it does to me, Terry. However it would take quite a powerful and shadowy group to provide the massive amounts of fake support and fraudulent evidence that has been building up over the last 150 years. 150 years, with many different governments with different ideologies, and yet the evidence for evolution keeps building up, more and more. That would be QUITE an impressive feat for the group or organization that apparently intends to push evolutionism on to the world.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut

      September 4, 2011 at 10:30 pm

      Good guess. But it doesn’t take any shadowy conspiracy. All it takes is a widespread willingness to believe a lie. That is what evolution is: an agreed-upon lie.

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