Krugman Unintended Irony: Anyone Who Does Not Unquestioningly Believe Authorities is Anti-Science


It's a wonder how, when over "97 percent to 98 percent" of scientific authorities accepted the Ptolomeic view of the solar system that we ever got past that.  Though I could certainly understand why in the current economy a die-hard Keynesian might be urging an appeal to authority rather than thinking for oneself.

When, by the way, did the children of the sixties not only lose, but reverse their anti-authoritarian streak?

Postscript:  I have always really hated the nose-counting approach to measuring the accuracy of a scientific hypothesis.  If we want to label something as anti-science, how about using straw polls of scientists as a substitute for fact-based arguments?

Yes indeed, the number of people in the newly made-up profession of "climate science" that are allowed by the UN control the content of the IPCC reports and whose funding is dependent on global warming being scary probably is very high.  The number of people in traditional scientific fields like physics, geology, chemistry, oceanography and meteorology who never-the-less study climate related topics that wholeheartedly are all-in for catastrophic man-made global warming theory would be very different

 Decide for yourself - see my video on global warming.  Am I anti-science?


  1. Dan:

    I realize you have a jaded view of Krugman because you disagree with him on economics. But you should step back and consider what he says in this column, which is not about economics and which makes some truly disturbing points about the Republican presidential field.

    The most distressing point is the Republican candidates' denial of evolution, by which they aim to appeal to the evangelical Christians who vote in primaries. As someone recently said, if Perry doesn't believe in evolution, let's see him go and get last year's flu vaccine.

    It's troubling that candidates for the most important office in the world feel they have to go around the country denying a basic scientific fact, and hold "prayer rallies" to promote a 3,000-year old creation myth. Imagine if one of them ran for president saying the world was created by Zeus. They'd be laughed out of the primaries. But if they say God created the world in 7 days just 6,000 years ago, that's the ticket to get Republican votes. I don't see the difference. Keep religion out of politics.

    I believe deep down, a lot of Republicans are ashamed that their party kowtows to the ignoramuses. Huntsman deserves credit for telling it like it is.

  2. will:

    You're conflating two different things here.

    If you want to advance the cause of science, you think up new ideas, new arguments, new experiments, and so on. You do this because the old ideas have already been thought - there's no point in thinking them up again. Almost every time, when a scientist comes up with a new idea that contradicts what the majority of their colleagues think, they're wrong. But if they're right, their idea will keep gathering evidence until it is the majority opinion.

    If you want to avoid being wrong, that's not what you do. As a politician, you don't have time to gather evidence for your theory. You're not any smarter than a scientist - and while they have various biases, you also have many biases. If you want to be right, you listen to what authorities tell you. Yes, some people will disagree with authorities and turn out to be right. But most will be turn out to be cranks. That is not a chance any sane politician wants to stake their country on. That is not a chance any sane politician wants to stake their world on.

    You suggests that AGW believers should make fact-based arguments. As you well know, lots and lots of AGW believers make lots of fact-based arguments, and AGW deniers make counter-arguments, and so on. But not every AGW believer or AGW denier is qualified to make a factual arguments. Any reader of Paul Krugman knows where they can go to get serious scientific debate about global warming. Paul Krugman could only offer an inferior copy of his specialist friend's better arguments. Paul Krugman is not trying to stifle that debate. He's just saying that people on the AGW denier side should not be so confident in their views that they risk the planet on the chance that tons and tons of scientists are wrong.

  3. Quizikle:

    Re: "children of the sixties"
    It's different now that they >are< the authorities
    (as one ashamed of many of my generation. See: CSNY "Almost Cut My Hair")

    Re: "nose-counting approach"
    That's how we ended up with His Highness

    ("nose-counting approach to measuring the accuracy of a scientific hypothesis"
    Work in the climate "science" field and didn't know it was as bad as it is.
    "Peer" review is a joke; consensus is the way things are decided. Can't make waves)

  4. Pat Moffitt:

    It may be informative to look up the history of the 19th century Darwin "wars". The plan to create the National Academy of Science (NAS) was an attempt by Louis Agassiz and other anti-Darwin proponents to create a quasi governmental organization stacked with anti-evolution members. The intended purpose for NAS was simple- destroy the credibility of evolutionary theory. Fortunately, Agassiz's plan was undone at the last minute by the pro-Darwinian forces including Yale's Dana. The Darwin "wars" tactics also included threatening university funding, stacking universities with "right minded scientists", self selecting grad students, claims of consensus and personal invectives. The Darwin wars teach us two things: (1) appeals to authority and consensus are poor substitutes for science and (2) some things never change.

  5. Scott:

    Krugman:Mr. Perry, the governor of Texas, recently made headlines by dismissing evolution as “just a theory,” one that has “got some gaps in it” — an observation that will come as news to the vast majority of biologists.

    Actually what would come as a surprise to the "vast majority of biologists" would be to say that the theory of evolution doesn't have "some gaps in it."

    Krugman is really good at lining up the strawmen and mowing them down.

  6. John Moore:

    All this fuss about evolution is misplaced, IMHO. Yes, some evangelical Christians don't believe in it and some of them are candidates. But 50% of the population believes in UFO's too, and a ridiculous number think global warming, err, climate change is a proven fact (indicating a fundamental misunderstanding of science).

    If we were hiring candidates for their knowledge of science, I would be concerned. But we aren't - we are hiring executives who are going to be running a government. Unless you think these folks will create a department of creationism, or some such, quit fussing and pay attention to the important issues.

    After all, you can find lots of Democrats who believe in evolution, along with big government, centralize planning, Keynsian economics, and other nonsense. Why not bitch about them?

  7. John Moore:

    When, by the way, did the children of the sixties not only lose, but reverse their anti-authoritarian streak?

    When they got money and or power, and took their half-baked ideas of how the world should be run, and tried to force us to run it that way.

    The children of the sixties (disclaimer, yes I am one) were too much ruled by narcissism and hedonism, not deep thinking.

    Yeah, man...

  8. J:

    Krugman once was a competent economist. currently, he is a political hack. a real scientist, Richard Feynman,
    skewered the use of appeals to authority in science--

    ‘Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts’ is how the great Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman defined science in his article What is Science? ...

    Immediately after his definition of science, Feynman wrote: “When someone says, ‘Science teaches such and such,’ he is using the word incorrectly. Science doesn’t teach anything; experience teaches it. If they say to you, ‘Science has shown such and such,’ you should ask, ‘How does science show it? How did the scientists find out? How? What? Where?’ It should not be ‘science has shown.’ And you have as much right as anyone else, upon hearing about the experiments (but be patient and listen to all the evidence) to judge whether a sensible conclusion has been arrived at.”

    And I say, Amen. Notice that “you” is the average person. You have the right to hear the evidence, and you have the right to judge whether the evidence supports the conclusion. We now use the phrase “scientific consensus,” or “peer review,” rather than “science has shown.” By whatever name, the idea is balderdash. Feynman was absolutely correct.

  9. Boglee:

    Interesting that he comments about anti-intellectualism, the present administration is all about intellectualism, from the president (smartest guy in the room, never had a job that required any sort of production, professor etc.) to his czars, none of whom ever had a job in the private sector. Total Fail!
    Apparently intellectuals are totally immune to empirical evidence.

  10. Scott:

    They are not immune to empirical evidence, they merely haven't ever experienced any. It's a shortcoming of their education and experience. We need a new credential. One that shows that you've actually run a business and made a profit.

  11. Gil:

    Krugman's appealing to authority? He's pointing out most politicians don't care for Global Warming. If anything "appealing to authority" would make a good case against Global Warming most people in authority don't believe in it and are either stopping any legistative change or doing token acts to shut the noisy minority.

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  13. delurking:

    Coyote wrote: "I have always really hated the nose-counting approach to measuring the accuracy of a scientific hypothesis."
    J wrote some stuff in support (although with an odd misunderstanding of peer review).

    As a practical matter, I think you are both mistaken. As a guide to behavior, following the scientific consensus gives you the best odds of improving your lot. We got past the Ptolemaic view of the universe because the scientific consensus shifted, not because lots of non-scientists took cursory looks at the Ptolemaic hypothesis and tossed it. Ultimately, if you look at a scientific issue deeply enough to understand it in the way Feynman means ("be patient and listen to all the evidence"), you are a scientist. If you do not, your best bet is to follow the scientific consensus. It is wrong some of the time, but it is right so much more often than it is wrong that it is truly foolhardy to choose a contrary position. If you adopt a general policy of following scientific consensus, the costs of following mistaken scientific consensuses will be far outweighed by the benefits of following correct ones. No one has the time (in a lifetime) to become sufficiently knowledgeable in more than one or two areas of science to make informed decisions. They simply rely on the consensus in the rest of them.

    As an obvious example, should we trust the scientific consensus that F=ma, E=mc^2, or that you cannot extract useful energy from a single thermal reservoir? Should we look deeply enough into the available data to see if these theories are followed? Should we repeat the experiments ourselves to make sure they are right? Or, would that be a waste of time? If it would be a waste of time, why do you think so?

  14. morganovich:

    "When, by the way, did the children of the sixties not only lose, but reverse their anti-authoritarian streak?"

    where you stand depends on where you sit.

  15. caseyboy:

    Dan, when it comes to "evolution" one must be careful to differentiate micro from macro evolution. Most creationist believe that a species can adapt and change within certain constraints governed by its DNA. However, their is no evidence (fossil or otherwise) to prove species to new species "macro" evolution. It doesn't exist except as artist illustrations of the theory.

    As a result macro evolution diehards have come up with the "punctuated equilibrim" theory. That is species experiencing long periods of stability and then sudden and dramatic mutation into a new species. Takes care of the fossil gap problem mentioned by Gov Perry. But now science has another problem, who/what triggered the sudden, dramatic event. Darwinism is so over,

  16. Pat Moffitt:

    delurking: "As a guide to behavior, following the scientific consensus gives you the best odds of improving your lot." This is only true when the science is free to work like science. When science is used to support and is chiefly funded by an ideological, political, theological or rent seeking interest it is often best to remain skeptical.

    Nitrogen(reactive) is replacing CO2 and we can watch the same attacks occurring as happened early in AGW against the non-conforming. How many people do you think it takes to be pushed aside, denied tenure or funding before everyone else understands the new rules of the game? Not many. It doesn't take a grand conspiracy- it only requires a few demonstrations of the consequences for not adhering to the desires of the funding or employer.

    From a 3/29/11 Orlando Sentinel article discussing some research that argues nitrogen was not responsible for certain alleged negative environmental impacts:
    "Because that "nitrogen story" is regarded as something like environmental gospel, and nitrogen pollution is a major concern worldwide, Cohen and several of his students speak cautiously of their finding that nitrates may not be the only, or even the most important, cause of the algae overtaking Florida's springs."

    My rule is when scientists are "cautious" about discussing contradictory findings because it conflicts with the word of the gospel - its best to be skeptical.

  17. delurking:

    Pat Moffitt,
    Your points are well-taken, but I think you, too, underestimate the degree to which all scientists use consensus as a guide. I believe that Coyote, if he thinks about it, will have to admit that the solid, well-accepted science he bases his anti-catastrophic-AGW arguments on is well-accepted because it is the consensus view. How could it be otherwise? It is not possible to live long enough to personally check all of underlying theories.

    I have not seen any basic research in recent times that does not match at least one of the warning signs you list: " used to support and is chiefly funded by an ideological, political, theological or rent seeking interest").

    I found the Sentinel article you mention, but I think it is premature to attribute the scientists' caution to such fears. They have noticed a correlation between snails and algae, and have not yet demonstrated causation. Therefore, as any decent scientist should be, they are cautious.

    If I got some results that seemed to contradict any accepted scientific hypothesis, I would be cautious (even something as esoteric and inconsequential as, say, the g-factor of quasiparticles in two dimensional AlAs quantum wells at temperatures around 0.3 K). So, your triggers for skepticism are not going to be triggered at the right times.

  18. Sam L.:

    Best example for "nose counting" is this:

    Grade school teacher: How do we know whether this hamster is a boy or a girl hamster?

    Kid: We could take a vote.

    Click and Clack: Which is dumber: one guy who know nothing, or two guys who know nothing? (This after they talked about electric trailer brakes.) Their conclusion: The two, because one guy who knows noting will quickly run out of anything to say, but the two (like them) will just keep on talking.

  19. caseyboy:

    delurking, easy for you to say, but what if, the quasiparticle energy separations have been determined for Landau levels near the Fermi level and comparisons made with values determined from recent activation energy measurements on integral quantum Hall plateaus? Huh? Then what?

  20. delurking:

    small world

  21. caseyboy:

    Quantum World

  22. Pat Moffitt:

    My concerns are not premature. Nitrogen regulations have far greater potential to limit energy, development and diet choices than does CO2. Most don't yet appreciate this fact- but EPA and NOAA do. Nitrogen science -like CO2 before it- is being tortured to fit policy ends.
    As someone deeply involved in the nitrogen issue- I can assure you that the FL scientist's caution was not for purposes of science but protecting their careers. Do a web search for soil scientists being called tobacco scientists in the press for questioning the nitrogen paradigm (Herald Tribune - Sarasota). In NJ a recent fertilizer bill was based on the "calculations" of a 2nd year law intern working for one of the NGOs while a Rutger's soil scientist's warnings the bill would do more harm than good were disregarded and the scientist smeared for his efforts. (See Washington State as well). In NJ the scientific opinions behind a new regulation that limits development based on nitrate loading is confidential. For Barnegat Bay in NJ the QA/QC document that includes all the scientific opinions behind the "conclusion" that the bay is dying from Nitrogen is confidential. The raw data behind a study claiming NJ needs to spend $270 to remove nitrogen from stormwater is confidential. A three year old EPA report that found Barnegat Bay nitrogen loadings were OK has been thrown out and is being replaced by a new NOAA model that "simplifies" estuary dynamics to a single variable- nitrogen. The model was at least honest in that the model developers admitted it was created to support policy decisions. The model basically throws away decades of estuary science. This model also allows the modeller to project what the future degradation will be to an estuary unless strict nitrogen controls are established and then use this future condition to derive a factor used to "adjust" the existing data! Barnegat is being used to establish the "critical load" for estuaries that will then be used to limit fossil fuel emissions.

    Scientists are smart people- it doesn't take more than a few of their colleagues to get hammered - before they understand what is expected of them. Incentives and self selection do the rest.

  23. DrTorch:

    delurking wrote, "I believe that Coyote, if he thinks about it, will have to admit that the solid, well-accepted science he bases his anti-catastrophic-AGW arguments on is well-accepted because it is the consensus view. "

    I would disagree. Most of the well accepted science is accepted b/c you can back it up w/ experiment. Physics and chemistry classes do this repeatedly. Why do I believe g=9.8m/s^2 ? Because I measured it and got a pretty close number myself. Same for various Ksp for salts.

    Similarly, even more complex theories get supported w/ empirical results. E-M and solid state electronics theories can be challenging, but you know what? My remote control works, and it turns on my TV so I see pictures. I may not understand all the nuances, but there's pretty good evidence that some do, well enough to produce reliable consumer products.

    AGW? Not so much, as we don't have a consensus on temps, let alone a theory on the whole system. Evolution? Same deal. It's not a trivial fact that fraudulent claims and data have been rampant in the history of that theory.

  24. steve:

    Part of the difficulty is the general lack of understanding of what science can and can not prove. The use of the scientific method (i.e. repeatable experiments using isolated variables) has been spectacularly succesful in physics. There is little debate in physics about which theories are proven and warrant consensus as fact versus those that aren't. Just refer to the experiments.

    However, in many disciplines, the use of the scientific method is just not possible. These softer sciences rely on correlation and weak natural experiments (with many uncontrolled variables.) While it doesn't mean the consensus theories are incorrect it does mean they can not be proven in the same sense as physics.

    The theory of evolution for example is hundreds of years old. There is as much circumstantial evidence for its validity as one could hope for. Nevertheless, no experiment has been devised that can prove it in the same sense that the atomic level structure of the atom has been proven (still working on some of the quantum level.) To deny this is to misunderstand the scientific method and therefore the nature of science.

    While I happen to believe in the basics of Darwin's theory, I can accept with no qualms that many people don't. They are correct when they say it is a theory and has not been proven. They are also correct when they point out that the scientific establishment has a vested interest in the status quo. It is always thus, even in physics. I see no majic in consensus in the absence of the scientific method.

    Macro Economics, Climatology, Phsycology, sociology, and political science are just some examples of areas of study that are unable to take advantage of the scientific method.

    Their theories are highly ammenable to fashion and who provides the funding since they can only rarely be falsified by experiment. The use of math and computer models in their studies does not change this. While I am not saying they have nothing valuable to say, I am saying they have as much in common with philosophers as they do with physicists.

    Finally, I would like to point out how the consensus advocates always point to disbelief in their consensus as being comparable to disbelief in Darwin. This is simply not true. The consensus behind Darwin is like no other. Darwins theory despite being unprovable has held its consensus for over a hundred years. During this time huge amounts of supporting evidence has been found without any contradiction to theory (only holes, missing evidence if you will).

    Few of the other theories we are being told to accept on consensus can boast even 20 years of consensus and many face significant contrary evidence. To me this illustrates the faddish nature of their studies not their similarity to the theory of evolution.

  25. Will:

    delurking is exactly correct about the broad point.

    @Pat Moffitt: I know almost nothing about nitrogen. I've learned the basics of the dominant theory in school, but I certainly haven't experienced empirical evidence. You're probably right that it's biased, but even if it's biased there's a good chance it will turn out to be right anyways I just don't know.

    I agree with you that science is often biased by funding sources and so on. I just don't think you should completely disregard and ignore science because of possible biases. You, too, are biased, and might be wrong.

    My understanding was that the science of global warming existed long before the environmental movement around it or any kind of biasing effect. There is certainly quite a bit of evidence for the theory, even if some of the evidence is bogus.

    In situations like these, it is foolish confidence to entirely disregard the science. Situations like these call for hedging your bets. For instance, maybe we should take the initial steps of whatever you think the appropriate response to global warming is, and prepare to step up our efforts or stop when more evidence comes out.

    @DrTorch: Have you performed those experiments? No, you trust scientists to do the experiments and to report the data correctly and understand what it means. That's fine. It's what we all do, even scientists do it on 99% of science.

  26. Pat Moffitt:

    Will- I'm not quite sure how to respond to "You’re probably right that it’s biased, but even if it’s biased there’s a good chance t will turn out to be right anyways I just don’t know." So tell me -when scientists are threatened and publicly smeared. When the raw data and scientific opinion supporting a new regulation are denied to outside review". When empirical data is thrown out in favor of a model that by its own admission views all problems as nitrogen caused. When the Public is told that nitrogen is killing an estuary and hundreds of millions of dollars are required to stop it but the gov agencies in private meetings say the opposite. When you tell the Public that 30% of the nitrogen load is coming from stormwater but the calculations show 3% at most. When you tell the Public that nitrogen levels in this Bay make it the 2nd worst bay in the world- despite the fact its nitrogen levels are below what USGS and EPA consider pristine! I was able to get one environmental reporter to look at the data and helped him put together a list of questions for him to ask the agencies. Two weeks later he was named EPA journalist of the year and two weeks following the EPA award he won a $10,000 journalism prize from an NGO. He no longer returns my emails. Well if its bias then its the strongest case of bias I've ever seen.

  27. Andrew Russell:

    What those here claiming we should buy into the "consensus" argument for CAGW don't understand is that "climate scientists" are NOT scientists. There is no "consensus" for Imminent! Global! Catastophe! from actual scientists.

    A scientist is someone who follows the Scientific Method. That requires allowing independent verification of one's work by making the data, computer codes, algorithms, etc., available to anyone who wants to know if the claims made are accurate. "Climate scientists" keep their data and methods secret as POLICY - they are not scientists.

    Steve McIntyre at ClimateAudit for years - even before Climategate - exposed this policy by the leading lights of the CAGW movement. Michael Mann and the Hockey Team, Phil Jones, Keith Briffa, Lonnie Thompson, and all the core IPCC "lead authors".

    The reason for the policy of secret data and methods has become clear when they are discovered (like Mann's "CENSORED" ftp directory) or forced out (like Briffa's Yamal data) - the raw data is cherry picked, then massaged with phony statistical methods, or just literally turned upside down. Phrases like 'short-centered PCA', 'Yamal', and 'Upside Down Tijlander' are infamous among those who have dared to look behind the "climate science" curtain.

    "The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science" by Andrew Montford is a very readable history of the CAGW movement up to the release of the Climategate emails.

  28. Ian Random:

    If evolution is so great, why do we have the endangered species act? Shouldn't animals be given the opportunity to adapt or die? If anything creationists are more pro-evolution by allowing species to come and go depending on the environment while ecologists take a more creationist view by trying to restore the garden of eden.

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  30. Pat Moffitt:

    I too am amused with the manner Darwin is used. Quoting David Dobbs "Of all the ideas Darwin pushed, none was more fundamentally and deeply radical than the notion that species were categories of taxonomic convenience rather than real divisions in nature."

  31. caseyboy:

    If man evolved from a lesser species, why didn't we sprout wings? Flying (self-propelled) would sure be neat. Or do you think that is still coming? Also, why is there still pond scum? What did they do to miss the evolutionary train?

  32. Ted Rado:

    I am not sure why a person's religious beliefs are pertinent if he runs for public office. As long as he does not try to foist his beliefs off on others, who cares?

    My mother was an educated person (she had a PhD in organic chemistry). She derived much comfort in believing that someone "up there" was looking out for her. I am not religious, so I don't care whether the bible stories (creation, etc.) are true or not. I respect others' views and see no point in getting into arguments on a subject that is a matter of faith, and cannot be proven in the sense that math equations can.

    Many believe in Darwin's theories. I have read arguments against them. Again, who cares, unless one simply wants to argue.