Thursday, September 22, 2011

Shut Up and Color

The experts agree: AGW is big, it's bad, and it is coming soon to a biosphere near you.

According to Gary Gutting, professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, that means the rest of us have no option other than deference.
How can we, nonexperts, take account of expert opinion when it is relevant to decisions about public policy?

To answer this question, we need to reflect on the logic of appeals to the authority of experts.  First of all, such appeals require a decision about who the experts on a given topic are.  Until there is agreement about this, expert opinion can have no persuasive role in our discussions.  Another requirement is that there be a consensus among the experts about points relevant to our discussion.   Precisely because we are not experts, we are in no position to adjudicate disputes among those who are.  Finally, given a consensus on a claim among recognized experts, we nonexperts have no basis for rejecting the truth of the claim.

These requirements may seem trivially obvious, but they have serious consequences.  Consider, [AGW].  All creditable parties to this debate recognize a group of experts designated as “climate scientists,” whom they cite in either support or opposition to their claims about global warming.

The corporate view among climate scientists, outliers notwithstanding, is that Gaia is getting hot under the collar, and human activity is responsible for this onslaught of fever. Sure, there is some expert dispute, but since the consensus has decided upon AGW, and we non-experts are in no position to arbitrate, then it is crayons for us.
As long as [non-experts accept there is such a thing as expertise in climate science], they have no basis for supporting the minority position.  Critics within the community of climate scientists may have a cogent case against A.G.W., but, given the overall consensus of that community, we non-experts have no basis for concluding that this is so.  It does no good to say that we find the consensus conclusions poorly supported.  Since we are not experts on the subject, our judgment  has no standing.

From this it follows that non-experts, hereafter referred to as The Great Unwashed Masses (TGUMs), cannot argue against The Consensus; instead, those among the TGUMs who dispute AGW must argue that:
… climate science lacks the scientific status needed be taken seriously in our debates about public policy.  There may well be areas of inquiry (e.g., various sub-disciplines of the social sciences) open to this sort of critique.  But there does not seem to be a promising case against the scientific authority of climate science.

So, to summarize:
Once we have accepted the authority of a particular scientific discipline, we cannot consistently reject its conclusions.  To adapt Schopenhauer’s famous remark about causality, science is not a taxi-cab that we can get in and out of whenever we like.  Once we board the train of climate science, there is no alternative to taking it wherever it may go.

In other words, Shut Up and Color.

But does this conclusion follow?

On the face of it, contradiction should be hard to come by. After all, Dr. Gutting as a philosopher is a certified expert in constructing philosophical arguments. By definition, his expert argument on the expertise of experts must be immune to the inept pesterings of a TGUM.

His insistence upon accepting the consensus of experts does seem to accord reasonably well with experience. We take our cars in to mechanics — experts in the science of car repair — and rarely contradict their opinions on which framitz needs defargging. Similarly, faced with some significant malaise, people routinely get a second, or even third doctorial opinion; should those opinions coalesce into consensus, then we assume whatever position is required, and take what medically expert consensus sends our direction. The list goes on nearly without end: deference to physicists, accountants, and geologists in the realms of physics, making sense of IRS regulations and where to drill for oil goes without saying.

Therefore, failing to defer to climate scientists must be a singular case of irrationality.

Unless, of course, our expert philosopher has created an argument that assumes, conceals, neglects, or is ignorant of, rather a lot.

He assumes that since climatologists are doing sciency things, their product is science. However, in order for a hypothesis to qualify as a scientific theory, it must have deductive consequences. For example, a deductive consequence of naturalistic evolution is that inheritance must be particular, not blended. Unfortunately, climate science is so devoid of deductive consequences that it explains everything. In so doing, it is indistinguishable from religion: by explaining everything, it actually explains nothing.

Going one long step further, he also assumes (although implicitly insists is probably closer to the mark) that climate science is so arcane that its content is beyond the ken of TGUMs. This insistent assumption is striking. I have a book that convincingly explains relativity to TGUMs, thereby justifying its experts. Surely, climate science can't be more difficult to apprehend than the singular intellectual accomplishment of the modern era.

Then there is the matter of judging the experts' performance. If my mechanic tells me my framitz is fargged, when all along the wishbone was whacky, then his expertise is something less than total. Except as a contrived exercise in post hoc reasoning, climate scientists routinely fail to meaningfully predict actual climate trends. That alone is no source of comfort; after all, they could be wrong in not being right enough. However, their predictions have, at best, uniformly exceeded subsequent observations. Harold Camping assured us the apocalypse was to happen on May 21st. In the late 80s, Dr. Hansen assured us that NYC's West Side Highway would be underwater by now. Based upon the evidence, I have no more reason to suspect that Dr. Hansen's expertise in climate science is any more elevated than Harold Camping's is in apocalypse science.

TGUMs have no need to acknowledge expertise simply because a self anointed group claims it for themselves. Rather, deferring to that claim, when reality has so relentlessly contradicted it, and the costs of doing so, both in terms of economics and freedom, are so high would be irrational folly of the first order.

Dr. Gutter's insistence on our submission to the god of consensus isn't philosophy, it is theology.

Oh, by the way, stay inside the lines. Or else.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cause, meet Effect

From today's NYT Op-Ed The Misuse of Life Without Parole:
From 1992 to 2008, the number in prison for life without parole tripled from 12,453 to 41,095, even though violent crime declined sharply all over the country during that period.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Stating the Obvious

For those who can't determine the link between the CRA and the collapse of the housing market, look here (read it in its entirety):
The data shows that the principal buyers [of almost 25 million subprime and other nonprime mortgages—almost half of all U.S. mortgages] were insured banks, government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the FHA—all government agencies or private companies forced to comply with government mandates about mortgage lending. When Fannie and Freddie were finally taken over by the government in 2008, more than 10 million subprime and other weak loans were either on their books or were in mortgage-backed securities they had guaranteed. An additional 4.5 million were guaranteed by the FHA and sold through Ginnie Mae before 2008, and a further 2.5 million loans were made under the rubric of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which required insured banks to provide mortgage credit to home buyers who were at or below 80% of median income. Thus, almost two-thirds of all the bad mortgages in our financial system, many of which are now defaulting at unprecedented rates, were bought by government agencies or required by government regulations.

No surprise, really. The logic of the CRA ensured this outcome to anyone more sentient than Barney Frank.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

TDD Readers Already Know This

Aircraft automation may be eroding pilots' skills

WASHINGTON — Pilots' "automation addiction" has eroded their flying skills to the point that they sometimes don't know how to recover from stalls and other midflight problems, say pilots and safety officials. The weakened skills have contributed to hundreds of deaths in airline crashes in the last five years.

Fifty-one "loss of control" accidents occurred in which planes stalled in flight or got into unusual positions from which pilots were unable to recover, making it the most common type of airline accident, according to the International Air Transport Association.
"We're seeing a new breed of accident with these state-of-the-art planes," said Rory Kay, an airline captain and co-chair of a Federal Aviation Administration advisory committee on pilot training. "We're forgetting how to fly."
Opportunities for airline pilots to maintain their proficiency by manually flying planes are increasingly limited, the FAA committee recently warned. Airlines and regulators discourage or even ban pilots from turning off the autopilot and flying planes themselves, the panel said.

Hmmm. I think I remember something about this a month and a half ago.
If the training environment reflected [an automation driven] culture, then training would tend to emphasize flying through the Flight Management System. The consequence could be pilots who are very good at translating required performance into FMS commands, but who have completely lost sight of the essential relationships involved in obtaining desired performance.

The article is pretty good the concepts, and does reasonably well on the details. Regulations have effectively banned hand flying the aircraft above FL270 (approximately 27,000 feet) over the last six or so years; however, that is a realm where hardly anyone hand flew previously. Airlines vary in their approach to automation, both among themselves and over time. When I was at Northwest, the operations manual actively encouraged turning off all automation when conditions were permissive. My current airline used to actively discourage shutting off the Flight Management System and the Auto Thrust System (ATS). It has now gone the opposite direction.

Some mishaps that the article lumps under eroded pilot skills are really failure to monitor performance, which is probably more a consequence of complacency. Just over two years a Turkish Airlines 737 crashed short of the runway at Amsterdam Schiphol. A malfunctioning radar altimeter feeding bad data to the ATS, causing it to command idle thrust. The flight crew failed to notice the 60 knot airspeed decay over more than a minute and a half. The Captain's response to the stall warning was quick and correct, but there was insufficient altitude remaining to effect a recovery.

If They were to ask me, which They won't, I would tell Them to include various autoflight system failures in both initial and recurrent training (my airline's recurrent training has added much more manual flying to recurrent training, but there are no AFS failure scenarios). While They are at it, They need to add a currency requirement for completely manual arrivals (AP and ATS off, FMS off on the flying pilot's side).

Steam gauge airplanes separated pilots from the pedestrians. It is time to turn up the steam.