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04 February 2011

Why Argument from Authority is Invalid

On February 2nd, renowned physicist Michio Kaku (I have several of his books) appeared on the CBS morning show to discuss the relationship of the recent snowstorms to Global Warming.

Dr. Kaku's argument (basically) was that warmer air caused greater evaporation in the Gulf of Mexico, which increased the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere--thus leading to greater snowfalls. However, water has a very interesting property: it is an incredible heat sink. The ability of water to absorb heat energy is why it the coolant used not only by your own body, but by nuclear reactors; and why you will die of hypothermia much faster in cold water than in air of the same temperature.

It takes a significant amount of thermal energy to cause one molecule of water to break loose of surrounding molecules--to "evaporate" from liquid to gas. This heat must be given up to return to a liquid state, and even more energy must be lost to become a solid--the ice crystals we call snow.

So, if water is evaporating from the Gulf of Mexico and traveling here to become precipitation, it has to give up all of that energy to go from water vapor to snow. The new snow-heavy winters in Missouri should be significantly milder (with the introduction of all this thermal energy handily carried in from down south), than the long history of previous, nearly snow-less winters. Sorry, but I can easily remember winters in Missouri where the temperature rarely dipped below freezing, let alone -18 degrees F.

Furthermore, these sorts of heavy snows are not historically unknown; they are simply associated with a period of history which gets ignored by the Global Warming Crowd. The Pilgrims, who immigrated to North America during the end of the Little Ice Age over two hundred years ago, would easily recognize snowstorms like what we are currently experiencing. Washington's troops experienced frostbite and hypothermia fighting in the Maunder Minimum with snowfalls much more similar to what we are experiencing today, yet conditions in the Gulf were certainly not as warm as they are today--so the increased snowfall couldn't have been blamed on increased Pacific evaporation.

03 February 2011

My Paper in a Nutshell...

Some time ago, I was unfortunate enough to read Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition, a research paper from the University of California, Berkeley, in which a group of liberal professors congratulate themselves on how cool liberals are and how rotten conservatives, while demonstrating absolutely no understanding of the usage of the terms (Adolph Hitler, for instance, is listed as a conservative).

For the capstone project of my BS degree program, I had to write a full APA-style research paper combining two disciplines. In my case, the two topics chosen were science and politics. I saw this as a wonderful chance to do a sort of rebuttal to John Jost's paper, but I wanted to make very certain that I did not write the same sort of paper--that is, I have no problem starting out with a biased hypothesis, but I took every effort to make certain that my bias did not influence my research or my interpretations.

To begin with, I identified a number of peer-reviewed papers on the topic of Global Warming legislation. Due to the limitations of a college research paper, I had a very small sample, but I discuss that in the paper. My next step was to establish a set of specific criteria by which papers could be identified as "Strongly Socialist" (think Communist), "Socialist," "Not Socialist," and "Anti-Socialist." I then established criteria to divide the papers in each of those categories as "rational," "non-rational," and "irrational."

What I found--as I expected--was that there was an overwhelming majority of pro-Socialist papers in this field (only one anti-socialist paper was identified). Second, there was a 100% correlation between anti-socialist papers and rational papers (one of each--the same paper). None of the socialist papers were rational, and the more strongly socialist they were, the more irrational they became.

Of course, this isn't just an indictment of people who write about Global Warming legislation--it's also an indictment of the peer-review process itself, and of the academic community in general.

27 November 2010

The High Road

So, the Libertarian Party has been making a stink on Facebook about what a terrible blow for personal liberty it is that California didn't legalize marijuana this time around. This is one of the several reasons that, although I describe myself as a libertarian, I will never associate myself with the Libertarian Party.
While I don't have a philosophical issue with people doing whatever they want to their own bodies, marijuana can affect more people than those who actually use it.

But let's put aside the societal problems. Let's imagine that I *shudder* move to California--and the way our country has been going since 2006, forced relocation probably wasn't far off in the agenda. Why would I vote to legalize a whole new toxin for people to put into their systems, when I HAVE TO PAY FOR THEIR MEDICAL EXPENSES?

Seriously; it was bad enough when I was being forced to buy a house for every deadbeat in the country. Now that the Obama administration has destroyed the health insurance industry, only to replace it with a government-regulated medical coverage industry, expenses are skyrocketing and we're all legally obligated to make those payments. Give me a free market economy, where one can buy a true insurance policy (or choose not to), and I'll be open to toxic recreation.

21 November 2010

The Rationality of Atheism

Talk of bringing atheism into a religious discussion forum brought up the position that atheism "would be the voice of reason waiting to hear what you believe and why." Disregarding the fact that superiority complexes seldom provide the voice of reason, let us examine some points:

In the presence of positive evidence, the reasonable course of action is to accept the evidence. Skepticism is healthy; denial is not. Also note that not all evidence is empirical.

In the absence of positive evidence, the reasonable positi...on is not atheism, but agnosticism. Atheism is a positive statement ("there is no God") which cannot rationally be based on no evidence.

Only negative evidence would provide a rational framework for atheism, and negative evidence cannot exist.

To examine this point on a more personal level, let us consider the case of the mathematical-dyslexic in the modern technological world. Constantly surrounded by people who tell him that mathematics provide the underlying basis for everything from skyscrapers to cellular telephones to cellular mitosis, he would nevertheless be unable to render anything beyond meaningless strings of symbols from any mathematical formula.

Since no evidence could be presented to our mathematical-dyslexic for empirical analysis, would it truly be reasonable for him to reject all non-empirical evidence (such as witness testimony from engineers) and claim that mathematics could not possibly exist? Or worse, to group with other mathematical-dyslexics and write books about how people who believe in mathematics were delusional; that mathematics was merely a superstition which only led to evil?

28 October 2010

Ethics and Global Climate Change: A Rebuttal

As I mentioned on Facebook, my race to get this to my professor in time for drill weekend led me to fudge some page numbers in the citations. I've never had the time since to adequately fix them, so I've simply removed the offending citations. The remainder of my paper is below:

Stephen Gardiner, “Ethics and Global Climate Change”
A Rebuttal

Jason C. Diederich
Philosophy 401
Professor Ho
01 October 2010

A Rebuttal to Stephen Gardiner’s “Ethics and Global Climate Change”

Should wealthier nations pay more than poorer nations in addressing the cost of global climate change? Stephen Gardiner believes that they should. Gardiner makes essentially two arguments in support of this view, one scientific (to demonstrate that human-caused carbon dioxide emissions constitute a significant ecological threat) and one economic (to prove that it is just that wealthier nations pay for “adaptation” to climate change). This paper will demonstrate that the first argument is without value, and that the second is not an ethical position, but the motivating agenda behind Gardiner’s essay.

In making his “scientific” argument, Gardiner spends much time on two particular topics: First, he touts the IPCC’s use of computer models to demonstrate the potential for climate change devastation (Gardiner, 365-367). It should be noted that these models have been thoroughly debunked; these are the same models which commercial meteorologists use, obviously barely adequate to predict the weather five days in advance, let alone five centuries. He then spends a lot of time “discrediting” skeptic’s claims of scientific uncertainty in the realm of climatology—of course, this is a straw man to put opponents on the defensive; there is ample evidence to support a rebuttal of the IPCC reports without resorting to mere “scientific uncertainty.” Since these two claims are without merit, they will be dismissed in favor of treating actual claims of the IPCC quoted by Gardiner.

1. “The global average surface temperature has increased over the 20th century by about 0.6 C.

It has been demonstrated that the data utilized by the IPCC in creating this figure is highly corrupted (McKitrick, 8). This figure was arrived at using only the thermometers in the Automated Surface Observation System—all of which are on land, and almost all of which are centered around cities. Cities being made of concrete and steel, and full of large mammals and internal combustion engines, this produces an overwhelming heat-trap effect, even if we allow for the probability of nearby heat and light sources for the convenience of temperature-readers. The IPCC completely ignores the satellite temperature record in their reports, even though it has proven (in contrast to the ASOS) to be both complete and perfectly accurate—because the satellite data does not support global warming. It should also be noted that subsequent temperature data in a 2008 study has shown temperature dropping at the rate of approximately 1° C/century from 2001-2008 (Monckton, 6). Along those lines, the IPCC (and Gardiner) relies almost entirely upon the production of carbon dioxide in their estimates of global warming impact—yet carbon dioxide comprises less than .003 of the atmosphere, and its effect on radiative absorption is negligible (Kiehl, 13).

2. “Globally, it is very likely that the 1990’s was the warmest decade and 1998 the warmest year in the instrumental record, since 1861.

The above statement is entirely fraudulent. Subsequent independent investigation into NASA databases discovered that the 1930’s was actually the warmest decade on record (despite human-caused CO2 emissions still being marginal), with several record high temperatures in the U.S. which remain unbroken (McIntyre). It should also be noted that the global temperature fell ≈ .1° C from 1940-1970, despite significant increases in carbon dioxide levels and output (Sussman, 55).

3. “The increase in temperature in the 20th century is likely to have been the largest of any century in the past 1,000 years.

The original graph published by the IPCC on this topic shows that temperatures were significantly warmer 500 years ago than they are today, and that current warming is consistent with the trend observable in the transition into the Medieval Warm Period (≈1000-1400 AD), then Maunder Minimum (≈1400-1900 AD) and back out. Note that Michael Mann’s “hockey stick graph” in the third IPCC report actually deletes those natural periods of significant temperature fluctuation in order to make the current trend (measured without benefit of satellite data) appear unprecedented.

Economically, Gardiner’s entire argument can be summed up in a single-sentence quotation:
The third proposal I wish to consider offers a different justification for departing from the per capita principle: namely, that such a departure might maximally (or at least disproportionately) benefit the least well-off.” (Gardiner, 378)

The astute reader will notice that Gardiner has just announced that it is okay for developing countries to continue to increase carbon dioxide production, but that wealthy countries must reduce carbon dioxide production. Why would this be okay if carbon dioxide has such a potentially destructive effect? The statement “maximally benefit the least well-off” is the key: it is almost a direct quote from John Rawls’ collectivist work, Political Liberalism (Rawls, 60). Note that if it is acceptable for some groups to increase their carbon dioxide output, carbon dioxide output can’t be the real problem Gardiner is trying to solve. Gardiner’s true issue is economic: he wants to punish developed countries (inevitably the most free) and force them to subsidize the less-developed countries (usually the most totalitarian). He is using global warming to sell Marxist economics, with “gradual adaptation” to make it easier to swallow (Gardiner, 372).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Gardiner’s paper is his discussion of a “right to subsistence emissions.” By “emissions,” as previously noted, Gardiner intends “carbon dioxide emissions”—and we, as a species, inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. The author has no doubt that the controversy surrounding climate change will continue for as long as there are carbon credits to be sold—but one must ponder the sentiments of a man who considers humanity’s right to exhale to be a debatable point.


Gardiner, Stephen. (2004) “Ethics and Global Climate Change” In Morton E. Winston & Ralph Edelbach (Eds) Society, Ethics and Technology (pp. 317-329) Belmont, California: Cengage Publishers

Kiehl, J., & Trenberth, K. E. (1997). Earth's Annual Global Mean Energy Budget. Retrieved October 01, 2010 from CiteSeerX: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=

McIntyre, S. (2007). A New Leaderboard at the U. S. Open. Retrieved October 01, 2010 from Climate Audit: http://climateaudit.org/2007/08/08/a-new-leaderboard-at-the-us-open/.

McKitrick, R. R., and P. J. Michaels (2007), Quantifying the influence of anthropogenic surface processes and inhomogeneities on gridded global climate data, J. Geophys. Res., 112, D24S09, doi:10.1029/2007JD008465.

Monckton, C., of Brenchley. (2008). Temperature Change and CO2 Change: A Scientific Briefing. Retrieved October 01, 2010 from Science and Public Policy: http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/images/stories/papers/monckton/temperature_co2_change_scientific_briefing.pdf .

Rawles, J. (1971). Political Liberalism. Chinchester, West Sussex, New York: Columbia University Press.

Sussman, B. (2010). Climategate. Washington, D.C.: WorldNetDaily.

"It's Just My Scientist Against Your Scientist"

In a recent discussion on the topic of abortion, I linked to a webpage from Princeton illustrating that, scientifically speaking, life begins at conception. The response to this was, "Well, I can pull up scientists who say just the opposite, so you're really just playing 'It's My Scientist Against Your Scientist."

My response: Go ahead--I triple-dog dare you.

No post has been forthcoming.

The majority of the online pro-abortion opinion against me is that I am somehow seeking to subvert a woman's right to do what she wants with her own body (and I have been told in no uncertain terms that this means I cannot call myself a libertarian!). However, it should be noted that it is not the woman's body which is being aborted; an abortion is the killing of the unborn child, with the woman's body simply an obstacle which must be bypassed.

For those abortion proponents who wish to, there is a related argument you can make to defend a woman's right to do with her body as she wishes: you should oppose research and public service announcements regarding Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. After all, if you already believe that a fetus has no right to life, then it certainly has no claim at all to good health, and ingesting alcohol is (unlike an abortion surgery) something which the expectant mother really does do to her own body--the fetus is only indirectly affected.

30 August 2010

Second Philosophy of Technology Essay

I decided to truly challenge myself with this writing assignment and find the most wrong-headed concept it this essay. It was tough competition: I could easily have gone with his personification of machines (that unconscious lumps of metal have “points-of-view” and “function as virtual members of society”), or the closely related confusion he has between people being lazy in their use of technology and the idea that an inanimate lump has somehow “mastered” them. I might have focused on the UTOPIA project, the closed-circuit of which seems the most perfect plan for destroying human advancement ever created. However, I have elected step back a bit and discuss the entire concept of “democratizing”—that is, politicizing—science and technology.

Mr. Winner’s argument in proposing the politicization of science and technology seems rational and straightforward: technology affects everyone, therefore, everyone should have a say in what technologies are created. It seems clear. It seems fair.

Of course, Mr. Winner’s arguments are based in the context of a rather stunning number of logical errors and fallacies. First, there is the aforementioned pathetic fallacy; Mr. Winner assigns human attributes to inanimate objects (“does a computer in the workplace function as a servant, slave, controller, guard, etc.?”) (“They can be seen as ‘forms of life’”). He also commits the fallacy of faulty causation: he believes that technologies change society (“What matters is that a whole new kind of society was created.”). He makes the error of believing that technological innovation can be controlled (“No innovation without representation.”), and the dependant error, the culmination and “purpose” of his essay, that such control would somehow be a means of preserving “human liberty and dignity.”

If a teacher used a computer to grade tests, Mr. Winner would not acknowledge the teachers’ use of technology to free himself of a repetitive task, or his greater responsibility to discuss the test with his students. Instead, Mr. Winner would whine that the computer now ran the classroom, with the teacher subservient. The truth is that technologies don’t change societies; societies change—they always have and always will. If new technologies are present, they will be incorporated into that change; but change is inevitable, regardless of technology. Technological innovation cannot be controlled—even in the most perfect vision of Mr. Winner’s anti-scientific fantasy, somebody somewhere will eventually have a new idea of how to do something. The idea that attempting to prevent people from coming up with new ideas will somehow preserve “human freedom and dignity” is ludicrous once it’s clearly examined; even if it were possible, by nay-saying one technology “democratically,” you are almost certainly passing up later insights which will lead to much better technologies.

There is a fairly obvious connection between all of these essays: not matter how they may couch their language to pretend otherwise, they are all ultimately anti-scientific. Saying that we “must create a new science” really means that science must be abandoned. A philosophically-inclined reader will find that this common anti-science is based in the school of post-modernism, in which “feeling” is given primacy to logic. It doesn’t matter that if Mr. Winner’s “three guiding maxims” were retroactively applied to human history, we would all be living at the mercy of the elements to ripe old age of maybe 40; it feels good for Mr. Winner to imagine that we can “take control” and force the world to conform to our fantasies. It doesn’t matter that sectional sofa cushions are popular because they’re easier to clean beneath; it feels good for Mr. Sclove to imagine that it’s some Western anti-Communist plot (much like eating utensils that only feed one mouth at a time—I shudder to imagine the alternative). It doesn’t matter that phrases like “male machines rather than female fabrics” are the utterest gibberish; it feels good for Ms. Wajcman to imagine that she has enlightened herself to some ages-old conspiracy to control women.

Will Mr. Winner’s essay have any practical influence on my use of technology? Absolutely not. Is there an important call to action to be found? Absolutely—in the entire selection of essays. Post-modern “thought” (and I use those two terms together in the loosest of arrangements) is a cancer which has metastasized throughout academia, the news media and the political sphere. The longer it is allowed to grow, the worse our condition will become. The only antidote is logic, which I will both introduce and encourage it at every opportunity.

Thoughts on Burn a Koran Day and Libertarianism

Recently on Facebook, I was made aware of a group which will be hosting "Burn a Koran Day" on September 11, 2010. Many people on Facebook who happily refer to themselves as Libertarians (or Conservatives, which in America should be practically identical) were shocked and outraged that I refused to condemn this group. Angry statements were made ranging from calling me a Christian hatemonger, to a hater of homosexuals (?) to my personal favorite, "burning Korans will get American soldiers killed in Iraq!"

Leaving aside the incredible pettiness and selfishness of using the lives of people who have signed contracts to put themselves in harm's way to protect your freedom as some sort of moral leverage, and the fact that I won't be PARTICIPATING in the event, let us consider some points of libertarianism in relationship to the upcoming event.

1) If you do not recognize the sanctity of private property, you are not a libertarian. That is, I can go to the bookstore and buy a copy of Q'ran just to burn it. It is mine; I own it and may dispose of it how I please--including destruction and desecration.

2) If you believe that people must be prevented from taking any action which might offend someone, you are not a libertarian. You have no right not to be offended. In point of fact, being offended by something is your own choice. I could choose to be offended by eating ice cream; that doesn't give me the authority to close down the companies that make it.

3) If you believe that people aren't responsible for their own actions, you are not a libertarian. Men don't rape women because of what the women were wearing. Muslims don't bomb synagogues full of children on High Holy Day because some Americans burned Q'rans. Human beings are free-willed organisms, and we take those actions we choose to take.

4) If you get angry at people because they disagree with you, you are not a libertarian. You cannot both believe in personal liberty and not allow difference of opinion. It is absurd.

5) If you respect the ideology of a group that uses violence to coerce people into obeying them, you are not a libertarian. If you want to object to something, object to the destruction of the World Trade Center by Muslims and the subsequent attempt to build a mosque in the crater. Object to the beheading of Daniel Pearl and countless others by Muslims to terrify people into obedience. Don't object to the people who are making it clear that America is still a free country.

Finally, just to highlight the depth of ignorance people have displayed on this topic, it is highly unlikely that the group in Florida will actually burn any Q'rans. You see, Islam does not recognize a translation of a Q'ran as anything but a book--it isn't really the Q'ran. Translations can be had for $20.00 at the bookstore; real Q'rans will cost over a hundred dollars. Do the math.

23 August 2010

Philosophy of Technology

Below is my first essay for PHIL401, Philosophy of Technology. It is a rebuttal to another essay, and I thought it turned out well enough to share:

According to Winston, the most important reasons for the philosophical investigation of science and technology are that a) science and technology are socially constructed; the biases of any given society will determine how much and in what areas scientific advancement will be made, as well as determining how that knowledge will be practically adapted into technology; b) that new technologies might be used in dangerous ways (such as the atomic bomb); and c) new technology carries a risk of unforeseen, dangerous impact on our lives(such as the destruction of the ozone layer by chlorofluorocarbons).

I agree with Mr. Winston that the first point is important, although I’m not sure that it’s as important to “philosophically examine technology” as it is to keep epistemology up to date with scientific investigation. As for the second point, Mr. Winston himself shows how hollow it is: a toaster, as he says, can be used to “lightly burn bread… or as a hand-warmer or a murder weapon.” Technology is completely amoral. It is entirely up to the human being whether the toaster is used to burn bread (which might also be accomplished with an open flame), to warm hands (which could be done by simply rubbing them together), or to commit murder (which can be done any number of ways without the toaster, or any technology at all). As for the third point, every negative impact Mr. Watson lists is an unintended, indeed unforeseeable, consequence. The only way to prevent unforeseeable consequences of technological advancement is to prohibit all technological advancement, which is neither possible nor desirable. As much as some people like to complain, the fact is that the more technologically developed any given society is, the longer, more accomplished and more comfortable are the lives of the members of that society.

I am neither a “techno-optimist” nor a “techno-pessimist,” and I believe that these are false choices. I cannot be a “techno-pessimist,” because I can see that the constant advancement of technology has a generally positive impact: even if a job is lost to a bank teller, for instance, because of an ATM, that ATM now needs people to stock it with money, to service it mechanically and electronically, to program it, to provide security for it… etc. Similarly, while the air in New York City is generally unpleasant due to the constant exhaust of industry and automobiles, it is far less unpleasant than it was 100 years ago, when New York was full of smokestacks and the diseases and parasites carried in tons of horse manure. Nor can I be a “techno-optimist,” since the idea that technology can solve all of humanity's problems is simply ridiculous. Even if we were able to craft perfect, undying bodies with perfect knowledge… what would we do? We would succumb to utter boredom.

Mr. Winston would say that his reason for “critically examining” technology is to keep people safe. This is, of course, nonsense; as I’ve pointed out, technology itself doesn’t harm people, it is the use to which people put it; further, any unforeseeable consequences of such use are, well, unforeseeable. The simple fact of the matter is that Mr. Winston believes that people must be kept under control, and in particular under the control of himself and people who think like him.