Climate Data, Trust In Science, Secular Humanism, Truth, and Economics

The crisis over climate data has been met with numerous statements about preserving the “sanctity” or trust in the wisdom of science and scientists. As if our scientists were an improvement over their theological predecessors, or their pragmatic and prostituting peers in politics. But that can hardly be true, if one understands the history of science, or the scientific method and it’s limits, or the behavior of human beings belonging to schools of thought, in history. People are driven by material gain, status, and power, and have significant cognitive biases in favor of those selfish traits, that appear in all aspects of human behavior, not just in politics, commerce, or religion, but also in science.

My position has been, along with many, that it certainly appears as though the data says the climate is cooling, along with it’s normal historical ice age cycle.

The public does not trust academia, or the scientific community. It does trust particular scientists who are also public intellectuals. THe press likes to trust and advocate science because secular humanism has become today’s religion. In an effort to counter scholastic religion, secular humanists frequently tolerate what it considers acceptable losses.

But given that, due to current events, we know most mathematical economics since the second world war is faulty, because the logic behind it was faulty. Because they sought to justify government intervention in the economy by monetary policy: Something Hayek believed was the intellectual’s fascination with their levers and their desire to run tests on society to experiment with their efficacy.

And there are numerous other ‘givens’.

Given that over nine tenths of research papers contain logic errors that invalidate their conclusions, whether in physical science or social science.

Given that it at least appears that the peer review method of publishing articles is becoming invalidated when compared to the more difficult job of writing books that require broader integration of a paper into a network of theory.

Given that our universities are rated by input rather than output criteria, and that this bias has material impact on society.

Given that it certainly appears that there is a great deal of ’skewing’ in the community, on top of the pervasive errors in the logic of conclusions.

Given that academic departments are not materially meritocratic, but political – and radically so.

Given that we produce large bodies of research that are faulty and repeatedly proven faulty whenever they aspire to affect the political debate, in order to make it easier to obtain grants.

Given that academia does not separate teachers from researchers, and that students see their best teachers evicted from universities, for what appears to be political interests of intrenched parties, and all of us who are educated walk around with this knowledge and experience.

It becomes somewhat hard to understand why the public should believe in the myth of scientific ethics.

Scientists pursue self interest, just like the rest of us. But there are no checks on that self interest when the testing criteria for that self interest is obscured by all the behaviors above. The rest of us are tested by the market.

And it appears that the market is a much better test.

Scientisim has replaced theology as a means of influencing policy. But I’m not entirely sure it’s all that much better than arguing about angels on the head of a pin. It certainly seems we should be at least as skeptical of our scientists as we were of our theocrats.

And perhaps more so.

Adam Ozimek


The scientific community is a market; a market of ideas. You should not put more stock in individual scientists or “public intellectuals” than in scientific consensus and the market of ideas in which consensus if forged and challenged. The market for ideas is as competitive, self-interested, and as meritocratic as most other free markets- all of which share problems like you cite above.


“The market for ideas is as competitive, self-interested, and as meritocratic as most other free markets- all of which share problems like you cite above.”

That *cannot* be true.

The market has no claim to truth, nor is it a weapon of political coercion. It is ultimately and entirely pragmatic, and the means by which we fill each other’s wants by the pursuit of self interest, at the lowest cost, despite the fact that all people seek to game, or circumvent that market whenever possible.

Markets exist, and always have. The state has generally, created sufficient stability so that markets can evolve in a fashion in which only the government molests them. And the government molestation is determined as good or bad only by how it redistributes the profits of its molestation: to itself or to the public. A public who must also fail to molest itself by interfering with trade or property, as well as refrain from molestation of the state.

But, the moment that ideas are used to influence government policy, they make claims to truth. Our concept of truth is as a method of coercion.

In the context of this discussion, which was the public TRUST in the scientific community, trust must imply truth not pragmatism. Otherwise the conversation is meaningless.

2 responses to “Climate Data, Trust In Science, Secular Humanism, Truth, and Economics”

  1. Curt,

    You say “The market has no claim to truth, nor is it a weapon of political coercion”. What market are you talking about? The firearms market literally produces weapons that are often used for political and other coercion. As does the lobbyist market.

    There are also plenty of markets that produce goods making truth claims; advertising, biographies, journalism… The fact that something can be used for political coercion has no bearing whatsoever on it’s truth content, nor on the classification of the system that produced it. The most important characteristic of the market for ideas and free markets for goods is that they are decentralized, emergent, and involve voluntary exchange. And remember, the voluntary part is about the production and exchange of the good, not with however it is used or misused for coercion. To conflate the two is to confuse the system that creates a good for the system which utilizes it.

    • @Adam,

      Thank you for your reply. I have put more into this than I should have, but it was entertaining to do so, and it is the holidays and I have to choose between writing this post, working on my current book, and writing twenty pages of an updated shareholder agreement, and this is simply more interesting. 🙂

      Short version: While I think you assume Im making an error, I’m not, and quite the opposite, you’re confusing the model, and the ideal types with the model, with reality and the reality of the record of human actions. Which, in this field, is a pretty common error, whether you choose to be a quantitative positivist or a user of the logical narrative. Reality in the context of economics is a description of human actions, that conveys causation. Unfortunately, scientism is even more seductive a fancy than Platonism, and almost as seductive as socialism.

      (Tongue in cheek a bit for a moment, just because I have to seize the opportunity.)

      If I follow the logic of your argument then, since the work products of muggers, Journalists, Scientists and Lobbyists have the same truth content, (which is, by your logic, little or none,) then why should we “Trust” the work products of scientists, or academics, and accord them special merit, as the reasoning by which we should implement policy, especially when surrounded by controversy? So I agree with you then, that we should not trust scientists, or academics any more than politicians, journalists or lobbyists. 🙂 Quite surprisingly, we should apparently trust muggers, because they are the only people you’ve mentioned whose actions are of necessity truthful. Violence is the most honest form of human interaction, is it not? I know I am just poking fun, but you’re making equivalencies between concepts of market that bear further investigation.

      (Ok, back to the discussion.)

      You said: “The market for ideas is as competitive, self-interested, and as meritocratic as most other free markets- all of which share problems like you cite above.”

      I said “That *cannot* be true.”

      And I said so because a market for ideas, if it exists as you indicate, includes all consumers of the ideas, regardless of the intended purpose, largely because the scope of the market must include all consumers of it, whether the purveyor of the idea intends it’s use or not, for it to be a market. Otherwise it is just trade, not a market. Or if you disagree, you are defining the market an internally regulated black market, rather than an externally developing black market due to external regulation and policing.

      Our difference in terms here is between your definition of the “market for ideas”, which I”m going to argue is a convenient little myth, and mine, in which refers to THE market of voluntary exchange, not A market, or a Market-like phenomenon. And the point I’m going to try to make is that that convenient little myth is a way of stealing, and because it’s stealing, therefore isn’t a market function, it’s just stealing – and I’m questioning whether it’s not simply another way to justify a somewhat platonic (theological and non-causal) conviction under the guise of objective reason. And I’m pretty sure that I know the answer. And that answer is ‘yes’.

      I said “The market has no claim to truth, nor is it a weapon of political coercion”.

      By which I argue that THE market, which fulfills wants, does have a claim to honesty (representation exclusive of fraud), and but it’s result is pragmatic, not truthful in the abstract sense. However, because intellectual products CAN be used, and many, many are funded specifically for the purpose of being used, for political coercion, that these products, when labelled as ‘scientific’ include both honesty requirement (representation exclusive of fraud) and the truth property (a higher level of honesty, akin to labeling something “100% orange juice”. After all, political products are used for the purposes of altering the market of human exchange, or they would not need to exist. THat is the definition of a political product: violence applied to alter the course of voluntary exchange.

      You said: “There are also plenty of markets that produce goods making truth claims;”

      First, there is a difference between honest representation for the purpose of individual consumption, and scientific truth for the purpose of the application of violence. You are proposing a black or white fallacy, when indeed, describing something of varying degree. As a more subtle criticism, while I am sure you are just speaking casually, and for the purpose of clarity, your statement confuses the actor and his product, with institutions and habits. A good cannot make a claim. A market is an abstraction and therefore cannot have an intention, and therefore a market cannot engage in deception or truth. Such things can only occur between actors within a market. I know you know this I’m just pointing out the obvious, so that I can try to deconstruct your thinking from these fragments.

      You said “The fact that something can be used for political coercion has no bearing whatsoever on it’s truth content,”

      Which begs me to ask whether you are confusing the fact that a consumer of a product can misuse it, with the claim that the manufacturer is not necessarily liable for the use of his products, with the fact that we grant special property rights to authors of speech products, in exchange for special obligations? I am not sure. But that’s the only way I can interpret that sentence.

      So when you say ‘bearing … on it’s truth content” do you mean, the fact that something can be used for political coercion places no liability on it’s author? (BTW: if something in this category of economic and political activity is not described as human actions it is of necessity platonic (not real) and therefore very difficult to determine whether it’s true or not, so that’s why I’m playing analytical philosopher at the moment.) It is pretty clear that you are implying that a person has the ability to bring any product to market regardless of the consequences of it’s use, yes? But what about the “Right” to, given that his words are protected speech? We certainly regulate arms, explosives, chemicals, certain forms of speech, and indeed most politically influential products and services, like regicide and assassination. We regulate some of them simply because they have political utility, even if rarely. And we hold people liable for the production of those products. Are you saying we do not do that? Or are you saying that we don’t require other products to have some relative level of truth content? I am not sure. (again, I’m pointing a foil at your platonic or ideal type). When an author claims a paper is scientific research, how is that different, specifically, from requiring that weights and measures in a marketplace actually represent what they purport to? Isn’t that a form of theft? There are no ‘free’ markets. There can’t be. (which is an interesting discussion.) They exist in degrees of freedom that approach the completely free, but for both practical and logical purposes, and purposes, never can reach it. In order for a market to be free, (transactions are based upon the fulfillment of needs, not on deception and fraud) there must be recourse mustn’t there? Otherwise it is not a free market. YOu could argue that a person can bring a series of faulty products to market and eventually be corrected by the market, but then, aside from the fact that a market exists because of anonymity, and therefore there is no reason that such behavior would EVER be correct, and just the opposite, reinforced, then this is not market activity, this is just fraud.

      If I take a product to market and it’s poor quality and it ends up at a small discount store, who paid the cost of that, and who benefitted? Now, by contrast, what happens with a research paper? If you’re saying other academics pay the cost of reading the nonsense (because they clearly do, I read something like thirty a day when I’m working on something) voluntarily, then that’s one way of looking at it, because like shoppers they may get a deal, or may waste their time (although from the citation studies I’ve seen, it appears that almost no one actually reads much of anything that they cite.) But the other way of looking it is that a pair of mittens that are cheaply woven is very different from a bottle of aspirin, is very different from a machine gun, is very different from a scientific paper on global warming. Because that axis of differentiation is one of causality. There is no truly free trade otherwise many of us would simply trade in murder. in fact, in the historical record, that’s a pretty good business.

      You said “The most important characteristic of the market for ideas and free markets for goods is that they are decentralized, emergent, and involve voluntary exchange.”

      Actually, for ideas in particular, are you sure there is a market? Or are you saying it’s market-like? Because I think you’re saying it’s market like, and not understanding how it’s unlike the market. Or which market you’re talking about, because there are at least three you could be referring to. If you mean free market, how then is academic research a free market? (thats a trap, it isn’t)

      You said: “And remember, the voluntary part is about the production and exchange of the good, not with however it is used or misused for coercion.”

      Well, I don’t really know how you got there from what I said. But I’m pretty sure I know what you mean: you’re quoting scripture so to speak.

      The whole point is that you’re using tidy little abstract (platonic) categories, and the objects and actors that you’re talking about are not sanitary ideal types any more than the DSEM or bell curve as ideal types exist in any form in reality. And those ideal types are misleading. Instead, the actors are involved in multiple complex cross payments, and obligations, and in particular, all sorts of subsidies and special compensations. Free speech in particular is very rare in history, and the jury is still out on it. If we invented free speech entirely so that we could have honest political debate, as silly as that may sound, then do you really have the freedom from liability when you publish an erroneous paper when the very premise of the paper is that it is scientific (truthful)? Or is that, like other goods for sale on the market, simply false advertising and theft from society – in particular a society that has subsidized it’s creation not only directly, but indirectly by the absorption of costs from the tolerance for free speech? What about something so simple as whether or not you include the means by which to falsify your theory? If so, then why don’t we regulate papers as scientific versus not so? We regulate tomato juice, don’t we? We would all have a wonderful reduction in papers to choose from because so few of them would make it to publication. In truth, this same problem is solved by simply recognizing that the peer review journal process is a failure, and that books, not papers, are the only works possible to perform critical analysis upon, simply because of their scope. The vast majority of papers appear, in large part, to be worth little more than Boy Scout Merit Badges.

      And It is, indeed, theft from society when you publish such a paper. Because for humans to behave as if this thing we call Property exists, means that when we translate the term ‘property’ into a sequence of human actions, we end up with “the cost incurred whenever a person forgoes any opportunity to utilize any identifiable object of utility,over which he does not know he has exclusive use because the object is a thing he neither obtained in exchange, or created out of other objects “. That is where the idea of property comes from: forgone opportunity. Forgone opportunity is a cost. It is a higher cost for the strong, and a lower cost for the weak. And it is brutally difficult to train humans, especially strong humans, to forgo those opportunities and pay that cost. Each forgone opportunity is a cost, just as much as are our direct actions, voluntary costs such as prices paid, and involuntary costs such as taxes. Time, effort, affection and violence are the only natural human currencies. We forgo opportunities for violence in order to create property. We pay for our social orders (by which I mean, we forgo opportunities on different categorizations of personal property) by contributing moment by moment to a wishing well, with invisible coinage of forgone opportunities.

      The fact is, that if you produce a good that is misrepresented to me, I will demand restitution, or I will rescind my forgone opportunity for violence in order to obtain restitution. To reduce group social costs, the headman, chieftain or the state intervenes and resolves this conflict for us in exchange for what we pay him. If you make people forgo opportunities, or pay taxes, or give you special dispensation, then you produce a work product that purports to be truth, because that’s what a scientific label is, just as much as an orange juice label is represent that it’s orange juice,

      We do not let people give guns to children. We do not give grenades to gorillas. And we do not, or should not, let people give unscientific science into a market for purchase by politicians. Why? Because politicians dispense violence. That is their purpose. Otherwise we would not need, or even have them. Politicians dispense organized, ostensibly justified, violence. That’s what the state is: a monopoly on violence. Politicians use science and economic data as a means of coercion in order to enact policy, that allows them to dispense violence in order to forcibly enact policies. And in a division of labor, they do not have, nor can they have, the requisite skills to tell the difference between water balloons and hand grenades. And there is little evidence in the record that politicians do anything other than participate in a less violent means of churning the elites between temporally dominant classes.

      So basically, if you produce a paper that contains falsehoods, but has the label on it “scientific” which purports to be true, in a society where argument is used for policy enactment, then you are simply a publicly funded high explosives arms dealer who says guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Which may be true. But children, gorillas and politicians kill people pretty readily if given the right weapons.

      The market does none of these things because unlike the state, participation is voluntary, and the outcome is pragmatic, and I have recourse, even if it is only by interpersonal violence against thieves and charlatans. I would rather have my works determined as successful use of resources by the market delivering to me profits. The market doesn’t exist. It’s a name we give to people doing things.

      And the nonsense position many academics take on the free market if is for the purpose of laundering responsibility, and that is simply another way of obscuring in moral or theological words, what can be expressed in more clear terms, with more clear causality, as a series of human actions.

      Ideal types are a convenient tool that permit simple creatures like ourselves to make generalizations by which to model a simplified version of reality, so that, in our frailty we can gain some understanding. We should not however, confuse the ideal types, which are tools, with reality, and that if those ideal types were to exist in reality, or if we pursued our actions in reality as if they were, we would not build a ‘market’ as we mean it, but simply justify a different forum for theft, and, just as we have done with law, and bureaucracy, and government, and in doing so, transform violence in to corruption and fraud, under the guise of ‘market’, while all the time, justifying market as non-violence, and patting ourselves on the back as if we have truly become secular humanists.

      While the opponents of markets do not understand these mechanics, they intuit them, and that is why they fight us. Our job is not to transform reality to our model. It is to understand how best to model reality, so that we live the best lives, regardless of class or time preference. (Which may be the same thing in reality. — Another attempt at economist humor there.)

      After property, Land defense is the most expensive social cost. It is in the defense of land, paid for by some, and not by others. that most theft of opportunity occurs. In fact, it certainly appears, that all arguments for pacifism and a moral basis of property rights, are an attempt to steal opportunity costs from those who hold the land, and therefore the geographic monopoly, and therefor pay for the social order. Of course, this is simply the difference between the philosophies of Power and Weakness (re: Kagan). Lions and Rabbits have different philosophies because they need to. It is when the lions and rabbits pretend to have the same philosophy that both engage in deception. After all, a lion is not a rabbit, and a rabbit not a lion.


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