Also Feckless, Worthless, Meritless, …

Reason presents The Shameless Attack on a Climate Change Dissenter Steven Koonin. Video version:

Text version at the link. Excerpt:

In 2021, the physicist and New York University professor Steven E. Koonin, who served as undersecretary for science in the Obama administration's Energy Department, published the best-selling Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn't, and Why It Matters.

The book attracted extremely negative reviews filled with ad hominem attacks, such as a short statement appearing in Scientific American and signed by 12 academics that, instead of substantively rebutting Koonin's arguments, calls him "a crank who's only taken seriously by far-right disinformation peddlers hungry for anything they can use to score political points" and "just another denier trying to sell a book."

We couldn't find a single negative review of Unsettled that disputed its claims directly or even described them accurately. Many of the reviewers seem to have stopped reading after the first few pages. Others were forced to concede that many of Koonin's facts were correct but objected that they were used in the service of challenging official dogma. True statements were downplayed as trivial or as things everyone knows, despite the extensive parts of Unsettled that document precisely the opposite: that the facts were widely denied in major media coverage and misrepresentations were cited as the basis for major policy initiatives.

I read Koonin's book last year. My report is here. My take-home point from the Reason video/article is the same as I had then: You gotta ask: what are these people afraid of?

Briefly noted:

  • In an article from the print edition of National Review (probably paywalled) Philip Klein reveals The Real Debt Ceiling Cowards.

    In February 2018, a budget deal sailed through the Republican-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate before being enthusiastically signed into law by President Trump. Not only did the pact suspend the debt ceiling, but it eroded the spending restraints that had been the crowning achievement of the Tea Party era and the legacy of the 2011 debt-ceiling fight.

    Then–House speaker Paul Ryan, who rose to fame warning of the devastating consequences of the nation’s unsustainable fiscal path, hailed the “bipartisan compromise” as a “great victory” for members of the military, while Trump tweeted that “Republicans and Democrats must support our troops and support this Bill!” Representative Kevin McCarthy also backed the 2018 deal, praising its increase in military spending, the boost in money for disaster relief, and the “funding to address domestic challenges from the opioid crisis and rare diseases to reform at the Veterans Administration and fixing our crumbling infrastructure.”

    Five years later, Republicans control neither the Senate nor the presidency, but they promise to take advantage of their narrow House majority to demand spending concessions in exchange for passing a debt-ceiling increase. McCarthy, who agreed to make a fuss about the debt limit to secure his speakership, is now talking solemnly about the federal debt that Republicans allowed to explode during the Trump era — even before Biden added to it. In a recent press conference, he spoke about how it would be irresponsible to raise the debt limit without confronting the underlying federal-debt problem, which he called “the greatest threat to this nation.”

    As Washington gears up for another protracted battle over the debt ceiling, the question conservatives should be asking of Republicans is: Do they actually care about lowering the federal debt, or do they just want to fight?

    I'm pretty sure I know the answer. And it's not one of those good fights, like in Roadhouse: instead it seems more like one of those limp-wristed slap fights.

  • Freddie deBoer weighs in on a great debate: No, Francis Fukuyama is Wrong, Not Just Not Even Wrong. Specifically, he's not a fan of the "End of History" thesis.

    The big problem with The End of History and the Last Man is that history is long, and changes to the human condition are so extreme that the terms we come up with to define that condition are inevitably too contextual and limited to survive the passage of time. We’re forever foolishly deciding that our current condition is the way things will always be. For 300,000 years human beings existed as hunter-gatherers, a vastly longer period of time than we’ve had agriculture and civilization. Indeed, if aliens were to take stock of the basic truth of the human condition, they would likely define us as much by that hunter-gatherer past as our technological present; after all, that was our reality for far longer. Either way - those hunter-gatherers would have assumed that their system wasn’t going to change, couldn’t comprehend it changing, didn’t see it as a system at all, and for 3000 centuries, they would have been right. But things changed.

    And for thousands of years, people living at the height of human civilization thought that there was no such thing as an economy without slavery; it’s not just that they had a moral defense of slavery, it’s that they literally could not conceive of the daily functioning of society without slavery. But things changed. For most humans for most of modern history, the idea of dynastic rule and hereditary aristocracy was so intrinsic and universal that few could imagine an alternative. But things changed. And for hundreds of years, people living under feudalism could not conceive of an economy that was not fundamentally based on the division between lord and serf, and in fact typically talked about that arrangement as being literally ordained by God. But things changed. For most of human history, almost no one questioned the inherent and unalterable second-class status of women. Civilization is maybe 12,000 years old; while there’s proto-feminist ideas to be found throughout history, the first wave of organized feminism is generally defined as only a couple hundred years old. It took so long because most saw the subordination of women as a reflection of inherent biological reality. But women lead countries now. You see, things change.

    An interesting perspective.

    But you may have had a hard time parsing Freddie's headline. That "not even wrong" phrase has a history. It is generally said to have originated with Wolfgang Pauli, one of the founders of quantum mechanics. Which leads into our next item…

  • Let's take a look at the Ars Technica article from Paul Sutter: A guide to (not) understanding quantum mechanics.

    Hey, I've been not-understanding quantum mechanics for around fifty years now! Let's see what Sutter has to add:

    Quantum mechanics is simultaneously beautiful and frustrating.

    Its explanatory power is unmatched. Armed with the machinery of quantum theory, we have unlocked the secrets of atomic power, divined the inner workings of chemistry, built sophisticated electronics, discovered the power of entanglement, and so much more. According to some estimates, roughly a quarter of our world’s GDP relies on quantum mechanics.

    Yet despite its overwhelming success as a framework for understanding what nature does, quantum mechanics tells us very little about how nature works. Quantum mechanics provides a powerful set of tools for successfully making predictions about what subatomic particles will do, but the theory itself is relatively silent about how those subatomic particles actually go about their lives.

    Yeah, I think I see the problem, and I've bolded it in that last sentence: actually. What's really going on here? Natural question.

    Sutter is looking for some sort of additional insight beyond that provided by the QM equations.

    I'm kind of convinced that's largely a psychological issue, looking for something your intuition says should be there. Must be there.

    But it isn't. Demanding that it should be is "not even wrong".

    At least not according to the Copenhagen Interpretation. Which Sutter describes well. Check it out.

    And Sutter is not alone. The BBC back in 2013: Will we ever… understand quantum theory?