Wednesday, February 22, 2012 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Sean Carroll, money, and science

Off-topic rumor via @thphysnews at Twitter: In Moriond, both ATLAS and CMS will claim a 3-sigma Higgs signal in a new, 2-photon and 2-jet channel...

Anniversary: Google's wavy logo celebrates the 155th birthday of Heinrich Hertz, also known as Herr Two Pi Per Second. Although he died at age of 36, he managed to become a key person in the electromagnetic description of light and other EM waves, and the experimental discoverer of the photoelectric effect. He was a keen meteorologist who criticized the global warming hysteria and he spoke Arabic and Sanskrit, too.
Sean Carroll offers his "wisdom" on the "anti-scientific movement". We are told that people always liked the anti-intellectual populism (which I could confirm to a large extent) but something else is going on now: corporations fight against science because capitalism is evil.

Wow.

He has three proofs that corporations are the problem: an interview with an annoyed left-wing female biologist, the $10,000 award that a think tank offered for a good published climate article a few years ago, and a woman fighting against corporations' freedom of speech.

Holy cow, the hypocrisy behind Sean Carroll's choice of arguments and data is just breathtaking. You know, during communism, we would see lots of people with a similar style and low level of morality on a daily basis – let me mention Mr Vasil Mohorita, a top slick Czechoslovak Komsomol apparatchik (he's been washing dishes in a London restaurant for years) - but they have never quite had the degree of chutzpah that Sean Carroll embodies.




Mechanisms by which money influence well-being and the truth

First, there is obviously nothing universally and intrinsically negative or positive about the influence of money.

Everyone who is eager to give a universal answer to such far-reaching questions such as "influence of money on science" is a mindless narrow-minded ideologue, a liar, and/or an idiot. Sometimes the influence is positive, sometimes it is negative. The money is an efficient tool for people of any kind – and corporations which are just groups of people assembled for a particular productive purpose – to achieve their tangible goals despite the fact that they can't do everything themselves or right now.

Money – in comparison with the direct exchange of goods and services – is really what allows one to do the planning, delay consumption, delay production, and so on. Money is what brings the long-term thinking into the utilitarian thinking of the people.

Whether corporations and their manipulation with the money will be beneficial for science depends on whether or not the people who actually possess the money want science to thrive or not.  "Good" and "bad" people ultimately decide that most of the activity around them is "good" or "bad", respectively. The money is just a morally neutral tool for them to achieve these goals. The answer to the "good or bad" question is mixed and depends on many things; it doesn't really matter whether the people are organized in corporations or not. However, corporations almost universally love to develop the kind of science that is useful for their business.

Hopefully I don't have to explain why corporations have been critical in the development and improvement of light bulbs, cars, computers, or anything else that technology had to offer to improve people's lives. However, corporations have played and are playing an incredibly important role in pure science, too. See six physics Nobel prizes for Bell Labs as an example. And kudos to Mike Lazaridis.

What folks like Sean Carroll have in mind when they unfairly criticize corporations is a hardcore communist conspiracy theory claiming that money, a cornerstone of capitalism, always have to hurt and whoever is earning them must be evil. However, money is always ultimately earned for making other people or corporations happier and science is an important tool in making this process more efficient and, in some cases, possible.

The left-wing ideologues inevitably have to talk about people buying things that hurt them but not realizing their bad luck because they're being brainwashed by corporations; and they also talk about externalities, some usually negative impact on third parties that are not participating in a transaction.

Smoking, ignorance, and profit

But both of these arguments – or whole templates of arguments – are simply bogus.

They don't correctly describe almost anything. Start with the "forced ignorance". Smoking is a typical example. Is it possible that the harmful effect of (first-hand) smoking on people's lungs and other organs remains hidden from the bulk of the tobacco industry's consumers? This is preposterous. Every package of cigarettes has to say (or scream) that it kills and causes an Armageddon. Even if you were living in a country where the cigarettes don't say anything like that, it's very unlikely that a large group of people hasn't heard that smoking could be harmful.

The fact that the people smoke nevertheless can't be explained by their ignorance. Quite on the contrary, they know something that the naive labels don't.

They know that smoking also helps them. It just makes them happier. They feel relaxed, they're in charge of their lives, and they just don't care about some 5 years of their life in some murky future. I've also heard that the smoke smells beautifully, although I can't confirm these reports, and that people feel like genuine intellectuals when they're surrounded by the smoke. ;-) Maybe some of the smokers just hurt their lungs in order to protest against things in their life that suck – and their freedom to protest in this way just makes them happier.

A totalitarian system may think that it has the right to force the people to live for a maximum amount of time (and produce a maximum amount of coal or reduce the CO2 emissions by a maximum amount, or whatever the communist 5-year plan exactly says right now) regardless of their happiness. But in a free society, the people actually care about their happiness and they are allowed to behave accordingly. For some people, it means that they prefer to smoke.

(Just to be sure, I don't smoke.)

What's important is that the government, detached from an individual, doesn't really know what the individual finds important and what makes him or her happy. The recipes and priorities of the governments are bound to be oversimplified. And even when the government knows what the people really care about, it doesn't pay any attention to this knowledge because it treats individuals as stupid screws in a larger machine that is optimized for a mostly irrational goal that the government just adopted. The goals are usually adopted by the government without much selection or competition: they're random and, in most cases, harmful for most of the citizens.

If you think about it, this smoking example covers the bulk of similar situations. The issue of ignorance in the markets is of course a vast topic and even its science-related subtopic could be discussed for years.

We sometimes use mouthwash. It kills bacteria, some companies earn lots of money from this toxic junk. I think that people feel that if the compound kills bacteria, it's probably not excessively healthy for us, either. And indeed, it's plausible that it helps to kickstart oral cancer or some neural diseases. Or not. The science is not too clear here. But people kind of know enough and they're ultimately comparing costs and benefits according to pretty rational rules. Someone may know more than they do but it's normal for research to be checked and verified for years before it becomes common knowledge. One can't really speed up this process by some "decree".

A government could decide that it is unforgivable for a mouthwash to increase the cancer risk by more than 1%. But this is just a random unjustifiable, absolutist regulation, much like most regulations by the government. For some people, the increase of the cancer risk is totally irrelevant relatively with the positive impact that the mouthwash brings them.

Externalities

The second left-wing meme I mentioned, the importance of externalities, has a true core. Externalities exist. However, the idea that these externalities are important enough to determine the sign of the "overall result" is a totally different question and this particular statement is wrong. The reason is that people who build their ideology on externalities neglect something much more important, namely the "internalities".

When A does a transaction with B, A may pay an amount of money, X, to B. This transaction may also cause the wealth or well-being of C to change by Y. This is the scenario here. What's important is that Y may be both positive and negative and it is about as likely to have either sign. The communist ideologues always love to claim that Y has to be negative which is just a pure lie.

Second, the absolute value of Y (externalities) is smaller than the absolute value of X (internalities) in almost all cases. Just think about any particular transaction and what it does to anyone else. You buy a bottle of Pepsi. You have to pay $1 and it seems as a good deal for you because the bottle of Pepsi just looks more pleasant for you than a picture of a U.S. president with a signature of Larry Summers in your pocket.

The supermarket gets your dollar. A part of it covers the seller, a part of it covers the materials that were used, salaries of people in Pepsi, and the rest (a small percentage) is the profit that goes to the shareholders etc. A part of it is taxed, so it's used by all other citizens of a country, especially by the parasitic ones. All those people contribute a positive amount to Y. Some of these amounts may be counted as externalities. If we count the tax as an externality, Y always has 0.15 times X which makes it more likely that Y ends up positive.

Will you find someone or something, e.g. an ecosystem, that is damaged by more than $1? I think you won't. The bottle of Pepsi was chosen randomly. You may pick almost any example in the world and the conclusion will be the same. Internalities are more important than externalities – even though the people who love to hype externalities don't even use the word internalities: they pretend that they're non-existent. And this implies that the two parties of a contract are the dominant parties when it comes to someone's changing happiness or utility and because it's moving in the positive direction for both of them, trading is good for the aggregate world, too.

How does science benefit? In most cases, not much. We're not buying Pepsi in order to find out the mass of the stop squark. Or sometimes we do but the bottle of Pepsi is just one among many things that help the people to find out the mass of the stop squark. ;-) So most products and services have a negligible impact on most sciences, much like they have a negligible impact on any other random thing in the world. However, when we talk about some relevant science, the company ultimately wants to know the truth, too. It never dreams about hurting someone because it may always be held responsible for that.

Now imagine that the CO2 climate sensitivity is 10 times higher than it is in the real world, something like 10 degrees Celsius. This is excluded in the world around us but just imagine it is the case in a hypothetical world. Such a change could lead to a disruption of Nature and the mankind in one or two centuries although I am not quite sure about it. But assume that it would be harmful.

How will the companies behave? Well, companies are still people so they would suffer if the world or the civilization would be facing some catastrophic changes. The CEOs of oil companies usually have family members, they have houses near the sea level, and so on. Even if you forget about the direct losses, a company wants to maximize profits and in the world in which 3.5 billion people die, the profits will drop by roughly 50%. It's just complete nonsense to think that oil corporations or any other corporations have vested interest in the death of the Earth. Instead, they want to grow. And big enough ones think about their long-term growth, too.

The same is true for governments and bureaucrats in them – and as I have emphasized, Sean Carroll is such an apparatchik fed by the money stolen mostly from the corporations, too. However, there's a difference. While corporations make the economy grow, the existence of a government slows down the growth and the very purpose of many policies promoted by governments across the world is to "regulate" in such a way that the economies or at least their important parts should actually shrink.

So of course that if the profit of a company, in this case a government, is correlated with the decrease of the amount of oil that is being produced, allowing this company to increase the profit is likely to lead to the decrease of the production of oil. However, this doesn't happen according to proper market rules: it happens because some people are turning the rules of the markets upside down. It happens because the government is not receiving money from the people for particular services: it receives the money by stealing them from everyone else, using a network of bribed organized criminals such as the IRS bureaucrats, and unscrupulously threatening whole nations that whoever doesn't pay the taxes will be jailed.

So the government has an interest to promote pseudoscientific theories that make the government look more important – like the theory about the lethal danger of having Jews in your population, or the dangerous anthropogenic global warming, or whatever. In principle, similar things could occur in the commercial sector, too. A company could offer its services in CO2 reduction as well so it would have a vested interest in other people's belief that CO2 is dangerous. However, in a free market environment, such an isolated company would go bust almost immediately because everyone knows that he doesn't really need to regulate CO2 because it poses no danger. The company would see low profits or losses and it could try to do a different job for which it still has some expertise and the unprofitable CO2 reduction branch would simply go out of business.

The commercial sector evaluates products and memes separately which is one of the key strengths of the invisible hand of the free markets.

With the government in place, people still know that CO2 isn't really threatening them but they behave differently because of the monopoly status of the government. The government links many different sectors and correlates them. It polarizes the landscape into pro-government vs anti-government camps and effectively induces correlations between questions that are not correlated – or that are even anticorrelated – in the real world. And all participants in the pro-government sector sector are made "obliged" to do things and parrot memes that were claimed to be good for the government – e.g. the silly idea that CO2 is dangerous. The individual responsibility of the meme (and the responsibility of its proponents) for its own veracity and fate is diluted in the anonymous ocean of "causes" that the government decided to support. The checks and balances are lost.

That's why governments are much more likely to promote products that are harmful or at least inconsequential than the private companies: they simply don't properly separately evaluate whether individual claims are valid or not; they're not financially or otherwise punished for making individual wrong claims. Certain projects and statements, e.g. AGW alarmism, become a part of the Big Government setup and everyone who is politically correct – i.e. pro-Big-Government in this context – has to support all these causes that have been added as "positive for the government company" without much evaluation.

This is one reason why communism has erased decades of progress and GDP growth in a third of the world; this is why deluded ideologues such as Sean Carroll represent a genuine and credible threat for the future of the U.S., its people's freedom, and the country's prosperity. They offer you superficial articles linking totally unrelated questions – smoking, CO2 emissions from CO2, biology funding etc. – and they tell you that you have to support a particular combination of answers to all these questions to be a "buddy" with a particular aggressive corporation, the government, which earns money not by doing individual useful services for others but by stealing the money via criminals in the IRS.

Carroll's cherry-picking

I could continue with these general analyses of the invisible hand of the free markets and its impact on the well-being of the people, health of the environment, and many other things. But let me return to another topic I wanted to say a few words about: Sean Carroll's breathtaking hypocrisy.

People like Sean Carroll have received something like a million or two million dollars for their work in the non-commercial sector. Some of the very people he defends have earned the same money – millions of dollars – purely for promoting pro-Big-Government pseudoscientific delusions such as a dangerous man-made climate change.

But that doesn't prevent Carroll from talking about corruption of science and mention a $10,000 prize for a good article on the climate (in a recent era when almost everything written about the climate was pure alarmist pseudoscientific rubbish: this era is fortunately over) as the top example of such a corruption. Is he really unable to see that on the other side he defends, the corruption is greater by 3-6 orders of magnitude? Without the AGW hysteria, climatology in the U.S. would have received at most $5 billion in the last 2 decades but it has received about $50 billion. Subtraction is enough to see that $45 billion was paid as a bribe for scientists to produce stuff that is "consistent" with the AGW delusions. It's $45 billion of corruption: this amount is directly linked to climatologists' talking about a climate threat. Sean Carroll prefers to see a $10,000 journalist prize for a great objective article on the climate that has probably never been even paid at all.

I don't believe he can be overlooking the much larger amounts by a mistake. He is deliberately lying about these things because he is, much like virtually all left-wing ideologues, a nasty immoral jerk, the same kind of people who may become communist or related dictators unless they are stopped in time.

And that's the memo.

Add to del.icio.us Digg this Add to reddit

snail feedback (0) :