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from Steve Milloy at the WSJ, A Step Toward Scientific Integrity at the EPA:

The most prominent of the EPA’s myriad boards of outside advisers are the Science Advisory Board and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, or CASAC. Mostly made up of university professors, these boards also frequently draw members from consulting firms and activist groups. Only rarely do members have backgrounds in industry. All EPA boards are governed by the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires that they be balanced and unbiased. While the EPA is required by law to convene the SAB and CASAC, the agency is not bound by law to heed their advice.

In 1996 two-thirds of the CASAC panel had no financial connection to the EPA. By the mid-2000s, the agency had entirely flipped the composition of the advisory board so two-thirds of its members were agency grantees. Lo and behold, CASAC suddenly agreed with the EPA’s leadership that fine particulates in outdoor air kill. During the Obama years, the EPA packed the CASAC panel. Twenty-four of its 26 members are now agency grantees, with some listed as principal investigators on EPA research grants worth more than $220 million.

HKO

This is the consequence of political consensus ruling over scientific inquiry. Scientific objectivity is thwarted by intellectual McCarthyism. Dissent is demonized, careers are destroyed.  It is more like religious fanaticism than science.  Yet they have been able to brand the right with the pejorative of being anti-science.  Moral superiority justifies illiberalism. Obvious conflicts of interests are ignored.

Read the whole article.

The Media Disease

from The New Yorker, EVERYBODY’S AN EXPERT by Louis Menand

Tetlock also found that specialists are not significantly more reliable than non-specialists in guessing what is going to happen in the region they study. Knowing a little might make someone a more reliable forecaster, but Tetlock found that knowing a lot can actually make a person less reliable. “We reach the point of diminishing marginal predictive returns for knowledge disconcertingly quickly,” he reports. “In this age of academic hyperspecialization, there is no reason for supposing that contributors to top journals—distinguished political scientists, area study specialists, economists, and so on—are any better than journalists or attentive readers of the New York Times in ‘reading’ emerging situations.” And the more famous the forecaster the more overblown the forecasts. “Experts in demand,” Tetlock says, “were more overconfident than their colleagues who eked out existences far from the limelight.”

The expert-prediction game is not much different. When television pundits make predictions, the more ingenious their forecasts the greater their cachet. An arresting new prediction means that the expert has discovered a set of interlocking causes that no one else has spotted, and that could lead to an outcome that the conventional wisdom is ignoring. On shows like “The McLaughlin Group,” these experts never lose their reputations, or their jobs, because long shots are their business. More serious commentators differ from the pundits only in the degree of showmanship. These serious experts—the think tankers and area-studies professors—are not entirely out to entertain, but they are a little out to entertain, and both their status as experts and their appeal as performers require them to predict futures that are not obvious to the viewer. The producer of the show does not want you and me to sit there listening to an expert and thinking, I could have said that. The expert also suffers from knowing too much: the more facts an expert has, the more information is available to be enlisted in support of his or her pet theories, and the more chains of causation he or she can find beguiling. This helps explain why specialists fail to outguess non-specialists. The odds tend to be with the obvious.

HKO

To excite and attract viewers the media must be bold and unique, but most activity regresses to the mean.  Boring is less marketable but more likely to be accurate.

The March Against Science

How Progressives Cherry-Pick Science They Like from Mona Charen at National Review

Science, however, to be respected, must be purely the search for truth. The organizers of this “March for Science” — by acknowledging that their demonstration is modeled on the Women’s March — are contributing to the politicization of science, exactly what true upholders of science should be at pains to avoid.

A true “march for science” might tackle problems like the “replication crisis” or “confirmation bias.”

It’s a vanity of the Left that they stand for science, “fact-based” policy, and sweet reason as opposed to conservatives, who support superstition, “alternative facts,” and denial. Jeffrey Anderson, an associate professor of radiology and bioengineering at the University of Utah, explained to the Times that he would fly to D.C. for the march because of what he regards as “the wholesale disregard of truth and fact by the president and his close advisers. Their devaluing evidence and the scientific method, is so extreme that I can’t be silent.”

Now, where is the acknowledgment that there is plenty of hostility to science among progressives? Who objects to nuclear power (despite its potential to combat global warming)? Who rejects evidence of male/female brain differences? Who stands in the way of genetically modified organisms — but also argues that children should be hormonally and surgically modified if they say that they are of a different “gender” from the sex listed on their birth certificate?

When progressives are ready to admit that they sometimes cherry-pick the science they like and disregard the science that confounds their worldview, they will have taken a key first step toward the scientific method.

The True Anti-Intellectuals

Jeff Jacoby at The Boston Globe writes a wonderful piece to start the year,  What experts predict, reality will contradict

“I think that you listen too much to the soldiers,” wrote the British statesman Lord Salisbury to the viceroy of India in 1877. “No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts.”

But the experts themselves — often mistaken, but never in doubt — rarely seem to learn that lesson. Their forecasts will keep flowing in the year ahead, undeterred by their egregious blunders in the one just ended.

2016! Was there ever such a year for making donkeys out of seers? An entire column could be filled with nothing but the names of sages and savants, supposedly adept in the ways of politics, who confidently assured everyone that Donald J. Trump couldn’t possibly win the Republican presidential nomination, let alone be elected president of the United States.

HKO

Daniel Kahneman has observed that even the most credentialed and intelligent are prone to errors of probability. The more isolated that our academic establishments get from intellectual diversity the greater this error rate will likely become.

History is filled with predictions of an apocalypse that never happened, and missed the travesties that did. (although WWII was widely predicted.)

In a field of great uncertainty the best bet is a regression to the mean.  It’s as good a bet as always splitting aces or always doubling on a dealer 6.

The greater the certainty and the greater the credentialism of the predictors, the more likely the regression is  to be the preferred bet.

The less tolerant the consensus is of dissent or skepticism,  the more likely they are to be wrong.

Addressing the limits of the intellect is not to be anti-intellectual. It is the opposite. Knowing the limits allows wiser application, greater respect, and lower risk.  This makes intellectualism more acceptable and trustworthy to a wider populace. It is the blind faith in credentialism and consensus that damages the reputation of the intellectuals.  The cynicism and demonization of skepticism and true debate is the height of anti-intellectualism.

Even the wide swath of citizens that find policy and ideology boring can be quite animated at the consequences of these ideas. We would be surprised at the value that the addition of humility would bring to the world of ideas.

Imposing Moral Supremacy

from Jeff Jacoby at the Boston Globe, Healey’s Exxon witch-hunt:

As a citizen and a politician, Healey is fully entitled to condemn fossil fuels, decry global warming, and express scorn for those who don’t agree with her and Gore. As the chief law-enforcement officer of Massachusetts, she is not entitled to deploy subpoenas and other investigative and legal tools in order to harass or demonize businesses and organizations that express opinions she doesn’t share. Not even when the opinion is on a topic that she considers “more important” than anything else.

The scientific and policy debate over climate change is vigorous and ongoing. It is no more settled than the debate over abortion. And just as the First Amendment flatly forbids Massachusetts officials from using their powers to silence free speech about abortion, it forbids them from using those powers to squelch competing arguments and views about fossil fuels and global warming.

HKO

Process matters and the ends do not justify the means.  The left has become far too  comfortable with sidestepping the Bill of Rights for the political purposes of imposing moral supremacy.