A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for April, 2017

Pop Science Versus Science

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Two days ago I said that the March for Science would more appropriately be called the March for Philosophy. I fear that I may have given many of the marchers too much credit.

One of the biggest problems with the concept of science in popular culture is that few people actually understand what the scientific method entails:

Let’s start with my contention that most “pro-science” demonstrators have no idea what they were demonstrating about. Being “pro-science” has become a bizarre cultural phenomenon in which liberals (and other members of the cultural elite) engage in public displays of self-reckoned intelligence as a kind of performance art, while demonstrating zero evidence to justify it. On any given day, many of my most “woke” friends are quick to post and retweet viral content about the latest on what Science (and I’m capitalizing this on purpose) “says,” or what some studies “prove.” But on closer look, much of what gets shared and bandied about is sheer bullshit and is diagnostic of one thing only: The state of science (and science literacy) in this country, and most of the planet for that matter, is woefully bad. For example, the blog IFLScience (IFL stands for “I f—ing love”) seems singularly committed to undermining legitimately good science half the time, while promoting it the other half—which, scientifically speaking, is a problem. Here’s a neat one that relays news about a study that suggested that beer hops may protect against liver disease. I’ll be sure to mention that to the next alcoholic with hepatitis and cirrhosis that I treat. To date that article has been shared 41,600 times. Very few of those readers, I should mention, were mice, though the research was carried out in, you guessed it, mice. (And of course, this type of coverage is not refined to cleverly named blogs.)

So many self-proclaimed science fans have such a gross misunderstanding of what science is that they don’t even know what they don’t know. They see some meme shared by a Facebook group that claims to promote science and they mindlessly believe whatever the short caption in the meme says. They never seek out the published research paper to see what the methodology or conclusion were. This is because most of the people who are proclaiming a love of science are really in love with pop science, which is nothing more than an exercise in taking a kernel of truth from scientific research and embellishing it so it appeals to the masses (Beer hops protects against liver disease!).

Actual science is seldom flashy. It’s rare to find a scientist who claims that their research proves something. Most scientists couch their language because they realize that the scientific method doesn’t prove anything, it merely gives or takes weight away from hypotheses. They know that future research could render their hypothesis incorrect. You’ll rarely find a research paper that concludes that beer hops protects against liver disease.

Science, like religion, has become just another tool for the masses to support their confirmation bias. Any pop science that supports an average person’s beliefs is treated as gospel while any pop science or real science that disproves their beliefs is labeled bad science and discarded. In other words, science does the opposite of what it’s intended to for most people.

How did this happen? As with so many problems, this one may have been the results of good people with good intentions trying to do the right thing. A lot of teachers, professors, and television personalities encouraged kids to become scientists. This idea sounds good because having more scientists should, theoretically, increase the rate of scientific discovery. However, like so many religions, these advocates changed the message to make it more appealing to their audience. They engrained in children all of the cool things that science can do but left out most of the gritty details. Now these children have grown up. Most of them found the actual practice of science to be dull so they went into other careers. But they never stopped believing in what they were taught about how cool science is. I theorize that we have a bunch of people basically parroting instilled religious beliefs without actually understanding what they’re parroting. In that way, I find the average Christian, who generally isn’t well-versed in Christian theology, to be indistinguishable from the average self-proclaimed lover of science, who generally isn’t well-versed in the scientific method.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 28th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Everything Old is New Again

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History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. Every government needs scapegoats. The United States and Europe have Islam. Islamists in the Middle East have the United States and Europe. North Korea has South Korea. Every government has somebody. In fact, almost every government has multiple somebodies. In addition to Islam, the United States also has North Korea and North Korea, likewise, has the United States. Islamists in the Middle East have the United States, Europe, and Israel.

The war is not meant to be won. It is meant to be continuous. If a government doesn’t have multiple scapegoats, it runs the risk of running out. Russia has had the United States for a long time but it, like every other government, is constantly looking for more. Recently, if found a new scapegoat in the form of Jehovah’s Witnesses:

MOSCOW — Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday declared Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination that rejects violence, an extremist organization, banning the group from operating on Russian territory and putting its more than 170,000 Russian worshipers in the same category as Islamic State militants.

The ruling, which confirmed an order last month by the Justice Ministry that the denomination be “liquidated” — essentially eliminated or disbanded — had been widely expected. Russian courts rarely challenge government decisions, no matter what the evidence.

What threat could a small non-violent denomination have to the Russian people? None whatsoever. But that’s not the point. The point is that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a minority religion within Russia, which means a lot of Russians aren’t familiar with them so the State can therefore mold the believers into whatever it needs. The Russian government also knows that ordering the religion disbanded won’t work, it will merely push the believers underground. This, again, is exactly what the government wants. If the religion is allowed to exist above ground then its believers can openly present themselves to the masses. This makes it easier for them to show Russians exactly what Jehovah’s Witnesses really are all about. If their religion is forced underground, they cannot openly present themselves so the State is more or less free to propagandize against them.

It’s an old trick but an effective one. Now the Russian government will be free to blame whatever ills it has inflicted on its people on Jehovah’s Witnesses and show the people why they need their government to protect them.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 28th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Hidden but Obvious Selective Biases

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I came across this article, which argues that it’s time to take away voting rights from white men. I don’t have anything to say about the argument in the article itself since I think voting is stupid and pointless. But one paragraph jumped out at me:

At the same time, a denial of the franchise to white men, could see a redistribution of global assets to their rightful owners. After all, white men have used the imposition of Western legal systems around the world to reinforce modern capitalism. A period of twenty years without white men in the world’s parliaments and voting booths will allow legislation to be passed which could see the world’s wealth far more equitably shared. The violence of white male wealth and income inequality will be a thing of the past.

Socialists like to argue that capitalism is bad because it’s a philosophy of white men. However, if we look at the most prominent socialist thinkers we’re left with a trend that socialists like to ignore. Karl Marx? White man. Friedrich Engels? White man. Vladimir Lenin? White man. Mikhail Bakunin? White man. As it turns out, modern socialism appears to be a philosophy of white men as well.

I don’t hold the belief that something is good or bad because it’s predominantly advocated by people of a certain race, gender, religious belief, etc. and the fact that modern socialism is predominantly advocated by white men isn’t the point of this post. The point of this post is that a lot of people practice selection bias that is obvious to anybody outside of their circle but almost entirely unseen by people within their circle.

Socialists, for example, like to accuse capitalism of being a philosophy of white men while ignoring the fact that their philosophy is no different in that regard. They also like to claim that every failed socialist state wasn’t real socialism but was really a capitalist state. To people within their circle, this confirmation bias goes mostly unseen. To those of us outside of their circle, it’s as obvious as a baseball bat to the face. And just in case you think that I’m letting capitalists off of the hook, I’m not. They fall into the same trap. Everybody does. This is why you should always be open to the possibility that your beliefs are wrong.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 28th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Pragmatism is My Least Favorite Philosophy

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Pragmatism is my least favorite philosophy. Unfortunately, it seems to be the philosophy a majority of the human race as subscribed to.

The idea behind pragmatism is that policies should be implemented that provide the greatest good to the greatest number of people. On paper that doesn’t sound bad. In practice it has lead to a tremendous amount of death and destruction.

The very foundation of pragmatism is unsound because it never addresses what the greatest good. What qualifies as the greatest good to me may not necessarily qualify as the greatest good to you. Consider the Nazi Party (we’re brining Godwin into this conversation right at the start). The Nazi Party blamed much of the world’s problems on the Jews and decided that the world would be far better without them. This lead to the Holocaust. Now consider the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union believed that the greatest good for humanity was communism. It saw anybody who disagreed with communism as a threat to the future of humanity and, like the Nazi Party, chose to exterminate that perceived threat. Millions of people were slaughtered by those two regimes. Did they provide the greatest good to the greatest number of people? Most people today would say that they didn’t but the people who were running those regimes believed that they were.

Therein lies the biggest problem with pragmatism: anything goes so long as it can be justified as the greatest good for the greatest number of people. If a few million people have to die? Well, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few million eggs! That’s just the price we have to pay for progress!

Written by Christopher Burg

April 27th, 2017 at 11:00 am

The Environmentally Friendly Internal Combustion Engine

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Most environmentalists believe that the world’s worst polluter, the State, is the only way to save the environment. They scoff when you mention the environmentally friendly advances that have been made by market actors. Worse yet, they often disparage market advancements that have greatly improved the environment, such as the internal combustion engine:

The internal-combustion engine began improving the environment, however, long before global warming became a concern. Consider the fact that in 1900 a large percentage of the available horsepower really was horse power, or mule power, or ox power. As the power of the internal-combustion engine began to be substituted for animal power in the early 1900s, we began to substitute the emissions coming out of the tailpipes of cars and trucks for those coming out of the tailpipes of animals. The result was that the environment started becoming far cleaner and healthier.

Consider horse manure’s effect on the environment and health of New Yorkers in 1900. Robert Fogel, a Nobel Prize-winning economic historian, writes:

We complain a lot about air pollution today, but there were 200,000 horses in New York City, at the beginning of the 20th century defecating everywhere. And when you walked around in New York City, you were breathing pulverized horse manure—a much worse pollutant, than the exhausts of automobiles. Indeed in the United States, the automobile was considered the solution to the horse problem because pulverized horse manure carried a lot of deadly pathogens.

No serious person denies that photochemical smog from gas-powered vehicles is a health risk. It would be silly to do so. It would be even sillier, however, to deny Fogel’s observation that the air and water pollution from horse manure was a far greater health risk than the pollution from cars and trucks. Diseases such as cholera, typhoid, typhus, yellow fever, and diphtheria were responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans in the early twentieth century. As cars and trucks began replacing horses and other beasts of burden, these deaths began to decline dramatically. Medical improvements get some of the credit, but most of the credit during the early decades of the twentieth century goes to the reduced filth in the environment from animal waste.

People forget the past. Environmentalists, who often rant about how much more environmental damage humans are causing today than in the past, seem to have forgotten just how terrible living conditions were barely a century ago. Humanity’s agricultural knowledge was far more limited, which means farmers commonly practiced more damaging forms of agriculture. Horses were the primary mode of transportation, which introduced a great amount of biological contaminants to metropolitan areas. Trash was often discarded in place instead of collected and moved to a designated dump.

Our species has come a long ways in terms of environmentalism and not because of the State but because of rational self-interest. Having a cleaner environment benefits us so market forces have been hard at work reducing humanity’s environmental impact. This hard work continues today. Energy production continues to cause environmental damage. While the State has continued to hinder cleaner forms of energy production such as nuclear power plants, the market has been hard at work making more power efficient devices. Devices that use less energy reduce the load on power production facilities, which means less new facilities have to be built to meet demands. Mining is another activity that causes notable environmental damage and the market is once again responding. Apple has announced that it will rely on recycled materials instead of newly mined materials and other companies are likely to follow suit.

Environmentalists should be cheering the market, not condemning it.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 27th, 2017 at 10:30 am

A Child in a Third World Country is Wondering What is Wrong with Americans

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There is a child in a third world country painting fake mud onto jeans and wondering what the fuck is wrong with Americans:

After it was ridiculed for selling designer rocks at Christmas, Nordstrom may have topped itself with its latest offer.

The department store is offering a pair of jean covered in fake mud for a whopping $425.

Stateside there are farmers, construction workers, miners, and other working professionals who are probably willing to dirty up the jeans you already own for a much more reasonable price. I sense an agorist business opportunity.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 27th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Posted in Side Notes

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The March for Philosophy

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This weekend was the March for Science. What was the March for Science? A march for philosophy.

Judging by the number of people who participated in the March for Science, there are a lot of people who don’t understand what science actually is. Perhaps nothing illustrates this fact better than the commonly used phrase, “The science is settled.”

Science, or more specifically the scientific method, is a process of discovery that relies on observation and experimentation. First, a phenomenon is observed. Second, a hypothesis that explains that phenomenon is developed. Third, an experiment is performed to determine whether the hypothesis is plausible or not. Eventually, if enough experimentation indicates that the hypothesis is correct, a theory is developed. The keywords here are “hypothesis,” “experimentation,” and “theory.” Theories are not immutable truths. Every theory has the potential of being proven incorrect by future experimentation. So science can never be settled.

The existence of this misunderstand can be further illustrated by people mixing the scientific method with democracy. How many times have you heard a variation of the phrase, “[Insert an arbitrary but large number] percent of scientists agree that…” as if it meant something? Democracy is based on the idea that truth can be discovered by polling a voting body. Science is based on the idea that observation and experimentation can help us explain natural phenomenon. The two are unrelated. Even if 99.9 percent of scientists agree on one theory they can be proven wrong if the remaining 0.1 percent perform an experiment that proves the majority’s theory incorrect. A debate based on what the plurality of scientists think isn’t a scientific debate.

The purpose of the March for Science was to promote science-based policies. This purpose is entirely philosophical in nature. You see, the scientific method is a tool that can address a specific problem domain, namely the understanding of natural phenomenon. The scientific method cannot address all problem domains though. There’s no way to prove that two plus two equal four with the scientific method. To do that humans rely on deductive logic. There’s also no way to prove that the scientific method is the proper tool for understanding natural phenomenon. To do that humans rely on philosophy.

What is the best way for humans to conduct themselves in groups? The scientific method is not the proper tool for answering this question because the answer cannot be discovered through experimentation. The best way is not a natural phenomenon, it’s a subjective criteria. For example, the most important criteria for decided the best way is individual freedom. For a somebody else, the most important criteria may be equality in wealth. The question is necessarily philosophical because it’s subjective.

Whenever somebody says that the United States needs more scientists they’re using philosophy because they are using their subjective criteria, the number of scientists, to decide the best way for humans in an arbitrarily defined group (often referred to as “society”) to conduct themselves. The same is true for anybody who says that there needs to be more government funding for scientific education.

Naturally, I’m apt to blame the government indoctrination system, which is often mistakenly referred to as an education system, for Saturday’s deplorable public display of ignorance. I’m also smart enough to know that my blame is philosophical in nature, not scientific, because there is no way for me to perform an experiment that can confirm or deny my hypothesis. I will also say that I philosophically find this widespread ignorance detrimental to humanity (based on my subjective criteria of what is best for humanity).

Written by Christopher Burg

April 26th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Who Will Protect Us from the State

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Statists always ask, in the absence of government who will protect us? I want to know, in the presences of government who will protect us? The State commits murder on a massive scale but it also finds time to murder little guys as well. Consider the case of Terrill Thomas. He ended up in jail because of an undiagnosed mental illness. His kidnappers then turned the water off to his cell and let him slowly die of dehydration over the next eight days:

Terrill Thomas spent seven straight days holed up in a solitary confinement cell with no running water, slowly withering away.

Thomas started the weeklong stretch at the Milwaukee County Jail belligerent and loud, the result of an untreated mental illness, prosecutors said. But as the days wore on, he grew weak and dehydrated. He lost nearly 35 pounds and turned quiet, never asking for or receiving medical attention.

Barely two hours into his eighth day in solitary, jail staff found Thomas, 38, dead on his jail cell floor, the result of profound dehydration.

[…]

In his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley said surveillance videos show three corrections officers cut off the water in Thomas’ cell – a disciplinary measure after Thomas flooded another cell – and never turned it back on. The same officers never documented the water cutoff or notified supervisors, leaving fellow corrections officers in the dark.

Based on the history of how these kinds of incidents are handled, the officers who cut off the water probably won’t face any real disciplinary action. If there is a trial, the officers might receive a paid vacation for the duration of the trail. If they’re found guilty, they might even be fired. But then their union representative will step in and strong arm the prison into reinstating them.

And people wonder why I have no faith in government.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 26th, 2017 at 10:30 am

License, Please

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Occupational licenses are sold to the public as a mechanism for protecting consumers from fraudulent providers. Licenses don’t actually provide such protections since they’re just pieces of paper. More importantly, they can actually reduce protections since their existence convinces people that actual protections, such as regular inspections by private independent inspection organizations, aren’t as necessary. So what purpose do occupational licenses server? They serve as a source of revenue for the State as well as a mechanism for it to lash out at its critics:

In September 2014, Mats Järlström, an electronics engineer living in Beaverton, Oregon, sent an email to the state’s engineering board. The email claimed that yellow traffic lights don’t last long enough, which “puts the public at risk.”

“I would like to present these facts for your review and comments,” he wrote.

This email resulted not with a meeting, but with a threat. The Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying responded with this dystopian message:

“ORS 672.020(1) prohibits the practice of engineering in Oregon without registration … at a minimum, your use of the title ‘electronics engineer’ and the statement ‘I’m an engineer’ … create violations.”

In January of this year, Järlström was officially fined $500 by the state for the crime of “practicing engineering without being registered.”

How dare he practice engineering without a license? The audacity of this criminal scum!

You almost have to admire the vindictive nature of the State. An individual came forward offering information that could potentially lead to the correction of a bug in a system and the State slaps him with a fine for daring to question its authority. Welcome to America, the freest goddamn country on Earth!

Written by Christopher Burg

April 26th, 2017 at 10:00 am

The Problem with Pragmatism

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Fascists have been trying to make inroads into libertarian circles. That has lead a lot of libertarians to state that libertarianism is anti-fascist. I’m beginning to think that fascism isn’t the real problem for libertarianism, pragmatism is.

As I touched on yesterday, pragmatism has been leading some libertarians to side with fascists because they’re offering a “lighter” alternative to communists “full” socialism. I’ve also seen a few libertarians passing around this article, which is basically saying that libertarians should support universal basic income because it’s better than the current system of welfare. And, of course, I’ve seen some libertarians passing around this article, which argues that supporting universal healthcare is fiscally responsible.

These are just a few cases where I’ve seen libertarians argue for pragmatism. And they make me understand how Ludwig von Mises felt when he was attending a meeting of classical liberals and called them all a bunch of socialists as he stormed after they started talking about pragmatism:

When I hear libertarians siding with fascists, supporting universal basic income, and supporting universal healthcare I can’t help but call them a bunch of socialists because they are expressing pragmatism, which is a socialist ideology.

The problem with pragmatism is that it always requires compromising principles. While some libertarians might think that compromising their principles, at least if it’s only a little bit, is fine so long as it moves some libertarian ideas ahead, doing so actually forwards the goals of socialists in two ways. First, the compromise means at least some of their agenda was also moved ahead. Second, the compromise means that they were able to get some libertarians to bend on one thing, which gives them the knowledge to get them to bend on other things. The first is obvious, the second is sinister.

Getting people to compromise on their principles requires finding the right button to push. Usually the button is fear. If you can find something that somebody is so afraid of that they’re willing to set aside their principles to make themselves feel safer, you’ve won. In fact, that was the whole point of the Room 101 scene in Nineteen Eighty-Four. If, for example, somebody fears communism so greatly that they’re willing to side with fascists, the communists know that they can manipulate the actions of that person by exploiting that fear.

If you’re willing to compromise your principles then you’re susceptible to manipulation. If you’re susceptible to manipulation then your opponents manipulate you.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 25th, 2017 at 11:00 am