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Trying to shoot the messenger

Filed under: — gavin @ 7 November 2012

Does this sound familiar? A quantitative prediction is inconvenient for some heavily invested folks. Legitimate questions about methodology morph quickly into accusations that the researchers have put their thumb on the scale and that they are simply making their awkward predictions to feather their own nest. Others loudly proclaim that the methodology could never work and imply that anyone who knows anything knows that -it’s simply common sense! Audit sites spring up to re-process the raw data and produce predictions more to the liking of their audience. People who have actually championed the methods being used, and so really should know better, indulge in some obvious wish-casting (i.e. forecasting what you would like to be true, despite the absence of any evidence to support it).

Contrarian attacks on climate science, right?

Actually no. This was assorted conservative punditry attacking Nate Silver (of the 538 blog) because his (Bayesian) projections for Tuesday’s election didn’t accord with what they wanted to hear. The leap from asking questions to cherry-picking, accusations of malfeasance and greed, audits, denial, and wish-casting was quite rapid, but it followed a very familiar pattern. People who value their personal attachments above objective knowledge seem to spend an inordinate amount of time finding reasons to dismiss the messenger when they don’t like the message.

Fortunately for Nate, all it took was one day, and reality came crashing down on his critics entire imaginary world.

For climate science, it will probably take a little longer…


105 Responses to “Trying to shoot the messenger”

  1. 101
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Pete,
    What matters is who shows up on election day. And Republicans were banking on the electorate looking more like 2010 than 2008. Had they been correct, the results would have been much different. There are a lot of Republicans who really have drunk deeply of the Kool-Aid that says that Republicans are makers and Democrats are takers. They really believe it. They simply cannot imagine that a successful person could vote higher taxes on themselves for the common good–it’s why they hate Warren Buffet. Given this view, it is easy to see how they could delude themselves that Democratic voters might not show up, especially when they faced obstacles to voting (long lines, voter ID…) enacted by Republican state houses. The irony of this is that their very rhetoric was probably enough to piss off the Democratic base and ensure they not only showed up, but braved any obstacle to vote against the priveleged bastards. It seems that only Bobby Jindal gets this.

    Now we need to educate the voters that national elections happen every 2 years, not every 4 years. My hope in this is not that the Republican party passes out of existence. Rather my hope is that they renew acquantance with reality. America works better when parties are driven by their centers and can meet in the middle.

  2. 102
    Dan H. says:

    Ray,
    I think you are spot on with your analysis. Maybe someday, the centers can drive politics, as opposed to the ends.

  3. 103
    Hank Roberts says:

    MT pointed out at Planet 3.0, and linked, an excellent video by Rachel Maddow on science and the election:
    http://planet3.org/2012/11/07/a-huge-victory-for-science-too/

  4. 104
    Russell says:

    Though still infested with climate science cranks of Dellingpole and Monckton’s ilk, The Spectator has apparently unearthed a genuine wind power rent-seeking scandal

    Downrating turbines to max out their subsidy .

  5. 105
    Hank Roberts says:

    > scandal
    Not _unusually_ tskandalous per the comments; a downrated system has its peak output capped but still remains more efficient at lower wind speeds than the lower end system that would otherwise be installed.

    The agency managing the subsidy has to decide what qualifies. It’s meant to subsidize small landowners so they will install something, rather than leaving the wind power market solely to the big companies with large landholdings that can afford the to install higher towers and bigger generators with 2 or 3 or 4x the rated capacity.

    This is “cheeseparing” — typical and appears to be unavoidable. Any regulation that draws a line gets treated as a mark around which to evade or squeeze or fiddle to get the maximum profit at the least expense.

    There are far worse examples of the same behavior out there. I don’t even know if it has a collective noun, does “rent-seeking” cover the whole gamut of shaving and bending agreements to maximize profit? One example is China’s gaming the HCFC production agreements, prolonging damage to the ozone layer while gathering large payments from other countries.

    Another is economically motivated adulteration.

    The 11th Commandment — “You Do Too Know What I Mean!” — is a religious rule not applied in business and politics.

    And that’s good; otherwise we’d have more priests and fewer lawyers.


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