Episode 331 Scott Adams: The New Standard of Justice, Time, Climate Models, Fentanyl


  • Time’s Person of the Year: Fake News!
    • Time put Trump on the cover, without putting him on cover
  • Things that aren’t crimes are closing in on President Trump
  • CNN video mocking “climate deniers”
    • The RATE of warming is the problem
    • Scientists tend to be terrible at communicating their point
  • Would China want it publicized that they Fentanyl Kill 30,000 year?
    • Why doesn’t China themselves have a Fentanyl problem?
  • Googles defense that they aren’t illegitimately affecting democracy
    • Advertising doesn’t work?
    • The Google algorithm affects what people think and believe
  • “Loser Think” is an unproductive way of thinking

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How to Change My Biases on Climate Science

    I worry that climate scientists think the skeptics are just dumb. I’m sure there are plenty of dumb people on every topic, but I’m here to suggest that the bigger problem might be a form of pattern recognition. I’ll take you through that thought.

    I’ll start by displaying my own pattern-based starting point for the climate change issue. I don’t present my opinion as truth or fact. This is a description of my biases, a result of all the patterns I have observed over my lifetime. If you have observed different patterns, I would expect you to have different biases. Here’s a whiteboard graphic of my starting biases on climate change.

    I’m not a scientist, but it seems to me that the chemistry and physics parts of climate science are probably pretty locked down. I give that stuff full credibility.

    The measurements of temperature, ice, and sea levels over time are probably fairly good, but I observe disagreements among scientists on how best to measure. I’ll give the measurements an 85% credibility.

    When it comes to the complex climate models, I’ve never seen a complex, iterative model – of the type that includes human assumptions and human measurements – reliably predict the future multiple years out. I don’t think it has ever been done, and perhaps it never will be. I give the complex climate models a 10% credibility rating. And I am only that generous because perhaps this is the exception to the pattern I observe that says complexity always hides the future, as opposed to predicting it.

    This is a good time to remind you that I have neither the qualifications nor the time to evaluate the climate science models on my own. So I’m stuck with using pattern recognition – which is not science, and it is not reason. And my pattern recognizer says humans use complexity of this sort to hide the truth, not to reveal it. If scientists want to change my mind, they need to show me historical examples in which things “like this” did a good job of predicting the future. You have to work on my pattern memory to change my mind, not my knowledge of climate science.

    The last box in my graph, the economic models, have no predictive power for this topic, or any other. Long term economic models are like astrology with good manners. I have a degree in economics, and an MBA, and I spent years in corporate America making financial projections. My experience tells me that the people creating the models can get any result they want. None of that looks like science to me. I give the economic models zero credibility, just like every other economic model that pretends to see the future.

    When I talk to people who believe the climate change models and the economic models are accurate, I observe another pattern. The people who have the least real-world business experience think the experts probably know how to do this sort of thing. That observation might be nothing but confirmation bias on my part, but if you want to change my mind, that’s part of your challenge.

    This brings us to the famous-but-questionable statistic that 98% of climate scientists have the same view. If you have a degree in art history, for example, you might find it compelling that so many scientific experts are on one side. How could so many experts be wrong??? But if you are a student of persuasion, as I am, you see a world in which mass delusion is the rule, not the exception.

    Consider all the people who have a different religious belief than you. According to you, all of those people are living a mass delusion. Consider the people on the other side of the political divide from you; those people are in a mass delusion too. In fact, most of our experience of life is informed by one kind of mass delusion or another. So when I see a statistic that says 98% of experts are on the same side, based on climate and economic models, it could mean one of two things: 1) They are right, or 2) It is just another routine mass delusion, and one of many.

    My point is that the 98% of scientists claim has a lot of persuasive power if you are not a trained persuader. But it means far less if you understand how common it is for smart people to be sharing a mass delusion. Remember that every religion and every political party has smart people in it. Being smart doesn’t protect you from delusions as much as you might think.

    If you want to convince me that climate change is a clear and present danger, you need to change my biases on three things:

    1. Convince me that complex models such as the climate science models have done good jobs in other fields in the past. And the examples have to involve human judgement in the inputs, and lots of iterations. And those models have to have succeeded in predicting the future five years out, or better. If such things exist in other fields, I can be persuaded that climate scientists can do it too. (No fair picking physics models. Those are not filled with human assumptions.)

    2. Convince me that economic models of this complexity have done a good job predicting the future in other areas.

    3. Erase my memory of all the times mass delusions looked totally real to smart people.

    If you want to make me worry about climate change, working on my biases by changing my pattern memory has a better chance of persuading me than the current method of calling me an idiot. 

    You might enjoy reading my book because of all the reasons.

    I’m also on…

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Could a Climate Science Expert Change Your Opinion?

    It seems to me that the big problem with the climate change debate is that no one would recognize a good argument if they saw one. We only think we have the ability to recognize a good argument. What actually happens is that cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias generally keep a wall between us and reality. We live in our own little movies in our heads while being sure everyone else is watching the same movie. They aren’t.

    Here’s a thought experiment:

    Let’s say you are new to the debate about climate change and I put you in a room with the most well-informed climate scientist in the world. The scientist spends as much time with you as you want, answering every question and making her case that climate change is a human-caused disaster in the making. Let’s say this scientists is also the best communicator in the world, unlike most scientists. So now you have the best information, from the most knowledgeable person in the world on this topic, communicated in the best possible way, and answering all of your questions. Would you be persuaded by all of that credibility and good communication?

    We know that a die-hard climate change skeptic would not be persuaded by this excellent source of information because humans rarely change their minds about important things. Instead we hallucinate reasons for why we were right all along. But in my thought experiment I said you are new to the climate change debate. So let’s assume you came to it without bias. Would you be convinced by the scientist?

    Probably yes. If your first introduction to a topic involved a clear and detailed explanation from the top expert in the world, you would probably be persuaded because there is nothing stopping that persuasion from happening. You have no bias to overcome and the scientist is both credible and clear in her message. 

    The unbiased mind is likely to be totally convinced in this thought experiment. And that mind would also think it had engaged in rational behavior. After all, what could be more rational than getting the best information on a topic, from the best expert in the world, communicated in the clearest possible way?

    But your new certainty about climate change would be a fraud that you perpetrated on yourself. If you don’t yet see in my thought experiment why the best information from the best source is still unreliable, even when clearly communicated, you probably don’t understand enough about the world to participate in decision-making.

    I’ll simplify this even further so you can test your hallucination. Here’s the summary of the situation. Tell me why you should not automatically trust the scientist in this thought experiment. Assume the following three things ARE true. What’s missing?

  • Best expert in the world on Climate Science.
  • Currently works in the field.
  • Great communicator, answers all of your questions.
  • See what’s missing yet?

    The thing that is missing is that you can’t know what the expert didn’t tell you. If you are not an expert in the field yourself, how could you possibly know what has been left out?

    You also don’t know if the scientist is suffering from cognitive dissonance. It would look exactly the same to you. And cognitive dissonance is common to all humans, including scientists.

    But wait, you say. The whole point of science is that the scientific process controls for human bias. The peer review process scrubs away bias over time, and climate science has been around for long enough that lots of scrubbing has happened. The peer-reviewed science is heavily on the side of temperatures being influenced by CO2 in a potentially disastrous way. If you believe in science, shouldn’t that tell you all you need to know?

    Well, it might. Except for the fact that prediction models are not actually science. Correct me if I am wrong (and that is likely in this case) but it seems to me that the prediction models are just tools that scientists use. They are not derived from the highly-credible scientific method any more than stock-picking models are. And stock-picking models generally don’t work over time even though they are great at hindcasting (predicting the past, basically).

    How about political forecast models? Those aren’t science either. And we observed in the recent presidential election that they performed worse than “cartoonist has an opinion.” Yet political models perform great in hindcasts.

    I’m also confused by the fact that apparently there is more than one climate model that gets the “right” answer for climate scientists. Shouldn’t there only be one? Why wouldn’t science pick the best one and call it a day? And if they can’t agree on which one is best, what does that tell us?

    My position on climate change is that BOTH sides of the debate are completely credible to the people already on their side, thanks to confirmation bias. But that’s where the persuasion ends. Neither side has the tools or talent to sell their beliefs to the other side in any wholesale way. 

    Imagine putting the leading expert from both sides on a TV show or a podcast with an objective moderator who is trying to get to the truth for viewers. Would that work? I doubt it. It would look like this:

    Moderator: Explain why your side is right.

    Expert 1: Look at my chart here.

    Expert 2: That chart is wrong. You forgot to include the (whatever).

    Expert 1: It wouldn’t make any difference.

    Expert 2: Yes it would.

    Moderator: Okay,  I guess we’re done here.

    If you are frustrated with the people who are on the other side of the debate, no matter which side that is, I think you should give them some slack. There is no way for this sort of information to be credibly conveyed to human beings. And the problem is not always on the receiving end. 

    That said, I’ve ordered some new studio equipment for doing podcasts and live streaming. If I can figure out how to make it all work (which is harder than it seems) I’ll bring on some guests to show you how they fail to communicate this topic to me. We won’t learn anything about climate science but you might enjoy watching me dismantle both sides.

    You might find great value in using WhenHub (my startup) because I keep mentioning it in my blog.