Saturday, October 28, 2017

On Science and the Marketplace of Ideas

Subtitle:  Truth Depends on Which Marketplace

This article delves a bit into the philosophical arena, as it deals with What Is Truth?   This article also deals with engineering (truth is very evident there), science (where truth is sometimes evident but more times depends on agendas), and just a bit on politics (where truth is clearly absent).  

In the US, a well-known principle of government is the right of the people to have Free Speech, as that is a guarantee in the First Amendment to the US Constitution.   SLB has articles on this very topic.  see link 

What is not as well-known excepting perhaps to attorneys, is how the Free Speech idea was incorporated into the Constitution.  Also, how the early court cases came to decisions on what sorts of speech would indeed be free from government regulation, and which forms would incur regulation and how much regulation.    The "Free" in Free Speech means that the type of speech is free from government regulation.   After more than 200 years of the Constitution's Bill of Rights ratification (December, 1791), there are now at least one dozen categories of speech that have government regulations.   These range from regulations on defamation (both libel and slander), commercial speech (bait and switch, false advertising, and others), speech that is a clear and present danger, death threats, pornography, inciting a riot, treason, and of course others.    see link

The basic idea behind the Free Speech clause is that government, and society as a whole, will function better when many ideas are presented and discussed.   The marketplace of ideas is supposed to allow ideas to be discussed, with the intended result that good ideas are accepted while bad ideas are rejected.     Many articles exist on this subject, discussing the marketplace and how the ideal marketplace does not exist.   Failings are listed such as inadequate access, various forms of censorship, bias in evaluating ideas, poor communication, government agendas having inordinate influence, and even defining what is "good" as opposed to "bad."

An example from industry illustrates one aspect of the marketplace of ideas.  The international corporation typically has offices, manufacturing, and sales points in many countries.  The operations are far-flung, it is said, and some operations perform better than others.   Advanced corporations make an effort to identify the best practices across the company, and communicate those practices to everyone in the company.  Implementing the best practices is sometimes achieved, but other times not due to many difficulties.  

In the non-commercial world, communications as applied to the marketplace of ideas have changed over the decades.   For example, in 1960, communication was by newspaper, radio, magazines, and television news for some.  By the year 2000, all of those still existed, but some were greatly expanded by, for example, multiple cable news stations on television.  One of the most important new forms of communication must be the Internet, where literally millions of websites exist, and billions of users world-wide can communicate almost instantly.   Portable, cellular or wireless telephones with computer access over the internet also are a new form of communication.   The vast amount of information that is presently communicated has become a problem by some definitions, as "fake news" or false information is readily spread, but not as easily identified.  

The problem, it seems, is no embarrassment and few or no adverse consequences to those who presently make up false information and communicate that false information as if it were true.  In 1960, for example, with three TV networks and hundreds of newspapers and magazines, false news was identified and repercussions existed.   It was an embarrassment for a news media outlet to admit it had published a false story.  

There are famous examples of fake news being reported as the truth, with newscaster Dan Rather readily coming to mind with a false story about George W. Bush.   

Sometimes, the news is simply wrong, as in the news stories with election forecasts that predicted Hillary Clinton the winner of the 2016 presidential election, which she lost as it turned out.  Other stories are not quite as blatant, for example the result of the US presidential election in 2000 where Al Gore was declared the winner, prematurely as it turned out.  The famous Dewey Defeats Truman newspaper is another example. 

These are given as examples of problems that still exist, even though access to the Internet is now in the billions of users, and news media outlets are far more numerous than in 1960.    Perhaps, access to the marketplace of ideas is not a cure for obtaining good ideas and rejecting bad ideas.   There is plenty of access now, so much that it may be difficult to be heard over the racket from millions of people expounding their ideas. 

To the point of engineering and science, where mass media play small roles, but at times significant roles.   These fields typically advance ideas based on the weight of authority, not the vote of the masses as in politics.   (An aside, engineering and science are not the only fields where appeals to authority are the norm, one can include medicine, accounting, and perhaps law.  More recently, a field that should be added is computer science and especially artificial intelligence within computer science).    The marketplaces for the ideas in these fields should be smaller than that of politics, and they are.   

Typical venues for the marketplace of engineering ideas are articles published in technical journals, plus papers presented at topical conferences.    Patents also come to mind.   A more rigorous marketplace of ideas exists for the scientific topics, where it is usual for a paper to be reviewed by a panel of experts, or peers, before a paper is published.   Peer review, however, has a number of deficiencies and many times fails to exclude a paper that is later found to have false information or conclusions.  

In the field of climate science, even more obstacles exist to seeking and finding the truth.  For the broad view, one can see that the world community had the terrifying experience of reading the scientific opinion, perhaps consensus, in the late 1970s and early 1980s that the world's climate was rapidly getting colder.  see link  Only 30 years later, the scientific community reversed their opinion and scare stories of global warming were all the rage.   By 2010, though, enough thoughtful, knowledgeable people had examined the changing climate issues in depth and found that many, many reasons exist to doubt the conclusion of inevitable global warming.   This blog has many articles on those reasons to doubt that global warming is a problem, and certainly not a problem that justifies radical reductions in fossil fuel use.   see link 

Part of the means that a group of climate scientists used to develop the imminent global warming disaster conclusion was, and still is, to use the limited number of peer-reviewed science journals to publish pro-warming articles.    That was not entirely effective, though, as hundreds of peer-reviewed articles exist that refute the imminent warming conclusions.  

The issues have become polarizing, evoking anger among some and ending friendships.   The US has a Republican president since January 2017, with a view to re-examine the issues of imminent global warming.   The warming contingent now must face a rigorous re-examination of the data, the methods, and the conclusions via what is popularly called a "Red Team, Blue Team" approach.   The warming contingent is hopping mad over this, as they claim there is no reason to even give a voice, a platform, to legitimize those with a dissenting view.  

And that brings us back to the marketplace of ideas for climate science.   It is quite clear that there is zero reason for haste, as the climate has not warmed at all in the past 20 years.  That is true, even by the measurements taken by the warmists themselves.   Those measurements include data from locations that have warmed, and are still warming due to many factors other than carbon dioxide (CO2) released from burning fossil fuels.  

The marketplace of ideas for climate science would benefit greatly from a grand debate, with clear and simple articulations of the issues by both sides.     The evidence is quite clear that there is no cause for alarm, both now and in the future based on CO2 released by fossil fuel burning.    More on this will be forthcoming. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2017 by Roger Sowell - all rights reserved

Topics and general links:

Nuclear Power
Climate  and here
Fresh  and here
Free Speech.................... here

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