Jump to content


Regular Member
  • Content Count

  • Joined

  • Days Won


Posts posted by wellnamed

  1. I did try to provide an outline of the answer to the question of where the data comes from. I'm not sure if it actually helped or not :P


    One thing I was thinking the other day is that it seems like some of the debate on climate change is a useful context for thinking about making decisions while taking account of uncertainty, or risk. I think to some extent our normal language makes this seem harder than it is? That is we tend when speaking about stuff like climate to reduce the question to either "do you accept this or not?" as a very binary thing. And it seems like a false dichotomy when treated as indicating either absolute certainty or absolute disbelief.


    There's an epistemic need to evaluate claims like this that account for uncertainty without giving up all possibility of drawing any conclusions whatsoever. Awareness of uncertainty and different sources of potential error are really important, particularly when you reach the point of trying to decide what to do about it (I realize that question was disclaimed in the OP). Some courses of action might seem entirely reasonable even given a large amount of uncertainty (perhaps working towards a transition to renewable energy in some incremental way). Others won't seem desirable unless you're absolutely certain of devastating consequences (like say violently overthrowing the government in order to immediately implement some drastic climage change agenda).

  2. 3 hours ago, Jane said:

    WHERE is the actual data that produced this graph?  Think about this, do you REALLY think that in 1880 they were able to calculate earth's temperature correctly within even 1 degree? 


    Your question seems like a misunderstanding to me. The data from the 19th century are not estimates of global temperature, they are thermometer reports from various ship and ground stations. The global temperature anomalies are estimated from aggregating all of the different station reports from a given time period and applying various corrections to them. The estimates then are the result of applying modern techniques to very old raw data.


    Bearing in mind that I'm disclaiming any expertise, you can find a lot of information about how this works from looking up various articles. One place I often start when I'm looking for information is the ACS Climate Science Toolkit, which is one of the better resources I've found. The page on temperature anomaly measurements gives a pretty good high level overview of the sources of information, and also shows how different data sets converge on similar results once you get to the 20th century, which makes sense given improvements in tech and record keeping. The Wiki page for the Instrumental temperature record also has some citations which I dug into a little bit.


    Those pages led me, for example, to this article: An Overview of the Global Historical Climatology Network-Daily Database, which provides a bit more detail about the data sources:



    The U.S. collection contains daily data from a dozen separate datasets archived at NOAA/NCDC. As shown in Table 2, these archives include some of the earliest observations available for the United States (from the U.S. Forts and Voluntary Observer Program covering much of the nineteenth century; Dupigny-Giroux et al. 2007) as well as the latest measurements from the state-of-the-art climate monitoring stations that make up the U.S. Climate Reference Network (deployed early in the twenty-first century). GHCN-Daily thus contains the most complete collection of U.S. daily data available.


    Table 2 is unfortunately pretty hard to read (very small image), but mentions some NCDC data sets with data going back to the 19th century.


    I also looked briefly at this article: Uncertainty estimates in regional and global observed temperature changes: A new data set from 1850, which links to the overview above. It goes into less detail about the specific sources of data but does into quite a bit of detail about how its processed and how uncertainty is measured.


    From my perspective it would be nice if I could find an article intended for a more lay audience with a bit more history of some of this, but the gist seems to be that you have a large number of independent temperature readings, taken with different equipment, at different places, over a long period of time. Some of the original log-books for the older data exist in places like the British Museum (particularly maritime records). Eventually a lot of it was digitized and collected into these types of databases, and so it's unsurprising to me that most articles elide the kinds of questions about sourcing which you are raising, citing instead the databases. This is pretty typical of the way standard large datasets are developed in various scientific fields, in my experience.


    It seems like you could dig even further for more information about specific sources. I do think at some point it probably doesn't make that much sense to focus on uncertainties in data from the 19th century, though, because you could easily limit the graphs to the last 50-60 years and still feel quite confident in the general conclusion about temperatures rising.


    • Like 1

  3. It is definitely known that data sets used for measuring climate change (say temperature anomalies at various locations over time) are messy. Whenever I've looked at IPCC publications they usually account for that by charting measures along with some indication of the estimated error.


    Just as a random example, I did a Google Image Search for "IPCC temperature anomaly with error bars" and the first result was this chart from NOAA, where the little gray bars above and below the line represent the uncertainty, most of which (as I understand it) is a result of known measurement issues, of which there are a variety.




    The bars tend to be smaller with more recent data because the technology has gotten better, obviously.


    It's not completely unreasonable to want to look at all of the data and to be curious about just how problematic the sources of error might be, and it's even scientifically worthwhile to have people engaged in that exercise, I think. But it is probably unreasonable to expect to get that kind of information on an internet discussion forum. It would probably require years of research for someone to satisfy their skepticism if they want to rely only on their own evaluation of primary evidence. I think it's one of those areas where (from a public policy perspective) there is an inescapable need to establish trust that scientific institutions have already done this work adequately.


    Here is where the comparison is made to trust in religious authorities (and also all the politics), but epistemologically speaking I don't think it's possible to completely escape the need to have some trust in various others, including scientific institutions. That's sort of the point of that old quote that "if I have seen further than others, it's because I stood on the shoulders of giants." No individual can know as much "from scratch" (as it were) as we can know working together. But that requires some level of trust. I'm comfortable with this because I think I have pretty good reasons to have a higher level of trust in various scientific institutions than I do in religious ones.


    Which is not to say that I don't also wish to understand more on an individual level, so as to require less trust. But given limited time and resources I have to make some choices about where to focus those efforts, and it seems to make sense to trust the established consensus about climate change, at least as far as the claim goes about increasing temperatures, CO2 levels, and things like that. A slightly higher amount of skepticism may be warranted about various predictive models. Anyway, that's my $.02

    • Like 1
    • Thanks 1

  4. I'm by no means an expert but I believe I've read cosmologists who argue that big bang cosmology doesn't actually say anything about a "before", or really anything about the singularity. The theory and all of the data are extrapolations back towards a kind of asymptote, but not an attempt to say anything about what could exist (or not exist) "before the big bang", as it were. The real work is trying to explain conditions at time T0 + δ for increasingly small (but not 0) deltas.

    • Like 1

  5. I agree that "quantum foam" is not really nothing in the philosophical sense usually meant in the context of asking about being and nothingness, or whether something can come from nothing.


    I tend to think the underlying question about "why is there something rather than nothing" (which I think is closely related) is unanswerable. There's a line of argument related to the Principle of Sufficient Reason here, and I tend to think that principle is not absolutely true, or at least probably not knowable. Instead, it seems to me that it's probably necessary to take as a principle of pragmatic reason the axiom that there are some brute facts which just have to be taken as a given. That there is "something" and not "nothing" is the prime example, in my view. I wouldn't expect cosmology to be able to give some ultimately satisfying explanation anymore than I'd expect religion to be able to do so.


    As far as justifying the existence of brute facts, the argument that I've heard that I find most compelling goes something like this: "Why?" explanations (in comparison to how? or what? and so on) are mostly about placing some phenomenon into a larger context. If I ask you why you went to the store, your answer will necessarily invoke some larger universe of meaning outside the narrow mechanics of how you traveled there, what you purchased, and so on. You went to the store to buy milk. "Why did you want milk?" "So I could put it in my coffee in the morning." And you can just keep asking why questions that get at broader and broader contexts. You can start by asking why someone went to the store and eventually find yourself discussing some really high level conception of human nature, for example.


    But at some point it seems that there can be no broader context in which to place an explanation for a given phenomenon. This is as true for the religious as for atheists, of course. The Euthyphro dillema is like that (why is "the good" good? essentially). Or "why is there a God?" And of course "why is there something rather than nothing?" The universe in the sense of "all that exists" is the largest possible context for meaning that we could conceivably deal with. We can't give a "why" answer to reality itself because there is no "beyond reality" in which to situate an answer.


    As an aside, there's a Sanskrit phrase used to mean "reality" in some of the Upanishads that I really think captures something about this question: idam sarvam. "All this". As in "reality is idam sarvam, all this (or this 'all', even)." The fact that this is a demonstrative is relevant to the above argument. It's not a purely abstract thing viewed from nowhere. Our definitions of reality are grounded in what we can experience. Reality is a "this", it's something we can point towards. A "why" explanation requires a larger "this" to point at, but there is no larger "this" for reality itself.

  6. 18 hours ago, disillusioned said:

    Sorry to hear this. It's always tough to deal with fundy family. But keep this in mind: it's not on you. Their beliefs are theirs. There's nothing you can do about it. It's unfortunate,  but they believe that their son is going to hell. You didn't make them believe this. It's not your fault,  and you shouldn't feel bad about it.  


    But I know.  It's one thing to say "I shouldn't feel bad", and another entirely to actually not feel bad. Sucks. 


    Hugs from me. Hope things are alright.


    +1 to all of this.

    • Like 1

  7. The reason for the paragraphs is to point out that you're probably asking the wrong question to begin with :P


    18 minutes ago, Lefty said:

    it is called theory because it has not been proven false?


    Like I said, the labeling has more to do with the use of scientific methods than anything else. It would still be called a theory if it were proven false. It would just no longer be used in the same way. For example, you could refer to the idea of the "aether" as a scientific theory, it's just one that's been disproven.

    • Like 2

  8. Another thing I like to think about, regarding knowledge in general:


    One of the classical definitions of knowledge is "justified, true belief". That is, we can say we "know that P" if and only if we believe that P, we are justified to believe that P, and P is true. There are some interesting issues with that definition (cf. Gettier problems), but I think that really all of epistemology boils down to just that one element: justification.


    Putting aside technical terminology for a second, what makes science valuable as an approach to knowledge is just the effort to justify beliefs in a more rigorous way. That's what all the talk about falsifiability, or observability, repeatability, and the qualifications of scientists (as fuego mentioned) is for. That is the essence of "scientific method". So if we call one idea "scientific" and doubt that another is equally scientific, then what we're really doing is evaluating epistemic justification, and I think it's more accurate to put it that way than to say we're evaluating some level of certainty. The other reason this framing is useful is because it tells you how to evaluate ideas: look at the how the idea can be arrived at -- the methods used to collect, analyze, and make generalizations from data (observations). This is why a theory which may be rather uncertain can still be scientific, if the theory is formulated following scientific methods. This makes sense because science is not just the body of accumulated knowledge about the world, but also the accumulated body of knowledge about the epistemic reliability of various methods for gaining knowledge in general.

    • Like 1

  9. The point in the wiki entry about black swans is just a point about logical induction in general, and also of abduction (inference to the best explanation). Inductive conclusions do not have the same logical force of necessity that deductive proofs (e.g. in math). This is an inescapable fact of epistemology that one just has to accept. Theories are not facts in some simple sense.


    But, it may be helpful to think in terms of probability. The better tested a theory is, that is the more opportunities there have been for empirical falsification, and the wider the range of phenomena for which the theory has been tested, the more likely it is to be correct, or to put it another way: the space of possible phenomena under which the theory might fail is smaller. Think of Newtonian mechanics here: that theory still works, we use it all the time. The theory was not "wrong" within the domain it was originally supposed to explain, it just turned out that it was inadequate to cover the entirety of physical phenomena. It fails at relativistic speeds and when dealing with sub-atomic behavior. With relativistic mechanics, the theory was mostly just expanded so that the scope in which it failed became even smaller.


    So, the problem with saying "oh, that's just a theory" (in the sense of not having complete certainty) is that this way of thinking collapses knowledge into a false choice where we either know something with certainty or not at all. But in truth there's a wide range of certainties. I am very confident in the correctness of the theory of gravitation, especially within the limits of the applications I might use it for. But it might turn out to be incomplete with respect of black holes, say. Yet saying "it's only a theory" pretty dramatically understates the reasonable level of certainty we can have, given the empirical support for the theory. Other scientific theories may be less certain, but still the best explanations we currently have.


    It's probably also worth keeping in mind that for some theories we judge them on usefulness. That's why we still use newtonian mechanics. It's not "correct" in some sense, but if you want to write a computer simulation of a billiards table it is highly useful. There are degrees of "correctness", if you will. Mathematically there is the concept of error, especially in statistics. If the error is small enough to not matter for your use case, then why worry about it?

    • Like 3

  10. Sort of an entertaining thing on interpretation: this is the second time recently I've heard someone interpret the golden rule as "treating you the way I like to be treated" (instead of treating you the way you would like to be treated, or treating you the way I expect I would want to be treated if I were you). I always interpreted is more or less in the latter way, along with "love your neighbor as yourself.  I thought the point was to reflect on the idea that other people are also Selves, Subjects, in the first person, rather than just objects, others, in the second/third person. It's about perspective taking. Anyway, I just find it funny because I always assumed that was the only interpretation of that injunction, but apparently I was wrong.


    Edit: also I think Wil Wheaton gets first dibs on "don't be a dick" as the #1 rule ;) It used to be the tagline on his blog...

    • Like 1

  11. 11 hours ago, disillusioned said:

    I agree with Fuego that life has meaning only inasmuch as we give it meaning. But that is to say that it does have meaning. It means something to us. I think that's as far as it goes, but that isn't nothing. Similarly, I think there's a significant difference between saying "morality is bullshit" and saying "morality reduces to social norms". I think morality is something that humans create so that we can live with each other. It helps us to give life meaning. It isn't objective, or absolute, or ultimate, but it is real.


    I think these are all profoundly important realizations for any kind of secular humanism.

    • Thanks 1

  12. I think there's a lot of truth to that statement: "A religion is a cult that won". But it's interesting to think about what winning means. You hit on part of it: winning means lasting long enough to where the founders (e.g. charismatic cult leaders?) no longer matter as much as ongoing cultural development within the group. A great modern example is the LDS church. It definitely began as a cult by typical standards. Even by religious standards there are some pretty weird ideas in their sacred texts written by Brigham Young or Joseph Smith. I wouldn't argue with folks (especially ex-Mormons) who would still find it to be pretty cult-like. But there's also no doubt it's changed a lot in 150 years or however long it's been, and it's grown to such an extent that it's not really a cult in the same way that it was. Religions are dynamic because they are invented by people (rather than being the immutable revelation of a perfect being): they don't remain what they were at the beginning. But it's a good observation that the seeds of most world religions seem to require some cult-like aspects, particularly charismatic leadership. Although they may also require other interesting cultural factors as well...

  13. 6 hours ago, LostinParis said:

    Update... Well it’s not great news. My husband became violent, hurt my son so I left with all the kids. We are hiding in a hotel. I have some money and a plan. Divorce is on the cards. All will be well.

    PS. Religion is a giant pile of suck.


    Oof. I'm glad you have money and a plan! Sounds like a bad situation, and I'm glad you're getting out of it.

    • Like 2

  14. 18 hours ago, ag_NO_stic said:

    There may be individual situations that are bad, but if they were to be discovered, they would be punished.


    You trust this a bit more than I do. My understanding is that employment discrimination suits are very difficult to win. That said, I do believe that if were talking about employment discrimination a lot of is likely the result of more implicit biases rather than intentional discrimination. Hence I tend to think merely shedding some light on different situations is often enough. Moves by employers to measure and publish their own wage gaps is useful to that end, I think, and probably better than more legislation, and even better than marches. Although marches perhaps bring awareness and prompt those sorts of responses.


    18 hours ago, ag_NO_stic said:

    I guess you and I just view things differently, I don't feel there is one thing stopping me from earning a living independently as well as a man. In fact, with the way thing are nowadays, I believe I have a better chance than a man of living independently. Similarly to what I said to disillusioned, I find perspective and perception fascinating. I appreciate yours and I appreciate your willingness to explain the otherside.


    I'm glad that you feel that way, and I don't doubt you. I never did get back to one of your earlier posts about narratives of oppression, but I do agree that there's something tricky -- psychologically, or culturally -- about leaning too hard into such narratives. Psychologists talk about "locus of control", i.e. to what extent a person feels like that have individual control over their own life. It's generally more productive to maintain an internal locus of control, for reasons that I think should be intuitive to most people. I'd agree that oppression narratives can discourage that. Again though, it's tricky, because that psychological effect doesn't negate the fact that people don't have complete control over everything that happens to them, and people do face various disadvantages due to accidents of their birth (and not just due to race or gender). I tend to think the right way to balance these things is that -- insofar as the question is "how should I live my life?" -- people are probably better off making themselves responsible and just doing the best they can with the situation they find themselves in, i.e. they ought to try to maintain an internal locus of control even if the world is unfair. On the other hand, when the question is sociological -- what is happening, what problems exist? -- or political -- how can we make the world better for all of us? -- then I don't think we should entirely discount structural factors that we can measure. We should try to be aware of the role of those factors and ameliorate them if we can.


    18 hours ago, ag_NO_stic said:

    Again, I do plan to the read the articles, any particular order I should read them?


    Gosh, now I feel bad for maybe dumping too many links. I'd say the Case for Reparations is just a classic essay that's beautifully written and worth everyone's time. I would skip the NBER paper on the wage gap unless you are just really interested in getting down in the weeds on that subject. I'm not sure I've linked anything else that's very long or particularly important, but maybe I forgot.

  15. 56 minutes ago, ag_NO_stic said:

    FYI, you communicated much more eloquently what I was trying to by saying the left was "eating itself."


    Ah, this makes sense. It's kind of like it's a standard joke that socialists (I mean like communist party members; actual for-reals socialists...) in the west are always too busy in-fighting to get anywhere. I've seen a bit of that first-hand.

  16. 21 hours ago, disillusioned said:

    Don't get me wrong. I know a few people who would probably classify as "SJWs". I don't mean to say that they can't be found. But if you got a few of them together, and put them in a room, and asked them to come up with a coherent ideology, I don't think they'd be able to do it. Someone in that room would end up offended, and someone else in the room would be labelled as "an oppressor". This is why the "movement" doesn't really trouble me that much: there is no coherent rhetoric. One person's oppression is another person's free speech. That's the major reason why I don't think it can properly be labelled as even the beginnings of fascism. Fascism, at minimum, has a coherent, unifying cause. I don't see anything unifying about this. 


    This reminds me of a blog post Tyler Cowen (an economist) made the other day, in response to a query about SJWs:



    Most of all, I would say I am all for social justice warriors!  Properly construed, that is.  But two points must be made:


    1. Many of the people who are called social justice warriors I would not put in charge of a candy shop, much less trust them to lead the next jihad.

    2. Many social justice warriors seem more concerned with tearing down, blacklisting, and deplatforming others, or even just whining about them, rather than working hard to actually boost social justice, whatever you might take that to mean.  Most of that struggle requires building things in a positive way, I am sorry to say.


    That all said, do not waste too much of your own energies countering the not-so-helpful class of social justice warriors.  It is not worth it.  Perhaps someone needs to play such a role, but surely those neuterers are not, or at least should not be, the most talented amongst us.

    No matter what your exact view of the world, or what kind of ornery pessimist or determinist or conservative or even reactionary you may be, you should want to be working toward some kind of emancipation in the world.  No, I am not saying there always is a clear “emancipatory” side of a debate, or that most issues are “us vs. them.”  Rather, if you are not sure you are doing the right thing, ask a simple question: am I building something?  Whether it be a structure, an institution, or simply a positive idea, proposal, or method.

    The answer to that building question may not always be obvious, but it stands a pretty good chance of getting you to an even better question for your next round of inquiry.


    Another writer I think is often thoughtful and worth reading on some related topics is Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic

    • Like 1

  17. 22 hours ago, ag_NO_stic said:

    I hope this makes sense, disagree with me all you like but that doesn't mean you're right and I'm wrong. We're probably both likely wrong lol.


    It did, and I agree 100% with both of your last two statements. With that in mind, I'll go back to a couple things very quickly, just out of interest.


    On 3/19/2019 at 5:22 PM, ag_NO_stic said:

    Well, I basically just typed what you said in different words above, so there's that. I guess my curiosity is, if it's not discriminatory, than what is there to protest? Why is it a talking point at the women's march? Please clarify where I might be misunderstanding you here


    Yes, I think our disagreement was smaller than it appeared at first. In the earlier post you wrote "Do women make $0.77 to the dollar (no)", and I responded to that, which I read to be making the claim that there is, in fact, no wage gap at all. Your second post clarified your intent: "There is clearly a difference in earnings, I'm not arguing that doesn't exist, but I don't think it's discriminatory so I don't see the point of arguing about it or claiming that it is discrimination."


    So the brief set of points I posted in response to your first statement was mostly about establishing the existence of the gap, and I think with your clarification we have no disagreement on that point. We probably disagree somewhat on whether or not discrimination plays any role whatsoever in the the existence of the wage gap, and I linked to an NBER article that discusses a lot of research about causes of the gap, including evidence for some level of discrimination. On that, you wrote:


    On 3/19/2019 at 5:22 PM, ag_NO_stic said:

    The equal pay act of 1963 made it illegal for an employer to actively discriminate on a person's pay purely because of their sex. If a woman decides to work fewer hours or a lower paying job, or even is more agreeable and  agrees to work the same job for a lower wage, that is not some kind of conspiracy. Women are perfectly capable of demanding higher pay, like men do, they just don't or they do and they're just as successful as men.


    The first part, to me, sounds a little bit like arguing that there must not be any crime because crime is illegal. The fact that the law exists is not a proof that there is no discrimination, just like the existence of laws is not a proof that there is no crime. I think there is some validity in the rest of your statements there, but I'd say its too simplistic and I think it under-appreciates the role of social factors constraining individual choices. It's also perhaps misconstruing me: I wouldn't call the wage gap a conspiracy at all. I also wouldn't characterize it as something where legitimate individual choices play no role. I think the interplay between individual choice and social constraint is really complicated (cf. the article I linked on career choices).


    But, to back up a second, I think I should clarify that my interest in this subject is mostly academic, rather than political. If I were making a list of political issues that I think are very important right now, the wage gap wouldn't be too near the top of the list. My list would be something more like { climate change, healthcare, immigration, criminal justice reform, economic inequality, education, ... }. So I'm probably not the person to ask about why it's a topic for political activists. I'm generally not an activist. I also said previously I thought the "Women make $.77 on the dollar" activist framing is misleading, just like "there is no wage gap" is misleading.


    That said, I think it is a part of those marches because some women are concerned with their ability to earn a living independently as well as men can. I don't think people's concern for that is entirely misguided; I think it's a complicated topic. I do think it gets oversimplified. When I say my interest is mostly academic, I mean that I think the topic is connected to really interesting changes going on in society and that I like to try to understand them.  I don't necessarily mean that I think all such "problems" require political solutions. But to reiterate the pace of change: it's pretty amazing how much things have changed since WWII. Look at women's labor force participation. Think about women being unable to independently open credit accounts until the mid-70s (or other similar examples). Think about norms related to marriage and divorce, or related to sexual consent. A lot has changed and is changing still. If I refer to "social problems" I don't necessarily mean that there are heroes and villains, and I don't necessarily mean that the "problem" is "oppression". I just mean that there are things happening that seem problematic or less than ideal to various people, and that makes sense to me given the pace of change. I wouldn't even limit the "social problems" related to this topic to women. I think it's reasonably likely that the entrance of women into the workforce (just by means of increasing labor supply) played some (maybe small) role in wage stagnation for men in recent decades, although there are other factors from research I've read. When I look at current trends in educational attainment by gender I wonder if, in the future, we may instead have a problem with men lacking economic opportunity relative to women because they are underachieving academically. I think all of it is pretty interesting, but I'll cut myself off here :P

    • Like 1
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Guidelines.