22 April 2011

Friday Funny - Neural Circuits

Chris Mooney explains the biological mechanisms that have led experts to be able to protect their minds against the corrosive effects of ideology and politics:
I’m not saying anyone is capable of being 100 percent unbiased but I am saying that scientists evaluate scientific claims, and also claims about expertise, using the norms of their profession, precisely because they have neural circuits for doing so laid down by many years of experience. Which the other groups don’t have.
So when it is revealed that many scientists have partisan and ideological leanings this is not a function of their biases, but rather a reflection of truth. This is quite different than arguing that "Liberals have a reality bias."  You can follow the logic from there.


  1. Pride not only goes before a fall, pride is a fall. This is a truth that has been said by some very perceptive people before, but is so clearly demonstrated in today's self-declared elites.

  2. The Law is the true embodiment,
    Of everything that's excellent,
    It has no kind of fault or flaw,
    And I, my Lords, embody the Law.

    WS Gilbert

  3. Stupid is as stupid does.

    That kind of thinking could get Mooney hired on a college faculty. It is my fervent hope and prayer that he never be afflicted with a serious bout of thoughtful clarity. I fear it would likely kill him.

    More importantly, are the other people associated with the publications he writes for embarrassed? Are they capable of embarrassment?

  4. Presumably at some point Mooney will have neural circuits relating to journalism laid down. Half his blog's comments were from a single sockpuppeteer IP for over a year. Mooney even made a post out of a ludicrous made-up anecdote from said puppet master. His naivete synapses must be rivalled only be Romm's.

  5. Matt Ridley talks about how scientists tend to be ignorant of basic economics:


    Scientists could have avoided many of the accusations of bias if they had simply acknowledged that they know nothing of economics and are not qualified to comment on public policy as a result.

  6. This particular food fight has been going on for years. Nisbet is anathema to many of the more left-leaning scientific bloggers, most of whom are not actually scientists at all, or have essentially hung up any semblance of a real scientific career.

    As a scientist, I am somewhat amused by Mooney's apparent belief that we are somehow neurally constructed for objectivity. I can't begin to count number of bitter, personal fights I've seen between scientists over purely scientific questions with no policy implications whatsoever. One of my first papers as a graduate student was partly rewritten by a senior co-author because it gave too much credit to 'the opposing camp'.

    Objectivity is a fine ideal, and we should strive for it. But the greatest scientists often fail to achieve it (e.g. God does not play dice). Max Planck observed, mostly correctly, that "a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

  7. This reasoning is exactly why academics are more susceptible to ideological blindness than other people.

    The enduring seduction of the gnostic fantasy of an unfettered government power that listens only to a technocratic elite is immune to formal training, indeed it can feed on it. Nobody was more sure that Mussolini and Stalin pointed the way to the future than intellectuals.

    When I read comments like Mooney's or some other repetition of the essential narcissistic weakness of the academy I picture a world where Frodo decided to just keep the ring after all.

  8. I'm not insane, the voices in my head told me that others simply have a hearing problem. ;)

  9. But what still needs to be explained is why science progresses while other ways of thinking do not. Mooney at least has a theory of that; you are just scoffing. Since nobody plays the role of Honest Broker--or if they they do, don't get listened to--that can't be the reason.

  10. This is just another aspect of the: "Climate scientists are smarter than you are" mime.

    The rest of us do not have to make judgement on contentious issues with uncertain evidence. In our simple lives, every decision is clear. If there are uncertain issues then we need only to consult scientists, with their years of training, and all will be clear.

    Albert Einstein and Johnny Von Neumann were both historic geniuses. Yet they came to radically different conclusions about nuclear war. Einstein was a pacifist. Von Neumann wanted war to rid the world of communism. Two historic geniuses with different conclusions both tainted by their biases. Unfortunately they didn't ask a conveniently located climate scientists fro the definitional word on the subject.

  11. Who gives a turd about Romm? Or Nisbett or Pielke when you realise that the world will keep turning and pick up the pieces long after their collective theories have gone.

    The world is real. What we see here isn't.

    "Liberals have a reality bias."

    Is that 19th century liberals or modern day lying, study inventing, masturbatory quoting liberals?

  12. So, the experts have handy-dandy defense mechanisms in play that defend their noggins against the corrosion of ideology, politics, status, and grift?

    My oh my. How convenient.

    How convenient, that is, for pushing what can only be described as a statist-oriented, secularist religion of subhuman ethics that holds the Earth Goddess and indeed even inanimate matter more noble than comfort, commerce, productivity, and human life itself.

    All hail Gaia, so sayeth the objective researchers dutifully exorcising the evil Carbon Demons, and having us pay penance for our sins:


    You see, Mooney’s input above, too, is an ideological conviction.

    Unfortunately for Chris Mooney, it seems he's the last person who should be talking about undue ideological influences, and/or claiming that he and some select others in "science" stand head and shoulders above partisan/ideological fray.


    Kudos to Raven and others for pointing out some other rather...ahem...problematic issues for academics....

    Yes, academics often do run into theoretical brick walls when it comes basic economics. As a cynic once put the matter, many know the value of everything, and the real price of nothing.

  13. Bigcitylib,

    Scientists and science are not the same thing.

    Science is merely a branch of rational, evidenced-based thought. That which is truth grapples with all contenders on John Milton's famous field, and over time we expect truth to triumph. All the while, we must keep uppermost in mind that no one has a monopoly and all fall prey to error.

    Science is the winner when the field is open and the competition fierce. Individual scientists, however, have no claim to victory that isn't fairly won. Some fail miserably.

  14. Raven said... 5

    "Scientists could have avoided many of the accusations of bias if they had simply acknowledged that they know nothing of economics"

    They don't know anything about business either, otherwise they would know how laughably misguided 'business as usual' scenarios are.

    Businesses adapt or die, hence 'business as usual' is to adapt to circumstances when conditions warrant.

  15. One more comment: as a scientist I find Mooney's claim hilarious. As a libertarian conservative, I find the entire dispute between the pragmatic left and zealot left utterly delightful, as I'm sure the GOP does.

    BRIAN: Brothers! Brothers! We should be struggling together!

    FRANCIS: We are! Ohh.

    BRIAN: We mustn't fight each other! Surely we should be united against the common enemy!

    EVERYONE: The Judean People's Front?!

    BRIAN: No, no! The Romans!

    EVERYONE: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yes.

  16. Raven - It's been my observation that economists don't understand science or technology. The ignorance is unfortunately shared.

  17. Mooney reflects the inability to see more than 30 seconds into the future and outside his own world that typifies the 7-11 thief who steals $50 and a carton of smokes while a cop steps in for his mid-morning coffee. If Mooney could think more than one thought consecutively on the same subject, he would realise that he has pinned the eco-movement as being locked into a non-reflective mindset once a few years of staring at polar bears on bergy-bits had gone by. Only recent university grads would have the flexibility to see how things really were, and probablly the less education they have, the less they have consistently worked, the less they have been involved in anything specific, the better they would be.

    Which is what the groundswell of the eco-movement seems to be, actually. Worry with your friends about things you haven't seen using technical information you don't have in a profit/loss world you aren't part of.

    The truly tragic thing is that Mooney makes a living from being insular, solipsistic and disconnected.

  18. Mooney: "I’m not saying anyone is capable of being 100 percent unbiased but I am saying that scientists evaluate scientific claims, and also claims about expertise, using the norms of their profession, precisely because they have neural circuits for doing so laid down by many years of experience. "

    Wow, as the XKCD kids would say:


    It might be fun to get the great Orac to comment on Mooney's claim.