Monday, March 23, 2009

What I've been doing

Since I got a cushy government job several months ago after graduating from college, I've been living stress-free and catching up on leisure reading in both fiction and nonfiction. I've been learning a lot, and most of it is highly bloggable. Why, then, haven't I been blogging?

I've begun to seriously worry about my digital identity. It's apparent from several comments that there are people who know who I am, and I don't know who they are. Some people might wonder why this might be a problem. The problem is that this site was intended to be a place where I could truly speak my mind and voice controversial opinions. In many cases these opinions will not be correct, and sometimes they may sound absurd. I'm an intensely private and self-conscious person and I can't stand to have my mistakes archived in the Wayback Machine for all to see for the rest of my life. I've played fast and loose with my identity on this site, and at some point I plan to cultivate a new internet identity more carefully. Statements signed by my real name will ideally be carefully-researched and screened for neutral wording.

In my last post I mentioned that I was reading The Skeptical Environmental, a book which is overwhelmingly researched. While I can't say that I've fact-checked it thoroughly, on the surface it appears accurate to call it, as one Amazon reviewer says, a tour de force in environmental science. It's admittedly shaken my "ecowarrior" philosophy to the core. Prior to reading it I read a Worldwatch State of the World book, which I found disappointing. Lomborg heavily criticizes the Worldwatch books and exposes in some cases what appears to be scientific dishonesty on the part of environmentalists, even global warming theorists. My thoughts on the issue are still developing, but while my convictions were shaken, I still disagree with Lomborg on his major conclusions and remain concerned about biodiversity, global warming, persistent pollutants, farming, and water. Yet I highly recommend the book for the one of the best available monographs on the statistics and theory behind environmental issues.

I'll skip some of my other reading aside from mentioning that it relates to medicine, scientific controversy, and corporate conflicts of interest (eg Marcia Angell's The Truth About the Drug Companies). Today I saw a section (p. 145) in The Money Culture (a humorous book on Wall Street) which related my thoughts on some of these issues:
Like about half of America, my father believes he can systematically beat the stock market ... shallow pretenders ... bother him ... it pleases him to see Rukeyser embarrass the various hemline theorists, 75-year cyclists, Elliot Wavers, and druids ... he watches Louis Rukeyser for the same reason every right-thinking, sexually repressed, country club Episcopalian lingered long and hard over the delicious defrockings of Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. It confirms his skepticism about alternative forms of belief. (emphasis mine)

Ultimately, I'm not right-leaning. I probably rate high on the psychological "openness" score. However, I try to be rational. I'm willing to investigate implausible claims before writing them off. That's perhaps wasted a lot of my time, but it's also helped me learn a lot. Ultimately I've tentatively concluded that fringe scientists and theorists are more likely to engage in scientific dishonesty. But they don't have a monopoly on such improprieties, and rationally one cannot come to firm conclusions without investigation and empirical evidence. There are, for example, ways to make a lot of money trading stocks. It's not nonsense. But it doesn't have anything to do with Elliot Wave theory -- which, I'll admit, I haven't investigated and have little regard for.


ADHR said...

I wouldn't worry too much about online identity. Unless you run for President (or piss off someone who is), no one who matters will know or care about what you blog. Now, you might think that's depressing, but I find it liberating. ;)

I've heard of the Lomberg. My understanding was that he didn't really argue against the environmentalism so much as the economics -- that is, it's not worth the cost of adjusting to climate change. Am I wrong?

undergroundman said...

As far as identity, who knows? What I do know is that I have a long life ahead of me, and every future employer will be Googling me. I'm gonna try to play it safe. Besides, I need a new moniker; this is too common and cliche.

Lomborg argues against both, although he'll try to say the latter. And he has very good references. On the global warming point in particular, he lays out the theory and data in clear terms, discusses all the CO2 measurements and temperature measurements, and cites a few references that I hadn't seen before from skeptics.

But his strongest point on global warming is by far the economic point, as you mentioned, and that's what I was referring to when I said scientific dishonesty. If the IPCC is going to come out in favor of major CO2 cuts, it should not develop and include models which forecast a minimal impact of that global warming pollution. From what I read in Lomborg's book, they didn't even have a real catastrophic model. I'm more sympathetic to the Nicholas Stern model, which came later, even though that's probably fringe among economists.

It's well worth reading that book. It will clear your mind and give you a real panorama of the data and how to think about the issues.