No Cylons need apply.
Some time ago, I realized that the cosmic microwave background at 2.7K meant the universe was too warm to allow superfluid helium to form “in the wild”. Superfluid helium shows up at temperatures below 2.17K, so the universe needs to expand and cool of a bit more before the science fiction stories involving superfluid helium life forms become even theoretically possible. Maybe alien civilizations have decided to wait until superfluidity and superconductivity are common outside of cryogenics labs?
“While it is possible for a civilization to cool down parts of itself to any low temperature,” the authors write, that, too, requires work. So it wouldn’t make sense for a civilization looking to maximize its computational capacity to waste energy on the process. As Sandberg and Cirkovic elaborate in a blog post, it’s more likely that such artificial life would be in a protected sleep mode today, ready to wake up in colder futures.
If such aliens exist, they’re in luck. The universe appears to be cooling down on its own. Over the next trillions of years, as it continues to expand and the formation of new stars slows, the background radiation will reduce to practically zero. Under those conditions, Sandberg and Cirkovic explain, this kind of artificial life would get “tremendously more done.” Tremendous isn’t an understatement, either. The researchers calculate that by employing such a strategy, they could achieve up to 1030 times more than if done today.
I took the Introduction to Psychology class in college as part of my General Education requirement. While taking it, and for some time afterward, I hung around in the Psych Student Lounge and read some of the material on hand there. One item I found, in the late 1970s, was a brief article on taboo subjects in psychological research. One of those topics was “Race and IQ”. Not much has changed.
In the latest issue of National Review, John McWhorter has a challenging and thought-provoking essay about the topic of race and IQ — specifically, about whether that topic should even be up for discussion in liberal-arts classrooms and in the media, as opposed to in scientific journals. He suggests not, as there is nothing to gain from discussing it.
I read McWhorter’s essay with special interest because I have violated the norm he proposes. I have written about race and IQ on numerous occasions — and for a general audience, as I am not even a specialist myself. See, for example, my 2013 essay in this space about Jason Richwine’s departure from the Heritage Foundation, as well as my RealClear reviews of Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance and Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve (on its 20th anniversary).
In light of McWhorter’s essay, I thought it would be worth explaining how I became interested in this topic and why I participate in public discussions of it. Here goes.
I suppose I can blame this on my wife. Back when we were dating in college — and she was a self-described socialist, and I thought democratizing Iraq sounded like a fantastic idea — she insisted I take a class offered by the sociology department called “Social Inequality.” It would open my mind. I don’t even remember what led up to it, but at one point the professor informed us that some amorphous “they” had proven that “race isn’t genetic.” Murmurs of amazement spread among my classmates. “That sounds like bullsh**,” I thought.
Back at my dorm I turned to Google and quickly sussed out one of the basic truths McWhorter mentions: Categorical claims that “race isn’t genetic” amount to either bad science or word games. One of my most amusing discoveries that day was the argument that when forensic anthropologists identify someone’s race from nothing but a skeleton, all they’re really identifying is the region the person’s ancestors came from, which is totally different. I later learned that, if given a collection of DNA samples, scientists can predict the racial self-identifications of the people the samples come from with nearly 100 percent accuracy.
Are the precise boundaries we draw between racial categories subjective? Of course. But even our casual classifications strongly reflect ancestry, and people with different ancestries have recognizably different genetic profiles. To insist otherwise is ridiculous.
At any rate, one year around 2005 or so I pulled out all the stops. I read The Bell Curve, including all the technical appendices. I read not one but two essay collections responding to The Bell Curve. I read a bunch of other stuff online. And on the underlying scientific issue here, I came to the same conclusion McWhorter does: The evidence doesn’t justify a verdict one way or the other. Genes do differ among racial groups, measured IQs differ on average as well, and some of the genes that differ might affect IQ. There’s no reason this can’t be the case. We just don’t know whether it is yet.
My experience provides a window into (a) how it is that people become interested in this topic and (b) what material is available to those who do. Regarding (a), it’s certainly true that if three different people had taken McWhorter’s advice and simply steered clear of the issue — my sociology professor, Eric Alterman, and my classmate — I might never have become so intrigued.
But I rather doubt that an effort to further stigmatize the discussion of race and IQ could have more than a minor effect on how often people actually discuss it. And even if people did stop discussing it openly, I suspect many would still become curious about the topic and research it online, where people feel considerably freer to explore the taboo. This subject sits at the nexus of numerous others that are inherently interesting, for perfectly legitimate reasons. How did evolution shape humanity as a whole, and to what extent did it shape different populations differently? Why do we have such stark inequality among different groups of people, and not just blacks and whites in the U.S.?
So regarding (b) above, the big question is: When people start hunting around for information online, what do you want them to find? If mainstream outlets decline to cover the subject, all that will be left are what McWhorter calls “dense, obscure academic journals” — and fringe websites whose proprietors don’t feel bound by society’s norms. Do you think the typical Googler is going to wade through the technical pros and cons of the “method of correlated vectors” (a heavily criticized technique suggesting that the best measures of “general intelligence” also have the biggest black–white gaps), or do you think he’ll turn to the more accessible option, especially if it’s at least presented in a reasoned tone?
There’s another reason too: Whether we like it or not, scientists are going to answer these questions sooner or later. They are already in the process of figuring out exactly what genes shape our brains and how they differ among individuals and groups; even McWhorter would not stop this research, and it will be carried out in other countries if American scientists keep away from it. I think we should be intellectually prepared for the possibility that this line of work won’t turn out the way we want.
In A Dream Deferred, Shelby Steele wrote that it would have “far-right and, I have to say, even fascistic ideological implications” if genes contributed to the black–white IQ gap. Responding to my above-mentioned piece about Jason Richwine, Will Wilkinson of The Economist wrote that if genetic, group-level IQ differences exist, it forces us to “acknowledge that the racists were right all along — that racism has, to some extent, a valid scientific basis.”
I submit that it’s better to establish why these conclusions are wrong before scientists uncover any bombshells about IQ or other sensitive traits. They are wrong because population-level averages cannot justify discrimination against individuals, and because genetic abilities and propensities — measured at the group or individual level — cannot justify inhumane treatment. After all, we stopped sterilizing low-IQ individuals long ago, despite a wealth of research showing that individual-level differences in IQ are roughly half genetic. The immorality of fascism and racism stems from the moral equality of all human beings; it cannot rest on an assumption that all human beings or groups of them are exactly the same.
If we achieve that, though, what we should aspire to is not a “brutally open, race-based meritocratic consensus” but an end to racial bean-counting. If Americans of all races have the opportunity to achieve what their natural talents make possible, any remaining statistical gaps among races should become a non-issue. In other words, it’s at that point we should stop talking about all this, and I think we very well might.
Thomas Sowell has written a great deal about race and culture, and about the statistical disparities in which populations are represented in which areas of life. Like it or not, bean counter or not, the fact is that different demographic groups have different levels of interest in different things. Not every race evince the same proportion of people interested in archery. Certain jobs will attract more of this ethnicity than that ethnicity. These are cultural patterns that prove to be very resistant to change, and to follow populations as they migrate around the planet.
I doubt there’s a genetic reason why Germans have more brewers of beer than other nationalities. In fact, there’s probably no good reason for it at all. It just is.
We’ve made something of a peace with physical differences, but psychological difference are proving a lot harder to swallow.
Well, first of all, did they?
The veteran journalist Wes Vernon wrote about Grant’s research in this area, in an article entitled, “The Marxist Roots of the Global Warming Scare.”
The big event, as Grant called it, was a Moscow conference in January, 1990. As Time magazine described it, “At a meeting of the Global Forum in Moscow in 1990, when he was still Soviet President, Gorbachev proposed an organization roughly analogous to the International Red Cross to contend with environmental problems that cross national boundaries.” Among the guests and speakers was then-U.S. senator and future vice president Al Gore.
Talk about “collusion” with the Russians! Where was the FBI investigation?
The collusion took place through the Global Forum and various United Nations conferences, including the Earth Summit of 1992, giving rise to the concept of “sustainable development,” another way to describe socialism.
Grant wrote, “Protection of the environment may be used as a pretext to adopt a series of measures designed to undermine the industrial base of developed nations. It may also serve to introduce malaise by lowering their standard of living and implanting communist values.”
Grant predicted how this campaign would proceed, using “nightmarish” pictures of floods, scorched earth, disease and death, unless drastic action was taken at the international level to curb industrial activity in the capitalist West.
She said the campaign would be driven by Moscow’s sympathizers or dupes in “science,” academia, “and the slavishly obedient Establishment media,” all for the purpose of forcing the United States and other Western countries “to accept measures and regulations harmful to the Western world.”
In short, for communism to succeed, capitalism would have to be portrayed as based on exploitation—but not of man, as the old Marxist theory held. Rather, capitalism was now exploiting the earth! The whole purpose of this dogma has been to inhibit global capitalism, the only system that has proven capable of meeting the growing needs of expanding populations. But this time the claim was that human economic progress threatened the environment because of the capitalist model on which it was based.
Don’t take my word for it. When Natalie Grant Wraga died in 2002 at the age of 101, The Washington Post recognized her expertise as a Soviet expert, noting that she was “born in czarist Russia, saw great upheaval in her native land and became an expert in unmasking Soviet deception methods for the State Department…”
But the Post would not admit that fact in today’s political climate.
The liberal Economist magazine wrote, “She was perhaps the only person alive in the West who could claim such an intimate knowledge of Russian political thinking, from tsarist times to the collapse of the Soviet Union.” She commented, “Many people are studying the past, but very few are studying the present. Keep your eyes open and your ears open.”
How could so many incredibly intelligent people overwhelmingly reject what THE SCIENCE says about climate change? Well, they don’t. They just don’t see it as big of a threat to the world as other things. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of them felt that antibiotic resistance and pandemic disease were the biggest global threats. One person thought geopolitical instability was the biggest concern.
I told them that I believed poverty was the world’s biggest threat. The reason is poverty is the underlying condition that causes so much misery in the world. Consider that 1.3 billion people don’t have electricity. And then consider how the lack of that basic necessity — what the rest of us take completely for granted — hinders their ability to develop economically and to succeed, let alone to have access to adequate healthcare. If we fix poverty, we could stop easily preventable health problems, such as infectious disease and malnutrition.
Was I booed out of the room? No, the audience understood why I believed what I did. But woe unto you who try to have a similar conversation with climate warriors.
First off, they failed to engage. Instead. they resorted to name calling by labeling skeptics as “deniers” or worse. Then there is their exaggeration of what they see as the dire consequences of climate change. These exaggerations have led them to falsely predict that New York City would be under water and that the polls would be ice free. When that did not happen people like Al Gore lost credibility.
Fundamentally their “scientific” projections have been deeply flawed grossly overestimating the consequences of increased CO2. One of the principals of projections is that when they failed to be realized it is because they relied on invalid assumptions. This is true of financial projections and scientific projections.
In the case of the projections of the consequences of climate change, I suspect that they are overestimating the impact of CO2 on global temperatures. One reason I believe that is because they struggle to explain why they got it wrong and they do not want to admit which of their assumptions is invalid.
There is also the hysteria on the left when their beliefs are rejected. It is almost like the response of radical Islamist to the rejection of Islam. They act like the rejection of their point of view is blasphemy rather than an argument to overcome.
I think there is also the suspicion that the real objective of the left is to institute control freak government and climate change is their latest excuse for doing so since communism has been rejected.
To be fair, “failure to engage” can occur for two reasons. It may be because those who don’t engage are wrong, or because they’re right and have forgotten what Eugenie Scott has said about discussing evolution: “We’re educating a parade”.
Yes, if you have the facts in order, you may have to keep teaching them to each next person. And if you throw a fit and refuse to teach, you run the risk of looking like you don’t have anything to teach.
But not even the EPA’s Mr. Pruitt or the New York Times’s newest recruit exhibits the ill grace to phrase the “so what” question.
“So what” is the most important question of all. So what if human activity is causing some measure of climate change if voters and politicians are unwilling to assume the costs (possibly hugely disproportionate to any benefit) of altering the outcome of the normal evolution of energy markets and energy technology.
Alternate history buffs, take note.
Was the industrial revolution a highly unlikely event all along, or had it become “industrial revolution time”?
The same thing can be asked of events in the history of life on Earth. Life itself seems to have arisen as soon as conditions on the planet weren’t absolutely lethal, but a number of steps seem to have been very unlikely. It took hundreds of millions of years to get to multicellular organisms, for example — or did multicellularity arise when it did because conditions were finally right?
In order for climate change, global warming, the new ice age, weather distortion, or whatever to be a major cause for concern, we need to believe three things:
- The temperature of the planet is actually changing (usually, increasing);
- Some significant fraction of this change is due to human activity (and therefore humans can have a significant impact on this change by altering their activity);
- The temperature change will lead to catastrophe.
I think all serious students of the climate accept that the planet is warmer. At the very least, we’re emerging from an ice age, and this will show up as a warmer planet.
We’ve been measuring the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and watching them go past 400 parts per million. Since CO2 blocks and absorbs certain frequencies of light, it’s hard to imagine an increase in concentration having no effect. Perhaps if every human quit burning stuff, this trend could be reversed, but realistically that’s not happening. The proposals that are being described as “urgent” would have a trifling effect on human CO2 production. China and India aren’t going to change absent a major economic collapse.
It’s possible that technological fixes, including “geo-engineering” might succeed in changing the temperature of the planet, but the solutions being proposed don’t seem likely to actually solve anything.
What is the net effect of any kind of warming? Of one degree? Five degrees? Ten degrees? Each of these would have some effects. Some of the effects will be good, some bad, and some neutral. With any change, if you count up the negative effects and ignore the positive ones, you can show that it’s a negative change. We hear about how bad a given temperature increase will be, but have we fallen into the “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality? Perhaps the benefits of a temperature increase don’t make for sexy headlines, and so tend not to be reported? Or even looked for?
I really wasn’t going to do much with this Skeptical Science post by Rob Honeycutt called “Correcting Warren Meyer on Forbes,” but several readers have asked me about it and its Friday and I am sort of bored in the office so here goes. I may skip parts of his critique. That does not necessarily mean I agree with it, but several sections of this article are just so trivial (let’s defend Al Gore!) that it is hard to work up any energy about it. As reference, my original article published back in 2012 is here.
Dammit Meyer, You Changed The Words to the Doxology!
The author begins his critique this way:
Mr. Meyer opens with a misleading attempt to frame the issue as a debate on “catastrophic man-man global warming theory.” This approach conflates two very distinct elements of the science on anthropogenic climate change. Nowhere in the published scientific literature can you find the phrase he uses. When I did a search on this term in Google Scholar, what did I find? Mr. Meyer’s Forbes article. Also searching “catastrophic man-made climate change” I get a smattering of non-research related materials coming from people who rejecting human influence on climate. Meyer has formed a completely irrelevant and fabricated framing of the issue for the basis of his discussion.
In Mr. Meyer’s article he claims this is the “core theory” and states that he will use the IPCC as the primary source for this, even though there is no place where the IPCC frames climate change in this manner.
Hey, thanks for making my point! I always start climate discussions by saying that supporters of climate action are frequently sloppy with the way they frame the debate. They use phrases like “climate denier” for folks like me which make no sense, since I don’t deny there is a climate. Clearly “climate denier” is a shortcut term for my denying some other more complex proposition, but what proposition exactly? Merely saying “global warming” as a proposition is sloppy because it could include both natural and manmade effects. Climate change is even sloppier (I would argue purposely so) because it obscures the fact that deleterious effects from anthropogenic CO2 must be via the intermediate stage of warming (i.e. there is no theory that CO2 causes hurricanes directly).
With this in mind, I begin nearly every discussion of climate change by doing what many proponents of climate action fail to do — I am very precise about the proposition I am going to discuss. It’s not just global warming, it’s man-made global warming. And since the climate alarmists are urging immediate action, it is not just man-made global warming but it is catastrophic man-made global warming, ie man-made global warming with negative effects so severe it requires urgent and extensive actions to circumvent. I think that is a very fair reading of what folks like James Hansen have in mind (if he does not think it will be catastrophic, why is he getting arrested in front of power plants?) The fact that Google searches do not yield these precise terms but rather yield millions of hits for meaningless phrases like “climate denier” just go to support one of the themes of my original piece, that the climate debate is made much muddier by the sloppy framing of the issues in the media.
However, while Mr. Honeycutt criticizes my framing as non-canon, he offers no specific critiques of how the phrase “catastrophic man-made global warming” might be wrong and offers no alternative framing. I really do try to pass Bryan Caplan’s ideological Turing test on this stuff, so I am interested — if advocates for climate action do not think “Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming” is a fair statement of their theory, what would they use instead?