"He's a snake in the grass, I tell ya guys; he may look dumb but that's just a disguise; he's a mastermind in the ways of espionage." Charlie Daniels, "Uneasy Rider" Thank you, Prof. Block, for feeding our confirmation biases - TT's Lost in Tokyo

Thank you, Prof. Block, for feeding our confirmation biases

Walter Block of Loyola University has graced the main LvMI blog with a rare post, this time a clipping - without commentary - from a piece entitled "Forget global warming: Welcome to the new Ice Age", by Canadian conservative commentator Lorne Gunter concerning the relatively high snowfalls this winter in various parts of the North Hemisphere:   http://blog.mises.org/archives/007828.asp.

What's the point, except to show that Prof. Block is happy to find something that feeds his own reluctance (and that on the LvMI blog generally) to talk about climate science or policy?  Where's the beef, Prof. Block?

I posted the following to his thread; as it's pending there I thought I'd put it up here (with a few typo corrections)

[snark level: high]

Dear Prof. Block:

Thank you for continuing in the hoary LvMI blog tradition, followed by Dr. Reisman, Sean Corrigan and many others here, of doing one's level best, by way of self-example, to illustrate how strongly we are in the grip of reflexive cognitive patterns such as confirmation bias.

This confirmation bias helps us at LvMI to report, with self-reassuring glee, any iota of evidence that the planet might be cooling, while dodging evidence to the contrary, and to mock those who say that the "climate" is complex and not the same as the weather.

We just love confirmation bias, because it allows us to dismiss all those who have concerns about how our long-term and unmoderated experiment with the Earth's climate and eco-systems are going as evil and/or crackpots - AND thus spares us from doing any heavy lifting on a number of distasteful tasks:

- actually trying to understand what climate scientists are saying about the climate system, our influences on it and present or future system responses;

- considering the likely consequences if we continue to treat the atmosphere and oceans as unmanaged open-access commons (Mises himself noted: "The extreme instance is provided by the case of no-man's property referred to above. If land is not owned by anybody, although legal formalism may call it public property, it is utilized without any regard to the disadvantages resulting [to others]");

- engaging in a good faith discussion with those who have differing views (and their own confirmation biases, no doubt); and

- exploring Austrian and libertarian principles and explicating their possible application to the problem that others declaim (i.e., the general efficacy of property rights, problems of information and transaction costs, rent-seeking, bureaucratic mal-incentives, the lack of rule of law relating to shared global/regional commons and in poorer nations, and with coordinating action for transborder commons under a Westphalian global order, and the legacy of 150+ years of - as you have put it - the "failure of the government to uphold free enterprise with a legal system protective of private property rights").

It is precisely this cognitive bias that Friedrich Hayek noted in his 1960 essay, “Why I am Not a Conservative”:  http://www.fahayek.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=46

Personally, I find that the most objectionable feature of the conservative attitude is its propensity to reject well-substantiated new knowledge because it dislikes some of the consequences which seem to follow from it—or, to put it bluntly, its obscurantism. I will not deny that scientists as much as others are given to fads and fashions and that we have much reason to be cautious in accepting the conclusions that they draw from their latest theories. But the reasons for our reluctance must themselves be rational and must be kept separate from our regret that the new theories upset our cherished beliefs. . . . By refusing to face the facts, the conservative only weakens his own position. Frequently the conclusions which rationalist presumption draws from new scientific insights do not at all follow from them. But only by actively taking part in the elaboration of the consequences of new discoveries do we learn whether or not they fit into our world picture and, if so, how. Should our moral beliefs really prove to be dependent on factual assumptions shown to be incorrect, it would hardly be moral to defend them by refusing to acknowledge facts."

Hayek noted these additional traits that distinguish market liberals from conservatives, which also are commonly manifested here:

• Habitual resistance to change (hence “conservative”);
• Use of state authority to protect established privileges against the forces of economic change; and
• Claim to superior wisdom based on self-arrogated superior quality in place of rational argument.

The upshot?  That most of us here at LvMI are engaged in the task of convincing ourselves that the climate is not changing or that those who have concerns about it are illogical man-haters, and that we refuse to engage these others by (i) understanding first that for resources where property rights are undefined or uneforceable, public debates rather than private transactions are the chief means of expressing one's preferences, and (ii) actively defending or advancing freedom - through attempting to persuade others.

There are other freedom-loving thinkers who have made modest starts in a productive engagement with others, such as:

Sheldon Richman, in his essay  "The Goal Is Freedom: Global Warming and the Layman", in the December 8, 2006 edition of The Freeman:   http://www.fee.org/in_brief/default.asp?id=966);

Gene Callahan, in his essay "How a Free Society Could Solve Global Warming", in the October 2007 issue of The Freeman: http://www.fee.org/publications/the-freeman/article.asp?aid=8150; and

Edwin Dolan, in his Fall 2006 Cato Journal essay, "Global Warming: Rethinking the Market Liberal Position"http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2008/02/14/edwin-dolan-applying-the-lockean-framework-to-climate-change.aspx.

But we here at LvMI don't want to be troubled to be productive, engage others or advance the cause of freedom, so we don't post, cite to or discuss authors like that.  Being thoughtful or engaging is too much work!  We prefer to cherish our existing beliefs and to nourish our hatred of "enviros", while ignoring everyone else, as I've noted here:






I am relieved that you seem to want to be one of us, and are not challenging us to get engaged, like Callahan, Richman or Dolan.



PS:  One of the conditions of membership in the "Reisman/Corrigan Club", as we sometimes call it, is that we forswear reading any of the IPCC reports and the reports of all major academies of science.  Can you confirm that you have you have not yet tainted yourself with such "information" and undertake not to?  Also, you must avoid posts by apostates such as this who post other "science" tripe:  http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2008/01/15/did-global-warming-stop-in-1998-jim-hansen-says-no.aspx.

Published Tue, Feb 26 2008 5:34 AM by TokyoTom


# re: Thank you, Prof. Block, for feeding our confirmation biases

Tuesday, February 26, 2008 7:58 AM by jtucker

TT, I'm so sorry your comment was snagged by the software as spam. Because of your blog here, I looked through the spam comments and found yours. Probably the number of URLs caused this. I'm approved it. Thank you also for not jumping to the conclusion, as some people do, that you are somehow being censored.

# re: Thank you, Prof. Block, for feeding our confirmation biases

Tuesday, February 26, 2008 8:09 AM by jtucker

Actually, TT, you could more readily assure that your comments will be published right away, and not be tagged as spam, if you would put fewer URLs in them, remember that people do have Google, and that it is always better to make a concise and compelling argument than to refer people to twenty things that they should read.

# re: Thank you, Prof. Block, for feeding our confirmation biases

Tuesday, February 26, 2008 11:16 AM by Geoffrey Allan Plauché

Well, doesn't confirmation bias work the other way round too? The global warming activists who are so thoroughly convinced disaster is looming on the horizon and CO2, and only CO2, is the primary cause, are just as apt to fall prey to this.

# re: Thank you, Prof. Block, for feeding our confirmation biases

Tuesday, February 26, 2008 4:37 PM by Juan

Here's one more proof...

Buenos Aires has first snow since 1918


Only fanaticals can't admit that more snow proves GW. And so does less snow.

# re: Thank you, Prof. Block, for feeding our confirmation biases

Wednesday, February 27, 2008 3:17 AM by Donny with an A

Actually, I thought Gunter's article was reasonably fair, as long as it was intended as satire the way he implied at the end.  He specifically said that evidence he presented didn't entail anything about the long-term state of the comment, and his purpose seemed to be to call attention to the sort of reporting which can legitimately be considered alarmist is nature; screaming about droughts, heat waves, and floods really is unfair and unrepresentative of the current state of the science.

However, it's worth noting that none of the events he cites are particular problematic for the mainstream view.   Just as individual warm years don't prove anything, neither do individual cold years.  A quick glance at a temperature record spanning over the past century does seem to reveal a trend, with considerable year-to-year variability.  Last year was a departure from the trend which doesn't seem outside of the range of the normal variability we've seen over the past century.  It isn't that these things fall short of being conclusive evidence against the mainstream view; they aren't convincing evidence against it at all.

In short, if Block were citing the article to try to dispute the mainstream view, his argument would miss its mark.  Gunter's article doesn't really make any trouble for anyone.  But if he's just taking a shot at the mainstream media, then I personally don't think he's being unfair.  

# re: Thank you, Prof. Block, for feeding our confirmation biases

Wednesday, February 27, 2008 10:13 PM by TokyoTom

Donny, I appreciate the comment here, but good observations like these would engage more people if you'd also make them over on the main comment thread.

However, I wish that you wouldn't try to twist yourself intoa pretzel by trying to be even-handed with those whose own attempts to appear even-handed are easily dtermined to be disingenuous.

Gunter has consistently tried to cast doubt on the main conclusions coming from science and on the motives of others, rather than being frank about the science and focussing on policy.  He has an agenda of persuading Canadians to do nothing (and perhaps to assist those similarly inclined here), and this consistent with it.

Likewise, Block's intentions can be judged from his complete lack of commentary on structural problems/policy from a Misesean viewpoint and from the reactions he elicited on the main thread.

It's extremly disappointing.

# Nick Kristof on politics: why we conclude that I'm right, and you're evil

Friday, April 18, 2008 8:05 AM by TT's Samurai Stumblings

Here's a very interesting piece by Kristof at the New York Times about the reactions of Obama and

# re: Thank you, Prof. Block, for feeding our confirmation biases

Tuesday, February 3, 2009 5:54 PM by nirgrahamUK

arent you being a bit rough on Block ,you cite some good works -  Sheldon Richman, -  Gene Callahan,-  Edwin Dolan,

who you seem to appreciate. where you aware that block is fenitely a supporter of free market environmentalism, and has written a book on the subject and many papers. of course he is opposed to stasist environmentalism and what passes as the Environmentalist mainstream movement... but with good reason.....

# re: Thank you, Prof. Block, for feeding our confirmation biases

Tuesday, February 3, 2009 8:48 PM by TokyoTom

Nir, thanks for your comments.  Yes, I'm familiar with Prof. Block's works, having cited him a number of times:  mises.org/.../search.aspx.

Am I being a little rough on Block?  Little ol' me?  Don't think so.  It's perfectly fair to observe that he has posted on a topic while declining completely to discuss it from an Austrian viewpoint, and to speculate on the reasons why.

# re: Thank you, Prof. Block, for feeding our confirmation biases

Wednesday, February 4, 2009 10:59 AM by nirgrahamUK

well, did the books and the journal articles discuss environmentalism from an austrian viewpoint?. if so, you are just criticising his choice of topic on the particular day block wrote the article; in which he didnt cover the same ground that he had covered elsewhere. no offence but i think that might be a little rough.

# re: Thank you, Prof. Block, for feeding our confirmation biases

Wednesday, February 4, 2009 8:00 PM by TokyoTom

Nir, thanks for commenting, but I actually love Prof. Block's choice of topic; it's been calling out for productive engagement from Austrians for years, but what we usually get is ad homs and poo flinging.

BTW, did you actually look at Block's post? It has no substance, but is simply a straight post of someone else commenting on the weather.