Some Musings On Specialization

Ant NestSorry I haven’t posted anything new these past few weeks, but I’ve been laid low by a viral infection that I’m finding rather difficult to shake. So I thought I’d start a discussion with a few jottings, on a topic I meant to research and write on more fully, and may do so later on.

It’s one of the key tenets of capitalism that the most efficient production of goods and services comes from individuals specializing in different tasks (from each according to his ability, anyone?) and pooling their efforts. I touched on this theme in my earlier article on corporations, noting that the incredibly complex products made by companies today were beyond the capacity of any one individual to fashion. No one person knows how to build a Boeing Dreamliner aircraft, or an Apple iPad. Yet they get built.

From the viewpoint of the economist, this is unremarkable, even trivially so, and from that viewpoint it makes perfect sense. We all have our own unique aptitudes, interests and talents, not to mention our own wants and desires, and it makes perfect sense to funnel our endeavours into that which we are best at, which we enjoy doing and which reaps us the optimal economic rewards. But have we not, somewhere along the way, sacrificed a great deal of our autonomy in pursuit of that goal?

It wasn’t always this way. Sure, even prior to the Industrial Revolution, people still went in for trades and professions, and devoted years of their young lives in training for them. But it is also true that back then, a young man who went to university would graduate having been imparted with pretty much the entire corpus of human knowledge. The sheer ferocity of speed with which the field of science and technology has advanced in the last two centuries has meant that it takes many years to gain a professional working knowledge of even a small corner of it.

Today, we wake up in houses we don’t know how to build, eat breakfast consisting of food we don’t know how to produce, jump into a car we can’t fix, and drive off to work for a company we don’t understand beyond our own cubicle niche. All our efforts are fixated upon simply staying up to date with that tiny corner of the world. We have been seduced into the folly of credentialism, thinking that only one with official qualifications in a particular subject has any right, or indeed ability, to offer an opinion on it. We tend to treat every field other than our own as a sort of black art, and accept unquestioningly any pronouncements by the experts. After all, what would we know?

Yes, this has led to a society that produces a mind-bogglingly vast array of products, cheaper, more efficiently and more abundantly than ever before in human history. By any realistic measure, we’re all rich. The economists are satisfied and smug. But have we lost something along the way? Has the collectivism we have implicitly accepted as the price of all this cornucopian abundance, in fact reduced our society to a house of cards? And us into ant-men?

I’m hardly the first person to wonder about this. I came across this essay the other week, quoting Plato, Thomas Paine and Adam Smith, which makes much the same point. I know that, in my own life, I’m keen to regain as much autonomy as I can. Without becoming an Amish, it’s impossible to do completely—if the laptop computer I’m typing this on breaks down, I have to either pay a technician to repair it, or buy another—but I do take steps to produce as much of my own food and fuel, as well as waste disposal, as possible. Is it an overly idealistic ambition? Or something we should all strive for? I’ll let you drive this one.

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67 Responses to Some Musings On Specialization

  1. Amanda says:

    Enjoyable and thoughtful article: I was nodding all through it — until I got to ‘reaps us the optimal economic rewards’, at which point my criminal-lying-in-the-dock mad eye-twitch started happening. If I squeeze the word ‘imagined’ between ‘the’ and ‘optimal’, the eye-twitch dies down and we’re left with the usual calm haggardness.

    But seriously: you’re right, and I would only add that we seem to be a more driven society than we seemed to be 20 or 30 years ago. (I mean ‘we’ in the sense of the Anglosphere, really. The French with their 35-hour work week, not so much.) Remember that film with Dolly Parton, Lilly Tomlin and Dabney Colman, called Nine To Five? Well these days, such hours are a faint barely-there memory. Most people start much earlier and finish much later — and mobiles and other WiFi devices mean that you can never really be safely home or away on holiday. The boss always wants more. I see my husband and the way his schools have run him ragged — not only with a heavy class load but also detention duty, student advising, office hours, school trips, constant faculty meetings as if they’re even any use, special events where teacher presence is ‘encouraged’ (read: obligatory), and lunch duty (he even has to work the till, for cryin’ out loud) — and I realize that the stately teacherhood of yore is gone. Everyone has to run like mad just to keep from going backwards — or getting the sack.

    What suffers in all of this? One thing I can name is private time. Back when Parton and the gang were amusing us all in Nine To Five, there was a much sharper line between My Time and Their Time. Now, employers in any field whatsoever behave much as a statist government with regard to your earnings: whatever they don’t consider theirs, you are allowed to keep. They have no sense of trespass, of pushing too hard. So what if my husband can no longer get his needed exercise every day because he has to be at his desk by 7:00 or 7:30, and he can’t work out at 4 in the morning? What does the employer care?

    And it’s no longer true that for less income, you can accept a less pressured, less all-consuming job. The pressure is everywhere and all that holding out for Private Time will do is make you poorer — because no one is allowed enough of it any more.

    P. S. to Oz: Sorry about your recent illness: that must be tough. Also, you’ve put an a in ‘led’.

    Duly updated – thanks. I’m a bit light-headed right now so I’m sure you’ll understand – Oz

  2. Amanda says:

    Speaking of not understanding how things work in our own time, two comedians play with the problem here:

    When I was a boy, I used to fantasize about being that bloke in the space suit. But I wasn’t far enough into the future to know about net porn – Oz 🙄

  3. Amanda says:

    Oz: You poor dear!

  4. Amanda says:

    Oz: Giggle. Or chuckle. But note that he’s got extra padding and the chap that was supposed be in the pod was too fat for it. The message seems to be that not only are the people of the future more full of gadgets (if not necessarily, in themselves, more knowledgeable), they are greatly overweight!

  5. meltemian says:

    You’re right, nobody seems to know how to do the basics necessary to stay alive any more. Without electricity I reckon most people wouldn’t last long and that really worries me. We all rely more and more on power to fuel everything in our daily lives. I remember my daughter having to phone me to ask how to light a fire when she moved into her first flat and there was no power. It wasn’t something she had ever had to do as she had always relied on central heating.
    Back in the ‘Cold War’ days when we all feared Armageddon my sister and I had planned to take our families to an old country house in Wales, which was occasionally open to the public, and had the most amazing array of Victorian household equipment. We knew we could survive there, lots of land and far enough away from civilization to keep out of trouble! It was, of course, a bit of a pipe-dream but at least we had a plan and could still remember how things were done in the ‘old days’ before electricity ran the world.

  6. farmerbraun says:

    “We knew we could survive there, lots of land and far enough away from civilization to keep out of trouble! It was, of course, a bit of a pipe-dream . . . ”

    Are you kidding? That’s exactly what I do every day. Maybe the “COLD WAR ” never ended ; maybe it was just someone fiddling with the thermostat, and we all thought things were warming up a in a nice touchy-feely sort of way.
    Maybe I’m just paranoid ; never should have read those “Austrian” economists.

  7. karabar says:

    Knowledge, or knowing how to produce something or do something, is only the tip of the iceberg.

    Knowledge is not skill. One can read the instruction book for a backhoe, or an airplane, and gain the knowledge regarding its operation, but without the skills developed through instruction and experience it is to no avail.

    Knowing how things are made, and possessing the skill to make it, is insufficient, since in order to manufacture the things we take for granted requires tools, machines, moulds, jigs, and frames.

    Even if one is in possession of knowledge and skill, and is provided with a factory containing all of these things, it is of no avail without the raw materials, and the raw materials used to make the things we take for granted have usually already be processed many time over.
    And if one skilled in the manufacture of widgets, located in a widget factory with all of the necessary machines and tools, and a warehouse of raw materials, all of these things are useless without energy of some description.

    Most of the consumer goods we take for granted are either transported long distances, or they have been assembled for components and materials that have been transported have way round the planet, so with knowledge, skills, tools, machinery, and energy, one needs more raw materials from far away to continue once the store of raw materials is exhausted.
    Specialisation, manufacturing infrastructure, transportation, globalisation, and in particular inexpensive, readily used energy is necessary for our enjoyment of live beyond mere subsistence. Why is it that so many people rail against these things?

    About twenty five years ago a book called “The Great Reckoning” recommended that people create and maintain a secluded hideaway far from the cities for the time that civilisation crumbles. Many people seem to have taken that sage advise, since there is a TV show about “preppers”.

    I began to consider the prerequisites for such a refuge. Since I was raised on a farm, I felt I already possessed many of the skills for survival, but that only make me realise the skills that my father had that I never learned. Besides, in imagining such a refuge, I realised one would need all of the forks, shovels, horse harness, ropes and chains, implements, and buildings that we had on the farm. My wife was interested as well, and we purchased a set of “The Foxfire Books” that contain much of the wisdom of subsistence living, but merely reading these does not provide the skills.

    At the time, my family were accustomed to “going bush” in the Canadian wilderness for three weeks in the summer with a boat and a canoe and some provisions, as we found nature provident with fish and berries and greens. We were all involved in the Scout movement. Survival in the bush is not hard in August, after the flies have subsided and before the snow, and when the forest is abundant with bush tucker. Any other month has various difficulties that nature throws at the survivalist.

    It does not take much imagination to conjure up the endless hours of work involved in growing, and storing food and feed for livestock. Then a person begins to realise that one couple or family couldn’t do it alone. In order to have half a chance of survival in the bush, it would be necessary to recruit a community that include a doctor and a dentist etc. with all their paraphernalia.

    There’s certainly a lot of things you need to have if you’re thinking of trying to live “off-grid”. I’ve been working on my place for ten years now and I still come across something or other I need. Tools, ropes, chains, saws, repair kits and a million other things. A hundred years ago (except perhaps in large cities), even the town doctor and dentist grew at least part of their own food out the back of their houses. In fact, two of Australia’s largest wine labels (Penfolds and Lindemans) started in the nineteenth century as small vineyards established by rural medical doctors, who prescribed wine for a number of ailments, and perforce had to produce it themselves.

    As a matter of fact, my grandfather had his wisdom teeth extracted by a “bush dentist” (usually the town butcher, who often also doubled as an emergency surgeon – hence “sawbones”). Of course, to survive indefinitely with minimal suffering, one needs to rely on a community, which grows wider with its members’ expectations of comfort, amenity and not having to personally acquire too many skills. My problem with that is we’ve allowed that process to run unchecked, to the point where I believe it has reached the reductio ad absurdum stage, hence my sentiments at the top – Oz

  8. farmerbraun says:

    ” My problem with that is we’ve allowed that process to run unchecked, to the point where I believe it has reached the reductio ad absurdum stage, . . .”

    The supermarket ; the centre of the community. Heh!

    Where you don’t even get to haggle – Oz

  9. Amanda says:

    Penfolds and Lindemans: I know ’em well ;^) I believe they are thought of as good ‘value’ labels.

    They both are, and are widely exported. Penfolds also produces high-end wines; Grange Hermitage, their flagship, is regarded as one of the world’s greatest-ever wines, and older vintages have fetched six-figure sums at auction – Oz

  10. farmerbraun says:

    “one needs to rely on a community, which grows wider with its members expectations of comfort, amenity and not having to personally acquire too many skills.”

    That’s the guts of it there. When the members expect , as of right, the earth; every conceivable amenity; and no requirement to acquire any skill (other than use of the credit card), then we have a recipe for disgruntlement . . . etc .
    Hey , because you deserve it . . . you’re worth it!
    Yeah right!

    This subject (which I again apologize for not canvassing more fully) segues into my long-planned polemic on cities, coming soon to a blog near you – Oz

  11. Amanda says:

    Hi Oz. Mr A. says that we had a bottle of Hill of Grace while living in England: we couldn’t afford it now. (He says I loved it particularly: I can’t tell you dates and whatnot, but my buds know fantastic from Sunday-best plonk, which is a bit like how I can pick out the most expensive item of anything when I walk into a shop, heh heh.) The expert also says that Penfolds runs the gamut of good to extraordinary, whereas Lindeman’s doesn’t. When unsure of my wine facts, it’s always worth asking him first.

    They’re not too bad. I don’t drink them these days, as right now Australia is drowning in an embarrassment of riches in the form of ultra-cheap cleanskins, which Mrs Oz and I sample then buy in bulk if they’re any good.

    Still, if you’re in the market for a refreshing cheap red, you might try this one – Oz:

  12. Amanda says:

    oops a rat apostrophe climbed aboard!

  13. Amanda says:

    my long-planned polemic on cities
    Looking forward to that one.

  14. Amanda says:

    ‘a watery Shiraz’, as the bloke says, is probably more to my taste than a glycerin-y Shiraz. Definitely not fond of the latter. Thanks for the vid.

  15. karabar says:

    There is another component of modern society that has importance equal to knowledge, skill, physical plant, infrastructure, and transportation. That is trade and commerce.

    In his book The Invisible Hand of Peace: Capitalism, the War Machine, and International Relations Theory. Professor Patrick J. MacDonald offers the thesis that the free market may have already reduced the number of wars that otherwise would have been fought.

    Human history has been filled with warfare. Apart from the Pax Romana from 37 BC until 180 AD, human history is essentially one long litany of tribal warfare. Under the rule of law, with private property and “competitive market structures,” modernity has arguably found a greater incentive to peace than to war. As McDonald explains in his book, “states that possess liberal political and economic institutions do not go to war with each other….”

    What does liberalism signify in this context? According to Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, “The essential teaching of liberalism is that social cooperation and the division of labor can be achieved only in a system of private ownership of the means of production, i.e., within a market society, or capitalism.” Mises and McDonald would both argue that economic freedom, and the institutions which make this freedom possible, tend to promote peace. McDonald offers a caveat, however. He warns that democracy is not the guarantor of peace some have asserted it to be.
    The prosperity that we enjoy today is due not only to the specialisation of labour, but trade and commerce on a global basis as well. An essential component of that prosperity, being peace, may be provided by trade and commerce as well.

  16. Kitler says:

    The ultimate self sufficient society….

    I remember reading a few years ago about the death of the Bushman actor who starred in that movie. He had only ever seen one or two white people in his life before he was approached to participate in it. Apparently he was paid only a few hundred dollars for his time and afterwards, not understanding the value of paper money, let it blow away in the wind – Oz

  17. Kitler says:

    The sad thing is the Bushmen are now being persecuted by the Bantu immigrants from the North.
    Well here sums up capitalism these days….

  18. izen says:

    The picture of the ants at the top of the post gives the game away Oz.
    No individual ant can produce the benefits of a colony. The nest, food production, reproduction etc, but the trade-of is that no individual ant has any autonomy. They are cogs moved by the aggregate actions of the nest.

    When humans live as hunter-gatherers in small groups they have total autonomy over the resources and environment. There is a simple match between ability and outcome. However the only choices for that full autonomy are how to be an effective hunter-gatherer.
    With agriculture and pastoralism there are constraints, tribes have hierarchies, and specialisations. Some get to learn how to build big stone monuments, stonehenge, moai etc. The structure of society constrains the individual autonomy within a specific role.
    Then with intensive agriculture and cities the number of ways people could live vastly expanded. Writing, religion and trade emerge and the benefits that an individual could derive from living in a civilisation far exceeded any benefit that could be derived from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
    As did the disadvantages, very little individual autonomy in being a slave, you would be better of as a h-g.

    There is an inescapable tradeoff between the complexity and diversity of opportunity that social communities offer to the individual and the degree of autonomy an individual can exercise. If you want full autonomy become a h-g or at most a food gardener in social groups with less than a hundred members.
    If you want literature, spice, electricity and capitalism then individual autonomy is reduced to the amount of ‘play’ there is for the cog within its gear-train.
    It is a logical impossibility for an individual to exercise full autonomy over a society which creates far more than any single individual can alone. As foolish as an ant thinking it could rule the colony. The colony queens are not hierarchical tyrants, more egg-laying slaves.

    Humans are not ants. We have sentient intentionality and a concept of autonomy that we want to exercise. While it is a fictive goal to want the sort of autonomy a bushman of the Kalihari might have had over his environment and existance, within our socially constructed civilisation, it IS a legitimate goal to want to manage the trade-off between the benefits of cooperative, communal social organisations up to and beyond city civilisation level and the individual autonomy within that.

    I believe that is often called politics.
    It is what distinguishes us from the ants.

    P.S. Get well soon!


    The ant comparison suggests itself, hence the picture. Basically you’ve re-stated the first part of my argument, in which I agree that a degree of collectivization is the price we pay for our current high standard of living. It’s incontestable, and I certainly don’t argue the fact. You say that the second part, the establishment of individual autonomy within that collectivist framework, is the province of politics. I’m not so sure about that. Politicians certainly believe it is (they believe everything is their province, which makes them ipso facto totalitarians). But IMHO, to leave our autonomy to the mercy of politicians, is to surrender it – Oz

  19. izen says:

    There is a classic exposition of the problem of the trade-off in benefits and autonomy from advancing civilisation here –


  20. meltemian says:

    Those Foxfire Books are too expensive for me, not sure about the ‘Faith Healing’ bit but the ‘Moonshine’ looked good.
    I’ll settle for ‘The Homesteaders Handbook’:-

    Nice – Oz

    I use this one:

  21. farmerbraun says:

    Izen says; “If you want full autonomy become a h-g or at most a food gardener in social groups with less than a hundred members.”

    I think that is where ozboy wants to go.
    The typical family farm, where such still exist, is comprised of about a dozen members.
    In Godzone, many aspire to this pursuit as a way of enjoying as much autonomy , with few disadvantages, as it is possible to obtain in modern times.
    A farmer can be King on his 500 or 1000 acres; some are content to rule over as little as 10 acres.

    NZ has long had systems of sharefarming which permitted the aspirant, having no capital, to commence hard labour at the lowest level, to attain ownership of a modest kingdom within a space of 10-15 years.
    This system had the desired effects of providing both capital gains in land value (untaxed in Godzone), and an exit path for the retiring farmer wishing to realise on those capital gains.
    The system is less popular today for a couple of reasons.
    Corporate ownership has provided a way for the farm to remain with the corporate while allowing individual shareholder-owners to exit , without the farm being sold. So the opportunities to buy are fewer.
    Also the typical sharefarming contract has been 3-5 years; a very short time in farming. This has led to the practice of short -term exploitation by sharefarmers; contrary to the longer-term prospects of the farm owner.
    So fewer sharefarming positions, which offered reasonable autonomy, are available to day; salaried managers are preferred

    Not necessarily a hundred. But I’ll give you a little teaser for my cities article, in that for reasons I’ll explain, the collectivist advantages of close proximity living become marginal in the 21st century, once the population exceeds forty thousand or so – Oz

  22. farmerbraun says:

    The recently -arisen constraint on the autonomy of the family farm “King” is the invocation of the ancient and venerable tort of nuisance , under the guise of “sustainability” and the requirement to prevent losses of nitrate , phosphate , and E. coli to waterbodies, which are regarded by the public as “commons”
    It is a concern only for the most intensive “leaky” farms, where stocking rates can be up to 5 cows/Ha with lots of bought-in supplements and nitrogen fertiliser.

  23. farmerbraun says:

    Wishing all Northern folk a very sumptuous Imbolc; I’m sure that you’ve all been hanging out for some fresh ewe’s milk.
    It will be St Brighid’s day across the Irish Sea.
    So how is the weather?

    “If Candlemas Day be fair and bright. Winter will take another flight; If Candlemas Day be foul and rain, Winter is gone and won’t come again.”

  24. Amanda says:

    the collectivist advantages of close proximity living become marginal
    especially when some of you are hostile in-comers and/or religious fanatics. Not that I want to be depressing : )

  25. meltemian says:

    If Candlemas Day be fair and bright. Winter will take another flight; If Candlemas Day be foul and rain, Winter is gone and won’t come again.”

    Well it’s definitely “foul and rain” here today, not sure if that applies in Greece though. I hope winter is gone now, the mimosa and almond blossom are everywhere.
    (It’s the feast day of Ypapanti here, the presentation in the temple, which I suppose is the same as Candlemas.)

  26. Amanda says:

    Melt: “Ypapanti” sounds more fun!

  27. izen says:

    @- the collectivist advantages of close proximity living become marginal in the 21st century, once the population exceeds forty thousand or so – Oz

    The first city, Uruk,in the archaeological record was bigger than that over 4000 years ago. Your limit would seem to exclude all the major cities of human history, and the civilisations they engendered.
    Or is your thesis that anything larger than a small town has only become marginal in the last decade?

    Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ve bookmarked your question and will deal with it once I’ve had a chance to explain my reasoning in the article – Oz

  28. farmerbraun says:

    What is truly amazing is that statements such as the example below no longer attract scores of “denier’ accusations.

    “Unless our understanding of radiative physics is wrong then increased
    greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the air must induce some additional warming , all
    things being equal.

    But the climate system is constantly changing : “all things being equal” never

    We do NOT KNOW to what degree human activities have altered GHG ratios in the
    atmosphere .

    We do NOT KNOW to what degree altered GHG ratios in the atmosphere have
    contributed to the present natural global warming (which is the recovery from
    the Little Ice Age).

    Claims that humans have or have not added to the observed global warming are
    equally false because nobody can know the truth of the matter in the absence of
    any evidence.

    What CAN be said is that, to date, there is no evidence for discernible global
    warming from human activities , and so any human contribution to observed global
    warming is trivial if it exists.”

  29. izen says:

    “What is truly amazing is that statements such as the example below no longer attract scores of “denier’ accusations.”

    That is because the science is settled as far as AGW goes. It is the mainstream position and ongoing events do nothing to undermine that.
    The sort of nonsense you quote –
    “What CAN be said is that, to date, there is no evidence for discernible global
    warming from human activities , and so any human contribution to observed global
    warming is trivial if it exists.”
    Is so far outside the scientific mainstream that it is no longer even marginally credible as a coherent evidential argument about the human understanding of the climate.

    Such statements have become mere tribal flags, signifiers of adherence to an ideological position. The issue has matured to the point where it is well known by both sides where the mainstream science is. There is less and less direct refutation of those denier tropes and memes because they have little relevance for the science. the only purpose of making such outlandish statements is to advertise your membership of the shrinking minority who share this anti-science stance for political reasons.

    The same transition happened some time ago in the evolution-v-creationist field. There is very little discussion of evolution left because when a rare YEC does post outside the creationist enclave they are doing so to proclaim their religious purity, not to make a credible argument on the biology.

    With the recent AR5 and the observable changes in the climate such denialist posts merely identify the poster as a crank who rejects mainstream science, probably opposes fluoride and vaccination too… or thinks taxation is theft. {As any good radical knows it is PROPERTY that is theft-grin}

    Try this for a view of the recent climate which will probably not benefit from confirmation bias from many here. In fact some may have difficulty allowing their Mortons demon to let the information in!
    -…”Riddle me this: if we had been told by an unimpeachable source on January 1st, 1998 that there would be no statistically significant temperature increase over the period from the beginning of 1998 through the end of 2013, what would we have predicted? How would that compare to what has actually happened?”

  30. Amanda says:

    Has anyone here seen The Good Life? (Re-titled, for American audiences, Good Neighbours, as I recall.) As a show it could be amusing, if a bit unbelievable at times. One episode actually annoyed hubby and I a bit in that it had the Felicity Kendall character having an irrational (and out-of-character) temper tantrum, simply because the plot required it. Should have thought up another plot. But I notice that the book summary on Amazon refers to that series directly. It’s the series — and against-the-grain way of life — than any English person past a certain age would naturally think of.

  31. Amanda says:

    P. S. It’s a BBC production of the 1970s, and if memory serves, Penelope Keith was so popular in it (as the uncomprehending neighbour) that she got her own program, To The Manor Born on the strength of it. But I’m not a historian of the BBC, so could be wrong.

  32. karabar says:

    Yes it was one of our favourite PBS programs. I certainly remember Felicity Kendall!

  33. Amanda says:

    K: Aha! Male viewers were, I understand, very fond of her. Unfortunately she is a reflexive uninformed Lefty. But hardly surprising.

  34. Amanda says:

    Sorry, I meant to say the John Seymour book summary — the one that Oz says he uses.

    You know, Amanda, it’s funny: I cop a lot of flak from certain people who know me personally, as being a “denier” or a “denialist”, “stubborn” or a “dinosaur” – none of them science trained, by the way. I find I can shut them up fairly quickly by pointing out that I, alone among them, actually live my life as if I believed in CAGW. Their lifestyles, without exception, appear to betray the belief that they can pollute and consume unsustainably, ad infinitum, without cost to themselves or to society. They salve their consciences by growing a herb in a window box, mouthing political platitudes on Facebook and reassuring each other how “enlightened” they are, while sipping lattés or quaffing imported chardonnay in their favourite inner city café. So you can understand my derision – Oz

  35. Kitler says:

    Did someone mention Felicity Kendall?

  36. izen says:

    @- karabar
    “Izen As Dr. Pat Michaels suggests, …”

    Case in point, ‘Dr’ Pat Michaels has no scientific credibility, is clearly outside the 97% mainstream science and is a tribal flag, only those who share his ideological stance buy into his climate nonsense.
    You are being conned by a shill for big business.

  37. farmerbraun says:

    Izen, that’s five repetitions of “mainstream” (science) in two posts.
    I’ve spent my entire agricultural career being outside of “mainstream” agriculture. Most of my success can be attributed to that fact.
    Just saying. If you want to persuade (and maybe you don’t ) , “mainstream” doesn’t cut it.

    “Received wisdom” (or, to be kind, “prevailing wisdom”) can be a wonderful and useful thing. But there are times when it becomes groupthink – Oz

  38. karabar says:

    Ah. The call to authority AND an ad hominem.
    No. YOU are being conned by the Greenies.

  39. izen says:

    “Izen, that’s five repetitions of “mainstream” (science) in two posts.
    I’ve spent my entire agricultural career being outside of “mainstream” agriculture. Most of my success can be attributed to that fact.”

    Choose another term then for the corpus of knowledge we have within a subject area.
    I doubt that your success outside the ‘mainstream’ has come from deniying the basic thermodynamics of plant growth or the need for nitrogen etc.

    @- “Received wisdom” (or, to be kind, “prevailing wisdom”) can be a wonderful and useful thing. But there are times when it becomes groupthink – Oz”

    MODTRAN is not groupthink. Or even prevailing wisdom. unless you really want to join the flat Earth brigade you have to acknowledge it is an accurate description of how energy is propogated in the atmopshere. Mainly derived from military research on heat-seeking missile sensors.
    The table of DNA codon bases to amino acid, or the basic nutritional requirements of humans, plants etc are solidly derived knowledge that is misrepresented by calling it ‘prevailing wisdom’ I think.

    The point is that what are apparently scientific arguments about AGW are nothing of the sort. they are tribal affiliation flags to denote adherence to a particular political clique.

    Scientific arguments I don’t agree with are merely tribal affiliation flags.

    Wow. A lot of learned professors will, I’m sure, be greatly deflated to hear their lifes’ work dismissed thus. For someone seeking to challenge his own Morton’s Demon, that’s quite an odd assertion – Oz

  40. Amanda says:

    Oz: They know you PERSONALLY and they still say that? Ooh, I wouldn’t dare! LOL But seriously, people on the wrong side of all this are on the wrong side (no present company excepted) because they are confused, and the great chasm between what they would like to be true and what IS true doesn’t bother them. AGW being a political issue, the specific stance in it corresponds with a more general political stance, which is why I rarely agree with thermoleftists and rarely disagree with other true liberals* and conservatives.

    *Referring to unhyphened liberals, liberals in the original meaning before it became a nicer way of saying ‘Leftist’ and ‘progressive’. Whether progressives actually bring progress or not (often they have, in the past) is another question. But I usually use ‘Left’ or ‘left-liberal’ for people such as F. Kendall, who seems to have absorbed every anti-Thatcher, anti-conservative idea going. She’s rich, of course.

  41. Amanda says:

    With regard to the idea of ‘mainstream’ — Rush Limbaugh likes to say that the book of ‘Great American Moderates’ is a very slim volume. 🙂

  42. farmerbraun says:

    Received wisdom?

    “..we must not believe in a thing said merely because it is said; nor traditions because they have been handed down from antiquity; nor rumours, as such; nor writings by sages, because sages wrote them; nor fancies that we may suspect to have been inspired in us by a Deva (that is, in presumed spiritual inspiration); nor from inferences drawn from some haphazard assumption we may have made; nor because of what seems an analogical necessity; nor on the mere authority of our teachers or masters. But we are to believe when the writing, doctrine, or saying is corroborated by our own reason and consciousness. ‘For this,’ says he in concluding, ’I taught you not to believe merely because you have heard, but when you believed of your consciousness, then to act accordingly and abundantly.’ “

    Gautama Buddha.

  43. karabar says:

    I suppose you intended that I would be horrified that the impeccable “desmog blog” questions the credibility of Dr. Pat Michaels, so therefore it must be true. Typical warmist dogma.
    Two can play at that game.

  44. karabar says:

    Hi Farmerbraun
    You know that favourite computer program that Izen is always on about? Must be good because the Yankee Air Force uses it? I think it’s called MODTRAN.
    Well, it seems it is only useful if you know how to operate it. Otherwise, it’s GIBSO. Garbage in, BS out!

    All I really know about MODTRAN is that it’s written in a language I stopped using way back in 1982, and these days is fit only for the kitchen of a Neapolitan restaurant – Oz

  45. Ozboy says:

    OT, but moderation at the DT is getting right out of control.

    Commenting on JD’s contrast between Coriolanus and David Cameron, I wrote this:

    Let’s see now…

    Most sweet voices!
    Better it is to die, better to starve,
    Than crave the hire which first we do deserve.
    Why in this woolvish toge should I stand here,
    To beg of Hob and Dick, that do appear,
    Their needless vouches? Custom calls me to’t:
    What custom wills, in all things should we do’t,
    The dust on antique time would lie unswept,
    And mountainous error be too highly heapt
    For truth to o’er-peer. Rather than fool it so,
    Let the high office and the honour go
    To one that would do thus. I am half through;
    The one part suffer’d, the other will I do.

    It certainly sounds to me like the conquering general, only half-willingly bidding for political power, that the Bard intended.

    That simpering jackass you’ve installed in Number 10, it ain’t.

    But apparently, you can’t call someone a jackass any more. Even if they are.

    And simper isn’t a noun 👿

  46. izen says:

    “… You know that favourite computer program that Izen is always on about? Must be good because the Yankee Air Force uses it? I think it’s called MODTRAN.
    Well, it seems it is only useful if you know how to operate it. Otherwise, it’s GIBSO. Garbage in, BS out”

    There is a little thing call the lapse rate. This means that it gets colder the higher you go and most of the column of air above our heads is below freezing and the humidity is zero. Inputing a humidity of 90% is certainly garbage, based on ignorance of the real world values.
    Modtrans does include measured values of humidity for various senarios, the blogger you link to must have disabled those to input such ridiculous unphysical values.

  47. Amanda says:

    Censoration has been out of control there, Oz, at least since the advent of Disqus. But there’s always a hit-and-miss quality to it. Sometimes comments that clearly transgress the civil-discourse rules (a lot more than merely calling someone an idiot) have stayed up for hours and days (for ever?). Despite repeated flagging. Some flags are worth more than others, apparently. 🙂

  48. izen says:

    @-Scientific arguments I don’t agree with are merely tribal affiliation flags.
    … For someone seeking to challenge his own Morton’s Demon, that’s quite an odd assertion – Oz

    It is not my agreement that is at issue. You may prefer prevailing wisdom to mainstream science. How about the science that gets incorporated into university textbooks. Not the cutting edge uncertain stuff, the science that is well enough established that it gets taught to undergrads.

    There are various fields of science that get rejected by tribes. The most obvious is evolution, the creationist/ID crowd are obviously a self-identified group. Those who reject western medicine and favour homeopathy or are anti-vax or anti-fluoride maybe a less homogeneous and defined group. Then there are the aether-believers who reject the breakdown of simultaneity in general relativity.. I’m sure we could come up with other examples. In such cases the rejection of the settled science, established core knowledge, prevailing wisdom or mainstream consensus is not a real scientific dispute.
    There is an ideological or belief system behind the contrived controversy.

    All right. A good (and relevant) example would be the radiative forcing of carbon dioxide concentration. It is established and uncontested science, dating back over a century, that—in vitro—a doubling of CO2 concentration leads to a 1.1K rise in ambient temperature in the absence of feedback. No scientific sceptic I am aware of disputes this. What is at issue is atmospheric CO2 sensitivity, influenced as it is by a myriad of physical forcings or feedbacks, both positive and negative, and which are still largely not fully understood. Even the IPCC now freely admits this, with values from 4 (the worst-case alarmist scenario) down to 0.5 (that is, a net dampening effect) present in the published literature. Yet I am continually told by warmists that we are flying in the face of the established science of Svante Arrhenius (one of the founders of the European Eugenics movement BTW), and no amount of patient explaining can force its way past their ears, where their own Morton’s Demon dances merrily. They know what they know what they know – Oz

  49. Amanda says:

    Izen: With respect, no kidding. Some people believe in conspiracy theories just because they mistrust government or the world or their in-laws, and they know they know nothing but can’t admit it — so that claiming belief in a conspiracy is a compensation, a pretend form of ‘knowledge’. In the case of the theories about JFK, as is brilliantly shown by James Piereson (, the conspiracy is a clear case of deflecting blame onto the hated innocent political opponents, a) because it would help your side if the public believed your story (alas, they did); and b) because you yourself can’t face the truth. In the case of Oswald: that a Communist did it, for purely fanatical Communist reasons. The City of Dallas had nothing to do with it, nor did any conservatives generally.

    Reminds me a lot of AGW and the alarmist approach to the ‘controversy’. It’s another case of making the world pay for their delusions, blame-gaming and wishful thinking.

  50. Kitler says:

    Ozboy I’m surprised you got away with the word “Dick”, any mention of imagined body parts and the Mods at the DT have to have a lie down after three cold showers. Bl**dy puritan lefty muppets.
    The censorship has gotten worse and I’m convinced there has been a lefty coup at the DT

  51. Kitler says:

    Or the DT has been taken over by the coalition in the UK which is worse than a lefty takeover, it’s positively Mao’ist.

  52. meltemian says:

    You’ve probably already spotted this?
    It cheered my morning up no end.

  53. izen says:

    Some people believe in conspiracy theories … In the case of the theories about JFK, … the conspiracy is a clear case of deflecting blame onto the hated innocent political opponents, … In the case of Oswald: that a Communist did it, for purely fanatical Communist reasons.

    There, fixed it for you!

    @-“Reminds me a lot of AGW and the alarmist approach to the ‘controversy’. It’s another case of making the world pay for their delusions, blame-gaming and wishful thinking.”

    Just as happened with lead, asbestos, smog, acid rain, DDT, CFCs…..?

    I gather the Telegraph has a new editor or CEO or something, who is supposed to expand its online presence. Perhaps the increased disqus heat is an attempt to gain posts and eyeballs… All the better to sell advertising which of course is the real purpose of the business.

    You wisely quit the Tele a long time ago. In that regard, you’re emerging as a seer – Oz

  54. Amanda says:

    The facts are undeniable, Izen. Only a Leftist would deny them, not wishing to condemn his own and not wanting to ‘waste’ a tragedy.

  55. Amanda says:

    The ‘heat’ is just stupid, though. I don’t know how that can help to sell anything. And the trend in the media is not to generalize but to find your real market. ‘General media’ belongs to the 1950s.

  56. Amanda says:

    Kitler: As you know, despite my recent return to the Telegraph, for a long time I’ve preferred the Spectator. Partly it’s because I like the variety there. Also they now have Disqus so you can have real exchanges (in the past each blog moved like treacle). But the other reason is that, apart from stupid trip words (such as ‘ass’), you can generally say what you like. Even when they auto-moderate, you can edit your post with asterisks or whatever to get it through (they show you the post, they don’t ‘disappear’ it).

  57. izen says:

    @- Amanda
    If you are counting Lee Harvey Oswald as a communist I am counting Timothy McVeigh as a Republican/Libertarian.

    And Al Gore as a warmish scientist – Oz 😆

  58. Amanda says:

    Count him as a nutcase, Izen.

    Oswald was a gold-plated, card-carrying, to-the-death-even-if-Castro-didn’t-want-him Communist. You, the devil, and the Warren Commission cannot get out of that!

  59. Amanda says:

    Oz: Is Pachauri’s romance fiction any good? Should someone read it, and is there a reason why? Psychology? I’m all for people having rounded lives but… what was/is he thinking????

    Pachauri porn? Can’t say it’s on my to-do reading list. I suspect the plot will make plenty of early promise to heat up, but fail miserably – Oz

  60. karabar says:

    Donna Laframboise did some research into Pachauri’s soft porn.

    Ah yes, so I see. Hilarious! Oz

  61. Amanda says:

    Unfortunately, the scathing Walter Russell Mead review is no longer available. But Ms Laframboise makes it clear that in referring to Pachauri’s ‘romantic’ fiction I was being too generous and… far from scientific.

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