My team didn’t win, therefore democracy is broken – Part 1

A common view expressed by the arrogant, opinionated elite is that when things don’t go their way, and they know that their opinion is the correct one, this indicates that our democratic system is in crisis and needs to be fixed. This post is the first in a series on academics who have tried to employ this pathetic argument.

Mark Maslin and Al Gore: Fixing climate change to combat democracy

 

As part of the propaganda campaign to promote Al Gore’s new film, climate scientist Mark Maslin interviewed him, as reported at the Independent and at the Conversation. Maslin began the interview sycophantically with

“I’m a climate scientist, and I have to say that, the importance of having – I love your phrase in your film, a recovering politician, of your stature, being able to communicate and actually push the agenda for the climate crisis has been very important.”

For the purpose of this post, the most relevant part of the interview is this bit (note that Maslin’s words were not accurately transcribed by the Conversation).

“I was struck in the middle of your film, there was a profound statement you made, which really resonated with me, where you said ‘To fix the climate crisis we need to fix democracy’, and I went Yes! And then unfortunately the film moved on to something else and I thought No! So can I take this opportunity to say, how do you think we can fix our democracies now in the 21st century?”

These words – particularly those omitted by the Conversation’s transcription – illustrate Maslin’s political motivation; ironically he accuses others of political motivation later on in the comments.

Gore’s reply is

“Well, big money has hacked our democracy even before Putin did. And it accompanied the transition from the printing press to television, when all of a sudden candidates – especially in the US – were made to feel they have to spend all their time begging rich people and special interests for money so they can buy more TV ads and their opponents. And that’s really given an enormous unhealthy and toxic degree of influence to lobbyists and special interests.”

The article whines about Trump at the beginning and at the end, yet it takes less than a minute to check that Clinton raised almost twice as much campaign funding as Trump did.

Later in the article Maslin repeats his support for Gore’s ‘profound’ statement that democracy is broken and must be fixed:

“Gore makes the profound statement that Western democracies are broken and in order to solve the climate crisis they need to fix democracy. In the interview, Gore suggested that big business has bought many politicians and this must be unpicked so that they are free to make informed unbiased decisions.”

But what is he getting at here? Is he just saying that campaign spending should be regulated in the US as it is in the UK? That’s hardly profound. And is Gore himself not the perfect example of the wealthy, special-interest lobbyist trying to subvert democracy? So too is Maslin, the recipient of a great deal of public money, as listed in his disclosure statement. The two of them are using their power and influence to do exactly what the article is complaining about (another thing that Maslin says, that the Conversation chooses not to include in its transcription, is “how do we actually bring them in to actually our side of the debate”).

Do read through some of the comments below the article, if you haven’t already. Maslin’s feeble arguments, in many different areas, not just the ‘broken democracy’ meme, are taken to pieces by numerous critics. In the first comment, Anthony Nordberg makes the point above, about Gore himself being a rich lobbyist. Robin Guenier plays his ‘usual drum’, asking: “How can you decide something democratically when you’re dealing with profoundly undemocratic countries such as China?” and continues on this theme with several detailed comments. Various people call out Gore for his own high-carbon lifestyle. Jaime Jessop points out that Big Green is hijacking democracy. The mysterious Ming Fanjiang criticises Maslin for a ‘logically incoherent’ argument on the nature of science. I draw attention to Gore’s false claim of ‘far more common and destructive’ extreme events, and Maslin’s failure to challenge him on this.

Maslin attempts to respond to some of these criticisms, but what interests me is that he seems unable to provide a logical argument. It is as if he has never had his views challenged before, and has never had to defend them in debate. This seems to me to be a worrying indictment of the ivory tower. In response to Robin, he makes 4 vague points, none of which are relevant, leading to a string of seven further comments from Robin. He accuses Anthony Nordberg of failing to understand science, while making the logic error pointed out by Ming.  Then he makes the vague accusation of “run of the mill climate change denier fodder”.  Absurdly, his response to my quoting of the IPCC on the lack of trends in extreme events is “Only you would have the gall”. Finally, when Ming raises a philosophical question about the precautionary principle, his response is “please feel free to send me your paper or give me the url of the journal it has been published in”.

In a previous article at the Conversation, Maslin said that he would not debate the science with “climate deniers”. Having seen the results when he does try to debate the science, I can now understand why he said this.

 

33 thoughts on “My team didn’t win, therefore democracy is broken – Part 1

  1. It is as if he has never had his views challenged before, and has never had to defend them in debate.

    Surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.

    I’ve often had the impression that academics like these are useful dogsbodies to advance other people’s agendas – certainly from what I’ve read of Dr Mann’s early career…

    Like

  2. “It is as if he has never had his views challenged before, and has never had to defend them in debate. This seems to me to be a worrying indictment of the ivory tower.”

    Indeed, Paul and it stretches across disciplines and topics as far as I can see now, at least within my own personal horizons and experience.

    The ‘gender pay gap’ is another such an example, based on such utterly specious reasoning, yet promulgation of the idea in academic circles is treated as some kind of fait accompli. Even when I’ve forced the argument in person with regards to the meaninglessness of the average, the importance of life choices and opportunity costs and so on, even when they concede the argument, they still assert a gender pay gap exists.

    Add it to my endless piles of reasons to give up on the academy. Young people don’t get “educated”, they get indoctrinated and trained OUT of even the most rudimentary reasoning skills.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I honestly can’t decide which is worse:

    1. “there’s no momentum for Doing Something, so democracy has failed”
    2. “there’s no evidence for Doing Something, so science has failed”
    3. ISIS

    All I know for sure is, it isn’t number 3.

    To quote the Presidential candidate in the Simmo:

    “My fellow Americans, the politics of failure have failed. It’s time to make them work again!”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brad, Manniac, Dwestonfront
    Is the problem Academia, or the people in it trying to get out, either to educate the rest of us, or to further their careers?

    Maslin is an interesting case. He’s done a couple of Time Team TV programmes (a popular British archaeology series.) He’s a palaeontologist, was granted a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award for the study of early human evolution in East Africa in 2011, and professor of climatology in the department of geography at UCL, author of six popular books including OUP’s “Climate Change: A Very Short Introduction” and “Climate: A Very Short Introduction” (soon to be published together as “Cliweeintro”.)

    He has published 155 papers as co-author of the seminal Lancet report ‘Managing the health effects of climate change’ and the Lancet review paper on the health links between Population, Development and Climate Change.

    His areas of scientific expertise include causes of past and future global climate change and its effects on the global carbon cycle, biodiversity, rainforests and human evolution. He also works on monitoring land carbon sinks using remote sensing and ecological models and international and national climate change policies.

    And of course, he’s a founder director of a government funded private company which will help you solve all the problems he’d like you to be worrying about.

    And if all this wasn’t enough, there’s this problem of democracy…

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Paul. I fail to see the logic behind your title. It should be “Democracy’s broken and, as a consequence my side didn’t win”. The shear arrogance of those profiting mightily from the climate scam, especially those berating democracy (Gore and Maslin) is difficult to comprehend. That a palaeontologist, specializing in human evolution, which was so influenced by natural lclimate change, should hold the climate beliefs he has is equally difficult to understand.

    Like

  6. Two other climate scientists who have problems with democracy:

    Delingpole has a great interview with the 98 yearold James Lovelock in the Spectator
    https://www.spectator.co.uk/2017/09/james-lovelock-on-voting-brexit-wicked-renewables-and-why-he-changed-his-mind-on-climate-change/
    in which he reminds us of Lovelock’s 2010 interview in the Guardian in which he suggested that democracy might have to be put “on hold”. The whole 2010 article can be read at
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2010/mar/29/james-lovelock
    Jack Savage in the comments caught thye flavour of the interview perfectly:

    Blimey! The old fellow has well and truly cooked his goose here. Does he not realise there is no longer a place for anyone in the AGW debate who says “maybe yes ,maybe no”? 
He will be off RealClimate’s Christmas card list, that is for sure.
    I have to say, but there are some sceptics that I fully respect. Nigel Lawson is one.
    He said, puffing on his pipe and with a saucy twinkle in his eye. Leo [Hickman, Guardian journalist]chokes on his Rich Tea biscuit….
    They will throw you under the bus for that one comment alone. He will be getting death threats! Oh,it is all too too delicious.
    I am opening a bottle of wine on the strength of this. Cheers!

    Two days later Oxford climate change researcher Chris Huntingford replied at
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/apr/01/james-lovelock-climate-change-pessimism
    saying that Lovelock’s pessimism was “unhelpful” and that

    Lovelock’s comment that possibly the only solution is to temporarily suspend democracy needs considerable discussion with social scientists and historians. I cannot be alone in feeling nervous about such a view. Surely, some of the most unstable periods in history have been when governments have become dictatorial.

    The idea of a climate scientist getting nervous and feeling the need to consult experts before overthrowing the state got me quite worked up in comments.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. At length, I’m forming the sense that “unhelpful” and “flawed” are the “absolute sh*te” and “turd-b*rglingly cunt-headed” of collegial disagreement.

    Can any academics weigh in here? Am I warm?

    Like

  8. Alan,

    I fail to see the logic behind your title. It should be “Democracy’s broken and, as a consequence my side didn’t win”.

    Isn’t this a potato/tomato situation?

    There’s a fire, and as a consequence there’s smoke.

    There’s smoke, and as a corollary there must be a fire.

    Ergo, schmergo, schmerefore, schmerefor art thou Romeo, let’s call the whole thing off.

    Like

  9. Brad. Au contraire “My team didn’t win, therefore democracy’s broken” suggests that as a result of your team losing, you now recognize that democracy is broken. Whereas I assume that Paul actually meant that “Democracy’s broken and, as a consequence my side didn’t win” which implies that democracy has always been broken and my team never had a chance. It all depends on what linkage you wish to emphasize. Unfortunatly Paul never responded.

    Using your attempted analogy with smoke and fire, what are you being threatened with – smoke inhalation or flames?

    Like

  10. BRAD

    I’m forming the sense that “unhelpful” and “flawed” are the “absolute sh*te” and “turd-b*rglingly [etc.]…

    I’m familiar with the Old Norse term “shaighte” meaning something that ‘s not quite right, a bit wiffy, in other words, but “b*rgling” had me floored. It’s not a term used in this hemisphere I think, where the stars are strange and the cyclones anticlockwise.

    I had a similar satorial rush of blood to the brain when I started reading RealClimate many years ago and came across the terms “robust” and “forcing.” I’m afraid I have no talent for statistics, and can’t tell a decentered mean in a principle component analysis from my elbow, but I do know a word being used out of context when I see it. “Robust” to me summons up the image of a ruddy-cheeked baby, and “forcing” is what it does when it ‘s trying to dump one. So the presence of these two unlikely terms at the same scientific website conjured up the image of bald ruddy-faced personages with their nappies full of shit. And I became a sceptic.

    I hope that’s helpful. And that my reasoning is flawless.

    Like

  11. Alan,

    We’re lucky enough, in this crazy existence, if we can say on our deathbeds that we’ve acquired some meagre insight into our own minds, much less anyone else’s. I could never, and would never, presume speak for another person’s thought processes.

    That said, Paul’s reasoning was as follows.

    The title is parodic—to state the obvious—and therefore pseudo-mimetic.

    It’s an impression of a person who thinks, “My team didn’t win, so democracy must be broken.*”

    But “therefore” works better than “so” because it imitates the language of academic argumentation.

    Given that the content of the conclusion is so deliriously hatstand, dressing it all up in the superficial trappings of a formal deduction makes it funnier.

    Because comedy works by contrast. (Does it? I have no idea. I just made that up.)

    Now, let that be the first and last time I ever anatomize a joke, Alan. Future requests for gag deconstruction will be forwarded to the CliScep Senate Disciplinary Committee.

    To recite the words I drank in at my nanny’s knee:

    A piece of comedy, like a piece of poetry, is like a piece of snow.

    Look but don’t touch, Master Bradley, lest it deliquesce at your oafish caress.
    ________________________________________

    *This entails that the brokenness of democracy was a necessary—if not sufficient—condition for my team’s loss.

    If democracy were intact, my team would have won.

    Yet, as you point out, “it depends which linkage we wish to emphasize.”

    And this particular linkage isn’t funny, because it puts the punchline ahead of the setup—which is why Paul chose to structure the title the other way round (contrapositively).

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Geoff,

    This is a family blog. Some self-bowdlerization wouldn’t kill you, would it? A single judiciously-placed asterisk saves nine obelisks.

    Do you ever go to McDonald’s?

    The sandwich you people know as a Royale avec fromage, we call by its true name: Quarter Pounder with cheese.

    What do you call the guy in the prison uniform? We call him Hamburglar.

    Think Hamburglar, only with faeces instead of ham.

    I guess you don’t get the same late-night infomercials as us, or you’d be familiar with a revolutionary all-in-one mop-and-broom system called the TurdBurgl*r 3000. I pity the French housewife, having to get down on all fours like a common sexy maid every time there’s a steaming cr*ck of shit to clean up.

    Like

  13. Gee Brad you seem to have changed your mind between 7.53pm and 12.00 am. Your latest “explanation” suggests Paul traded meaning for humour. How likely is that? I wouldn’t presume to say.
    Your first paragraph in your 12.00 missive was ultra wise and should be adopted by all.

    Like

  14. Alan, I rarely change my mind about anything, because the facts haven’t changed in ages. (I think there was a fact that changed in 2010, and one before that in 1999 or so.)

    You objected to the logic of Paul’s title, but my response was that the title would have been equally “true” (within the febrile mental framework of the imitee) either way.

    But it would not have been equally funny either way, as Paul understood. This was my point at 12.00.

    Not that I actually have any idea—nobody does—what goes on in the privacy of Paul’s skull, or the skull of any text’s author for that matter.

    But still, that’s definitely what he was thinking.

    Like

  15. Au contraire again Brad, “My team didn’t win, therefore democracy’s broken” is probably illogical, whereas “Democracy’s broken and, as a consequence my side didn’t win” is potentially logical. So the two titles are unlikely to be “equally” true. I continue this disagreement so that you may accrue a further multitude of likes (as is your just desserts).

    Like

  16. Alan, sorry, I didn’t reply to your first comment because I didnt really understand it. Thanks for clarifying in the second one.
    The title does mean what you say there: the thinking of these people does seem to be – as a result of my team losing, I now see that democracy is broken.

    Surely if Clinton, Remain and Labour had won, academics would not be whining about democracy being in crisis?

    Like

  17. Paul, thank you for your response. We are, as you might suppose, in broad agreement. The title you employ is probably illogical reflecting he illogicality of those spewing such bilge. If indeed it is the statement of someone you think illogical it could have been placed in quotation marks. As it is it is confusing (until you read your first sentence) but even Brad thinks our two versions are identical, and muttered something about smoke and fire.

    Another unwarranted smear on academics I see. One could get paranoid!

    Like

  18. Alan,

    your comment is wrong.

    The idiom is ‘just deserts.’

    You stand discredited before the Lidless Eye of the Internet!

    However, I shall extend the presumption of good faith and suppose that your orthographic malfunction was agenda- and malice-free. (We both know this is a polite fiction, but social lubricant is made of such petrochemicals.)

    Being supererogatorily magnanimous in triumph, I shall even respond to the rest of your comment, waiving my right to wave it away under ClimateBall’s Gell-Mann Rule.

    Let me put it to you that you might be coming down with a case of functional fixity, Alan. Have you forgotten the dual function of “therefore”—a word that can be used as a subjective, epistemic operator or an objective, causal operator—by any chance?

    Contemplate, compare and contrast these glosses on the Tree of Woe:

    1. Democracy is broken, and that’s how [or why] the other team beat us.

    2. The other team beat us, and that’s how [or why] I know that democracy is broken.

    Sentence 1 is a case for the objective, causal, mechanistic “therefore.”

    Sentence 2 is a case for the subjective, epistemic “therefore.”

    In the latter case, “therefore” would render the clause I know that redundant. It could simply be taken as read, and replaced by its own subordinate (“democracy is broken”).

    The two potatoes below are analogous to the above tomatoes:

    1. There is a fire, and that’s why there is smoke.

    (There is a fire; therefore there is smoke.)

    2. There is smoke, and that’s why I know that there is a fire.

    (There is smoke; therefore there is a fire.)

    Kreuzige ihn!

    Like

  19. Yes, the title is strictly ungrammatical, because it attempts to pass the adverb therefore off as a conjunction.

    It’s still grotesquely flattering to Maslin’s piss-poor English, however.

    Like

  20. Brad. Lips pursed, tongue slightly protruding, breath expelled as a continuous stream and at a rate sufficient to cause a vibrato.
    You clearly are a believer of the “no smoke without fire” doctrine and a unmitigated smoulder denier.

    Like

  21. To be offered lessons in the Queen’s English by a speaker of Strine is almost unbearable.

    Like

  22. Alan

    “Brad. Lips pursed, tongue slightly protruding, breath expelled as a continuous stream and at a rate sufficient to cause a vibrato.”

    What?

    ” You clearly are a believer of the “no smoke without fire” doctrine and a unmitigated smoulder denier.”

    Oh, make like Dana Scully and fuck smoulder.

    That was a pun.

    Do you or do you not take my point* about the biguity of “therefore”?

    Assuming, arguendo, that fire is necessary and sufficient for smoke, would you agree with my stance that the following sentences are logically equivalent, as long as you adjust your interpretation of the word “therefore” according to the principle of charity?

    1. There’s smoke; therefore there’s a fire.

    2. There’s a fire; therefore there’s smoke.

    (*And if not, is it because you already got it, and I misunderstood your objection, causing me to sermonize on Ergo-nomics and Ergo-logics 101 praeter necessitatem?)

    Like

  23. Brad. Neither of your sentences need be correct. Think smokeless fuels and smouldering paper. Also the Big Smoky Mountains’ haze is not due to fire.

    The raspberry was meant for your “biguity of “therefore””

    Like

  24. Alan,

    I disagree with your Logic claim.

    AFAICT the sentences are necessarily correct, ex hypothesi (remember: I said we were assuming fire is necessary and sufficient to cause smoke), on the condition that either smoke or fire is “there.”

    But if there is no smoke or fire, then the left-hand clauses are false and both sentences are necessarily false.

    This is not about the physical process of combustion anyway. Yes yes smokeless fuels very clever.

    I’m just asking if you get what I mean about the “biguity of therefore.” Because I fear if you don’t, nobody would. I want to know whether I’m conveying what seems like a simple idea clearly.

    I also demand to know how a raspberry can refer forwards in time.

    Did you anticipate my use of the phrase “biguity of therefore.”?

    If so, you could probably earn some walking-around money as a psychic book reviewer (à la Nuccitelli, Gleick, Keyes) for the NYT Literary Supplement.

    Like

  25. Brad,
    Raspberries can change focus and are highly adaptable. Upon my reading “biguity of therefore” it morphed in milliseconds.

    As to whether I understand the “phrase”(?), of course I don’t, and nor do I wish to. At my age I have other things to worry about and strineisms fall very low indeed. Remaining brain cells are jealously hoarded.

    Spend a few hours on the Big Smoky Mountains exploring the terminological inexactitudes of your smoke-fire heretical sentences.

    Like

  26. it’s an explicitly binary way of saying ambiguity, which, technically, is also binary (ambi means ‘both’), but has morphed in common usage, like some kind of raspberry, to imply something closer to polysemy

    biguity = disemy

    Like

  27. Here’s a SERIOUS, IMPORTANT question for all….

    What exactly does “because” mean?

    I took more philosophical logic classes at university than I care to admit. In all that time, no Professor or textbook author ever formalized (or defined, or set out the truth conditions for) clauses starting with (or linked by) the word “because.”

    The dictionary gave some unhelpful evasion like “as a result of,” last time I checked.

    What I’m asking is how, exactly, we’re supposed to judge the truth-value of a statement of the form:

    extreme weather event X occurred because humans have barfed Y cubic metres of barf into the barfosphere

    If X and Y are both true, there still remains the question: how is one supposed to know whether or not the bolded word is true?

    Like

  28. Brad. L”Because” is one of those words needing a health warning. It comes with unseen qualifiers. Unfortunately BECAUSE you can’t see the qualifiers, you may not be able to judge how much truth the word is conveying. Thus:
    Unfortunately (in my opinion) BECAUSE you can’t see them, you may not be able to judge.
    Unfortunately (you numb-scull) BECAUSE you can’t see them, you may not be able to judge.
    Unfortunately (just) because YOU can’t see them, you may not be able to judge.
    [Spoken variants have even more meanings and subtleties].

    “What I’m asking is how, exactly, we’re supposed to judge the truth-value of a statement?” The simple answer is “you’re not”

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Alan,

    I’m reminded of the famous photocopier experiment, in which they found you could persuade people to let you cut in line at the photocopier just by saying “could I please jump ahead of you because X,” and it made no difference whether X =

    “I’m late for class,”
    “I need to print funeral programs for my dead parents,”
    or
    “I want to jump ahead of you.”

    Apparently the only word that mattered was “because.”

    Like

  30. Pingback: My team didn’t win, therefore democracy is broken – Part 2 | Climate Scepticism

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