The Stoat's burrow

Well, it has finally happened – I’ve decided to make a place to keep all the comments I don’t publish because they are noise, stupid, or whatever. And I’ll take the opportunity to add here all the ones I feel obliged to partially censor, for whatever reason (other than simple gross personal attacks, which will still just get redacted out).

Commercial linkspam will still be just junked; I’ve included an example of that for your entertainment.

To add: you’re welcome to comment here, if you like. Obviously, comments that are simply stupid will just stay in the comment thread and won’t be moved :-).

Note: some people are going to get a slightly hard time, in that they will want to talk about stuff that I’ll regard as just trolling or flamebait. Well, tough.

Warning: some of the comments below here are Rude. Read on at your peril.

Continue reading “The Stoat's burrow”

Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge?


“Learn more” is SOPA and PIPA are just indicators of a much broader problem. We are already seeing big media calling us names. In many jurisdictions around the world, we’re seeing the development of legislation that prioritizes overly-broad copyright enforcement laws, laws promoted by power players, over the preservation of individual civil liberties. We want the Internet to be free and open, everywhere, for everyone.


* Google
* Beeb
* Wikipedia blackout forces students to copy from printed ‘hardcopy websites’

Tweaking the wackos, part II

Tweaking the wackos refers. “James Pagett” wrote The Wonderful World of Wikipedia at WUWT complaining about the [[Soon-Baliunas controversy]] page. But despite the author knowing enough about wikipedia to have gotten himself topic-banned by arbcomm (which the post, oddly, doesn’t have room to mention) the article does a very poor job of explaining how wikipedia works. Which isn’t too surprising, as no-one outside does.

But because the post is at WUWT, and is about climate, and wikipedia, it doesn’t take look for the wackos to start ranting about me, even though I don’t feature in this story at all. Since I’d been invoked, I felt obliged to turn up (there, and in following comments). However, there is a disappointing lack of desire to learn about wikipedia, or indeed to make any attempt to back up assertions.

As far as can be told, the post didn’t lead to an invasion of septics; about the biggest consequence (apart from the correction at S+B) was someone insisting that “climate” must go in as an example of chaos [1]. But the impression, from the comment thread, is that the Watties don’t understand wiki, and they fear it, and they aren’t even going to try touching it. Which is by and large all for the good.


* Comparison of Wikipedia and other encyclopedias for accuracy, breadth, and depth in historical articles (no, I haven’t read it, the thing is behind a paywall, how ironic.

Top Science Scandals of 2011?

There is a post of Top Science Scandals of 2011 at The Scientist (h/t: FE). It all seemed a bit life-sciency, but then that’s what the mag is about, so fair enough.

Not much climate there, but number 5 is Wegman’s shameless plagiarism (not forgetting, of course, that Wegman’s real problem is that his work and analysis is wrong, not that it was copied).

But the amusing bit is the long long comments thread, which immeadiately derails into the usual nonsense that happens when you let the deniers in. Ah well, so it goes. Who needs paid advocates when you have useful idiots?

On the Limits of Expert Credibility: Theory and an Application to Climate Change?

On the Limits of Expert Credibility:Theory and an Application to Climate Change (h/t FE) is an interesting paper. I’m not sure I believe it, but it is interesting (particularly so after reading Krugman on why people don’t understand [[Comparative advantage]]; h/t Timmy).

The “Conclusions” section is a bit odd. Having spent the paper trying to demonstrate that interested parties will try to buy off the messenger, i.e. the media, they then try to explain the media’s non-accuracy by Morris’s (2001) model of political correctness instead of their own results. I don’t understand that.

The abstract is better, and explains their model and conclusions:

A neutral expert sends an informative message to an uninformed voter. An interested party can pay a cost to replace the expert’s message with its own. The more informed is the expert, the greater is the interested party’s incentive to replace the expert’s message. In equilibrium, making the expert more informed has no effect on the voter’s beliefs and strictly reduces social welfare. The model thus implies an endogenous limit on how credible a purported expert can be. I apply the model to public skepticism about climate change.

This is of course a model; but it helps explore something I’ve thought about a bit, which is “how to get the general public to understand GW”. The problem, of course, is that whilst *I* know who are experts and whom to trust and distrust, Joe Public doesn’t really know, and cannot evaluate the science for himself. So they try to model this: the expert can send a message, but interested parties can pay to replace that message (which simplifies the real world, where the voter gets both messages, but hey this is but a model).

One of the assumptions of the model is only stated in the conclusions, and then only implicitly:

I show that because voters cannot separate true experts from credentialed advocates, public opinion cannot, in general, converge to expert opinion in the presence of motivated, interested parties.

The assumption that voters can’t separate is necessary, but may not be true. In fact I think it is quite likely false: people make a semi-conscious decision to believe dubious sources because it suits them (again, shades of Krugman). Further, the model has become so idealised that I can’t tell how large the costs to the interested parties are, and what they might be compared to in the real world. Also, as they show (section 3.2, case ii) if the costs are “too high” then the interested parties don’t bother pay and the voter gets the expert opinion.

making the expert more informed has no effect on the voter’s beliefs and strictly reduces social welfare is I think dubious. What they mean is, that under certain of their assumptions, voter opinion isn’t affected by increasing expert credibility. But the “interested parties” need to spend more buying off the message. They interpret this as a loss of social welfare. But actually it represents a transfer of wealth from a “Bad” party (one trying to buy off the true message must be Bad, I think we can agree) to a neutral one (those apparently-credentialled experts. We might call them Bad too, because they are lying-for-hire, but assuming they don’t believe it and are only doing what they are paid for (otherwise, they wouldn’t need to be paid, no?) they are less-Bad than those who are paying for the lying. So contrary to the papers stated result, I think that increasing expert credibility increases social welfare (again, shades of Krugman; do read him, please).