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101  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Point Pistol at Foot and Press Trigger on: August 31, 2015, 01:57:23 PM
DC is again facing a rising murder rate, blamed on guns, which for some odd reason isn't replicated on the west side of the Potomac, Virginia, which permits concealed carry and whose citizens own a lot of firearms. Rather than deduce that sundry social pathologies are responsible for this turn of affairs--having a large, poor, unarmed class of citizens being primary among them--DC mavens have again decided that the guns that aren't jumping out of holsters and indiscriminately killing people a few miles to the west are responsible for what is occurring in the District.

Which makes this piece all the more ironic. This is not the first time DC has legislated itself into a ballistic corner:
102  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Disgraced Demagogue on: August 28, 2015, 06:16:39 PM
Another amusing review of Steyn's book about Mann:
103  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Uncooking the Books on: August 27, 2015, 08:14:04 PM
Scientists reexamine tree ring proxy data sans "adjustments" and find the resulting measurements do not support the doomstruck anthropomorphic global warming narrative:
104  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Thinking About When the Bad Guys have UAVs on: August 27, 2015, 07:43:19 PM
Some interesting forward thinking:
105  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Quote Worth Noting on: August 27, 2015, 06:57:40 PM
It's a bad idea, even posthumously, to give suicide murderers exactly what they want:

A suicide-homicide is an act of ultimate rage. People who do these kinds of things feel like they’re the victims. Their acts of suicide and homicide are a way to make a point. Although they don’t live to see the results, they would probably like what they see: Millions of people not only being momentarily horrified, but agreeing with the murderer’s classification of him- or herself as a victim. Whatever the President and the Pope have to say about this, rest assured that the killer — if he were alive to hear — would be happily applauding.

Michael Hurd.

106  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Wake Up and Smell the CACA on: August 26, 2015, 09:01:19 PM
The Church of Anthropomorphic Climate Apocalypse gets outed once again:
107  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Flip Side on: August 24, 2015, 08:48:23 PM
A universal flu vacine?
108  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Unsettled Magnitude of Settled Science on: August 22, 2015, 09:03:46 PM
Second post.

How folks can speak with authority while basic parameters have yet to be established continues to mystify me.
109  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / 1.5 Trillion Exerts no Influence, Eh? on: August 22, 2015, 08:39:02 PM
Where, pray tell, did those who claim the tangential peanuts some "deniers" are said to have been paid for their skepticism gone? And how would they respond to this:
110  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Quantitative Skills and Income on: August 22, 2015, 08:30:47 PM
A dissection of quantitative skills as they apply to differences in gender pay equity.
111  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / What If? on: August 22, 2015, 08:19:52 PM
An interesting thought piece:
112  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Heads I Win, Tails you Lose on: August 20, 2015, 08:58:38 PM
There's been a fair amount of noise made in the DC metro area about the number of 90 degree plus days, with of course the term "record" being bandied about. It is indeed a record, alas for warmists it's a failure to record accurate data:
113  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Put Your Money Where Your Loud Mouth Is on: August 19, 2015, 10:48:58 AM
114  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / More on Mann on: August 15, 2015, 09:04:20 PM
JoNova, an Australian science blogger, has a post about Mark Steyn's new book up on her site, which includes this great quote that inspired Steyn:

The Hockey Stick is obviously wrong. Everybody knows it is obviously wrong. Climategate 2011 shows that even many of its most outspoken public defenders know it is obviously wrong. And yet it goes on being published and defended year after year.

Do I expect you to publicly denounce the Hockey Stick as obvious drivel? Well yes, that’s what you should do. It is the job of scientists of integrity to expose pathological science… It is a litmus test of whether climate scientists are prepared to stand up against the bullying defenders of pathology in their midst.

More here:
115  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Pedagogy of an Amok Nanny State on: August 14, 2015, 11:39:38 PM
Political correctness cubed:
116  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Islamofascist Theology of Rape on: August 14, 2015, 10:21:56 PM
I recall conversations where using the term "Islamofascism" was considered some sort of insulting sloganeering. And then I read a piece like this and wonder how folks who can get so worked up over a coined term that contains more than it's share of congruence to reality can't find a commensurate measure of outrage in face of information such as that found here:
117  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Donald Uber Alles on: August 12, 2015, 08:17:06 PM
Something tells me a graphic designer just got fired:
118  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Cops & Cultural Divides on: August 12, 2015, 11:04:34 AM
An accurate assessment in my estimation:
119  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Mannhandled Mannipulations on: August 12, 2015, 09:21:12 AM
While contending with sundry sky-is-falling types over the years it's been interesting to chart the trajectory of their reliance on faux Nobel Prize winner Michael Mann, who has gone from off cited source to embarrassment that most warmists now avoid mention of.

Some may recall that Mann embarked on a suit against National Review and columnist Mark Steyn. Amusingly, not one amicus brief was filed on Mann's behalf, while Steyn has responded by publishing a book where scientists state their concerns about Mann's "science," a review of which is linked below.
120  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Declaring Digital Death on: August 11, 2015, 12:07:43 PM
Something new to keep your eyes open for:
121  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / New Lott Paper on: August 10, 2015, 01:22:35 PM
John Lott's latest contribution:
122  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Occam's Razor Leaves a Mark on: August 07, 2015, 01:55:05 PM
Simpler is often better:
123  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Econ Humor on: August 07, 2015, 12:43:58 PM
Krugman and Bernanke are walking down the street and see a pile of dog shit. Bernanke says “I’ll give you twenty thousand dollars to eat that pile of shit.” Krugman does it, gets paid, and they keep walking. After a while they see another pile of shit on the road. Seeing an opportunity for revenge, Krugman says “Tell you what, I’ll give YOU twenty grand to eat that pile of shit.” Bernanke does it, Krugman gives him back the money, and they keep walking. After a while Bernanke says “I’m feeling pretty sick. We both ate shit and neither of us is any richer.” Krugman answers “You’re missing the bigger picture. We’ve increased GDP by forty thousand dollars and created two jobs.”
124  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Robert Conquest, RIP on: August 05, 2015, 10:11:04 PM
His books on Stalin, Communism, and Soviet terror were a tremendous influence:
125  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Tampered Rulers and their Measurements on: August 03, 2015, 11:14:54 AM
Averaging tainted averages against other tainted averages:
126  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Keystone Komputer Kops on: August 01, 2015, 07:46:53 PM
And these are the same fools protecting protecting all the other information they gather about Americans, et al.
127  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Doing Good Better on: July 27, 2015, 06:41:46 PM
Lame idealism annoys me to no end, particularly as anyone who speaks out against useless gestures or feel good folly is usually cast as a big meanie. As such this piece that discusses empiric means of assessing altruism strikes me as an interesting piece:
128  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Progress, of Sorts on: July 27, 2015, 03:05:23 PM
Well at least some of the sky is falling types are being honest about their intentions:

One top Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change official bluntly says climate policy is no longer about environmental protection; instead, the next climate summit will negotiate “the distribution of the world’s resources.” UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres goes even further. UN bureaucrats, she says, are undertaking “probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves, which is to intentionally transform the global economic development model.” [emphasis added]
129  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Big Oil Hit Squad on: July 26, 2015, 08:10:03 PM
Over the years nefarious Big Oil funded denier efforts are often blamed as the reason AGW panic mongering has foundered where the general public is concerned, and indeed tangential relationships between some oil company organ and who paid for some researchers lunch and the like are often cited as the ad hominem reason this or that piece of research should be discounted, wholly ignoring the fact that Big Oil contributes directly to AGW research and those results are considered beyond reproach.

And when the undeniable links between AGW enchanted lawmakers citing stories of doom as reasons to increasingly encroach on American freedom (like your low flow toilet? Looking for a 100 watt lightbulb?) and those who ballyhoo the grim climate scenarios many lawmakers embrace--and provide one sided research funding for--as they ever expand the turf they legislate for putative environmental reasons are pointed out AGW adherents cry "conspiracy theory" despite the fact doomsayers and legislators clearly work hand in glove.

Well here's a little tale making the rounds about Big Oil funded hit squads engineering lighting strikes and such that take out AGW researchers. No doubt the panic mongers will fall all over themselves, uh, denying these conspiracy theories and making it clear they don't support these Big Oil libels, though I'd expect the sky is falling scenarios they keep hawking to actually occur first.
130  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Math of CO2 on: July 25, 2015, 01:32:37 PM
This will be an interesting series to track. I suspect those with a carbon fetish who bandy about a lot of math will be provided plenty of food for thought:
131  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Too Much Ice for AGW Research Ship on: July 23, 2015, 12:49:42 AM
Second post:
132  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Denier Denial on: July 23, 2015, 12:37:46 AM
Some fine "denier" jiu jitsu on display in this video linked here:
133  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Embracing Abject Failure on: July 21, 2015, 01:55:26 PM
Same tactics, different substances, outcomes remain the same. An institutionalized embrace of self-righteous folly:

It's Time We Learned from Sin Taxes' Impressive History of Failure

Reason Magazine by J.D. Tuccille 

Samuel Johnson reportedly joked that a second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience. But marriage at least has sex to recommend it. The screwing that politicians give us when they return to the same failed policies time and again are far less enjoyable. But return they do, most recently to sin taxes on cigarettes, booze and, now, junk food and sugary drinks. They promise that these taxes will both discourage disfavored behavior and stuff government coffers with proceeds mugged from ill-living sinners—mutually incompatible goals that such taxes have never fulfilled.

And, in their courting of false hope and spurning of actual experience, politicians ignore the unintended consequences that sin taxes always have delivered.

In budgets adopted last month, Connecticut, Kansas, and Nevada hiked state cigarette taxes amidst flurries of predictions of a new influx of cash nabbed from the nicotine-stained fingertips of smokers. Nutmeg State advocates predicted that a $1.50 hike in Connecticut "would yield more than $60 million annually while driving tens of thousands of state residents away from tobacco." (Connecticut ultimately boosted the take by $0.50 to $3.90 per pack.) Nevada's one dollar rise to $1.80 per pack would "prompt more than 15,400 adult smokers in Nevada to quit, all while raising more than $192 million in new revenue in the first two years," insisted Christopher W. Hansen, President of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. The Kansas City Star editorial board similarly called a cigarette tax hike ($0.50 to $1.29 per pack) "a victory for a healthier Kansas while generating a few more dollars to keep the state out of debtor's prison."

But legislators can only hope to reap cash rewards while punishing smoky pleasures by ignoring history. After Connecticut's recent sin tax victory dance, The Hartford Courant noted that cigarettes sales have dropped for years, not necessarily inspired by the tax rate. "From 2012 through the first few months of 2015, when there haven't been any tax increases, the average monthly consumption rate for the year as a whole has decreased by 7.4 percent from the prior year."

The cigarette tax take has similarly eroded, along with sales. The newspaper concluded that declining smoking rates doomed efforts to turn tobacco into a revenue bonanza. That may be true, but it's also true that cigarette taxes have become so punitive, and so disparate across jurisdictions, that the ranks of remaining smokers—dedicated to their vice and resistant to efforts to make them quit—are acquiring their smokes outside the usual channels, in defiance of efforts to empty their pockets or scrub their lungs.

It's "Prohibition by price," Michael LaFaive tells me. He's an economist with Michigan's Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which, among other things, studies the effects of skyrocketing cigarette taxes. And just as overt efforts to snatch booze from Americans spawned a dynamic and dangerous black market in smuggled liquor, his organization's research reveals that implicitly prohibitionist schemes to make tobacco unaffordable have already done the same.

In New York, where authorities boasted just weeks ago of busting a $3 million smuggling ring, 58 percent of all cigarettes sold in the state are smuggled. With state taxes at $4.35 per pack, and New York City imposing another $1.50 charge, it's a no-brainer to load trucks at Virginia's $0.30 per pack rate and illegally drive them up Interstate 95 to customers suffering the country's most onerous tax.

The recent tax hikes "are going to fuel additional smuggling," LaFaive warns.

Scott Drenkard, an economist with the Tax Foundation, which co-publishes cigarette tax studies with Mackinac agrees.

"I think it's very likely that cigarette tax increases in Kansas will contribute to new smuggling activity there, especially because bordering Missouri has the lowest cigarette excise tax in the country at $0.17 per pack," he says. Fifteen percent of Kansas's smokes are already purchased on the black market; that figure isn't going down.

Both economists expect Connecticut to see similarly increased smuggling, and Drenkard even fingers the likely source: New Hampshire, where cigarettes are taxed at a far cheaper $1.78 per pack.

LaFaive points out that the modern phenomenon of illicit "loosie" sales of single cigarettes are a direct descendant of Prohibition-era sales of single shots of whiskey outside factory gates. Even as we try to reinvent policy, we recreate old mistakes, and their unintended consequences.

Or maybe we just go back to the source and stupidly copy them over again. 

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback (R) originally wanted to hike liquor taxes too, though that plan was shot down. Connecticut doubles down on the stupid by taxing consumers without profiting state coffers—the state sets minimum prices for retailers. These schemes are in keeping with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Community Preventive Services Task Force which "recommends increasing the unit price of alcohol by raising taxes based on strong evidence of effectiveness for reducing excessive alcohol consumption and related harms."

So… how high is high enough?

The Tax Foundation helpfully reveals that excise taxes range across the country from zilch in Wyoming to $35 per gallon of liquor in Washington. That range of rates is an open invitation to fill the backs of trucks and haul loads of booze across borders, which is exactly what happens.

Mackinac's LaFaive points to the Michigan-Indiana border as a high-traffic area for liquor smugglers. Michigan's state government maintains a wholesale monopoly on spirits, and charges $11.90 per gallon in taxes. Indiana allows a competitive market with taxes at $2.68 per gallon.

The result, as the Michigan Liquor Control Commission complained (PDF) in 2007 is that alcohol smuggling contributed to a "conservative annual estimate of $14 million dollars in loss to the state" in revenues. Indiana and Wisconsin (PDF) were fingered as the major sources of the black market stuff.

But should prohibitionists at least give themselves a pat on the back for sacrificing a little revenue in the name of blessed sobriety?

Really no.

Britain's Institute of Economic Affairs reported in 2012 that high alcohol taxes don't discourage drinking anywhere they looked on the planet. "[T]his research shows that the amount of drink consumed in high tax countries is exactly the same as in low tax countries."

Taxes just fuel black markets, including smuggling and illegal production.

The latest frontier in government efforts to tax us into a future of healthy virtue and budgetary black ink involves levies on sugary drinks and junk food. In April, the Navajo Nation became the first U.S. jurisdiction to impose a specific tax on chips, cakes, and other foods the experts say we're not supposed to eat. The tribal government adopted the measure shortly after Berkeley, California voters subjected themselves (and their unwilling neighbors) to a penny-per-ounce tax on sodas, sports drinks, sweet teas and other sugary beverages.

Learning from past experience, could we be in for the cakes and cokes Mafia?

Actually, maybe not. LaFaive and Drenkard say that these sorts of taxes are even more problematic than those on booze and smokes, since they target tastes rather than specific products. Junk food and sugary drinks have lots of substitutes, and it's impossible to chase them all down.

Chips can be replaced by popcorn that you salt and butter yourself, LaFaive points out.

"The health literature on soda taxes shows that they decrease soda consumption, yes, but people just increase their calorie intake from other sources to make up the difference," notes Drenkard. "A 2010 study showed that adolescents often switch to milk (which actually has more calories), and a 2012 study showed that older consumers switch to beer."

So people want what they want and aren't so easy to bully into preferred behavior—or be forced to pay for the privilege. You don't say. Maybe that's a lesson politicians should have gleaned from the historical evidence long ago.

And maybe we all should have learned by now, despite our hopes to the contrary, that politicians and their control freak friends don't acknowledge their failures.
134  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / An Inconvenient Ice Age? on: July 15, 2015, 08:57:51 PM
I think I remember reading somewhere that burning hydrocarbons may help contend with this issue:

More info here:
135  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Gulag in Cantonese is Laogai on: July 15, 2015, 08:39:53 PM
136  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Faith Based Jurisprudence on: July 14, 2015, 08:52:40 PM
12 reasons to worry about our criminal justice system, from a prominent conservative federal judge

By Eugene Volokh July 14 at 5:50 PM 

Judge Alex Kozinski — for whom I clerked 20 years ago, who is one of our nation’s most prominent appellate judges and who has long been seen as on balance a libertarianish conservative (appointed by President Reagan) — has recently published an article in the Georgetown Law Journal that says some pretty harsh things about our criminal justice system, and offers some (doubtless controversial) proposals for improving it. You can read the whole article, Criminal Law 2.0, but I also asked Judge Kozinski for permission to serialize the article here, and he graciously agreed. Here is the introduction, which gives 12 reasons to worry about our criminal justice system; I’ll post other parts of the article in the days to come. I’ve added some paragraph breaks and removed the footnotes (which are available in the PDF version), but otherwise this is as Judge Kozinski wrote it:

Although we pretend otherwise, much of what we do in the law is guesswork. For example, we like to boast that our criminal justice system is heavily tilted in favor of criminal defendants because we’d rather that ten guilty men go free than an innocent man be convicted. There is reason to doubt it, because very few criminal defendants actually go free after trial.

Does this mean that many guilty men are never charged because the prosecution is daunted by its heavy burden of proof? Or is it because jurors almost always start with a strong presumption that someone wouldn’t be charged with a crime unless the police and the prosecutor were firmly convinced of his guilt? We tell ourselves and the public that it’s the former and not the latter, but we have no way of knowing. They say that any prosecutor worth his salt can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. It may be that a decent prosecutor could get a petit jury to convict a eunuch of rape.

The “ten guilty men” aphorism is just one of many tropes we assimilate long before we become lawyers. How many of us, the author included, were inspired to go to law school after watching Juror #8 turn his colleagues around by sheer force of reason and careful dissection of the evidence? “If that’s what the law’s about, then I want to be a lawyer!” I thought to myself.

But is it? We know very little about this because very few judges, lawyers and law professors have spent significant time as jurors. In fact, much of the so-called wisdom that has been handed down to us about the workings of the legal system, and the criminal process in particular, has been undermined by experience, legal scholarship and common sense. Here are just a few examples:

1. Eyewitnesses are highly reliable. This belief is so much part of our culture that one often hears talk of a “mere” circumstantial case as contrasted to a solid case based on eyewitness testimony. In fact, research shows that eyewitness identifications are highly unreliable, especially where the witness and the perpetrator are of different races. Eyewitness reliability is further compromised when the identification occurs under the stress of a violent crime, an accident or catastrophic event — which pretty much covers all situations where identity is in dispute at trial. In fact, mistaken eyewitness testimony was a factor in more than a third of wrongful conviction cases. Yet, courts have been slow in allowing defendants to present expert evidence on the fallibility of eyewitnesses; many courts still don’t allow it. Few, if any, courts instruct juries on the pitfalls of eyewitness identification or caution them to be skeptical of eyewitness testimony.

2. Fingerprint evidence is foolproof. Not so. Identifying prints that are taken by police using fingerprinting equipment and proper technique may be a relatively simple process, but latent prints left in the field are often smudged and incomplete, and the identification process becomes more art than science. When tested by rigorous scientific methods, fingerprint examiners turn out to have a significant error rate. Perhaps the best-known example of such an error occurred in 2004 when the FBI announced that a latent print found on a plastic bag near a Madrid terrorist bombing was “a 100 percent match” to Oregon attorney Brandon Mayfield. The FBI eventually conceded error when Spanish investigators linked the print to someone else.

3. Other types of forensic evidence are scientifically proven and therefore infallible. With the exception of DNA evidence (which has its own issues), what goes for fingerprints goes double and triple for other types of forensic evidence: “Spectrographic voice identification error rates are as high as 63%, depending on the type of voice sample tested. Handwriting error rates average around 40% and sometimes approach 100%. False-positive error rates for bite marks run as high as 64%. Those for microscopic hair comparisons are about 12% (using results of mitochondrial DNA testing as the criterion).”

Other fields of forensic expertise, long accepted by the courts as largely infallible, such as bloodstain pattern identification, foot and tire print identification and ballistics have been the subject of considerable doubt. Judge Nancy Gertner, for example, has expressed skepticism about admitting expert testimony on handwriting, canines, ballistics and arson. She has lamented that while “the Daubert-Kumho standard [for admitting expert witness testimony] does not require the illusory perfection of a television show (CSI, this wasn’t), when liberty hangs in the balance — and, in the case of the defendants facing the death penalty, life itself — the standards should be higher . . . than [those that] have been imposed across the country.”

Some fields of forensic expertise are built on nothing but guesswork and false common sense. Many defendants have been convicted and spent countless years in prison based on evidence by arson experts who were later shown to be little better than witch doctors. Cameron Todd Willingham may have lost his life over it.

4. DNA evidence is infallible. This is true to a point. DNA comparison, when properly conducted by an honest, trained professional will invariably reach the correct result. But the integrity of the result depends on a variety of factors that are, unfortunately, not nearly so foolproof: the evidence must be gathered and preserved so as to avoid contamination; the testing itself must be conducted so that the two samples being compared do not contaminate each other; the examiner must be competent and honest. As numerous scandals involving DNA testing labs have shown, these conditions cannot be taken for granted, and DNA evidence is only as good as the weakest link in the chain.

5. Human memories are reliable. Much of what we do in the courtroom relies on human memory. When a witness is asked to testify about past events, the accuracy of his account depends not only on his initial perception, but on the way the memories are recorded, stored and retrieved. For a very long time, it was believed that stored memories were much like video tape or film — an accurate copy of real-word experience that might fade with the passage of time or other factors, but could not be distorted or embellished.

Science now tells us that this view of human memory is fundamentally flawed. The mind not only distorts and embellishes memories, but a variety of external factors can affect how memories are retrieved and described. In an early study by cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, people were shown videos of car accidents and then questioned about what they saw. The group asked how fast the cars were going when they “smashed” into each other estimated 6.5 mph faster than the group asked how fast the cars were going when they “hit” each other. A week later, almost a third of those who were asked about the “smash” recalled seeing broken glass, even though there was none.

This finding has troubling implications for criminal trials where witnesses are questioned long and hard by police and prosecutors before the defense gets to do so — if ever. There is thus plenty of opportunity to shape and augment a witness’s memory to bring it into line with the prosecutor’s theory of what happened. Yet with rare exceptions, courts do not permit expert testimony on human memory.

For example, the district judge in the Scooter Libby case denied a defense motion for a memory expert, even though the key issue at trial was whose recollection of a 4-year-old telephone conversation should be believed. At least one member of the jury that convicted Libby lamented the lack of expert testimony on the subject. And a key witness in that case recently suggested in her memoirs that her memory may have been distorted by the prosecutor’s crafty questioning. Given the malleability of human memory, it should come as no surprise that many wrongful convictions have been the result of faulty witness memories, often manipulated by the police or the prosecution.

6. Confessions are infallible because innocent people never confess. We now know that this is not true. Innocent people do confess with surprising regularity. Harsh interrogation tactics, a variant of Stockholm syndrome, the desire to end the ordeal, emotional and financial exhaustion, family considerations and the youth or feeble-mindedness of the suspect can result in remarkably detailed confessions that are later shown to be utterly false.

7. Juries follow instructions. This is a presumption — actually more of a guess — that we’ve elevated to a rule of law. It is, of course, necessary that we do so because it links the jury’s fact-finding process to the law. In fact, however, we know very little about what juries actually do when they decide cases. Do they consider the instructions at all? Do they consider all of the instructions or focus on only some? Do they understand the instructions or are they confused?

We don’t really know. We get occasional glimpses into the operations of juries when they send out questions or someone discloses juror misconduct, and even then the information we get is limited. But we have no convincing reason to believe that jury instructions in fact constrain jury behavior in all or even most cases. And, because the information we get from inside the jury room is so limited and sporadic, experience does little to improve our knowledge. Looking at 100 black boxes is no more informative than looking at one.

8. Prosecutors play fair. The Supreme Court has told us in no uncertain terms that a prosecutor’s duty is to do justice, not merely to obtain a conviction. It has also laid down some specific rules about how prosecutors, and the people who work for them, must behave — principal among them that the prosecution turn over to the defense exculpatory evidence in the possession of the prosecution and the police.

There is reason to doubt that prosecutors comply with these obligations fully. The U.S. Justice Department, for example, takes the position that exculpatory evidence must be produced only if it is material. This puts prosecutors in the position of deciding whether tidbits that could be helpful to the defense are significant enough that a reviewing court will find it to be material, which runs contrary to the philosophy of the Brady/Giglio line of cases and increases the risk that highly exculpatory evidence will be suppressed. Beyond that, we have what I have described elsewhere as an “epidemic of Brady violations abroad in the land,” a phrase that has caused much controversy but brought about little change in the way prosecutors operate in the United States.

9. The prosecution is at a substantial disadvantage because it must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Juries are routinely instructed that the defendant is presumed innocent and the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but we don’t really know whether either of these instructions has an effect on the average juror. Do jurors understand the concept of a presumption? If so, do they understand how a presumption is supposed to operate? Do they assume that the presumption remains in place until it is overcome by persuasive evidence or do they believe it disappears as soon as any actual evidence is presented? We don’t really know.

Nor do we know whether juries really draw a distinction between proof by a preponderance, proof by clear and convincing evidence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt. These levels of proof, which lawyers and judges assume to be hermetically sealed categories, may mean nothing at all in the jury room. My own experience as a juror certainly did nothing to convince me that my fellow jurors understood and appreciated the difference. The issue, rather, seemed to be quite simply: Am I convinced that the defendant is guilty?

Even more troubling are doubts raised by psychological research showing that “whoever makes the first assertion about something has a large advantage over everyone who denies it later.” The tendency is more pronounced for older people than for younger ones, and increases the longer the time-lapse between assertion and denial. So is it better to stand mute rather than deny an accusation? Apparently not, because “when accusations or assertions are met with silence, they are more likely to feel true.”

To the extent this psychological research is applicable to trials, it tends to refute the notion that the prosecution pulls the heavy oar in criminal cases. We believe that it does because we assume juries go about deciding cases by accurately remembering all the testimony and weighing each piece of evidence in a linear fashion, selecting which to believe based on assessment of its credibility or plausibility. The reality may be quite different. It may be that jurors start forming a mental picture of the events in question as soon as they first hear about them from the prosecution witnesses. Later-introduced evidence, even if pointing in the opposite direction, may not be capable of fundamentally altering that picture and may, in fact, reinforce it.

And the effect may be worse the longer the prosecution’s case lasts and, thus, the longer it takes to bring the contrary evidence before the jury. Trials in general, and longer trials in particular, may be heavily loaded in favor of whichever party gets to present its case first — the prosecution in a criminal case and the plaintiff in a civil case.

If this is so, it substantially undermines the notion that we seldom convict an innocent man because guilt must be proven to a sufficient certainty. It may well be that, contrary to instructions, and contrary to their own best intentions, jurors are persuaded of whatever version of events is first presented to them and change their minds only if they are given very strong reasons to the contrary.

10. Police are objective in their investigations. In many ways, this is the bedrock assumption of our criminal justice process. Police investigators have vast discretion about what leads to pursue, which witnesses to interview, what forensic tests to conduct and countless other aspects of the investigation. Police also have a unique opportunity to manufacture or destroy evidence, influence witnesses, extract confessions and otherwise direct the investigation so as to stack the deck against people they believe should be convicted.

And not just small-town police in Podunk or Timbuktu. Just the other day, “[t]he Justice Department and FBI [] formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all [of the 268] trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.” Do they offer a class at Quantico called “Fudging Your Results To Get A Conviction” or “Lying On The Stand 101”? How can you trust the professionalism and objectivity of police anywhere after an admission like that?

There are countless documented cases where innocent people have spent decades behind bars because the police manipulated or concealed evidence, but two examples will suffice:

In 2013, Debra Milke was released after 23 years on Arizona’s death row based entirely on a supposed oral confession she had made to one Detective Saldate who was much later shown to be a serial liar. And then there is the case of Ricky Jackson, who spent 39 years behind bars based entirely on the eyewitness identification of a 12-year-old boy who saw the crime from a distance and failed to pick Jackson out of a lineup. At that point, “the officers began to feed him information: the number of assailants, the weapon used, the make and model of the getaway car.” 39 years!

For some victims of police misconduct, exoneration comes too late: Mark Collin Sodersten died in prison while maintaining his innocence. After his death, a California appellate court determined that Sodersten had been denied a fair trial because police had failed to turn over exculpatory witness tapes. It posthumously set aside the conviction, which no doubt reduced Sodersten’s time in purgatory.

11. Guilty pleas are conclusive proof of guilt. Many people, including judges, take comfort in knowing that an overwhelming number of criminal cases are resolved by guilty plea rather than trial. Whatever imperfections there may be in the trial and criminal charging process, they believe, are washed away by the fact that the defendant ultimately consents to a conviction. But this fails to take into account the trend of bringing multiple counts for a single incident — thereby vastly increasing the risk of a life-shattering sentence in case of conviction — as well as the creativity of prosecutors in hatching up criminal cases where no crime exists and the overcriminalization of virtually every aspect of American life.

It also ignores that many defendants cannot, as a practical matter, tell their side of the story at trial because they fear being impeached with prior convictions or other misconduct. And, of course, if the trial process is perceived as highly uncertain, or even stacked in favor of the prosecution, the incentive to plead guilty to some charge that will allow the defendant to salvage a portion of his life, becomes immense. If the prosecution offers a take-it-or-leave-it plea bargain before disclosing exculpatory evidence, the defendant may cave to the pressure, throwing away a good chance of an acquittal.

12. Long sentences deter crime. In the United States, we have over 2.2 million people behind bars. Our rate of approximately 716 prisoners per 100,000 people is the highest in the world, over 5 times higher than that of other industrialized nations like Canada, England, Germany and Australia. Sentences for individual crimes are also far longer than in other developed countries. For example, an individual convicted of burglary in the United States serves an average of 16 months in prison, compared with 5 months in Canada and 7 months in England. And the average prison sentence for assault in the United States is 60 months, compared to under 20 months in England, Australia and Finland.

Incarceration is an immensely expensive enterprise. It is expensive for the taxpayers, as the average cost of housing a single prisoner for one year is approximately $30,000. A 20-year sentence runs into something like $600,000 in prison costs alone. Long sentences are also immensely hard on prisoners and cruel to their families, as it’s usually very difficult for a prisoner to re-integrate into his family and community after very long prison sentences.

We are committed to a system of harsh sentencing because we believe that long sentences deter crime and, in any event, incapacitate criminals from victimizing the general population while they are in prison. And, indeed, the United States is enjoying an all-time low in violent crime rates, which would seem to support this intuition.

But crime rates have been dropping steadily since the 1990s, and not merely in the United States but throughout the industrialized world. Our intuition about harsh sentences deterring crime may thus be misguided. We may be spending scarce taxpayer dollars maintaining the largest prison population in the industrialized world, shattering countless lives and families, for no good reason. As with much else in the law, the connection between punishment and deterrence remains mysterious. We make our decisions based on faith.

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.
137  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Documenting Documentarian Folly on: July 10, 2015, 09:43:37 PM
Books and Culture
Undercover Jew
A brilliant satirist unmasks the Palestinian human-rights industry.
July 10, 2015

Catch The Jew!, by Tuvia Tenenbom (Gefen Publishing House, 484 pp., $24.95)

If you want to understand why there is no peace in the Holy Land despite the best efforts of the Obama administration and the billion-dollar European “peace and human rights” industry, you owe it to yourself to read Catch the Jew! by Tuvia Tenenbom. This myth-shattering book became an instant bestseller in Israel last year, yet, Germany aside, it has largely been ignored in American and European media outlets and by the reigning Middle East punditocracy. Ostensibly, Tenenbom’s book is disdained because the author lacks the academic or journalistic credentials to be taken seriously as a commentator on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Though he speaks both Arabic and Hebrew, Tenenbom possesses no professional expertise on the modern Middle East, nor has he had any previous journalistic experience covering Israel and the Palestinian territories.

So much for academic and journalistic credentials, then. In this volume full of personal observations, revealing interviews, and Swiftian satire, Tenenbom offers deeper insights into the fundamental realities of the Middle East conflict and the pathologies of the Palestinian national movement than decades of reporting by media outlets such as the New York Times, The New Yorker, and Israel’s Haaretz. No fair-minded person can come away from this book without wondering why such citadels of contemporary liberal journalism have neglected to inform their readers of the scam being conducted in the region by self-styled human-rights activists and their taxpayer-funded European NGOs—not to mention that this massive international intervention actually makes it even more difficult to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict.

So what’s the secret of Tenenbom’s journalism? For starters, he disarms the anti-Israel activists and Palestinian officials he engages with by dissembling about his own identity and by playing the simpleton. The author was raised in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Israel. As an adult, he broke with organized religion and moved to America, where he became a successful playwright and founder of the Jewish Theater of New York. In his travels around Israel and the Palestinian territories, however, Tenenbom presents himself as Tobi, a German gentile and unaffiliated journalist—an innocent abroad sincerely trying to understand why the Jews have chosen to oppress the poor Palestinians. Because many of Tenenbom’s Palestinian and pro-Palestinian interlocutors assume that this well-meaning German must be on their side—a reasonable assumption, since much of the financial support for the pro-Palestinian NGOs comes from the German government or political parties—the ruse works brilliantly. The activists are willing to open up to the apparently naïve German and express their true beliefs about Israel and Zionism—hateful views they might be more circumspect about sharing with, say, a New York Times reporter.

In his tour d’horizon of the Palestinian territories, Tenenbom uncovers the fact that there are almost 300 pro-Palestinian foreign NGOs working (that is, agitating) in the West Bank and another hundred in Gaza, most financed by German taxpayers. Moreover, aid to the Palestinians by the European Union and the United Nations is the highest, per capita, in the world. Which might explain why, as Tenenbom keeps noticing all over the West Bank, so many Palestinian officials and activists are driving Mercedes.

One may wonder why these beautiful European souls see their mission now as saving the Palestinians, while none dare venture to Qatar to protest the slave-labor conditions imposed on foreign workers building the 2020 World Cup facilities. That unprecedented human rights scandal perpetrated by an Arab apartheid regime has so far led to the deaths of more than 1,000 indentured contract workers. Were human rights activists truly looking for a great victory for their cause, they could easily mount a campaign to convince the major European soccer powers (Germany, England, France, and Spain) to threaten a boycott of the 2022 World Cup. That action would almost certainly convince the Qatar royal family to close down the slave labor camps. But then again, as Tenenbom caustically observes, “where else [but in Palestine] could one practice his or her darkest wish for Judenfrei territories and still be considered liberal?”

For the German-funded NGOs in particular, exposing the Jewish state’s perfidy—“catching the Jew,” in Tenenbom’s words—becomes a psychologically convenient way to repudiate the Nazi past. Anti-Zionism thus becomes a path to liberation from the burdens of Germany’s past, indeed from all of Western colonial history.

Regarding that colonial history, India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was well aware of the political value of his spiritual and political mentor, the holy man Mohandas Gandhi. Nehru once famously remarked: “You can’t imagine what it costs to keep Gandhi in poverty.” Like Israel, India was founded shortly after World War II over the violent objections of its Muslim population. Despite Ghandian rhetoric about non-violence, India’s bloody separation from its predominately Muslim regions came about through a vindictive and massive transfer of populations—Muslims to Pakistan, Hindus to India. Today in the West, little is spoken of this nasty affair; not so with comparable developments in Israel. Thanks in part to the double moral bookkeeping practiced by the human-rights industry—captained by the Swiss Red Cross and German NGOs—a contrived narrative of unprecedented Israeli cruelty toward the people now known as Palestinians has taken hold in Europe and on the American left.

Relying on his unconventional journalistic techniques, Tenenbom elicits a string of unguarded comments from the activists who work so diligently to keep the narrative of Palestinian suffering in the news. He opens a unique window allowing us to see how the victims’ game works in Palestine. For example, the popular Palestinian leader Jibril Rajoub—with the help of willing European collaborators—succeeds in staging a series of morality plays that perpetuate the big lie about his people’s historical innocence and unique suffering. Rajoub lets Tobi the German in on one such full-scale operatic production in the West Bank village of Bi’lin. With compliant Western reporters told where and when to gather, Palestinian youths comes on stage and, on cue, begin stoning Israeli soldiers. The soldiers ignore the “youths,” but the stones get larger and they eventually respond. The self-righteous Western reporters now have their “story” of Israeli violence for the day. Moreover, the event is filmed for a documentary by an Israeli leftist financed by (what else?) a German NGO. Tenenbom knows something about theater, and his satirical account of this staged episode is as priceless as it is depressing.

Tenenbom’s method produces pure satiric gold, as when the wife of an American rabbi who heads a one-man organization called “Rabbis for Human Rights” (financed by a European NGO) can’t contain herself and admits to Tenenbom: “You can’t change him. Being a human rights activist in our time is to be a persona, not a philosophy; it’s a fad, it’s a fashion. A human rights activist does not look for facts or logic; it’s about a certain dress code, ‘cool’ clothing, about language, diction, expressions and certain manners. No facts will persuade him.”

Another highlight of the book is Tenenbom’s visit—arranged by a European NGO—to an inverted Potemkin village of Bedouin encampments in the Negev. In the original historical version of the Potemkin tall tale, the Russian Czar created a few model villages with false facades to convince Western visitors that all was well within the empire. In the twenty-first century version of the tale perfected by anti-Israel NGOs, the technique is to make Palestinian and Bedouin villages look as awful as possible on the outside even when they are relatively well off on the inside. After all, it can never be admitted that the Palestinian people, despite their suffering at the hands of the Jews, constitute the most prosperous Arab community (with the exception of the oil-rich Gulf monarchies) in the Middle East.

The visit to the Bedouin villages in the Negev is arranged by Adalah, a left-wing Israeli NGO financed by Europeans. Its director, Thabet Abu Rass, explains to Tenenbom that he is “representing the rights of the Palestinian people.” He then points to a map on his wall that says (in Arabic) “Map of Palestine before Nakbah [the Catastrophe] in 1948.” Dr. Rass soon makes it clear that the Nakbah is the source of the suffering, not just by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, but also for the Bedouin who have always lived in Israel and enjoy all the rights of Israeli citizenship. Even as Adalah fights for the rights of the Bedouin in Israeli courts, its leader insists that the Bedouin are not really Israelis, but rather oppressed Palestinians who suffered the 1948 Nakbah.

During his visit to the Bedouin villages, Tenenbom runs into two more representatives of foreign NGOs—Michelle from France and Alessandra from Italy. Michelle, who is Jewish, has been hard at work pressing the Nakbah claim for all Palestinians, including Israel’s Arabs. She tells Tenenbom/Tobi that her NGO works with the Israeli leftist organization Zokhrot (meaning “remembrance”), which is dedicated to perpetuating the Nakbah myth and to compensating the dispossessed Palestinians by allowing millions of them to return to their ancestral homes in Haifa, Jaffa, and Jerusalem, thereby ending the Jewish state. Even in Tel Aviv, founded by Jews in 1909, Zokhrot (with Michelle’s help) is agitating to rename some streets according to their “original Palestinian names.”

Beyond its brilliant satire, Tenenbom’s book is ultimately outrageous and depressing. Outrageous, because thanks to the NGOs, so many otherwise rational, liberal people in Europe and the United States now believe some version of the Palestinian Nakbah narrative. Depressing, because as long as that destructive historical myth is believed in the West, it’s hard to imagine Palestinian leaders ever conceding that their disagreement with Israel is about the consequences of the 1967 war, which are entirely negotiable, rather than the consequences of the 1948 war, which are non-negotiable.

Fred Siegel is a City Journal contributing editor and author of The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class. Sol Stern is a contributing editor of City Journal, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and the author of A Century of Palestinian Rejectionism and Jew Hatred.
138  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Tyranny & Totalitarianism In Situ on: July 10, 2015, 09:16:07 PM
Some photos that speak to this thread:
139  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Big Rip on: July 02, 2015, 11:29:00 PM
New model of cosmic stickiness favors ‘Big Rip’ demise of universe

This is a time line of life of the universe that ends in a Big Rip. Credit Jeremy Teaford, Vanderbilt University

From Vanderbilt University:

The universe can be a very sticky place, but just how sticky is a matter of debate.

That is because for decades cosmologists have had trouble reconciling the classic notion of viscosity based on the laws of thermodynamics with Einstein’s general theory of relativity. However, a team from Vanderbilt University has come up with a fundamentally new mathematical formulation of the problem that appears to bridge this long-standing gap.

The new math has some significant implications for the ultimate fate of the universe. It tends to favor one of the more radical scenarios that cosmologists have come up with known as the “Big Rip.” It may also shed new light on the basic nature of dark energy.

The new approach was developed by Assistant Professor of Mathematics Marcelo Disconzi in collaboration with physics professors Thomas Kephart and Robert Scherrer and is described in a paper published earlier this year in the journal Physical Review D.

“Marcelo has come up with a simpler and more elegant formulation that is mathematically sound and obeys all the applicable physical laws,” said Scherrer.

The type of viscosity that has cosmological relevance is different from the familiar “ketchup” form of viscosity, which is called shear viscosity and is a measure of a fluid’s resistance to flowing through small openings like the neck of a ketchup bottle. Instead, cosmological viscosity is a form of bulk viscosity, which is the measure of a fluid’s resistance to expansion or contraction. The reason we don’t often deal with bulk viscosity in everyday life is because most liquids we encounter cannot be compressed or expanded very much.

Disconzi began by tackling the problem of relativistic fluids. Astronomical objects that produce this phenomenon include supernovae (exploding stars) and neutron stars (stars that have been crushed down to the size of planets).

Scientists have had considerable success modeling what happens when ideal fluids – those with no viscosity – are boosted to near-light speeds. But almost all fluids are viscous in nature and, despite decades of effort, no one has managed to come up with a generally accepted way to handle viscous fluids traveling at relativistic velocities. In the past, the models formulated to predict what happens when these more realistic fluids are accelerated to a fraction of the speed of light have been plagued with inconsistencies: the most glaring of which has been predicting certain conditions where these fluids could travel faster than the speed of light.

“This is disastrously wrong,” said Disconzi, “since it is well-proven experimentally that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.”

These problems inspired the mathematician to re-formulate the equations of relativistic fluid dynamics in a way that does not exhibit the flaw of allowing faster-than-light speeds. He based his approach on one that was advanced in the 1950s by French mathematician André Lichnerowicz.

Next, Disconzi teamed up with Kephart and Scherrer to apply his equations to broader cosmological theory. This produced a number of interesting results, including some potential new insights into the mysterious nature of dark energy.

In the 1990s, the physics community was shocked when astronomical measurements showed that the universe is expanding at an ever-accelerating rate. To explain this unpredicted acceleration, they were forced to hypothesize the existence of an unknown form of repulsive energy that is spread throughout the universe. Because they knew so little about it, they labeled it “dark energy.”

Most dark energy theories to date have not taken cosmic viscosity into account, despite the fact that it has a repulsive effect strikingly similar to that of dark energy. “It is possible, but not very likely, that viscosity could account for all the acceleration that has been attributed to dark energy,” said Disconzi. “It is more likely that a significant fraction of the acceleration could be due to this more prosaic cause. As a result, viscosity may act as an important constraint on the properties of dark energy.”

Another interesting result involves the ultimate fate of the universe. Since the discovery of the universe’s run-away expansion, cosmologists have come up with a number of dramatic scenarios of what it could mean for the future.

One scenario, dubbed the “Big Freeze,” predicts that after 100 trillion years or so the universe will have grown so vast that the supplies of gas will become too thin for stars to form. As a result, existing stars will gradually burn out, leaving only black holes which, in turn, slowly evaporate away as space itself gets colder and colder.

An even more radical scenario is the “Big Rip.” It is predicated on a type of “phantom” dark energy that gets stronger over time. In this case, the expansion rate of the universe becomes so great that in 22 billion years or so material objects begin to fall apart and individual atoms disassemble themselves into unbound elementary particles and radiation.

The key value involved in this scenario is the ratio between dark energy’s pressure and density, what is called its equation of state parameter. If this value drops below -1 then the universe will eventually be pulled apart. Cosmologists have called this the “phantom barrier.” In previous models with viscosity the universe could not evolve beyond this limit.

In the Desconzi-Kephart-Scherrer formulation, however, this barrier does not exist. Instead, it provides a natural way for the equation of state parameter to fall below -1.

“In previous models with viscosity the Big Rip was not possible,” said Scherrer. “In this new model, viscosity actually drives the universe toward this extreme end state.”

According to the scientists, the results of their pen-and-paper analyses of this new formulation for relativistic viscosity are quite promising but a much deeper analysis must be carried out to determine its viability. The only way to do this is to use powerful computers to analyze the complex equations numerically. In this fashion the scientists can make predictions that can be compared with experiment and observation.


The research was supported by National Science Foundation grant 1305705 and Department of Energy grant DE-SC0011981.
140  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Better, Not Worse on: July 02, 2015, 11:21:58 PM
Portugal's and other nations' experience when decriminalizing drugs:
141  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Tell Us how You Really Feel on: June 30, 2015, 10:29:14 PM
Space and Science Research Corporation
P.O. Box 607841 * Orlando, FL 32860
(407) 667-4757 *

Government Climate Data Found Unreliable

Monday, June 29, 2015                                                                     Press Release 4-2015
9:00 AM EDT
Effective immediately, the Space and Science Research Corporation (SSRC), a leader in climate prediction, has dropped the US government's ground based global temperature data from its list of reliable sources.
This significant step has been made by the SSRC after extensive review of the US government's ground temperature data and its wide divergence from more reliable sources of climate data, namely satellite systems.
The SSRC has found multiple flaws that it says render the US government's climate data virtually unusable. The SSRC has further observed that the US government and specifically, President Barack Obama, have routinely deceived the people regarding the true status of the Earth's climate, its causes, and where the global climate is heading.
In the past, the SSRC has used five global temperature data sets, three ground based (NOAA, NASA and HADCRUT) and two satellite data sets (RSS, UAH). These data sets are analyzed and an integrated picture of all five allows the SSRC to produce its semi-annual Global Climate Status Report (GCSR). HADCRUT is a combined set from two UK science groups.
As of today, the SSRC will no longer use the ground based data sets of NASA and NOAA because of serious questions about their credibility and allegations of data manipulation to support President Obama's climate change policies. Use of HADCRUT will also be suspended on similar grounds.
According to SSRC President, Mr. John L. Casey, "It is clear that during the administration of President Barack Obama, there has developed a culture of scientific corruption permitting the alteration or modification of global temperature data in a way that supports the myth of manmade global warming. This situation has come about because of Presidential Executive Orders, science agencies producing unreliable and inaccurate climate reports, and also with statements by the President about the climate that are patently false.
For example, the President has said that global warming is not only a global threat but that it is "accelerating" (Georgetown Univ. June 2015). Further, he has said that "2014 was the planet's warmest year on record" (State of the Union Address, January 2015). Both these statements are simply not true. He has also publicly ridiculed those who have correctly stated that there has been no global warming for eighteen years therefore nullifying any need for US government actions to control greenhouse gas emissions for any reason. Climate mendacity seems to be the rule and not the exception in this administration.
"As a result, the US government's apparently politically manipulated ground based temperature data sets can no longer be regarded as credible from a climate analysis standpoint. Until scientific integrity is restored in the White House and the rest of the federal government, we will henceforth be forced to rely solely on satellite measurements.
"Most disturbing of course, is that the President has failed to prepare the country for the difficult times ahead as a result of the ominous changes taking place on the Sun. Not only is the Sun the primary agent of climate change, but it is now cutting back on life giving warmth, bringing a new cold climate period. We will all face a more difficult future, one which the President is ensuring we will be totally unprepared for."
Dr. Ole Humlum, a Professor of Physical Geology at the University of Oslo, Norway and an expert of global glacial activity, is the co-editor of the SSRC's Global Climate Status Report (GCSR). He adds to Mr. Casey's comment with, "It is regrettable to see the politically forced changing of temperature data which will of course lead to the wrong conclusions about the causes and effects of climate change. Recently, NOAA indicated that May 2015 was the warmest May since 1880. Yet, this cannot be verified by satellite measurements which show that May was in the average range for the month over the past ten years. Also, on page 41 of the June 10, 2015 GCSR, we noted that the temperature spread between ground based and satellite based data sets, has now widened to a point that is problematic. The average in degrees Centigrade among the three ground based sets shows a 0.45 C warming in temperature since 1979. For the more reliable satellite systems, it is only 0.17 C warming. This 264% (0.45/0.17) differential is scientifically unacceptable and warrants ending the reliance on the ground based data sets until some independent investigation of the variance resolves the matter. While the use of satellite data only, will limit the depth of quality of the Global Climate Status Report, it will at the same time allow us to still provide the best available climate assessment and climate predictions possible using only the most reliable data."
142  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Solar Activity Decline on: June 25, 2015, 07:29:37 PM
UK's MET, hardly a friend to global warming skeptics, are noticing the sun's impact on warming:
143  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Other Side of the Scapegoat on: June 25, 2015, 07:26:17 PM
Whose Fault is the OPM Hack Really?

Everyone's mad at the Office of Personnel Management, and I totally get why. The hack is awful, the magnitude staggering. The consequences will be big, both for the country and for lots of individuals. It's a very ugly situation, and OPM has certainly not handled it competently, let alone well. And the more we learn, the worse it gets.

But here's my question: Is this really OPM's fault?

OPM, after all, is not an intelligence agency or a counterintelligence agency. Even had it behaved competently, it had no chance of protecting data that a professional adversary intelligence service wanted to go after. It also does not have the expertise to identify which data it is holding that are—individually or collectively—likely of interest to foreign intelligence powers. To put the matter simply, protecting sensitive data from foreign spies is not within the wheelhouse of an agency whose job is "to recruit, retain, and honor a world-class workforce for the American people."

It is very much within the wheelhouse of some other federal agencies, however.

Let's start with the FBI, whose mission includes "Protect[ing] the United States against foreign intelligence operations and espionage" and "Protect[ing] the United States against cyber-based attacks and high-technology crimes." I don't know whose job, if anyone's, it is to identify large aggregations of data outside the security sector that would be of foreign intelligence interest and to protect them from espionage, but it seems to me that the agency tasked with foreign counterintelligence would be the place to start. So here's a question: Did anyone at the bureau ever flag for OPM that this material might have a giant bullseye painted on it?

Then there's NSA, which has the government's Information Assurance portfolio, and also has a huge cybersecurity capacity. NSA describes its information assurance mission as follows: "NSA's Information Assurance Directorate (IAD) protects and defends National Security Information and Information Systems, in accordance with National Security Directive 42. National Security Systems are defined as systems that handle classified information or information otherwise critical to military or intelligence activities." The OPM systems were not classified, but any database that potentially exposes millions of federal workers—including defense and intelligence workers—to potential recruitment, blackmail, or other bad conduct at the hands of a foreign intelligence service could certainly be regarded as "critical to military or intelligence activities." So here's another question: Did anyone at NSA ever flag for OPM that this material might have a giant bullseye painted on it or offer to help secure it?

Or maybe the problem lies with DHS. DHS, after all, proudly boasts that it "has the lead for the federal government for securing civilian government computer systems"—something that clearly did not happen here. So here's a third question: Did anyone at DHS ever work with this civilian agency to security its government computer systems?

If this all sounds like an interagency mess of authorities, well, there are also agencies whose job is to work through those. What, one might ask, about what role the DNI has played in this area? His mission statement starts with the broad aim: to "lead Intelligence Integration." In other words, if it was someone's job to imagine that there are a lot of non-classified systems around the government that have extraordinarily sensitive data an intelligence service would want to steal, and that this data is being housed at agencies that probably don't understand that fact and don't have the capacity to defend that data, perhaps having that imagination was the DNI's job. And if it was some office's job to reach out across the government and assess what datasets would be catastrophic to lose and to set up programs to protect that material, perhaps that was the DNI's job too.

Taping Rational Security this morning, I mentioned all this to the Hoover Institution's Kori Schake—a defense analysts and former NSC staffer—who joked with gentle bitterness that it's a good thing this country does not have a National Security Council, whose job is to coordinate the activities of the various agencies engaged in national security activity to make sure questions like this get addressed. The NSC describes its mission as including "serv[ing] as the President's principal arm for coordinating these policies among various government agencies." So here's a fourth question: Was anyone at the DNI's office or the NSC serving as the President's principal arm for securing data of intelligence value at OPM?

I'm sure it will make a lot of people feel good to beat up on OPM, and I'm sure some folks there probably deserve it. But after we've gone through the political ritual of extracting our pound of Washington flesh, let's ask the serious question: Whose job is this really? And whose do we want it to be?
144  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Myrmidons of Furious Defenders on: June 19, 2015, 08:28:29 PM
Boom. Game, set, match.

The Climate Wars’ Damage to Science

Matt Ridley

The great thing about science is that it’s self-correcting. The good drives out the bad, because experiments get replicated and hypotheses tested -- or so I used to think. Now, thanks largely to climate science, I see bad ideas can persist for decades, and surrounded by myrmidons of furious defenders they become intolerant dogmas

For much of my life I have been a science writer. That means I eavesdrop on what’s going on in laboratories so I can tell interesting stories. It’s analogous to the way art critics write about art, but with a difference: we “science critics” rarely criticise. If we think a scientific paper is dumb, we just ignore it. There’s too much good stuff coming out of science to waste time knocking the bad stuff.

Sure, we occasionally take a swipe at pseudoscience—homeopathy, astrology, claims that genetically modified food causes cancer, and so on. But the great thing about science is that it’s self-correcting. The good drives out the bad, because experiments get replicated and hypotheses put to the test. So a really bad idea cannot survive long in science.

Or so I used to think. Now, thanks largely to climate science, I have changed my mind. It turns out bad ideas can persist in science for decades, and surrounded by myrmidons of furious defenders they can turn into intolerant dogmas.

This should have been obvious to me. Lysenkoism, a pseudo-biological theory that plants (and people) could be trained to change their heritable natures, helped starve millions and yet persisted for decades in the Soviet Union, reaching its zenith under Nikita Khrushchev. The theory that dietary fat causes obesity and heart disease, based on a couple of terrible studies in the 1950s, became unchallenged orthodoxy and is only now fading slowly.

What these two ideas have in common is that they had political support, which enabled them to monopolise debate. Scientists are just as prone as anybody else to “confirmation bias”, the tendency we all have to seek evidence that supports our favoured hypothesis and dismiss evidence that contradicts it—as if we were counsel for the defence. It’s tosh that scientists always try to disprove their own theories, as they sometimes claim, and nor should they. But they do try to disprove each other’s. Science has always been decentralised, so Professor Smith challenges Professor Jones’s claims, and that’s what keeps science honest.

What went wrong with Lysenko and dietary fat was that in each case a monopoly was established. Lysenko’s opponents were imprisoned or killed. Nina Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise shows in devastating detail how opponents of Ancel Keys’s dietary fat hypothesis were starved of grants and frozen out of the debate by an intolerant consensus backed by vested interests, echoed and amplified by a docile press.

Cheerleaders for alarm

This is precisely what has happened with the climate debate and it is at risk of damaging the whole reputation of science. The “bad idea” in this case is not that climate changes, nor that human beings influence climate change; but that the impending change is sufficiently dangerous to require urgent policy responses. In the 1970s, when global temperatures were cooling, some scientists could not resist the lure of press attention by arguing that a new ice age was imminent. Others called this nonsense and the World Meteorological Organisation rightly refused to endorse the alarm. That’s science working as it should. In the 1980s, as temperatures began to rise again, some of the same scientists dusted off the greenhouse effect and began to argue that runaway warming was now likely.

At first, the science establishment reacted sceptically and a diversity of views was aired. It’s hard to recall now just how much you were allowed to question the claims in those days. As Bernie Lewin reminds us in one chapter of a fascinating new book of essays called Climate Change: The Facts (hereafter The Facts), as late as 1995 when the second assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out with its last-minute additional claim of a “discernible human influence” on climate, Nature magazine warned scientists against overheating the debate.

Since then, however, inch by inch, the huge green pressure groups have grown fat on a diet of constant but ever-changing alarm about the future. That these alarms—over population growth, pesticides, rain forests, acid rain, ozone holes, sperm counts, genetically modified crops—have often proved wildly exaggerated does not matter: the organisations that did the most exaggeration trousered the most money. In the case of climate, the alarm is always in the distant future, so can never be debunked.

These huge green multinationals, with budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars, have now systematically infiltrated science, as well as industry and media, with the result that many high-profile climate scientists and the journalists who cover them have become one-sided cheerleaders for alarm, while a hit squad of increasingly vicious bloggers polices the debate to ensure that anybody who steps out of line is punished. They insist on stamping out all mention of the heresy that climate change might not be lethally dangerous.

Today’s climate science, as Ian Plimer points out in his chapter in The Facts, is based on a “pre-ordained conclusion, huge bodies of evidence are ignored and analytical procedures are treated as evidence”. Funds are not available to investigate alternative theories. Those who express even the mildest doubts about dangerous climate change are ostracised, accused of being in the pay of fossil-fuel interests or starved of funds; those who take money from green pressure groups and make wildly exaggerated statements are showered with rewards and treated by the media as neutral.

Look what happened to a butterfly ecologist named Camille Parmesan when she published a paper on “Climate and Species Range” that blamed climate change for threatening the Edith checkerspot butterfly with extinction in California by driving its range northward. The paper was cited more than 500 times, she was invited to speak at the White House and she was asked to contribute to the IPCC’s third assessment report.

Unfortunately, a distinguished ecologist called Jim Steele found fault with her conclusion: there had been more local extinctions in the southern part of the butterfly’s range due to urban development than in the north, so only the statistical averages moved north, not the butterflies. There was no correlated local change in temperature anyway, and the butterflies have since recovered throughout their range. When Steele asked Parmesan for her data, she refused. Parmesan’s paper continues to be cited as evidence of climate change. Steele meanwhile is derided as a “denier”. No wonder a highly sceptical ecologist I know is very reluctant to break cover.

Jim Hansen, recently retired as head of the Goddard Institute of Space Studies at NASA, won over a million dollars in lucrative green prizes, regularly joined protests against coal plants and got himself arrested while at the same time he was in charge of adjusting and homogenising one of the supposedly objective data sets on global surface temperature. How would he be likely to react if told of evidence that climate change is not such a big problem?

Michael Oppenheimer, of Princeton University, who frequently testifies before Congress in favour of urgent action on climate change, was the Environmental Defense Fund’s senior scientist for nineteen years and continues to advise it. The EDF has assets of $209 million and since 2008 has had over $540 million from charitable foundations, plus $2.8 million in federal grants. In that time it has spent $11.3 million on lobbying, and has fifty-five people on thirty-two federal advisory committees. How likely is it that they or Oppenheimer would turn around and say global warming is not likely to be dangerous?

Why is it acceptable, asks the blogger Donna Laframboise, for the IPCC to “put a man who has spent his career cashing cheques from both the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Greenpeace in charge of its latest chapter on the world’s oceans?” She’s referring to the University of Queensland’s Ove Hoegh-Guldberg.

These scientists and their guardians of the flame repeatedly insist that there are only two ways of thinking about climate change—that it’s real, man-made and dangerous (the right way), or that it’s not happening (the wrong way). But this is a false dichotomy. There is a third possibility: that it’s real, partly man-made and not dangerous. This is the “lukewarmer” school, and I am happy to put myself in this category. Lukewarmers do not think dangerous climate change is impossible; but they think it is unlikely.

I find that very few people even know of this. Most ordinary people who do not follow climate debates assume that either it’s not happening or it’s dangerous. This suits those with vested interests in renewable energy, since it implies that the only way you would be against their boondoggles is if you “didn’t believe” in climate change.


What consensus about the future?

Sceptics such as Plimer often complain that “consensus” has no place in science. Strictly they are right, but I think it is a red herring. I happily agree that you can have some degree of scientific consensus about the past and the present. The earth is a sphere; evolution is true; carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. The IPCC claims in its most recent report that it is “95 per cent” sure that “more than half” of the (gentle) warming “since 1950” is man-made. I’ll drink to that, though it’s a pretty vague claim. But you really cannot have much of a consensus about the future. Scientists are terrible at making forecasts—indeed as Dan Gardner documents in his book Future Babble they are often worse than laymen. And the climate is a chaotic system with multiple influences of which human emissions are just one, which makes prediction even harder.

The IPCC actually admits the possibility of lukewarming within its consensus, because it gives a range of possible future temperatures: it thinks the world will be between about 1.5 and four degrees warmer on average by the end of the century. That’s a huge range, from marginally beneficial to terrifyingly harmful, so it is hardly a consensus of danger, and if you look at the “probability density functions” of climate sensitivity, they always cluster towards the lower end.

What is more, in the small print describing the assumptions of the “representative concentration pathways”, it admits that the top of the range will only be reached if sensitivity to carbon dioxide is high (which is doubtful); if world population growth re-accelerates (which is unlikely); if carbon dioxide absorption by the oceans slows down (which is improbable); and if the world economy goes in a very odd direction, giving up gas but increasing coal use tenfold (which is implausible).

But the commentators ignore all these caveats and babble on about warming of “up to” four degrees (or even more), then castigate as a “denier” anybody who says, as I do, the lower end of the scale looks much more likely given the actual data. This is a deliberate tactic. Following what the psychologist Philip Tetlock called the “psychology of taboo”, there has been a systematic and thorough campaign to rule out the middle ground as heretical: not just wrong, but mistaken, immoral and beyond the pale. That’s what the word denier with its deliberate connotations of Holocaust denial is intended to do. For reasons I do not fully understand, journalists have been shamefully happy to go along with this fundamentally religious project.

Politicians love this polarising because it means they can attack a straw man. It’s what they are good at. “Doubt has been eliminated,” said Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and UN Special Representative on Climate Change, in a speech in 2007: “It is irresponsible, reckless and deeply immoral to question the seriousness of the situation. The time for diagnosis is over. Now it is time to act.” John Kerry says we have no time for a meeting of the flat-earth society. Barack Obama says that 97 per cent of scientists agree that climate change is “real, man-made and dangerous”. That’s just a lie (or a very ignorant remark): as I point out above, there is no consensus that it’s dangerous.

So where’s the outrage from scientists at this presidential distortion? It’s worse than that, actually. The 97 per cent figure is derived from two pieces of pseudoscience that would have embarrassed a homeopath. The first was a poll that found that 97 per cent of just seventy-nine scientists thought climate change was man-made—not that it was dangerous. A more recent poll of 1854 members of the American Meteorological Society found the true number is 52 per cent.

The second source of the 97 per cent number was a survey of scientific papers, which has now been comprehensively demolished by Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University, who is probably the world’s leading climate economist. As the Australian blogger Joanne Nova summarised Tol’s findings, John Cook of the University of Queensland and his team used an unrepresentative sample, left out much useful data, used biased observers who disagreed with the authors of the papers they were classifying nearly two-thirds of the time, and collected and analysed the data in such a way as to allow the authors to adjust their preliminary conclusions as they went along, a scientific no-no if ever there was one. The data could not be replicated, and Cook himself threatened legal action to hide them. Yet neither the journal nor the university where Cook works has retracted the paper, and the scientific establishment refuses to stop citing it, let alone blow the whistle on it. Its conclusion is too useful.

This should be a huge scandal, not fodder for a tweet by the leader of the free world. Joanne Nova, incidentally, is an example of a new breed of science critic that the climate debate has spawned. With little backing, and facing ostracism for her heresy, this talented science journalist had abandoned any chance of a normal, lucrative career and systematically set out to expose the way the huge financial gravy train that is climate science has distorted the methods of science. In her chapter in The Facts, Nova points out that the entire trillion-dollar industry of climate change policy rests on a single hypothetical assumption, first advanced in 1896, for which to this day there is no evidence.

The assumption is that modest warming from carbon dioxide must be trebly amplified by extra water vapour—that as the air warms there will be an increase in absolute humidity providing “a positive feedback”. That assumption led to specific predictions that could be tested. And the tests come back negative again and again. The large positive feedback that can turn a mild warming into a dangerous one just is not there. There is no tropical troposphere hot-spot. Ice cores unambiguously show that temperature can fall while carbon dioxide stays high. Estimates of climate sensitivity, which should be high if positive feedbacks are strong, are instead getting lower and lower. Above all, the temperature has failed to rise as predicted by the models.

Scandal after scandal

The Cook paper is one of many scandals and blunders in climate science. There was the occasion in 2012 when the climate scientist Peter Gleick stole the identity of a member of the (sceptical) Heartland Institute’s board of directors, leaked confidential documents, and included also a “strategy memo” purporting to describe Heartland’s plans, which was a straight forgery. Gleick apologised but continues to be a respected climate scientist.

There was Stephan Lewandowsky, then at the University of Western Australia, who published a paper titled “NASA faked the moon landing therefore [climate] science is a hoax”, from which readers might have deduced, in the words of a Guardian headline, that “new research finds that sceptics also tend to support conspiracy theories such as the moon landing being faked”. Yet in fact in the survey for the paper, only ten respondents out of 1145 thought that the moon landing was a hoax, and seven of those did not think climate change was a hoax. A particular irony here is that two of the men who have actually been to the moon are vocal climate sceptics: Harrison Schmitt and Buzz Aldrin.

It took years of persistence before physicist Jonathan Jones and political scientist Ruth Dixon even managed to get into print (in March this year) a detailed and devastating critique of the Lewandowsky article’s methodological flaws and bizarre reasoning, with one journal allowing Lewandowsky himself to oppose the publication of their riposte. Lewandowsky published a later paper claiming that the reactions to his previous paper proved he was right, but it was so flawed it had to be retracted.

If these examples of odd scientific practice sound too obscure, try Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC for thirteen years and often described as the “world’s top climate scientist”. He once dismissed as “voodoo science” an official report by India’s leading glaciologist, Vijay Raina, because it had challenged a bizarre claim in an IPCC report (citing a WWF report which cited an article in New Scientist), that the Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035. The claim originated with Syed Hasnain, who subsequently took a job at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), the Delhi-based company of which Dr Pachauri is director-general, and there his glacier claim enabled TERI to win a share of a three-million-euro grant from the European Union. No wonder Dr Pachauri might well not have wanted the 2035 claim challenged.

Yet Raina was right, it proved to be the IPCC’s most high-profile blunder, and Dr Pachauri had to withdraw both it and his “voodoo” remark. The scandal led to a highly critical report into the IPCC by several of the world’s top science academics, which recommended among other things that the IPCC chair stand down after one term. Dr Pachauri ignored this, kept his job, toured the world while urging others not to, and published a novel, with steamy scenes of seduction of an older man by young women. (He resigned this year following criminal allegations of sexual misconduct with a twenty-nine-year-old female employee, which he denies, and which are subject to police investigation.)

Yet the climate bloggers who constantly smear sceptics managed to avoid even reporting most of this. If you want to follow Dr Pachauri’s career you have to rely on a tireless but self-funded investigative journalist: the Canadian Donna Laframboise. In her chapter in The Facts, Laframboise details how Dr Pachauri has managed to get the world to describe him as a Nobel laureate, even though this is simply not true.

Notice, by the way, how many of these fearless free-thinkers prepared to tell emperors they are naked are women. Susan Crockford, a Canadian zoologist, has steadfastly exposed the myth-making that goes into polar bear alarmism, to the obvious discomfort of the doyens of that field. Jennifer Marohasy of Central Queensland University, by persistently asking why cooling trends recorded at Australian weather stations with no recorded moves were being altered to warming trends, has embarrassed the Bureau of Meteorology into a review of their procedures. Her chapter in The Facts underlines the failure of computer models to predict rainfall.

But male sceptics have scored successes too. There was the case of the paper the IPCC relied upon to show that urban heat islands (the fact that cities are generally warmer than the surrounding countryside, so urbanisation causes local, but not global, warming) had not exaggerated recent warming. This paper turned out—as the sceptic Doug Keenan proved—to be based partly on non-existent data on forty-nine weather stations in China. When corrected, it emerged that the urban heat island effect actually accounted for 40 per cent of the warming in China.

There was the Scandinavian lake sediment core that was cited as evidence of sudden recent warming, when it was actually being used “upside down”—the opposite way the authors of the study thought it should be used: so if anything it showed cooling.

There was the graph showing unprecedented recent warming that turned out to depend on just one larch tree in the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia.

There was the southern hemisphere hockey-stick that had been created by the omission of inconvenient data series.

There was the infamous “hide the decline” incident when a tree-ring-derived graph had been truncated to disguise the fact that it seemed to show recent cooling.

And of course there was the mother of all scandals, the “hockey stick” itself: a graph that purported to show the warming of the last three decades of the twentieth century as unprecedented in a millennium, a graph that the IPCC was so thrilled with that it published it six times in its third assessment report and displayed it behind the IPCC chairman at his press conference. It was a graph that persuaded me to abandon my scepticism (until I found out about its flaws), because I thought Nature magazine would never have published it without checking. And it is a graph that was systematically shown by Steven McIntyre and Ross McKitrick to be wholly misleading, as McKitrick recounts in glorious detail in his chapter in The Facts.

Its hockey-stick shape depended heavily on one set of data from bristlecone pine trees in the American south-west, enhanced by a statistical approach to over-emphasise some 200 times any hockey-stick shaped graph. Yet bristlecone tree-rings do not, according to those who collected the data, reflect temperature at all. What is more, the scientist behind the original paper, Michael Mann, had known all along that his data depended heavily on these inappropriate trees and a few other series, because when finally prevailed upon to release his data he accidentally included a file called “censored” that proved as much: he had tested the effect of removing the bristlecone pine series and one other, and found that the hockey-stick shape disappeared.

In March this year Dr Mann published a paper claiming the Gulf Stream was slowing down. This garnered headlines all across the world. Astonishingly, his evidence that the Gulf Stream is slowing down came not from the Gulf Stream, but from “proxies” which included—yes—bristlecone pine trees in Arizona, upside-down lake sediments in Scandinavia and larch trees in Siberia.

The democratisation of science

Any one of these scandals in, say, medicine might result in suspensions, inquiries or retractions. Yet the climate scientific establishment repeatedly reacts as if nothing is wrong. It calls out any errors on the lukewarming end, but ignores those on the exaggeration end. That complacency has shocked me, and done more than anything else to weaken my long-standing support for science as an institution. I repeat that I am not a full sceptic of climate change, let alone a “denier”. I think carbon-dioxide-induced warming during this century is likely, though I think it is unlikely to prove rapid and dangerous. So I don’t agree with those who say the warming is all natural, or all driven by the sun, or only an artefact of bad measurement, but nor do I think anything excuses bad scientific practice in support of the carbon dioxide theory, and every time one of these scandals erupts and the scientific establishment asks us to ignore it, I wonder if the extreme sceptics are not on to something. I feel genuinely betrayed by the profession that I have spent so much of my career championing.

There is, however, one good thing that has happened to science as a result of the climate debate: the democratisation of science by sceptic bloggers. It is no accident that sceptic sites keep winning the “Bloggies” awards. There is nothing quite like them for massive traffic, rich debate and genuinely open peer review. Following Steven McIntyre on tree rings, Anthony Watts or Paul Homewood on temperature records, Judith Curry on uncertainty, Willis Eschenbach on clouds or ice cores, or Andrew Montford on media coverage has been one of the delights of recent years for those interested in science. Papers that had passed formal peer review and been published in journals have nonetheless been torn apart in minutes on the blogs. There was the time Steven McIntyre found that an Antarctic temperature trend arose “entirely from the impact of splicing the two data sets together”. Or when Willis Eschenbach showed a published chart had “cut the modern end of the ice core carbon dioxide record short, right at the time when carbon dioxide started to rise again” about 8000 years ago, thus omitting the startling but inconvenient fact that carbon dioxide levels rose while temperatures fell over the following millennia.

Scientists don’t like this lèse majesté, of course. But it’s the citizen science that the internet has long promised. This is what eavesdropping on science should be like—following the twists and turns of each story, the ripostes and counter-ripostes, making up your own mind based on the evidence. And that is precisely what the non-sceptical side just does not get. Its bloggers are almost universally wearily condescending. They are behaving like sixteenth-century priests who do not think the Bible should be translated into English.

Renegade heretics in science itself are especially targeted. The BBC was subjected to torrents of abuse for even interviewing Bob Carter, a distinguished geologist and climate science expert who does not toe the alarmed line and who is one of the editors of Climate Change Reconsidered, a serious and comprehensive survey of the state of climate science organised by the Non-governmental Panel on Climate Change and ignored by the mainstream media.

Judith Curry of Georgia Tech moved from alarm to mild scepticism and has endured vitriolic criticism for it. She recently wrote:

There is enormous pressure for climate scientists to conform to the so-called consensus. This pressure comes not only from politicians, but from federal funding agencies, universities and professional societies, and scientists themselves who are green activists and advocates. Reinforcing this consensus are strong monetary, reputational, and authority interests. The closing of minds on the climate change issue is a tragedy for both science and society.

The distinguished Swedish meteorologist Lennart Bengtsson was so frightened for his own family and his health after he announced last year that he was joining the advisory board of the Global Warming Policy Foundation that he withdrew, saying, “It is a situation that reminds me about the time of McCarthy.”

The astrophysicist Willie Soon was falsely accused by a Greenpeace activist of failing to disclose conflicts of interest to an academic journal, an accusation widely repeated by mainstream media.


Clearing the middle ground

Much of this climate war parallels what has happened with Islamism, and it is the result of a similar deliberate policy of polarisation and silencing of debate. Labelling opponents “Islamophobes” or “deniers” is in the vast majority of cases equally inaccurate and equally intended to polarise. As Asra Nomani wrote in the Washington Post recently, a community of anti-blasphemy police arose out of a deliberate policy decision by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation:

and began trying to control the debate on Islam. This wider corps throws the label of “Islamophobe” on pundits, journalists and others who dare to talk about extremist ideology in the religion … The insults may look similar to Internet trolling and vitriolic comments you can find on any blog or news site. But they’re more coordinated, frightening and persistent.

Compare that to what happened to Roger Pielke Jr, as recounted by James Delingpole in The Facts. Pielke is a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado and a hugely respected expert on disasters. He is no denier, thinking man-made global warming is real. But in his own area of expertise he is very clear that the rise in insurance losses is because the world is getting wealthier and we have more stuff to lose, not because more storms are happening. This is incontrovertibly true, and the IPCC agrees with him. But when he said this on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website he and Silver were savaged by commenters, led by one Rob Honeycutt. Crushed by the fury he had unleashed, Silver apologised and dropped Pielke as a contributor.

Rob Honeycutt and his allies knew what they were doing. Delingpole points out that Honeycutt (on a different website) urged people to “send in the troops to hammer down” anything moderate or sceptical, and to “grow the team of crushers”. Those of us who have been on the end of this sort of stuff know it is exactly like what the blasphemy police do with Islamophobia. We get falsely labelled “deniers” and attacked for heresy in often the most ad-hominem way.

Even more shocking has been the bullying lynch mob assembled this year by alarmists to prevent the University of Western Australia, erstwhile employers of the serially debunked conspiracy theorist Stephan Lewandowsky, giving a job to the economist Bjorn Lomborg. The grounds were that Lomborg is a “denier”. But he’s not. He does not challenge the science at all. He challenges on economic grounds some climate change policies, and the skewed priorities that lead to the ineffective spending of money on the wrong environmental solutions. His approach has been repeatedly vindicated over many years in many different topics, by many of the world’s leading economists. Yet there was barely a squeak of protest from the academic establishment at the way he was howled down and defamed for having the temerity to try to set up a research group at a university.

Well, internet trolls are roaming the woods in every subject, so what am I complaining about? The difference is that in the climate debate they have the tacit or explicit support of the scientific establishment. Venerable bodies like the Royal Society almost never criticise journalists for being excessively alarmist, only for being too lukewarm, and increasingly behave like pseudoscientists, explaining away inconvenient facts.

Making excuses for failed predictions

For example, scientists predicted a retreat of Antarctic sea ice but it has expanded instead, and nowadays they are claiming, like any astrologer, that this is because of warming after all. “Please,” says Mark Steyn in The Facts:

No tittering, it’s so puerile—every professor of climatology knows that the thickest ice ever is a clear sign of thin ice, because as the oceans warm, glaciers break off the Himalayas and are carried by the El Ninja down the Gore Stream past the Cape of Good Horn where they merge into the melting ice sheet, named after the awareness-raising rapper Ice Sheet …

Or consider this example, from the Royal Society’s recent booklet on climate change:

Does the recent slowdown of warming mean that climate change is no longer happening? No. Since the very warm surface temperatures of 1998 which followed the strong 1997-98 El Niño, the increase in average surface temperature has slowed relative to the previous decade of rapid temperature increases, with more of the excess heat being stored in the oceans.

You would never know from this that the “it’s hiding in the oceans” excuse is just one unproven hypothesis—and one that implies that natural variation exaggerated the warming in the 1990s, so reinforcing the lukewarm argument. Nor would you know (as Andrew Bolt recounts in his chapter in The Facts) that the pause in global warming contradicts specific and explicit predictions such as this, from the UK Met Office: “by 2014 we’re predicting it will be 0.3 degrees warmer than in 2004”. Or that the length of the pause is now past the point where many scientists said it would disprove the hypothesis of rapid man-made warming. Dr Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, said in 2009: “Bottom line: the ‘no upward trend’ has to continue for a total of 15 years before we get worried.” It now has.

Excusing failed predictions is a staple of astrology; it’s the way pseudoscientists argue. In science, as Karl Popper long ago insisted, if you make predictions and they fail, you don’t just make excuses and insist you’re even more right than before. The Royal Society once used to promise “never to give their opinion, as a body, upon any subject”. Its very motto is “nullius in verba”: take nobody’s word for it. Now it puts out catechisms of what you must believe in. Surely, the handing down of dogmas is for churches, not science academies. Expertise, authority and leadership should count for nothing in science. The great Thomas Henry Huxley put it this way: “The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin.” Richard Feynman was even pithier: “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

The harm to science

I dread to think what harm this episode will have done to the reputation of science in general when the dust has settled. Science will need a reformation. Garth Paltridge is a distinguished Australian climate scientist, who, in The Facts, pens a wise paragraph that I fear will be the epitaph of climate science:

We have at least to consider the possibility that the scientific establishment behind the global warming issue has been drawn into the trap of seriously overstating the climate problem—or, what is much the same thing, of seriously understating the uncertainties associated with the climate problem—in its effort to promote the cause. It is a particularly nasty trap in the context of science, because it risks destroying, perhaps for centuries to come, the unique and hard-won reputation for honesty which is the basis for society’s respect for scientific endeavour.

And it’s not working anyway. Despite avalanches of money being spent on research to find evidence of rapid man-made warming, despite even more spent on propaganda and marketing and subsidising renewable energy, the public remains unconvinced. The most recent polling data from Gallup shows the number of Americans who worry “a great deal” about climate change is down slightly on thirty years ago, while the number who worry “not at all” has doubled from 12 per cent to 24 per cent—and now exceeds the number who worry “only a little” or “a fair amount”. All that fear-mongering has achieved less than nothing: if anything it has hardened scepticism.

None of this would matter if it was just scientific inquiry, though that rarely comes cheap in itself. The big difference is that these scientists who insist that we take their word for it, and who get cross if we don’t, are also asking us to make huge, expensive and risky changes to the world economy and to people’s livelihoods. They want us to spend a fortune getting emissions down as soon as possible. And they want us to do that even if it hurts poor people today, because, they say, their grandchildren (who, as Nigel Lawson points out, in The Facts, and their models assume, are going to be very wealthy) matter more.

Yet they are not prepared to debate the science behind their concern. That seems wrong to me.

Matt Ridley is an English science journalist whose books include The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. A member of the House of Lords, he has a website at He declares an interest in coal through the leasing of land for mining.
145  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Ignite the Deniers! on: June 18, 2015, 02:49:04 PM
Everything old is new again:
146  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Perpetual Dragon Hunt on: June 10, 2015, 12:36:16 PM
Spot. On.
147  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Bad Science Begets. . . . on: June 07, 2015, 05:28:51 PM
Bad science begets perverse incentives begets failed solutions:
148  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Missing Heat is Missing Squared on: May 28, 2015, 08:40:54 AM
Oh dear, the missing heat presumed to be in the deep ocean is so missing that the Atlantic is cooling:
149  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Perverse Incentives Create Perverse Results, Duh on: May 22, 2015, 08:16:46 PM
I've encountered several pieces like this lately, all of which steer clear of including climate science in the mix. I suspect the subtexts, however, suggest that the most panic mongering of "sciences" is likely the one most guilty of the practices noted here:
150  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Author Conversation: "The War Well Lost" on: April 10, 2015, 09:51:48 PM
A profound exploration of the folly and abject failure of the WOD.

Johann Hari is a British journalist who has written for many of the world’s leading newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, The Nation, Slate, El Mundo, and The Sydney Morning Herald. He was an op-ed columnist for The Independent for nine years. He graduated from King’s College, Cambridge with a double first in social and political sciences in 2001.

Hari was twice named “National Newspaper Journalist of the Year” by Amnesty International. He was named “Environmental Commentator of the Year” at the Editorial Intelligence Awards, and “Gay Journalist of the Year” at the Stonewall Awards. He has also won the Martha Gellhorn Prize for political writing.

Hari’s latest book is the New York Times best seller Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. You can follow him on Twitter @johannhari101.
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S. Harris: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Johann. You’ve written a wonderful book about the war on drugs—about its history and injustice—and I hope everyone will read it. The practice of making certain psychoactive compounds illegal raises some deep and difficult questions about how to create societies worth living in. I strongly suspect that you and I will agree about the ethics here: The drug war has been a travesty and a tragedy. But you’re much more knowledgeable about the history of this war, so I’d like to ask you a few questions before we begin staking out common ground.

The drug war started almost exactly 100 years ago. That means our great-grandparents could wander into any pharmacy and buy cocaine or heroin. Why did the drug war begin, and who started it?

J. Hari: It’s really fascinating, because when I realized we were coming up to this centenary, I thought of myself as someone who knew a good deal about the drug war. I’d written about it quite a lot, as you know, and I had drug addiction in my family. One of my earliest memories is of trying to wake up one of my relatives and not being able to.
And yet I just realized there were many basic questions I didn’t know the answer to, including exactly the one you’re asking: Why were drugs banned 100 years ago? Why do we continue banning them? What are the actual alternatives in practice? And what really causes drug use and drug addiction?

To find the answers, I went on this long journey—across nine countries, 30,000 miles—and I learned that almost everything I thought at the start was basically wrong. Drugs aren’t what we think they are. The drug war isn’t what we think it is. Drug addiction isn’t what we think it is. And the alternatives aren’t what we think they are.
If you had said to me, “Why were drugs banned?” I would have guessed that most people, if you stopped them in the street, would say, “We don’t want people to become addicted, we don’t want kids to use drugs,” that kind of thing.

What is fascinating when you go back and read the archives from the time is that that stuff barely comes up. Drugs were banned in the United States a century ago for a very different reason. They were banned in the middle of a huge race panic. After the Civil War, Reconstruction failed, and what you had were African Americans and Chinese Americans who—rightly—were pissed off. At various points they showed their anger—in fact, given how extreme their oppression was, it’s surprising they didn’t show a lot more anger. Many white Americans explained this growing rebelliousness at the start of the 20th century by saying that African Americans and Chinese Americans were forgetting their place, using drugs, and attacking white people. If this sounds bizarre, that’s because it was.

The official statements are extraordinary. A typical one said, “The cocaine nigger sure is hard to kill.” Sheriffs across certain parts of the United States increased the caliber of their bullets because they believed African American men were taking cocaine and ravaging and attacking white people. The main way I tell about that in the book is through the story of how the founder of the war on drugs, Harry Anslinger, played a crucial role in stalking and killing Billie Holiday, the great jazz singer, which blew my mind when I first learned it.
S. Harris: I’d like to underscore this background fact. Many people are aware that the war on drugs has caused disproportionate harm to the black community. But I think people don’t generally know that racism had anything to do with its origins. Can you say a bit more about what the link was?

J. Hari: I think a good illustration is that in California there was a really deep bigotry against Chinese Americans. There were actually mass lynchings of them in Los Angeles, for example. In San Francisco they tried to forcibly relocate Chinatown out of the city and into an area reserved for pig farming. Chinese Americans challenged it all the way to the California Supreme Court, which ruled that they couldn’t be forcibly evicted.

Very soon afterward, the white authorities shifted and said, in effect, “Oh, okay, well, these Chinese Americans brought opium dens with them. We’ll attack them for their opium dens.” They went in and burned large parts of Chinatown. The drug war provided a legal excuse to do what they wanted to do already—unleash real force against ethnic minorities.
One of the best places to start, when it comes to African Americans, is that story about Billie Holiday. Harry Anslinger was probably the most influential person that no one’s ever heard of. He took over the Department of Prohibition just as alcohol prohibition was ending, so he had this big government bureaucracy with very little to do. And he was driven by two intense hatreds: One was a hatred of addicts, and the other was a hatred of African Americans.

He was regarded as an extreme racist by the racists of the 1930s. This is a guy who used the “N” word in official memos so often that his own senator said he should have to resign. He found out at about the same time that three famous Americans were addicts, and he treated them very differently. I think that tells you something.

Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, and Joe McCarthy were all addicts. Judy Garland was told to take slightly longer vacations, and Anslinger reassured the studio she was going to be fine. Joe McCarthy was given a safe and legal prescription for opiates from a pharmacy in Washington, D.C. And Billie Holiday was stalked onto her deathbed, arrested, and completely destroyed.
In 1939 Billie Holiday first sang “Strange Fruit,” the famous anti-lynching song. That night the Federal Bureau of Narcotics told her to stop singing the song, because according to Anslinger, it represented everything that was wrong with America.

S. Harris: He had an incredible antipathy toward jazz as well. Didn’t he consider it a sign of some sort of moral failure?

J. Hari: He saw it as a sign of chaos and disorder. It’s really funny going through his files—bleakly funny—because he got these reports from his agents quoting jazz lyrics. They said things like (I’m paraphrasing) “The negro jazz singer sang, ‘When he gets the motion, he thinks he can walk across the ocean.’” And Anslinger writes, “He really does believe that.” He thought jazz was just crazed babble. At one point he said he was going to lead a crackdown on musicians. Then he said, “Not the good musicians, the jazz type.” He really wanted a kind of pogrom of all jazz musicians.

But a fascinating thing about the jazz world is that it had an extremely high degree of solidarity, and no one would snitch. The one exception was Billie Holiday’s scumbag pimp husband, who did, in fact, inform on her to Anslinger.

The Bureau gives this order to Holiday to stop singing her anti-lynching song. She had grown up in Baltimore when it was a segregated city, and she had promised herself as a little girl that she would never bow her head to any white man. So she said, in effect, “F*** you. I’m an American citizen and I’m going to sing my song.”
That’s the point at which Anslinger resolved to break her. He hated employing African Americans, but you couldn’t really send a white guy into Harlem to stalk Billie Holiday. So he employed this African American agent named Jimmy Fletcher.

Fletcher followed her around for two years, and Holiday was so amazing that Fletcher fell in love with her. For the rest of his life he was ashamed of what he did. He busted her, and she was put on trial. She said, “The trial was called ‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday,’ and that’s how it felt.” And she went to prison.

But the cruelest thing is what happened next. She got out, and there was hardly anywhere she could sing anymore, because you needed a license to perform anywhere where alcohol was served. Her friend Yolande Bavan said to me, “How do you best act cruelly?...It’s to take something that’s the dearest thing to that person away from them.” That’s what we do to addicts in Britain and America every day—we give them criminal records that cut them off from any access to the legal workforce.

Billie Holiday relapsed on heroin and alcohol and fell back into a very bad addiction problem. In her early 40s she finally collapsed and was taken to the hospital. She was convinced that Anslinger’s men were going to come for her in the hospital, and she was right. She said to one of her friends, “They’re going to kill me in there. Don’t let them. They’re going to kill me.” I spoke to the last surviving person who had been in the room with her. Holiday was handcuffed to the bed. The police knew she had liver cancer by this point, but they handcuffed her to the bed and didn’t let her friends in to see her. They took away her record player, her candies, and everything else. One of her friends managed to insist that she be given methadone because she had gone into heroin withdrawal—which is very dangerous when you’re as weak as she was. Once on the methadone, she started to recover—but then they cut off the methadone and she died.

I think this story tells us so much about the origins of the drug war—the degree to which it was about race, then and now, and how they prefigure what we do to addicts today. People who are addicts are in terrible pain—Billie Holiday was raped and prostituted as a child—and we take these people and inflict more pain and suffering on them, and then we’re surprised they don’t stop taking drugs.

S. Harris: We’ll talk about the phenomenon of addiction, and discuss the novel understanding of it you arrive at in the book. But first I think we should acknowledge that drugs and alcohol can cause social harms that every society has an interest in preventing. It’s not hard to see why some people think that the appropriate response to the chaos these substances often cause is to prohibit them.

Consider alcohol. We know, of course, that Prohibition was a disaster. But when you consider what cities were like before the Women’s Christian Temperance Union got working—with men abandoning their jobs and families, spending all day in saloons, and winding up just hammered in the gutter—it’s not hard to see what people were worried about. Ken Burns’s documentary on Prohibition explains this history in a very colorful way. As you and I race to the conclusion that prohibition of all sorts is both unethical and doomed to fail, I think we should acknowledge that many drugs, alcohol included, have the potential to ruin people’s lives.

And it wasn’t completely crazy to think that banning the use of specific drugs might be a good way, ethically and practically, to mitigate their harms. But ever since Prohibition we’ve known that the cure is worse than the disease. When you ban substances that people enjoy using so much that they’ll break the law to do it, you create a black market with huge profits. And since purveyors of illicit drugs have no legal way to secure their investment, the trade will be run by increasingly violent criminals.

In a single stroke, therefore, prohibition creates organized crime and all the social ills attributable to the skyrocketing cost of drugs—addicts are forced to become thieves and prostitutes in order to afford their next fix. Why isn’t the stupidity of prohibition now obvious to everyone?

J. Hari: What’s fascinating is that it was obvious at the time. The drug war really began in the 1930s, when Harry Anslinger was the first person to use the phrase “warfare against drugs”—and it was massively resisted across the United States and across the world. This is a forgotten and suppressed history, and I was startled to uncover it.

I tell it mainly through the story of this extraordinary doctor, Henry Smith Williams, who at the birth of the drug war prophesied all of it. It’s worth remembering that when drugs were first banned, doctors resisted to such a degree that 17,000 of them had to be rounded up and arrested because they insisted on continuing to prescribe to drug addicts. The mayor of Los Angeles stood outside a heroin-prescribing clinic and said, effectively, “You will not close this down. It does a good job for the people of Los Angeles.” The early drug war was hugely contested, and many people rightly pointed out why it wouldn’t work. This is a really important thing to remember. And one of the most fascinating things for me was seeing how much the arguments at both the beginning of the drug war and in societies where they have finally end it have echoed each other.

I’ll give you an example that happened in California. When drugs were first banned, in 1914, a big and deliberate loophole was written into the law that said it did not apply to addicts. Addicts could go to a doctor and get a prescription for these drugs. So what happened was that in loads of places doctors just kept on prescribing drugs to basically anyone who wanted them, because they figured, “Well, it’s better you get it from me than from a gangster who’s going to f*** up the product and potentially kill you.”

So this carried on, and it was shut down state by state, mainly by Anslinger. One of the last states to shut it down was California, and we now know why. The Chinese drug gangs in California were really pissed off, because the authorities in Nevada had stopped doctors from prescribing opium, so addicts had to go to gangsters to get their drugs. But in California they could still go to a doctor—so the gangsters were losing that big, profitable chunk of business. So the Chinese drug gangs bribed the federal narcotics agents to introduce the drug war faster, because it worked so well for them.

It tells you something. The only people who have ever won from the drug war are the armed criminal gangs who are handed the whole industry.

In Colorado, I saw the same pattern playing out. For example, Steve Fox is a great guy who was one of the leaders of the legalization campaign in Colorado. He wanted to go on the radio during the campaign and say, “One of the great advantages of legalization is we’ll bankrupt the cartels.” A radio station in Colorado was too afraid that the cartels would come and hurt them in Colorado to let him say that on the air.

I think what you said a little bit before this is really important and true: It’s not inherently irrational to look at the harm caused by drugs and think the solution is to ban them. I think one of the reasons the debate about the drug war is so charged is that it runs through the hearts of each of us as individuals. There are times when I look at the addicts in my life and I think, “Someone should f***ing stop you, and someone should stop you by force.”

We all have a Harry Anslinger inside us. And if we’re decent people, we have a compassionate side to us as well. So I think that these emotions are very natural. And I also think this debate is slightly different from, say, the gay rights debate. People like you and me, who believe in the equality of gay people, are ultimately—when we clash with homophobes—arguing with people who simply have irreconcilably different beliefs from ours. Obviously, we should try to persuade them, we should try to win them round, but ultimately there’s a chasm between us and them on a fundamentally different moral value. We think gay love is equal to heterosexual love; they don’t. We have to prevail over them.

I actually don’t think that’s quite the case with the drug war. If you look at the reasons people give for supporting the drug war, one of the things that strikes me is that their goals drive me, too: They don’t want kids to use drugs, they don’t want people to become addicted, and they want to reduce the amount of criminality in the world. Actually, I’m passionate about every one of those goals.

The only disagreement is about how to achieve them. And I think we can prove—by looking at places that have pursued alternatives—that in fact those goals are better achieved by a very, very different approach. The drug war makes all the problems that all sides want to deal with far worse, for reasons I can talk about, if you like. But I think you’ve gone to a really important part of the debate, which is that this is actually a narrower disagreement than a lot of the political arguments that you and I engage in.

S. Harris: Yes, except I would say that some of the hostility toward drugs does resemble homophobia—and is, to a significant degree, inspired by religion. Homosexuality is anathema because it entails, by definition, a search for sexual pleasure independent of a desire to have children. And pleasure and piety have always had a very uneasy relationship. Many religious people will support unconscionable misuses of state power to prevent their neighbors from enjoying themselves in harmless but irreligious ways. As I wrote in my first book, The End of Faith, this is essentially a concern about idolatry—which is viewed as a distraction from the most important task of life, which is to love God and fully submit yourself to His will.

So I agree that many people are worried about dysfunction and the obvious waste of human life that one sees with certain forms of drug use. But that doesn’t account for all the opposition to drugs. If one were really concerned about harm, one would ban cigarettes long before banning drugs like MDMA and LSD.

J. Hari: I think that what you’ve just said is really important. But I would put it slightly differently. I would say that if you look at it historically, you see that what the religious tend to fear in drug use is a rival sense of transcendence.

For example—I talk in the book about this—at the Temple of Eleusis, every year for 2,000 years there was a kind of revelry, and many very famous people, such as Sophocles, Aristotle, and Cicero went there. It would look very familiar to somebody who has been to Burning Man. Huge numbers of people would attend, and what we now know was a hallucinogenic fungus would be passed around, and people would go into a kind of Dionysian frenzy, and anyone could go, and so on.

It shut down when Constantine converted to Christianity and imposed it as the official state religion. This 2,000-year party crashed into official Christianity and was shut down and never came back—although people have been building their own private Temples of Eleusis ever since, one way or another.

Another good example is the arrival of the Spanish settlers in Latin America—or, rather, their invasion of Latin America, as we should think of it. They discovered that the indigenous peoples had access to all these different psychoactive substances and hallucinogenic plants, and part of forcibly Christianizing them was stamping out their use of indigenous plants. What the Spanish said at the time really reeks of fear of a rival. These plants gave the indigenous peoples the sense they were getting close to God—but of course the only way they were allowed to get close to God under state-imposed Christiantity was through the official rituals.

So I think you’re totally right. It’s very dangerous for religious groups if people realize you can get all that ecstasy and transcendence and none of the f***ing religion and theology.
Harry Anslinger was fanatically religious. He loved Seventh-Day Adventists. They were his main supporters. He said he wanted his successor at the Federal Bureau of Narcotics to be a Seventh-Day Adventist. There is definitely an element of puritanism there. Oscar Wilde defined puritanism as the fear that someone, somewhere, is having a good time.

But it’s worth thinking about how quickly puritanism can bleed away. Rightly, you referred earlier to alcohol prohibition, and the movement for that was one of the largest mass movements in American history. It’s quite hard to get our heads around how enormous the movement for Prohibition was, driven by exactly these motives. And then it just evaporated—Daniel Okrent’s history of Prohibition brilliantly details this. Once alcohol prohibition was over, virtually no one ever argued for it to come back. This entire mass movement, based on this puritan distaste for alcohol, was tested to destruction and evaporated.

You can say, “Oh, the puritanism transferred to other substances.” And there’s some truth in that. But actually I think it does tell you that that kind of puritanism is not immutable—it can be dissolved and discredited.

S. Harris: That’s very interesting. And it does seem that with respect to both drugs and gay marriage we’ve made considerable progress in the past few years. How hopeful are you that we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel on these issues?

J. Hari: I am optimistic—for reasons I can give—but I don’t think the drug war is anything close to over. I think in the analogy of the gay rights movement we’re at 1970, which is a lot better than being at 1950, but we’ve got a long way to go before we get to 2015. I would say that it entirely depends on the size of the movement of ordinary citizens that forms to oppose the drug war.

The best way I can describe what needs to happen now is through a story I tell in the book about the most inspiring person I met—and that means something, because I met a lot of inspiring people in the process of researching the book.

In 2000 there was a homeless street addict in Vancouver named Bud Osborne, who was watching his friends die all around him. He was in the downtown east side of Vancouver, which was notorious for having the highest concentration of addicts in North America, quite possibly in the world.

Addicts there would shoot up behind Dumpsters so that the cops wouldn’t see them. But obviously if you’re hidden away and you start to overdose, no one can see you. You just die. Bud thought, “I can’t just watch this happen—I can’t just watch my friends die all around me—but what can I do? I’m just a homeless junkie.” Those are the terms he would have used. He had a really simple idea. Basically, he got together a lot of the addicts and said (I’m paraphrasing), “When we’re not using”—which even for hard-core addicts is most of the time—“why don’t we just draw up a timetable, and we’ll patrol the alleyways, and when we spot someone overdosing, we’ll just call an ambulance.”

The addicts started to do this. And within a few months the overdose rate started to plummet in Vancouver, which was an amazing thing in itself, because it meant people were living who would otherwise die. But it also meant the addicts started to think about themselves differently. They started to think, “Oh, maybe we’re not pieces of s**t. Maybe we can do something.”
They started to turn up at public meetings convened to discuss the menace of addicts. Bud and his friends would sit at the back, and after a little while they’d put up their hands and say (all this is paraphrasing; Bud’s exact words can be heard on the book’s website), “Oh, I think you’re talking about us. Is there anything we can do differently?” Sometimes people would be angry, and sometimes they’d ask for specific things, such as “Go and pick up your needles.” And Bud would say, “Fine, we’ll go and do that.”

But what’s really interesting is what happened next. I think it’s one of the keys to how we unlock this. Bud started reading about how in Frankfurt, in Germany, they had safe injecting rooms for addicts, and overdose had virtually ended in Frankfurt. And he thought, “Well, we’ve got to do that here.” But there had been nothing like that in America since Anslinger went to war against the doctors in the 1930s.
So the addicts, a very large and active group of addicts and their friends and families and supporters, decided to start stalking the mayor of Vancouver, Philip Owen—a right-wing, very rich businessman who said the addicts should all be taken and detained at the local military base. If you picture Mitt Romney, you’ve got some idea of who Philip Owen was. For two years they stalked Philip Owen everywhere he went, and they carried a coffin, which said something like “Who will die next, Philip Owen, before you open a safe injecting room?”
For two years this went on, and they got really disheartened because nothing was changing. After two years, to his credit, Philip Owen one day just said, “Who the f*** are these people?” He went incognito to the downtown east side and met with addicts. And he was totally blown away. He had no idea their lives were like this.

Owen went to meet with Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize–winning economist, who was really good on this issue, partly because he had grown up in Chicago during Prohibition. When he came back, Owen held a press conference with the chief of police, the coroner, and some of the addicts. He said, “We’re going to open the first safe injecting room in North America. We’re going to have the most compassionate drug policy in North America. Just you wait and see.”

He opened the first safe injecting room in North America in 70 years. His right-wing party was so horrified that they de-selected him. But his party was then beaten by the left-wing candidate, who kept the injecting room open. When I went to the downtown east side, it was 10 years since it had opened. Overdose was down by 80%, and the average life expectancy of a downtown east sider had improved by 10 years, which is virtually unheard of in epidemiology. You only get that when wars end. Which is what this was.
Philip Owen told me it was the proudest thing he ever did, and that he would sacrifice his whole political career all over again. Bud died last year, after I got to know him—and when he died, they shut down the streets of the downtown east side where he had lived as a homeless person. They had this incredible memorial service, with loads of people in that crowd who knew they were alive because of what Bud had done.

What I would say about Bud’s story—I think it’s a really interesting model—is that it’s very like the gay movement. You had a movement of ordinary, deeply stigmatized citizens, and lots of good and decent people who had nothing to do with their struggle except that they recognized that they, too, were human beings. They didn’t wait for a leader, they didn’t wait for permission from the top, they just started. And you also had Philip Owen, not someone I would normally be politically sympathetic to, who had the decency to eventually listen to them.
I think we need both ends of that. We need citizens’ movements of people demanding this. Some will be marijuana users demanding liberty, and some will be heroin addicts demanding the right to life, and there will be all sorts of different people on the spectrum in between. But you need to start somewhere, and you need a movement of people demanding it. Virtually every civilizing improvement in the democratic world happens because ordinary citizens demand it, not because politicians decide to hand it down. What is it Frederick Douglass said? “Power concedes nothing without a struggle.”

So I think things are absolutely ripe for ordinary democratic citizens to demand this thing. The polling shows overwhelmingly that people know the drug war has failed. They know it doesn’t work. What they need is for our voices to be louder than the voices of the forces who support the drug war, like the private prison industry; the alcohol industry, which doesn’t want competitors; the prison guard unions, and so on and so on. We also need to persuade people that their totally legitimate fears about the alternatives are in fact not matched by the evidence in societies that have actually tried the alternatives.

S. Harris: Perhaps we should speak about that. What about Portugal? When we pass through the looking glass and invert all our drug laws, where do we arrive?
J. Hari: I think one of the most important things to say about this is that it’s not an abstract conversation. Too often when we talk about the alternatives to the drug war, people start using this slightly weird and arid philosophical tone of voice, where it’s all kind of hypothetical. There’s no excuse for hypothetical conversations on this subject. The alternatives have been tried, they are being tried across the world, and the results are in, and they are unambiguous.

So I could talk about a few places, and Portugal is one. In 2000 Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe. One percent of the population was addicted to heroin, which is kind of extraordinary. Every year they tried the American way more and more: They arrested and imprisoned more people, and every year the problem got worse. One day the prime minister and the leader of the opposition got together and in effect said, “We can’t go on like this. We can’t have more and more people becoming heroin addicts. Let’s figure out what would genuinely solve the problem.”

They convened a panel of scientists and doctors and said to them (again I’m paraphrasing), “Go away and figure out what would solve this problem, and we will agree in advance to do whatever you recommend.” They just took it out of politics. It was very smart. It was as if Obama and Boehner agreed in advance to abide by whatever the panel on drug reform said. It’s hard to imagine Obama and Boehner agreeing on the time of day, but grant that thought for a moment.

The panel went away for a year and a half and came back and said: “Decriminalize everything from cannabis to crack. But”—and this is the crucial next stage—“take all the money we used to spend on arresting and harassing and imprisoning drug users, and spend it on reconnecting them with society and turning their lives around.”
Some of it was what we think of as treatment in America and Britain—they do do residential rehab, and they do therapy—but actually most of it wasn’t that. Most of it, the most successful part, was really very simple. It was making sure that every addict in Portugal had something to get out of bed for in the morning. It consisted of subsidized jobs and microloans to set up small businesses.

Say you used to be a mechanic. When you’re ready, they’ll go to a garage and they’ll say, “If you employ Sam for a year, we’ll pay half his wages.” The microloans had extremely low interest rates, and many businesses were set up by addicts.

It’s been nearly 15 years since this experiment began, and the results are in. Drug use by injection is down by 50%, broader addiction is down, overdose is massively down, and HIV transmission among addicts is massively down.

Compare that with the results in the United States over the past few years. In Portugal I interviewed a guy named Joao Figueira, who was the leader of the opposition to decriminalization at the time—the country’s top drug cop. He said a lot of the things a lot of people reading this will totally reasonably be thinking. Surely if you decriminalize all drugs, you’ll have all sorts of disasters? Figueira told me that everything he had predicted would happen didn’t happen—and everything the other side predicted came to pass. And he talked about how ashamed he felt that he’d spent 20 years arresting and harassing drug users, and he hoped the whole world would follow Portugal’s example.

One thing that is most striking to me: Everywhere I went that had moved beyond the drug war, it was hard to find people who wanted to go back. It was like Prohibition when it was over and people saw the alternatives in practice. It’s very similar to what you see in the polling on marijuana legalization. I’m sure your readers know that Colorado and Washington both have legalized marijuana, by 53%. The polling in Colorado and Washington after they had seen it in practice showed much higher margins supporting legalization. Once people see these things in practice, they discover that it’s not the kind of scary anarchy they had imagined.

Switzerland, a very conservative country, legalized heroin for addicts, meaning you go to the doctor, the doctor assigns you to a clinic, you go to that clinic every day, and you inject your heroin. You can’t take it out with you. I went to that clinic—it looks like a fancy Manhattan hairdresser’s, and the addicts go out after injecting their heroin to their jobs and their lives.
I stress again—Switzerland is a very right-wing country, and after its citizens had seen this in practice, they voted by 70% in two referenda to keep heroin legal for addicts, because they could see that it works. They saw that crime massively fell, property crime massively fell, muggings and street prostitution declined enormously.

I think one of the really important things, particularly in winning the debate in America, is to look at what arguments won in these places and what arguments didn’t. We found that in the places that successfully decriminalized or legalized, liberty-based arguments for ending the drug war were very unpopular. I’m philosophically sympathetic to the argument that it’s your body and you’ve got a right to do what you want with it. But it turns out that’s a politically toxic argument—people really don’t like it, and it only works with people who already agree.
The arguments that work well in persuading the people we still want to reach are order-based arguments. I think the Swiss heroin referenda are good models for that. Basically, what they said was drug war means chaos. It means unknown criminals selling unknown chemicals to unknown users, all in the dark, in our public places, filled with disease and chaos. Legalization is a way of imposing regulation and order on this anarchy. It’s about taking it away from criminal gangs and giving it to doctors and pharmacists, and making sure it happens in nice clean clinics, and we get our nice parks back, and we reduce crime. That’s the argument that will win. And it’s not like it’s a rhetorical trick—it’s true. That is what happens.

S. Harris: And the virtue of that argument is that it separates the problem of drug dependency from all the associated criminality and chaos that isn’t intrinsic to the act of taking drugs, whatever one’s level of dependency. The fact that drugs are as expensive as they are, necessitating the desperate and dangerous efforts we see addicts making to obtain them, is entirely the result of their legal status. Once the laws change, and we have well-behaved people showing up at clinics to get legally prescribed medication, then we can talk about whatever medical, psychological, and social problems remain. We shouldn’t confuse the problem of taking the wrong drugs, or the right ones too often, with the problem of criminal gangs and their associated violence, or with the misbehavior of desperate addicts trying to get their fix.

I think it’s a great insight to emphasize the pragmatic case for legalization, as opposed to the ethical one. It is always tempting to try to lead people through the door of personal liberty, arguing that peaceful, honest adults should be free to seek any experiences they want, as long as they don’t harm others in the process. I still think that this is the deeper argument to make. But it is, as you point out, very often ineffective.

J. Hari: Yes. As you say that, I think of all the horrors that come from the drug war, and I saw many of them. I went out with a chain gang of women in Arizona who were forced to wear T-shirts saying “I was a drug addict” and dig graves. I spoke to survivors of the gulag that is built for drug addicts in Vietnam. I could give you a long list here—they are all told through human stories in my book. But of all the horrors, far and away the worst is what you are alluding to—the violence created by drug prohibition.

I learned that mainly from Chino Harden, a transsexual former crack dealer in Brownsville, Brooklyn, whom I got to know over three and a half years, and from Rosalio Reta, who was a hit man for the deadliest Mexican drug cartel. From the age of 13 to 17, Rosario killed—best estimate—about 70 people, butchered and beheaded them. I tell their stories in the book, and they really helped me to understand how drug prohibition drives this part.

The best way to explain it is this: If you and I go to your local liquor store and try to steal the beer or the vodka, they’ll call the cops, the cops will take us away, and that’s fine. That liquor store doesn’t need to be violent or intimidating. But if we go up to a local weed dealer or coke dealer and try to steal what they’ve got, obviously they can’t call the cops. The cops would arrest them. So they have to fight back. Now, obviously, as a dealer, you don’t want to be having a fight every day, so you establish a reputation for being so terrifying that no one will dare to f*** with you.

The sociologist Philippe Bourgois says that prohibition creates a culture of terror. These people have to be frightening. I really saw that with Chino. Chino is one of the wisest people I know, and one of the most empathetic people I know, and yet he committed heinous acts of violence to maintain his position in this drug war hierarchy on his block in Brownsville. It’s what the system we have created demanded of him.

And Rosalio, not a person I admire, was nonetheless forced into much more extreme acts of violence than he would have committed otherwise, as I learned when I interviewed him. Sometimes we look at the Mexican drug war violence, which is like something out of the Saw movies, and it just seems like psychosis. It seems like Jeffrey Dahmer–style madness. It’s not. It’s important for people to understand that. It is created by prohibition: In the culture of terror created by prohibition, if you are prepared to push the moral limit a little bit further than the other guys, you gain a brief market advantage, because people will back off when they’re scared.

If you’re the first person who says, “We’re not just going to kill our opponents. We’re going to kill our opponents’ pregnant wives,” you get a brief competitive advantage. If you’re the first person to say, “We’ll not only kill their pregnant wives, but we’ll film it and put it on YouTube,” you get a brief competitive advantage. If you’re the first person to say, “We won’t just do that, we’ll cut off their faces, sew their faces onto a football, and post it to their families”—and this is a real thing that happens—you gain a brief competitive advantage.
I tracked how this dynamic works through the story of Rosalio, who is in constant solitary confinement in Texas. It is insane violence. But it’s insane violence within the structure and demands of prohibition. It is caused by prohibition.

There’s a very interesting study by Professor Paul Goldstein that I cite in the book, because it looks at one of the big distortions, where people often talk about “drug-related violence.” They look at the violence associated with the drug war and they think that somehow it’s caused by drugs themselves.

S. Harris: Yes, people sometimes imagine that the perpetrators of this violence are actually on drugs while they’re committing it.

J. Hari: Exactly. It’s like thinking that Al Capone was drunk and that’s why he shot people. It’s an error of judgment, and we can measure it exactly. Professor Goldstein did a study of all the murders that were described as drug-related in New York City in 1986. What he found is that in 7.5% of the killings, somebody was on drugs. (That doesn’t necessarily mean the drugs made them kill, of course.) In a further 2% an addict was committing property crime in order to feed his habit and got caught or it went wrong, and he killed someone.

All the rest, the vast majority, were rival drug gangs killing each other to control their patch, or to gain control of a patch, or to fend off rivals, or somebody getting caught in the cross fire between them.

Well, none of that is drug-related. That’s drug war−caused. If we banned milk and people still wanted milk, the milk trade would work that way. We wouldn’t call it milk-related violence, but it would make as much sense. Milton Friedman calculated that there are 10,000 additional murders every year in the United States as a direct result of this drug war violence. That’s a figure from the 1980s; we expect it to be somewhat lower now, because overall murder rates are lower, but the underlying dynamic remains the same. Look at the news from Chicago any day of the week—it happened under alcohol prohibition, and it happens in the same place under drug prohibition. So I think what you’re saying is exactly right.

This is atrocious enough. But now apply that to Mexico. Imagine a housing project in Brownsville, where Chino is from. Let’s say 5% to 10% of that economy is in the hands of armed criminal gangs. That will be a miserable place to live. In Ciudad Juárez, where I went, on the Mexican side of the US border, 70% of the economy is in the hands of armed criminal gangs. That doesn’t just cause horrific violence—it means that these gangs can outbid the state.

One of the most chilling moments for me in the research for the book was being shown around by Julian Cardona, the Reuters correspondent in Juárez, who was my fixer. He kept telling me stories of people who had been killed by the police. At some point I said, “Well, Julian, this is important, but I’ve got to meet the families of people who have been killed by the cartels.” And Julian just laughed and said words to the effect of “No, you don’t understand, Johann—when the cartels want to kill someone, they pay the police to do it. They’re not separate forces.”

S. Harris: That’s very depressing.

J. Hari: The state works for the cartels. Michelle Leonhart, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, was asked about the 60,000 civilian deaths in Mexico over the past seven years. That’s an underestimate, that figure. And she said—these were her exact words—that they were “a sign of success in the war on drugs.”

That should be a national scandal, that someone whose wages you pay describes the death of innocent civilians as a sign of success. She’s should be forced to explain—what do we gain for this mass slaughter of innocents? Are fewer drugs getting into the United States? No—we know that because the price hasn’t gone up.

S. Harris: What was it like to spend time in Juárez? How concerned were you for your own safety?

J. Hari: I’ve been to lots of dangerous places before, like Iraq, the occupied territories, the Congo, the Central African Republic, and various other places. Generally, I would stay overnight in El Paso and walk across the bridge every day into Juárez, which was itself a fascinating thing. That bridge is such a weird place. When you walk over it, the first thing you see is this sign to the left that says something like “Welcome to Historic Downtown Juárez” and shows the old tourist map. But the map is just covered with images of missing women. It’s a perfect symbol of what’s happened to Juárez.

I was with a journalist, Julian, whom I deeply respect, and who I knew would not take me into any situation that was needlessly dangerous. I think this is an important enough subject that people need to know about it. It was of course scary, but I knew there was no way I could get the story in full except by going in.

And that goes generally to what I wanted to do with the book, which is related to what we were saying before. I think part of the curse of how this subject is discussed is that it’s discussed in this abstract way, as if we were in a philosophy seminar. Now, as you know, I’ve spent a lot of time in philosophy seminars, and I love them, but that’s not a sensible way to talk about this subject.

I went into this because of the people I love who are addicts. What I wanted to do was sit with real people whose lives have been affected by this one way or another, all over the world, and listen to them about what has happened to their lives, and convey to readers who they are. They are an amazing range of people—from a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn searching for what happened to his mother, to a scientist feeding hallucinogens to a mongoose to see what would happen, to the president of Uruguay, who was kept at the bottom of a well for two years and emerged to end the drug war in his country. I did it this way because I think the drug war can continue only because we’ve dehumanized the people it’s harmed, whether they’re drug users, drug dealers, cops, or the people who live along the supply routes.

I think if we acknowledge that the people whose lives are being destroyed are in fact people with hopes, dreams, and fears just like ours, it’s much harder to support this war and the massive horror that it causes. I think if most people in America had met Chino, or Bud, or Leigh Maddox, the cop I met in Baltimore who very bravely came out against the drug war, or President Mujica of Uruguay, and had heard their stories, they couldn’t support the continuation of this war. I think the main job we have in ending the drug war is to re-humanize the people at its heart.

S. Harris: Part of the problem is that it has been happening in the dark, as far as most people are concerned. At one point people were being locked up for decades for marijuana possession. I’m talking not about hardened criminals but about paraplegics and cancer patients, and owners of garden supply stores whose customers were caught growing marijuana. And our property-seizure laws were just ruining people. A woman whose grandson was found to be growing pot in her basement would lose her home, with no recourse. It was just insane, and very few of us realized that peaceful people were having their lives destroyed in this way. In fact, I may be out of touch on this point myself, because I haven’t followed how our laws have changed nationwide in much detail. I can’t imagine anyone’s being locked up for years today for marijuana possession, but I could be wrong about that.

J. Hari: Oh, they are. A lot of that is still going on. The wonderful Drug Policy Alliance—which I urge anyone who cares about this to sign up with and support—has been doing some documentation on this. Some of these cases are absolutely outrageous. I saw this for myself when I went to Estrella Women’s Jail, better known as Tent City, in Arizona, where the women in chain gangs I mentioned were incarcerated.

S. Harris: Were they recently incarcerated, or had they been convicted years ago?

J. Hari: No one’s in Tent City for more than two years, and I was there a bit more than two years ago. These were recently incarcerated people. And for the prison system in the United States, some of the figures are extraordinary. I give this stat in the book: The United States has such an enormous prison population relative to any other human society there’s ever been, and rape is so endemic in its prisons, that the US today is almost certainly the only society in human history where more men have been raped than women. There’s a shining Tent City on a hill for you.

One of the things that blew me away when I was in Arizona was my interview with a woman named Donna Leone Hamm, an amazing woman who works for prisoners’ rights in Arizona. I asked her my standard question, “Tell me about something that shocked you.” She went down this long list, and somewhere down the list she said something like “There was the time they put that woman in a cage and cooked her. That was quite bad.” And then she carried on with her list. I said, “Sorry, Donna, could you go back a second?”

She told me about this woman named Marcia Powell, about whom very little was known when I started doing the research, who was a chronic meth addict. She kept being put in prison either for having meth or for prostituting herself to get meth. One day she woke up in prison and she was suicidal. The doctor refused to believe she was suicidal, but to shut her up they put her in a holding cage, which is literally a cage exposed to the desert, and left her there. She begged for water, and she shat herself, and in the end she collapsed. By the time they called an ambulance, she had been cooked.

No one was ever criminally prosecuted for what they did to Marcia Powell. To me, this tells you so much about how we’ve devalued addicts’ lives. There’s been a hashtag—#BlackLivesMatter—which I entirely endorse, and it’s made me think we need a #AddictsLivesMatter. We need to really absorb that truth, because what other minority group could you just brazenly murder a member of without there being any proper investigation? I think addicts are one of the most outlying of all minority groups.

S. Harris: This brings us to the topic of addiction. Is addiction an easily defined physiological state that is purely a matter of which substance a person takes and how regularly he takes it? Or is it largely the product of external variables? In your book, you make the latter case. And I think most people would be surprised to learn that in a context where drug use is more normalized, a heroin addict, for instance, can be a fully productive member of society. There’s nothing about regularly taking heroin that by definition renders a person unable to function. So let’s talk a bit about what addiction is and the various ways it changes with its social context.

J. Hari: This is the thing that most surprised me in the research for the book. I thought I knew quite a lot about addiction, not least because I’ve had it in my life since I was a child, with my relatives. But if you had said to me four years ago, “What causes, say, heroin addiction?” I would have looked at you as if you were a bit simpleminded, and I would have said, “Heroin causes heroin addiction.”

For 100 years we’ve been told a story about addiction that’s just become part of our common sense. It’s obvious to us. We think that if you, I, and the first 20 people to read this on your site all used heroin together for 20 days, on day 21 we would be heroin addicts, because there are chemical hooks in heroin that our bodies would start to physically need, and that’s what addiction is.

The first thing that alerted me to what’s not right about this story is when I learned that if you step out onto the street and are hit by a car and break your hip, you’ll be taken to a hospital where it’s quite likely that you’ll be given a lot of diamorphine. Diamorphine is heroin. It’s much more potent than what you get on the street, because it’s medically pure, not f***ed up by dealers. You’ll be given that diamorphine for quite a long period of time. Anywhere in the developed world, people near you are being giving loads of heroin in hospitals now.

If what we think about addiction is right, what will happen? Some of those people will leave the hospital as heroin addicts. That doesn’t happen. There have been very detailed studies of this. It doesn’t happen. You will have noticed that your grandmother was not turned into a junkie by her hip operation. We know that. I just didn’t know what to do with it.

I didn’t know until I went and interviewed Bruce Alexander, who’s a professor in Vancouver and, I think, one of the most important figures in addiction studies in the world today. He explained to me that our idea of addiction comes in part from a series of experiments that were done earlier in the 20th century. They’re really simple experiments, and your readers can do them at home if they’re feeling a bit sadistic. You get a rat, you put it in a cage, and you give it two water bottles: One is water, and the other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. The rat will almost always prefer the drugged water and will almost always kill itself. So there you go. That’s our theory of addiction. You might remember the famous Partnership for a Drug-Free America ad from the 1980s that depicted this.

But in the 1970s, Bruce Alexander came along and thought, “Hang on a minute. We’re putting the rat in an empty cage. It’s got nothing to do except use these drugs. Let’s try this differently.”

So he built a very different cage and called it Rat Park. Rat Park was like heaven for rats. They had everything a rat could possibly want: lovely food, colored balls, tunnels, loads of friends. They could have loads of sex. And they had both the water bottles—the normal water and the drugged water. What’s fascinating is that in Rat Park they didn’t like the drugged water. They hardly ever drank it. None of them ever drank it in a way that looked compulsive. None of them ever overdosed.

An interesting human example of this was happening at the same time; I’ll talk about it in a second. What Bruce says is that this shows that both the right-wing and left-wing theories of addiction are flawed. The right-wing theory is that it’s a moral failing—you’re a hedonist, you indulge yourself, all of that. The left-wing theory is that your brain gets hijacked, you get taken over, and you become a slave.

Bruce says it’s not your morality and it’s not your brain. To a much larger degree than we’ve ever before appreciated, it’s your cage. Addiction is an adaption to your environment.
The good human example I just mentioned was called the Vietnam War. In Vietnam 20% of American troops were using a lot of heroin. And if you look at the reports from the time, they were really sh***ing themselves, because they thought, “My God, we’re going to have hundreds of thousands of junkies on the streets of the United States when the war ends.”
Actually, this was studied very closely, and the overwhelming majority—95%—of the men who had been using lots of heroin in Vietnam came home and just stopped. They didn’t go to rehab, didn’t get any treatment. They just stopped. Because if you’re taken out of a hellish, pestilential jungle where you could die at any moment, and you go back to your nice life in Wichita, Kansas, with your friends and your family and your human connections, that’s the equivalent of being taken out of the first cage and put into Rat Park.

This has enormous implications for the drug war. What we do at the moment is take people who are addicted because they are isolated, distressed, and in pain, and inflict more isolation, distress, and pain on them in the hopes that it will make them stop. Think about what we did to Billie Holiday, and all those women I met in Arizona—they’re never going to work again in the legal economy.

When I went to that prison in Arizona, they took me to the segregation unit, which they call The Hole, and I saw these women who are addicts put in these tiny little stone cages for a month. I thought, “Wow, this is the closest you could possibly get to a literal human re-creation of the cages that guaranteed addiction in those rat experiments.” And we think this will stop addiction?

Gabor Mate, a doctor in Vancouver, said to me, “If you wanted to design a system that would make addiction worse, you would design the system that we have now.” We can understand why the Portuguese system works so well, because it’s all about reconnecting people with the collective, with the group, with the society, giving them a purpose. We can see why that works so much better than either prohibition or even residential rehab, which has a pretty poor success rate.

But this has much wider implications for the way we live—much wider than drug policy. We’ve created a society where life for a lot of our fellow citizens is more like that first cage and less like Rat Park. Bruce discusses how we talk a lot in addiction circles about individual recovery, and that’s really important, but we need to think much more about social recovery. Something’s gone wrong with us not just as individuals but as a group.

I’m interested in thinking about this in relation to religion and atheism—issues you and I obviously care about a lot. I haven’t thought about them in anything like as much detail as I’ve thought about stuff in my book, but I’d be interested to know if you think this frame would apply in some way to religion. I wonder if isolation and distress and pain drive people toward addiction and also play a crucial role in driving them toward religious belief. What do you think, Sam?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence, for example, that Scandinavia is the least religious society in the world, and Somalia is the most religious society in the world. Scandinavia looks a lot like Rat Park, and Somalia looks a lot like the worst rat cages you can imagine. Scandinavia has very low levels of insecurity and very high levels of social solidarity and social engagement. Somalia is obviously an anarchic nightmare. I wonder if there’s some connection there. I haven’t teased it out in my mind, but I suspect it has implications for how atheist campaigning and fighting should proceed. What do you think?

S. Harris: I’m worried that they’re not actually analogous. The one thing that jumps out at me immediately is that many people overcome their social isolation through religion—indeed, community is one of its main selling points. The most theocratic societies tend to engender profound social cohesion. In many places on this earth, one need only shout the words “She burned the holy Qur’an!” to summon a lynch mob. So a lack of social cohesion is the least of one’s problems here.

But the basic claim is that, in “Rat Park,” most people can have all drugs available to them without becoming addicts.

J. Hari: Yes, and that shouldn’t seem surprising to people if they relate it to their own lives. While we’re talking, I’ve got a bottle of water in front of me, and you’ve probably got a drink in front of you. Forget the drug laws for a second. You and I could both be drinking vodka now, right? You and I have probably got enough money in the bank that we could spend the next year drinking vodka and never stop. We could just be drunk all the time. But we don’t. And the reason we don’t is not because someone’s stopping us but because we want to be present in our lives. We’ve got relationships. We’ve got friends. We’ve got people we love. We’ve got books we want to read. We’ve got books we want to write. We’ve got things we want to do. Most of addiction is about not wanting to be present in your life.

And by the way, that’s true not just of drug addiction. If you’ve ever known a gambling addict, you see that the pleasure he’s getting is not the pleasure of the specific bet. It’s the pleasure of not being present in his own life. It’s the pleasure of being taken out of himself, even to what I regard as a very squalid and depressing world. It’s the same with sex addiction. There’s a continuity between drug addictions and other addictions that I think tells you something fundamental.

For the book I went—with the permission of the people present—to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting in Vegas, at a gambling addiction treatment center. It was just like a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous—it was really so analogous, I felt I was looking at the same thing. And yet no one thinks that you snort a roulette wheel or inject a game of craps. Most people now acknowledge that you can have all of the addiction and none of the chemicals. Well, that tells you something about the degree to which addiction is driven by things other than chemical components.

That’s not to say that there’s no chemical component. It’s important to stress that. The chemical component is real—and we can measure it. There’s no need, again, to have an abstract conversation about it. There’s a broad scientific consensus that one of the most physically addictive drugs available to us is tobacco. And we’ve isolated the part that’s chemically compelling—it’s nicotine. So when nicotine patches were invented in the early 1990s, there was this massive wave of optimism: Great, you can give smokers all the drugs they’re addicted to without the filthy carcinogenic smoke. Progress. You will see a huge fall in smoking.

Actually, the US surgeon general’s report found that only 17% of smokers stopped with nicotine patches. Now, it’s important to stress that 17% is a lot. It’s not nothing. That tells us that 17% of these addictions are chemically driven—or at least that 17% of people can stop when the chemical component is met. That’s huge. That tells us that the story we’ve been told up to now is not false. But it also tells us that it’s only 17% of the story, and that 83% has to be explained in some other way. These social and environmental factors should be a very big part of the conversation and the discussion.

S. Harris: Isn’t it also true that addiction to a drug like heroin, in a legal context, can still be compatible with living a decent life?

J. Hari: I guess there are two things to say about that. It will seem weird to people to hear that you can be an addict, you can take quite a lot of a drug, and you can carry on having a pretty functional life. But actually, that was the norm in the United States. There was a study, which I cite in the book, that was done by the US government before drug prohibition really kicked in—a study of addicts, not users. It found that heroin addicts prior to drug prohibition were no more likely to be poor than the rest of the population. They were spread throughout the population. They were no more likely to be criminal than the rest of the population. They were of course debilitated by their addiction to some degree, as a functional alcoholic today is. But they weren’t what we now associate with heroin addiction.

And yet, of course, as you were saying before, when it’s banned, instantly the price skyrockets. That’s because gangsters charge higher prices, because they’ve got to take the risk of going to prison in order to sell the product—so they demand a quite high risk premium. Everyone along the supply chain demands that risk premium, so the price goes way up. Therefore, you suddenly have two crime waves. One is the organized crime and all the violence that comes with it—as we were discussing. The other is the crimes that addicts have to commit in order to meet this massively inflated price—prostitution, property crimes, and so on.

So you’re totally right. One of the best ways to understand that is to look at the start of the drug war and then at places where the war has ended. In Switzerland, where they legalized heroin, when you start on the program, you set your own dose of heroin, and you can stay on it for as long as you want. There’s never any pressure to stop, which surprised me. I actually was taken aback by that.

So anyone on that program can just stay on it their whole life, right? You can just carry on. The program’s been running for 20 years. But it’s interesting—there’s almost nobody on the program now who was on it at the start.

I said, “Well, how come that happened?” And they said that the chaos of street use, of scrambling to pay this grossly inflated price, ended, because people were given heroin as a medical prescription. The people in the clinic support you, they help you get housing, and they help you look for a job. So the majority of the people there get jobs, get homes, so they choose entirely of their own will to gradually cut down their heroin use over time, and eventually they stop. Because their lives become more bearable. Because they want to be more present in their lives. Because their lives slowly im
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