William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Dan Farber, Berkeley Lawyer, Confused Climate Clinger

According to the public figure's Facebook page, this is a self portrait.

According to the public figure’s Facebook page, this is a self portrait.

For the art of the sophist is the semblance of wisdom without the reality, and the sophist is one who makes money from an apparent but unreal wisdom. —Aristotle

Dan Farber calls himself a “public figure“, and I believe him.

Unfortunately, it’s not a distinguished category, and, given his performance (outlined below), the appellation invites unfortunate comparisons.

Rosie “9-11” O’Donnell is a public figure, and so was Bozo the Clown (though the latter was beloved). And who could forget the People’s own scientist, comrade Trofim Lysenko?

But when I first read Farber’s “From germ theory to global warming, science denialism is beyond parody”, given the extreme violence he committed to calm reason and his mutilation of informed argument, the semblance which sprang to mind was public figure Jeffrey Dahmer.

Don’t think I’m picking on this heretofore unknown Dan Farber, God bless him. He is merely a symptom and not the disease. Delineating symptoms is an important part of understanding illness, however, so think of this article as a physician’s case report, all the while keeping in mind we’re dealing with a larger phenomenon than the mental corruption of one man.

Farber, like many, is a Climate Clinger. A man who, at least according to his public record, has no background in the science of fluid flow—would he, off the cuff, even know the atmosphere is a fluid? Did you?—yet who feels he knows enough to lecture his betters on (say) the modeling of radiative transfer using statistically derived inputs from satellites. How does instrument drift affect the input uncertainty?

Unburdened (it seems) with this knowledge, Farber apparently believes, and probably desires, the solution to global warming, but who (it’s a good bet) possess no real knowledge of the subject, beyond which he gleans from the media and other not-too-technical sources.

It’s surreal. It’s as if the bien pensant have been given their “talking points”, which they are able to parrot without having done the hard work of thinking, and who are so eager to please their masters that whoever is able to wound their enemies with the most vicious, facts-be-damned insult is to be awarded the highest position in that bright future which is to come.

Consider Farber’s feeble attempt to tie climate scientists who doubt the theory of apocalyptic global warming to those who deny the germ theory of illness.

If you’re inclined to doubt science, why not start with the germ theory of disease? After all, isn’t it implausible that illness, death, and even mass epidemics are caused by tiny invisible organisms that invade our bodies?

And what’s the evidence for that, really? Just the findings of scientists who can get big grants from NIH to study these so-called bacteria — not to mention studies financed by Big Pharm which makes a lot of money with supposed cures — and the views of doctors whose professional status and incomes are pumped up by their use of chemical antibiotics to treat diseases. And don’t forget about the massive government spending for sanitation and water treatment to eliminate “germs,” and the extensive regulation of the food industry, Big Government in action!

Sigh. This proves Farber has only read lightly, or has only retained little, of science history. That vapors, miasmas, and bad humors were the cause of disease was the consensus of the early nineteenth century. Why, 97% of scientists, and maybe even more, toed that line, and not only dared anybody to cross it, but they slew those who did.

Consider Ignaz Semmelweis who pleaded with his colleagues—with The Consensus—to at least listen to his arguments. Semmelweis’s reward? He was fired and hounded to an early grave.

The continued criticism and lash out finally broke him down. By 1865, he was suffering from depression, forgetfulness and other neural complaints and was eventually committed to an asylum. He only lasted there for two weeks and died on August 13, 1865 at the age of 47.

“When I look back upon the past, I can only dispel the sadness which falls upon me by gazing into that happy future when the infection will be banished…The conviction that such a time must inevitably sooner or later arrive will cheer my dying hour.”

Farber must have been possessed of a vague intuition that his intimation was ignorant, for he also said, “it turns out, there actually are germ denialists who accept that germs exist but don’t think they’re the real cause of disease. Rejection of the germ theory is found across the political spectrum…”.

That’s true, but misleading; because the stereotypical modern germ “denier” is a forty-four year-old first-time mother who aggressively pushes her stroller (affixed with faded “Obama-Biden 2012” sticker) around Park Slope, Brooklyn, actively looking for reasons to be aggrieved. Curiously, this woman will also wholeheartedly “believe” in global warming.

So much for the disease. The cure? Since the malady feeds on (perceived or real) approbation, cut off its supply. With, say, articles like this.

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Readers might have noticed the unusual number of qualifiers (“seems”, “probably”). Farber is a lawyer, and these folks when wounded have been known to abandon truth and to start barking about the law. It’s a good strategy, because it distracts their opponents while allowing them to avoid admitting they were wrong.

13 Comments

  1. Farber’s a lawyer? Well, there’s your problem. The money is made from the argument, not it’s just solution.
    Btw, his FB link isn’t working.

  2. Semmelweis is an excellent example that I have used frequently. What makes the example even better was Semmelweis was going against the rich and powerful who did not like his meddling in their affairs. How dare he say the hospitals for the poor had less problems than the wealthy?

    The usual response to this is that we have better science now so we should not question authorities and especially not those in “very complex” field. Past examples don’t count because we are so much smarter now.

  3. Not quite on topic – however –

    One of my fears about ‘a consensus’ is that it tends to drive out other possible notions even when there is evidence for alternatives.

    While ‘miasmas and vapours and humours’ were theories best discarded observations had taught doctors from the time of Hippocrates that certain practices prevented ‘contagion’. (They did not know about germs and did not use the word infection.)

    However, you could help a patient by having them bathe a wound in a mixture of water, salt and vinegar. You could also put a mixture of olive oil and wine on a cut.

    Vinegar an acid, as we know, is a powerful antiseptic. Olive oil and wine resembles the treatment Lister developed in the 19th century – using carbolic acid to sterilize medical instruments.

    Odd then, that hospitals in the mid 19th century were as dirty and dangerous as they were. For a description of the horrors see THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

    I have often wondered how a practice (use of water, salt, vinegar) that did save lives became lost.

    There are a variety of possible explanations. Faulty education might be one of them. However, I think the most convincing explanation is the power of the ‘consensus’. Impossible to know how many were died between 900 AD when Al Razi (Razes) used vinegar to clean medical instruments and the importance of this type of cleanliness was lost.

    We will never know precisely but the number of those killed must be in the hundred’s of thousands. Most of them victims of a consensus, masquerading as a theory.

  4. Surely Mr. Farber has taken a course in fluid dynamics and is familiar with the Navier Stokes equations describing fluid motion.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navier%E2%80%93Stokes_equations

  5. I find that all my ills are solved by a good bleeding every now and then.

  6. The idea that a ‘consensus’ means anything other than ‘most people hold a certain view’ has no bearing on the truth value of the view. That this idea persists, post “Men In Black”, is an atrocity. As K aptly stated:

    “1,500 years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was the center of the universe. 500 years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat. And 15 minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.”

  7. The one annoying part of the movie was that quote, perpetuating the false religion vs. science narrative. Five hundred years ago, and fifteen-hundred years ago, everyone (in Western society) knew that the earth was a sphere.

  8. “Berkeley” and “lawyer” tells me everything I need to know.

  9. Matt,

    “It’s surreal. It’s as if the bien pensant have been given their “talking points”, which they are able to parrot without having done the hard work of thinking, and who are so eager to please their masters that whoever is able to wound their enemies with the most vicious, facts-be-damned insult is to be awarded the highest position in that bright future which is to come. ”

    You’re describing exactly the aura of “cool” and unthinking toeing the Party line that is Politically Correct Progressivism today.

    In my book, Willing Accomplices, which charts the origin and resulting belief system of PC-Progs, I quote a Willing Accomplice in 1950s Hollywood. Deep from within the clique of Normal-haters, he put it in words that provide a glimpse into the heart of the pitiful group of conformists: “…by participating in anti-anti-communist groups, “I would be spared the agony of thinking my way through difficult issues: all the thinking would be done for me by an elite core of trained [thinkers]…”

    There you have it! From the mouth of a co-conspirator!

    That is the direct ideological ancestor of your pitiful subject today.

    Keep up the good work!

    http://www.willingaccomplices.com

  10. OK Briggs – that’s enough!
    You are just setting us up for “Worse example of logic in 2014”
    A blog contest you will announce in Feb 2015!
    When we all come up with entries you get to declare victory from something you snuck in months ago.

    This is my first prediction for 2015 by the way.

  11. Matt,

    If you did not yet check out Mr Farber’s Energy and Resources Group at Berkeley, you really should.

    There’s enough material there to mine for a long, long time:

    “In a series titled “Hack­ing the Cli­mate,” the pop­u­lar online envi­ron­men­tal pub­li­ca­tion Grist will fea­ture arti­cles by ERG Pro­fes­sor John Harte and three ERG stu­dents who par­tic­i­pated in his course “Early Solu­tions: Sto­ries from the front­lines of the bat­tle against cli­mate change.” The ERG stu­dent con­tribut­ing authors are Tanya Dim­itrova, Sasha Harris-Lovett and Ben­jamin Man­del. Arti­cles will be rolled out through the week:”

    http://erg.berkeley.edu/grist-features-erg-climate-change-solutions/

  12. Here’s the link to Farber’s essay: http://blogs.berkeley.edu/2014/08/27/from-germ-theory-to-global-warming-science-denialism-is-beyond-parody/

    It’s actually rather short & a straightforward application of analogy:

    – People once didn’t know about germs,
    – But some discovered germs & discovered they were associated with disease…concluding that many germs caused the disease,
    – Many found this difficult to comprehend, but eventually came around,
    – Though some, today, still argue germs are essentially mythical.

    Here’s Farber’s summary, conveniently omitted by Briggs (by the way, “lying” as defined in the Catholic doctrine includes this tidbit: “…it is possible to lie without making a false statement and without any intention of deceiving…”; see: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09469a.htm), that wraps up the point:

    “So far as I know, there aren’t many people who think that bacteria and viruses don’t exist at all and are just optical illusions created by microscope lenses. But there are a significant number who deny their medical importance. Some think that bacteria and viruses are a symptom of disease rather than a cause, finding a hospitable environment in the ill patient. Others admit that they cause the symptoms of disease, but think that the “real” cause is some weakness in the body’s defenses, thus making vaccines and other preventive measures pointless.

    “Of course, there’s a small grain of truth to that, since lower immunity or other health conditions do make infection easier. But that’s hardly a reason for rejecting vaccines or antibiotics.

    “The germ theory has been rock solid science for over a century. It’s hard to know what lesson to draw in terms of climate denialism. On the one hand, you could find this to be grounds for despair — no matter how strong the science or how visible the practical benefits of a scientific theory, there will still be people who reject it. On the other hand, these people are only the fringe, so maybe someday we will be able to get the vast majority of the public to understand that germs cause disease, the earth goes around the sun, species evolve — and yes, greenhouse gases do cause climate change.”

    Pretty straightforward.

    That is also how Global Warming “Deniers” are perceived by those that believe, or are convinced by, the available science. “Believers” accept the science as so conclusive as to be beyond dispute.

    Thus, the issue that “ought” to be debated & discussed is the science — its strengths & limitations — supporting the conclusions held by so many people.

    But, sadly, that’s not what’s happening here…instead a self-described purveyor of logic & philosophical objectivity has abandoned all that and resorted to the AD-HOMINEM attack (see, for example: https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/ad-hominem).

    This little snippet, taken out of context from Billy Madison, sums of the validity of the use of the AD-HOMINEM attack: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkodTydUR0E

  13. Briggs,

    Yes, off the top of my head, I knew that gasses are fluids. You’re right, they probably don’t teach that in law school, or pre-law.

    Readers might have noticed the unusual number of qualifiers (“seems”, “probably”). Farber is a lawyer, and these folks when wounded have been known to abandon truth and to start barking about the law. It’s a good strategy, because it distracts their opponents while allowing them to avoid admitting they were wrong.

    Does that mean that this graf from further up in the post is satire?

    Unburdened (it seems) with this knowledge, Farber apparently believes, and probably desires, the solution to global warming, but who (it’s a good bet) possess no real knowledge of the subject, beyond which he gleans from the media and other not-too-technical sources.

    Tra la la. What else. Oh …

    This proves Farber has only read lightly, or has only retained little, of science history.

    I’ve never heard of a proof proving one thing or another simultaneously.

    That vapors, miasmas, and bad humors were the cause of disease was the consensus of the early nineteenth century. Why, 97% of scientists, and maybe even more, toed that line, and not only dared anybody to cross it, but they slew those who did.

    I can’t tell whether you’ve just falsified modern medicine, climatology or both here.

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