27 February 2012

Lying for the Cause?

Why It Is Time to Clean the Augean Stables of Climate Science
by FRANKLIN C. SPINNEY, Counterpunch, 27 February 2012
On 24 February, the Scientific American carried a revealing blog by John Horgan entitled, Should Global-Warming Activists Lie to Defend Their Cause?  Horgan is the Director of the Center for Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology.  He analyzes his question in the context of a discussion he held in a freshman humanities class. The subject was the morality of Dr. Peter Gleick’s use of identity theft to steal documents from the Heartland Institute.  Horgan is a promoter of the theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), and he is clearly at pains to rationalize the implications of Gleick’s caper.  Included in Gleick’s distribution was a forged document, although Gleick denies any connection to its fabrication.  Of particular interest to this essay is Horgan’s last sentence, because it unintentionally places the politicization of the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) debate into sharp relief.
To put this into context, however, we need to begin with a little background:  Dr. Gleick, winner of a MacArthur genius award, is a very prominent scientist and a highly respected AGW advocate. Prior to this episode he was the chairman of the American Geophysical Union’s ethics committee, and he is also the President of the small but prestigious Pacific Institute, an influential AGW advocacy organization.  His target for the identity theft, the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, is also a small, but relatively obscure, libertarian organization that promotes a skeptical viewpoint of AGW theory as well as the ideology of free-market solutions to all problems. The latter is a point of view to which I do not subscribe.
Heartland provides skeptical scientists, so-called climate deniers, like UVA physics professor Fred Singer with small grants of funds donated legally by the kind of wealthy conservative activists that liberal-minded citizens who fear the rise of oligarchy — including myself — love to loathe.
Nevertheless, it is a fact that the dollars Heartland distributes to the so-called ‘deniers’ are minuscule when compared to the billions of taxpayer dollars and the hundreds of millions in grants from private foundations now being rained down on the scientists promoting AGW theory.⁠[1] The Heartland-funded scientists examine and publish questions about and uncertainties implicit in AGW theory, and part of its motives are surely political, as are those of far more luxuriously-funded, pro-AGW outfits like Climateworks [see endnote #1].  So, from the point of view of the AGW fraternity, if Heartland’s efforts ever hit pay dirt, a lot of money would be at stake, and taxpayer and private donations to the fraternity could be reduced.  That makes Heartland a threat to the AGW honey pot and therefore one of the fraternity’s many enemies. As a veteran of many Pentagon budget battles, I can assure you that any threat to any program’s honey pot, no matter how small or inconsequential, is taken very seriously by the faction that benefits from the continued cash flow.⁠ [2]
Suffice to say, Gleick’s theft is not in dispute; he has admitted to it.  However, he denies any relationship to the crucial, smoking-gun, forged memo that he distributed anonymously along with the package of authentic Heartland documents he stole.  Without the forged Heartland memo, that package of real Heartland documents would have been a yawner.   The forgery, the source of which is still in dispute, makes it clear that the entire operation was intended to smear Heartland by discrediting the motivations of its scientific work with unflattering claims of influence peddling that Heartland insists are false. Descriptions of and apologia relating to Gleick’s caper can be easily found all over the net, and for interested readers, I recommend they start with Megan McArdle’s relatively balanced one in the Atlantic Monthly blog site at this link.
Here, we are concerned with the ramifications of Horgan’s ethical rationalization of Gleick’s behavior, because together, they shine a bright light on the state of moral decay in climate science.
To those who say I am cherry picking examples, I can only say that Horgan’s blog appeared in the Scientific American, a prestigious magazine professing to be a promoter of science and the ethical practice of science.  SA is an enormously influential source of information for concerned citizens interested in learning about science and public policies affecting science.  Horgan is an influential teacher of science in one of America’s top science and engineering colleges.  Therefore, it is worth taking the time to examine Horgan’s reasoning by reading his blog entry at this link. Briefly, here is how Horgan framed the moral dilemma by synthesizing a twisted interpretation of Immanuel Kant to irrelevant reading of John Stuart Mill:
“Kant said that when judging the morality of an act, we must weigh the intentions of the actor. Was he acting selfishly, to benefit himself, or selflessly, to help others? By this criterion, Gleick’s lie was clearly moral, because he was defending a cause that he passionately views as righteous. Gleick, you might say, is a hero comparable to Daniel Ellsberg, the military analyst who in 1971 stole and released documents that revealed that U.S. officials lied to justify the war in Vietnam.”
 “But another philosopher my students and I are reading, the utilitarian John Stuart Mill, said that judging acts according to intentions is not enough. We also have to look at consequences. And if Gleick’s deception has any consequences, they will probably be harmful. His exposure of the Heartland Institute’s plans, far from convincing skeptics to reconsider their position, will probably just confirm their suspicions about environmentalists. Even if Gleick’s lie was morally right, it was strategically wrong.”
The comparison of Gleick to Ellsberg is absurd, even if we accept Horgan’s warping of Kant’s theory of the categorical imperative⁠ [3] to infer that any self-defined goodness of the “end” justifies the “means” employed to achieve that end.  Ellsberg was an insider who exposed illegal government behaviour.  Federal officials who lie to Congress are committing a felony that carries both a heavy fine and time in the slammer. That it is almost never enforced is beside the point. The most charitable description of Gleick’s behaviour is that he committed a crime (identity theft) to expose perfectly legal if unsavory behaviour — and the adjective ‘unsavory’ would apply only if the forged document was accurate.  By the way, Horgan seems not to realize that many of the federal officials committing the crime of lying to Congress about the Vietnam war believed passionately, like Gleick, in the righteousness of their cause, but their self-defined righteousness did not absolve them of the crime. For this reason, a more appropriate comparison would be of Gleick to General Westmoreland, not Daniel Ellsberg.
Horgan’s invocation of John Stuart Mill’s philosophy is equally bizarre.  It does not even address the moral question, but simply introduces the unrelated idea that Gleick’s Heartland caper was strategically stupid.
So, Horgan’s moral appeal to the authority of philosophers on the question of lying boils down to a system of right and wrong based on the belief that the ends justify the means conditioned only by a condition that the means achieve the desired end are not stupid.  This curious conception of morality gets worse when one considers Horgan’s conclusion:
“I’ll give the last word to one of my students. The Gleick incident, he said, shows that the “debate” over global warming is not really a debate any more. It’s a war, and when people are waging war, they always lie for their cause.”
That seems true enough, but does the argument end there?
To be fair, Horgan did not endorse this view, but significantly, he did not dispute it either.  He just left it hanging ambiguously to be interpreted any way you want, like a chad in a Florida election.
Horgan may invoke Kant and Mill to rationalize Gleick, but then he fails to place the philosophical nature of his endpoint — war — into a philosophical context.  Also, his subject is behaviour in moral conduct of scientific debate, yet he did not invoke noted philosophers of scientific thought like Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, or Bertrand Russell.  Let’s shine a light on these glaring omissions:
Sun Tzu is certainly the most influential philosopher of the morals used in the conduct of war.  Sun Tzu said correctly, 2500 hundred years ago, ‘all war is based on deception.’  Winston Churchill certainly agreed, when he said the truth must be guarded by a “bodyguard of lies.”  Sun Tzu and Churchill justified deceptions and lies to wreak havoc inside the adversary’s mind, because war is clearly a matter of life and death, and in matters of life and death, the ends justify the means, by definition.  Horgan’s omission of any discussion of the philosophical essence of war is doubly strange, because he just published a book entitled “The End of War” in which he claims to have applied the scientific method to the study of war.
Had Horgan bothered to think about the implications of Sun Tzu’s or Churchill’s  philosophy, his last word might might have been a response to the student by noting the practice of science most certainly cannot be based on deceptions and lies.
Scientific debate can be a spirited and passionate conflict, but the rules of engagement must be based on the polar-opposite principles of transparency (i.e.,information is freely available so experiments/reasoning can be replicated via some kind of critical testing) and conditional truth (i.e., accepted theories must be stated in such a way that they always can be tested for falsification).  Transparency in testing and observation and conditional truth are what separates science from religion and protects science from the oppressive authority of dogma, be it the consensus view of priests or other scientists.⁠ [4]
Horgan must be familiar with the moral ideal of conditional truth as postulated by Popper and implied by Kuhn’s theory of revolutionary as opposed to normal science. After all, he has interviewed Thomas Kuhn, the historian of science, who authored the classic, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, a book about the limits of knowledge.  Surely, as a seasoned writer of science, he is aware of Karl Popper’s principle of falsifiability in the pursuit of science.  If the twin ideas of conditional truth and fidelity in observation and testing were good enough to condition the sometimes creaky evolution of celestial physics from Ptolemy to Galileo to Newton to Einstein, or evolution from Darwin [5]⁠ to Mendel to Crick and Watson, they ought to be good enough to condition the evolution of AGW theory.
But apparently that is not the case with AGW theory, because those who disagree with the consensus view of the AGW fraternity are the enemies of a good and moral cause.  And that mentality opens the door to a moral war between good and evil, where incontrovertible truth and authority are absolute, and therefore, the self-proclaimed goodness of the end always justifies the use of any means, including crimes like identity theft and lying.  Taken to its extreme, this is the kind of thinking that led to the Inquisition and ultimately I.G. Farbin’s ovens.
That is the message of Gleick’s theft and Horgan’s equivocations.  Together, they shine a spot light on the moral swamp that climate science has become.
There is only way to drain this swamp: The advocates for AGW need to come clean.  They should make their warming data, together with the assumptions and computer codes used to analyze that data (like the proxies in paleoclimatology), freely available to anyone, including especially the Galileo and Michaelson-Moreley wannabees who want to falsify the consensus worldview.
The necessary condition of transparency is especially true for the overwhelming mass of climate data that is produced through billions of grant dollars that are publicly funded by taxpayers, like those to (1) the Climate Research Unit at U. of East Anglia in the UK, (2) the data/codes that Michael Mann and his cohorts used to produce the centrally important ‘hockey stick’ in the US and the UK, and (3) data/codes  used to produce the global climate models and their flawed predictions contained in the reports of the UN funded IPCC.  These predictions that have failed miserably since 1990 as explained in the prediction/reality comparisons at this link.
On the other hand, if that data continues to be withheld or “lost’ (a frequent response to FOI requests by principled skeptics like Steven McIntyre, see here also), AGW theory will remain a war where deception  and obfuscation are accepted rules of engagement.
When science is practiced according to its core values, cream rises naturally to the top, and charlatans naturally expose themselves.  This can and will happen without AGW proponents having to steal documents as part of smear campaigns, or resort to name calling that implicitly compares their adversaries to holocaust and evolution deniers. But of course, to excercise these core values, they must have the character to run the risk of having to eat sour cream.
[1] Heartland has total budget of about $4.4 million for all its issues: health care, education, and technology policy, including global warming. Consider the scale of just one of Heartland’s opposite nongovernmental organizations: The Climateworks Foundation, which exists to “support public policies that prevent dangerous climate change,” received $46 million from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation in 2010, $26 million from the McNight Foundation in 2010, and on $100 million from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation on 15 Feb 2012.
[2] While it is probably a coincidence, revenues to Dr. Gleick’s Pacific Institute, which is about half the size of Heartland, declined by 17% between 2009 and 2010, according the most recent financial statement on its website. No information is yet posted for 2011.
[3] In the ethics of the 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, founder of critical philosophy, a Categorical Imperative is a moral law that is unconditional or absolute for all agents, the validity or claim of which does not depend on any ulterior motive or end. “Thou shalt not steal,” for example, is categorical as distinct from the hypothetical imperatives associated with desire, such as “Do not steal if you want to be popular.”  [quoted from the Encyclop√¶dia Britannica 2007]
[4] One of the most hilarious ironies in the global warming debate is the predilection of AGW scientists/activists to compare their travails to those of Galileo.  At the same time, they insist their theory of AGW is the incontrovertible truth, because it is the consensus viewpoint held by the vast majority of scientists. In this, they a making an appeal to authority not unlike that used to silence Galileo.  He was discredited and silenced during his lifetime, precisely because he opposed the consensus viewpoint imposed by the authority claimed by the Pope and his cardinals.  To add further irony, according to the scientist-humanist Jacob Bronowski, one of the key pieces of evidence in Galleo’s trial by Inquisition was a forgery of still unknown origin, although it remains in the Vatican archives. (At least it did until the mid 1970s, when Bronowski displayed it to millions of viewers in his marvelous TV series, “The Assent of Man.”)  It is also pertinent to note the consensus-led notion of authority that suppressed Galileo wrecked the practice of science in the Mediterranean Europe and shifted it to Northern Europe.
[5] One criticism of Darwin has been that his theory is a tautology and can not be tested for falsification.  That is a flawed critique, because one clear test of falsifiability would be to find a fossil that is definitely out of sequence time-wise.  To date, that has not happened, so as far as the fossil record is concerned, Darwin’s theory of evolution has not been falsified. It remains conditionally true, but like all scientific theories, Darwin’s theory is not and can never be incontrovertibly true.

21 February 2012

Sun Tzu or Bismarck: Who will Prevail in the 21st Century?

(Note: this first appeared in Time's Battleland, February 20, 2012)

The first three chapters in Sun Tzu’s timeless classic “The Art of War” describe how to make net assessments by comparing your strengths and weaknesses and those of your adversary and how to formulate strategy. Near the end of Chapter 3, he sums up his advice, saying, “Know your enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles, you will never be defeated. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are sure to be defeated in every battle.”
The fundamental problem in the American military and foreign policy elite lies in an incestuously amplifying, self referencing orientation that makes it ignorant of both of Master Sun’s categories of knowledge.  (I explain how incestuous amplification hijacks a decision cycle in this essay.) Briefly, the American policy elite’s self-referencing Orientation causes it to Observe what it wants to see.
This kind of one-way shaping isolates the decision-making mind from what is really going on in its external environment.  As the American strategist Colonel John Boyd showed, Decisions flowing out of an Orientation that overwhelms Observations become disconnected from reality, and therefore, the Actions consequent to those decisions inevitably become irrelevant at best, and more often counterproductive, in that they amplify themselves to drive the collective decision cycle or Observation – Orientation – Decision – Action (OODA) loops ever further away from reality.
Left uncorrected, the result is an inexorable descent into disorder, and eventually a magnification into chaos leading to overload and collapse. (Interested readers will find a short summary of Boyd’s theory in the last part of this essay.  A more extended description of the man and his work can be found in Robert Coram’s excellent biography, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, now in its 7th printing.   Boyd’s entire Discourse on Winning and Losing — his art of conflict — can be downloaded here.)
Self-referencing behavior is clearly evident with regard to ourselves, for example, in the entirely predicable — and predicted — chaos of the Pentagon’s uncontrollable long-range budget plan (which is grounded on a combination of inwardly focused power games as well as a deliberately corrupted accounting system — explained herehere, and here). Put bluntly — we know that we do not know ourselves — indeed the evidence I compiled during my 25+ years of research in the the Pentagon’s pathological decision making practices, while employed in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, suggests we do not want to know ourselves and will go to great lengths to avoid doing so (unclassified reports can be found here).
Not only does our elite not want to understand itself, it also does not know its adversaries. That was clearly the case in Vietnam and Iraq and currently in Afghanistan.  Consider this farcical, were it not so serious, report in Sunday’s New York Times; it describes how the Taliban and impostors are scamming us in Afghanistan.  Bear in mind, this report is just the tip of a huge iceberg of evidence describing the self-inflicted — dare I say incestuously delusional — ignorance: see, for example, like that described by Lieut. Colonel Daniel Davis in his 87 page report, “Dereliction of Duty II” (a summary by ace investigative journalist Gareth Porter can be found here).
But Sun Tzu is a voice from 500 B.C., and his musing may be irrelevant in the 21st Century. Perhaps that’s because, as Otto von Bismarck is alleged to have predicted, just before he died in 1898, there is a “special providence for drunkards, fools, and the United States of America.”  As Francis Urquhart would say: “You might very well think that. I couldn’t possibly comment.”

18 February 2012

Obama's Defense Budget Unzipped

My friend Win Wheeler compiled this useful comparison of Obama's latest defense budget proposal to the actual defense budget of the previous year.  Now you too can calculate the deep, savage, and arbitrary budget "coots" that the defense lobby and its wholly owned subsidiaries in Congress and the media are howling about.

Chuck Spinney

The Real “Base” Pentagon Budget and the Actual “Defense” Budget
Winslow T. Wheeler
At http://defense.aol.com/2012/02/17/which-pentagon-budget-numbers-are-real-you-decide/, AOL Defense is running my new commentary on what is actually to be spent in 2013 on defense; numbers that differ significantly from what the Pentagon's press release and its obedient readers in the press have reported.
When the Pentagon released its budget materials and press releases last Monday, the press dutifully reported the numbers.  The Pentagon’s “base” budget for 2013 is to be $525.4 billion, and with $88.5 billion for the war in Afghanistan and elsewhere added, the total comes to $613.9 billion.  (See the two DOD press releases athttp://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=15056 and http://www.defense.gov/news/2013budget.pdf.)
Indeed, if you plowed through the hundreds of pages of additional materials the Pentagon released Monday (at http://comptroller.defense.gov/budget.html), you would come up with little reason the doubt the accuracy of those numbers as the totality of what Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was seeking for the Pentagon.  It would also seem reasonable that those amounts constitute the vast majority of what America spends on “defense,” defined generically.
You would be quite wrong to think so.
The Pentagon’s “base” budget—i.e. the non-war parts—is not $525.4 billion; the formally presented Pentagon budget, as shown by the President and his Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is $6.3 billion higher, making a total of $531.7 billion.  (Find just one version of the OMB presentation at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2013/assets/32_1.pdf.)
Why isn’t that slightly higher number reported by the press?  Simple; it’s not in the Pentagon press release.  Even when told about the more complete materials at the OMB website (as I attempted to do), the press seems to unanimously prefer the lesser DOD version.
The additional $6.3 billion is for some military retirement and other military personnel costs that are every bit a part of the Department of Defense (DOD) budget as the rest of its personnel costs or any plane, tank or ship in the inventory. It’s a part of the President’s official budget request for the Department of Defense, and it’s money appropriated by Congress, just like the rest. The only difference is that it is appropriated by a different mechanism.  That mechanism is what OMB and others call “mandatory” spending, also known as “entitlement” spending, or as it was originally conceived, permanent appropriations as authorized by law.
You’ll have to ask the Pentagon why its press releases are inaccurate to the tune of $6.3 billion.  They might say that’s the way they have always shown their budget to the press.  They might say that they don’t want to change now and present apples this year compared to last year’s oranges.  They might say they like to hide DOD costs, but I doubt they’ll admit the latter.
They hide other DOD costs as well. There are other expenses for DOD military retirement and also for a part of the DOD healthcare system buried in other parts of the federal budget.  You can find them in the budget requests for Health and Income Security.  (Find them in Budget Functions 550 and 600 in the table at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2013/assets/32_1.pdf.)  When you net out some intra-governmental transfers and other obscure budget-geek twists and turns, I calculate a total of $29.4 billion in 2013 for the expenditures for these DOD costs not shown in the DOD budget—and certainly not in the Pentagon’s press releases, not ever.
If you want to be a stickler for detail and budgetary ethics (the latter not a particularly popular activity these days, if ever), the “base” Pentagon budget, is not $531.7 for 2013, it is $561.1 billion.  It sure as heck is not the $525.4 billion the Pentagon press release and its avid readers in journalism have reported so profusely.
There is, of course, more.  Technically not a part of the DOD budget, but certainly a generic defense cost are the warheads in the Pentagon’s strategic nuclear delivery systems, like the B-2 bomber and the Minuteman and Trident missiles.  Nuclear warhead research and upkeep are a Department of Energy cost; $19.4 billion in the 2013 budget. 
There are also the costs for what OMB officially calls “defense-related activities” (the Selective Service, the National Defense Stockpile and other cats and dogs) that amount to $7.8 billion for 2013. 
Done?  Not yet.
Consider the $8.2 billion that the State Department wants to spend for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, which—like it or not—is a national security cost.  And what of the rest of the State Department budget ($61.6 billion) for diplomacy, foreign aid, arms sales, aid to Israel and a lot more.  Some Washington-types call this budget “soft power,” and it is surely an important part of America’s international security presence.
Consider also the human consequences of past and current wars that are born by our veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs: add another $137.7 billion for 2013.
How about protection in the war on terrorism?  The Department of Homeland Security and the homeland security expenses of various agencies not discussed here (such as the $4.1 billion being sought by the Department of Health and Human Services) are certainly a national security cost: add $46.3 billion for 2013.
Add all that together, and you get $930.6 billion. 
But we’re not quite done yet.
The Pentagon budget and all the other defense related spending have to be taken into account for our annual payment for the national debt.  The net interest on the national debt for 2013 is to be $248 billion.  All defense related spending for 2013 constitutes 25.7 percent of all federal expenditures ($3.8 trillion in 2013); 25.7 percent of the interest payment is $63.7 billion.
The total budget request for all US defense related spending in 2013 is $994.3 billion, by my calculations.
Some might differ with some part of my tabulation, such as using a different formula for calculating a defense share of the debt payment or including or excluding something different (perhaps NASA) from the agencies and expenses I list above.  In any case, however, it will come to a grand total close to $1 trillion.
After Monday’s press releases were consumed, newspaper story after newspaper story described a defense budget that consisted of a $525.4 billion “base” plus $88.5 billion more for the war in Afghanistan, etc.—to make a total of $613.9 billion.  That was $380.4 billion short of the total “defense” (or national security) budget I see if you go through the budget materials a little more thoroughly.
All those numbers are shown in the table below.  Also shown is a comparison to the current fiscal year, 2012.  After all the chatter, some of it still quite hysterical, about “defense cuts,” I find no cut; I find “defense spending” (defined generically) going up by $8.2 billion, from $986.1 billion to $994.3 billion.
Given the rhetoric we hear out of Washington about the "devastating" cuts that fail to "adequately address threats," you have to wonder how much more than a $1 trillion these people want to spend.  
 Table: Total Defense Spending
DOD or Defense Related Program
DOD Base Budget (Discretionary)
Widely reported by the press as the “base” DOD budget.
DOD Base Budget (Mandatory)
This amount is frequently not counted by DOD, its press        releases, and the press as DOD spending.  It is an official part of the DOD budget, always counted—for example—by OMB.
DOD Base Budget (Total)
“Total” spending is Discretionary and Mandatory combined.
Overseas Contingency Operations

DOD Subtotal (Total)

DOE/Nuclear (Total)

“Defense-related activities” (Total)

National Defense (Total)
This is the “National Defense” budget function, also known as “050.”
Net Military Retirement Costs Not Scored to DOD (See Budget Functions 600 & 950)


The Military Retirement Trust Fund in Treasury collected and paid $17.1 billion in interest in 2012 and 2013.  That amount is included in the totals to the right.
Net DOD Retiree Health Care Fund Costs Not Scored to DOD (See Budget Functions 550 & 950)


This fund also collected and paid $7.0 and $7.4 billion in interest in 2012 and 2013.
International Affairs (Total)
Includes $8.2 billion in OCO for Budget Function 150. The OCO grand total is $96.7 billion.
Veterans Affairs (Total)
This spending encompasses the effects of past and current wars; spending for veterans of the last ten years will be increasing dramatically in coming years.
Homeland Security (Total)
Includes HS spending in DHS and all federal agencies not shown on this table.
Subtotal of the Above
Total Federal Spending is $3.8 trillion in outlays in 2012        and 2013.
24% of Net Interest on the Debt
The outlays of the above programs comprise 25.5% and 25.7% of total federal outlays for 2012 and 2013. 
Grand Total

Winslow T. Wheeler
Straus Military Reform Project
Center for Defense Information
301 791-2397 (home office)
301 221-3897 (cell)