[Paleopsych] disaster fallacy
Paul J. Werbos, Dr.
paul.werbos at verizon.net
Fri Jan 7 18:28:01 UTC 2005
At 04:52 PM 1/6/2005, Michael Christopher wrote:
> >>"Why did you do this to us, God? What did we do to
>upset you?" asked a woman in India this week, a
>heart-wrenching question asked in common these past
>few days by Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and
>--What a horribly mistaken question! To attribute
>natural disasters to the will of a powerful being
>whose judgment is beyond question is such a horrid
>thing to do to oneself and one's children. Blaming
>other humans cannot be far behind, if it preserves the
The press says it happened already.
In a way, it is not totally surprising. Some people asked:"Who
would want to kill hundreds of thousands of Moslems, and is the most
powerful person who would want to do so?" So they concluded: "It must be
As Osama says, the US is the great Satan, and Satan has great powers, so of
he did this..." If I believe the press... there are many, many people who have
followed this obvious human-style logic.
Aside from the obvious issues of therapy... the real zinger question is
as follows: since we too are human, and not born any better than these
what is it that we are being equally crazy about?
Yesterday, my family had me watch a DVD which offers one possible answer:
The Day After Tomorrow. When it came out, the press was full of
righteous indignation about this "speculative transparent anti-Bush
I didn't see it then... in part because I don't GO to the movies much at
But... I wonder how much our defensive reactions are a kind of hiding from
bad as the example Michael mentioned?
Certainly the "little Ice Age" scenario for this century is very
speculative (SO FAR AS I KNOW,
being a scientist but nonspecialist.). But so far as I know, it is just as
speculative to say it won't
happen as to say it will. OK, that's a comment on the limits of my knowledge.
In this context, I regret I did not sit in in the recent NSF workshop on
It would be nice to have a sense of the conditional probabilities here. But
I didn't see
anything really crazy in the movie... except perhaps the relatively happy
All along, I have been thinking... OK, in the worst case we might lose
about half the human economic base
over about a century. But on a logarithmic scale, that is not nearly so bad
as two or three
other risks -- such as proliferation and possible use of WMD, or the
long-term impact of
the stagnation which might result if people overreact against technology,
or perhaps even
some kind of spiritual crisis -- all of which threaten outright extinction.
The movie brings
home the point that "half" may still be rather unpleasant, and that Little
Ice Ages have been a bit faster
than a century in the past.
Yes, we shouldn't expect it to happen... but it seems more likely, say,
than the 3 percent probability asteroid
they thought we were facing briefly a week ago. A rational person does not
ignore such odds. It would be
like crossing a street without looking both ways, at an hour when the odds
are 30-to-1 against a car hitting you.
Now -- the movie raises the valid point in logic that we should not waste
half the world's GNP growth over the next century, with certainly,
in order to avoid, say, a 10 percent POSSIBILITY of losing half of it. It
mention how Kyoto has a bigger impact on GNP than on CO2, under today's
circumstances. (And I do not know if it is really 10 percent probability.
Could be much more or less,
conditional upon knowledge which exists which I have not calibrated. But I
certainly would NOT defer
to biased political partisans on either side.)
HOWEVER -- WHAT IF the actions needed to cut CO2 by a factor of 6 in 30
years happen to be almost
exactly the same as what we need to reduce the probability of the OTHER more
definite types of catastrophes involving dependence on imported oil and gas?
(It used to be "imported oil" -- but things have changed in a very serious
over the past few decades.) Do any of you folks have opinions about the
work of Cavallo
at DHS, like his paper in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists?
What if those actions look as if they would actually end up bringing a
long-term net PROFIT to
the economy, instead of costing trillions?
After the movie... I came away with a sort of shock a bit different from
what most people would
legitimately experience. Some people would feel self-righteous in the
"I have marched against CO2, so I'm OK." No way. That's like marching for
I does no good at all if it does not actually strengthen real action. Maybe
some epsilon benefit,
but no more. So OK... having human weaknesses... there is an element of
self-righteousness in my reaction
too. I like to believe I have done more than anyone else on earth to
actually push us to a real solution that
could prevent that kind of risk. (Did I send copies of my slides describing
my proposal for a
"Middle Way" strategy on CO2? It has some resemblence to -- and citation of
-- the work by Marty Hoffert et al
published in Science a year and a half ago -- but it is different in
carrying it forward to the action implications.
And besides, Marty did give me a chance to feed into the Science paper a
bit as well.)
But... I have a long history of making the right point at the right time,
but not energetically enough.
This time, I have probably been more effective in the use of time to that
end, but even so I
have "day job" stuff (restarting next Monday) and some unique
responsibilities in basic science...
and maybe one lesson from the movie is that this deserves more full-time
championing of the right
logic than I am yet putting into it. On the other hand .. full-time
champions and correct logic
do not always go together, and the champions these days (outside of
aren't into the kinds of partnerships that might address the gap... too
much ego out there...
Maybe the Clinton/Gore partnership was very effective at one time, in this
kind of way, but
Gore drifted away from a lot of his original search-for-the-truth role.
Political flattery can be ever so seductive
to so many people...
Well, enough words. Back to restudying magnetic monopoles... while I still
have a chance...
More information about the paleopsych