Guest opinion: Dr. Tim Ball
There are many parallels between the Jonathan Gruber story and what has occurred in climate science. Gruber used a computer model to produce justification for a US national healthcare system. This parallels the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) use of computer models produced to justify the need for international climate control. They both claim their models are accurate and solid as the basis for draconian policy changes. They both fail to understand that playing with models in a university requires they satisfy research and scientific standards. We don’t know if they do, because so much of what they produce that is critical to proper analysis, such as computer codes, is proprietary. Gruber’s models are proprietary, even if the taxpayer pays him and they are the basis for public policy. They both fail to understand that a different set of standards and responsibilities are applied when you take your lab work in to the public forum.
From The University To the Real World
There are social consequences, as Gruber discovered when he appeared before Congress on December 9, 2014. Paul Driessen has written on the consequences often on WUWT. Gruber’s appearance underscored the distance between academia and the real world. It is a distance I have experienced and confronted during my 25-year academic career. A distance demonstrated by Gruber and throughout the 6000 emails leaked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia and countless other horror stories that never reach the public.
I was aware of this distance as a mature student going back to university after military service. I experienced the distance as a faculty member and did many things to bring the world into the university for students. It is a gap academia wants to exist, because if people knew how little they do and what is actually going on, funding would be mostly withdrawn. Faculty does very little teaching. They produce very little research, most of which is to further their career. Other faculty members judge their performance, in a truly incestuous, backbiting system. I could fill a book with my personal knowledge of faculty and academic horror stories.
A colleague (?) at the university where I taught said, in a discussion about teaching, that he was a professor, not a teacher. If the students didn’t understand what he professed, that was their problem, not his. Faculty is hired on the basis of university qualifications, which is usually a doctorate in a very specialized area of research. They are not required to have any training in teaching and may only have a smattering of experience after being graduate students. It appears politicians are the only group in society less qualified for a major part of their job, than university professors. The Department chair told me I was an entertainer, to which I replied, if the students don’t attend or fall asleep, the lecture is a waste of time. Gruber implies he was forced to deceive because the public is stupid and wouldn’t understand. No Sir, the failure is your ability to communicate the truth. Worse, your argument is designed to cover a deliberate deception and that you did well. The IPCC achieved the same deceptions with their Summary for Policymakers (SPM).
Universities abhor the demand for relevance and accountability. Look at the cover-ups they participated in with regard to information exposed by the leaked emails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU). What they fear is exposure to the real world of how little is actually going on. Most of what they do is perpetuate the secrecy and thus maintain their unique and bizarre world.
I fought this darkness through my time in the university. I hung a picture frame with no picture on my office window with a label that said, The Real World”. I never gave a lecture without starting with a news item that related to what we were studying in the course. I gave all my own lectures and set and marked all my own exams and papers. I served on many committees at all levels of government for real world experience. I apologized to one class about not having as many office hours as I would like because of these commitments. The students said they appreciated that their professor had credibility in the real world. Besides, they appreciated the real world examples I brought into the classroom. For example, in a water resources class, the class project involved participation in a commission of inquiry over conflict about a real lake. The students were divided into small groups representing different segments of those affected. In the last week of the course they made presentations to me as the Commission. I also organized a Toastmasters group on campus because most students would need these skills in their careers in the real world. I visited schools and invited high school classes to sit in on my university classes. My department told me that all these activities were a waste of my time, yet I produced more research most years than for the entire department.
Universities Are Self–created, Self-perpetuating, Anachronistic Systems.
The reality is that university education is not for everybody. Despite that society makes the assumption that every child entering kindergarten will end up in university. This, by default, makes failures of a majority of society. Even for those who get in, most students just passing with a C average, are simply getting grades 13, 14, and 15, in what is really only a socially acceptable form of unemployment. Meanwhile the majority, with a multitude of other talents needed in society, is denigrated and made to feel inferior by the academic community. Consider Gruber’s arrogance. Besides, most faculty members only tolerate students in order to maintain funding to protect their jobs. Using graduate students to do their teaching is an abrogation of their teaching responsibility, but they get away with it. I heard one faculty member say, if we could just get rid of the students this would be a great place to work. But it is academics who set up and maintain the system. They decide on what is a valuable type of intelligence and impose that on society. To my knowledge there is no university or college that offers a course in common sense. If they did they would have to bring a person from outside to teach it.
There are few better examples of academic arrogance and their belief that the end justifies the means than in a series of recorded presentations featuring Jonathan Gruber. In one of the academic presentations, the audience laughed in sympathy with Gruber’s portrayal of the people as stupid. The end was establishment of the Affordable Health Care (Obamacare) plan. He was recorded on many occasions referring to the deceptions taken to fool a stupid public, who were incapable of understanding economics that were simple for his superior brain and abilities. In Congressional testimony, forced by public and political reaction, he apologized for his remarks, but insisted the end was still worth it. No it isn’t! If it were, it wouldn’t need the deception.
In his article “Give Gruber a Break”, Charles Battig describes Economist Gruber’s views and statements as being normal in the academic world. After 25 years of grappling with that world, I agree, but know that most people don’t know what is “normal” in the so – called Ivory Tower. Remember, the communications within the leaked emails was defined as normal scientific banter. As Clive Crook explained,
The closed-mindedness of these supposed men of science, their willingness to go to any lengths to defend a preconceived message, is surprising even to me. The stink of intellectual corruption is overpowering. And, as Christopher Booker said, this scandal is not at the margins of the politicised IPCC process. It is not tangential to the policy prescriptions emanating from what David Henderson called the environmental policy milieu. It goes to the core of that process.
This and my experiences support the Wikipedia definition of the Ivory Tower.
From the 19th century, it has been used to designate a world or atmosphere where intellectuals engage in pursuits that are disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday life. It usually carries pejorative connotations of a willful disconnect from the everyday world: esoteric, over-specialized, or even useless research, and academic elitism.
It fits my experience as a student, graduate student and faculty member. The phrase that an idea is, “purely academic” means it is irrelevant to the real world. I can make these judgments because of work experience in government, private business, industry, and the military. I joked about retiring from academia because there was so much scar tissue on my back, there was no place left to put a knife. Academics want the scars they inflict to remain visible. Many have written for centuries about the vicious and nasty politics of universities as Battig identified.
Overall universities are a fraud. How much longer before a student at Harvard sues for false advertising? They go, expecting courses from professors, but end up with graduate students giving the class. These graduate students are indentured servants working for very low wages and little different from serfs, which is appropriate, because universities are mediaeval institutions being dragged kicking and screaming into the 18th century. If you want to see vestiges of the medieval, witness the Elizabethan gowns and hats they wear at convocations. I am no fan of Prince Philip, but maybe as a vestige of medievalism himself, he recognizes what is going on when he said universities are the only true incestuous system in our society. Almost everybody who is working there is a product. Most executives, presidents, vice presidents and Deans and middle management positions, such as department chairs, are academics. How many are given the welcoming lecture that this is not job training, other than in professional schools like law and medicine, but then never told what it is doing.
Economist John Maynard Keynes said,
Education: The inculcation of the incomprehensible into the indifferent by the incompetent.
He should know because he is the economist who convinced politicians that you get out of debt by going further in to debt. Gruber says people are too stupid to understand economics. Maybe, but they know better than Gruber or Keynes, that economics is purely and simply the balance between money coming in and going out – nothing more. What is even more galling about Gruber is, he knows the public understand this. It is why he admitted hiding the truth that with Obamacare generally more goes out than comes in for individuals and for government.
Failed Predictions; A Measure Of Disconnect.
There is a basic reason why economic predictions fail and it relates to Gruber’s assumption that people are stupid. He thinks they will react in a certain way because he, in his brilliance, has designed a system that forces their reaction. A scientific prediction is either right or wrong. When an economic prediction is made, people, especially the influential, react and modify their behavior, almost always invalidating the prediction. Welcome to the real world, Mr. Gruber. IPCC has done the same. They assumed nature and people would function and react in a certain way. Increased CO2 would result in increasing temperatures. Both were assuming ceteris paribus, but it never is because of feedbacks in nature and human behavior.
Gruber accused people of not understanding economics. He should consider that it has long been known as “the dismal science”, so-named by Thomas Carlyle, because of the failed predictions of Thomas Malthus. This provides a connection to the current failed climate predictions of the IPCC, which are neo-Malthusian. The Club of Rome expanded the idea that overpopulation would exhaust food resources and all resources. Maurice Strong, in Agenda 21, at the 1992 Rio Conference, narrowed the focus to the industrial nations. Reducing their impact was achieved by “scientifically” identifying CO2 as their exhaust and falsely claiming it was causing run away global warming.
This identification of a single variable, as almost the sole cause, also aligns climate science with economics. It is said that economic predictions fail because they try to predict the tide by measuring one wave. The IPCC have done the same thing by using the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) to oversimplify, exaggerate and misrepresent what the science actually shows.
My presentations at three Heartland Climate Conferences all spoke to the failure to communicate the skeptical side of global warming. At the first Heartland in New York, only a few in the audience came up after and acknowledged what I actually said. They were all non-scientists, but also communicators. One in particular, Marita Noon, was also in attendance at the 2014 Heartland in Las Vegas; we spent considerable time discussing the issue of helping the public understand. Marita has focused on and done a very good job with the energy sector, who often know the science is bad, but is in no position to voice or act on that. In New York, I pointed out that Al Gore’s movie was a superb piece of propaganda that would likely make Leni Riefenstahl proud. Gore employed Hollywood to produce, because they know how to manipulate people’s emotions. Gore’s Oscar was justified, based on Hollywood values.
The Enemy Within
Judith Curry wrote a revealing summary of reflections on the fifth anniversary of Climategate. It references an early Curry commentary on Steve Mcintyre’s site titled, “On the credibility of climate research.” In that article Curry provides examples of Ivory Tower thinking.
Climate tribalism. Tribalism is defined here as a strong identity that separates one’s group from members of another group, characterized by strong in-group loyalty and regarding other groups differing from the tribe’s defining characteristics as inferior. In the context of scientific research, tribes differ from groups of colleagues that collaborate and otherwise associate with each other professionally.
After becoming more knowledgeable about the politics of climate change (both the external politics and the internal politics within the climate field), I became concerned about some of the tribes pointing their guns inward at other climate researchers who question their research or don’t pass various loyalty tests.
I am grateful for Judith Curry’s experience and explanation of them. It illustrates the Ivory Tower situation well, and how those within can’t or don’t want to see what is going on. It all seems “normal”. It is another carry over of the medieval situation in universities, when they effectively won the “town and gown” battle and generally, only go to town if funding is threatened. Curry appears to have stumbled on the realities of academia and what was going on in the outside world in climate science. In the true spirit of open debate Curry commendably welcomed Steve McIntyre to her university, Georgia Tech, in 2008. Ms. Curry knew the debate wasn’t over and the science wasn’t settled. It appears the reactions Ms. Curry experienced were a surprise and a revelation. As McIntyre explained,
Readers of this blog should realize that Judy Curry has been (undeservedly) criticized within the climate science community for inviting me to Georgia Tech.
Until you push back against the tribe, you have no idea how hard and nasty they react. Often the worst reactions come from within academia. The false information on the web about me came from a former colleague. Another wrote a three-page letter, that a lawyer said was libelous, saying I had no right to be on radio, television or speaking in public.
Beyond that, it appears that I am a challenge for alarmists because they couldn’t say I wasn’t qualified, although they tried, and I was able to explain complex climate science in ways the public understood. The latter ability was honed by teaching a science credit for arts students, making a multitude of public presentations, co-authoring a climate textbook, publishing peer-reviewed articles, and teaching climatology to large (300+) classes for 25 years. I knew my colleagues saw my teaching ability as a handicap. They assume teaching and research are mutually exclusive.
I am not surprised by the inability of climate skeptics to communicate with the real world. They are, for the most part, products of the Ivory Tower. They have all the problems associated, further complicated by an inability to compete, because the climate claims of the IPCC are political, not scientific.
It is time to close most universities, or better still convert them to trade training. If society really wants more equity and an education that meets its needs, then society must consider a tradesperson of more value than an economist or most other university graduates. Most societies, that the academics would call “primitive”, prepare their children for the real world. For the most part, we don’t.
A professor is a man whose job is to tell students how to solve problems of life, which he himself has tried to avoid by becoming a professor.
A professor is one who talks in someone else’s sleep.
Education: that which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.
You can always tell a Harvard man – but you can’t tell him much.
The reason universities are so full of knowledge is that students come with so much and leave with so little.