Monday, December 28, 2009

Time to Reconsider the World View

Although I have some rather substantial policy disagreements with President Obama, I don't doubt that he's an intelligent person. Furthermore, I think he's spent a lot of time thinking about his world view--how he sees the world; how he sees others; what he thinks others think of him and, by extension, what they think of the United States.

Unfortunately, I don't think he's subjected that world view to a lot of criticism. My sense is that he is surrounded by people who either aren't his intellectual equal or simply don't think carefully about what their world view is. As a result, the President seems lost when others act in ways he doesn't expect.

I saw this pretty clearly when he tried to rethink his Afghanistan strategy--it took 100+ days to come up with a strategy that didn't seem particularly coherent, and that wasn't sold particularly well. It's almost as if his advisors can't communicate with a military that they think is still living in 1985. In fact, the military leadership today probably understands nuanced diplomacy better than the State Department.

But, we saw a similar incoherence this week, in the wake of the failed Northwest airline attack. The President stayed on vacation--that makes sense; you don't want to encourage the enemy by making this larger than it already is. But, his advisors seemed to stay on vacation, too. It took 3 days for Secretary Napolitano to admit security had failed--seriously? Now a group is claiming credit. Are they involved? We have the terrorist in custody--what does he say? If the group did it, we should've been blaming them first, to send a strategic message that we know. If the terrorist acted alone, we should already be ridiculing the Al Qaeda group's claim. But, we're not doing either. We're letting the other side set the communications agenda.

No one in the administration seems to have thought about what the world is really like, and the fact that the administration is expected to have answers for everything, all the time. That's not fair, and it isn't even reasonable, but it comes with the office. They aren't just a domestic administration; they have to deal with foreign policy, too. And that means more than platitudes about how everyone loves us now that George W. Bush is no longer President. It seems like there are a lot of people who hated us under Clinton, and it seems that they still exist.

Love him or hate him, Bush had a clear world view, that he intended to make "Islamo-fascism" simply unacceptable to civilized peoples everywhere. Pretty heady; maybe arrogant. But, at least he knew what he wanted the world to look like when we were done. Any military planner will tell you that's the first step in outlining a strategy--define the end state.

Time for the Obama administration to start thinking a little more about what they want the world to look like, or some very unpleasant "others" are going to offer their version, instead.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Climate Shame

So, thousands of emails between climate scientists are either hacked or released by a whistleblower. What to make of this?

First off, a caveat--I'm not going to offer my opinion on climate change, since by remaining anonymous, my opinion is no more or less authoritative than any other layman's. But, I will say this--I was taught the scientific method in school, and I read. A lot.

A couple weeks ago, Paul Krugman assured us on ABC's "This Week" that this was just the normal course of academic discussion--that we need to understand academics get fired up when they are arguing their case internally. I'm not clear why an economist's opinion is any more valid than mine on climate change, but I'll take that for what it's worth.

Which is not much.

Sorry, Mr. Krugman, I've read the emails. Not all of them; I have a day job. But to claim this is just the normal course of scientific research is to damn all science. Saying you will delete data before releasing it isn't hyperbole; it's misconduct. Refusing to honor Freedom of Information Act requests because you believe you're just being harassed? I can't speak for the UK's version, but in the United States, the whole point of FOIA is that the holder of the data doesn't get to decide whether you're worth the bother. They want it, you've got it, hand it over. Period. That's the law. Or, to put it a bit more indelicately, it's NOT YOUR DATA. Unless you personally funded your research out of your own pocket, IT ISN'T YOURS. It isn't yours to withold, and it isn't your position to pass judgement on anyone asking for it--whether they have a Nobel Prize or are a kook in the basement.

Since we're talking about scientists, not lawyers, I could perhaps excuse their lack of understanding. What I can't excuse is the very idea that a scientist would find it acceptable to pressure others to boycott opposition, suppress research, or hide behind anything in a quest to keep data hidden. The whole point of scientific research is that it has to be repeatable. Once is a fluke, and if data doesn't fit the theory, then the theory has to be reworked. Perhaps the underlying hypothesis is still correct, but your desire on the matter is irrelevant. If you want to prove the doubters wrong, you'll have to give them your data, publish their research, and then demolish it. Anything else simply encourages conspiracy theorists.

So, forgive me if I don't just relax, now that the Associated Press has read all the emails, sent them to "experts," and concluded that these scientists were "overly generous" in their interpretations, but that we shouldn't conclude they were wrong about climate change.

It doesn't work that way. They have demonstrated a lack of ethics. As a result, I can't believe any of their conclusions anymore--all the more so because I'm not a climate scientist, so I can't personally verify their data, methods, and conclusions. Neither can these "experts" in the course of a couple weeks--so they are simply siding with colleagues, whether they know them or not. Until all the research is meticulously, laboriously reviewed--decades worth, by experts from both sides, in open forums, which will cost billions--then we are simply taking it on faith that the underlying science must still be sound. After all, there's consensus on this, right?

Just like there was a scientific consensus, for about a thousand years, that the Sun went around the Earth. Until someone took another look at the data.