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“A Headline That Will Make Global-Warming Activists Apoplectic” (columbia.edu)
91 points by luu 4 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 72 comments

> Cute contrarian takes and “repugnant ideas” can be Freakonomically fun, but they don’t always have much to do with reality.

This has been on my mind a lot. Everyone wants to be the contrarian who ends up being right and hailed as a genius. It’s the intellectual equivalent of nailing the game winning 3 pointer.

But it is very dangerous to pursue being a contrarian on purpose. Being contrary to popular opinion is an awful heuristic for correctness, and quite often it leads towards you just being a crank and not being correct.

You're absolutely right. Contrarianism has taken off as a brand-building and clout-chasing tactics for writers and other public figures. They've figured out there's little downside to being wrong about some in the public discourse. You only need to get lucky once and you've struck gold.

It works even better today because algorithms will jolt you to the top because you're controversial. It's gotten to the point where contrarian YouTbers will even have dumb little turf wars. If you are simply seeking the truth, why should you care that someone else agrees with you... oh they're stealing eyeballs? Ah, I see!

> If you are simply seeking the truth, why should you care that someone else agrees with you... oh they're stealing eyeballs? Ah, I see!

I can imagine objecting to the most eyeballs going to the wrong conclusion.

I think parent meant they both have same "truth" but pissed that they cannot have all the eyeballs.

We’re talking about flat earth people I’m guessing. They have various pissing contests.

I distinctly remember my childhood when someone once told me that the U.S. civil war was “not about slavery” and how damn good it felt to think that everybody else had it wrong and that I was so smart for my contrarian views.

It does feel good to be an elitist contrarian, but being reality-based is better.

Well, I did not expect to see this subthread here. One could make an interesting study just out of thread sizes and downvote color variations of various topics on HN. It’s amazing and a bit horrifying how much simply stating “the Civil War was about slavery” still stokes such strong feelings in people.

I honestly did not expect that either. It was a throwaway line about contrarianism.

Classic case of "well that escalated quickly".

Slavery as moral issue and slavery as the engine of economic competitiveness are both slavery. You can fight for one purpose, and the other is a bonus. Which one was the purpose?

Note there was never ever a war against racism.

> I distinctly remember my childhood when someone once told me that the U.S. civil war was “not about slavery” and how damn good it felt to think that everybody else had it wrong and that I was so smart for my contrarian views. It does feel good to be an elitist contrarian, but being reality-based is better.

Be careful you don't get too attached to the good feelings that come along with accepting "reality based" status quo ideas without challenge.

For example, I've long held the opinion that most important aspect of Global Climate Change is not climate science, but psychology.

From TFA:

> P.P.S. At this point you might ask why are we picking on Freakonomics? Nobody cares about them anymore! Shouldn’t we be writing about Al Sharpton or Ted Cruz or whoever else happens to be polluting the public discourse? Or recent Ted talk sensations? Sleep is your superpower! Or we could see what’s been published lately in Perspectives on Psychological Science . . . that’s always always good for a laugh, or a cry.

For fun, let's do a quick search on "climate" in the archives of the hilarious 'Perspectives on Psychological Science':


Right off the bat, I see at least five articles that seem plausibly interesting and important. I'm not sure what keywords one would have to search on, but I reckon the field of psychology might have a few nuggets of useful knowledge about the exciting events of January 6 that everyone seems to have their panties in a bunch about.

Continuing on in TFA...

> Or maybe the pizzagate guy or the disgraced primatologist are up to no good again? Well, we do pick on all those people too.

The tens if not hundreds of thousands of comically deranged (down to the individual person, without exception) members of the conspiracy theory community surely don't have any useful knowledge at all that might have any pragmatic use to remedying the ever taller pile of debacles our Serious Intellectuals are stacking up, one on top of the other. We know this for sure - because....well, why is it again that we all know this, for sure? I know it's a fact, because I read it all the time, but now that I think about it, I can't recall the reason. Oh wait....it's because all conspiracy theorists believe that 5G causes covid, and all of their theories are of that quality. And I know this to be true, because numerous Trustworthy Professional Journalists share this same opinion, and this has been Confirmed by Concensus on places like HN and the front page of Reddit, and I also know that the theories of people like Noam Chomsky and Marshall McLuhan on the questionable trustworthiness of the media (and in turn, mass public perception) have been proven Completely Wrong. Nothing to see here - case closed.

Speaking of "good for a laugh", we're only two weeks into 2021, but I'm getting a feeling that this year might even be more funny than 2020. Time will tell I suppose. What I know we can count on though, is a never ending stream of sarcastic, sneering at our mutual outgroups articles from iamverysmart Right Thinking journalists and bloggers, and the Overton Window constrained circle jerk forum conversations that follow them (nothing noteworthy has ever been accomplished by anyone who had an idea outside of mainstream beliefs, no siree bob). Rinse repeat, forever. Fiddle While Rome Burns - it's a blast!

EDIT: Speaking of other "edgy contrarian views", I think one could have quite the "meme field day" with the coordinated full court press of "independent" journalists whipping up a state of public loathing for the "disgraceful attack on Democracy, our "most sacred institution", if one was to combine it with some of the Greatest Hits from this page:


I was having dinner with a good friend from Iran last night, he was telling me how there is a fair chunk of the population there who wants the US to invade and overthrow the current government, even if it results in severe destruction to the country. Is this a crazy idea? I don't even know what that word means anymore.

But all of this is little concern to me. No, feeling like a snack after writing this edgy contrarian rant (and nothing else), I'll just wander down to the local corner store (a light hoodie should be more than enough, it's so warm out this winter) and pickup 3kg of bananas for $1.99 (they're high in Potassium, delicious, and so affordable - how do they do it!!!??) And after that, I'll settle into my cozy bed and sleep like a lamb, knowing when I wake up tomorrow everything will be Just Fine for me and my family. And isn't that all that matters? I imagine it is, because if it wasn't I'm sure I'd have heard something about it from the man on the Six O'clock News. I don't know about you, but that's where I get my facts from, because they tell us the facts that matter, not like those other guys - and I know this to be true, because they told me this is true, and people on social media overwhelmingly confirmed it to be true.

Only replying to your bizarre rant to say that it's very funny that you seem to have somehow linked P.P.S. (Post Post Scriptum) with Perspectives on Psychological Science...

I would very much like to know why my initial reply to this comment has been [flagged]. What in the hell is going on with this forum? Has everyone lost their minds?

Well, it wasn't. It was about economic and political integration and competition with the South.

Here's a very tame source: "The Civil War in the United States began in 1861, after decades of simmering tensions between northern and southern states over slavery, states’ rights and westward expansion." [ https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/american-c... ]

Which of those 3 items you think the North could not care less about (much less go to war for), if it wasn't for its economic impact?

Continuing from the same source:

"In the mid-19th century, while the United States was experiencing an era of tremendous growth, a fundamental economic difference existed between the country’s northern and southern regions. In the North, manufacturing and industry was well established, and agriculture was mostly limited to small-scale farms, while the South’s economy was based on a system of large-scale farming that depended on the labor of Black enslaved people to grow certain crops, especially cotton and tobacco."

The tie with slavery is all about the economy:

"Growing abolitionist sentiment in the North after the 1830s and northern opposition to slavery’s extension into the new western territories led many southerners to fear that the existence of slavery in America—and thus the backbone of their economy—was in danger."

And that's the general causes. The immediate causes for the declaration of war have even less to do with it, and it was all about the secession of several states - i.e. whether the federal state has control over them or not.

Try reading any of the confederate states' articles of secession. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/primary-sources/declarati...

GA: The prohibition of slavery in the Territories, hostility to it everywhere, the equality of the black and white races, disregard of all constitutional guarantees in its favor, were boldly proclaimed by its leaders and applauded by its followers.... We refuse to submit to that judgment, and in vindication of our refusal we offer the Constitution of our country and point to the total absence of any express power to exclude us.

MS: Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery

SC: This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.

TX: We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

>Try reading any of the confederate states' articles of secession. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/primary-sources/declarati...

Those are neither here, nor there. It's not a question about whether the South wanted to continue slavery, or the North wanted to end it.

It's a question about whether the North's motive was slavery (as a moral/just cause), or other considerations (like state control, economic competition), to which slavery was a secondary effect they didn't want to leave to the South.

It’s true that the North AKA the United States did not start the Civil War to end slavery. Mainly because the North did not start the Civil War at all.

Southern states started the Civil War by seceding to form the Confederacy, and more specifically by attacking U.S. Fort Sumter, an act of war. They did that to preserve and expand slavery. So it’s still correct to say that the Civil War was about slavery.

One thing I note is eight months after the civil war started France invaded Mexico. After the Civil War ended the US made sure they had to leave. And then helped Mexico kill Maximilian. I feel like in that context the South's attacks on the United States Southern coastal defenses wasn't acceptable.

But yeah the south leaving the Union was all about slavery.

Lysander Spooner is dead. There's no need to rehash his arguments.

Being dead is not the same as being wrong.

It might be convenient to ignore arguments from dead people we don't agree with. But we seldom extend this to arguments from dead people we agree with.

>The tie with slavery is all about the economy

Yes except you're getting cause and effect reversed. The fundamental building block of the Southern economy was slavery, as your own quoted excerpts explain. Take that away and their economy would collapse, along with the extremely comfortable plantation lifestyles of the Southern elite. Their economy depended on slavery, not the other way around. When slavery was threatened, they went to war to preserve it.

I'm from the South, we were taught in high-school that it was about economics, but later in life I realized that, for the South, slavery was the economy, and the root cause of the Civil War. Southerners have to be honest about that, or they'll never be able to fully move on.

Surely the desire of the north maintain the integrity of the union is an equal factor to the motivations of the Confederacy. There were incentives on both sides and they were not necessarily the same. You can have a war where two groups have different primary motiviations.

This does not to provide a moral excuse for the institution of slavery, but simply a clairification of fact.

Why would maintaining the integrity of union be an issue in the first place? It's not unless someone wants to secede. Who would want to secede, and why?

>Why would maintaining the integrity of union be an issue in the first place?

That’s exactly the question I’m getting at. At a high level, the question of what events led up to the war is different from why the north and south chose to go to war.

I think it is an interesting question that usually gets glossed over by focusing on the motivations of the south. For the north, I think it was some combination of manifest destiny, national pride, and economic incentives. Perhaps they did not want to compete with a rival for North American territory and have a reduced capacity for international defense/power projection. You can ask why any government go to war to stop separatist movements, or incorporate new territories, and the answers may be different in each case. For example, the reasons Spain does not want an independent Catalonia are different than why China opposes an independent Taiwan.

>Who would want to secede, and why?

The south and slavery, for the sake of simplicity.

>Their economy depended on slavery, not the other way around. When slavery was threatened, they went to war to preserve it.

Of course. That doesn't make it a war about slavery, it makes a war about a threatened economic advantage.

In fact, I agree further with you: the South did fight for slavery both as an economic advantage and as a racist ideology.

My issue is with the notion that the Civil War cause as it comes to the North was about the emancipation of the slaves - which I consider cant. It was about economy and control from the Northern side.

> My issue is with the notion that the Civil War cause as it comes to the North

There's no serious dispute about that; preserving the Union was the overt aim, and there were slave states in the Union, who clearly weren't fighting against slavery.

Yeah you are trying to reframe from your original position

“The civil war wasn’t about slavery”


“From the perspective of the north the primary motivation was not slavery”

And it’s not convincing to me or to others. The big picture here: was the civil war about slavery? I think the answer is yes, what about you?

I would advise you that this is not how you are coming off in this discussion. You sound like you are arguing that the civil war was not about slavery.

In fact, I agree further with you: the South did fight for slavery both as an economic advantage and as a racist ideology.

But slavery doesn’t have to be on racial grounds directly. For example in California they use the prison population as slave labour, Kamala Harris built her entire success on it.

It just so happened that the majority of the prison population is black, and she was the state’s top cop. Nothing to see here, move along now.

What a shit take. It was about slavery. Of course the north wasnt interested in war over slavery. The south WAS and they started it. If you read the individual states declarations they also state slavery and white supremacy as the overriding cause. When discussing states rights they were primarily angry at the northern states exercising their rights by refusing to return runaway slaves and by refusing to allow slaves to be returned to bondage after slaveholders brought them north for travel.

Of course you can abstract it all away by saying it was "economics" but the economics in question are the economics of slavery. The states rights are the rights as they pertain to slavery. It was slavery.

>What a shit take

What a polite comment.

>It was about slavery. Of course the north wasnt interested in war over slavery.

That's kind of my whole point. The North wasn't interested in war over slavery, and the war wasn't about emancipating slaves rhetoric. It was about the North conflicting with the South over economic operation, interests, and state control.

Slavery just happened to be the way that was expressed in the South, so it became the contentiuous issue, but as a second order effect.

Nobody argues that the north went to war with the south to end slavery. You're arguing against a strawman. The south went to war against the north to preserve slavery and white supremacy. Abstracting it away to be about them having dissimilar economies is just apologetics for an obscenity.

I'm not sure how you conclude that from even your quoted source: slavery, states' rights to own humans as property, and the westward expansion of slavery and slave-holding into the territories are all about slavery. Slavery was a root tension from the founding of the Republic with an earlier Civil War in the 1820's only staved off by the Missouri compromise.

Since you are one of the top HN posters, I encourage you to read the founding documents and speeches of the Confederate States, as well as reputable historical works such as McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom".

It was slavery.

It was slavery.

It was slavery. (The states’ rights to maintain slavery.)

It was slavery. (The expansion of slavery into new territory.)

It was entirely about slavery.

This reactionary simplistic view how history whitewashes what the North's position really was.

1) You missed: It was slavery (The states' rights to not enforce the fugitive slave act)

2) The south's position was unarguably[0] defined by their view on slavery. However, the north's position was far less clear cut. There was certainly an abolitionist movement in the North; but even during the civil war, they did not control northern politics.

Despite the failure of northern states to enforce the fugitive slave act, there was still a general willingness in them to tolerate the existence of slavery the southern states.

Unlike the confederacy, the stated aim of the US during the civil war was explicitly not the abolition of slavery, but rather the preservation of the union. I believe their actions leading up to the civil war were consistent with this. However, if you doubt the honesty of the stated goals of the North, you can look instead at to the slave states that stayed with the union: Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri. Since I am from Maryland, that is the state whose history I am familiar with. When it rejected secession, the Maryland legislature passed a resolution stating:

> The General Assembly of Maryland have seen with concern certain indications at the seat of the General Government, of an interference with the institution of slavery in the slave-holding States, and cannot hesitate to express their sentiments and those of the people they represent, in regard to a policy so unwise and mischievous. This war is prosecuted by the Nation with but one object; that, namely, of a restoration of the Union, just as it was when the rebellion broke out. The rebellious States are to be brought back to their places in the Union, without change or diminution of their constitutional rights. In the language of the resolution adopted by both Houses of Congress at its extra session in July last, with remarkable unanimity, this war is declared to be prosecuted not “in any spirit of oppression, or for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, or purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution, and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity, equality and rights of the several States unimpaired, and that as soon as those objects are accomplished, the war ought to cease.”

> The objects and purposes of the war thus impressively declared, are those alone which the Nation can rightfully contemplate in its prosecution; and the moment the object of the war changes from a simple restoration of the Union, as known to the Constitution, to something else in conflict with the guaranties of that instrument, from that moment the war itself changes its character. ...

The emancipation proclamation would not be issues until September 1862, well over a year into the civil war. Incidentally, the emancipation proclamation explicitly did not apply to Union states that still had slaves.

I am inclined to agree with the confederacy's assessment that the North was on the path to forcing abolition. But that is simply not an accurate description of the position of the North at the start of the civil war.


[0] I suppose unarguable is a bit strong, since empirically there are people who do argue this; but the confederacy at the time was pretty clear on their motivation.

[1] https://www.loc.gov/resource/rbpe.03104100/?st=text

Maryland was occupied territory in all but name when that was written. That's not to say your point is wrong - the motivations of the North were complex - but I'm not sure that example really shows anything. In Maryland had seceded, they would have been conquered in days - the decision not to secede really just shows that their leaders were not suicidal, not that they didn't support the Confederate cause.

The consensus among European historians (that don't have to tow the party line and be "patriotic" about it) was that slavery was just a pretext.

That is, if by "it was slavery" anybody means:

- "the North cared for the welfare of blacks and wanted to save them from slavery and went to war for it"

as opposed to:

"the Northern interests wanted to take away that advantage/economic mode from the South and the westward expansion states". The rest are nice stories to tell to children to make them feel patriotic and proud.

The US continued being racist and seggragated just fine, including the "all caring" North for another century (or more).

> The consensus among European historians (that don't have to tow the party line and be "patriotic" about it) was that slavery was just a pretext.

I see no evidence of this consensus; could you present some?

> That is, if by "it was slavery" anybody means:

> - "the North cared for the welfare of blacks and wanted to save them from slavery and went to war for it"

> as opposed to:

> "the Northern interests wanted to take away that advantage/economic mode from the South and the westward expansion states".

Er, neither of those is the reason. It was about slavery in the sense of “The South issued articles of secession because of fears that the long-term arc of history in the Union was toward abolition.”

The North was concerned with preserving the Union. The war was about slavery for the South, who started it, not the North.

You’ve been had. The American South was corrupted by a pervasive evil system from which it has still not fully recovered.

You’re talking points echo “the Lost Cause” a 160+ year concerted effort to rehabilitate the history Of the antebellum South through obfuscation, misdirection and half-truths.

I’d recommend https://www.amazon.com/Myth-Lost-Cause-South-Fought/dp/16215...

My school had British coursework. History textbooks clearly said it was about slavery.

You know, this is exactly what I was warning you about.

For me the contrarian impulse is that if Im arriving at the same conclusion as a large number of people, did I actually reason my way to that conclusion or am I letting unconscious social forces guide me? So, I play the devil's advocate. Then, after having challenged the conventional notions, I have more confidence in my conclusion. At the very least, I will usually have a more nuanced view.

Ironically, being contrarian can itself be an unconscious social force to differentiate yourself; sometimes the herd is right.

> But it is very dangerous to pursue being a contrarian on purpose

Dangerous for society, and not for the individual pursuing that path.

I'd say that you're right but also that there are major systematic problems with the media and therefore with what everyone thinks, so the only way you'll get to the truth in many cases is by trying contrarian takes so you break out of the groupthink on important issues. As more than one person has remarked to me, it sometimes feels like listening to the news in America is like listening to a North Korean state broadcast.

Yes, there's also a subtle shift in incentive from being contrarian organically to being contrarian strategically. Incentives matter, and can introduce bias and distort one's perception of reality. People who base their identity and id around the notion of being contrarian are setting themselves up for being incorrect, a crank, or worse.

UBI and Unschooling are contrarian.

I think both don't work, which is perhaps your point, but you have to include contrarian things you like in this theory.

True, but only for some definitions of 'contrarian'.

The reverse warning would be equally useful, i.e. "dare to challenge the status quo if there's evidence for something better".

There's so much of this on HN on any even remotely politically charged topic. 99% of the conversation on anything technical is logically consistent, good faith discussion, but mention anything that the right wing political zeitgeist has decided to diverge from reality on recently and suddenly I'm surprised anyone manages to string together complete sentences.

In other words: "It's contrarianism when those I don't agree with do it".

>Being contrary to popular opinion is an awful heuristic for correctness

Seldom in politics and culture.

Drive-by-contrarianism is just another form of nihilistic discourse. Low-brow practitioners (aka trolls) say outlandish, puerile things to get a reaction, then come back with "whatever, I'm just for the lulz" when challenged.

Drive-by contrarians say outlandish, vaguely smart-sounding things, then come back with, "Oh, we're just raising questions and pushing back against groupthink." Or they just ignore the pushback, of course, as in the Freakonomics case.

Kyrie Irving for a real world example.

This is a follow up to the 2009 post here: https://web.archive.org/web/20170524023553/http://freakonomi...

which cites a BBC article stating:

> For the last 11 years we have not observed any increase in global temperatures.

> Professor Easterbrook says: “The PDO cool mode has replaced the warm mode in the Pacific Ocean, virtually assuring us of about 30 years of global cooling.”

Needless to say, the 2009-2039 "cooling cycle" isn't off to a great start.

You can an article saying anything. But the global ice meltoff is not imaginary.

I like to say, on a summer day you defrost your freezer. The kitchen, of course, gets cooler for a while. But once the ice is gone, its a hot summer day everywhere.

> But once the ice is gone, its a hot summer day everywhere.

Well that’s an extra depressing way to put it to me for some reason.

This is why a Blue Ocean Event (BOE) would really signal the start of a whole new climate regime. Not only because of the albedo change, but the energy that goes into melting ice is enormous; that heat energy would instead be transferred to the ocean water itself.

So profound and poetic.

I remember seeing a LOT of annual temperature graphs that started at 1998. It was particularly popular with data ending in 2008, because then it seemed like a natural choice to use a nice round 10 year window.

Seeing the graph’s relentless climb upward year after year leaves one feeling increasingly hopeless. Every decade or so one of those “see, the trend stopped!” discussions come up, and every time it’s just temporary noise.

We’ll have to figure out CO2 removal at scale pretty much. Anyone knows how that’s going to give me some hope?

I’m so confused. About 8 years ago there seemed to be consensus that global warming had “paused”.


Now, it looks like it hasn’t? So basically what we though the average temperature each year was wrong and this new data is right?

No, the global average temperatures over the last 8 years don't show a pause. There was never a consensus that there was one.

You've just been listing to the wrong sources it seems, sorry to say.

My source, the Meteorological agency of the UK gov’t is the wrong source?

I mean, the journal Nature devoted a whole issue to explaining the pause.[1]

So despite all the effort to explain the pause you’re telling me there was no pause? So what were they trying to explain?


That's not a pause, that's a slowdown.

We've always been at war with Eastasia.

There totally was a pause 2000~2010. Pause is normal. Our theory predicts pauses! It indeed would be weird if we didn't see a pause.

OP was talking about 2012-2020. I don't see a pause, do you?

That's talking about surface warming.

The incoming solar energy remained greater than the energy Earth was radiating. The question was simply where was the excess going if it was not showing up as surface heating.

The Earth contains many complex systems that are exchanging energy with each other in complex ways. Many of these have periodic or approximately periodic cycles than can change the magnitude of energy flow between them, or even the direction.

So sometimes you'll have periods where an increase in total energy ends up not changing surface temperatures, instead warming something else like part of the ocean, or maybe a particular layer of the atmosphere, or maybe going into melting glaciers (converting a mass of water from ice at 0 C to liquid at 0 C takes a lot of energy), or some combination of all of those and more.

As noted in the post: 1998 was super hot and it was around there from about ~2000-2010. Data from 2010-2020 shows it was just part of a noisy--but still upward--trend.

But look at the trend in the link for this article. There is no pause, just a consistent upward climb.

There's no clear upward trend if you zoom the focus to just the period from about 2002-2012, the trend is drowned out by noise in that window. 8 years ago that would have been the previous decade, which is likely the source of the "pause" discourse you remember from 8 years ago.

Hmm... but if I zoom into 1980 to say 1995 I see a similar noisy set of data points and no obvious upward trend. But no one ever said there was a pause then.

Or did they?

Bet money against a global increase in temperature and you are going to lose your money in most years.

Is there a prediction market for this?

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