Minor Absurdity

The cartoon is by one of my favorites. Scott Adams has been poking fun, through Dilbert, at American business and society on a grand scale since 1995, drawing from his experience working in business and project development. He has other interests, besides:

Russia Hacked our Election! (So what?)

I see a consensus forming that Russia attempted to influence our election with fake news and other social media shenanigans.

But why?

It’s an entry in Scott Adams’ Blog, and it’s worth some diagnosis. Here are a few snippets along with my comments:

If you start with the assumption that Russia is an enemy of the United States, you probably assume they do bad things to us simply to weaken our power and effectiveness. For example, this article hypothesizes that Russia’s intention was to breed distrust between whoever became president and our intelligence services. I guess that hypothesis sort-of-almost makes sense. But I wouldn’t say it passes my personal sniff test.

What is absurd in a minor way is his use of the term “assumption.” Take that away and also substitute “Vladimir Putin” for “Russia,” and you get a picture that has considerable credence. Former KGB foreign intelligence officer in the and current president, seemingly for life, of the Russian state gives all the appearances of being a very bad character. Any difference between Vladimir Putin and a heavy-handed dictator is difficult to discern. Not to sound conspiratorial, but people who oppose Putin tend to die a lot, in the most prejudicial ways. No examples given. None need be.

That Putin, through Russia, is opposed to this country and to much of Western political influence is manifest in his actions in  Georgia and Ukraine. Adams might want to have his sniffer tested.

Then there’s the more popular theory that the Russians were colluding with the Trump campaign because Putin thought he could somehow control President Trump via blackmail, or business ties, or something else we’re imagining. I guess that could be true. Sort of. But that doesn’t pass my sniff test either.

Again, Scott, get thee to a clinic to have thy sniffer tested. If Putin is not exercising blackmail over the President of the United States, it would only be because he has no need to. The accommodation given to the Russian dictatorship by Donald Trump is without parallel in history.

President Donald Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, second left, at the White House on May 10, 2017. Fourth from right is Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak. Russian Foreign Ministry Photo / AP

Photo attribution is given to the Associated Press, but I have it on good evidence that I need not worry about stepping on their copyright, because the ultimate source is an agency of the Russian government. The President of the United States invited the Russian press but excluded any member of the American press. This came the day after President Trump fired the director of the FBI, apparently because Director James Comey would not lay off investigating Trump’s dealings with the Russians. And finally, if the Russians want to come at me for copyright infringement, then let them have at it.

Then there’s the hypothesis that Russia was messing with our democratic system to weaken the country by sowing distrust about the election process, or possibly by electing a president they believed would be less effective. But I have a hard time believing the Russians thought Trump would be ineffective. Maybe they just thought he would be divisive, and perhaps they thought that’s good for Russia in some way.

Scott has a “hard time believing Trump would be ineffective.” Then he must have a hard time believing the Russians are not stupid. That Trump is ineffective is manifest on a broad scale. The president the Russians did not believe would be ineffective is proving to be an embarrassment to his own party. Republicans may swoon at his tweeted goals, but they are confounded by the litany of prevarications and contradictions coming daily. Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star has cataloged 300 (and more?) miscues from Donald Trump since 20 January this year. Considering the term “ineffective” we need only to think “NATO.” NATO, set up by retired General Eisenhower and President Truman after World War Two to oppose Soviet expansion in Europe, is a constant obstruction to Putin’s European ambitions. Our effective president first declared NATO a non-entity, then forswore our obligations under the treaty, then reaffirmed these same obligations. How many different ways are there to spell “ineffective?”

As Putin accurately pointed out in a recent interview, hackers can make their attacks seem to come from other sources, including Russia. I assume there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Trump-supporting Americans with the skills to hack poorly-secured servers. Even if you assume Putin wanted to hack American servers, he would have needed to get in line to do it. Given all the American hackers who opposed Hillary Clinton, there is perhaps a one-in-a-hundred chance Putin’s hackers (if they exist) got to the DNC and Clinton’s servers before the hordes of non-Russian hackers did it. So even if Putin tried, the odds are low that his team got to the good stuff first.

It’s hard to get past “Putin accurately pointed out in a recent interview.” It is heartening to know we can  count on a Russian dictator for sound advice. What I find interesting is that Scott, who formerly worked in the industry, is not current with the technology. He is also not up on the findings of people who do this sort of thing for a living. The people who do this sort of thing for a living, e.g., the CIA, FBI, NSA, have found the attacks came from the Russians, disguised has having come from elsewhere. American  intelligence services also determine the blame ultimately falls at the feet of Vladimir Putin. In response, Scott is going to have to tell us our intelligence agencies are lying to us. But this he has not done. Additionally, Scott’s analysis of cyber attacks is naive at the least. He appears to buy into the Hollywood view of spies breaking encrypted passwords. Unfortunately for him, that is not the way this stuff is usually done. All successful attacks I have seen reported in  the news have been by way of “social engineering” You trick somebody into revealing the password,  or you plant somebody (Edward Snowden) inside to steal the information you want. Scott may want to read up on the history of computer intrusion.

Let’s say Russia did attempt to influence American voters to support Trump. The first question I have to ask is this: Aren’t all the big countries trying to influence elections in all the other countries, all the time? If Russia did try to influence an American election, wouldn’t that be business as usual? Do we imagine the United States is NOT trying to influence foreign elections through our own fake news and social media manipulations? I always assumed we do that sort of thing. I base that assumption on the following observation about human beings:

Is it possible Scott previously denied the Russians did this stuff, and now he is saying so what if they did it? Our intelligence services say that is exactly what the Russians, under the direction of Vladimir Putin, did.

But let’s get back to Russia’s presumed payoff for somehow destabilizing the United States. I think we need to check that assumption because Putin seems like a smart guy. It’s hard for me to believe he thinks he would come out ahead by destabilizing the world’s most important military and economic power. And that is doubly true when you are teaming with that country to fight ISIS, put a cap on North Korea, and keep the economy chugging along. It’s hard for me to imagine a scenario in 2017 in which Russia gains by poking America with a sharp stick. The probable outcome seems more bad than good. Who wants a pissed-off nuclear superpower looking in your direction? It doesn’t pass the sniff test. If Putin were an idiot, I could see him wanting to cause this sort of trouble just because he was dumb.

Scott goes on to say Putin is not dumb.

He finds it difficult to believe Russia (Vladimir Putin) would seek to check us who “are teaming with that country to fight ISIS.” Please replay the most recent state of this teaming to defeat ISIS:

The U.S. downing of a Syrian government jet over the weekend marks an escalation in the long Syrian conflict, although Russia’s bold response Monday to view U.S. aircraft in the region as legitimate “targets” is seen more as “bluster” than anything else.

Yes, the United States and Russia are so hunky-dory on all matters of defense. Yes, Scott, this does pass the smell test.

I’d like to introduce a new hypothesis to explain why Russia might have wanted to influence American elections: They believed a Hillary Clinton presidency would be a disaster to the world, including Russia.

The best observation is that Putin strongly opposed Hillary Clinton and desired strongly that she not become president. Not so much the rest of the world, where Clinton holds great popularity. Trump and Putin not so much.

Did Putin or other Russian nationals try to influence American elections? I assume so. I also assume America has done the same – in terms of influence on their local politics – to Russia, and to every one of our allies.

Finally, Scott Adams turns his argument around. That the Russians were behind the attacks on the 2016 election is something that does not pass his smell test, and finally that—his smell test notwithstanding—it is true. His assumptions aside.

And that is what I call a minor absurdity.

The Age Of Embarrassment

Update: I fixed some flawed language in this posting.

Sixth of a series


This keeps coming up. Makes my day. Dan Kuttner likes to jump on items supporting the denial of AGW (anthropogenic global warming). For that I am thankful.

This time it relates to a post on the Scott Adams blog. Scott Adams, if you recall, is the cartoonist/commentator who has for over two decades ragged American corporate structure and our idiosyncratic social fabric. No scientist, himself, he likes to take on AGW, which he appears to doubt. Here’s the item in question:


I keep hearing people say that 97% of climate scientists are on the same side of the issue. Critics point out that the number is inflated, but we don’t know by how much. Persuasion-wise, the “first offer” of 97% is so close to 100% that our minds assume the real number is very high even if not exactly 97%.

That’s good persuasion. Trump uses this method all the time. The 97% anchor is so strong that it is hard to hear anything else after that. Even the people who think the number is bogus probably think the real figure is north of 90%.

But is it? I have no idea.

So today’s challenge is to find a working scientist or PhD in some climate-related field who will agree with the idea that the climate science models do a good job of predicting the future.

Notice I am avoiding the question of the measurements. That’s a separate question. For this challenge, don’t let your scientist conflate the measurements or the basic science of CO2 with the projections. Just ask the scientist to offer an opinion on the credibility of the models only.

Remind your scientist that as far as you know there has never been a multi-year, multi-variable, complicated model of any type that predicted anything with useful accuracy. Case in point: The experts and their models said Trump had no realistic chance of winning.

Your scientist will fight like a cornered animal to conflate the credibility of the measurements and the basic science of CO2 with the credibility of the projection models. Don’t let that happen. Make your scientist tell you that complicated multi-variable projections models that span years are credible. Or not.

Then report back to me in the comments here or on Twitter at @ScottAdamsSays.

This question is a subset of the more interesting question of how non-scientists can judge the credibility of scientists or their critics. My best guess is that professional scientists will say that complicated prediction models with lots of variables are not credible. Ever. So my prediction is that the number of scientists who ***fully*** buy into climate science predictions is closer to zero than 97%.

But I’m willing to be proved wrong. I kind of like it when that happens. So prove me wrong.

I pasted as much as I consider pertinent on the possibility it will be withdrawn in the future.

As you can see above, I posted a response to Dan’s posting on Facebook, inquiring whether he felt safe in venturing into this wilderness again. This considering his performance in a prior exchange:

In a previous conversation Dan made some claims related to atmospheric science. One went something like this (I do not have the exact quote), “Carbon dioxide weighs [some number] more than the rest of the atmosphere.” That statement struck me as odd to the extreme. The German physicists Wolfgang Pauli is noted as having said something like, “Das is nicht einmal falsch,” that is not even false (wrong).” It related to something so absurd that it went beyond not being true. Dan’s statement regarding carbon dioxide and the atmosphere is such a statement. Some explanation.

Carbon dioxide is a chemical compound, not a physical object. The atmosphere is a physical object. Any statement comparing a non-physical object with a physical object is beyond false. In this case there was no way for me to respond to Dan’s statement. The conversation unraveled from there.

So Dan has asked, “Did you answer his challenge?” I responded that I am in the process now, which is what this is. I need to answer Scott Adams’ challenge.

But first, what is his challenge? That may take some deciphering. The critical language is:

So today’s challenge is to find a working scientist or PhD in some climate-related field who will agree with the idea that the climate science models do a good job of predicting the future.

A trivial response to Adams’ challenge would be to find “a working scientist…” who will naively proclaim the models do a good job of predicting the future. I will not go that route. The matter concerning AGW is worth more attention than that. It is also worth more attention than Adams’ challenge. As stated, it would be impossible to address. For example, we would all have to agree on the meaning of the word “good” used to assess the quality of the models. Everything breaks down from there.

If Scott Adams will propose a challenge with more precise, even lucid, wording, it would be something everybody could work with. Something that would have to go would be any requirement that a model predict frequency and severity of hurricanes, future drought or flooding with great accuracy. Once again, an unquantifiable adjective is “great.”

Scott Adams’ challenge is really a phony challenge. Less than what he demands would be adequate. All Scott Adams needs to do to challenge the reality of AGW is to refute demonstrate one of the following:

  • Carbon dioxide, methane, and other such gases do not trap heat from solar radiation in the atmosphere.
  • The concentration of these gases is not increasing and has not been steadily increasing for the past 50 years and more.
  • Human activity is not contributing significantly to the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Specifically, human activity is not responsible for the increase of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere represented by the Keeling Curve.
  • The temperature of the combination atmosphere and hydrosphere is not increasing and has not been increasing for the past 50 years and more.
  • Events beyond human control are alone responsible for the warming.

An additional point that is not part of the science behind AGW is the following:

  • The increase in global temperatures will have little or no impact on human well-being.

And all of this has nothing to do with models.


As I was in the process of working this up, additional comments came in. Here is one:

David Varner The idea of constructing models without measurements sounds like something Dilbert’s pointy haired boss might have come up with.

As a retired scientist and engineer I  take exception to David’s remark. Properly, constructing a model does not rely on measurements. I have constructed models, computer simulations, that presuppose initial conditions. The idea of the model is to determine the consequence of a set of initial conditions, the measurements.

If by “measurements” David means measurements of the atmosphere and such to assess the validity of models, then he has not been keeping up with the science. Atmospheric/oceanographic models are constantly assessed against progressive measurements.


Dan posted a comment on the Scott Adams blog:

I challenge your basic assumptions.

1. The term “Fossil Fuels” was coined by John D. Rockefeller. He wanted to emphasize the supposed scarcity of oil in order to inflate its price.

2. Many old “dry” oil wells are filling up FROM THE BOTTOM. There’s evidence going at least back to Immanuel Velikovsky that petroleum has a non-organic origin, probably low in the Earth’s mantle.

What is to be said of this? I hope it is meant as a joke.

  1. What difference does it make who coined the term and for what reason? Petroleum, natural gas, and coal are fossil fuels. Fossil is a well-defined scientific term.
  2. Citing evidence going back to Immanuel Velikovsky is like citing evidence going back to Miguel de Cervantes. Does anybody care to follow up on that?

This post, and the ones in this series are titled The Age Of Embarrassment for a reason. Let’s not take that as a challenge and try to outdo each other.