One of my old math profs was fond of saying, “For every complex problem there exists a solution that is simple, elegant, and completely wrong.” Over the years since my wasted youth I have seen that waggish kernel of wisdom validated repeatedly in various mathematical and scientific contexts, including my own professional work in simulation and modeling.
This rule has now intruded into politics. Following her shocking loss to Donald Trump in 2016, Hillary Clinton sallied forth to instruct her benighted country (and party) on the real reasons for her unexpected loss. Her “simple” explanation was that someone else – everyone else, really – blew a sure thing. She said she took “responsibility” for the result, but her words (and body language) suggested otherwise.
As her post-election campaign unfolded, she blamed FBI Director James Comey, hostile media coverage, the Democratic Party, misogynists, racists, Islamaphobes, homophobes, xenophobes, hydrophobes, Republicans, and Trumpsters who joined Russian agents in a cabal that basically stole the election. Exactly how that was done she didn’t say, but there was no other way that she could have lost – especially after President Obama dubbed her the “most qualified” candidate in history. As Inspector Clouseau famously declared: “infamous powers were at work.”
Of course, Madame’s “simple explanation” is too simple by half. My old prof’s line would apply perfectly. Radio talk-host Mark Steyn called it Hillary’s post-election “whine-athon.” And Washington Times editor Charles Hurt compared her to Lady Macbeth desperately trying to clean her hands of the murdered king’s blood. (“Out, out, damned spot! Will these hands never be clean?”) It has been a surreal time.
Hillary’s “blame-arama” is unique in my 70-year experience with American politics. Following the 17 other elections I have witnessed, not one failed presidential candidate of either party ran round the country declaring that he lost because others messed up his campaign. Even the much-reviled Richard Nixon made no recriminations after his 1960 loss to JFK, although election-fraud clearly occurred in several states. Mr. Nixon declined to protest the election, saying it would be “bad for the country.”
Did Mrs. Clinton really believe her loss was “simply” everybody else’s fault? Possibly so. But simple explanations and solutions are seldom correct. Long before the 2016 election I joined other commentators in predicting that voters would never accept her because of her manifest dishonesty and jarring leftism. Today, voters are long past caring about what she says or does. Even members of her own party are tired of her shtick, and many are furious that she trashed their efforts to enliven her moribund candidacy. One insider said it was like “trying to make a corpse look natural.”
The Shakespearean word “begone” has fallen out of the vernacular, but it really should be brought back. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some Democrats using it before long. (“And your little dog, too, me lady!”)
Another issue currently dominating the news, and demanding a “simple solution,” is “anthropogenic climate change.” This is the theory that human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, is causing the climate to change. (“Change” is eco-code for “warm,” although the climate has churlishly refused to do that for the last two decades.) Nevertheless, a determined political cadre insists that climate-change can be halted by draconian economic measures aimed at reducing the use of carbon-based fuels.
Climate-change was the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s first address to the United Nations. By his account, poverty, civil rights, immigration, COVID-19, and war, are all being caused by climate change. If we can stop climate-change, all these problems will be cured. It would be nice to identify a single cause for all our ills, but CO2 is hardly that. Nothing is. Yet late-night “comics” are hyping CO2-caused climate-change on their shows, and obnoxious little kids on TV are accusingly asking when adults will fix the problem.
Eco-libs and the chattering class went bananas when President Trump kept one of his signature campaign promises – an unheard-of act in their political universe – by pulling us out of the Paris Climate Deal. His predecessor had signed us up for it “without benefit of Senate.” The Mainstream Media called the Paris Accords a “treaty,” but Mr. Obama committed us only by his personal executive order, knowing that the Senate would never ratify such a crack-brained deal. Thus, Mr. Trump needed only to issue his own executive order to unstick us from its jobs-destroying provisions, which would have cost us trillions of dollars while doing essentially nothing about the earth’s climate.
During his campaign, Mr. Trump repeatedly promised to release us from the Paris Accords, so he knew he had to make good. When the time came, the air was thick with speculation – desperate hope, really – that he might not pull the plug entirely. But he ditched the whole works – releasing industries that had been crippled by the Accords. His chief complaint was that the Accords imposed restrictions on us, while letting carbon mega-burners like China and India use carbon-based fuels at will, for over a dozen years. The president saw this as injurious to the country’s competitiveness, and would have none of it.
Serious scientists – as opposed to politicians who don’t know diddly about real climate science – admit that the treaty’s draconian restrictions on fossil-fuel use would have little effect on the earth’s climate. One study estimates temperature-reduction at 0.17o C, if all signatories fulfilled their commitments impeccably. Economists calculate the treaty’s cost at $1 trillion a year, with the USA bearing the lion’s share of that bill and hobbling its industrial base in the bargain. The chief result, said one analyst, would be making everyone poorer, except for politicians and environmentalists.
In fact, scientists are now realizing that humans evidently contribute a negligible share of the CO2 going into the atmosphere. A June 4th article in the New York Times reported: “Despite the economic collapse resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to sharp declines in [man-produced] CO2 emissions, the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere has continued to climb.” Previously held theories would have predicted atmospheric levels of CO2 to decline, but that did not occur. Evidently our theories on how much influence “man” has on the climate have been wrong.
“Saving the planet” is a political slogan intended to persuade scientifically ignorant people that a crisis exists from which we can be saved only by radical financial sacrifice: i.e., “Send in all your money, or we’re doomed!” (It’s that much-sought “simple solution.”) But the crisis has no factual basis. Scientists are not in unanimous agreement that the climate is actually changing; and even if it is, there is no cause for alarm. Earth’s climate has changed repeatedly over the eons, but none of the changes was caused by man. Apocalyptic predictions of future climate-disaster come from climate “models” which are known to be flawed, as they cannot accurately predict earth’s current climate from past empirical data.
As a retired builder of computerized models, I can assure my readers that such models do not produce “facts.” Their outputs are speculative predictions, calculated on the basis of input-data, assumptions, and postulated interactions – understanding of which may be inaccurate or incomplete.
In the best scenarios, model-inaccuracies are due to imperfect understanding of the science by those who constructed the models. But in the worst cases, model-builders introduce biases intended to produce results which will enhance their own notoriety and/or funding. Back in the day, we in the model-building trade called it “prostituted science.”
Producing results designed to please the customer is a common problem in government-funded technical work. If the customer doesn’t like your findings, your follow-on funding might dry up. So the temptation to cheat a little (or a lot) in how you construct a model is almost irresistible. It takes a scientist of impeccable integrity – not to mention financial independence – to follow a straight and honest path in these matters. Generally speaking, government-funded research is not “pure research.”
When the results of a model studying the mating habits of chinchillas determine whether a handful of chinchilla farmers get some government bucks, some modeling-flaws – even if intentional – aren’t a very big deal. But when a model’s results become the basis for political decisions which might cripple (or ruin) the economies of entire nations – or even the whole world – it’s another matter entirely. We can chuckle at the “simple, elegant and completely wrong” line in many contexts – including politics (as we have seen) – but impoverishing millions by applying “solutions” dictated by a theory whose veracity will be known only a hundred years out is no laughing matter. A free people must never allow this.
History is dotted with destructive “simple solutions” dictated by crack-brained theories. In the ancient city of Assisi, Italy, where Saint Francis lived, 14th century city fathers became convinced that the devastating Black Death was being caused by paint in the colorful frescoes which adorned interior walls of the church. On the basis of this theory they ordered the walls to be whitewashed, thus destroying priceless, irreplaceable works of art. A few white-washers made some lira, but no progress was made on the plague, which had an entirely different cause. No doubt those city officials went to their graves convinced that they were right to “do something” about the Plague, even if what they did had no useful effect. Today we’re seeing a reprise of that attitude with respect to climate-change, and the stakes are very high.
Closer to our own time, the Montreal Protocols of the 1990s dictated a ban on chloro-fluoro-carbons (CFCs), on the theory that those chemicals would cause a “hole” in the ozone-layer of the atmosphere. CFCs were popularly used as refrigerants and propellants, and in fire control systems – applications for which they were uniquely well-suited by being non-toxic, chemically inert, non-corrosive, non-flammable and roughly four times heavier than air. Scientists said the ban was the only way to close the ozone-hole.
In his 2010 article, “The CFC Ban: Global Warming’s Pilot,”1 scientist David Van Dyke described the origin of the anti-CFC campaign. University of California chemists in the 1970s theorized that CFCs would reach the upper atmosphere, where UV radiation might break them down and release a reactive chlorine atom which could catalyze degradation of the ozone layer. Dire warnings of increased melanoma quickly erupted, leading to a USA ban on CFCs. A costly migration of air-conditioning systems to new coolants caused a complete destruction of the Freon industry – all because of a theory.
The ozone-hole theory still remains controversial and unproven. Dr. Van Dyke explains that melanoma predictions were based on imperfect understanding of ultraviolet radiation. He also shows how the successful campaign against CFCs emboldened the eco-left, leading to a world-wide ban on DDT – another ill-advised “solution” that condemned millions to death from mosquito-borne malaria. He concludes that in today’s political climate, environmental ideology and media-hype can trump proven science.
During the last couple of years, the COVID-19 pandemic has occasioned another “ban-crusade” – this time against hydroxychloroquine, an inexpensive drug which doctors have used successfully since the 1940s to mitigate the injurious effects of malaria and help victims to survive the disease. Various medical studies have demonstrated HCQ’s usefulness in helping people survive COVID-infection.
But despite clear evidence of the drug’s effectiveness, Big Pharma mounted a furious smear-campaign which persuaded politicians that HCQ was actually dangerous. Numerous states (including Virginia) banned it – possibly causing tens of thousands of COVID-deaths that needn’t have occurred.
New information is now emerging which indicates that Big Pharma’s opposition to HCQ had a financial motivation. Pharmaceutical corporations expected to realize some $100 billion from selling hundreds of millions of COVID-vaccine doses. So the availability of a cheap, effective drug that people might use, in place of an expensive vaccine, had to be blocked.
Basing expensive and destructive “simple solutions” on scientific theories – often supported by models of unproven veracity – is a great way for progressive governments to gain control over our lives and wealth. Citizens need to be on guard against these campaigns. Old pros (like yours truly) know that “garbage in, garbage out” is still the watchword in computer-modeling. And we need to remember that media’s primary question is always “where’s the conflict?” – while “what’s the truth?” runs a distant second.
Pricing people out of cars and the gas to run them, and making them ride bicycles and live in grass huts (to “save the planet”), will produce wonderful news-copy and endless “discussions” by panels of comely TV info-babes. (Africans love living this way, so why wouldn’t we?) But one doubts if those zealous young eco-libs expect to endure the degraded living conditions and reduced circumstances produced by the climate “solutions” they champion. The actual experience is always for somebody else to enjoy.
Beware those solutions that are “simple, elegant, and completely wrong.”
- See Dr. Van Dyke’s article at http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2010/02/the_cfc_ban_global_warmings_pi.html