Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Bruno Walther

Bruno Walther in a letter to the Taipei Times on Monday:
"The Taipei Times reported that the Humane Genome Project is providing more evidence that it is our environment, not our genes, which causes mental illness (“Mental illness revealed to be caused by environmental factors,” Oct. 18, page 9). As the article makes clear, the solution to this problem is state-sponsored intervention. What will be the (predictable) response of “Tea Party” conservatives and right-wing bloggers? You’ve guessed it: denial."
Could it be that Walther has anyone in particular in mind? At any rate, the contention that "mental illnesses" are a product of "nurture" rather than "nature" is, in many cases, little more than a tautology - the American Psychiatric Association in their DSM-IV Committee, for example, simply votes on whether to count certain descriptions of neurological functioning and behaviour as diseases. Now, whatever other controversies surround the categorization of mental illnesses, that is not science; it is a measure of consensus substituted for a measure of reality. Nor would I deny the environment as a cause of mental illness in the usual, non-social-constructionist sense. Were children brought up in exposure to, for example, predatory socialism in the former eastern-bloc countries more prone to some form of "mental illness" than children brought up in the comparatively sane conditions of the west?

An even more salient question would be this: how long before there is an attempt made to classify AGW skepticism as a mental illness? More broadly - how long until the Left tries to classify critics and skeptics of government solutions generally as mentally ill? After all, it is only the next logical step for the Left - it is not as if they'd have any moral problem with doing so.

As to whether state-sponsored intervention is the solution to reducing rates of mental illness, the mere assertion that it is so does not amount to making the matter "clear" as Walter would have it. Here's the quote from the Oliver James piece to which Walther refers:
"Instead, the Human Genome Project is rapidly providing a scientific basis for the political left. Childhood maltreatment, economic inequality and excessive materialism seem the main determinants of mental illness. State-sponsored interventions, like reduced inequality, are the most likely solutions."
Got that? A "scientific basis for the political left"... uttered without a hint of historically-informed irony. And consider what "excessive materialism" could be brought to refer to - having a full belly, living in a comfortable house and driving a new car? Would an honest man not consider malnutrition, starvation, homelessness, refugee status and economic dependency - all those things resulting from an insufficiency of material goods - as more likely causes of mental illness than "excessive materialism"? Should this kind of thing continue to fester away in the darkness of the Universities and newspapers it will come to be yet another chapter in the deliberate corruption of science by politics.

And there is more nastiness in that article:
"Politics may be the reason why the media has so far failed to report the small role of genes. The political right believes that genes largely explain why the poor are poor, as well as twice as likely as the rich to be mentally ill. To them, the poor are genetic mud, sinking to the bottom of the genetic pool."
No. The poor are poor largely because of the structure of economic incentives available to them - from unemployment insurance and other subsidies, to rising inflation and low interest rates on savings. Interestingly, a more recent incentive for people to continue to remain unemployed in the UK has been the offering of State benefits for a burgeoning class of mental disorders. Back to Walther:
"Whether it is scientific evidence of global warming published in the top academic journals or overwhelming evidence that our environment is in serious meltdown, as reported last week once again at the international biodiversity conference in Japan...
Overwhelming? Meltdown? Please - only a simpleton would be overwhelmed. The methodological limitations of climate science ought to be apparent to any good mathematician, diligent engineer or honest statistician, but allowing for the possibility that Walther is none of those, I shall now name them. First, the engineering difficulties of acquiring good data cannot be dismissed out of hand - and the subsequent coding of that data is a crucial task that must be done with both rigour and transparency. Second, the difficulty of modeling a vastly complex non-linear system on just a few decades worth of data (even assuming the quality of that data to be perfect) ought to be obvious to anyone with a passing familiarity with for example, the sheer complexity of mathematics required to adequately model airflow in even relatively minor aspects of aircraft design: the level of statistical uncertainty involved would necessarily prohibit claims of "overwhelming evidence" by any honest man. But that paragraph of Walther's goes on:
"...or yet more evidence that social and educational services increase mental well-being and quality of life..."
What evidence? How is mental well-being and quality of life to be defined - and who gets to define these things? Walther goes on:
"...the recipe for denial is as predictable as it is harmful to society. This consists of the endless repetition of cherry-picked data or outright lies, insinuations of scientific conspiracies or claims that there is still a “debate” going on because a few scientists do not belong to the consensus of 99 percent of the world’s scientific community."
Just how do you suppose that Walther came up with that figure of 99% if not by... oh, I don't know... lying? Is it actually possible for example to be a bona-fide researcher on "climate change" and yet be an AGW skeptic? Of course not - es ist verboten. And on his claim that climate skeptics use both cherry-picked data and "outright lies" - was not the Hockey Stick an infamous example of such cherry-picking? And where are these "outright lies"? They are certainly not on my blog - despite Turton and his bad faith bullshit. As to insinuations of scientific conspiracies - what exactly are the conditions governing the funding of climate research? How many jobs now depend on this "industry" that produces nothing but that third item on the infamous rhetorical list... statistics? This is a fact; to the extent such climate scientists are funded by governments, then they are living on and working with stolen money.
"As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, global problems of smuggling, trade imbalances, nuclear proliferation, health and environmental deterioration, to name just a few, need to be urgently addressed. Therefore, we need strong global governance backed up by interventionist national governments more than ever, as was pointed out in another recent article in the Taipei Times (“Global power structures a growing, but still distant future,” Oct. 15, page 9)."
The problems Walther mentions of course do need to be solved, but his use of "therefore" to connect them to his preferred solution is a non-sequitur. Presumably, he has no real conception of any alternative way of thinking about these problems - nor any real concern with whether his preferred solution can actually work. How has intervention by national governments helped to solve famine and environmental deterioration in Africa for example?
"Taiwan’s government should be at the forefront of building strong global alliances the policies of which should be based on evidence, common sense, universal rights and protection of the global commons."
Evidence and common sense? They'd better not listen to Walther then. He is essentially calling for a worldwide social democratic system - a kind of "let's turn the whole world into Sweden" approach.
"For example, it should heed the advice of Jurgen Lefevere and unilaterally implement cuts in greenhouse gas emissions (“Can Taiwan join in the fight against climate change?” Oct. 17, page 3). This would demonstrate good will, improve Taiwan’s international clout, get its renewable energy industry growing, improve energy security, create competitive, high-quality jobs and encourage the economy to develop in a low-carbon, high-tech and sustainable way. What’s not to like about this? Even China is doing it."
Or... how about unilaterally instituting a one-child policy to ensure permanent demographic decline and thus a permanent lowering of Taiwan's carbon output? This would help create competitive high quality jobs and encourage the economy to grow in a low-carbon, high tech and sustainable way too. Even China is doing it.

Really, Bruno Walther is the very worst - in a long line of extremely stupid commentators on international and Taiwanese politics - he is the very worst person I have ever read in the pages of the Taipei Times. I said this to Turton here, but he killed the comment, presumably to spare his fellow Soviet, who I have little doubt, reads both Turton's blog and mine:

"Walther is a liability Turton, do yourself a favour and dump him."

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