Pretending* I Am A Republican

I am not, nor have I ever been, a citizen of the US (hell, these days I’m not even allowed to visit the place). Even in theory, though, the thought of being a Republican is not one that appeals to me. I’ll grant you that Obama’s record on privacy, civil rights, and transparent government is more than enough to warrant kicking the man out of office — until, that is, you take a look at the bevy of delusional nut jobs and urinal cakes lined up to take his place.  The current crop of presidential wannabes excels at one very difficult task, day after day and apparently without effort: they make Obama look good. So while I’ve always rejected any model that would presume to flatten my political opinions onto a one-dimensional, left-right axis, I have to admit that if you held a gun to my head I’d put myself on the left side of the scale. Left-leaning folks are a bit less hostile to science, at least. They are less likely to take their marching orders from some invisible sky fairy who tells them  that Life begins the moment your fly is unzipped.

Imagine my reaction, then, to the disquieting notion that I might after all be an elephant instead of an ass.

From Kanai et al 2011

We start on familiar ground: with the fact that fear, anxiety, and pareidolia all tend to correlate with right-wing beliefs, and that right-wingers tend to feel more threatened than left-wingers by the same stimuli. I’ve blogged on this before; hell, I’ve even worked it into a public talk or two. The paper that got me thinking about this back in ’08 was mainly behavioral; it speculated about neurological and genetic underpinnings, but the data it presented derived entirely from involuntary stress indicators (blink rate, skin conductance). A 2011 paper in Current Biology went further, showing that self-described conservatives tend to have relatively large amygdalae (the part of the brain responsible for basic Idian appetites and fear responses), while liberals tend towards enlarged anterior cingulate gyrii (which has its neurons in pretty much everything else, including a gatekeeping role for the conscious self). Now, a study so recent that it hasn’t even been published yet — a study that will, evidently, be published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B once the embargo lifts on January 23 — falls somewhere between. It doesn’t present direct brain measurements, but it uses precise measurement of eye movements to infer what the brain is most interested in at any given moment.

In a nutshell, liberals and conservatives were presented with a series of images, some “pleasant” and some “unpleasant”. Assuming the sneak preview provided (and then mysteriously redacted) by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln can be trusted:

“While liberals’ gazes tended to fall upon the pleasant images, such as a beach ball or a bunny rabbit, conservatives clearly focused on the negative images — of an open wound, a crashed car or a dirty toilet, for example.”

The authors go on to suggest that

… those on the right are more attuned and attentive to aversive elements in life and are more naturally inclined to confront them. … The results also are consistent with conservatives’ support of policies to protect society from perceived external threats (support for increased defense spending or opposition to immigration) and internal ones as well (support for traditional values and being tough on crime).

In other words, right-wingers have a hair-trigger sensitivity to threats in their environment; left-wingers are more laid back. The right regards the left as hopelessly naïve about the big bad world; the left regards the right as paranoid fear-mongers, and wishes they would lighten up.

Now as anyone who’s read my novels will attest, I’ve made a career out of railing about the dangers posed by everything from invasive microbes all the way up to nonconscious space aliens. Candas Dorsey once opined that Starfish made her want to open her veins in a warm tub. James Nicoll reads my stuff whenever his will to live becomes too strong.  (Seriously.  That’s what he said.  I quote it right there on my quaint little Web 1.0 splash page.) So if Smith & Hibbing’s conclusions are correct, my own threat obsession must put me somewhere to the right of Barbara Bachmann.

Which might not be that much of a stretch — because if Smith and Hibbing are correct, Michelle Bachmann is somewhere to the left of Noam Chomsky. All of those wannabe presidential clowns are, with the exception of John Huntsman and pre-2010 Newt Gingrich: after all, aren’t they the ones telling us all that global warming is just a hoax perpetrated by the all-powerful Green Lobby, that there’s nothing to worry about, that the icecaps aren’t really shrinking and even if they are it’s not our fault?

What it comes down to, I think, is what each of us perceives as a threat. It’s easy enough to rattle off a list of threats that freak out Liberals more than Republicans: species extinction, climate change, hormone disruptors in the water supply. Liberals, as a group, feel more threatened by our dependence on non-renewable resources, and on the consequences of applying unlimited-growth economic models to a planet with a limited resource base. Conservatives, in contrast, seem to be more threatened by anything that would disrupt The Way Things Are Now, rather than threats of The Way Things Could Be If This Goes On. This would include hostility to any claim that The Way Things Are has got to change, and — by extension — any evidence in support of that claim. How else to explain the Right’s fingers-in-the-ears-la-la-la repudiation of everything from evolution to climate change to gay marriage? How else to explain the odd widespread belief in a Tree-huggers Guild so vast and so powerful that it fakes a global climate crisis, forces governments to their knees, leaves only the beleaguered and impoverished heroes of the oil industry rebel alliance with the courage to speak truth to power?

What I see, in other words, is not a left-right difference in the strength of a generic threat response; it’s a difference in the time-scale at which threats are perceived. The Right reacts more strongly to immediate threats; the Left, to longer-term ones. That’s my impression, anyway.

Of course, I could be wrong. If I’m not, though, the time-scale element could be a significant confound and it doesn’t look as though Smith and Hibbing addressed it in their study. Until someone does, I’ll continue to cling to the belief that my leanings are at least more liberal than Rick Santorum’s.

Maybe we’ll know on the 23rd.


*Not very convincingly, I’ll admit.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Friday January 13 2012at 08:01 am , filed under Uncategorized . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

73 Responses to “Pretending* I Am A Republican”

  1. Eh, whatever. I liked it better when it was called ‘sluggish schizophrenia’.

  2. Thinking of Barbara Bush or Michele Bachmann?

    [Fixed –thx. PW]

    Actually, there is probably a distinction to be made between threat perception and threat reaction. The left-leaning part of the spectrum may be better at perceiving more abstract or more diffuse threats, but the right-leaning part of the spectrum may be better at reacting to whatever threats it perceives. Which would explain the general inaction on long-term threats: the left is hard to rouse, and the right do not perceive them.

  3. Before I read this (i’m delaying gratification) I have to post something I read this morning that made me think of you all here. It’s from Annals of Improbable Research January 2012 edition:

    2012-01-04 Front-Brain & Rear-Brain Learners

    Some professional educators go on about “left-brain” learners and “right-brain” learners. See, for example, . (Thanks to Mo Costandi for bringing it to our attention.)

    There is controversy about the notion of left-brain learners and right-brain learners. Much of that controversy is between — on the one hand (the left, or maybe the right) — people who have spent much of their time studying brains and learning, and — on the other hand — people who have spent much of their time talking about right-brain learners and left-brain learners. Those on one of the hands tend to think the idea is nonsense. Those on the other hand like to like the idea.

    We propose a new controversy. Henceforth let us all speak confidently, arbitrarily, about a new concept:

    Some people are FRONT-BRAIN LEARNERS.
    Other people are REAR-BRAIN LEARNERS.

    Please help us spread this confounding notion.

    Oh, I am a total rear-brain learner. I’m just sure.

  4. one could argue that the “circle your wagons” approach is common to both the far left and the far right in the States, who feel under siege, meanwhile the centrists just care about defending their own interests and f*ck everyone else.

    Perhaps it isn’t just timescale but target. After all, as the term “bleeding heart liberal” suggests, folks on the left (even the centrists, although I’m of the opinion that’s all posturing to make people further left like me put up with them in a one party I mean two party system where we admittedly are painted into a corner anyway) seem poised to address threats not just to themselves but to others. Meanwhile folks on the right just care about #1, and #1’s extended kin-group.
    Just a theory.

    Hell, compare the Jobbiks to the Christian Right . . . not just the States. Although Hungary’s getting it worse at the moment.

  5. Well that delayed gratification thing didn’t last long, did it?

    Could be long-term verses short-term threat; I can see that, or how about, threat to me verses threat to us?

    If I am a conservative, then gays, terrorists, and scientists who tell me I have to give up my SUV are impinging on me, and I repudiate them. If I am liberal, then world-wide climate disruption, poverty, and denying people the right to marry harms us, the wider group of mankind. What if that is why you never find crazed Republican vegan PETA members – because maybe Republicans tend to imagine themselves as separate, unitary, not identifiable with whales or cows?

    Think about it – here in the US, anyway, the Republican cry is always about “Freedom” and “Individual Rights and Responsibilities.” Letting the marketplace decide maximizes me, and if you get hurt, oh well, you’re not-me. How else could that “welfare queen” idea have gotten so much traction for Reagan? Because if you cannot imagine yourself as someone destitute, why would you care if they starved?

    I wanna posit that boundary of the self plays into this. Hey, maybe a bigger anterior cingulate gyrus lets you imagine yourself as bigger than yourself, fools you that you is really us in some sense.

    fwiw.

    Thanks for the posting.

  6. looks like H is thinking along the same lines as me.

    See, it ain’t altruism!
    that’s why so many of us leftists are freaks. : D
    We grow up being told we’re sh*t, and then when we see other people being treated like sh*t we go all Raging Bull. Makes sense, no?

    Although perhaps childhood trauma as a predeterminer of political views doesn’t work, if you think about some of the sociopathic Republicans, especially the closeted ones. Perhaps in their case, they think if they scream “down with the freaks” enough they’ll be what they want to be. Like a housecat trying to make itself look big. This is why insecure people bluster a lot, and dorks wear leather jackets. Protective camo.

    (hell, *I* wear a leather jacket, but I think it’s fake. $40 for “fell off the back of the truck” suggests that)

  7. @Hljóðlegur:

    how about, threat to me verses threat to us?

    Good point, and another confound: larger threats (i.e. to a greater number of people) should be generally easier to see from a distance. We should be able to predict next year’s drought more easily than next year’s one-person-getting-hit-by-a-bus, because the indicators will loom larger on the horizon. So maybe future vs. present is just a correlate of good-of-many vs. good-of-few.

  8. They are less likely to take their marching orders from some invisible sky fairy who tells them that Life begins the moment your fly is unzipped.

    Life may not begin the moment my fly is unzipped, but it certainly becomes more enjoyable (for me, at least).

  9. If I had to explain to an Ekumen emissary the difference between progressives and conservatives, I would say that the former works to create a state that will likely never exist, while the latter works to resurrect a state that likely never existed. It’s about the tension between optimism and nostalgia for totally different but equally impossible ideals. Reality is the result of the diverging efforts.

    I’m not sure what that has to say about responses to perceived threat, though, or to the time-scale of those perceived threats. I think you might have to break down threat by threat. Abstinence-only education policy would back up your idea, though: conservatives tend to see teen sex as a threat-by-threat thing, whereas progressives are worried about the impact of setting standards that are almost physiologically impossible to meet, and of limiting education about STIs that are lifelong threats, not just threats to teens.

    I’d like to see a study done with hard-right and hard-left subjects, though. “Democrat” and “Republican” are too close to each other on the political spectrum, and I’d really like to know how the researchers charted the “Republican-ness” of the Republican subjects, etc. Did they ask them specific policy questions? Or did they just ask them how much they hated Democrats? Because sometimes it’s not where you fall on the spectrum, but how much you loathe everyone who’s not inhabiting the same spot with you. I think that might have more to do with identity than actual policy preferences.

  10. I’ve wondered if I’m left leaning despite perhaps having a temperament and brain that would push me the other way, and I wasn’t going to bother posting this comment until I noticed all the italics. so I’m actually posting this to see if there is a dangling italics markup somewhere. if so, this will be italic. ha.

  11. holy crap it worked!

    let’s see if this works

    tap tap is this thing on?

  12. Blame Anony Mouse. He used some dumb em tag that italicised everything downstream. I have fixed it. There is no charge.

  13. Mindless, ignorant drivel like that makes me wonder why I ever started following this blog in the first place. . . .might be time to reconsider.

    [You probably just took a wrong turn. “Douchebags for Jesus” meets two doors over –PW]

  14. I knew I should have followed up with a closing em, but I figured I was getting a bit too silly and should stop. drat. oh well, cleaned up in aisle. thanks.

  15. Peter, I have been lurking on your blog for years, and every time you do a neuro post i’m always tempted to pop up and suggest a paper. wonder if you’re familiar with it, if not: it was based on david amodio’s studies on religion and the anterior cingulate cortex. and it is really fascinating stuff. if you (or anyone else here) read it and want to neuro-geek out, i’d welcome it.

  16. my apologies! forgot to include the link to the PDF (should be stable access as it’s hosted on the corresponding author’s personal site):

    http://www.michaelinzlicht.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2011/12/Inzlicht-Tullett-Good-in-press_a.pdf

  17. What does this have to do with conservatives vs. liberals? looking at it in the broadest way possible, it’s what you come to fear in your environment, how you come to explain it to yourself. be an American growing up in an ethnically homogenous (ok, WASP and white et. al.) neighborhood, inherit a set of bogeymen from the previous generations – lock your doors driving near Asbury Park / The Bronx / Compton; we’re going to get killed sooner or later by Communists / North Koreans / mujahedin; and then look at how you react to it. believe it, keep locking your doors, be very concerned about illegal immigration? or some other permutation of repudiating, angrily rejecting, ignoring, subliminally observing, your set of prejudices? the ACC builds distress signals out of everything it can, in the environment and when you’re young you will inevitably buy a narrative explaining that fear as being caused by *some* reason. how distanced can a person get from their fears, what density of feedback links from frontal cortex to amygdala will override the knee-jerk response? in short: how ironic can a person get as to what they were taught to fear, how they judge their traditions. that’s the only link to link neuropsychology to politics. and, as you can probably conclude from the verbiage above: there’s no way to quickly get life lessons about politics using neuropsychology. other than: people should really slow down when they think about why they hate the other team / party / creed. give the DLPFC a fighting chance.

  18. oh and sheila – i was interested in hearing the rest of your post :) and it seems like all of my verbiage escaped the fate of the endless italics tag, too. w00t


  19. All of those wannabe presidential clowns are, with the exception of John Huntsman and pre-2010 Newt Gingrich: after all, aren’t they the ones telling us all that global warming is just a hoax perpetrated by the all-powerful Green Lobby, that there’s nothing to worry about, that the icecaps aren’t really shrinking and even if they are it’s not our fault?

    Sotto vocce: in the interest of not looking like a tool about ten years from now, maybe it’s time to reconsider. Weren’t the latest* batch of emails damning enough?

    *http://motls.blogspot.com/2011/11/climategate-2011-foia.html

    It’s not science if you can’t really test it now, is it and I’d say inputting sketchy old data in models that’ve been tweaked so much they’re now basically worthless.

    Hmm… would pay good money to see you debate Motl, though.Besides, it’d be good PR..

  20. Could this be mixing up cause and effect? Brains change – wasn’t there a study that found the longer a London taxi driver has been in the job, the larger the spatial reasoning part of their brain?

    Convervatives have the brains they have because of who they spend time with. And you Peter need to write some My Little Pony stories.

  21. Looking at those plotsit seems to me tat something very wrong has happened to their statistics. If those error bars are the standard 1 sigma then they are indistinguishable from a flat line with no correlation. However, if they’re 1 sigma, they seem too big for te scatter in the, but even then the standard deviation would have to be much smaller for there to be a correlation that would be acceptable in at least my field. Instead it might just be that thefar right point is different from the rest…

    My worries about medical statistics continue…

  22. A bit off topic, but since you touched on it, even with all the evidence to the contrary, why is it that left-wingers refuse to admit that something just may not be right in the state of denmark. After Climategate 1 & 2 etc., why is it impossible for lefties to admit that the quite possibly something’s amiss here? For what’s it’s worth, i’ll freely admit having read your writing and your blog that there’s an intelligence quite possibly orders of magnitude higher than mine here at work, but surely you can also admit that the left engages in the exact very same I can’t hear you, head in the sand approach as the right does. Two sides of the same coin?

  23. Was Thomas Malthus a leftist? Immigration, demographic & cultural change are long term threats – it can take generations. I don’t think your temporal distinction has any bearing on the presumed left/right difference in orientation.

  24. “Conservatives, in contrast, seem to be more threatened by anything that would disrupt The Way Things Are Now,”

    Yup…pretty good definition of Conservatives.

    So?

  25. Justin Stanley, I don’t have much substantial to say beyond my curiosity. and a bit of my curiosity is egotistical. I grew up devoutly religious, very much to the right; but I have been an atheist for a while now, and very liberal. I am sometimes neurotic and anxious. I have read about how depressive people look at the past and pick out the negative things to remember. I have this mental habit, and I try to break it. Maybe that kind of temperament should have pushed me the other way, or kept me that way, but it didn’t.

    I think the article Peter blogged about sounds really cool, because it doesn’t depend on brain imagery. that is kick ass.

    If anyone can think of elegantly simple experiments we could try to test some ideas on this topic that wouldn’t require brain imaging, please share! I am trying to meet people in the Open Science movement who are interested in cognitive psychology, and I would like to know of simple things lay enthusiasts could do to explore these types of things.

  26. Or alternatively, Peter, it’s bull – just another case of correlation not being causation.

  27. Anonymous:

    I’d really like to know how the researchers charted the “Republican-ness” of the Republican subjects, etc.

    Me to. I guess we’ll know on the 23rd. Usually, though, these studies aither present a questionnaire that probes political leanings via a series of agree/disagree questions, or just asks their participants outright how they self-identify.

    Justin:

    I was not aware of that paper. Thanks so much for the link: I have downloaded and shall read it shortly. Also,

    “What does this have to do with conservatives vs. liberals?”

    As I’ve said, I use the right/left axis reluctantly, and only because it permeates so much of the discussion. A 2-dimensional index would at least separate the social/religious nutjobs from the fiscal conservatives: the current scale lumps Ayn Rand in with Rick Santorum, which would have her spinning in her grave. That said, though, I’m not suggesting that left/right inclinations cause any of the phenomena we’re talking about; I’m just pointing to studies which show that people with more sensitive proximate threat responses tend to end up on the right end of the political spectrum.

    Lanius:

    “Weren’t the latest* batch of emails damning enough?”

    Not even close. See my response to Lazlo, which raised the same issues but less trollishly.

    Hugh:

    Sure. In fact, it might not be cause/effect at all, but some third variable causing both effects. My point is, there is an effect of some kind, and I think it warrants a closer look.

    I reserve comment of the My Little Pony remark.

    Laslo:

    From what I can tell, there is no Climategate 2; the latest e-mail dump hails from the same stolen batch that the original Climategate leaks were cherry-picked from, and as second-tier releases they’re even less incriminating than the first batch — even when taken completely out of context, as these guys are wont to do. I mean, have you seen the quotes being trumpeted as “incriminating” in that link Lanius provided? They diss the opposition (“the important thing is to make sure they’re loosing the PR battle. That’s what the site [Real Climate] is about.”). They diss each other (“Mike, The Figure you sent is very deceptive […] there have been a number of dishonest presentations of model results by individual authors and by IPCC […]”). They argue over which is the best way to get their message out to the public (“if we loose the chance to make climate change a reality to people in the regions we will have missed a major trick in REGIS.”) They talks about what to include and what to leave out in order to make their best case, which is a discussion every author of every peer-reviewed paper on any scientific subject ever has to have. Back when the first bolus came out a lot of attention was applied to the use of the term “trick” in the context of a data analysis, without any apparent understanding that “trick” is commonly-used shorthand for “statistical technique”.

    So I don’t want to get too much into this so-called “Climategate” thing except to point out that it has already resulted in seven, count ‘em, seven independent reviews— and while some tut-tutted at the (understandable, IMO) siege mentality of the emailers, none of them found any evidence of scientific fraud or impropriety. If people don’t like the fact that scientists can be as snappish as anyone else, tough. I blogged about this back when it was still hot, pointing out that the scientific method can not only withstand human pettiness — it downright depends on it, to some extent. That post was selected by the Open Science Library Project as “One of the 50 best science blog postings of the year”, so it obviously resonated well past my own little coterie of fans.

    Anyway, I don’t come at this from a “lefty” perspective; as I’ve said, I only answer to that term reluctantly. I come at this as a biologist (I get to do that, even though my doctorate’s a couple of decades old): and as a biologist, I’ve lost count of the studies showing this species range creeping higher up in altitude, that species range moving north, that bark beetle over in the corner suddenly spreading like a Biblical pestilence because the winters are no longer cold enough to keep it in check. Suddenly, birds are showing up to their arctic feeding grounds weeks ahead of schedule. Not only are these events entirely consistent with climate change, but it’s frankly difficult to see any other explanation that would account for them. So even though I’m not a climate scientist, when people who are — people who’ve spent their whole careers becoming experts in these things — converge on a common interpretation of climatic data that explains the phenomena I’ve been reading about in my own field, I pay attention. I pay more attention to them, and their relatively teensy-weensy research grants, than I pay to big-oil advocates and astroturf groups who, strangely, seem absent from the legit peer-reviewed literature. Every now and then I’ll read something on “Watts Up With That” or one of the other denialist blogs and I’ll go, hmmm, that’s interesting. But when I look into such claims further — everything from satellite-data anomalies to things-have-been-cooling-sine-1998 to urban-island-effects — they always turn out to be bullshit. (By the way, I’d strongly recommend How to Talk to a Climate Change Skeptic as a one-stop bullshit detector for these and other denialist claims.)

    The fact is, for twenty years now, climate models have presented a range of outlooks; and when the data come in, they virtually always support the worst-case-scenario. The US Military is on record as recognizing climate change as a serious threat (security-wise, of course: water wars and environmental refugees and all that), even while their bosses kept rewriting scientific documents and strangling research funding. There is a huge disinformation campaign ongoing by the fossil fuel industry; it has about as much scientific integrity as the creationists’ “Teach the Controversy” movement, but it is vastly better funded. Going up against it is a bunch of underpaid climatologists who keep getting their funding cut by neocon administrations (I’ve ranted about our current Canadian administration on more than one occasion). I myself was once in an analogous situation; I spent three solid hours talking to an animals-rights group about my sea-lion research, thinking that once they saw what I was doing they couldn’t possibly object — only to see them putting out press-releases about my “vivisection chamber” the following week. They actually admitted to me, after I’d parted ways with the UBC consortium, that they’d thrown away everything I’d told them and made all that shit up. I was ready to kill the fuckers, and that’s just a small taste of what legitimate climate scientists have to put up with every goddamned day. I’d have the mother of all siege mentalities too if I was one of those guys, and I certainly don’t begrudge them their e-mails where they try and figure out how to keep from getting fucked over in the court of public ignorance yet again.

    One last thing before I move on: just last month, Science printed a paper on CO2 doubling rate by Schmittner et al: it concluded that climate-change prospects were not as dire as previously predicted. It’s a rare case of better-than-we-thought, it needs further analysis, and even its authors caution that climate change is still a huge honking problem — but there it is anyway. In a world-class scientific journal. Actual peer-reviewed evidence that just maybe the doomsday scenario has some holes in it. Nobody tried to bury this work; Science not only ran the technical paper, they highlighted it with a news item (“Welcome Insensitivity“) and a in-depth commentary. I see no evidence that “left” or “right” factored into this at all; the community reviewed the work, found it meritorious, and published it in a front line journal. I submit that the relative rarity of such glass-half-full studies doesn’t reflect any “left-wing conspiracy” to hide the truth; it simply reflects a real paucity of good news on the climate-change front. But when they get it, they run it.

    And why not? Does anyone seriously believe that anybody wants to believe in an imminent climate catastrophe? Anybody who honestly thinks that climate scientists would fake such a scenario for financial gain is either delusional or utterly ignorant of the size of the average research grant. Any scientist that avaricious wouldn’t risk her reputation trying to scam a few more grand out of some impoverished funding agency; she’d just jump over to Exxon or the Koch brothers and revel in the resulting tsunami of cash.

    Neal:

    I’m perfectly cool with the idea of these correlations not implying causation; but there’ve been too many of these findings to write them off as entirely spurious. If A doesn’t cause B, then maybe C causes both A and B independently; but by now I think there’s sufficient evidence to say that there’s some connection.

  28. Oops: forgot Dave:

    “If those error bars are the standard 1 sigma then they are indistinguishable from a flat line with no correlation. However, if they’re 1 sigma, they seem too big for te scatter in the, but even then the standard deviation would have to be much smaller…”

    The P values are for the regression slopes, not the error metrics on individual classes (which I agree look really wide). Intuitively I wouldn’t expect an ANOVA to return significance on something like this. The authors seem to be treating the self-assigned political classification as a kind of dummy-variable-with-actual-magnitude, which also looks questionable given that there’s no proof that the space between “Very Liberal” and “Liberal” is the same as that between “Middle of the Road” and “Conservative” (what units would you use to measure that, anyway?) Still. You got four groups, and you got pretty precise measurement of brain-structure volume in each, and if you do grant distinction between the groups and run a multiple regression, you get overall significance — not between any two groups, but a significantly-different-from-zero slope.

    Sloppy along the x, though, I agree. Hmmm.

  29. If I get the gist of the study (assuming Cons/Lib evaluation relied on self-identification by the test subjects), it only goes to show that people who look for motives to feel threatened are more likely to self-identify as Conservatives, while those who focus on soothing, happy stimuli are symmetrically eager to call thelselves Liberals.

    Factoring the axiomatic laziness of mammals, it’s no big surprise that people will generally lay where they fall, and thus _most_ people will lean toward self-identifying with a group that claims a stake on same reflex-responses, and elevates them as virtuous _values_, sense of kinship and all.

    Good scientists or sci-fi writers are ‘career deviants': it takes a certain amount of perversity or misfitness to produce _interesting ideas_, which is precisely what is expected of such people.
    Similarly, one could expect the most productive Liberal agents/thinkers to be fueled by dread, angst and frustration, and the most creative Conservatives (pick your own pun in there) to be prodded forth by undeterrable optimism (to wit: the frontiersman spirit, so dear to all Conservatives).

    My guess is fear and existential angst are fairly evenly spread between Liberals and Conservatives at large, quantitatively speaking, the variance to be mostly found in quality (ie, what typically is cause for undergarment soiling in each camp), and in the coping mechanisms and responses to stress most favored, depending on your locale across the political/ideological spectrum.

    What the pritty pictures above suggest to me is that you’re more likely to call yourself a Conservative if mainly informed by your fight-or-flight reflexes, and more likely to suffer from chronic depression over ontological distress if you’re a bleeding-heart Librul’.

    …what else is new ?

  30. On the difference between ‘left’ and ‘right’, I found The Authoritarians ebook (see http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/ ) very illuminating.

    The American right, but also the left in a communist country, consists largely of authoritarian followers. Those people are adapted to following the system set up by someone else; they do not do a lot of thinking of their own with regards to threats (they are not very capable of identifying or ranking threats that are not directly bought to their attention), and they are thus easily manipulated. They end up holding the beliefs that directly benefit the government and other large players.
    They are the kind of people who are easily manipulated into spending billions on war on terror while same investment into anything else (e.g. improvement of road safety, improvements to healthcare, etc) would save more lives than total prevention of the worst case terrorism could.

    They act as if they ultimately believe that they are safest if they pick the most selfish psychopath and become valuable property of said psychopath, so that perhaps the psycho will spare them. Sheeple plain and simple. In a communist country sheeple is communist, in a capitalist country sheeple is pro-corporation, and invariably, pro-state.

    With regards to voting and belief-choosing, one needs to note that many bacteria go to the trouble of poisoning their own environment to their own detriment – but larger still detriment of other strains. If even bacteria can have such strategical approach, it’s no surprise if cognitive subtypes of H.Sapiens can too. The problem is that a certain type of voter can be expected vote to his/her own detriment if he expect that this vote will hurt others more.

  31. Just so you know the context this is coming from stratigrapher with an MS earning a PhD at Pennstate while working as a geologist for a small oil company. I’m doing the entire post Silurian statigraphy of northern Pennsylvania.

    Watts, you and your guys around here really need to stop reading Science and taking it so seriously. I’m sure that you know that it is used by authors to get somewhat contentious stuff out there so that many different specialists can learn about it then rebut it or support it in journals more pertinent to their fields. To that end stop reading Nature or Science and expecting their models to be the best. If you really want the most comprehensive models on the perspective warming trend just read the Journal of Climatology. The SEPM bulletin also sometimes has a article that is decent because climatic conditions effect sedimentation, and specifically coastal erosion. Probably the best journal if you are interested in prospective changes in deposition and erosion on coasts would be the Journal of Coastal Research, though they have a very high rate of rebuttals so make sure to read all the responses if you support or are skeptical off any of their conclusions.

    Now from what I have read in the Journal of Climatology over the last six years their estimates range between a 0.9 to a 1.9C temperature increase by 2110. Now the number I have most often seen is 1.1C but just being popular does not make that one more likely as an accurate estimate. The difference between 0.9 and 1.9 appears to be due mostly to the calculation of the effect of methane, namely how much of it can actually get into the upper portion of the lower atmosphere without being fixed my methanosynethetic bacteria. The showed some data attained through atmosphere sampling procedures using balloons. This indicated that the methane content of the troposphere was 60% lower than expected since the methosynthetic bacteria are known to exist in arctic soils and air masses they could contribute to significant fixation of methane sublimating from land or sea deposits into CO2 and H2O. It seems that the “reduced methane influence model” is currently the one with more support from the contributing parties of the Journal of Climatology. Though once again popularity just means popularity, I personally have not seen enough data in support of either model to make be support one over the other.

    >that bark beetle over in the corner suddenly spreading like a Biblical pestilence because the winters are no longer cold enough to keep it in check.

    Now while the pine/hemlock bark beetle outbreak is very likely attributable to milder winters it would be interesting to see if the pines of the foothills could be used to replace the higher mountain varieties to prevent undue erosion. After all less alpine species in the range of the bark beetle are not suffering similar infestations. Perhaps they are resistant to infestation as their populations always dealt with higher concentrations of the beetles in question due to their mild lowland climates.

    To add to that I would caution jumping to a conclusions when it comes analyzing population explosions of fast breeding arthropods. For example the cause of horned beetle(red oak borer beetle) infestation of the Ozarks National Forest was a major issue of contention. Later it was pretty much confirmed that tree age was the primary causative, though I would not discount the effect of warmer mean temperatures. Essentially the infestation stopped at the boundaries of the National Forest where younger but still mature trees had grown subsequent to previous logging. It is appears that it was the unusual concentration of trees all with 10 years of each other in age, due to the sudden halting of logging and natural fires that would create a more diverse age distribution in the population when the National Forest was first designated.

    I wounder if the lack of logging or fires in some areas of the Rockies might be exacerbating the current infestation by providing with the beetles with preferable habitat for breeding. But that is not likely to be as important in the case of the Rockies, where I suspect the milder winter is the causative phenomena. But we shall see how things play out.

    I will tell you this however. Based solely on my own anecdotal experience and that of other geologists I have spoken to at least here in the US, any argument about climatic models being overplayed or downplayed is purely a political phenomena. No one I have known in any field, including climatology is being hassled. And the apolitical nature of myself an the vast majority of the holders of graduate degrees under 30 years of age I have met precludes any real involvement in the issue. To put it simply as a man with no morals, ethics, political, or coherent personal philosophy I simply do not care. We cannot hold the world in stasis, so I question the expenditure of resources in a futile attempt to do so when adapting to the change is much easier and cheaper, especially when it occurs over relatively long periods of time.

    Basically there is no conspiracy on either side of the political spectrum so far as I have seen. Just individuals with their own goals acting in concert but not collusion.

    On a more personal note, I have only read your Blindsight novel. Though not bad it did perturb me on one issue. The humans/vamps/AI and the aliens all suck terribly at war. Now this is not an indictment of you specifically because no piece of science fiction with with the exception of Footfall has had a battle wherein the combatants competently used their ships’s engines and utilized the most efficient weapons for the job that they would have had available. Now I know that your passion is for biology and neurology rather than xenocide and war, but if you put real humans in command of either of those vessels and their attendant resources you they would slaughter the fictional factions in short order. I won’t go into this deeply because I suspect that it simply is not your intention to write book that was diamond hard scifi in the first place what with the Thesus drive being impossible and all and the Rorshac object displaying tensile strength in excess of the strong nuclear force during a certain maneuver which was inconsistent with it’s stated constituent materials. But that’s why it’s called science “fiction” I suppose.

  32. On a different note, Peter does a very nice interview at:

    http://chimerasthebooks.blogspot.com/2012/01/tackling-mysteries-of-evolution-peter.html

    The chimeras blog has some really good articles on DNA and viruses that might also be of interest to readers here.

  33. “Blame Anony Mouse. ”

    Sorry Peter, I guess this is what happens when I try to get fancy.

  34. There are instances when there were attempts to avert a distant threat when the event in question turned out to be harmless:

    A few years ago, some real-estate developers wanted to build a new shopping center and movie theater a mile or two from my house. Some of my neighbors went into anti-American mode and opposed it. (Apparently the riff-raff were about to move in and ruin the supposed character of the neighborhood and cause The End of the Neighborhood as We Know It.) They even got their eight-year-olds to stand up a public meetings to claim they were worried … except they managed to sound like children reading from teleprompters. Even despite local opposition, a court (run by someone similar to Judge Naragansett) said that the developers could build on their own property. The neighborhood is still there, oddly enough.

    A few centuries ago, the British planted a forest to ensure a steady supply of ship masts. By the time the trees matured, sailing ships were obsolete.

    After the Haitian revolution, white southerners stopped treating slavery as something that would disappear and started making last ditch efforts to preserve it. As far as I can tell, they thought any relaxation would produce a revolution similar to Haiti. Since then, blacks have been given legal rights and somehow the feared anti-white revolt never happened.

    In the early 20th century, immigration restriction laws were passed in the United States, partly based on the assumption the US was about to be overpopulated. The US has a far larger population now without being overpopulated.

    When the VCR was invented, media companies went to great lengths to stop it on the grounds the VCR meant the end of their business model. Those efforts didn’t work and we can now see the entire struggle was pointless. (They’re trying a repeat of that debacle with SOPA.)

  35. I wonder how this research links up to the research on Right-wing authoritarianism (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right-wing_authoritarianism). Robert Altemeyer’s RWA scale seems like a good measure of “Republican-ness”.
    Anyone interested in this should read Altemeyer’s free “The Authoritarians”. It explains how different forms of right wing behavior function. There is a big difference between the followers (who constantly fear that society breaks down and thus see a need for authority and rules) and the leaders (who believe that we already live in a world where every one fights for himself). There is also evidence that the followers are more likely to engage in logical fallacies and unable to reflect on their own position (they are quite willing to support their own marginalisation if a authority figure says it is “for the good of the community”).

    I wonder if you are aware of this work, Peter?

  36. To put it simply as a man with no morals, ethics, political, or coherent personal philosophy I simply do not care. We cannot hold the world in stasis, so I question the expenditure of resources in a futile attempt to do so when adapting to the change is much easier and cheaper, especially when it occurs over relatively long periods of time

    Hm. Do those two sentences contradict each other? That second sentence sounds like a political philosophy, or a philosophy of some kind.

  37. For : Hljóðlegur
    Not really. Just think of it as a material balance equation. Changes will occur in climate whether anthropogentric or not makes no difference to me in a practical sense, though according to the Journal of Climatology the current trend is 75% to 82% anthropogentric if memory serves. Measuring the expenditure of resources needed to either mitigate the actual trend or mitigate the effects of the trend by adapting to it and then deciding purely on which is cheaper. So far it seems like adapting would be cheaper but that is just my opinion and that assessment could change as more data becomes available.

    The only philosophy you could accuse me of possessing is human supremacy. Basically to me only Homo sapiens sapiens matters and the propagation of my family line within the species. I’ll advocate the preservation or extermination of any other species as the situation and prospective future situations dictates. I’ll also advocate any political/economic/social policy I think will lead to the propagation and survival, despite the fact that I have no real interest in the policy itself for it’s own sake. But if you wanted to count this as a philosophy you might as well excuse E. coli of being coli-centric.

    Then again I’m the kind of guy that wants to use Lofstrom Loop to disassemble the entire planet. The largest Lofstrom Loops possible with current engineering can lift 500 million tons a year and since you could only fit about 1000 on Earth it would take nearly 10 million years to disassemble the planet. But it can be done only with proven technology, no super materials or new energy sources needed. You could power them using huge convection towers that contain liquid halite, which would be heated by the hot lithosphere you are uncovering. And of course the job would only get easier as the planet is taken apart: less gravity, more heat being radiated, more materials for building and maintaining the loops. That said you still have to use nuclear pulse propulsion to move the material for the first loop into orbit, about 2 million tons of it. But with nuclear pulse propulsion that is doable. Though that assumes you can just lift any material you mine into orbit as it is exposed. Due to the difficulty in cooling any material originating from below the asthenosphere we might only be able to lift a significant the lithosphere into orbit if the mantle material in that time frame. But either way it’s a hell of a lot more mass available for use than we have at the moment so either result is desirable.

  38. Anon:

    Re: ACC, you’d certainly kick my ass on paleoclimatology, but I wouldn’t disagree with most of what you say anyhow; we seem to be within a couple of pages of each other on climate change and human culpability. Not so much on your indifference to the welfare of other species, which is certainly a venerable Darwinian attitude with a lot of hardwired genetics backing it up. Then again, I’m on record as saying we won’t deserve the exalted status we confer upon ourselves until we use our big honking brains to control our instincts instead of just making fancy excuses for them. If your position is that Humanity reigns supreme in some philosophical sense, I call bullshit; but if you’re willing to describe yourself as just another beast of the field, following imperatives of immediate inclusive fitness with no real foresight, then go for it. We’ll see what happens once the petri dish fills up.

    If you really believe there’s been no systematic or organized attacks on the pursuit of climate science, though, you’re not one of the nearly half of climate scientists surveyed by the US House Oversight and Government Reform Committee who reported being pressured by the Bush administration to change their reports. Nor are you one of the senior scientists (including 20 Nobel Laureates) who authored an open letter accusing the US government of the systematic censoring and suppression of reports, the 76 Nobel laureates whose open letter complained of the Bush administration’s political distortion of science, or one of the more than six thousand US scientists who signed a petition back in 2004 — the list goes on. Even up here in the Great White North I have a friend working in a federal bio lab, who’s been personally reprimanded for even using the word “tar sands” in casual conversation.

    As for “hard sf”, I’m of the (again, publicly-stated) opinion that if such an animal even exists, it exists in the mind of the reader and not in any truly objective sense. Something that reads diamond-hard to a high school grad can be seen as fantasy to someone with a B.Sc; and something that could fool a grad student won’t pass muster with a prof who has thirty years experience in the field. You try to satisfy the upper 0.1%, you lose the other 99.9. I know this: I spent a couple of pages of Maelstrom detailing, for example, how my fictional microbe avoided being destroyed by lysosomes once it had gotten into the cell via receptor-mediated endocytosis using a 532-amino-acid listeriolysin analog. Stopped the plot dead, glazed eyes across the globe, and my microbiology prof was still chuckling all the way to the Notes and References. My stuff is frequently cited as among the hardest SF out there, and maybe it is; it’s been used as a core textbook in at least one university neuro course I know of. But that only means it’s harder than the competition. Of course it’s mainly bullshit.

    Joseph:

    “There are instances when there were attempts to avert a distant threat when the event in question turned out to be harmless…”

    If your point is that we can’t know the future with certainty, I completely agree. If, however, your point is that we should blithely ignore the vast majority of climate scientists and distributional ecologists, and all the data they’ve collected, because the British didn’t foresee the obsolescence of sail and white southerners were freaked by the Haitian revolution, I gotta ask what you’ve been smoking and where I can get some.

    What is your point?

    axel and Dmytry:

    I’m aware of this Authoritarians book. I actually downloaded it a couple of years back. Looks intriguing; but I haven’t had a chance to actually read the damn thing yet, and I don’t know when I will.

  39. For : Anon
    But if you wanted to count this as a philosophy you might as well excuse E. coli of being coli-centric.

    Well. An important difference between you and E coli is that you have a brain, and can theoretically take all sorts of actions E coli doesn’t have the flexibility to take because it has none, so I’ll refrain from comparing you two. I don’t think they can have a philosophy without the ability to think abstractly.

    A philosophy is a set of underlying, often unspoken, axioms about how the universe is or should be. Rules of thumb for making decisions in cases too complex to actually analyse thoroughly. They can be articulated, as you started to with “human supremacy,” but often aren’t.

    If you don’t wish to call your philosophy a philosophy, okay, but I’d call what you’re espousing pragmatic materialism. For instance, we proceed with whatever best for you and your kin’s survival and comfort, with a mitigator of “what is cheapest.” Although we haven’t specified cheapest to whom. I assume cheapest to you, since we are concerned only with your survival and comfort.

    Instead of E coli, let’s use someone from the same species for contrast:

    I’m on record as saying we won’t deserve the exalted status we confer upon ourselves until we use our big honking brains to control our instincts instead of just making fancy excuses for them.

    The inexplicit assumption here is the equality of beasts, of which Man is one. Also, and Peter must correct any erroneous mind-reading I’m doing here, it assumes a possible ideal universe in which Man has the capacity to make decisions outside the realm of the comfort and survival of himself and his kin group, and possibly has the will. If Man would just shape up a little.

    This is largely a different (and more complex) philosophy, but both look like philosophies to me. They convey underlying assumptions about what’s true and what’s important.

  40. Q: Where is your family line living as they are destroying the earth for fuel?

  41. @Dr.Watts

    Hardly anyone is contending that it’s not getting warmer. What is the issue is the reliability of climate models, which is uncertain, and the so-called solutions.

    A lot of what has been proposed has been pushed by agendas. Finance industry wants carbon credits… easy way to make money, they’ll be managing the business. Renewable crap peddlers are too very keen on catastrophic predictions. What everyone should be doing would be pushing for nuclear power, and maybe looking into geoengineering fixes. Crashing planetary economy because some models that’ve been tweaked beyond help predict runaway* climate change, models which no one understands.

    Doesn’t mean how many scientists have signed petitions. No one except climatologists or people into numerical models can really tell how good such models are, and to me, it looks like the debate proves the issue of their reliability is far from settled.

    Lubos Motl has an interesting post on the models, about the controversy regarding the importance of water vapour
    http://motls.blogspot.com/2011/08/can-one-sharply-separate-forcings-and.html

    And why not? Does anyone seriously believe that anybody wants to believe in an imminent climate catastrophe?

    You know, I thought you *were* observant. Have you completely forgotten about the bloody Greentards? True, you don’t have that many of them in N’Am, but Germany is full of those clueless pinko* zealots.

    Who have replaced christ-asshamster doctrine of original sin with the doctrine of that the original sin is technology, or in more extreme cases agriculture or civilization itself.

    That by leaving the hunter-gathering lifestyle we’ve fucked everything up, and what we need to do is dismantle the tower of technology and become nothing more than primitives again. No other way of fixing it, in their minds.

    Those kind of people want to believe in a global catastrophe. It validates their beliefs, it’s what they want…

    Companies that live off green subsidies.. who knows. They really don’t care, they might pretend they care.

    *I myself am a fan of limited franchise(don’t pay taxes, don’t get to vote), ordoliberalism and instituting catch & tattoo & release programs targeting psychopaths. Just so we’d know who not to trust..

  42. Hljóðlegur,

    If you don’t wish to call your philosophy a philosophy, okay, but I’d call what you’re espousing pragmatic materialism.

    or utilitarianism, maybe?

  43. Curious.

    However, methinks that it is not just the time-scale, but also the nature of threats in terms of “rationalized and more-or-less objective versus traditional and socially constructed”.

    Fear of climate shenanigans, for example, stems from a certain logical and scientific model of interactions within “objective” world and conclusion as to possible consequence.

    Types of issues conservatives are concerned about are very often a kind of relativistic and socially constructed. The typical conservative stance is usually a kind of under-rationalized, deeply held social prejudice (hence appeals to so-called “common sense”) unsubstantiated by any kind of serious science (most clear-cut example: gay marriage. Just ask the motherfuckers what exactly is the mechanism by which they “suck out” lifeblood from heterosexual marriages, lol)

    They treat their “beloved ideas” uncritically and lack the capacity to review their opinions based on evidence (I’m pretty sure that evidence that would make you and me to review our stances on climate change, I doubt that there can be something that will convince a frothing Friedmanite adopt a different outlook in econ, or a typical family value type to actually critically review the value of so-called “traditional” family, let alone potential value of alternative designs)

    What the hell is 01 getting at here?

    Okay, thing is, while you can arrive at some liberal positions either through contemplation or through indoctrination (just being overexposed to a given idea early on and not having mental ability to review “treasured ideals” critically counts as indoctrinations within the scope of this post, okay ;)? ), crazy mythos-driven drivel a-la family values and social/bio conservatism can be arrived at either through some form of indoctrination, combined with lack of capacity for critical review of existing beliefs and possibly other traits that border on pathology (Bachman and Santorum saddle and ride the line between normal and “less than sane” really hard)

    I think Sheila demonstrates the point most eloquently, since according to her she started out in “wonderland of thought” ;) and moving to better positions with time.

    It very well might be that many people start out “american-right”, but only those with lack of capacity to review their beliefs in light of evidence remain, and it very well might be that this is the distinction neuroimaging can pick up.

    P.S.:
    also, Peter, you didn’t post your own fMRI :D

  44. @Lanius
    *I myself am a fan of limited franchise(don’t pay taxes, don’t get to vote), ordoliberalism and instituting catch & tattoo & release programs targeting psychopaths. Just so we’d know who not to trust..

    You know, the irony of someone going nazi on people who merely lack capacity for empathy (I assume this is the intended meaning behind your use of “psychopath”, as opposed to general designation of mean and pestilent individuals who are well documented to often be a compassionate lot) is profoundly delicious.

    If irony could be converted to iron, your post alone would be sufficient to supply human civilization for centuries to come.

  45. It wouldn’t be nazi at all. Psychopaths and sociopaths themselves admit they have problems with impulse control, and making them visible would help them control themselves, as people would be more wary around them, thus less likely to be seen as victims…

    I’m not advocating genocide, just giving people on the pathological spectrum a visible mark, say a neat small tattoo on their cheek that would serve as a warning.

    Then, stories like these wouldn’t happen*:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/comment/brian-basham-beware-corporate-psychopaths–they-are-still-occupying-positions-of-power-6282502.html
    *or at least, there’d be more debate about the utility of psychopaths in leadership positions where potentional for abuse exists..

    You’re quite uneducated. It’s not just empathy… if they lacked just empathy, they lack conscience and impulse control.
    You don’t see the empathy challenged aspies going around being malicious, do you?

  46. Allow me to introduce the unexamined notion that it is our thoroughly absurd taboo against cannibalism that is to blame for all this much-a-do over who’s ruining the planet sooner and why.

    It’s very simple you see: our tendency to divide into tribes over meaningless differences about what to fear most is actually rooted in a nonsensical prohibition promulgated from the pulpit and radio to enjoy the taste of the one species proven to be at the very core of all this bad blood:

    Us.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I tell you now and I tell you this: lift the ban on anthropophagy and the political and ecological problems of today and tomorrow will stand revealed as complete and utterly ridiculous non-issues.

    Do you support wetlands conservation? Do you drive a Prius? Are you a naive liberal or a vicious hydrocarbon-humping conservative? And will the roving armies of McCormackian baby-eating rapists make any such distinction?

    What they will make is a very delicious sandwich…

    I also think the overall problem of pointless aggression, expansion, and acquisitiveness might be remedied by further research into HPA axis dysregulation.

  47. There’s a ban on anthropophagy?

  48. to: Watts

    >If you really believe…ect ect Bush stuff

    Oh now I know what you were talking about. For some reason I got the impression you were implying that political pressure was being applied to scientists while they were accumulating their data and writing their articles for scholarly publication. You really meant that the half-assed reports for the US Congress or the UN can be compromised by political bullshit, which I would agree with. The UN report for example had numerous cases of exaggeration of sea level rise, 4m instead of ~1m by 2110. But at the same time underestimated the costs of mitigation of increased longshore drift if barrier islands migrated landward and contacted the shore, which they will as they are transgressive features and only exist during rates of low sea level rise(about 0.5-1ft a century). To me it seemed like the UN report was full political bullshit which caused underestimation of some things and overestimation of others. But the actual sources cited in the reports did not have that problem so the both are attributable to however wrote the report rather than the authors of the cited sources of data. Fucking whiner politicians always screw things up.

    >personally reprimanded for even using the word “tar sands” in casual conversation.

    Those suits always whine about PR, thank god I’m a moderate sized company that heavily skewed toward the actual extraction business after they sold off their marketing and trading department and don’t have to put up with that shit. Though really the tar sands have tar in them, it’s an accurate description with no inherent negative connotation, I don’t understand what the bitching is about.

    >use our big honking brains to control our instincts

    Well I do advocate that, just not in a way you might like. Instincts are sloppy and need to be reinforced or “improved”. Likewise emotions are not something to be removed but changed from a motivation to merely another way to reinforce desirable behaviors. I figure the best way to do things is to figure out the the “goal” of the instincts and then work toward that end directly and cut out the middle man. For example, I never fucked anybody but my wife because I never saw any point in fucking somebody I was not planning to reproduce with. I continue to do so because she asks me to, but otherwise I wouldn’t care about it other than to literally manufacture children. It wold be preferable if we could remove the sex drive and replace it with a purely reproductive drive, especially if it proved cheaper to literally manufacture offspring. That’s not to say I don’t love my wife it’s just that rather than falling in love and getting married we cultivated that love to reinforce our relationship. But that only worked because my wife is almost as nuts as I am.

    To me happiness, comfort, and fulfillment is not the point of life. I don’t really get happy or depressed, I just plod on. My objectives are: don’t die, reproduce, ensure the survival of the children, and create and environment conducive to their own reproductive success. That includes building an unbreakable bond with my wife so we are both there to watch over the offspring, keeping ties with her family and mine strong, indoctrinating them with strategies I think will make them successful, using any influence I have to try to make the environment itself favorable to them.

    If something does not in some way facilitate those goals I just don’t put much effort into it. For example my wife was the one who gave me your book: Blindsight. She holds a pair of MS degrees in Physics and Engineering so she had her own opinions about how to best “handle” things within the bounds of that fictional scenario. If nothing else reading it let me have a 2 hour conversation with her about different ways we would exterminate the aliens and humans depending on which side we were playing for. She designed a focusing aperture for casaba howitzers for her second thesis at Pennstate, 20% of the energy of a 70Kt bomb in a cross-sectional area 0.3m across at a range of 60m. That’s right no longer are they mere shaped charges. Though she was only one of 20 people nation wide working on that. It’s not even a DARPA thing, they’re just doing it in the kicks and a little government money.

    When it comes to the hardness of your scifi it would be some of the harder around. What I meant by “diamond hard” was: no violations of physics. But even the Footfall book by Niven had a Bussard Ramjet, which are actually impossible because the impact of the hydrogen in the collection field would produce negative thrust. And in that one the aliens were basically baby elephants. Yeah mammal analogs in a nearby stellar system, if it wasn’t fiction I would call bullshit. Or that the “brilliant pebbles” anti-tank kinetic kill system the aliens deployed could not really work because since the kinetic kill vehicles are coming in at mach 5 the atmosphere around them ionizes making guidance almost impossible, so they can’t target moving objects in real life. But the space battle at the end was pretty much how such a battle would go, so I am willing to forgive much.

    The Theseus hydrogen collector would have the same problem as the Ramscop but you made the ship to slow enough for it not to matter. So whether intentional or not that was very nice, it liked that. It’s fiction so teleporting stuff and bogus cellular biology is not that big a deal so long as it is internally consistent. I will however bend your ear just with one trick in case you might find it interesting. Introduce a few dozen kg of argon into a hydrogen-antihydrogen confined reaction engine and you can produce a “true laser” unlike the lensed lasers we make today. Basically you can shape the magnetic bottle containing the reaction to create a coherent beam without lenses. So assuming 1% efficiency for a say a 15 petwatt engine; that’s 36 kilotons being transferred into the target per second. Then you pulse it so that the carbon nanotubules composing the surface of the target(Rorschach) rip themselves apart through expansion and contraction since they are good conductors and to burrow through the plume of vaporized material to prevent the shading of the target by the ablated. Make sure to aim amid ship since a vessel supported by its own tensile hull will likely use hanging braces since it is the most mass efficient support structure for the build of ship. I wonder, since the aliens are optimized for near vacuum would the shock waves transmitted through the thin atmosphere of the object’s interior be experienced by them similar in a fashion similar to the effects of a thermobaric bomb on humans? And of course you still have your semi-collated engine plume hitting the target as you get closer. No matter what it would be pretty cool. Que maniacal laughter.

    Suffer not the Alien to live.

  49. @ Peter

    I am reasonably confident consumption of human tissues is illegal where I live irrespective of means through which tissues have been acquired…

    @Lanius

    “I’m not advocating genocide, just giving people on the pathological spectrum a visible mark, say a neat small tattoo on their cheek that would serve as a warning. “

    Oh come on, you know full well how marking certain people with characteristics you find unpalatable tends to go ;)

    Now, as for impulse control, people with poor impulse control, whether sociopathic or not, just can’t help getting jailtime and/or getting fired.

    Also, it seems to me that, while correlation between psychopathy and impulse control deficit exists, it seems to me that it is far from impossible to have 30+ on Hare’s checklist without having notable impulse control deficits.

    Of course, one would probably wnat people with poor impulse control to be be provided with state-funded help (to the degree we can improve impulse control, which as far as I know, is not that much) irrespective of their capacity to experience remorse and somesuch. However, unlike you, I think that preserving privacy of persons with potentially unhelpful mental traits is important to solicit their cooperation ;)

    “You’re quite uneducated. It’s not just empathy… if they lacked just empathy, they lack conscience and impulse control.”

    Well, my dear friend, at this point we’re doomed to argue definitions, since psychopathy as defined by Hare et al. is a rather fuzzy cluster of traits which does not necessarily include poor impulse control (and I think we can at least agree that poor impulse control tends to get you jailed and fired anyway, resolving your concerns about poor impulse control automagically).

    Also, it deserves mentioning that things like shallowness of affect and presence of remorse are somewhat tricky to assess without introducing a very strong cultural bias… BTW, Hare’s checklist (like many similar tools) is not exactly the most objective tool imaginable (sexual “promiscuity”? LOL, one has to wonder how can a human claim objectivity assessing that one), and the inherent selection biases of usual forensic psychology investigation don’t exactly improve the kind of criteria and definitions we get as result of a given research effort (when most subjects are either criminals or volunteers, that seems to doom you to some serious biases right there).

    This kind of suggests that even people who really score 30 on PCL-R (assuming full sincerity and compliance, and maximum objectivity of the researcher, lol :D) are a rather diverse lot.

    More to the point (and to address another part of your response)

    “Then, stories like these wouldn’t happen*:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/comment/brian-basham-beware-corporate-psychopaths–they-are-still-occupying-positions-of-power-6282502.html

    It seems apparent to me that
    1) anyone reaching any position of influence in a corporate or government environment is bound to have good impulse control (thus disqualifying all poor-impulse control psychopaths you seem to be most concerned about)

    In fact, apparent factor 2 traits expose hypothetical “corpse psychopath” to so many risks that any kind of remarkable career is pretty much doomed

    2) it is impossible to score 30 through sheer factor 1 traits (and having majority of them prominent isn’t that contributive to maintaining any kind of work, too)

    thus, one can reasonably conclude that people in position of corporate and government power are exceedingly unlikely to be “really proper” psychopaths in the sense Hare intends the term to be used

    Which leads me to wonder whether you are using a somewhat “extended” definition for psychopath in your posts (A sin I myself must confess to :) )


    “You don’t see the empathy challenged aspies going around being malicious, do you?”

    I also don’t see corporate executives doing that. And, to be honest, politicians don’t act out of “malice” all that often too (they do often pander to demographics that are quite hateful and malicious, but hey, pandering to voters is their job!)

    If we’re willing to define psychopaths in a manner consistent with initial intent of Hare and his colleagues, then high-ranking corporate and political actors are excluded almost by definition.

    If we’re willing to stretch that definition, we’re doomed to an Infinite Definition Argument.

  50. Also, Peter, why does you comment spam thingie hate me again?

  51. @ David Mullis, channeling Jonathan Swift – naturally. It would put the whole of political squabbling into perspective to have your opponents coming after you with a knife and fork.

    @ Peter Watts – In the frozen wilds of Ontario, of course, no, a ban on cannibalism would be absurd and impractical. Even the wiley polar bear may eat his neighbor in cases of dire need.
    In the jungles of Virginia, however, where I believe even oral sex is still a crime, you are allowed to covet your neighbor’s wife, but may not let your mouth come into contact with any part of her. So braising and serving her with carrots and potatoes is right out.

  52. Anon said Bussard Ramjet, which are actually impossible because the impact of the hydrogen in the collection field would produce negative thrust

    I had always pictured it so the particles banging into the scoop were more than compensated for by the fusion thrust, or that we were scooping until we had collected enough, then turn on the engines again – collect, burn, collect burn. That we were turning the field off when under acceleration, then coasting.

    Hey, didn’t we have this discussion here before?

  53. Lanius:

    “Hardly anyone is contending that it’s not getting warmer.”

    Au contraire. “Global warming stopped in 1998″ is one of the central talking points of the denialist movement. Not to mention the scornful litany that rises from the throats at Fox News every time there’s a heavy snowfall somewhere. I don’t think you’re paying attention.

    “Have you completely forgotten about the bloody Greentards? True, you don’t have that many of them in N’Am, but Germany is full of those clueless pinko* zealots.”

    Uh huh. And how many of them are scientists with enough standing to have authored any of the peer-reviewed papers and position statements that were the subject of my comment?

    Anon:

    “You really meant that the half-assed reports for the US Congress or the UN can be compromised by political bullshit”

    No, I meant that qualified experts were having their papers routinely censored and rewritten by bureaucrats with no relevant expertise for no other purpose than to make them more compatible with political ideology.

    “I never saw any point in fucking somebody I was not planning to reproduce with.”

    You see no point in recreational sex? Oh, dude. Oh, dude. You have my profound sympathy, and also my understanding: finally I get the, the bitter grim tone of your posts.

    I’ll admit you are a fine-tuned replication device, if what you say is true. You’re also pretty much unique amongst all the people I’ve ever interacted with; in my experience, one of the reasons we’re in our current pickle is because we’ve hacked our own reward systems to the point where we can get the payoff without actually increasing our fitness. Another is because given the way natural selection works, even if we did simply follow the doctrine of inclusive fitness, we’d probably wipe ourselves out. Evolution is not great on the anticipation of long-term consequences.

    Seriously, though. If happiness, comfort and fulfillment don’t matter to you, you’re unlike any other vertebrate on the planet. I should work you into a novel.

    “What I meant by “diamond hard” was: no violations of physics.”

    Yeah, but twenty years ago dark energy was a violation of physics. I totally get the idea of playing without a net, and I respect it; but if you go down that road you’re buying into the premise that we’ve already figured everything out, that there will be no more worldview-shattering breakthroughs or paradigm shifts. You’re buying into the premise that we already know everything: and IMO that’s a profoundly antiscientific perspective. You can get a lot out of so-called “Mundane” science fiction, and I like that stuff, don’t get me wrong; but I do believe that straying beyond those bounds can be a feature as well as a bug.

    Your wife sounds very cool, by the way. Are you sure you’re uninterested in fucking her just for fun?

    “The Theseus hydrogen collector would have the same problem as the Ramscop but you made the ship to slow enough for it not to matter.”

    Actually, Blindsight states explicitly that the ramscoop is used as a brake, not a drive. Also as a filterfeeder to accumulate raw-matter stockpiles:

    Then a flip; ionizing lasers strafing the space ahead; a ramscoop thrown wide in a hard brake. The weight of a trillion trillion protons slowed her down and refilled her gut and flattened us all over again.

    “I will however bend your ear just with one trick in case you might find it interesting. …”

    Wowsers. That is very cool, and of course I would never have come up with that in a million years. Don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to use it, but I’m still reworking the sequel, so who knows. If I do, I’ll give you a shout-out in the references — although “Anon” might lack a certain specificity…

    01 & Lanius:

    I for one have always been skeptical of the whole poor-impulse-control diagnostic for sociopaths; seems to me you’re only diagnosing sociopaths dumb enough to get caught and studied, which is a little akin to trawling the ocean with a half-meter mesh and concluding from the haul that the ocean contains no 10-centimeter fish. There’s lots of evidence that sociopaths are capable of rising through the ranks of various high-status professions ranging from law to politics to finance to medicine, which implies at least some degree of self-control; and at least one investment bank is alleged to be deliberately recruiting them. Hare himself has written a book or two on corporate sociopathy (“Snakes in Suits”), and has since opined that he should have looked more closely at bankers and clergymen, so he certainly seems on board with the idea of the successful psycho.

  54. @ Peter

    Well, you see, the whole point of any case where something is designated a disease/disorder, is to indicate that the state is somehow maladaptive. If a set of traits makes a person rise through the ranks and accomplish great undertakings, then said person is not in a state of suboptimal adaptation and is quite accepted by society, thus ipso facto his mental state is not a disease or disorder.

    Of course, medicine (specifically psychiatry) used to be (still is?) full of oddball non-diseases that were only considered such due to rubbing the mores of some shrink or other wrong, but as far as I can tell, recent ICD and DSM do at least try to fix that (conservative whining notwithstanding)

    Now, I can see how Hare and others might be interested in “normal” variants of psychopathy, but matter of fact is,

    1) in current checklist, you’d need to be very special to score high enough and still be capable of holding office / leading a company / stuff like that

    2) it seems quite plausible to me that, to put it politically correctly, all factor 2 traits are maladaptive, while some factor 1 traits either could be indirectly beneficial if not too prominent, or even outright adaptive for certain leadership roles (remorse and empathy absolutely don’t help make good decisions if you get to make decisions that are guaranteed to get people killed, especially people on “your side” of the hypothetical fence)

    Thus it seems to me that “the successful sociopath” deserves a separate term, without “path(y)” in it, due to having a profile profoundly different from your “typical” average murderous individual, a profile that, frankly speaking, has nothing pathological to it

    3) Upon consideration, some items on the checklist seem to be quite ripe for cultural bias, especially in borderline cases (Mr. Scroodge McCash is not promiscuous, he is a gentleman greatly successful with ladies and other gentlemen) which does not seem nice (but I’m being told that’s almost unavoidable with them medical questionnaires… good thing I’m IT guy, not a meat jockey)

  55. And again Peter’s spamthingie hates me :(

  56. I do not know why. I thought it might be something to do with embedded links, but that’s clearly not the issue. I’m certainly not telling it to keep you out.

    It’s like Lydia in Skyrim. Sometimes she just goes off and attacks things even when you tell her to stay put, out of some misplaced imperative to defend you with her life. And then that whole herd of frost trolls that you had nearly snuck past suddenly takes notice, and the next thing you know your magicka is depleted and you haven’t set even half of them alight yet and they stomp you into oblivion.

    Lately I’ve been trying to rein her in by taking away all of her armor and having her accompany me in nothing but a thong and bra. I thought it might make her a little more risk-averse. No such luck.

    But I digress.

  57. “In other words, right-wingers have a hair-trigger sensitivity to threats in their environment; left-wingers are more laid back.`

    Alternatively, “People with a hair-trigger sensitivity to environmental threats are more often right wingers, where as people who are more laid back fall into the left wing of the political spectrum” which to me, means something very different.

    Because the statement you made is broad and all encompassing – people in the right wing have knee jerk reactions to threats, whereas its labeling an entire group of people as having similar behaviours, whereas its much simpler to believe that people with those behaviours tend to flock towards that group.

    I’m sure someone will complain about semantics, but “All politicians are liars, but not all liars are politicians”.

    But anyways. The time-scale idea is quite interesting. I’ll see if I can wiggle that into one of my research proposal works that I have to do.

  58. Feel free to borrow idea regarding ability to review current beliefs critically in face of evidence, if you feel like it :)

  59. @ Peter

    Doesn’t the blog software have whitelist ?

  60. @1

    Wait, this blog can tell if I’m white? O.o

    Also, good point – it’s only a mental disease if it’s screwing up your ability to work and love effectively. If ones sociopathy isn’t keeping you jobless and unhappy….

    “People with a hair-trigger sensitivity to environmental threats are more often right wingers, where as people who are more laid back fall into the left wing of the political spectrum”

    I like that formulation better. Seems more reasonable?

    @ Everyone

    Aaaaahhh, casual discussion of Bussard ramjets. I love that there is a place I can drop in and that is a topic of discussion.

  61. @Peter Watts

    I know, right? I keep having to leave her behind before I go scout out ahead, otherwise the next thing I know she’s right there hacking away with battleaxe. Which leaves me exposed, with a teensy little dagger and no x15 damage bonus.

    I’d hate her if she didn’t make such a good pack mule.

  62. @Hljóðlegur

    Well… software capable of making fairly decent probabilistic judgments regarding the ethnicity and country of origin of a given text’s author (also judgments about likelihood of two or more texts having same author, and about a given text’s content and possible relations to other texts) definitely exists, though I doubt Peter is running such a beast (unless he’s secretly the head of a compint effort of some kind, which would be totally awesome)

  63. Man, I didn’t even think to look for a whitelist until you suggested it (And no; WordPress has gray and blacklists for holding, but nothing on the dashboard seems to let me give a free pass to anyone). So I am not totally awesome.

    I’m working on it, though.

  64. This is not the whitelist Hljóðlegur is looking for ;)

  65. 1. I wonder what your “I could be more awesome” list has on it.

    2. I got derailed by the Swift responses. What if someone donated a finger and invited you over for hors d’œuvre? Would that be illegal? No one dies.


  66. Not to mention the scornful litany that rises from the throats at Fox News every time there’s a heavy snowfall somewhere. I don’t think you’re paying attention.

    Guilty here. I think I’ve watched about thirty minutes of TV news in the last five years, and zero of that were devoted to AGW topics.


    Uh huh. And how many of them are scientists with enough standing to have authored any of the peer-reviewed papers and position statements that were the subject of my comment?

    You used the word ‘anybody’. I assumed you meant not the scientist, but overall.

    With scientists. You yourself admit that scientists are just human. I imagine they are often invested into their theories and research, and scornful of opponents. Has been that way in physics.

    I can imagine a not-very-introspective scientist who has spent years trying to drum up support for warming theories wishing sincerely he is right…

    @O1
    You’re spot on with your psychopathy post.

    IMO, Hare’s checklist is a bit of witch-finding.
    Personally, I think definition of psychopathy should be especially about conscience and empathy.

    Also, there’s the skin resistance test, you know the one where nasty and nice images are shown and reaction is measured. Psychos score different on that to normal people, and their brains are also supposedly structurally different.
    So it should be possible to create an objective definition, albeit not one as convenient as the checklist..

    @Hljóðlegur
    Are you from Iceland?


    It’s like Lydia in Skyrim. Sometimes she just goes off and attacks things even when you tell her to stay put, out of some misplaced imperative to defend you with her life. And then that whole herd of frost trolls that you had nearly snuck past suddenly takes notice, and the next thing you know your magicka is depleted and you haven’t set even half of them alight yet and they stomp you into oblivion.

    Lately I’ve been trying to rein her in by taking away all of her armor and having her accompany me in nothing but a thong and bra. I thought it might make her a little more risk-averse. No such luck.

    But I digress.

    (falls off the chair)
    My favorite hard-sf writer who’s just a year younger than my dad wastes time on escapist CRPG’s?

    Makes me feel slightly better about having spent played Fallout: New Vegas* after vowing twice not to play anymore CRPG’s….

    Can’t you set her to not attack? NV was quite good at that, it was possible to make followers only attack if attacked.

    *if you check my journal, you’ll see that it was registered long before New Vegas came out.

  67. @ Lanius

    Well, I don’t doubt that a more objective test can be eventually made, though I am quite confident that skin resistance ain’t likely to be part of any decent objective suite (basing this claim on technological similarity to various polygraph shenanigans which have been quite convincingly demonstrated to be full of bollocks both in relevant research and in my anecdotal experience with them). As for definitions, if we run with one centered around deficit in empathy and conscience/remorse, then the rationale for wide-scale “public labeling” of people with deficiency in those specific traits seems dubious. I would be far more concerned about impulse control irrespective of “conscience/remorse” (since I don’t think it would matter that much whether perp “feels sorry” after stabbing someone in the face).

    P.S.: And of course, I am still quite confident that public labeling of any kind is unlikely to solicit cooperation (something that we would ideally want in any program) and is essentially so nazi-esque it’s hilarious in the context of fighting “sociopaths” of all things (not to mention the sheer destructiveness of both false positive and false negative labels).

  68. Lack of impulse control would be a good thing to look for with respect to public safety. but I’m also just plain curious about the topography of remorse and empathy in humans. I don’t know if a psychopath definition fits someone who has a terrain with no impulse control valleys, but I am very curious about that someone.

    btw, I was socially retarded in that it took a while for understanding of people to completely snap-in for me. for a while a lot of kids were mean towards me, but I didn’t quiet get it. Once one of the mean ones passed me a note asking if I would be her best friend. I answered yes, because of course I would like to be friends with people. very implausible. So, I was like a psychopath, no? I didn’t have a good mental model for how real people work.

  69. I’ve wondered if embodiment experiments (like with the rubber hand, or the one where a person comes to flinch when someone holds a knife to an avatar of them — even when the gender is different) could somehow train empathy in to a person?

    Maybe not, since someone on psychopath end of the Hare scale doesn’t have a reaction when they are threatened, so having them embodied somewhere else probably wouldn’t make a difference.

  70. Oh but I forgot to add to the empathy training — embodiment experiments plus drug interactions at the same time.

  71. oh happenstance. I was following a trail of author names to papers to see what the current state of union is for a completely different topic, but it turns out one of the authors is doing research on different stuff now.

    and that is conduct disorder in children and the factors that cause it. and treatments there-of. so I wonder if conduct disordered people grow up to be psychopaths? and does early intervention do anything to assuage that? seems plausible.

    Prof Stephanie van Goozen – MSc (doctorandus) Amsterdam PhD Amsterdam

    I started reading “Van Goozen, S.H.M. & Fairchild, G. (2008). How can the study of biological processes help design new interventions for children with severe antisocial behaviour? Development & Psychopathology, 20, 941–973.” last night but got distracted and haven’t finished it. [pdf]


  72. (basing this claim on technological similarity to various polygraph shenanigans which have been quite convincingly demonstrated to be full of bollocks both in relevant research and in my anecdotal experience with them).

    You’re one of them fractally wrong people, amirite?

  73. @ Lanius

    Are you claiming that polygraphs are successful in their officially claimed function of detecting deceptive statements during interview (in which case, http://bit.ly/zqT95w :) ), or that the research pertaining to sociopathy detection does not share a significant degree of technological basis with the sketchy and unscientific process known as “polygraph testing” ? (in the latter case, I would appreciate an enlightening comparison of skin conductance evaluation suites in polygraphy and in the research you refer to, focused on highlighting what you consider a game-changing difference. I am sure that not only I, but fellow readers and our kind host will find it most interesting :D )