Thursday, 26 November 2015

"Predicting the future" in modern secular societies

There is, to put it mildly, considerable inconsistency about the way that those with power claim to predict - or 'predict the future' as the common pleonasm has it.

But perhaps adding 'the future' to the phrase is not redundant  - considering that climate change 'predictions' are actually based wholly on the past.

When Global Warming advocates claim improved prediction, what they really mean is that they have a new (CO2 based) mathematical model that more precisely describes past data, what already has happened before the 'prediction' was made; and none of the climate claim predictions have actually been tested against what was supposed to happen after the prediction was made.

In other words, the climate change activists are using a specialist, technical and statistical definition of prediction in a general, public and media context where it will certainly be misunderstood.

Also, I know from experience as a professional epidemiologist, that there are plenty of statisticians who themselves do not understand the importance of this distinction between modelling what did happen, and hypothetical models that claim to predict what will happen.

Such gross errors are common and usually remain uncorrected in a world where scientists are ever more numerous and of ever lower ability and relevant experience; and where researchers are not even trying to tell the truth, and where all the significant incentives are in the direction of exaggerated claims. For several decades now, the mass of professional science just is, and is just, about funding, publishing, impact, peer status - and truthfulness is neither discussed nor evaluated.

The modern state and mainstream media opinion are, to put it mildly, inconsistent when it comes to prediction.

The discussions about claims of global climate change, and the common - and usually accepted - claims of groups to be able to predict future climate and to be able to control future climate, are instances where predictions are not just accepted, but enforced and acted-upon to the tune of trillions of dollars of international funding and regulations - despite the an almost complete lack of tested knowledge concerning a process of truly immense complexity. 

In other words, mainstream opinion accepts some gigantic claims to predict the unknown and unpredictable - and does not just accept these massively-implausible claims of exact predictive knowledge, but regards those who do not accept these speculative knowledge claims as actively evil or grossly dumb.  

Yet on the other hand, I have been on an inside participant in several political correctness witchhunts - either concerning myself or friends and colleagues - in which 'hate facts', or taboo knowledge, was the focus; and the standard of proof required was insane and impossible.

For example, back in 2008 I wrote a magazine article that accepted a century's worth of completely un-contradicted evidence of social class differences in intelligence to model the effect of university selectivity on the differential rate of social class acceptance (to show why it was that highly selective colleges with an assumed unbaised admissions system would be predicted to accept a much lower proportion of working class students than was present in the national population).

Yet the baseline claim of social class differences in intelligence being predictive of a mismatch in class acceptance rates at elite colleges - which is a very simple and straightforward claim compared to the morass of uncertainties and interactions involved in global climate, and which is supported by many hundreds of papers over many decades and refuted by not one single paper - was treated by university administrators, the mass media and politicians as an utterly outrageous, and therefore clearly malicious assertion.

When a politically correct taboo is broken, suddenly it becomes normal, acceptable and irrefutable to assert that this act of taboo-breaking will have catastrophic effects.

Suddenly, all the uncertainties of prediction are used first to allow wild speculation about what might or could happen...  and then to treat such 'what if?' assertions as if they were true, plausible and indeed likely.

It is impossible to exaggerate the degree of exaggeration! One person saying one sentence - or even one word - is treated as if there was a strict knowledge of causal linkages that can and will lead to seismic social damage. And treated as if that seismic damage was the intent, and that the perpetrator would be 'to blame'.

In effect, the rulers of modern societies - i.e. mass media and the linked bureaucracies of major social systems - behave as if they are capable of making precise and valid predictions concerning the effect of specific words and phrases and events on the minds and actions of millions of people. 

The implicit claim is that we have a highly precise predictive knowledge of how discrete and specific phenomena effect the emotions and cognitions of vast numbers of people. The claim is that we posses an exact-science of prediction of mass behaviour.


The reason for such absurd claims is simply that they are the basis of modern morality - which is utilitarian.

If moral goodness is supposed to be based on promotion of human happiness and the reduction of human suffering, and if such goals are assumed to be the basis of legitimate moral action by social rulers, then it must be possible to predict the effect of a word, phrase or image on the hearts and minds and behaviours of millions of people.

I am not saying that this type of prediction is possible - very clearly it is not possible, and there is zero reason to assume that it is possible - but I am saying that secular rulers must act as if it is possible: must act as if they understood what makes the mass of people (or those people they regard as important) happy or sad, angry or contented, motivated or despairing.

It is a lie, and it is a ridiculous lie - but since all legitimacy in the modern secular state, institution and corporation depends on this lie being true: then the ridiculous lie is treated as true; and enforced as true.

So prediction in modern secular societies has nothing at all to do with the ability to predict - but especially not the ability to 'predict the future'.  

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