"Green" Energy is Dirty


This video is about the pollution problems of rare earth mineral mining. Watch it first.

Neodymium is used for strong magnets which are used in wind turbines and hybrid cars.

All large-scale energy production is dirty by "green" standards. That means there's something wrong with their standards.

Pollution is sometimes and overblown problem, but sometimes a legitimate problem. The damage in China is important.

But whatever one's standards for what sort of pollution he wants to put up with, keep in mind:

1) Your standards better be compatible with human propserity. If you reject all industrial-scale energy that's going to kill billions and do way more harm than you were trying to prevent.

2) Freedom. Just because you think something should be different doesn't make authoritarianism OK.

Environmentalists look the other way for the problems with some types of energy (wind, hybrid cars), and exaggerate the problems for other types of energy (nuclear, fossil fuels).

Why did they pick that way? If it had to do with CO2 they would like nuclear a lot more. If it had to do with toxic materials, mining and processing, they'd like wind less.

They call wind "renewable". But why? The wind may blow for a billion years, but harnessing it depends on the supply of neodynium. To keep harnessing it beyond that would require new technology. But if you assume new technology will be invented as necessary to make stuff work, then any sort of energy production could work indefinitely.

If you're an environmentalist who none of these criticisms applies to, then I have a different question for you. Where are you statements distancing yourself from the bad environmentalists? Have you criticized and rejected them, and made clear the differences?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Medicalization and Intolerance by Ed Catmull


This interview with Ed Catmull, president of Pixar, has some good thinking about fallibilism. He understands that even when he isn't aware of any particular error, he still has to be concerned with errors. And he talks about trying to deal with error but not prevent any from happening in the first place. That's good because preventing all error is impossible and leads to authoritarian policies (because freedom allows for too many possibilities to even dream of preventing all errors).

Ed Catmull also uses a recurring "health" metaphor. He means well in the interview, but he's making two serious mistakes regarding health. He expressed a rational attitude towards criticism, so I will explain the mistakes in hopes of helping.
If the team is functioning well, and healthy, it will solve the problem.
[At Pixar] there is very high tolerance for eccentricity, very creative, and to the point where some are strange… but there are a small number of people who are socially dysfunctional [and] very creative – we get rid of them. If we don’t have a healthy group then it isn’t going to work.
First, this talk of "healthy" is a bad metaphor because it's a medical metaphor, but the issues he's discussing are social-psychological, not medical. This is the (inappropriate) medicalization of everyday life.

Issues of how people treat each other, how they feel, what they think, how they approach interactions, and so on, are all important issues, but they are not medical issues. So a medical metaphor is inappropriate. Thinking about these issues in the wrong way is one of the causes of errors that should be fixed.

Second, the claim here is "very high tolerance". But it's actually saying that the category labelled "unhealthy" is not tolerated. What is in that "unhealthy" category? The use of a vague metaphor hides which things are not tolerated.

It's fine not to tolerate absolutely everything, but it's better to speak clearly about this. The limits of tolerance deserve serious thought and clarity, not vagueness. That would help find and fix any errors in the choice of what not to tolerate.

Being clear and open about what isn't tolerated also lets people know what the rules are. It's good to have openly and precisely stated rules so people can know whether they are following the rules or not, and can choose to make changes to follow the rules better. Clarity would also allow for feedback and would prevent nasty surprises for people who fail to guess the unstated rules correctly.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Philosophy First

lots of ppl claim they can't learn philosophy cuz they are busy with life and a big part of that is making money

it's a little like the guy too busy reading novels to ever learn speed reading

it's so important to fit in some powering up ASAP. some becoming more time efficient, becoming more effective at stuff per effort spent, etc

the more of that you fit in and the earlier, the more it becomes easier to fit in even more later

cuz it pays for itself many times over, so you can use the savings to power up more

it's such a virtuous cycle. but people get stuck in the vicious cycle of too busy to ever learn to be more time efficient.

ppl spend decades struggling with money. a few years studying philosophy can yield a significant efficiency multiplier on that effort. which can quickly pay for itself and then provide both more money as well as time for further philosophy study.

if you agree, a good place to begin learning is Fallible Ideas.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Lying Microsoft Advertising

Microsoft put up an ad: Windows vs. iPad: Compare tablets - Microsoft Windows. It shows the iPad screen (left) compared with the ASUS VivoTab Smart screen (right).

This is not to scale. Microsoft has drawn a 10.1 inch tablet 36% larger than a 9.7 inch tablet (140x78 pixels vs 102x79). This is so far off you can visually see it's wrong.

The iPad has a screen area of 45.16 square inches, which I double checked with a calculator.

The ASUS VivoTab Smart has a screen area of 43.56 square inches. That's right, the ASUS screen is smaller than the iPad's.

The iPad screen is 7.76 by 5.82 inches. The ASUS screen is 8.8 by 4.95 inches. ASUS is larger in one direction but smaller in the other direction, and has 3.55% less area than the iPad, not 36% more as Microsoft depicts.

How can the screen with a larger diagonal measurement be smaller? Because it's a different shape. Long and thin gets you a bigger diagonal but a smaller screen, for the same diagonal inches.

At the bottom, Microsoft writes, "The ASUS VivoTab Smart is lighter than the iPad, has a bigger touchscreen...". False. It does not have a "bigger touchscreen".

Microsoft's advertising is dishonest. Twice in one ad.

I got the link from Daring Fireball.

EDIT: Changed text to say "square inches".

EDIT 2: Microsoft changed the webpage within 13 hours after I posted.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (62)

New Discussion Group

Do you like my blog posts? Interested in ideas? Want to get questions answered, have your ideas improved by criticism, get feedback and refinements, etc? You should join my discussion group:


This new group is intended to replace my other groups. Everything is now in one convenient place!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Plastic Bag Bans are not Reforms

Reform is important. People have to make changes to make progress. But some ideas for change are good, and some are bad. To achieve reform, we need to sort out the good changes from the bad changes.

People can and do make mistakes frequently. To achieve reform, we have to use methods which are capable of figuring out our mistakes and improving on them. Methods which can do that are called “rational”.

If would-be reformers do not use rational methods, they will make things worse instead of better. They will implement mistaken ideas. That is destruction, not reform. So, how can we judge proposed reforms?

  • Uses reason to consider the issues.
  • Makes only true arguments.
  • Actually works as intended. Watch out for unintended consequences!
  • Makes things better, not worse. If possible it should be thoroughly better, not a mixed compromise.
  • Reforms should be cooperative, not adversarial.
  • Communicates why and how it is a reform. Aims to persuade people.
  • Most or all people agree to it voluntarily because they understand that it’s good.
  • Goes one step at a time instead of trying to remake society into a utopia tomorrow.
  • Has been considered critically.
  • Refutes all criticisms that try to say it’s a mistake.
Some cities are banning plastic bags at grocery stores. Lobbyists claim that they are reformers and their ban is a reform. It’s not.

Real reforms work as intended. Take a look and tell me if the plastic bag ban is working as intended:

How is this possible? Isn’t it illegal? Actually, where I live, the ban only applies when you visit a grocery store, but not to grocery deliveries. It has a big loophole.

Why does this happen? Because the “environmental activists” did not successfully communicate why the ban is good. Safeway isn’t persuaded that plastic bags are bad, so it still uses plastic bags in legal ways. If the activists had made better arguments, then Safeway would work with them and follow the spirit of the ban. Instead, the activists used irrational adversarial methods, instead of finding a way to cooperate with Safeway for mutual benefit.

Plastic bag bans also increase shoplifting. That is an unintended, bad consequence.

Plastic bag bans (and their arguments) have been critically considered but have not successfully addressed the criticisms, as rational reform would.

Why are plastic bags worse than other types of bags? Why should they be banned? Where is the rational analysis?

Actually this has been studied, but the activists and lobbyists chose to irrationally ignore the results. The study by the UK’s Environment Agency concluded, “The conventional HDPE [plastic] bag had the lowest environmental impacts of the lightweight bags in eight of the nine impact categories.” And that study didn’t even consider the costs of laundry or washing bags!

Environmental impact is not the best way to consider plastic bags. But it is the way the anti-bag lobbyists look at it, and they are wrong by their own standards.

The right way to look at bags is in terms of human impact. What is the impact on human lives? Does a particular policy make life better or worse for human beings? Humans should come first.

When all types of bags were available, plastic bags were chosen because they were the best for humans. Grocery stores wanted happy customers. Plastic bags are strong, light, clean and cheap. Banning them denies humans these wonderful, modern benefits of plastic bags.

The anti-plastic-bag lobby has argued that the bags use up our limited oil supplies. However, this is simply false. Real reform avoids factually false claims.

Anti-plastic-bag activists have not communicated a coherent, well-reasoned, true argument for why plastic bags should be banned. Plastic bags are good for humans and good for the environment, and complaints such as their use of oil are false.

The plastic bag ban does not meet the criteria necessary to qualify as a reform. It is actually irrational, pointless destruction, not reform.

That illustrates how to approach reform the wrong way. What is the right way? Let’s consider a concrete example.

A rational reform was the transition from transportation by horses to cars. Horses had problems such as polluting the streets with poop, getting you wet in the rain, and being slow. Changing to cars made life better for people; it reformed the old situation.

How was this reform accomplished? By voluntary action and rational argument. People were not forced to give up their horses, nor were they forced to use cars. They didn’t have to be forced because they understood that the new way was better. People wanted to make the change and happily participated, rather than working against it (like Safeway continues to use all the plastic bags they can).

Not everyone changed right away. Early cars were expensive and had some other downsides, but over time cars became clearly superior. And some people had special circumstances that made a horse better for them personally (even today some people still have horses, and that’s fine). So each person switched to a car if and when it made sense for him. Forcing someone to buy a car that isn’t right for him, or not letting someone buy a car when he decides it’s best, would both hurt people.

Even when a reform is a good idea, such as switching from horses to cars, it still has to be approached in the right way or it could hurt people. People should only switch when they are persuaded – when they think switching is best for themselves. Reforms should proceed by voluntary methods and people should make changes when their rational judgment says to.

Changes in bag use should be approached more like cars and transportation were.

This is not a new idea. People who want to be thinkers and reformers should know better. They should take responsibility for learning how to reform correctly before trying to do it. The philosophers Edmund Burke and William Godwin explained reform around 1790, for example Godwin wrote:
Let us consider the effect that coercion produces upon the mind of him against whom it is employed. It cannot begin with convincing; it is no argument. It begins with producing the sensation of pain, and the sentiment of distaste. It begins with violently alienating the mind from the truth with which we wish it to be impressed. It includes in it a tacit confession of imbecility. If he who employs coercion against me could mould me to his purposes by argument, no doubt he would. He pretends to punish me because his argument is strong; but he really punishes me because his argument is weak.
People make mistakes. Trying to argue your case is a great way to test if you might be making a mistake. If you persuade people, maybe you’re right, or at least no one knows better. If you don’t persuade people, maybe you’re wrong, maybe someone knows better, maybe someone can tell you something you didn’t know. So attempting persuasion is a rational win/win approach; it works out well whether you’re mistaken or not.

If your explanations fail to persuade people, it’s time to consider that you might be mistaken, or you might not have clear enough ideas. If your ideas aren’t clear enough for other people to understand why they are true, you shouldn’t be persuaded either. Your ideas aren’t good enough (yet). Reconsider or work on them more.

If you can persuade people, that is a good sign that you have a quality idea. It’s a good candidate for reform. If you cannot do that – if your idea isn’t that quality – that’s an unbelievably bad excuse for using force.

Why doesn’t the anti-plastic-bag lobby persuade everyone to stop using plastic bags? Because they can’t. It’s that simple: they would persuade everyone if they could, but they can’t.

Their arguments are not good enough. So far, they’ve failed at persuasive reasoning. And how do they react to that? Irrationally. Anti-plastic-bag lobbyists pretend that they ban plastic bags because their arguments are strong. Actually they do it because their arguments are weak.

They aim to force their bad ideas on us, rather than aiming to improve their ideas. Changing society that way is not reform, it is irrational destruction.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Plastic Bag Ban Article

I wrote a new article for the Center for Industrial Progress. It's about a ban on plastic grocery bags:


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

I Changed My Mind About David Deutsch

I have changed my mind about some things I have communicated about David Deutsch. I think the responsible thing to do is to say so.

When someone puts forward ideas in public, and persuades people, but then changes his mind, he ought to tell people. They shouldn't go by his old ideas with no chance for an update and to maybe change their minds too.

For example, if Thomas Szasz had decided he was mistaken that mental illness is a myth, then he would have been responsible for publishing a retraction and correction, and explaining why he changed his mind. Not doing so would have been immoral and irresponsible.

I do not know exactly what I have communicated about David Deutsch over the last decade, in public. This is partly an issue of memory, partly an issue of some things being communicated inexplicitly (without directly saying them, but they still come across), and partly an issue of trying to remember what was said in private or in public.

Let me clarify my relationship with David. I have known David for over a decade and had many, many discussions with him. For David's book The Beginning of Infinity, I provided over 200 pages of especially appreciated comments and edits. I made and own the website and discussion group for the book. David is a founder of Taking Children Seriously (TCS) and Autonomy Respecting Relationships (ARR). I own the dicussion groups for both of those, too.

We no longer associate closely. Things changed. I have learned a lot from David and I used to think we agreed more than I now think. I now regard David as rejecting some important good ideas. For some of these ideas, I had thought I learned them from David, but I've changed my mind about that.

Here are some things I have changed my mind about.

I believe I have communicated that David is a world class expert on TCS, ARR, and some other parts of philosophy. I thought he was. However, he has stopped talking about a lot of that stuff and has said things exposing misconceptions. So I've changed my mind.

I think have communicated that I consider David a better philosopher than myself with higher status and more knowledge. I have changed my mind.

In the past I think I basically said David is always right. I did not mean it literally but I did mean something, and I have changed my mind.

I believe I have communicated that David is super rational. That I endorse him and his ideas pretty much without exception. That I'm a big fan. I've changed my mind.

I've said that David is a fan of Ayn Rand. He made this claim to me and I accepted it. I've changed my mind.

The list of issues I now know that I disagree with David about includes qualia, mirror neurons, Edmund Burke, Thomas Szasz, Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises, William Godwin's economics, deduction, hard to vary, meta discussion, justificationism, the value of school and academia, and the right approach to email discussions. Note that I have left some out to respect David's privacy.

Despite David's TCS reputation, and arguments against school, he actually has a a much more favorable opinion of university and academia than I do. His position on school is incompatible with TCS.

I believe I have communicated that David has the utmost intellectual integrity and responsibility. He does not. I thought he did; I was surprised when he acted otherwise; I've changed my mind.

People can seem more rational than they are as long as they are right frequently. This can happen when they already know a lot of things, but are not learning new things. When there are serious criticisms of their thinking then they are put to a harder test. Critical challenges can be particularly revealing about someone's character. David has done poorly on several.

I still consider The Fabric of Reality and The Beginning of Infinity to be very good books. They are world class. And there are other things David has written that are good.

I made every effort to avoid this outcome. For example, I tried to help David by explaining his misconceptions and offering him new ideas.

I have learned from this. In the future I will hold people to a higher standard. Many of my comments about David were years past, and I have improved my judgment.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (4)

Don't Take Power For Granted

I wrote a blog post for the Center for Industrial Progress.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thomas Szasz

Thomas Szasz died on Sept 8, 2012. He was a great and wise man, and a friend who I miss.

The article does not say how he died. I hope he controlled and chose his own death (edit: he did commit autohomicide), because that is the best way. Here is one of Szasz's many wise comments on suicide, in his last book, Suicide Prohibition: The Shame of Medicine:
We do not and must not hold a person responsible, nor must he hold himself responsible, for a natural event or human action over which he has no control. However, we must hold a person responsible, and he should hold himself responsible, for acts that he can, or ought to be able to, control. Prohibiting death control-like prohibiting birth control and other self-regarding behaviors-reduces the individual's opportunities to assume responsibility for these behaviors and makes the person dependent on external controls instead of self-control. Therein lies the most insidious danger of using prohibitions to regulate behaviors that can, in the final analysis, be effectively regulated only by internal controls. If young people believe that they cannot, need not, or must not control how they procreate-because assuming such control is sinful or because others will assume responsibility for the consequences of their behavior-then they are likely to create new life irresponsibly. Similarly, if old people believe that they cannot, need not, or must not control how they die-because assuming such control signifies that they are insane or because others will assume responsibility for the consequences of their behavior-then they are likely to die irresponsibly.
Szasz wrote extensively about psychiatric coercion, the myth of mental illness, and related topics. He covered the history of psychiatry, drugs, suicide, ethics, the medicalization of everyday life, and more.

What fewer people know is that he was a broader thinker who went beyond psychiatry. He discussed, at a world class level, philosophical and political topics such as autonomy, self-control, responsibility and freedom. He was well read and had extensive knowledge of political philosophers and economists like Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, Rand and Burke. He also understood Karl Popper's writings. He applied his expertise in these matters to psychiatric issues, in addition to having insight in psychiatry itself. His breadth was crucial to the high quality and consistency of his thinking. The norm is to stray outside one's expertise and consequently make frequent mistakes, but Szasz avoided this by having incredible breadth of understanding. And because Szasz understood so much of life, his writing was much more interesting, filled with insights applicable to more than psychiatry, and compatible with the best ideas outside of psychiatry. Further, because many parts of life and fields of thought are connected, his inter-disciplinary approach allowed for insight that narrower thinkers could not achieve.

Szasz was a truly critical thinker. It's a very rare quality, but Szasz genuinely appreciated criticism. This is one of the most important metrics for judging any intellectual and Szasz deserves immense credit for it. Szasz was also a responsible man who could take responsibility for his mistakes that were criticized, even while correcting them. He was not the type of person to make excuses and rationalizations, or to lie to himself. Nor was he the type of person to admit a mistake to himself while hiding it from others to protect a public image.

Szasz was one of the best philosophers of all time, competitive with the greats like Popper, Rand, Burke and Deutsch.

To learn more, I strongly recommend Szasz's books. I think everyone interested in ideas should read a bare minimum of ten of them. I also created an informative iOS app about psychiatry.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (5)

Zubrin Replies

I sent Robert Zubrin my earlier blog post fact-checking his book, Merchants of Despair. This is the full text of his amazing reply:
So you are fine with the deaths of millions of Irish and Indians, under the
administration of British Malthusians, the murder of millions of Jews and
Slavs by German Malthusians, and the myriad ongoing worldwide crimes of
other Malthusians ever since.
I guess they were all misquoted too.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

Bad Scholarship: Fatal Misconception by Matthew Connelly

Fatal Misconception by Matthew Connelly:

Page 2 gives a Malthus quote which it cites to a secondary source instead of a primary source. This is bad. The following footnote, also about Malthus, cites a primary source -- the same one that first quote came from. So why doesn't the first quote cite the primary source he had access to? That makes no sense; I guess he just doesn't consider giving primary source citations a priority to care about...

Moving on we've got something really bad, page 2:
The tone of unremitting gloom [of Malthus in his essay] never lifted. "Misery and the fear of misery", were, for Malthus, "the necessary and inevitable results of the laws of nature in the present stage of man's existence." [2]
The cite directs us to the exact paragraph in an online primary source which is very nice. It is:
I am sufficiently aware that the redundant millions which I have mentioned could never have existed. It is a perfectly just observation of Mr. Godwin, that "there is a principle in human society by which population is perpetually kept down to the level of the means of subsistence." The sole question is, what is this principle? Is it some obscure and occult cause? Is it some mysterious interference of Heaven, which at a certain period strikes the men with impotence, and the women with barrenness? Or is it a cause open to our researches, within our view; a cause which has constantly been observed to operate, though with varied force, in every state in which man has been placed? Is it not misery and the fear of misery, the necessary and inevitable results of the laws of nature in the present stage of man's existence, which human institutions, so far from aggravating, have tended considerably to mitigate, though they can never remove?
The quote text is accurate but the meaning for it which Connelly conveys is wrong. If you look at the rest of the sentence which Connelly cut off without elipsis, Malthus is saying something positive: that human institutions do not aggravate misery but considerably mitigate (significantly reduce) it.

The topic of the paragraph -- the context -- is discussing the issue of what keeps the population down. Malthus proposes misery and fear of misery as the answer to the question: what keeps the population level low?

Malthus is not saying life is miserable. This isn't gloom. He's saying that this is an issue which is "open to our researches" -- we can figure out what's going on and do something about it. Then he further says how human institions reduce misery. So this isn't gloom, Connelly has simply taken the quote out of context and misread it.

This is rather bad considering the full paragraph (even the full rest of the sentence Connelly cut off with no indication) is enough context to see that Connelly has it wrong.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)