Cave Paintings and Elementary Science

This is a travel story of sorts of travel through time, to an extent. Be patient.

Directly to the west of Marseille, the second largest city in France are a series of beautiful, narrow coves, like fjords, situated in a sort of desert. They are called “calanques” in French. They are accessible only by sea or through a long walk on hot rocky ground. Although they constitute a separate world, the calanques are close to Marseille, as the crow flies. They used to be a major fishing resource for the city. You can be sure they were never forgotten during the 2600 years of the city’s existence. Also, the city was founded by Greeks and thus, it always had a literate population, one that kept records.

Marseille and its environs are where SCUBA was invented, the first practical solution to the problem of men breathing underwater. Accordingly, the calanques were always and thoroughly explored after 1950. In 1985, one of the co-inventors of SCUBA discovered a deep cave in one of the calanques. He couldn’t resist temptation and swam into it until he reached a large room emerging above the water level. I mean a cave where he could stand and breathe regular air. The explorer’s name was Cosquer.

Cosquer visited several times without saying a word about his discovery. Soon, he observed dozens of beautiful wall paintings belonging to two distinct periods on the upper walls of his cave. The art of the first period was mostly hand imprints or stencils. The art of the second, distinct period, comprised 170-plus beautiful animals including many horses, ibex and others mammals, also fish, seals and other sea creatures. Archeologists think the painting of the first period were done about in about 25,000 BC, those of the latter period date back to about 18,000 BC, they believe.

Today, the entrance to the cave is about 125 feet below sea level. We know that paleolithic men did not have SCUBA. They simply walked into the cave for their own reasons, with their own purposes in mind. Thus, the sea level was at least 125 feet lower then than it is today. The people of Marseille never saw the cave. They would have written about it. There would be records. They would not have forgotten it. They simply did not know of its existence during the past 2600 years or so, since the foundation of their city.

Sometime in the past 20,000 years, the sea rose 125 feet or more. That’s an amplitude several times greater than any of the direst predictions of the official United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the next century. The IPCC squarely blames a future ocean rise (one that has not been observed at all, yet) on abnormal emission of several gases, especially CO2. These abnormal emissions in turn, the IPCC affirms, are traceable to human activities such as driving cars and producing many useful things by burning fossil fuels.

It seems to me that basic good science requires that causal analysis begin with a baseline. In this case, it would mean something like this: In the absence of any burning of fossil fuels, the ocean rose 125 feet sometimes during the past 20,000 years. Let’s see if we can find evidence of the ocean rising above and beyond this order of magnitude since humanity began burning fossil fuels in large quantities.

The conclusion will likely be that nothing out of the ordinary happened. Hence, fossil fuel emissions are probably irrelevant to this particular issue. (This leaves open the possibility that such emissions are odious for some other reason. I mean CO2 is plant food. Too much CO2 may promote weed growth in our fields and gardens.)

The ocean is not currently rising and if it is, the existence of the Cosquer cave suggests that it’s rising to a minuscule degree. Let’s keep things in perspective. Let’s discard openly and loudly every part of the building of a complex hypothesis that does not work. Those who don’t take these obvious cleansing measures simply have a lot of explaining to do. They should not be allowed to wrap themselves in the mantle of science while violating Science 101 principles.

One of the conceits of the Warmist movement (re-branded “Climate Change” something or other) is that you don’t have a right to an opinion unless you possess a doctorate in Atmospheric Science. By this dictate, anybody who has to keep a job, raise children, or pay a mortgage is out of the discussion. This is the typical posturing of intellectual totalitarianism. Note what’s missing in the story above: It says nothing about what did cause the ocean to rise between 18,000 years ago and today. It’s enough to know that whatever it was, it was not the massive burning of fossil fuels. And, if factors other than burning fossil fuels explain large rises in sea level, they should first be applied to a tiny rises in sea rises before other explanations are tried. That’s just good practice.

The Cousquer cave story is now complete as is. Yes, that simple.


  1. On Google’s new employee union Alex Press, Jacobin
  2. Brexit contains seeds of UK’s disintegration Andrew Hammond, SCMP
  3. Disruption arises from Antifragility Kevin Kallmes, NOL
  4. Moralism, community, and civil discourse Andrew J Cohen, RCL


  1. A sovereignty full of holes Daniel Treisman, LARB
  2. NATO’s new role in the Pacific Shannon Tiezzi, Diplomat
  3. In memory of Ruth Klüger Jonathon Catlin, JHIBlog
  4. Rules for honest conversation Andrew J Cohen, RCL


  1. Dangerous myths about nuclear weapons David Logan, War on the Rocks
  2. Honest putdowns Robin Hanson, Overcoming Bias
  3. “Sitting next to Sally” John Quiggan, Crooked Timber
  4. Hopelessness and the new capitalism Hans Eicholz, Law & Liberty


  1. South Korea’s racism problem Tae-jun Kang, Diplomat
  2. The bullets and the battle: a dialogue Irfan Khawaja, Policy of Truth
  3. The nation-state and astropolitics Nick Nielsen, The View from Oregon
  4. Cancel culture and conservative glass houses Shikha Dalmia, Week


  1. Attention, fashion, and false consensus Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
  2. In praise of negativity Henry Farrell, Crooked Timber
  3. My only complaint: this should be anti-Communist Party rather than anti-China Shashank Bengali, LA Times
  4. The Belt and Road Initiative as an anti-imperialist discourse (pdf) Ying-Kit Chan, CJAS

A Rare Civilized Exchange with the Other Side

I had an unusual experience yesterday and today, a civilized exchange with a liberal. It was on Facebook. I think it’s worth sharing, maybe only as curiosity.

Jacques Delacroix to S.R.S.: I am reading you and your accomplices between the lines. Is it true that you have trouble imagining any Trump supporter as reasonably intelligent, reasonably well informed, and well aware of Mr Trump’s rather obvious shortfalls? Just asking.

S.R.S. to Jacques Delacroix: Speaking only for myself: I don’t have trouble imagining that at all. It helps that I have maintained FB friendships with a number of them, obviously including you, but also others, some of whom I know (or once knew) in real life and not just on FB. I certainly understand that there are those out there who like tax cuts for corporations and individuals (even when slanted toward the already wealthy), who generally want to repeal government regulations on business, and who want highly conservative judges and Justices–all standard Republican fare and key accomplishments of the Trump administration.

I assume many of these conservatives are well aware that Trump has a “room temperature IQ” (quoting you, I believe, but I’m not positive of that), that Trump talks before he thinks (let alone consults with actual experts), and that his rhetoric borders on xenophobic and authoritarian. The mantra is: “don’t worry; he’s not DOING those things, and his talk won’t hurt anything; or at least it will hurt less than if a Democrat were in the White House.”

I’m deeply opposed on the policy positions, and I’m sometimes baffled by some typical conservative positions (e.g., deficits are anathema except when it is a Republican President), but I know there are intelligent people on both sides.

As I said (earlier in this post or somewhere similar), I’m more concerned than those conservatives about the long-term damage being done by the authoritarian and arguably xenophobic rhetoric coming straight from the highest office in the land.

And in general, I’m very concerned about the demonization of political opponents (“Cheatin’ Obama” is one case in point, or calling his political opponents and the reporters in the press “evil” people). Trump didn’t invent it, and the Democrats do some of it too. But I believe the rhetoric has grown exponentially under Trump (after all, a constant refrain of his campaign was that he would imprison his opponent), and I think it is highly corrosive to the possibility of genuine democracy. I am saddened, and scared, by the fact that most conservatives in power and their supporters on the ground either don’t see this as a problem, or see it as less concerning than the possibility of a moderate Democrat in the White House.

Jacques Delacroix to S.R.S. Thanks for taking the trouble. I recognize most of what you are saying and I even agree with some. Certainly, this includes the deficit spending pre-dating the epidemic. Mr Trump is certainly not my idea of a good conservative. (More on this below.) I am baffled by your description of him as authoritarian. He has used executive orders much less than his predecessor. (“I have a pen and a phone.” Obama) He has not bragged about doing so. He has not tried to circumvent the constitutional order. (Whatever he has said, including recently, he has not tried.) I am open to instruction on authoritarianism. It really matters to me. There is nothing I detest more. But, please, limit yourself to deeds; I already know about the logorrhea. As for his being “xenophobic,” it’s one of those political correctness inspired statements I suspect is devoid of meaning. I am obviously a foreigner. “Yes but you are white.” My wife is a woman of color. She voted for him; she will again, without compunction. I feel (feel, don’t know to corroborate it) that your distaste and that of your tribe, and shared by some Republicans, is something else, something like caste rejection. I stated that Mr Trump is not my idea of a good conservative. In this connection, I, but also you, are faced with the following two quandaries about the functioning of our political institutions.

First, how could Mr Trump -with his obvious personal shortcomings – have so easily triumphed in a field of 18 other Rep. candidates, most of whom looked viable? In this connection, I think his ascendancy among blue-collar workers needs to be explained. The Dem Party should do the explaining.

Second, how could the Dem end up producing the enormously damaged good that is Mrs Clinton in 2016. (I know you don’t appreciate name calling, but she is obviously a major crook, in my book.) How could the higher ranks of the Dem Party openly scheme against Sen. Sander? (He is a man I know well because I used to be him, when we were both 25.) I think he is a little dumb but no doubt honest. Plus, his program was clear. He would have given Mr Trump a run for his money, including among people like me who are used to choosing between the lesser of two or more evils. Furthermore, how can the Dem Party, only three years later, come up for a candidate with the mental shipwreck that is Mr Biden? This is downright strange. Conventional explanations just won’t do. As I explained recently [hereBC] , I smell a rat, here again.

PS I don’t think I said that Mr Trump had a room temperature IQ because I don’t believe it for a second. Rather, I must have attributed this belief to liberals. PS2. There are different kinds of name calling. Mr Trump’s schoolyard variety is entertaining and rather innocent as compared to everything else. If it makes his adversaries lose their cool, that’s fine with me. In the 19th century, there was an inspired politician who claimed that his opponent’s sister was a “Thespian.” I like that. Thank for your attention.

S.R.S. declined to pursue this further. He mentioned two books.


  1. Let’s have more audience-free debates Fred Kaplan, Slate
  2. Why the Natives usually sided with the British Jeffrey Ostler, Atlantic
  3. The case for shortening medical education Jain & Orr, Niskanen
  4. What’s buried in the coronavirus relief package? Billy Binion, Reason


  1. The ongoing chess match between Iran and Israel Saeid Jafari, Al-Monitor
  2. Britain’s not-so-evil empire Daniel Bring, Modern Age
  3. The point is not to win, though.” Rick Repetti, Quillette
  4. Exposing capitalism’s blind domination Lambert Zuidervaart, Footnotes to Plato


  1. Why do Ron Paul’s racist newsletters from the 80s and 90s still matter? Steve Horwitz, Bleeding Heart Libertarians
  2. A great profile of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Christopher Sandford, Modern Age
  3. Hayek’s tragic capitalism Edward Feser, Claremont Review of Books
  4. An observation on semiotics in national dialogue Mary Lucia Darst, NOL


  1. Ominous new from the San Francisco Fed David Henderson, EconLog
  2. Will Libra impinge on monetary policy? Scott Sumner, TheMoneyIllusion
  3. A case for left-wing nationalism Lisa Gaufman, Duck of Minerva
  4. A republic for discussion? Raymond Geuss, the Point


  1. Plato and teaching foreign policy Luke Perez, Duck of Minerva
  2. Suicidal elites Joel Kotkin, Quillette
  3. Debating the far right Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
  4. Buddhist Hell park Laetitia Barbier, Atlas Obscura


  1. The plight of the political convert Corey Robin, New Yorker
  2. Fine grain futarchy zoning via Harberger taxes Robin Hanson, Overcoming Bias
  3. What happens to cognitive diversity when everyone is more WEIRD? Kensy Cooperrider, Aeon
  4. StarCraft is a deep, complicated war strategy game. Google’s AlphaStar AI crushed it. Kelsey Piper, Vox

Jacques the Moron

The verbal assaults against Pres. Trump, both oral and printed, have become almost mechanical. The concerted attempt to make his presidency seem illegitimate has largely become successful for much of the America population thanks to this systematic demeaning of the man. The above-board conspiracy has mostly won. I am not referring to criticism of Mr Trump’s policies based on facts and analysis. That’s fine and necessary, of course. (I have done some of this myself, right on my FB and on this blog.) I refer to personal attacks. Individuals with zero achievements, many demonstrable morons themselves, routinely call the president a moron. (I am not making this up; I could name names; perhaps I will, right here.)

When opponents are not content with opposing President Trump but insult him too, they also insult me. I voted for Mr Trump for the same reasons million others did. First, his name was not Clinton; second, I thought it was important to seize the chance to appoint a conservative Supreme Court Justice (or two). Since he has taken office, Mr Trump has surprised me pleasantly. There is no doubt in my mind that the current general American prosperity has a great deal to do with his policies, beginning with the general tax cut. Incidentally, I am well aware of the fact that the drop in unemployment began with the Obama administration. Another administration might have stopped it, or slowed it down. So, I have had two years to recant my vote. I have not. If you call the man I voted for a moron; you are calling me a moron.

I am not inclined to be indulgent with respect to the insult because I believe I know where it comes from thanks the many hours I spent at the faculty club. It’s a social class reaction; it’s the offended retort of those who think they are superior because they have read three books. It’s the cry of anguish of the semi-washed against the great unwashed (the “deplorables” in Mrs Clinton precise and unforgettable formula). Those who insult Pres. Trump, and therefore, me, are elitists with little reason to consider themselves an elite of any kind. Obviously, those who merely oppose his policies don’t need to call him names; they just have to describe that which they object to.

The daily name calling is wearying. It will leave a mark on my soul. I am far from sure that I will find it in me to forgive, or if I will ever forget. I think a ditch has been dug that will not be filled.

Asking questions about women in the academy

Doing the economist’s job well, Nobel Laureate Paul Romer once quipped, “means disagreeing openly when someone makes an assertion that seems wrong.”

Following this inspirational guideline of mine in the constrained, hostile, and fairly anti-intellectual environment that is Twitter sometimes goes astray. That the modern intellectual left is vicious we all know, even if it’s only through observing them from afar. Accidentally engaging with them over the last twenty-four hours provided some hands-on experience for which I’m not sure I’m grateful. Admittedly, most interactions on twitter loses all nuance and (un)intentionally inflammatory tweets spin off even more anger from the opposite tribe. However, this episode was still pretty interesting.

It started with Noah Smith’s shout-out for economic history. Instead of taking the win for our often neglected and ignored field, some twitterstorians objected to the small number of women scholars highlighted in Noah’s piece. Fair enough, Noah did neglect a number of top economic historians (many of them women) which any brief and incomprehensive overview of a field would do.

His omission raised a question I’ve been hooked on for a while: why are the authors of the most important publications in my subfields (financial history, banking history, central banking) almost exclusively male?

Maybe, I offered tongue-in-cheek in the exaggerated language of Twitter, because the contribution of women aren’t good enough…?

Being the twenty-first century – and Twitter – this obviously meant “women are inferior – he’s a heretic! GET HIM!”. And so it began: diversity is important in its own right; there are scholarly entry gates guarded by men; your judgment of what’s important is subjective, duped, and oppressive; what I happen to care about “is socially conditioned” and so cannot be trusted; indeed, there is no objectivity and all scholarly contribution are equally valuable.

Now, most of this is just standard postmodern relativism stuff that I couldn’t care less about (though, I am curious as to how it is that the acolytes of this religion came to their supreme knowledge of the world, given that all information and judgments are socially conditioned – the attentive reader recognises the revival of Historical Materialism here). But the “unequal” outcome is worthy of attention, and principally the issue of where to place the blame and to suggest remedies that might prove effective.

On a first-pass analysis we would ask about the sample. Is it really a reflection of gender oppression and sexist bias when the (top) outcome in a field does not conform to 50:50 gender ratios? Of course not. There are countless, perfectly reasonable explanations, from hangover from decades past (when that indeed was the case), the Greater Male Variability hypothesis, or that women – for whatever reason – have been disproportionately interested in some fields rather than others, leaving those others to be annoyingly male.

  • If we believe that revolutionising and top academic contributions have a long production line – meaning that today’s composition of academics is determined by the composition of bright students, say, 30-40 years ago – we should not be surprised that the top-5% (or 10% or whatever) of current academic output is predominantly male. Indeed, there have been many more of them, for longer periods of time: chances are they would have managed to produce the best work.
  • If we believe the Greater Male Variability hypothesis we can model even a perfectly unbiased and equal opportunity setting between men and women and still end up with the top contribution belonging to men. If higher-value research requires smarter people working harder, and both of those characteristics are distributed unequally between the sexes (as the Greater Male Variability hypothesis suggests), then it follows naturally that most top contributions would be men.
  • In an extension of the insight above, it may be the case that women – for entirely non-malevolent reasons – have interests that diverge from men’s (establishing precise reasons would be a task for psychology and evolutionary biology, for which I’m highly unqualified). Indeed, this is the entire foundation on which the value of diversity is argued: women (or other identity groups) have different enriching experiences, approach problems differently and can thus uncover research nobody thought to look at. If this is true, then why would we expect that superpower to be applied equally across all fields simultaneously? No, indeed, we’d expect to see some fields or some regions or some parts of society dominated by women before others, leaving other fields to be overwhelmingly male. Indeed, any society that values individual choice will unavoidably see differences in participation rates, academic outcomes and performance for precisely such individual-choice reasons.

Note that none of this excludes the possibility of spiteful sexist oppression, but it means judging academic participation on the basis of surveys responses or that only 2 out of 11 economic historians cited in an op-ed were women, may be premature judgments indeed.